May 31, 2005

Laffey's Dilemma

Carroll Andrew Morse

Charles Bakst has a round-up of the thoughts of Republican big-wigs Lincoln Chafee, Donald Carcieri, and Ken Mehlman on the subject of Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey running for Chafee's Senate seat in 2006. The Republican establishment, not surprisingly, does not want Mayor Laffey to challenge Senator Chafee. Bakst’s column makes both Senator Chafee and Governor Carcieri sound somewhat condescending towards Mayor Laffey, with Chafee telling a potential opponent that he should be satisfied with “good opportunities…to run for state office”.

The problem is that there are not any good opportunities for Mayor Laffey to run for state office, not if he wants to make policies that make a difference.

In Rhode Island, there are 5 statewide level executive offices: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Attorney General. The office of Governor is a certainly a good statewide opportunity, but it is assumed that Governor Carcieri will run for re-election in 2006. Lieutenant Governor, on the other hand, is not much of an opportunity in Rhode Island. The problem is structural. In any system where the Gov and the Lieutenant Gov are elected separately, the Lieutenant Gov becomes reduced to a not-very-bully pulpit. The Gov can’t vest too much power in an office that might be held by the opposition.

The Treasurer and Secretary of State are elected bureaucrats. This does not mean that they are not important offices, but they are not policy making offices. They carry out policies made by the other branches of government. The Attorney General straddles the world of making policy and carrying out policy. This position, however, is largely closed to anyone who is not an attorney by profession, and no one is mentioning Laffey as a possibility for AG.

When Senator Chafee and Governor Carcieri talk of good opportunities for statewide office, they are not talking of good opportunities for Mayor Laffey to put himself in a position to make policy that has an impact. They mean that Laffey has a good opportunity to enter the class of professional politicians that have jobs-for-life guaranteed by the Republican establishment. Will that be enough for Mayor Laffey? It depends upon whether he got into politics in order to have a job-for-life, or to make a difference. In Cranston, he has been so successful at changing policies, both the city council and the state house are trying to reduce the power of the Mayor to change policy.

There is at least one other possibility that shouldn’t be completely discounted. If Laffey agrees to park himself in one of the elected bureaucratic positions or as Lt. Gov, he may be getting promises of support for a run against Jack Reed in 2008 or a run for governor in 2010. But 2010 is a long way away, and incumbent Democratic Senators are tough to beat in New England

Debating Rhode Island Public Education Issues

Here are two provocative pieces on public education issues, including teachers' compensation and public school performance:

First, Tom Coyne of RI Policy Analysis on RI Teachers Unions.

Second, a multi-part debate in the Narragannsett Times between Robert Walsh, Executive Director of the NEA-RI, and Tom Wigand, an attorney.


In a nutshell, here is what I think the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should be on some of the key financial terms of the contract.

In addition to financial issues, management rights are the other big teachers' union contract issue. "Work-to-rule" or "contract compliance" only can become an issue because of how management rights are defined in union contracts. The best reading on this subject is the recent report by The Education Partnership. It is must reading.

East Greenwich NEA teachers' union contract negotiations
More Background Information on the East Greenwich NEA Labor Dispute
The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
East Greenwich Salary & Benefits Data
More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
The Debate About Retroactive Pay
Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?
The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?
Will The East Greenwich Teachers' Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?
You Have To Read This Posting To Believe It! The Delusional World of the NEA Teachers' Union

Other Rhode Island public education/union issues
ProJo editorial: Derailing the R.I. gravy train
ProJo editorial: RI public unions work to reduce your family's quality of life
ProJo editorial: Breaking the taxpayer: How R.I. teachers get 12% pay hikes
Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids
Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
The NEA: There They Go, Again!
A Response: Why Teachers' Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
"A Girl From The Projects" Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream
Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box

Broader public education issues
The Deep Performance Problems with American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?

May 30, 2005

Reflections on Memorial Day

Mac Owens

Several years ago, I was asked to deliver a Memorial Day address at Newport City Hall. Since that time, I have republished it several times. With only slight modifications, I am posting it on Anchor Rising. Never forget those who died in the service of our country.

Today, we mark the 137th anniversary of the first official observation of the holiday we now call Memorial Day, as established by General John A. Logan’s "General Order No. 11" of the Grand Army of the Republic dated 5 May, 1868. This order reads in part: "The 30th day of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers and otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land." Logan’s order in fact ratified a practice that was already widespread, both in the North and the South, in the years immediately following the Civil War.

As young Americans continue to make the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, we at home should hold to the true meaning of this day. Alas, for too many Americans, Memorial Day has come to mean nothing more than another three-day weekend, albeit the one on which the beaches open, signifying the beginning of summer. Unfortunately, the tendency to see the holiday as merely an opportunity to attend a weekend cook-out obscures even the vestiges of what the day was meant to observe: a solemn time, serving both as catharsis for those who fought and survived, and to ensure that those who follow will not forget the sacrifice of those who died that the American Republic and the principles that sustain it, might live. Some examples might help us to understand what this really means.

On July 2nd, 1863, Major General Dan Sickles, commanding III Corps of the Army of the Potomac, held the Union left along Cemetery Ridge south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Dissatisfied with his position, he made an unauthorized movement to higher ground along the Emmitsburg Pike to his front. In so doing, he created a gap between his corps and Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps on his right. Before the mistake could be rectified, Sickles’ two under-strength divisions were struck by General James Longstreet’s veteran I Corps of Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in an attack that ultimately threatened the entire Union position on Cemetery Ridge.

At the height of the fighting, a fresh Alabama brigade of 1,500 men, pursuing the shattered remnants of Sickles corps, was on the verge of penetrating the Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge. Union commanders including Hancock rushed reinforcements forward to plug the gap, but at a critical juncture, the only available troops were eight companies—262 men— of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers. Pointing to the Alabamans’ battle flags, Hancock shouted to the regiment’s colonel, "Do you see those colors? Take them."

As the 1st Minnesota’s colonel later related, "Every man realized in an instant what that order meant—death or wounds to us all; the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time and save the position, and probably the battlefield—and every man saw and accepted the necessity for the sacrifice."

The Minnesotans did not capture the colors of the Alabama brigade, but the shock of their attack broke the Confederates’ momentum and bought critical time—at the cost of 215 killed and wounded, including the colonel and all but three of his officers. The position was held, but in short order, the 1st Minnesota ceased to exist, suffering a casualty rate of 82 percent, the highest of the war for any Union regiment in a single engagement.

Memorial Day is also about the sacrifice of other units, for example, the 54th Massachusetts, a regiment of black soldiers whose exploits were portrayed in the movie Glory. The 54th’s assault, in the face of hopeless odds, against Battery Wagner, which dominated the approaches to Charleston Harbor, cost the regiment over half its number and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that black soldiers were the equal, in both bravery and determination, of white soldiers. In addition, the 54th Massachusetts is directly related to Memorial Day. It took part in the first celebration of its predecessor, Decoration Day, on 1 May, 1865, which as David Blight points out in his book, Race and Reunion, was primarily the creation of Black South Carolinians and their white abolitionist allies.

But Memorial Day is also about individuals we may have known. It is about a contemporary of my father, who himself fought and was wounded in the Pacific during World War II. Marine Sgt. John Basilone was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal. Though he was not obligated to do so, he insisted on returning to combat and was killed on the first day of the struggle for Iwo Jima.

Memorial Day is also about Corporal Larry Boyer, USMC, a member of the platoon that I led in Vietnam from September 1968 until May 1969. The men of that platoon would all have preferred to be somewhere other than the Republic of Vietnam’s northern Quang Tri Province, but they were doing their duty as it was understood at the time. In those days, men built their lives around their military obligation, and if a war happened on their watch, fighting was part of the obligation.

But Corporal Boyer went far beyond the call of duty. At a time when college enrollment was a sure way to avoid military service and a tour in Vietnam, Corporal Boyer, despite excellent grades, quit, enlisted in the Marines, and volunteered to go to Vietnam as an infantryman. Because of his high aptitude test scores, the Marine Corps sent him to communications-electronics school instead. But Corporal Boyer kept "requesting mast," insisting that he had joined the Marines to fight in Vietnam. He got his wish, and on 29 May, 1969, while serving as one of my squad leaders, he gave the "last full measure of devotion" to his country and comrades.

Today, young Americans, the best our country has to offer, willingly place themselves on the altar of the nation. What leads men to behave as the soldiers of the 1st Minnesota, the 54th Massachusetts, John Basilone, Larry Boyer, and the countless others who have shared their sacrifice?

Since the Vietnam War, too many of our countrymen have concluded that those who have died in battle are "victims." How else are we to understand the Vietnam War Memorial—"The Wall"—a structure that evokes not respect for the honored dead, but pity for those whose names appear on the wall and relief on the part of those who, for whatever reason, did not serve?

Most Americans in general and veterans in particular reject this characterization. But there is a tendency these days also to reject the polar opposite: that these men died for "a cause." Many cite the observation of Glen Gray in his book, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle: "Numberless soldiers have died, more or less willingly, not for country or honor or religious faith or for any other abstract good, but because they realized that by fleeing their posts and rescuing themselves, they would expose their companions to greater danger. Such loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale."

It is my own experience that Gray is right about what men think about in the heat of combat: the impact of our actions on our comrades always looms large in our minds. As Oliver Wendell Holmes observed in his Memorial Day address of 1884, "In the great democracy of self-devotion private and general stand side by side." But the tendency of the individual soldier to focus on the particulars of combat makes Memorial Day all the more important, for this day permits us to enlarge the individual soldier’s view, to give meaning to the sacrifice that was accepted of some but offered by all, not only to acknowledge and remember the sacrifice, but to validate it.

In the history of the world, many good soldiers have died bravely and honorably for bad or unjust causes. Americans are fortunate in that we have been given a way of avoiding this situation by linking the sacrifice of our soldiers to the meaning of the nation. At the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln fleshed out the understanding of what he called in his First Inaugural Address, the "mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land…"

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address gives universal meaning to the particular deaths that occurred on that hallowed ground, thus allowing us to understand Memorial Day in the light of the Fourth of July, to comprehend the honorable end of the soldiers in the light of the glorious beginning and purpose of the nation. The deaths of the soldiers at Gettysburg, of those who died during the Civil War as a whole and indeed, of those who have fallen in all the wars of America, are validated by reference to the nation and its founding principles as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Though Lincoln was eulogizing the Union dead at Gettysburg, the Confederate fallen were no less worthy of praise, and the dialectic of the Civil War means that we include them in our national day of remembrance. As Holmes observed, "…we respected [those who stood against us] as every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief."

Some might claim that to emphasize the "mystic chords of memory" linking Memorial Day and Independence Day is to glorify war and especially to trivialize individual loss and the end of youth and joy. For instance, Larry Boyer was an only child. How can the loved ones of a fallen soldier ever recover from such a loss? I corresponded with Cpl. Boyer’s mother for some time after his death. Her inconsolable pain and grief put me in mind of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, Epitaphs of the War, verse IV, "An Only Son:" "I have slain none but my mother, She (Blessing her slayer) died of grief for me." Kipling too, lost his only son in World War I.

But as Holmes said in 1884, "…grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death—of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope and will."

Linking Memorial Day and Independence Day as Lincoln essentially did enables us to recognize that while some of those who died in America’s wars were not as brave as others and indeed, some were not brave at all, each and every one was far more a hero than a victim. And it also allows us forever to apply Lincoln’s encomium not only to the dead of the 1st Minnesota and the rest who died on the ground at Gettysburg that Lincoln came to consecrate, but also to John Basilone, Larry Boyer, and the countless soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have died in all of America’s wars, that a nation dedicated to the liberal principles of liberty and equality might "not perish from the earth."

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XVII: Pension Problems

The Rhode Island public sector pension system is in deep financial trouble. A new ProJo article explains the problem in greater detail:

The issue has been floating around for a while, but with mounting costs squeezing local and state budgets, government leaders are buckling down to change the retirement system for teachers and state employees.

Governor Carcieri and General Treasurer Paul J. Tavares introduced plans earlier this year that would dramatically overhaul the system.

The question now is: To what degree will lawmakers actually change the system?

The House and Senate are expected to unveil plans in the next two to three weeks.

House Speaker William J. Murphy has pledged "meaningful pension reform" but has not been willing to sit down and discuss what that actually means.

"We have a system right now that needs help," said Murphy, D-West Warwick. "We're committed to doing pension reform and something will be done this year."

Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano said that the legislature plans to implement a minimum retirement age, probably increase the number of years of service needed to retire, change the percent of salary earned for each year of service, and eliminate the automatic 3-percent cost-of-living-adjustments retirees now get each year...

Montalbano said that workers not yet vested in the state system -- those with less than 10 years of service -- are going to be affected "in a very significant way."

Rhode Island's pension system is financed through contributions from employees, contributions from employers, and the return on plan investments.

Employee contributions are fixed at 8.75 percent of pre-tax salary for state workers, and 9.5 percent for local teachers. The rest of the cost is made up by the state and the communities.

The state put $118.9 million into the pension fund this year. That figure is expected to jump to $174.3 million next year, if there are no changes to the system. Within five years, it would climb to $255 million, if there are no changes, according to the governor's office.

The state's cities and towns face a similar problem. This year, they contributed $72.3 million for teachers' pensions. Next year, without any changes, that would climb to $103.4 million, and within five years, to $149 million.

"This problem is not going away, it's going to get worse," said Carcieri, who has been pushing for pension reform since he took office in 2003.

Without change, Carcieri has warned, the state will be forced to make "dramatic tax hikes or dramatic cuts in the programs that serve our most-vulnerable citizens."...

...the Republican governor said he believes the Democrat-controlled Assembly will act now.

"My expectation is that they will do something," Carcieri said. "My fear is that they will do much less than we need to do."

Treasurer Tavares says he also fears that the Assembly will just do something "cosmetic," and that next year, the state will face the same problem...

But even if changes do come, pension costs are still expected to rise.

The plans proposed by Carcieri and Tavares both cut into next year's anticipated contributions -- but would only cut the increase roughly in half. Under Carcieri's plan, the state would still have to put $27 million more into the pension fund next year than it is putting in this year.

There are several reasons for the state's current pension problem.

The first -- and most significant, according to Tavares -- is that people are living longer. When pension systems were first designed, workers only lived a few years after reaching retirement, he said. Today, people retire and live for 20 years or more, collecting a pension during each of those years...

The second reason involves the performance of the stock market and the state's investments. The actuaries use a five-year averaging period to calculate future contributions. Because of that, the state is still hurting from the market losses of 2000, 2001 and 2002, Tavares said.

The other main contributing factor, he acknowledged is the state's failure in past years to fully finance the pension system...

The most significant of these was in the mid-1980s, when the state offered early retirement to its workers, but failed to add money to the retirement system for all the people who were suddenly collecting pensions...

The state's labor unions place the blame squarely on the state.

Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, acknowledges that "there are some demographic changes," but said the problem rests primarily with the state's not fully financing the system.

Year after year, Walsh said, teachers and state workers have contributed a large portion of their salaries to the system. They have held up their end of the bargain, he said.

If there are going to be reductions in retiree benefits, Walsh condends, the employee contributions should also be reduced.

"I'm not necessarily saying we need to leave the system as is," Walsh said. However, discussions need to be held "in a balanced way," instead of the "teacher and state-employee bashing" that he contends the governor is conducting.

Under the current system, state employees can retire at any age, with no reduction in benefits, as long as they have 28 years of service. Otherwise, they can retire at age 60, with at least 10 years of service. Pension benefits are based on years of service, so those who have served less than 28 years would get a smaller pension.

Carcieri and Tavares both propose instituting a minimum retirement age. Carcieri is seeking to make the minimum age 60, with 30 years of service, or otherwise, age 65. Tavares proposes age 58, with 30 years of service, or 62, with 5 years. (Tavares is also suggesting an option where workers at age 55, and 20 years of service, can retire with reduced benefits.)

Both the governor and the treasurer propose to reduce the amount of benefits retirees would receive. State employees now stop accumulating credit toward their pension after 35 years, maxing the system out at 80 percent of their salary. Carcieri and Tavares want to lower the maximum benefit to 75 percent, after 38 years of service.

The changes would apply only to new hires to state government, or to current employees who have less than 10 years of service and are not yet vested in the system.

The two officials, however, differ on what to do with the cost-of-living adjustments that retirees get. Currently, employees start getting the 3-percent COLA on the third January after they retire.

Carcieri wants to tie COLAs to the national Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation. Benefits would increase annually according to the CPI, or at 3 percent, whichever is lower.

Tavares wants to take the changes one step further. While Carcieri would only change the COLA for new hires and those not vested, Tavares wants to implement the same changes for everybody -- all employees and all current retirees.

Will lawmakers go as far?

"I don't think we'll go further," Montalbano said. "I think we'll, hopefully, take some of the best parts of all of it, and come up with a plan that we hope the governor will sign on to."

The labor unions' position is not new. Here are excerpts from two August 2004 news articles referenced in this posting, which discuss the problems:

...the statewide pension problem surfaced [with this article] publicly, highlighting dire financial consequences:
State and local taxpayers should pay a whopping $121.6 million more next year toward the pensions of state employees and public school teachers…

That advice, from the state's pension-funding adviser, sent shock waves through the hearing room where top labor and government officials gathered…

In late June, the deadlocked panel voted 6-6, defeating a series of moves recommended either by Carcieri, a Republican, or state treasurer Paul Tavares, a Democrat, to rein in the escalating cost of public-employee pensions, such as the adoption of a mininum retirement age.

But yesterday's news seemed to surprise some of the union leaders who had resisted any changes in pension eligibility and benefit levels…

The warning was the result of a reexamination, by the state's actuarial advisers at Gabriel Roeder and Smith, of the assumptions that determine how much money must be set aside now to cover all the promises made to current and future retirees.

After looking back seven years, the firm concluded the state has been overestimating investment returns; underestimating the salary increases, averaging 4.5 percent annually, over the seven years that ended on June 30, 2003; and failing to account for the disproportionately large number of Rhode Island public employees who stay in their jobs long enough to qualify for pensions.

Another article reinforced the magnitude of the problem:

"We are not bleeding, we are hemorrhaging," said Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which represents local governments in the state's 39 communities…

Local pension systems in some of the state's communities are also in trouble - especially those in Cranston and Providence, according to estimates by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

Rhode Island labor leaders have long resisted changes that would cut benefits for employees and teachers.

Then there are always recent stories in Rhode Island like this one.

Beginning on page 17, this RIPEC report provides a very valuable comparison with the public sector pension program of Massachusetts, allowing all of us to see how we have been giving away the store in Rhode Island. The comparision with our neighboring state also shows how none of the proposals on the table goes far enough in making crucial changes. And it begs the obvious question of: If Massachusetts pension benefits are good enough for the public sector unions in that state, why are similar Rhode Island unions whining so loudly and resisting change? Here are some highlights from that report:

Minimum age to receive pension benefits: RI-None; Mass-65.

Minimum years of service to receive pension benefits: RI-28 years or 10 years at age 60; Mass-10 years

Cost-of-living increase amount per year: RI-3% on total pension benefit beginning in third year; Mass-Set by legislature; most recently 3% on only first $12,000/year

Retiree contribution to healthcare insurance premiums with at least 28 years, <60 years of age: RI-10%; Mass-15%

Retiree contribution to health insurance premiums with at least 28 years, >60 years of age: RI=0%; Mass-15%

Most importantly, Massachusetts penalizes public sector employees who retire and take the pension before age 65, cutting their lifetime pension payments by 50%. The magnitude of our financial problem in Rhode Island becomes more clear when you contrast how Rhode Island immediately pays full benefits to a retiree who retires after 28 years of service, regardless of age (and which could begin as early as age 46 for employees who started immediately after high school graduation), and then increases it by 3% per year thereafter versus one of two alternatives in Massachusetts: (i) paying only 50% of the qualified pension payments if the employee takes any monies before age 65 or (ii) paying qualified pension payments only after age 65.

The broader national issue of bankrupt public sector pensions is discussed here. This posting shows how there are significant financial problems that are time bombs set to explode in the near future and which require more radical program changes - like stopping the offering of defined benefit plans and moving to defined contribution plans like 401(k)'s - not the kind of minor tweaks currently being proposed in Rhode Island. It also highlights how the misguided incentives of the public sector will make this an ongoing problem.

This EdWeek posting referenced by RI Policy Analysis highlights additional state/teacher pension problems around the country.

The effect of those misguided incentives, the effect of government intervention in the marketplace, and the additional time bomb of public sector employee health insurance costs are highlighted in this posting.

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on sixteen previous postings:
I - Guiding Principles for Sound Public Policy
II - The Outrageous Tax Burden in Rhode Island
III - 2004: The Year in Review
IV - The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
V - Governor Carcieri's State of the State Address
VI - "Citizens for Representative Government's" Deceitful Manipulation of the Constitutional Convention Vote
VII - The Extreme Tax Burden in the City of Providence
VIII - Rhode Island Gets a C+ on its Report Card
IX - How Speaker Murphy's Changing of the Rules of the House Reduces Your Freedom
X - East Greenwich Teachers' Salary and Benefits Data
XI - What Was Rep. Fox Doing in Portsmouth?
XII - Why Do RI Citizens Passively Consent to Governmental Control by Powerful Interests?
XIII - RI House Leaders Show No Respect for Rule of Law by Undermining Separations of Powers, Part I
XIV - More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
XV - RI House Leaders Show No Respect for Rule of Law by Undermining Separations of Powers, Part II
XVI - Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results

May 29, 2005

Leading a Dishonest Debate

JunkYardBlog writes this:

A rightwing Republican Congressman has introduced a bill in the House demanding respectful treatment of the Bible. Get yer torches and pitchforks, people, and make sure to ring up the press.


Before you do all of that, I need to clarify a couple of details.

The Congressman isn't a rightwing Republican. He's a leftwing Democrat. And it's not the Bible's respectful treatment he is trying to be made law of the land. It's the Koran.

Where did all the pitchforks go? And where's the ACLU to decry this encroachment on the separation of church and state? Hmmm?

From the blog of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI):

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
(1) condemns bigotry, acts of violence, and intolerance against any religious group, including our friends, neighbors, and citizens of the Islamic faith;

(2) declares that the civil rights and civil liberties of all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith, should be protected;

(3) recognizes that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, as any other holy book of any religion, should be treated with dignity and respect; and

(4) calls upon local, State, and Federal authorities to work to prevent bias-motivated crimes and acts against all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith.

This is idiocy on stilts. It goes against the letter and spirit of the First Amendment and is a true step in the direction of establishing a state religion. And it's pandering based on a fake and retracted Newsweek story that probably started when some terrorist made up a story to inflame the press and irritate the Muslim world!...

...the silence with which [Conyers] is being greeted by the MSM is more than telling.

RELATED:...If passed Conyers' proposed law might open the way for similar prosecutions right here in the US. You, blogger and blog reader, could find yourself prosecuted for mishandling or in any way disparaging the Koran or Islam. Islam would become more equal than other religions here--the bill's language refers to religious tolerance but singles out Islam and the Koran for special protection.

And that amounts to bringing in sharia, Islamic law, in baby steps. Right here in the US...

The fourth element of his bill, noted above, marries mistreatment of the Koran to hate-crimes legislation already on the books. That puts some teeth into it, and it's truly chilling.

Rocco at The Autonomist also comments:

It seems strange that Conyers, whose party goes absolutely ballistic when Republicans intimate that Judeo-Christian beliefs under-pin the U.S., suggest that Freedom of Speech be toyed with in order to accommodate religion. Perhaps not so strange, once one realizes that Conyers has been a close ally of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) since 9/11.

How much of this relationship is due to Conyer's representing Michigan, a state with a large Muslim-Arab population, and how much of it has to do with CAIR's contributions to Conyer's political efforts, is anyone's guess.

A quick refresher on CAIR: Ghassan Elashi, founder of CAIR's Texas Chapter, was indicted for financial dealings with Musa abu Marzook, a Hamas leader. In 1995, US attorney Mary Jo White named CAIR advisory board member Siraj Wahhaj as a possible co-conspirator in plans to destroy the World Trade Center and other NY City landmarks. In May of 2005 another CAIR leader, Ismail Randall Royer, was found guilty of funding terrorism and was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for training in Virginia for holy war against the United States. CAIR's associations with Islamic terror groups and individual terrorists go on and on and on....

If you go to Rocco's posting, you can follow the many links to learn more.

Rocco continues:

A natural question arises in response to Conyer's resolution: Does America's Muslim leadership actively foster a sense of respect towards religions other than Islam?

The words of CAIR chairman Omar Ahmad provide a possible answer. Said Ahmad, in a 1998 Muslim rally in California:

"Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Quran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth."

U.S. Representative Conyers, are you listening?

Are these people dense or naive or just plain stupid?

What Are We Doing To Our Children?

Michelle Malkin writes here and here about a new teenage book called "Rainbow Party."

Here's a rich irony: I'm writing today about a new children's book, but I can't describe the plot in a family newspaper without warning you first that it is entirely inappropriate for children.

The book is "Rainbow Party" by juvenile fiction author Paul Ruditis. The publisher is Simon Pulse, a kiddie lit division of the esteemed Simon & Schuster. The cover of the book features the title spelled out in fun, Crayola-bright font. Beneath the title is an illustrated array of lipsticks in bold colors.

The main characters in the book are high school sophomores supposedly typical 14- and 15-year-olds with names such as "Gin" and "Sandy." The book opens with these two girls shopping for lipstick at the mall in advance of a special party. The girls banter as they hunt for lipsticks in every color of the rainbow...

What kind of party do you imagine they might be organizing? Perhaps a makeover party? With moms and daughters sharing their best beauty secrets and bonding in the process?

Alas, no. No parents are invited to this get-together. A "rainbow party," you see, is a gathering of boys and girls for the purpose of engaging in group oral sex. Each girl wears a different colored lipstick and leaves a mark on each boy. At night's end, the boys proudly sport their own cosmetically-sealed rainbow you-know-where bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of "party favors."...

...according to Publisher's Weekly, the bound galleys sent to booksellers carried the provocative tagline, "don't you want to know what really goes down?"

The author and publisher of the book seem to have persuaded themselves that they are doing families a favor...Bethany Buck, Ruditis' editor, told USA Today the intention was to "scare" young readers (uh-huh) and Ruditis told Publisher's Weekly:

"Part of me doesn't understand why people don't want to talk about [oral sex]," he said. "Kids are having sex and they are actively engaged in oral sex and think it's not really sex. I raised questions in my book and I hope that parents and children or teachers and students can open a topic of conversation through it. Rainbow parties are such an interesting topic. It's such a childlike way to look at such an adult subject with rainbow colors."

Teenage group orgies are "an interesting topic?" Is Ruditis out of his mind?...

In a small sign that decency and common sense still survive in the marketplace, a number of children's book sellers are refusing to stock "Rainbow Party." But as Ruditis's comments indicate, it's just a matter of time before the book ends up on public school library shelves in the name of "educating" children and helping them "deal with reality."...

Malkin continues:

...Those who raise even the least objection are cast as out-of-touch theocrats who need to "deal with reality."...

If "proper socialization" means teaching 14-year-olds about group oral sex, we can only pray that more parents choose to raise social misfits.

Why do we tolerate this? What are we doing to our children?


Reader Jeff Miller, in the Comments section to this posting, directs us to Mere Comments for additional and troubling information:

...I picked up a copy of Simon and Schuster’s new book for the teenage girl market, Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis...

The book is even more insidious than I first imagined. The heroine of the book is not the party-planner, but a saintly high school sex education teacher. Ms. Barrett is described as “more of a friend than a teacher.” She is the only one to whom all the students can talk about their sexuality. Unfortunately, the heroic Ms. Barrett is silenced after the head of the high school Chastity Club rats on her to the school board, which instructs Ms. Barrett to teach abstinence only in the classroom.

Ms. Barrett is vindicated when a gonnhorea epidemic hits the high school, an epidemic that could have been stopped if only Ms. Barrett had been allowed to give the right information about “protection” to the students. In the end, Ms. Barrett “valiantly” resigns rather than leave her students unprotected. Here she stands. She can do no other.

The antagonists in this book are the parents. Now, this is nothing new...But there is something different here. It is not simply that the parents are “outdated” in their morality, or out of touch with teen culture. In this book, the parents’ lack of understanding actually leads to the sickness and potential death of their teenage children.

And who will stand up for them? Why the public school sex education teacher, of course.

This misguided line of thought is getting really old.

May 28, 2005

A Poignant Reflection on John Paul II

Donald B. Hawthorne

In the May edition of Crisis Magazine, editor Brian Saint-Paul, offers this poignant reflection on the life of the late Pope John Paul II:

In the end, it was a beautiful death. Surrounded by those who knew and loved him, within earshot of the cheering thousands who came to be near his broken body, John Paul the Great passed into eternal life.

With his prolonged suffering and dying, he offered a final homily - one that even the mainstream media could not ignore. It said this: Every human life has inherent dignity; every human life is precious; and even death should be embraced and experienced without shame.

How different that is from what our own culture tells us. We kill our young, starve our disabled, and hide away our elderly so we're not confronted with a forward glimpse of our own mortality. Our world fears death, as it distrusts those who do not. And so it's no wonder that the secular mind never really understood John Paul II.

We're told he was a great political warrior who overthrew Communism and urged peace in the world. That's true, as far as it goes. But he was no politician; he was no social worker or starry-eyed dreamer. Everything the pope did came out of his faith in Christ and his trust that love will always defeat death.

And this, for many, seems a contradiction. Indeed, much of John Paul II's life appears inconsistent to the secular West. He was a celibate priest who wrote much on the glories of marriage; he advocated religious freedom while "stifling debate" in his own Church; he was "progressive" on social issues and "conservative" on moral matters; a brilliant philosopher/writer/poet who tried to shut down intellectual inquiry.

Contradictions, the critics say. But therein lies the key to understanding this man, for the person of John Paul II is a kind of mirror for the rest of us. The way we see the Holy Father tells us far more about ourselves than it does about him. For this great and holy pope was remarkable not for his ability to balance opposing forces in his personality, but for his thoroughgoing consistency. He believed - as the Catholic Church has always taught - that all human life has dignity and that that dignity must be reflected in our relations with God, ourselves, and each other.

His writings, his theological positions, his political activism, all of it emerged from this fundamental belief. That so many of us find contradiction in him shows us how far we have fallen. Virtue looks like foolishness to the sinful man, and wisdom appears naive.

Not so with John Paul II. He recognized the cruelty of the human heart and the ravenous hunger of souls without God. But he knew the other side as well. In the wretchedness of the 20th century, he saw the beauty shining through, the remnants of a world created and deemed good. Humanity's fall has corrupted much, but despite our best efforts, we cannot erase God's fingerprints on us.

This is reality. This is what we would see if the glass were not so dark. John Paul II saw it, and that's why he traveled and spoke and wrote and prayed so very much. Through his eyes, he let us glimpse the world that exists just behind the veil. Many of us saw it too, if only for a moment. And what we beheld, what we beheld through him, was beautiful.

The May 2005 edition of Crisis contains many articles about the Pope.

For more reflections on Pope John Paul II, go here and here.

May 27, 2005

How Work-To-Rule Amplifies the Implied Bargaining Chips

Marc Comtois

To keep pounding the Education drum, a reader ("CL") commmented on one of my posts from November of last year on how East Greenwich students rallied at a school committee meeting to agitate for a contract and were cheered on by teachers and parents. Within the context of the piece, I mentioned the now-familiar "work-to-rule" problem, to which CL took exception:

I wish you would spend you time dealing with facts. Work to rule doesn't mean teachers are not doing their job. It simply means that teachers are not giving up their free time. For example: the teacher contract does not require chaperoning dances, writing letters of recommendation, sponsoring class trips, etc. Teachers have "donated" so much free time that people like you expect it. Tell me what other job besides teaching expects the employees to solve the problems of the world like: kids don't get a good breakfast so have the schools provide it, kids are drinking at home so let the schools teach them why drinking is bad, Kids need a place to go on Friday nights so the schools must have dances, etc. Why don't you list all the FREE jobs you did that had nothing to do with your job.
Herewith, my response:

Thanks for the comment. It brings up a couple different issues, though. First, to your points about breakfast, alcoholic parents, etc. I completely agree. These are larger social issues that I don't believe that our education system is really equipped to deal with and which our teachers are compelled to handle every school day. It is unfair, but schools are the mechanism by which we have collectively, if only half-thinkingly, concluded to be adequate to the task.

Second, when I complain about the work to rule attitude, I'm specifically speaking about no field trips, no comments on report cards, no parent teacher conferences. To me and many others, those are implied as being intrinsically part of being a "teacher." It was that way when I was in school some 15-20 years ago, and it still is, regardless of whether you view these as being "FREE jobs" or not.

There is a reason why parents and communities expect teachers to do more than the teacher contract technically stipulates: those very same unofficial acts are always used, whether implied or stated outright, as bargaining chips in contract negotiations. Part of the reason teachers engender public support when it comes to contract time is because they perform these "extras." Chaperoning dances, doing field trips, etc. may not be a part of the official job description, but teachers have always done them and communities, realizing this, factor this in when determining proper compensation levels.

What work-to-rule does is take a legalistic approach by adhering to the "letter of the contract" as a bargaining ploy designed to remind communities just how much extra teachers do. Are teachers legally correct? Yes. But legal and moral are not always the same thing.

To repeat, the fact is that the performance of these extracurricular jobs is implicit in the teachers'job description. Past contracts have been based on this assumption, whether they were outlined in the contract or not. This factor, consciously or sub-consciously, contributed to the willingness of the public and their elected officials to provide generous compensation. Knowing this, it is disingenuous to first use the goodwill engendered by performing these "additional" jobs to gain more compensation and then, when the next contract comes up, to claim these jobs are not required, stress the point by not performing them, and then turn around and expect a better compensation package than before.

Let me take a crack at your "challenge." I'm a salaried engineer, though I can earn bonus time for working extra hours, so long as they are "billable." In addition to my regular work, I have worked longer than 8 hour days regularly and gone uncompensated. That is because I am, like I said, on salary. Implicit in my compensation is that I will work longer than 8 hour days if need be. Additionally, my company owns its own building and rents out space to other businesses. When it snows, guess who has been known to shovel the stairs? And it's not even in my job description to be a snow shoveler. Who's brought people to the airport to go on business travel? And it's not in my job description to be a taxi service. Who's been asked to "swing a wrench" even though I'm ostensibly a "white collar" worker? I don't need to go on, do I?

The fact of the matter is that something like 90% of people are employed by small business. In small businesses, job descriptions don't encompass the true nature of the work an individual is asked to perform. And, much like the teachers, when salary renegotiations are brought up, the willingness of the individual to perform these "outside of the box" jobs factors into the equation. Teachers are not unique in this. Do you know what would happen if the average employee put in only a 8 hour day, didn't do anything extra, etc., like the teachers are now doing? They certainly wouldn't be looked upon favorably in their next job performance review. Do you think that they would get a raise and a better compensation package for doing less than before? They may not even keep their job!

The average worker is beholden to his employer to perform up to the latter's expectations and be compensated as "the boss" sees fit. Sometimes the demands are fair, sometimes not, but the employee always has the option of moving on. In the case of teachers, they must perform up to the public's expectations at a salary deemed appropriate, some would say tolerable, by the taxpaying citizens of a city or town. If teachers think the demands are unfair, they can move on. I'd challenge them to find a better deal, even with a 5-10% Health care co-pay, than they have here in Rhode Island.

The problem that we parents have is that we get the impression that teachers believe that they never have enough and are willing to go to the mat for more for themselves, even if it means less for the students (our children). Perhaps this is because teachers' unions are out front and leading the fight utilizing hyperbolic rhetoric that casts teachers as put-upon victims of a thankless society. If union leadership is not truly representative of what the rank and file believe, then I would encourage teachers, much like the administrators did in East Greenwhich, to buck their union leadership and negotiate with the school committee in good faith. Stop the rhetoric and the self-victimization and come up with reasonable contracts that reflect contemporary fiscal reality. Taxpayers aren't looking to screw you over, just to be reasonable!

May 26, 2005

You Have To Read This Posting To Believe It! The Delusional World of the NEA Teachers' Union

Nothing is sweeter in a debate than when your opponent makes outlandish statements and hands you an overwhelming rhetorical victory.

This just happened in the East Greenwich teachers' union contract dispute when NEA union officials made public comments that showed how they live in a delusional world, completely disconnected from any form of reality.

Recent events began about one week ago when I wrote an email to town and school officials as well as to the media, raising concerns about how certain actions by teachers under "work-to-rule" or "contract compliance" working practices were adversely affecting our children. That email included a link to this posting, which highlighted the specific concerns.

There was an initial response to one of my challenges in a ProJo article that is referenced in this subsequent posting, where I also further clarified the questions that remain unanswered.

But nothing prepared me for an article this week in a local newspaper, The East Greenwich Pendulum. The article contained an interview with two union officials, Roger Ferland and Jane Argentieri, who provided specific comments on the issues raised in my initial posting noted above.

You simply have to read the article to believe it! For starters, though, first consider these eight quotes excerpted from the article:

1. "The teachers had to do [contract compliance] to show parents how much extra teachers really do."

2. "[Work-to-rule] simply means we won't do anything extra."

3. [Tutoring (i.e., any form of academic assistance) before or after school] is not part of their job description."

4. "Teachers have been doing more than what's required for no money in the past."

5. "...a majority of East Greenwich residents can afford to hire tutors for their children but have been receiving these services free from public school teachers for years."

6. "More than 50% of East Greenwich residents have a very high income, $500,000 or over."

7. "In the private sector no one works overtime without getting paid. And if they're off the clock at 5 p.m., you can bet they're out the door at 5."

8. "...contract compliance is not hurting the children. Not going on a field trip isn't hurting a child."

Can you believe these comments? I am still shaking my head in amazement and I bet you are, too. But don't take my word alone for it; you can read the entire article here.

If you ever wanted to understand why American public education is failing with no prospects for a viable turnaround, consider how our educational system provides union leaders - with the mindset shown above and large amounts of money from coerced dues - the ability to essentially dictate financial and management rights terms to local communities all across the country. And consider how parents and communities have few-to-no options of exiting this government-induced monopoly system wallowing in mediocrity.

American public education will never regain competitive excellence on a global scale until we rid our system of this union mentality with its self-serving focus and active resistance to excellence, performance metrics, and competitive choice.

Sadly, this rhetorical victory - while important - brings no lasting satisfaction, at least for now. There is no gusto in this victory right now because the battle directly involves our children and the price the teachers are forcing them to pay in this contract dispute.

But, once again, the value of this interview is that it smoked out the true beliefs of the teachers' union and showed how little they know about the real world and how little they care about the well being of both our children and our town residents. May we never forget those lessons.

Union officials should be ashamed of themselves. East Greenwich residents should be furious.

I hope residents will rise up with a fierce response that tells off the NEA and demands compensation terms just like the rest of us, the working families and retirees of East Greenwich who pay their salaries and benefits.


In a nutshell, here is what I think the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should be on some of the key financial terms of the contract.

In addition to financial issues, management rights are the other big teachers' union contract issue. "Work-to-rule" or "contract compliance" only can become an issue because of how management rights are defined in union contracts. The best reading on this subject is the recent report by The Education Partnership. It is must reading.

East Greenwich NEA teachers' union contract negotiations
More Background Information on the East Greenwich NEA Labor Dispute
The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
East Greenwich Salary & Benefits Data
More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
The Debate About Retroactive Pay
Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?
The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?
Will The East Greenwich Teachers' Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?
So What Else is New? Teachers' Union Continues Non-Productive Behaviors in East Greenwich Labor Talks
"Bargaining Rights are Civil Rights"

Other Rhode Island public education/union issues
ProJo editorial: Derailing the R.I. gravy train
ProJo editorial: RI public unions work to reduce your family's quality of life
ProJo editorial: Breaking the taxpayer: How R.I. teachers get 12% pay hikes
Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids
Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
The NEA: There They Go, Again!
A Response: Why Teachers' Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
"A Girl From The Projects" Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream
Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box

Broader public education issues
The Deep Performance Problems with American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?

A Matter of Competing Values

Justin Katz

Part of what makes a danger of modern approaches to addressing public policies that bear on "progress" is that we tend to view them on an individual basis, and when we do realize that they are tangential to each other, we hesitate to follow the implications but so deeply. (Sometimes the hesitance results from the complexity, sometimes from the sense that we'll be proven wrong in what we want to believe.)

My latest column for dwells on the intersection of embryonic stem cell research, "right to die" trends, socialist healthcare schemes, and radical life extension. Ultimately, I don't think any of these issues can be fully appreciated without consideration of the others. (And many others, but one can only do so much in fewer than 1,000 words.)

Will The East Greenwich Teachers' Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?

One of our local newspapers, The North East Independent, weighed in this week with these editorial comments on the East Greenwich teachers' union contract dispute:

East Greenwich teachers union officials apparently won't budge on a request for a tiered system for health care co-pays, reasoning that teachers on low steps will not be able to afford co-pays as easily as top-step teachers. We say that's bunk.

The union has rejected an offer that included raises of 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 percent and a sharing of the health care premiums of 6, 8 and 10 percent over the three years of the contract.

Asking a teacher - a first-step teacher with only a bachelor's degree in East Greenwich earns $32,137 - to pay between 6 and 10 percent of his or her co-pay over the next three years is far from unreasonable. Private sector employees who earn far less often pay a higher percentage of their health care costs - as much as 40 to 50 percent. It's time for educational professionals to ante up.

East Greenwich's principals, perhaps fed up with waiting for the teachers contract to which their raises and benefits are tied, agreed to terms the teachers themselves rejected...

Union officials countered by saying the principals make more money so they can afford to contribute to health insurance premium co-pays.

The union wants to link co-pays to a percentage of an employee's salary, but we all know that insurance rates are volatile and double-digit increases are not uncommon. That scenario is a losing proposition for the district...

We hope teachers realize that many in the state around them don't enjoy the same benefits they have for all of these years. The committee's offer is a fair one, and the teachers should follow the principals' example and accept the terms.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

If anything, that previous School Committee offer was too generous, as I have noted elsewhere. [Remember, for example, that 3.5-3.7% increases equate to 9-13% total annual salary increases for 9 of the 10 job steps]

But the offer was quite effective in one very important way: It smoked out the true intentions of the teachers' union and showed how greedy they are and how little they care about well being of our children and our town residents.

Let that be a lesson to all of us.

By the way, I have been told there are sixteen school districts in Rhode Island whose teachers' union contracts expire this summer (Bristol/Warren, Central Falls, Cranston, Foster, Glocester, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Middletown, Newport, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Scituate, Smithfield, Tiverton) or fall (East Providence). You can bet they are watching what is happening in East Greenwich (and Warwick). This fight with the NEA teachers' union in East Greenwich is a fight on behalf of people around the state. We have a moral obligation to lead firmly and strongly so we can make a meaningful difference here in Rhode Island.

Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box

We live in a global economy. Our children are going to be competing with the best students not from Central Falls or even Barrington when they grow up. Rather, they will be competing with students from countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore, India, etc. Not to mention students from the best prep schools in America as well as Massachusetts towns such as Wellesley, certain Long Island communities, Palo Alto in California, and other truly superb public education schools across the country.

To be uncomfortably blunt, some East Greenwich residents spend too much time congratulating ourselves on how good our school system is. I said it publicly while serving on the East Greenwich School Committee and I will say it again now: Being the best school system in Rhode Island doesn't mean anything in a national and global context.

With the ability now to compare relative performance between school districts across the country on the new School Matters website, my comment is now an empirically valid one, not simply an opinion.

East Greenwich is a wonderful community full of many talented people. We have the people resources in our town to do unbelievable things in the future. Rather than polarizing and offending us, I would hope this empirical observation would make us even more willing to challenge the political mediocrity of the status quo. It also puts other battles into perspective. E.g., when we fight high taxes, it is a battle to keep successful people from leaving this state. It is also a battle to bring new, innovative businesses to this state with jobs and talented people. When we fight the power of the teachers' union, it is about fighting for the freedom to build a great school system free of a costly system that currently only rewards mediocrity. All of these efforts are about ensuring we have an economy and a school system that empowers our working residents and children to compete successfully on a global scale.

With that global competition in mind, this story about charter schools is an example of why I supported Sue Cienki and Merrill Friedemann so strongly in last year's East Greenwich School Committee elections. They are strong-minded, independent people who think outside the box and are not tied to the status quo like so many of the members of past School Committees. Kudos also to John McGurk on the EG Town Council for also supporting the exploration of similar ideas.

I haven't agreed with Sue and Merrill on everything since they were elected and I am sure we will tangle publicly when we disagree on issues in the future. That is perfectly all right in our democratic society. But, regardless of whether we see eye-to-eye on every issue, I have confidence that they are intelligent people who are genuinely committed to seeking the best answers, not just the politically advantageous answers. We need more public servants who are willing to test new ideas.

In the end, this charter school concept may not be practical. It may not be the right way to go for any number of reasons. I personally think charter schools still suffer from too much government regulation which makes them a half-baked attempt at true school choice and vulnerable to manipulation by the public education bureaucracy and teachers' unions.

But excellence never happens unless people are willing to think outside the box. And we all will be better off the more we challenge the status quo in our mediocre, monopolistic public education system.

Enough Already!

This report is simply over-the-top and contributes to the ongoing destruction of civil society in America:

Hollywood once again jumps into bitter DC politics when an episode of NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent suggests a judge killer would wear a 'Tom DeLay' T-Shirt!

The House Majority Leader plans a letter of protest later this afternoon...


In the season finale, Detectives Goren and Eames suspect an imprisoned white supremacist is behind the shootings of a judge's family, but their investigation widens when an appellate judge is later murdered...

ADA RON CARVER (COURTNEY B. VANCE) : An african-american judge, an appellate court judge, no less.

MAN: Chief of DS is setting up a task force. People are talking about multiple assassination teams.

DET. ALEX EAMES (KATHRYN ERBE): Looks like the same shooters. CSU found the slug in a post, matched it to the one that killed Judge Barton. Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-Shirt.

This is simply and utterly unacceptable, polarizing behavior. Another example of Hollywood's total disconnection from reality and the Left's willingness to stoop to any low level to trash those who don't agree with its secular fundamentalist political agenda.

As a conservative who has publicly criticized Tom DeLay here and here, my loud exclaim is: Enough already! Our country is too great to deserve this kind of demeaning behavior.

I couldn't have said it better myself

Mac Owens

Here's what Hugh Hewitt says about our RINO senator, Lincoln Chafee, in today's Daily Standard:

"Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, is being urged to take on Senator Lincoln Chaffee in the 2006 primary so that GOP voters don't have to vote for a Democrat in November 2006. (Chaffee voted against the war, against the president's reelection, and now for the filibuster. Chaffee's presence was necessary with a Senate closely divided, but with a healthy majority, he should be booted before seniority puts him in a position to do real damage. Even big tent Republicans like me believe every tent needs an inside and an outside, and Chaffee's way outside.)"

A very well-known reporter whose poltics are conventionally liberal told me a couple of years ago that right after 9/11, he asked for Sen. Chafee's reaction to the attack. Chafee wouldn't answer him because he hadn't yet determined what OTHERS would say. Needless to say this honorable liberal was offended.

The vote against Owen was the last straw. Chafee needs to go.

Warwick School Budget Fight

Marc Comtois

The debate over the fiscal and philosophical aspects of education policy often intertwine, but the current goings-on in Warwick have much more to do with money than education philosophy. The Warwick School Committee and Mayor Scott Avedesian are on opposite sides with regards to the education portion of the FY 2006 Warwick City budget. In short, the School Committee wants more money than the Mayor says is available. In a sort of "stealthy strike", the school committee has raised the spectre of closing an elementary school to up the ante and get parents involved in the debate.

The School Committee told the City Council last night that it might have to shutter the Potowomut School, a threat that sent parents dashing to the microphone to defend the 76-year-old facility.

School board Chairman John F. Thompson, speaking at the council's first budget hearing, said the closing Potowomut would save $500,000 -- funds he called indispensable if the council approves Mayor Scott Avedisian's recommended spending plan for the year that begins July 1.

"It'll have a lot of negative impacts on education," Thompson said of the mayor's proposed budget. "Class sizes would increase dramatically; a school could be closed."

Avedisian has proposed giving the School Department $142 million, $7.3 million less than the school board requested. . .

Avedisian contended that the school board hatched the Potowomut closure plan to galvanize parents of the elementary school's 200 students. The issue came up at a School Committee meeting Tuesday night, but school officials never emphasized it in earlier budget presentations.

"I think it's ironic that 10 days ago it wasn't on the radar," Avedisian said. The only similar proposal school officials have recently discussed, he asserted, concerned closing the John Wickes Elementary School if T.F. Green Airport ever expanded.

The School Department, in public comments and letters, had beseeched parents to attend last night's hearing devoted to the education budget. And the proposal to close Potowomut filled the bleachers and balcony in the council chambers, with more than 100 people.

So, apparently, the tactic worked and many parents attended the meeting to save their school. This would seem to have been a disengenuous and cynical ploy by the embattled school committee. It almost seems as if, feeling the heat of teacher contract negotiations, they want to transfer some of the load over to the city politicians. For his part, Avedesian has made a counter-proposal (pdf source1, pgs. 4-6) to the School Committee that includes outlining places to cut and other methods for them to obtain cost savings. Setting those micro-issues aside, it is worth noting a few of the important larger numbers in his budget regarding education.

While the $142 million proposed by Avedesian is indeed "$7.3 million less than the school board requested" it is also approximately a 2.33% increase over last year (see pdf source1, pg. 12) and overall the schools will comprise 54.9% of the city budget (pg. 18 of same report). This is actually a decrease by percentage (down from 56.5% - pdf source2, pg. 17) of the share that education has in the overall budget, but is still an increase in funding. (Also, as an aside, last year 66% [pdf source2, pg. 12] of all city revenue was generated by property taxes while this year it will be 65.5% (pdf source1, pg. 13). As previously stated, Avedesian explained why he couldn't support the increase proposed by the school committee and suggested ways that they could cut their budget, but instead they took the fight to the city council.

Part of the problem is that the School Committee is putting estimated figures reflective of a 3.5% pay increase and retroactive pay and benefits for the teachers with whom the committee is engaged in a well-documented battle. Realizing this, many parents also turned their vitriol on the teachers.

The proposal to close Potowomut -- and likely disperse its students to the Cedar Hill and Harold J. Scott Elementary Schools -- also sparked criticism of the Warwick Teachers Union, which has been locked in a contract dispute with the school board for nearly two years.

Several parents called for giving the teachers lower raises and requiring them to contribute to the cost of their health coverage. The $2 million in this year's budget earmarked for teacher raises, speakers said, should be spent on equipment and books instead, as should $2.4 million that the school board allocated for prospective raises in its budget request for next year.

"Teacher salaries are out of line. Something needs to be done," said Bruce Gempp, to sustained applause. "Buy some buses, buy some books."

Well, that sounds nice, but that's $4.4 million that the Mayor says can't be found in the first place! In short, the entire teacher contract simply needs to be renegotiated so that more money goes to resources used by the students, not to the teachers. The 3.5% raises are frankly unnecessary when the job steps are taken into account, anyway. In fact, I would even be willing to propose a guaranteed COLA + 1% raise in exchange for getting rid of the hidden salary increases present in the step structure. However, to stay out of the weeds, the fundamental issue at the heart of this battle is that the school committee and the teacher's union need to hammer out a common-sense contract. Fighting over the city budget is a red herring.

One possibly beneficial outcome could be that the mayor becomes more involved in the negotiation process. As chief excecutive of the city, I would say that it definitely falls under his purview. At this point, two years and running, it is obvious that someone needs to take a leadership role and serve as a diplomat between the school committee and teacher's union. Who better than the mayor? Isn't this exactly the situation in which he can best serve the city and its future?

The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?

Last week, I emailed this posting to East Greenwich town and school officials, asking that they "ensure the referenced matters were properly investigated and publicly discussed."

East Greenwich School Superintendent Michael Jolin has responded to only one of the matters, making the following comments in this ProJo article:

While the town's teachers are "working to rule" because they lack a contract, some continue private tutoring, and that has drawn criticism from a former School Committee member.

On Friday, Donald Hawthorne, a critic of the teachers' union, sent an e-mail to town and school officials and to the news media directing them to a Web blog he maintains.

On the site, Hawthorne said that "some teachers who refuse to tutor our children before or after school are currently charging money from parents to tutor children outside of school."

"[T]hey are getting paid extra money this year to do what has been a part of their regular job description in past years," he said.

School Committee member Marilyn Friedemann said she asked Supt. Michael W. Jolin to see whether such outside tutoring is a violation of state law.

State law says no public school teacher shall accept payment for tutoring directly from parents of a student under his or her instruction.

In an interview yesterday, Jolin said he interpreted the law to mean that teachers are not allowed to privately tutor students who are in the classes that they teach.

Jolin said that, while he has confirmed that there are teachers who tutor children privately, he has found "no evidence of teachers receiving pay for tutoring students who they are instructing during the regular school day."...

During my time on the School Committee, Superintendent Jolin was masterful at not quite answering questions asked of him and not providing appropriate analyses before major votes - like the previous teachers' union contract extension. This ProJo editorial shares some of my past experiences with and observations of his leadership. So, from a distance, I do not know whether his finding "no evidence" means anything.

More importantly, what I do know is that he neither answered the entire question I asked of town and school officials about tutoring nor did he address other inconsistent actions, highlighted in the same email, all of which have hurt our children.

Remember that no one is disputing that teachers, working under contract compliance, are not helping our children with academic matters in ways like they have done in past years. Nor is anyone disputing that teachers are getting the same salary and benefits that they received last year when they did help our children at that higher level. Also, no one is disputing that gifted children in grade 6 got their field trip but 6th grade children not in the gifted program were denied their annual field trip. They are not disputing that teachers went to a prom which was outside their working hours under contract compliance but they will not help our children with academic needs or field trips outside the same working hours.

So the open question about tutoring remains: Is there MORE paid tutoring going on right now in East Greenwich than in past years due to "work-to-rule?"

In other words, are we/they doing right by our children and, in aggregate, are teachers benefiting economically under contract compliance?

Frankly, investigating that point in greater detail now is a waste of time because, given past performance by the Superintendent, there would be reasons to doubt the reliability of any new information.

Yet an even larger question also remains unanswered and worthy of further public debate: Is it ethical and professional behavior for teachers to selectively work outside formal contract hours by attending a prom but not providing after school help or doing a field trip? By participating in one field trip but not another?

We know this larger question does not bother the teachers' union: Jane Argentieri, the executive director of the union's parent organization, the National Education Association Rhode Island, is quoted in the ProJo article as saying "Contract compliance merely means that they are doing everything required by the contract." To translate that into layman's language, she is saying "Who cares about doing right by the children as long as we get ours and abide by the legal letter of the agreement?" Her highly persuasive comment only reinforces the points about the one-sided imbalance in management rights found in teachers' union contracts - a point made quite clearly in the recent Education Partnership report.

But the larger question does bother the rest of us as parents and as members of the East Greenwich community. We must do right by our children and ensure they get all the help they need to be successful while at the same time ensuring that teachers do not receive any economic reward for problems they created in the first place due to "work-to-rule."

Therefore, what is not a waste of time is ensuring that there are no structural incentives in place that would encourage or reward unfair and undesired outcomes - regardless of whether the issue is formal tutoring, informal after school help, proms, or field trips. And that leads directly back to the question of retroactive pay for teachers, the key focus of both my previous posting and the email to town/school officials.

Retroactive pay is also one of the larger outstanding financial issues in the current contract dispute which I have publicly addressed here:

The issues of retroactive pay and "work-to-rule" are at the heart of the dispute in the East Greenwich NEA teachers union contract dispute. The union expects salaries to be made whole via retroactive pay increases. But if the union believes they will get such pay, then they have no incentive to settle the contract for anything less than their one-sided outrageous demands. Yet, in the meantime, our children will not be made whole retroactively for all the times teachers have, due to "work-to-rule," refused to do the same things for our children that they did in past years. This is an inequitable situation that needs to be rectified.

Therefore, I would like to propose a straightforward settlement offer to the East Greenwich NEA teachers' union contract dispute:

• Retroactive pay: Tell the union that retroactive pay is off the table now and forever. Actions have consequences and teachers should not be made whole if our children cannot be made whole. Take away any incentive for the union to continue its refusal to negotiate in good faith and make time their enemy, not ours.

• Taking care of our children: Take some or all of the funds originally set aside in the budget for retroactive pay and dedicate those funds to paying for outside help, including tutors, for our children. In other words, let's take control of the situation and make our children whole from this day forward...

Let's focus on doing right by our children and giving them all the support they need.

May 24, 2005

The Alternative Minimum Tax

The Tax Foundation has just come out with a study on the alternative minimum tax. The report begins:

The AMT is a tax system that is parallel to the regular income tax. It was originally designed to capture a small number of wealthy taxpayers who were avoiding income taxes, but the AMT’s reach has ballooned in recent years.

Until recently, the AMT affected less than 1 percent of taxpayers. Since 2000 the AMT has steadily grown, hitting roughly 3 percent of taxpayers in 2005. If left unchanged, the AMT will penalize nearly 20 percent of taxpayers by 2010—some 30 million Americans in total...

I would encourage you to read the entire piece and learn more about the looming threat to middle Americans from the AMT.

"A Girl From The Projects" Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream

A previous posting reported the upcoming leadership change - and why - at the Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy, a charter school. Here is a related letter to the editor:

...Rick Landau has announced that he will step down as chief executive officer of Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy, in Providence. All because the teachers'-union leaders are furious at him for trying to protect the school's role as an engine of innovation...

Textron, and other schools like it, work best for inner-city youth. They give students special attention. They raise test scores, and the confidence of students. These kids can then go out and get good jobs, because they had a caring teacher who told them that they could do whatever they wanted to do. My friend went to Textron, and now she works at a well-known law firm. She is a girl from the projects who benefited from these teachers.

So I agree that we should work, through changing the law or contract negotiations, to do away with "bumping" and let educational leaders give precedence to the best, most dedicated teachers.

The right recommendation, for sure.

What can inspire pride more than hearing that "a girl from the projects" now has an opportunity to live the American Dream?

Now contemplate how many children from the projects will not have a similar opportunity to live the American Dream - all because the teachers' union insists that teacher seniority is more important than teacher merit.

Doesn't that make you sad? Angry?

It is our moral duty as Americans to ensure every child has a similar opportunity to live the American Dream. To be successful, we must rid our society of the ills which stand in the way of fulfilling that obligation.

It is a duty we must never shirk.

FBI Asks Congress For Power to Seize Documents

Let's be careful before we say yes too quickly to this request:

The FBI on Tuesday asked the U.S. Congress for sweeping new powers to seize business or private records, ranging from medical information to book purchases, to investigate terrorism without first securing approval from a judge.

Valerie Caproni, FBI general counsel, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee her agency needed the power to issue what are known as administrative subpoenas to get information quickly about terrorist plots and the activities of foreign agents.

Civil liberties groups have complained the subpoenas, which would cover medical, tax, gun-purchase, book purchase, travel and other records and could be kept secret, would give the FBI too much power and could infringe on privacy and free speech...

The [USA Patriot] act was passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. However administrative subpoena power was not in the original law. The proposed new powers, long sought by the FBI, have been added by Republican lawmakers, acting on the wishes of the Bush administration, to the new draft of the USA Patriot Act.

Committee chairman, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, noted that other government agencies already had subpoena power to investigate matters such as child pornography, drug investigations and medical malpractice. He said it made little sense to deny those same powers to the FBI to investigate terrorism or keep track of foreign intelligence agents.

But opponents said other investigations usually culminated in a public trial, whereas terrorism probes would likely remain secret and suspects could be arrested or deported or handed over to other countries without any public action...

Senator Mitch McConnell on the Judicial Filibuster - Before the Capitulation

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell gave this speech on the Senate floor prior to the capitulation by the 7 Republican senators. It offers a history lesson and is complementary to this posting by Mac Owens.

Drafting Laffey or Protesting Chafee?

Marc Comtois

Well, it's official. A group is attempting to draft Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey into a run for Sen. Lincoln Chafee's seat.

A group of Republicans statewide has organized a committee to encourage Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey to challenge Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee in 2006.

There are 85 names on a letter given to Laffey yesterday, including 2000 gubernatorial candidate James Bennett, Cranston state Representatives Carol Mumford and James F. Davey, East Providence Mayor Joseph Larisa and members of city and town councils, party members and business people.

Former Cranston Republican City Committee Chairman Gary Vierra said that he and others -- mostly members of the Cranston GOP -- were behind the effort, which was launched two weeks ago. Vierra said the signers of the letter consider Chafee -- the most centrist of the Senate's Republicans -- does not represent their political views. Laffey is considered to be more conservative.

"I don't feel [Chafee] really represents the Republican ideals," Vierra said.

Yesterday, he presented the letter to the mayor, urging him to run.

"We believe that your qualifications, your record of achievement and your personal background make you the right person for the job at this critical time in our nation's history," the letter reads.

It also mentions Laffey's role in turning around Cranston's finances, and Laffey's background -- a public-school-educated son of a middle-class Cranston family who headed an investment banking firm -- as qualifications.

Laffey, who has been uncharacteristically tightlipped when his plans for future office are discussed, said only that he was honored when Vierra brought him the letter.

"I took it, I read it, and I just said, 'I'm honored, Gary,' " Laffey said. He said that knowing he has the support of prominent members of the party will be a big factor if he decides to run for the Senate.

"It does make me pause," he said. "I take it very, very seriously."

He said he would call many of the people on the list to thank them and to discuss his options. He said he was not aware there was an attempt to "draft" him before yesterday.

The draft Laffey movement was launched without the sanction of the statewide party. Vierra said that the party leadership is veering too near the political center.

"They are a small group of people who do not listen to the membership," he said.

The Republican State Central Committee was not informed of the draft Laffey campaign, which was intended to a be a low-profile effort, Vierra said. He added that he did not ask Governor Carcieri to sign on.

The state GOP's executive director, Jeffrey Deckman, said the draft movement did not signal a rift in the party.

"This party is more together and more open than it has been in 15 years," he said, and in any party, disagreements will happen, he said.

"I'm not into fighting amongst the party. But I also know not everyone's going to get along," he said.

In his perfect world, Deckman said, there would be no primary in the 2006 race for the Senate seat.

"We like to avoid primaries. We don't like our resources pointed at each other. We want them pointed at the enemy," he said.

The campaign has not registered with the state as a political action committee and no events are planned yet.

On today's Dan Yorke show, in an interview with Gary Vierra, Yorke expressed skepticism that Laffey had no prior knowledge of this movement to draft him. Vierra assured that this was the case. Yorke also asked if this was more of a "Laffey's great" or a "Chafee is awful" based movement. Vierra demured.

Yorke also spoke to Governor Carcieri, who has not committed as of yet, but was complimentary of Laffey's record and noted that he was also not endorsed by the state Republican party in his run for Governor.

For my part, I tend to believe that conservatives are more fed up with Chafee than they are necessarily enamored with Mayor Laffey's cult of personality. (There, I said it). By this, I mean that, while the mayor is obviously conservative in many of his stances, and he's a particularly sound fiscal conservative, he also seems to enjoy basking in the limelight for its own sake a bit too much for me. (The whole radio show imbroglio is a case in point). In short, I must confess I'm not sure how much of Steve Laffey the politician is based on promoting conservative principles and how much is being the establishment gadfly. Being the latter can be fun and entertaining, but, in the long run, it has no inherent worth in and of itself. Laffey's track record cannot be discounted, but I wonder if his personality won't end up superseding it, for good or ill.

You Can Always Count on that Great Deliberative Body, the U.S. Senate...

Marc Comtois come up with a politically expedient and intellectually dishonest solution to a problem. That is what the "filibuster deal" is. The moderates, including our own Sen. Chafee, prized comity over Constitutional consistency. Senator John Cornyn explains it well.

Conservatives have good reason to be unhappy with the agreement announced last night concerning the Senate’s judicial-confirmation process. The agreement does not guarantee up-or-down votes on all of President Bush’s judicial nominees, nor does it restore the Senate’s unswerving 214-year tradition of majority vote for all judicial nominees. In addition, the agreement attempts to rewrite Article II of the Constitution, by giving the Senate an advise-and-consent role in the nomination, as well as the appointment, of judges. Those objectives are still within reach, however. As one of the signatories to the agreement made clear last night, the agreement does not foreclose the use of the Byrd option in the event that the filibuster continues to be abused. Moreover, conservatives should be proud of the principled manner in which they have conducted this debate.

The other side’s position, by contrast, is an intellectual shambles. The agreement guarantees up-or-down votes to Justice Priscilla Owen, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, and Judge William Pryor — three well-qualified nominees who were once deplored as extreme and dangerous (as late as yesterday afternoon). The agreement is thus an effective admission of guilt — an admission that these fine nominees should never have been filibustered in the first place. Moreover, by forbidding future filibusters of judicial nominations except under “extraordinary circumstances,” the agreement establishes a new benchmark for future conduct in the United States Senate — namely, that other qualified judges who are firmly committed to the law, like Owen, Brown, and Pryor, deserve an up-or-down vote, too.

Likewise, for months it was claimed that the filibuster is sacrosanct to the Founders, and that using the Byrd option to restore Senate tradition would be illegal. Yet Senator Robert Byrd reminded the world just last week that our Founders did not tolerate filibusters — that “the rules adopted by the United States Senate in April 1789 included a motion for the previous question,” which “allowed the Senate to terminate debate” by majority vote. And just yesterday, he conceded that “the so-called nuclear option has been around for a long time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

Now, it must be said that some on the left aren't all that happy either, thus ideologues on both left and right are disappointed. To this, Pejman Yousefzadeh makes the point
I understand the desire of Republicans to get rid of the filibuster entirely when it comes to judicial nominees. I share in that desire. But remember that politics is a game of inches. Tip O'Neill once admiringly said of Ronald Reagan that the latter may not get 100% of what he wanted, but that Reagan would always get about 80%. When Reagan heard the compliment, he responded by saying "Yeah. And then next time, I go after the other 20%."

The other 20% is out there for Republicans to get. And if this deal falls apart thanks to bad faith on the other side, we can go out and get it.

Some of us may wonder if the Republican moderates will follow through, though. For those of us in Rhode Island, we have to ask if the 1/4 loaf of Lincoln Chafee is really worth it. Should we move to get rid of the false promise that Chafee most-often offers, knowing full well that a liberal Democrat could, and probably would, replace him? Perhaps. Because then we would be sure where that potential Chafee successor stood. Is it better to "know-thy-enemy" then to wonder what the heck the incumbent is going to do? Actually, as I look back at the previous couple sentences, I realize that we do know what Chafee will do. If there is a "compromise" offered, he will sign on. Sen. Chafee is most firm in his un-conservative ideals (abortion, "traditional" environmentalism, to name a couple) and it is only when he is asked to adhere to even tacitly conservative ideals that he compromises. It is no secret that Sen. Chafee isn't a conservative. He is most definitely the very definition of a RINO (Republican-in-name-only). We have to ask ourselves, is a RINO better than a liberal Democrat? Is there a difference?

NOTE: For good coverage and analysis, check out NRO's Bench Memos blog.

May 23, 2005

A Convert Speaks

Marc Comtois
These days the postmodern left demands that government and private institutions guarantee equality of outcomes. Any racial or gender "disparities" are to be considered evidence of culpable bias, regardless of factors such as personal motivation, training, and skill. This goal is neither liberal nor progressive; but it is what the left has chosen. In a very real sense it may be the last card held by a movement increasingly ensnared in resentful questing for group-specific rights and the subordination of citizenship to group identity. There's a word for this: pathetic.
So says Keith Thompson, who also offers more on his own "conversion."
I'll admit my politics have shifted in recent years, as have America's political landscape and cultural horizon. Who would have guessed that the U.S. senator with today's best voting record on human rights would be not Ted Kennedy or Barbara Boxer but Kansas Republican Sam Brownback?

He is also by most measures one of the most conservative senators. Brownback speaks openly about how his horror at the genocide in the Sudan is shaped by his Christian faith, as King did when he insisted on justice for "all of God's children."

My larger point is rather simple. Just as a body needs different medicines at different times for different reasons, this also holds for the body politic.

In the sixties, America correctly focused on bringing down walls that prevented equal access and due process. It was time to walk the Founders' talk -- and we did. With barriers to opportunity no longer written into law, today the body politic is crying for different remedies.

America must now focus on creating healthy, self-actualizing individuals committed to taking responsibility for their lives, developing their talents, honing their skills and intellects, fostering emotional and moral intelligence, all in all contributing to the advancement of the human condition.

At the heart of authentic liberalism lies the recognition, in the words of John Gardner, "that the ever renewing society will be a free society (whose] capacity for renewal depends on the individuals who make it up." A continuously renewing society, Gardner believed, is one that seeks to "foster innovative, versatile, and self-renewing men and women and give them room to breathe."

One aspect of my politics hasn't changed a bit. I became a liberal in the first place to break from the repressive group orthodoxies of my reactionary hometown.

This past January, my liberalism was in full throttle when I bid the cultural left goodbye to escape a new version of that oppressiveness. I departed with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails; the quest for freedom as an intrinsically human affair; and the dangers of demands for conformity and adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion.

True, it took a while to see what was right before my eyes. A certain misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left's entrance-level view of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.

Leftists who no longer speak of the duties of citizens, but only of the rights of clients, cannot be expected to grasp the importance (not least to our survival) of fostering in the Middle East the crucial developmental advances that gave rise to our own capacity for pluralism, self-reflection, and equality. A left averse to making common cause with competent, self- determining individuals -- people who guide their lives on the basis of received values, everyday moral understandings, traditional wisdom, and plain common sense -- is a faction that deserves the marginalization it has pursued with such tenacity for so many years.

Thompson finally could take no more. I think that many Rhode Islanders can't bring themselves to make the break that Thompson has. For so long, the working man and his heritage has been linked to the Democrat party, but the working men lost the reins of the Democrat party long ago. Those reins are now held by radical liberals who rely on the rhetoric of populism and class envy to obfuscate their real ideology. They think that conservatives and Republicans have "tricked" the American voters into supporting them because that is exactly what the liberals who lead the Democrat party are trying to do themselves.

I think too many in Rhode Island and New England don't want to change horses because they don't want to admit that the tired old nag their riding now is faltering and no longer has a chance of winning and will only show by default. No one likes to admit that they were wrong or have been had or have backed a loser, etc. So rather than admit their political error, they cling more tightly to reins of their trotting glueworks hoping that, maybe someday again, something will stick with the American voter and they will win the derby. Unfortunately for them, it is the Republican party that currently holds the triple crown. They are covered in dust.

An Open Letter to Sen. Lincoln Chafee

Mac Owens

I sent this off to Sen. Chafee's office this morning

Dear Sen. Chafee:

With President Bush’s nomination of Pricilla Owen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit now before the Senate, the long-expected showdown over the issue of permanent minority judicial filibusters seems imminent. You have indicated that you will not support a move to end judicial filibusters. That, of course, is your right. But perhaps you can take the time to explain to your constituents why you have chosen to join the Democrats in defending a practice that is at best obstructionist, and at worst, unconstitutional.

Opponents of changing the Senate rules regarding permanent minority judicial filibusters have launched what can only be called a campaign of misinformation, if not disinformation. You, of course, know that most of what the Democrats are saying on this issue is simply false. You know this because you have access to one of the finest research organizations in the world, the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Here are some of the things you know to be true, but perhaps your constituents don’t. First, the Constitution is very clear in delineating when a supermajority is required. Two-thirds of both houses of Congress are required to amend the Constitution, which amendment must then be approved by the legislatures of thee-fourths of the states. Two-thirds of both houses are necessary to override a presidential veto. Two-thirds of the members of each house must vote to expel a member. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is necessary to convict an individual impeached by the House. And two-thirds of the Senate are required for consent to ratification of a treaty. No such supermajority is required to approve presidential nominees.

Indeed, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution provides an illuminating juxtaposition of the Senate roles in both treaty-making and appointments:

"[The president] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law…"

The clear sense of the language of this clause indicates that appointments require only a majority of Senators to provide the necessary advice and consent in the case of nominees, as opposed to approving treaties.

Second, you know that the Democrats’ claim that the proposed rule change undoes 200 years of precedent is nonsense. They get away with this by conflating the use of the filibuster to block legislation and its use to block judicial nominees. As you must know, the “200 years of precedent” refers to the former, not the latter.

From 1789 to 1806, a simple majority could end debate on a motion before the Senate. The rule change in 1806 permitted unlimited debate in the Senate that could be ended only by “unanimous consent” but the use of the legislative filibuster was rare until the end of the nineteenth century. In 1917, the Senate adopted the first cloture rule, Rule XXII, which provided for ending a debate by a vote of two-thirds of the senators present and voting. In 1975, the rule was amended to allow cloture by a vote of three-fifths of the Senate—which is why the current threshold for ending a filibuster is 60.

But again, this applied to legislation, not appointments. As former Minnesota Senator Rudy Boschwitz recently observed:

"For more than 200 years, just one judicial nominee was defeated by filibuster -- Abe Fortas in 1968 in extraordinary circumstances that are not comparable to the current situation. For more than 200 years, no minority leader ever organized a judicial filibuster. For more than 200 years, the Senate operated on the understanding that a majority of senators was entitled to carry out its constitutional obligation to advise and consent on federal judges. But now the Democratic leadership has cast aside Senate tradition to usurp the president's appointment power against nominees not meeting the minority's ideological benchmarks or litmus tests."

In other words, it is the Democrats’ use of the filibuster to block President Bush’s judicial nominees that is unprecedented.

You must also know that the claim by Democrats that 60 Clinton judicial nominees were “filibustered” by blue slips, holds, or other procedural devices, and that numerous other nominees in the 19th and 20th centuries were filibustered, is false. Here’s what Stuart Taylor, a Senior Non-Resident Fellow of the Brookings Institute and columnist for Newsweek had to say in the May 7 issue of The National Journal:

"It is … misleading for Democrats and liberal groups to claim that there are ample precedents for this filibuster-forever tactic. Their trick is to count as "filibusters" even genuine debates and short-term stalls that ended in cloture votes and confirmation.

"The fact is that only one judicial nominee in our history (Abe Fortas) has even arguably been blocked by the filibuster-forever tactic that Senate Democrats have used since 2003 to block 10 majority-supported Bush judicial nominees. (Three of the 10 have withdrawn.)

"And even the 1968 filibuster of then-Justice Fortas's nomination to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is a pretty weak precedent. That was a real floor debate, over ethical missteps as well as judicial philosophy. It lasted only a little more than a week. Then, President Johnson, having lost a cloture vote, withdrew the nomination at Fortas's request. This decision came amid damaging disclosures that might have led to defeat in an up-or-down vote."

No matter what the Democrats may claim, you certainly know that successful cloture votes, generic delays or blockages, or “blue slips” and holds are not the same as permanent minority judicial filibusters.

Opponents of ending judicial filibusters point to the clause in Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution stating that “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.” This is true, but there are two constitutional issues here. The first is the degree to which one Senate can bind future Senates with its rules. The second is the impact of Senate rules on the powers of the other branches.

While senators are understandably reluctant to disturb precedent, it is ludicrous to believe that a procedural rule, once instituted, should stand forever. Rule XXII, after all, disturbed the precedent that had stood since 1806 (Rule XXII was passed, by the way, not by a supermajority but by a simple majority). Sen. Robert Byrd, now an opponent of ending judicial filibusters, made this point on Jan. 15, 1979:

"This Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past … The first Senate, which met in 1789, approved 19 rules by a majority vote. Those rules have been changed from time to time … So the Members of the Senate who met in 1789 and approved that first body of rules did not for one moment think, or believe, or pretend, that all succeeding Senates would be bound by that Senate … It would be just as reasonable to say that one Congress can pass a law providing that all future laws have to be passed by two-thirds vote. Any Member of this body knows that the next Congress would not heed that law and would proceed to change it and would vote repeal of it by majority vote."

Would that Sen. Byrd still accepted the unassailable logic of this statement today.

While the Constitution permits each house to determine its own rules, logic dictates that a Senate rule governing its internal proceedings that limits the constitutional power of another branch is unconstitutional. Senator Chafee, do you believe that the Senate can reduce the number of votes necessary for consent to ratification of a treaty? If not, how can you believe that Senate Democrats can de facto change the number of votes necessary to confirm a presidential nominee, as they have by use of the judicial filibuster? To do so would seem to indicate that you believe the Senate has an amending power that constitutional scholars have not yet discovered!

Your Democratic allies claim that judicial filibusters are necessary because Republicans control both the White House and the Senate. But one or another party has often controlled both, yet filibustering judicial nominees was unheard of until used against President Bush’s nominees in his first term. As Sen. Boschwitz asks, “Has every Senate in American history been wrong constitutionally and traditionally?” As Abraham Lincoln, the man whose namesake you are, well understood, if a party does not like the makeup of the judiciary, it changes it by winning elections.

The Democrats claim that they are holding the line against the “extremists” that President Bush wishes to nominate to the federal bench. You cannot possibly believe that Pricilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown are extremists. If you do, then the word no longer has any meaning.

But let’s look at the kind of judge that the Democrats believe acceptable. On May 5, 1994, President Clinton nominated district judge H. Lee Sarokin to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called him “a judge of proven competence, temperament, and fairness” and “an excellent choice.” Consider a sterling example of this competent, temperate, and fair judge’s jurisprudence: Kreimer vs. Bureau of Police for the Town of Morristown. In this case, Sarokin ruled that the New Jersey town’s public library couldn’t enforce its written policies to expel a homeless man who regularly engaged in offensive and disruptive behavior and whose odor was so offensive that it prevented the library patrons from using certain areas of the library and prohibited library employees from performing their jobs.

According to a memo posted in the Congressional Record of 12 September, 1994 by Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Third Circuit, which reversed Kreimer, also criticized Sarokin for “judicial usurpation of power,” for ignoring “fundamental concepts of due process,” for destroying the appearance of judicial impartiality, and for “superimpos[ing his] own view of what the law should be in the face of the Supreme Court’s contrary precedent.”

Sen. Hatch also observed that the New Jersey Law Journal had reported that Sarokin “may be the most reversed federal judge in New Jersey when it comes to major cases” and that a broad range of police and victim’s groups announced their opposition to his nomination. But while Republicans voted against him, they did not filibuster his nomination and a mere five months after he was nominated, the Senate confirmed him.

The press routinely describes you and other liberal Republicans as “courageous” when you oppose the policies of your party. But since Rhode Island is the most Democratic state in the Union, it does not take much courage for you to vote with the Democrats, as you often have done. Again, this is your right, but real courage in this case would be to stand with constitutional principle—indeed, with the Constitution itself—and vote to end permanent minority judicial filibusters. You could justify your decision to Rhode Islanders by invoking the wisdom of two prominent Democrats: Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who said in 1998 that “We owe it to Americans across the country to give these nominees a vote. If our Republican colleagues don’t like them, vote against them. But give them a vote;” and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who said in 1997 that “It is not the role of the Senate to obstruct the process and prevent numbers of highly qualified nominees from even being given the opportunity for a vote on the Senate floor.”

I myself prefer the wisdom of the country music philosopher, Aaron Tippin: “you’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” Sen. Chaffee, please stand for something in this case—stand for constitutional principle.
Mac Owens*

*Mac Owens is a contributing editor to National Review Online and Anchor Rising. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses on Congress and the Presidency at Catholic University in Washington DC and URI. He served on a Senate staff for nearly four years.


Carroll Andrew Morse

Most analysis (like here or here) trying to set up Uzbekistan as a realist-versus-idealist problem in foreign policy is missing an important point. No matter how the US reacts to the Andijan massacre, Uzbekistan's current government is likely to replace us with the Chinese as an alliance partner. So tolerating their brutal actions makes no sense whatsover.

Here's the full explanation, in my latest TechCentralStation column.

May 21, 2005

Why Truly Free Markets & Timely, Transparent Information Are Needed to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens

Crises often happen when individuals and organizations refuse to face reality. It is a common human problem.

These behavioral tendencies not to face reality are only magnified by the misguided incentives that pervade the public sector (here, here, here, here, here) and the portion of the private sector which uses power and influence to shelter itself from truly competitive market forces.

The underfunding of pension obligations (here, here, here) and healthcare benefit obligations committed to by both the public and private sector, including Social Security, represent prime examples of such foolish behavior.

Stanley Kurtz observes that we have a series of looming problems with pension liabilities that will put taxpayers all across America at serious financial risk:

Four years before the massive wave of boomer retirements begins, we’re beginning to see cracks in our pension system. The retirement of the boomers is a crisis in waiting. And the problem goes way beyond Social Security...

...our private pension system in danger of collapse, Social Security is even more important. But that’s all the more reason to put Social Security on safe fiscal footing. The private pension crisis Stone describes is quite like the one that confronts Social Security. Corporate pension funds are failing because, when times were good, companies raided their retirement trust funds and diverted the money to other expenses. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what we do with the Social Security trust fund...

Once bad economic times hit the airline industry, companies burdened with huge pension debts went bust. That’s what could happen to the United States itself if we pass through an economic rough patch while also being burdened with huge entitlement debt. Should that happen, there won’t be anyone to bail America out...

...pressure from boomer retirements-and from crises like the private pension fund meltdown we’re seeing now-could spook investors and send the economy south. The way to stop the ripple effect is to send out a signal that we’re putting our economic house in order. That’s why we’ve got to reform Social Security now...

So how do we get to the point of having what Kurtz calls "a crisis in waiting?"

One way was by creating mythical structures, like trust funds in government which have no connection to economic reality. For example, read this article on the underfunded highway trust fund. Then recall Al Gore's emphatic discussion of the Social Security trust fund - another mythical structure with only federal government IOU's but no cash - because all of that "money" has also been spent elsewhere.

Another way was by tolerating dishonest or misleading public debates which are enabled by a lack of timely, transparent information.

George Will offers these comments about a related and no less serious problem: the perverse outcomes that arise after the government intervenes in the marketplace:

Eyes glaze over at the mere mention of entities such as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation or the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. But the PBGC's sudden prominence is symptomatic of the increasingly troubled relationship between America's welfare state and American capitalism, or those portions of capitalism that are appendages of the welfare state. And the GASB is pertinent to the parallel crisis of state and municipal welfare states...

When the PBGC took over responsibility for $3 billion of US Airways' promised benefits for current and retired employees, that put pressure on United to lighten its load. And now that the PBGC has lightened it, what is Delta, which has lost $6.3 billion in the last five quarters, to do? What about American, Continental, Northwest? The mere existence of the PBGC encourages a chain reaction. And outside the airline industry, many other corporations under stress are watching...

The judge, practicing industrial policy, said the deal reached through collaboration between United and the PBGC will help United attract financing to keep flying. But perhaps United -- or US Airways, or a carrier contemplating bankruptcy as a means of escaping "legacy'' costs -- should go out of business. The airline industry is afflicted with excess capacity and is hemorrhaging red ink -- more than $30 billion since 2000 -- largely because of the older carriers' promises of medical care and pensions for current and retired employees.

But muscular interests have huge stakes in keeping all existing airlines flying. The government has invested $9.5 billion in various subsidies for the big carriers which, in dire straits, might try to hand another $20 billion in pension obligations to Washington. Since 9/11, General Electric, which manufactures and maintains jet engines and leases more than 700 aircraft to airlines, wants all carriers to survive. American Express has paid Delta $750 million for frequent flier miles to award certain card users...

In what is perhaps anachronistically called the private sector, Standard & Poor's recently reduced its rating of General Motors' and Ford's bonds -- nearly half a trillion dollars of debt -- to junk status, largely because of upward spiraling legacy costs. But, then, to what extent is there a really private sector in an economy that socializes huge obligations through the PBGC?

A Wall Street Journal article (available for a fee) describes more about the PBGC and illustrates how meddling by the PBGC in the marketplace reinforces the wrong incentives, thereby only creating an even greater likelihood of more costly problems in the future:

While UAL Corp. was getting approval this week to dump United Airlines' pension woes on the federal government, Congress was working to make that a harder act to follow for other companies with underfunded pension plans. In dealing with the growing problem, though, legislators face a tough balancing act.

Congress has been drafting legislation that would strengthen the finances of the beleaguered Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that insures private-employer defined-benefit pension plans. It's the PBGC that would be responsible for $6.6 billion of United's unfunded pensions...

But while the legislation could shore up the PBGC's finances, lawmakers must avoid steps that could give companies another reason to abandon defined-benefit plans by making it even more costly to keep them afloat...

Congress is acting because the prospect of more bankrupt pension plans would plunge the PBGC, which already has billions of dollars more in commitments than it can cover, even more deeply into the red -- and raise questions about whether a taxpayer bailout will be needed down the road. Employer groups warn that companies will be tempted to freeze or end their plans if they're compelled to pay higher premiums...

The vast majority of plans taken over by the PBGC have been from companies that have been liquidated. In those cases, the PBGC asks the bankruptcy courts to agree to turn over the pension plans to the agency. In other cases, companies on their own can use bankruptcy proceedings to convince the judge that they can't survive without shedding their pension liabilities. The PBGC must accept the court's rulings. Also, the PBGC can initiate a pension-plan takeover by going to court and asking for the termination of company plans.

Most of the PBGC's money comes from investment returns on corporate assets assumed from companies that turn over their pension liabilities to the government. The agency also collects premiums -- totaling on average $1 billion annually -- from employers whose plans it guarantees. So far, the PBGC hasn't gotten any taxpayer money, and has only a relatively small line of credit from the U.S. Treasury of $100 million...

Some analysts warn that a bailout of the PBGC funded by taxpayers could be on the horizon...

Two ideas being pushed by the White House...are stirring concern among employers. One would boost premiums paid by companies to the PBGC to $30 a year from $19 for each employee covered by a pension plan. The premium proposal also would increase so-called variable premiums pegged to the level of a companies' underfunding. Another administration proposal would create a new formula for measuring assets and liabilities.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, a trade group for large employers, said that businesses are worried that the new formula for measuring pension-plan health would cause nearly all plans to be considered less than 100% funded. In that case, most companies that offer defined-benefit pensions would have to pay both the higher flat rate and an additional variable premium.

The result would be that healthy companies would see their total premiums increase 240% under the proposal, more than double the increase for weaker companies, according to an analysis by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a consulting firm.

"While the pension funding environment desperately needs fixing, we believe that the administration's proposal will likely damage an already weakened defined-benefit system," said Sylvester Schieber of Watson Wyatt.

PBGC Executive Director Bradley Belt said the administration is sensitive to the negative impact of legislation. But the United situation "is a wake-up call," he said. "We have to have tougher funding rules, we need more transparency in the system, and we need to address risk in a more meaningful way."

In yet another example of how the misguided incentives of the public sector are costly, a recent Fortune magazine article (also available for a fee) describes how healthcare benefit liabilities in the public sector are another time bomb set to explode in the near future:

There is a time bomb quietly ticking away in the netherlands of state and local government, and it is set to blow up in the next few years. When it detonates, the damage will easily run into the hundreds of billions of dollars—forcing tax hikes and public service cuts that will affect the lives of millions of Americans unless dramatic action is taken soon. Why? Because, unlike the private sector, the majority of government employers—48 out of 50 states and more than half of all municipalities—still provide health-care benefits for their workers after retirement. The problem is, lawmakers haven't bothered to set aside nearly enough money to pay for these contractually guaranteed benefits. With health-care costs soaring and the rolls of public workers at retirement age growing fast, the tab for these obligations is expanding exponentially. And the bill is now coming due.

This phenomenon is already weighing on state and local governments. Consider the estimated $17 billion in unfunded retiree health benefits that California's largest school districts have now racked up...or the $26 million a year that the city of Buffalo now shells out on health care for its retirees (more than it spends on health care for active workers and equivalent to about 20% of the city's annual haul from property taxes)...

So why, you're wondering, haven't you heard much—perhaps not anything—about this impending crisis? The reason is simple: State and local governments don't have to disclose the extent of their health-care liability for retirees, so they don't. And what's worse, they habitually foist the cost onto the next generation of legislators.

That's about to change. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board, which sets the accounting rules for state and local governments, will soon force public-sector employers to show on their financial statements the total dollar value of the retiree health-care promises they have made to each worker and retiree. They'll also have to book an expense in their annual budgets for the dollars that will be required to fully fund those retiree health-care liabilities over a 30-year period...The rules kick in for budgets in fiscal years closing after December 2006...

Under the current system, municipal and state governments make room in their budgets every year for the amount of money they need to cover retiree health care over the next 12 months only. The problem with that pay-as-you-go accounting system is that it ignores the value of the health-care benefits that retirees and active workers alike have already earned but not yet received...There's a precedent in the private sector for this kind of shift in accounting standards—and it's not pretty. Back in 1990, the same rules that are about to take effect for state and local governments were forced on U.S. corporations. Companies suddenly began disclosing huge retiree health-care liabilities on their balance sheets and dramatically increased health-care expenses on their income statements. And Wall Street promptly threatened to punish the stocks of companies offering retiree health care to workers. Executives responded, of course, by taking an ax to the plans. From 1993 to 2003 the number of large companies offering medical coverage to retirees dropped by half, from 40% to 21%...

Since governments aren't yet required to disclose their anticipated liabilities, no one knows what the scope of the damage will be...

...In many public systems, half of the active workers are now eligible for retirement. Compounding the problem is the fact that public-sector workers are typically eligible to retire with full pension and health benefits at a much younger age (often in their mid-50s) than their private-sector counterparts. That puts the government employer on the hook for even more years of retiree health care. And all this is happening against a backdrop of health costs escalating at a far greater pace than the tax base...

...But the only real solution, he says, is to get rid of the retiree health benefit altogether for newly hired employees...

That's proving to be a tough sell with union officials. "We have traded wage increases and other benefits for this," says Ken Loeffler-Kemp, a Duluth-based representative with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. [Editorial comment: A questionable claim these days.] Indeed, don't expect the public sector to follow the lead of many corporations, which have simply eliminated retiree health care for active workers and retirees alike. For starters, government employees are far more likely to be unionized—a mere 9% of all private-sector workers are now represented by a union, compared with about 43% of all state and local workers. And elected officials are often loath to take on those powerful unions, whose members can both vote and strike...And even if they wanted to eliminate the retiree benefits of existing employees, lawmakers would probably run into a brick wall, since courts have almost uniformly enforced public employee retirement benefits once they've been granted.

So what's the solution? There's certainly the possibility of offloading more state and local health-care spending to the federal government...

While eliminating retiree health care may not be possible, cutting back on the generosity of the benefit benefits cut continually during the past five years, mostly in the form of increased premiums and co-payments for prescription drugs. She also says that in an effort to drive down the plan's costs, her organization has proposed an increase in the eligibility requirement for full retiree health care from the current five years of service to 20 years. But the idea hasn't taken hold with legislators. "Lawmakers are in the same health plan," notes Melton. "And it's a lot easier to win three two-year terms of office in order to get that five years than it is to meet a 20-year vesting requirement."

Wherever there is money and power involved - and especially when there are no free market forces - we should expect politicians, bureaucrats, unions, and business executives to act in their own parochial self-interest.

Only by having truly competitive free market forces, assisted by identifying the right metrics and publicizing them in a timely and highly transparent way, is there any chance of creating pressures which force these players to act in an economically rational manner.

Unfortunately, this hasn't happened in the past, especially in the public sector, and we are now about to pay the consequences.

It will be quite a price to pay. And we did it to ourselves by allowing the size of government to grow in conjunction with the economic demands of excessive public sector union contracts as well as by not insisting on truly free markets and timely, transparent information.

May 20, 2005

These People Don't Live In The Real World

Here they go again:

The Teacher of the Year for the Lucia Mar Unified School District cannot be named within the space of this story.

"It's everyone," said Branden Leach, president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association.

All 575 instructors in San Luis Obispo County's largest school district are winners, he said. "We all help children in our own special way." tonight's school board meeting...Leach will read a statement explaining why the union has decided not to pick a single winner this year.

Leach said Monday that the council of teachers from every campus in the district was in the process of selecting a winner in January.

That coincided with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first pitch for merit pay for public-school teachers. His proposal has met with strong opposition...

"We decided that choosing one among us as the best is similar to merit pay," Leach said...

Schwarzenegger had proposed putting a measure on the November ballot to institute merit didn't qualify in time for a possible November election.

The measure could go before voters next year instead. Schwarzenegger's plan calls for the elimination of automatic pay increases, instead tying them to student achievement...

Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of public instruction and a former state senator from San Luis Obispo, called the governor's plan flawed.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposal to impose merit pay would make the challenging profession of teaching less desirable at a time when we sorely need to recruit, develop and support excellent teachers," O'Connell said. "His approach would pit teacher against teacher when we know that collaboration is the key to improving student achievement."

These people simply don't live in the real world.

Or as James Taranto wrote in the WSJ's

We're not sure arguing that all teachers are equally bad is the best way to win public support.

May 19, 2005

Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?

If you ever wanted some clear examples of how far the NEA teachers' union (with at least the implicit support of their bureaucratic allies in public education) will go to win desired contract terms, read this posting and learn about three inexcusable actions in my home town of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Let's begin with some background information: To increase the pressure to settle the union contract on their terms, teachers in town - following the direction of their union - are doing what is called "work-to-rule" or contract compliance. What that means in practical terms is that they do the bare minimum to comply legally with terms of the old contract. The bottom line: While teachers are making the same salaries and benefits as last year, they are not doing the same work they did last year. And that hurts our children.

More specifically, "work-to-rule" has led to no before-school or after-school tutoring help for students and the elimination of extra-curricular activities like field trips.

Or so we all thought - at least until some reliable sources shared the following three stories with me:

First, some teachers showed up last Friday to enjoy the light-hearted social setting of the junior/senior prom. But, at the same time, teachers have refused to tutor students in need of academic help.

Second, some teachers who refuse to tutor our children before or after school are currently charging money from parents to tutor children outside of school - i.e., they are getting paid extra money this year to do what has been a part of their regular job description in past years. (Anyone want to bet whether they are reporting this income on their 1040?)

Third, teachers took grade 6 students in the CPT (gifted students) program on an overnight field trip to the Nature's Classroom in northwestern Connecticut but they refused to take other non-CPT grade 6 students on the annual day trip to Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty. [See Addendum II below for further information.]

This is outrageous behavior.

But it doesn't stop there.

At the same time, the NEA teachers' union continues to demand that all teachers receive retroactive pay for the entire last school year. In other words, they want to be made whole financially - even while their actions make it impossible for our children to be made whole in their educational experience.

I sure hope the School Committee doesn't "go wobbly" and cave into the demand for retroactive pay. Such a development would endorse this unfair, discriminatory, and inexcusable treatment of our children.

I also hope the media will report on these stories to ensure East Greenwich school and town officials investigate them and provide residents with the public forum in which to express their outrage.

Would you hurt our children just to win better contract terms? Some people would. And that makes them neither friends nor people to be trusted.


Kim Petti, a Town Council member, responded with these words to an email containing a link to this posting:

I would like to demand Mr. Jolin and these teachers at the 6th grade and any other teachers who selectively shun their duties appear before the town council for an explanation to the tax payers of our town. Furthermore, the children that are hurt by one-sided contracts are the children that now pay taxes. I hope this legacy is not passed on to the next generation. It is our duty to stop our workers from telling the employer what they will do and when. Thank you.

Well said and thank you.


Sometimes even reliable sources are not entirely accurate. Here is an update on the CPT event from a parent whose child was involved:

...Nature's Classroom took place at Camp Fuller which is located in Wakefield, not the location in Connecticut. Students were bused to this facility on Monday morning May 8 and returned Friday afternoon May 13. In past years Linda Cram, the CPT teacher, spent the entire week (day and night) with the students serving as liaison for the program, and as a supervisor and chaperone for the East Greenwich students. Parent volunteers rotate shifts and provide additional supervision. At least two parents spend the night each night.

During the initial planning stages earlier in the school year, Mrs. Cram made it clear that without a teacher contract she would be unable to spend the night with the children and would only be able to be present during her normal working hours as called for under the current contract situation. Without a representative from the District in attendance 24 hours a day, the children could not attend this program.

...As it got closer it became clear that [a contract settlement] would not happen. In the end the program was salvaged by administration. Charlie Meyers, the principal at Eldridge, and Joan Sousa, the principal at Hanaford, came to Nature's Classroom at the end of their day as administrators of their respective schools and took over responsibility for the over 30 students in the program. Mrs. Cram left at the end of each day as she would had she been teaching from her classroom at Hanaford.

Frankly I am unsure of the internal workings which transpired that allowed this to happen, but instead I can only sing the praises of Mr. Meyers and Mrs. Sousa who took on additional work and responsibility so that the program could go forward. They did double duty that week, away from their families, so that our children didn't suffer yet another lost opportunity...

Thank you for the clarification and kudos to Mrs. Sousa and Mr. Meyers for doing the right thing for our children.

Nothing of this new information changes the bottom line: The teachers are making the same salaries and benefits they did last year but they are not doing the same amount of work as last year. They are acting like hourly paid union laborers and not professionals - but they demand to be treated like professionals. They have to decide whether they are unionists or professionals.

Nothing drives this contradiction home more than hearing that the annual day trip to Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty did not occur. Guess they could not fit it into their 6 hour work day.


In a nutshell, here is what I think the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should be on some of the key financial terms of the contract.

East Greenwich NEA teachers' union contract negotiations - go here, here, here, and here.

Other Rhode Island public education issues - go here, here, here, and here.

Broader public education issues - go here, here, and here.

The Highway Bill: Another Example of Unacceptable Government Spending

If you want another example of how misguided incentives in the public sector lead to bad outcomes, here is another pathetic example (available from the WSJ for a fee):

...What's meaningful about the [highway] bill the Senate passed just how quickly and utterly some Republicans have abandoned all spending principle.

The 89-11 Senate vote for a $295 billion highway bill exceeds the $284 billion limit that President Bush has said is acceptable. But more than that, it also defies the budget resolution that Congress adopted only last month...The resolution isn't binding (which is the way Democrats designed it in 1974), but it is intended to provide some parameters for a Republican Congress that's supposedly serious about changing its free-spending ways. Or so they keep telling us.

It's bad enough that only nine Members voted against the House version of the highway bill in March, which makes us wonder if there's any political constituency for spending restraint....But at least the House measure, at $284 billion, stayed within the overly generous spending limits set by the White House.

President Bush has threatened to veto any highway bill in excess of that amount, but apparently Senate Republicans don't take his threat seriously. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley is claiming the extra $11 billion is "paid for" and won't add to the deficit. But Senator Judd Gregg told reporters last week that the higher figure is "quite simply, unequivocally, unquestionably, a budget buster." He was being kind...

The highway trust fund, supported by federal gas taxes, is the main source of money for highway projects. To claim deficit "neutrality," the Senate bill mainly diverts general revenue funds into the highway trust, or shifts highway trust fund liabilities into some other fund. But either way, it constitutes deficit spending...

It's also worth noting that the $284 billion ceiling set by the President is a record high level of funding and $73 billion, or 35%, more than the last six-year bill enacted in 1998. Which is to say that the White House strictures are far from unreasonable. It's too bad that only nine GOP Senators -- Sam Brownback, John Cornyn, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, Jon Kyl, John McCain, Judd Gregg and John Sununu -- saw fit to vote against the bill. They were joined by the two Wisconsin Democrats, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, who opposed the measure because they said it shortchanged their state.

The transit bill is already 20 months late, and since there's little in there to promote the types of infrastructure reforms -- toll roads, public-private partnerships -- the country could really use...

...a veto is in order. Make that imperative. Mr. Bush has been preaching spending restraint since his re-election, and to let Congress get away with busting the first big spending bill of his second term is to guarantee that he won't be taken seriously again. Senators are daring Mr. Bush on this bill because they simply don't believe he'll use his veto...

Plain and simple, this is nothing but revolting behavior by the Congress.

For more on the broader problem that afflicts public sector incentives, go here, here, here, and here. Then go read Lawrence Reed's speech entitled Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy.

Perspective: What is Lost Right Now in the Partisan Debate Swirling Around Tom DeLay

In the heat of intense political warfare, perspective is often the first thing to disappear. Let's apply that observation to the debate about Tom DeLay, Republican Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives, and see if we can regain some perspective.

I have been critical of Tom DeLay even before Howard Dean got into the act. I was critical because, like many Americans, I actually believed in the principles outlined in the 1994 Contract With America, which was instrumental in the Republicans gaining majority control of the House. It is my opinion that they have largely squandered that legacy and, as a House leader, that means DeLay deserves criticism because he has become an inside-the-Beltway power broker in a way that is not all that different from the Democrats I have criticized previously.

What do we know about DeLay? We know he is quite effective at power politics. He did not get the nickname "The Hammer" for nothing. By definition, that is going to create some enemies. We also know he has done some wonderful things in his personal life that get little or no publicity and show he is a more complex personality than his nickname suggests:

The DeLays share a deep interest in the circumstances facing abused and neglected children. They got involved with children's issues after Christine DeLay, a teacher, began volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in foster care. Eventually, the DeLays became foster parents themselves. Today, they are outspoken advocates in favor of reforming the present foster care system by making the child's best interest the paramount concern.

We should also recognize that DeLay's religious beliefs put him at odds with the secular left fundamentalists, who show no tolerance toward their philosophical opponents.

Then along comes Howard Dean, who has declared DeLay guilty of crimes for which DeLay has not even been charged. Never mind the American principle of being innocent until proven guilty.

Like all Americans, except for Howard Dean and his ilk, I have no ability to judge whether DeLay might be charged with or found guilty of crimes in the future. All I have the ability to judge today is that there is an intense political storm swirling around DeLay.

Which is why today's story is so interesting:

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who denies partisan motives for his investigation of a political group founded by Republican leader Tom DeLay, was the featured speaker last week at a Democratic fund-raiser where he spoke directly about the congressman.

A newly formed Democratic political action committee, Texas Values in Action Coalition, hosted the May 12 event in Dallas to raise campaign money to take control of the state Legislature from the GOP, organizers said.

Earle, an elected Democrat, helped generate $102,000 for the organization...

Earle and his staff of prosecutors have obtained indictments of three DeLay associates on charges that their political committee, the DeLay-led Texans for a Republican Majority, broke state campaign finance laws with the use of corporate donations on its way to helping establish Republican control in the state House.

Earle said Wednesday he knew the group that met in Dallas was raising money for Democrats, but that it was not his reason for speaking...

Political analysts said Earle's appearance left him open to questions about his motives.

"It may help Tom DeLay establish his case that Ronnie Earle's investigation is a partisan witch hunt," said Richard Murray, a political scientist with the University of Houston.

"It clearly fuels the perception that his investigation is politically motivated. It was probably not a wise move," said Larry Noble, a former Federal Election Commission lawyer who heads the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics...

Former House Speaker Jim Wright, a Fort Worth Democrat who was forced to resign from Congress in 1989 after the House Ethics Committee began investigating whether he improperly profited from a book publishing deal, was among those who attended the event. He is scheduled to speak at the committee's next fund-raiser in June...

Dallas lawyer Ed Ishmael, another co-founder of the Democratic committee to which Earle spoke, is described on the group's Web site as "a leader in the Howard Dean presidential campaign" of 2004.

[Here, on June 20, is some additional information on the behavior of Ronnie Earle.]

So, from afar, I believe the only credible statement that can be made right now is that DeLay is a partisan and he is being attacked by people with a competing partisan agenda. Welcome to politics, a contact sport.

As American citizens, we can only hope that the truth will prevail even as we simultaneously worry that partisan agendas - regardless of party - will focus on achieving victory at all costs, even if that means sacrificing the search for facts and an honest interpretation of those facts.

Two takeaway thoughts that can help us regain perspective:

First, the intensity of the partisan fighting is directly correlated to what is at stake and big government means there is more to fight over. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers encouraged limited government was their deep understanding of human nature.

Second, since politicians and bureaucrats have no incentive to behave well, a diligent citizenry is crucially important to the ongoing success of our American experiment in ordered liberty.

May 18, 2005

Immigration: An Opening for Buchanan's Misguided "Conservatism"

Marc Comtois

R. J. Pestritto and Ken Masugi at The Remedy (a blog hosted by The Claremont Institute) offer their own important commentary on Pat Buchanan's style of conservatism. Masugi notes that Buchanan has a

deficient understanding of conservative principles. Buchanan’s refrains are to Edmund Burke and Adam Smith as the fathers of conservatism. Both are foreigners. Where do the Declaration of Independence, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, and, more tellingly, Lincoln fit into his conservatism? Does he not have a special place for John C. Calhoun, that most articulate defender of slavery? His journal is called The American Conservative, not the Conservative American. But American principles are both broader and deeper than Buchanan’s version of American conservative principles. On the issue of immigration, our own argument would be not that we have too many immigrants (illegal or otherwise), but that we have too few Americans, too little devotion to and understanding of what makes America unique.
To this, Pestrito amplifies
Conservatives, presumably, want to conserve something; but the “something” that Buchanan wants to conserve is, as Masugi points out, largely foreign to the American political tradition and to America’s founding principles.

Unfortunately, there are phenemona today that make Buchanan’s un-American conservatism appealing to both conservatives and non-conservatives alike, and this is dangerous. The president’s immigration policy is one such phenomenon. As wrong as Buchanan’s general view of the world is, and as wrong as his own view of immigrants is, it is hard to argue with Buchanan when he says. . . 1) the president “has abdicated his responsibility to defend America” by refusing to enforce vigorously the immigration laws that are on the books; and 2) the president has made himself indistinguishable from the Democrats by his advocacy of amnesty for the illegals currently in the United States, thus undercutting respect for the rule of law (the rule of law, unlike much of what Buchanan champions, actually is a bedrock principle of the American political tradition). These particular observations about the Bush immigration policy are unassailable. The recent story about the U.S. Border Patrol being told to relax its enforcement efforts is not new – Border Patrol agents have complained repeatedly throughout the course of the Bush administration about being told not to do their jobs. This is why the president’s own party is fighting him on immigration. Or, as Buchanan says, “He's going to get a House that tries to impose upon him the obligation to do his duty and defend this country.”

Buchanan sees hope for his un-American brand of conservatism in the conservative reaction to Bush’s immigration policy. This is all too true, and it would constitute a dangerous blow to the restoration of genuine, American, conservative principles. It is also mind boggling that a president who clearly has done so much to defend our country in every other area – against the strong currents of elite opinion – would provide such an opening for the likes of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan, after all, seems to think that keeping out immigrants is the only way of defending America, even making the nutty argument that we needn’t have fought in World War II.

Finally, Masugi. . . refers to “our own argument” on immigration. And certainly, I’d share his opposition to Buchanan in this regard: Buchanan wants to stop immigration; I want immigration to be lawful, I want the law to be sensible – to contain reasonable controls on the kinds and numbers of immigrants and to keep America’s self-defense and social-compact rights foremost – and I want the law to be vigorously enforced. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Buchanan wants to blame immigrants for almost everything that ails America; as the grandson of immigrants, I take this kind of personally. But as part of “our” argument, Masugi refers to a variety of things, one of which includes an interview advocating a “guest worker” program. Such a program may or may not be part of a sensible immigration law in the future, depending upon its form. But, if by “guest worker” program we mean what the president proposes – which is a “guest worker” program for those currently here illegally, I want no part of it. That’s called amnesty and it rewards law-breaking. As Abraham Lincoln well understood, rewarding law-breaking is not the way to conserve America’s original principles and its republican institutions. As flaky as congressional Republicans can be, even they understand this, which is why the president’s immigration program is, thankfully, going nowhere fast.

The danger of Buchanan, as these writers mention, is that he is on the "right" side of a conservative issue, but that he arrived at his position for the wrong reasons. In short, Buchanan's "ends" vis a vis immigration are on target, but his justification for his "closed borders" policy, like so much else of what he has recently spouted, relies on near-xenophobic rhetoric. Controlling immigration does not necessarily equate to "Fortress America." Patrick Buchanan believes it should.

Why Democratic Leaders Lack Credibility With American Voters

Howard Dean, national chairman of the Democratic party, thinks Tom DeLay is guilty until proven innocent:

"I think he's guilty . . . of taking trips paid for by lobbyists, and of campaign-finance violations during his manipulation of the Texas election process," Dean said.

But Howard Dean thinks Osama bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty:

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said during the 2004 Democratic primary campaign. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials."

Okay, I get it. Do you?

Here's the source article.

Saving People's Lives: Why It's Exciting To Go To Work Every Day

I have had the privilege of working in the healthcare industry since 1983, joining my first biotechnology startup company in 1985. Just like physics had many of its heady years in the early part of the 20th century, the last 30 years have been similarly exciting times in biology. And there is no end in sight as we continue to learn more about the molecular basis of disease and how the human body works.

The annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting has just ended. One Wall Street Journal article (available for a fee) reports:

Drugs that specifically target cancer cells will be the focus of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual conference...

Targeted therapies are considered the next generation of cancer drugs. Unlike chemotherapy, targeted cancer drugs avoid killing healthy cells, by choking off blood supply or signals that cancer cells need to grow.

Investors are awaiting data on several targeted therapies and their effects on a range of cancers. Presenting research will be companies such as Novartis AG, ImClone Systems Inc., GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Genentech Inc., which is partly owned by Swiss Roche Holding AG.

The annual ASCO conference is closely watched by Wall Street because of the sheer volume of clinical data presented. "It is the most important cancer conference of the year for doctors, patients and investors as well," said Le Anne Zhao, a Caris & Co. analyst...

The article then goes on to describe how various pharmaceutical companies would be reporting progress on their numerous clinical development efforts.

A second Wall Street Journal article (also available for a fee) tells the story of Genentech's recent run of drug development successes, as presented at the ASCO meeting:

...the spotlight will be on Genentech Inc., which is rapidly emerging as a dominant force in modern cancer treatment.

...researchers are expected to present details of several ground-breaking studies involving Genentech's new-style drugs, which precisely target the genetic weak points of tumors. Virtually alone among such similar targeted therapies, Genentech's drugs have proven surprisingly effective against some of cancer's biggest killers -- lung, colon and breast tumors, which together account for more than 250,000 deaths a year in the U.S.

For instance, Avastin, a new-style medicine that fights tumors by cutting off their blood supply, will be shown to extend the lives of lung-cancer patients and to improve the outlook for women with breast cancer. An older targeted drug against breast cancer, Herceptin, can cut in half the risk of cancer recurrence following surgery for a subset of women with particularly aggressive tumors.

Those results follow a year of other Genentech successes. Last year, researchers found that Genentech's drug Tarceva also improved the odds of survival for both lung -- and pancreatic -- cancer patients. And Avastin, which was approved last year for colon cancer, has piled up big sales numbers and proven effective at various stages of the disease as well.

Cancer drugs are notoriously hard to develop. Many seemingly promising drugs often fail outright when subjected to the most rigorous testing, and even among the new class of targeted therapies, disappointments vastly outnumber the rare successes. Over the past few years, however, Genentech's cancer drugs have bucked that historical trend in an unprecedented winning streak.

"I don't think anyone expected this," says Christopher Raymond, an analyst with R.W. Baird & Co. "These guys can't lose."

Genentech's drugs do not cure cancer, and as tested so far, rarely extend life by more than a few months on average. But cancer treatment, like football, is a game of inches, and cancer specialists generally welcome even incremental improvements over existing treatments. In addition, oncologists often point out that because new drugs are usually tested in the very sickest patients, many of them might be more effective at earlier stages of cancer....

Over the past two months, as news of the studies trickled out, its stock price has risen almost 70%. Measured by market capitalization, Genentech recently became the largest biotech in the world, edging out previous leader Amgen Inc. by a few billion dollars. It's also now bigger than drug-industry stalwarts like Merck & Co. and Eli Lilly & Co.

Genentech's success in this field is partly a matter of luck, since clinical trials of new cancer drugs remain an inexact science. But it also reflects the scientific rigor of the company's testing program. Unlike some competitors, Genentech routinely designs drug trials to prove that its therapies extend the lives of patients, an exacting standard that is arduous and time-consuming, but which tends to convince even skeptics when the results are positive...

Having lived nearly 20 years in the Bay Area, I remember watching Genentech grow from a small, young company. They have always been known for doing great research and not letting external pressures - which they certainly experienced a number of years ago - result in taking their eye off the prize. And, with their history of excellence, many of their alumni have gone on to be leaders in other successful biotechnology companies.

This interview with the Genentech CEO conveys the essence of their corporate culture. Another article about the company is here.

This article will educate you if you want to learn more about how breakthroughs in the biological sciences are changing the nature of drug discovery and development.

New drug development takes many years, has a very high rate of failure, and is extraordinarily expensive as this article notes. You can read more about the drug development process here. It is important to remember these facts when people with narrow political agendas focus on only 1-2 issues that alone do not tell a complete story. Successful innovations from companies like Genentech happen because they have the freedom to innovate and the ability to be rewarded for success after achieving the innovation.

Good research has led to valuable medicines, which are saving people's lives. It's why many of us in the industry are excited to get up and go to work every morning...knowing that we, too, have an opportunity to change the world in a wonderfully positive way.

The Changing Dynamics in the Middle East

The Wall Street Journal published an adaptation from a recent speech by Fouad Ajami about his four week trip to various spots around the Middle East.

"George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region," a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me...

To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty...

The weight of American power, historically on the side of the dominant order, now drives this new quest among the Arabs. For decades, the intellectual classes in the Arab world bemoaned the indifference of American power to the cause of their liberty. Now a conservative American president had come bearing the gift of Wilsonian redemption...

Unmistakably, there is in the air of the Arab world a new contest about the possibility and the meaning of freedom. This world had been given over to a dark nationalism, and to the atavisms of a terrible history. For decades, it was divided between rulers who monopolized political power and intellectual classes shut out of genuine power, forever prey to the temptations of radicalism. Americans may not have cared for those rulers, but we judged them as better than the alternative...That bargain with authoritarianism did not work, and begot us the terrors of 9/11...

...Mr. Bush may not be given to excessive philosophical sophistication, but his break with "the soft bigotry of low expectations" in the Arab-Islamic world has found eager converts among Muslims and Arabs keen to repair their world, to wean it from a culture of scapegoating and self-pity. Pick up the Arabic papers today: They are curiously, and suddenly, readable. They describe the objective world; they give voice to recognition that the world has bypassed the Arabs. The doors have been thrown wide open, and the truth of that world laid bare. Grant Mr. Bush his due: The revolutionary message he brought forth was the simple belief that there was no Arab and Muslim "exceptionalism" to the appeal of liberty. For a people mired in historical pessimism, the message of this outsider was a powerful antidote to the culture of tyranny...

It was Iraq of course that gave impetus to this new Arab history. And it is in Iraq that the nobility of this American quest comes into focus. This was my fourth trip to Iraq since the fall of the despotism, and my most hopeful yet. I traveled to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah...We met with parliamentarians and journalists, provincial legislators, clerics and secularists alike, Sunni and Shia Arabs and Kurds. One memory I shall treasure: a visit to the National Assembly...There was the spectacle of democracy: men and women doing democracy's work, women cloaked in Islamic attire right alongside more emancipated women, the technocrats and the tribal sheikhs, and the infectious awareness among these people of the precious tradition bequeathed them after a terrible history...

A lively press has sprouted in Iraq: There is an astonishing number of newspapers and weeklies, more than 250 in all. There are dozens of private TV channels and radio stations. Journalists and editors speak of a press free of censorship. Admittedly, the work is hard and dangerous, the logistics a veritable nightmare. But no single truth claimed this country, no "big man" sucked the air out of its public life. The insurgents will do what they are good at. But no one really believes that those dispensers of death can turn back the clock. Among the Sunni Arabs, there is growing recognition that the past cannot be retrieved, that it had been a big error to choose truculence and political maximalism. By a twist of fate, the one Arab country that had seemed ever marked for brutality and sorrow now stands poised on the frontier of a new political world. No Iraqis I met look to neighboring Arab lands for political inspiration: They are scorched by the terror and the insurgency, but a better political culture is tantalizingly close.

...Everywhere, the order is under attack, and men and women are willing to question the prevailing truths. There is to this moment of Arab history the feel of a re-enactment of Europe's Revolution of 1848 -- the springtime of peoples: That revolution broke out in France, then spread to the Italian states, to the German principalities, to the remotest corners of the Austrian empire. There must have been 50 of these revolts -- rebellions of despair and of contempt. History was swift: The revolutions spread with velocity and were turned back with equal speed. The fear of chaos dampened these rebellions.

As I made my way on this Arab journey, I picked up a meditation that Massimo d'Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who embraced that "springtime" in Europe, offered about his time, which speaks so directly to this Arab time: "The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk." It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk -- frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.

May 17, 2005

Discussing the Incivility in Today's Public Discourse

Edwin J. Feulner, the President of The Heritage Foundation, gave a commencement speech at Hillsdale College on May 8, 2004 entitled "Lay Your Hammer Down." In this era where hostile attacks are often more typical than reasoned exchanges, these excerpts from the speech seem particularly relevant:

In 1969 a Stanford University psychologist named Philip Zimbardo set up an experiment. He arranged for two cars to be abandoned — one on the mean streets of the Bronx, New York; the other in an affluent neighborhood near Stanford in Palo Alto, California. The license plates had been removed, and the hoods were left open. Zimbardo wanted to see what would happen to the cars.

In the Bronx, he soon found out. Ten minutes after the car was abandoned, people began stealing parts from it. Within three days the car was stripped. When there was nothing useful left to take, people smashed windows and ripped out upholstery, until the car was trashed.

In Palo Alto, something quite different happened: nothing. For more than a week the car sat there unmolested. Zimbardo was puzzled, but he had a hunch about human nature. To test it, he went out and, in full view of everyone, took a sledgehammer and smashed part of the car.

Soon, passersby were taking turns with the hammer, delivering blow after satisfying blow. Within a few hours, the vehicle was resting on its roof, demolished…

…why does the broken window invite further vandalism? Wilson and Kelling say it’s because the broken window sends a signal that no one is in charge here, that breaking more windows costs nothing, that it has no undesirable consequences.

The broken window is their metaphor for a whole host of ways that behavioral norms can break down in a community…

In short, once people begin disregarding the norms that keep order in a community, both order and community unravel, sometimes with astonishing speed.

Police in big cities have dramatically cut crime rates by applying this theory. Rather than concentrate on felonies such as robbery and assault, they aggressively enforce laws against relatively minor offenses — graffiti, public drinking, panhandling, littering.

When order is visibly restored at that level, the environment signals: This is a community where behavior does have consequences…

Now all this is a preface. My topic is not crime on city streets, rather I want to speak about incivility in the marketplace of ideas. The broken windows theory is what links the two…

What we’re seeing in the marketplace of ideas today is a disturbing growth of incivility that follows and confirms the broken windows theory. Alas, this breakdown of civil norms is not a failing of either the political left or the right exclusively. It spreads across the political spectrum from one end to the other…

Those…examples…come from elites in the marketplace of ideas. All are highly educated people who write nationally syndicated columns, publish best-selling books, and are hot tickets on radio and television talk shows.

Further down the food chain, lesser lights take up smaller hammers, but they commit even more degrading incivilities…

…Once someone wields the hammer — once the incivility starts — others will take it as an invitation to join in, and pretty soon there’s no limit to the incivility…

This illustrates the second aspect of the broken windows theory: Once the insults begin flying, many will opt out…

This is the real danger of incivility. Our free, self-governing society requires an open exchange of ideas, which in turn requires a certain level of civility rooted in mutual respect for each other’s opinions and viewpoints.

What we see today I am afraid, is an accelerating competition between the left and the right to see which side can inflict the most damage with the hammer of incivility. Increasingly, those who take part in public debates appear to be exchanging ideas when, in fact, they are trading insults: idiot, liar, moron, traitor.

…civility isn’t an accessory one can put on or take off like a scarf. It is inseparable from the character of great leaders…

Incivility is not a social blunder to be compared with using the wrong fork. Rather, it betrays a defect of character. Incivility is dangerous graffiti, regardless of whether it is spray-painted on a subway car, or embossed on the title page of a book. The broken windows theory shows us the dangers in both cases.

But those cases aren’t parallel in every way, and in closing I want to call your attention to an important difference. When behavioral norms break down in a community, police can restore order. But when civility breaks down in the marketplace of ideas, the law is powerless to set things right.

And properly so. Our right to speak freely — and to speak with incivility, if we choose — is guaranteed by those five glorious words in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law ....”

And yet, the need for civility has never been greater. Our nation is divided as never before between the left and the right. We are at loggerheads on profoundly important political and social questions. Civilization itself is under barbaric attack from without.

Sadly, too many us are not rising to these challenges as a democratic people…

Rather than helping to reverse this decline, the rising chorus of incivility is driving out citizens of honest intent and encouraging those who trade in jeering and mockery…

If we are to prevail as a free, self-governing people, we must first govern our tongues and our pens. Restoring civility to public discourse is not an option. It is a necessity.

Who will begin the restoration of civility?…

Jennifer Meyer said today that Hillsdale has given her – and all of you – “all that is virtuous in one’s life.”

Civility is, I firmly believe one of those virtues.

After four years of study at Hillsdale, you know the difference between attacking a person’s argument and attacking a person’s character.

Respect that difference.

Your education here has taught you how to engage in rational debate and either hold your own or lose with grace and civility.

Take that lesson with you.

Your professors at Hillsdale have shown you, by their example, that you don’t need the hammer of incivility to make your point.

Follow their example.

Defend your convictions – those virtues – with all the spirit you can. But do it with all the civility that you ought. Ben Rogers calls it “a place as special as Hillsdale.”

So, as you leave this special place, Lay your hammer down…

As you reflect on current events such as the Senate judicial filibuster, contrast the words of Dr. Feulner to those of, say, Senator Harry Reid. And then ask who displays the greater intolerance in today's public discourse.

Surely we can all do better. For the good of our country, we must all do better.

For more discussions on the quality of our public discourse, see here, here, here.

Beyond the Red and the Blue

Marc Comtois

Pew has come out with a new poll in which it developed some new and interesting political typologies. If you want to find out what kind of "political animal" you are, then go here and take the survey. A few of the dual statements with which you are supposed to agree or disagree seemed to have overly-negative implications. For instance, one set offered a choice between

"Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return."


"Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don't go far enough to help them live decently."

There were probably better ways to ask that. Anyway, it's still worth taking the test. I tried it a couple times, changing the shading on a few answers, but still got the same results. I am what Pew calls an "Enterpriser." To put it another way, I'm a Limbaugh Republican.

The Newsweek Koran Flush Lie: Liberal Hypocrisy and Journalistic Presumptions

Marc Comtois

Newsweek finally fully retracted its story, and the libertarian uber-linker Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) offered this own opinion regarding liberal hypocrisy and their manufactured outrage over this now-false abridgement of religious rights (and the more general Guantanamo "torture" charges)

I want to add that I don't think there's anything immoral about flushing a Koran (or a Bible) down the toilet, assuming you've got a toilet that's up to that rather daunting task, and I think it's amusing to hear people who usually worry about excessive concern for religious beliefs suddenly taking a different position. Nor do I think that doing so counts as torture, and I think that it debases the meaning of "torture" to claim otherwise. If this had happened, it might have been -- indeed, would have been -- impolitic or unwise. But not evil.

And anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be willing to apply the same kind of criticism to things like Piss Christ, or to explain why offending the sensibilities of one kind of religious believer is "art" while doing the same in another context is "torture." If, that is, they want to be taken at all seriously.

I'm sure many don't hold Reynolds' view regarding flushing the Bible and probably, to be intellectually honest at some level, extend that respect to other holy books. Nonetheless, Reynolds' calling out of the left on their religious hypocrisy is noteworthy.

He also offered a good succinct summary of the problem with the presumptions held by most of today's journalists

Nobody's arguing that reporters wake up in the morning asking themselves how to lose the war for America. At least I'm not. Er, except maybe for Robert Fisk.

But in many ways, they act almost as if they were doing so, and it's no accident. As the James Fallows anecdote reported here illustrates, leading representatives of the profession regard themselves as loyal to journalism, not to the United States -- and are proud to do so, and it seems clear that they reflect that priority in their work.

When you go out of your way to report the bad news, and bury the good news, when you're credulous toward critics (remember the Boston Globe porn photos?) and treat all positive news as presumptive lies, and when it's clear that the enemy relies on press behavior in planning its campaigns, then you've got a problem. . .

I hate to keep using the analogy of reporting on racial issues, but it's relevant because it's a case where the press realized that it was reporting on minorities in a way that shaped people's views toward the negative and did harm, and decided to change. So we know they can take account of those things when they care. And because they haven't tried to do it here, it seems fair to conclude that they don't care.

. . . I don't get up in the morning trying to figure out how to destroy freedom of the press in America. Instead, I keep trying to persuade the folks at Newsweek, CBS, etc. not to flush free expression down the toilet through their irresponsibility and bias.

It's long been fashionable to say that the survival of free enterprise depended on the responsible behavior of businesses. I think that the survival of free expression depends on the responsible behavior of businesses in the media field. And I think it's awfully hard. . . to defend this behavior as responsible.

There are many things on which conservatives and libertarians disagree, but on the bankruptcy of modern-day liberalism there is significant common ground.

Finally, the ProJo's Mark Patinkin offers his take

People say we rely too much on questionable sources and rush along without enough research.

I don't disagree. But there are two other things that have left me miffed.

First, I'm astonished by our credulity.

How could we believe this stuff?

In the case of the Dan Rather mess, how could they believe that a known Bush-hater suddenly found copies of authentic military documents from the early 1970s smearing the president?

As far as Newsweek's story -- have you ever tried to flush a book down a commode?

I'm not surprised that journalists are occasionally so gullible. We like to say we are skeptics, even cynics, but we're not always that way. When we're on an explosive trail, we seldom tell ourselves, "It doesn't add up." We want to believe it. We want the glory of the big story. So we place too much weight on sources that tell us what we hope to hear.

There's a second factor that gets us into the kind of trouble Newsweek is in today and CBS got into on the Bush document story. It cuts to the heart of what I think is wrong with some reporters.

Too many of us feel we have no obligation to citizenship, only journalism.

I'm not saying we should censor ourselves if we think a story will taint government and country. Fresh air is good for democracy.

But I'm convinced that if journalists cared as much about being citizens as getting the story, we'd be more careful, and thorough, in our reporting.

In June of 1998, CNN broke a disturbing story. They reported that in 1970, U.S. special forces tracked down American deserters who had snuck into Laos and killed them with Sarin nerve gas.

The report caused an international outcry because the use of Sarin would have been a war crime. Not to mention the domestic outrage that our military would gas Americans, whatever their status.

The problem was that the report was false. It should have been no surprise. Americans gassing other Americans? It doesn't sound credible. You have to wonder how professional journalists could have believed it.

I'll tell you how.

CNN wanted the glory of a big expose, so they checked their bull-detectors at the door.

I'm convinced they'd have been more skeptical had they a greater sense of citizenship. They'd have thought about the catastrophic consequences of such a story and been more careful.

Just as Newsweek should have been more careful with its report of a Koran being desecrated by the U.S. military.

It's simple: If we were better citizens, we'd be better journalists.

Lately, too often, we've failed at both.

May 16, 2005

Bankrupt Public Pensions: A Time Bomb That Will Explode

Two previous postings here and here discussed the perverse incentives that drive public sector behaviors. A more recent posting addressed further pension woes in the private sector. Marc has brought even more information forward about pension woes in his recent posting.

Misguided public sector incentives are particularly obvious when reviewing the status of public sector pensions across America, where public sector unions make outrageous demands and spineless politicians and bureaucrats cave into those demands – leaving working family and retiree taxpayers holding the bag.

On May 31, 2004, Fortune Magazine published an article entitled "The $366 Billion Outrage: All across America, state and city workers are retiring early with unthinkably rich pay packages. Guess who's paying for them? You are". Arguably one of the best writeups I have seen on this issue, here are some of its major points:

...the public pension morass is bigger, more wide ranging, and ultimately more costly than anything you've seen in the corporate world...

...public pensions are constitutionally guaranteed or protected in [41]...states...

...the result is a hole...that can only be filled...with either steep cuts in city services or [large] property tax increases or both…

The third option is to cut those lavish benefits. But that's easier said than done…

What’s just the beginning of a cascading problem. Pension plans covering the nation’s 16 million state and local government employees – about 12% of the entire workforce – are gobbling up increasingly large shares of budgets, setting the stage for bitterly fought battles among politicians, unions, and taxpayers. Collectively, the plans owe an incredible more in pension benefits to current and future retirees than the money stashed away to pay for them…

How on earth did it get to this point? You may have heard about the "perfect storm" – a lethal combination of a crashing stock market and record-low interest rates – that has hammered the pension plans (and share prices) of many of America’s largest corporations. Those same factors also wrecked havoc on the finances of state and local pension plans.

But when it comes to the government plans, you can add a few more poisonous elements to the mix: elected officials who were more than happy to dole out lush benefits to their heavily unionized employees during – and even after – the stock market bubble; a system that lets politicians push the costs for those increased benefits off on future generations of taxpayers; and a general public that simply wasn’t looking. "The public employee, no matter who you compare him to, has become the dominant sector of the labor force that is well pensioned and well benefited," says Dallas Salisbury, president of the Employee Benefit Research Institute. "And the real question is, At what point, vis-à-vis tax burden, does the nonpensioned public start to pay attention to that as voters?"...

Making the cash crunch even more severe is that in most cities and states, public pension costs are growing more rapidly than the tax base...

[Under defined-benefit pension plans,] the employer puts up all or most of the money...Unlike defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)'s, the nest eggs accumulated under a defined-benefit plan can't be demolished by a cratering stock market...

There's another crucial difference between the public and private sector plans: A corporation, under federal law, typically must start pumping money into its pension plan once the value of the plan's assets sinks below 80% of its liabilities. But there is no such law governing state and local plans - the decision to pump additional money into a pension plan lies with the individual discretion of state and local governments.

Thanks to this discretionary funding system, shortsighted politicians can simultaneously dole out rich pensions to their heavily unionized workforces (thereby presumably currying favor with a powerful group of voters and avoiding nasty strikes) and keep the rest of their constituents at bay by shoving the liability for those increased benefits onto future taxpayers...

There is another big trend at play here: the ever-widening divergence between the proportion of public and private sector workers who participate in a traditional pension plan. For private sector workers, the number has progressively slipped, from almost 40% at the beginning of 1980 to about 17% now...

The story is very different in the public sector, where traditional pension plans continued to flourish. Ninety percent of all state and local workers are currently covered by a defined-benefit plan, unchanged from a decade ago...

Only 9% of all private sector workers are now represented by a union, less than half the percentage of two decades ago. Meanwhile, the proportion of state and local workers with union representation has held steady over the same time, at about 43%...

...government pensions are generally much richer than those offered by corporations. The average public sector employee now collects an annual pension benefit of 60% after 30 years on the job or 75% if he is one of the one-fifth or so of workers who are not eligible to collect Social Security benefits. Of the corporate employers that still offer traditional pensions, the average benefit is equal to 45% of salary after 30 years...

Just as important, about 80% of government retirees receive pensions that are increased each year to keep pace with the cost of living, a feature which protects pensions against the effects of inflation and that can increase the value of a typical pension by hundreds of thousands of dollars over a person's retirement. But such inflation protection is nonexistent in corporate plans...

...then there are plans, like those in Houston and San Diego, that allow workers to draw both their salaries and pensions simultaneously...

Union officials say those greater benefits are part of a long-honored compact between governments and their workers. "Historically people deferred wages and traded them for retirement benefits," says Ferlauto [a union official]. "That's been the public service quid pro quo." But whether they are actually trading off wages anymore is anything but certain...

The stock market did, of course collapse, leaving public sector employee pension plans without nearly enough money to pay for promised benefit increases. Even more troubling is that many governments continued to sweeten pension plans long after the stock market bubble burst in 2000...

Thanks to the widespread constitutional and legal guarantees, politicans even attempting to reduce benefits can almost surely expect protracted court challenges...

So what's the answer to the pension morass? While changing benefits for existing employees is difficult, if not legally impossible, a handful of politicians have been attempting to at least reduce the amount of cash the plans siphon out of government budgets in the future...Governments will probably continue to offset rising pension costs by slashing services and, in the process, laying off workers...

Another alternative is for employees to contribute more to their pension plans. About 80% of all state and local plans require employees to make at least some contribution to their defined-benefit plan; the average payroll deduction is 5% of salary...But increasing that amount is a tough sell...Don't count on a booming stock market to come to the rescue...

…it’s looking as if the main responsibility for the public pension mess is going to rest squarely with taxpayers for the foreseeable future. [One union official] acknowledges that the situation might be creating some anger among workers in the private sector. "As more people are concentrated in positions that have no pension system at all, they look at some of these things with resentment," he says. "Hopefully some day they’ll all join unions, and they can negotiate better benefits for themselves."

Oh, that's a really intelligent comment there at the end of the article. Such a stunning grasp of basic economics.

And you wonder why it has never crossed the minds of public sector union officials to ask one simple question working families and retirees answer every day: Where is the money going to come from to pay for all of these outrageous contractual demands by public sector unions?

The Senate Judicial Filibuster: Power Politics & Religious Bigotry

A Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "How We Got Here: Why Republicans can't let the judicial filibuster succeed" states:

…On the eve of this brawl, it's worth recalling how we got here. Our own choice for what started the modern bitterness would be 1987 and the Robert Bork fight…the trashing of such a widely respected jurist marked that date as the one when nominations became political campaigns. During the Clinton years some GOP Senators returned the favor by delaying or blocking individual nominees. But even when Republicans had a Senate majority, there was nothing comparable to the demolitions of Mr. Bork or Clarence Thomas.

The judicial filibuster of the last two years marks another political escalation…

The audacity of the Democrats' radicalism is illustrated by the breadth of their claims against the nominees. It isn't just one nominee they object to; it's 10, and counting. It isn't just abortion they're worried about but the entire range of constitutional law.

Priscilla Owen is said to be a judicial "activist" for a decision interpreting Texas's law regarding parental notification of teens seeking abortions. Janice Rogers Brown is "against" affirmative action and speaks bluntly in public. Brett Kavanaugh is portrayed as a radical for defending executive privilege. William Pryor is hit on the First Amendment. Richard Griffin is "anti-union" and "anti-worker." William Myers is "hostile" to the environment. Every one is labeled an "extremist" and unacceptable no matter their experience or their "well qualified" ABA rating.

This also marks a political escalation in reaching below the Supreme Court to the circuit courts of appeal…

They are going to such bitter lengths, we suspect, precisely because they view the courts as their last hold on federal power. As liberals lost their majority status over the past 30 years, they have turned increasingly to the courts to implement their political program. If Democrats succeed in blocking these nominees, they will feel vindicated in their view that judicial activism pays. They will also conclude that Senate obstructionism works, and so will dig in for more of it…

…Democrats who point to other judicial filibusters are deliberately confusing the distinction between a filibuster and a vote for "cloture," or to end debate…

This is at its core a political fight, and elections ought to mean something. Republicans have gained Senate seats in two consecutive elections in which judicial nominations were among the most important issues…

Robert Novak's latest editorial entitled "Judges' financial info sought" shows how the raw exercise of power politics behind the filibuster is escalating even further now:

On May 5, the U.S. Judicial Conference in Washington received a request from a Mike Rice of Oakland, Calif., for the financial disclosure records of U.S. Appeals Court Judge Edith Jones (5th Circuit) of Houston. A 20-year veteran on the bench, Jones is a perennial possibility for the U.S. Supreme Court. The demand for her personal records is part of a major intelligence raid preceding momentous confirmation fights in the Senate.

Jones was not alone as a target, and Rice is not just a nosy citizen. He and Craig Varoga, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, are partners in a California political consulting firm. Their May 5 petition requested financial information on 30 appellate judges in all but one of the country's judicial circuits, including nine widely mentioned Supreme Court possibilities. Varoga & Rice's client: NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Nobody can recall any previous mass request for such disclosures by federal judges. This intelligence raid is financed by the abortion lobby, but it looks to Republicans like a front for Reid and other senators who will consider President Bush's appointments for Supreme Court nominations...

While Rice bills himself as an "expert" on "state public-records laws," his special field has been negative research probing the background of political foes...

...But compiling financial profiles of judicial nominees plows new ground...

The abortion advocacy group surely was not asking the judges' views on abortion. Nancy Keenan, who has been NARAL's president some five months, told this column her organization is concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. Why seek financial information from them? She said the disclosure information might help identify the "character" of judicial nominees...

To which this Power Line posting entitled "Anything goes if you're planning to attack believing Christians" notes:

...The statement of Nancy Keenan, NARAL's president, is also revealing. She told Novak that her organization is concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. What does financial information have to do with this? Keenan says the disclosure information might help identify the "character" of judicial nominees. That's an interesting twist -- when caught with her pants down, Keenan reverts to a facially absurd "we're protecting the country from the God-fearing" defense. The left has journeyed very far, fairly fast...

Remember how the Democrats blasted Senator Frist for suggesting that their opposition to President Bush's nominees had anything to do with religion? "Out of touch theological activists" are, I think, the same people as those who have "deeply held religious beliefs."

In addition, Stanley Kurtz has these comments in a posting entitled "It's What You Believe:"

When asked why her organization was going after these nominees, NARAL president Nancy Keenan said that her organization was concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. Now that’s interesting. I thought opponents of the president’s nominees were only concerned about judicial philosophy, not religious belief. Do you suppose [the mainstream media] will now come down on Keenan for injecting religion into politics? Will [the mainstream media] now acknowledge that the president’s nominees are indeed being targeted because of their faith? Will pigs fly?

In a posting entitled "Hating Their Religion," Liberty Files offers these thoughts:

...Essentially, they are looking for the indicia of the serious practice of faith in order to use that as ammunition to slime them as an intolerant religious hack, their premise being that people of sincere faith cannot be effective judges because they will reflexively legislate the Bible.

But NARAL is not concerned about fitness of judges anymore than it is concerned about the health of the mother after an abortion takes place. This plan is rooted in radical left's increasingly conspicuous anti-religious bigotry, and is an effort to portray people of faith as out of the mainstream nuts because they hold a set of unchanging beliefs and vocally object to the moral lawlessness of the left. Listen to their rhetoric and then replace the term "Christian" with "Jew", and the historical parallel will become clearer. NARAL's hope is that real faith, rather than being an admirable personal attribute, will become a skeleton in the closet, so that they can count on moral relativist activist judges and politicians who will maintain the abortion status quo and effectuate the social agenda of the left.

They accuse Christians of being hatemongers, but watch the behavior of these radicals carefully--they commit the very evils of which they accuse their opponents. They are discriminating based on religion. They behave as madmen. They don't argue facts, but only innuendo, prejudice and emotion, hoping that they can scare people into their viewpoint...

A JunkYardBlog posting entitled "An Admission" has this to say:

"Out of touch theological activists." That is a phrase that Andrew Sullivan is sure to love and support, but to the rest of us it can be explained in two words: religious bigotry. NARAL has admitted now that it is applying a religious test to the president's nominees, and NARAL is one of a handful of groups controlling the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Therefore the Democrats are engaged in religious bigotry, and are conducting an unconstitutional religious test upon judicial nominees.

Game, set, match. Now let's blow that non-filibuster filibuster out of the water.

Now, again, ask yourself who are really the theocrats threatening liberty in this equation?

For more on the judicial filibusters by Democratic Senators, go here and here.

For more on the fundamentalism of the secular left, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.

This is not a recording...or is it?

Marc Comtois

From the, offered without comment:

Liberal Fundamentalism
Who are the intolerant extremists?

Monday, May 16, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

We have been following the extensive theological commentary in the press on the subject of politics and religion in the current presidential campaign. It might not otherwise have occurred to us that so many editorialists and columnists harbored so many deep, pent-up opinions on religious worship, voluntary school prayer or Christian fundamentalism.

What we have been looking for but have so far missed in this great awakening of religious writing is a short sermon on the subject of liberal fundamentalism. And so in the spirit of Samuel Johnson, who once wrote homilies for his church pastor so as not to fall asleep during Sunday services, we would like to offer a few thoughts on what has been far and away the most messianic religion in America the past two decades--liberal politics.

American liberalism has traditionally derived much of its energy from a volatile mixture of emotion and moral superiority. The liberal belief that one's policies would on balance accomplish something indisputably good generally made opposing arguments about shortcomings, costs or unintended consequences unpersuasive. Nonetheless, politics during the presidencies of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower was waged mainly as politics and not as a kind of religious political crusade. Somehow that changed during the Kennedy presidency.

Mr. Kennedy used the force of his personality to infuse his supporters with a sense of transcendent mission--the New Frontier. The emotions this movement inspired coincided with the one deeply moral political phenomenon that postwar America has experienced--Martin Luther King's civil-rights movement. The Rev. King's multiracial civil-rights marches and their role in overturning de jure and de facto segregation in the U.S. were a political and moral achievement.

In retrospect, it's clear that the moral clarity of the early civil-rights movement was a political epiphany for many white liberals. Some have since returned to traditional, private lives; others have become neoconservatives. But many active liberals carried along their newly found moral certitude and quasi-religious fervor into nearly every major public-policy issue that has come along in the past 15 years. The result has been liberal fundamentalism.

The Vietnam anti-war movement, the environmental movement, the disarmament and nuclear-freeze movements, the anti-nuclear-power movement, consumerism, the Third World movement, the limits-to-growth movement. These have been the really active faiths in contemporary America. Their adherents attended the anti-war march on Washington in 1970, locking arms and once again singing "We Shall Overcome." They characterized the leader of their own country at the time as demonic. More recently, they have held vigils outside nuclear power plants, singing and holding lighted candles, while their lawyers filed injunctions in friendly courtrooms. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups transformed "the wilderness" into a vast, pantheistic shrine, which they and fellow believers must defend against the depredations of conservative developers. America's Roman Catholic bishops denounced nuclear war and became revered figures in the nuclear-freeze movement (but when they denounce abortion, they are reviled).

Not surprisingly, this evangelical liberalism produced a response. Conservative groups--both secular and religious--were created, and they quite obviously make the political success of their adversaries more difficult. Liberals don't like that. So now, suddenly, we find all these politicians and columnists who are afraid someone might want to impose a particular point of view on them. "There is a long and unhappy history of intolerance which still flourishes at the extremist fringe of American politics," says Ted Kennedy, a fundamentalist liberal preacher from eastern Massachusetts. Indeed there is. It greeted U.S. soldiers returning to California from Vietnam with spit. It has characterized people who work in the auto, drug and nuclear-power businesses as criminally amoral. It turned the investigations of Anne Gorsuch, Les Lenkowsky and Ed Meese into inquisitions.

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

Sounds familiar? Yup, I posted a similar thing the other day. But I forgot this part, from OpinionJournal:

(Editor's note: The editorial appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 13, 1984.)

The more things change...

Underfunding Pensions, Public and Private, can Hurt Taxpayers

Marc Comtois

Don has posted on the perils to the taxpayer derived from excessive penision and other benefits to government employees and has also posted on the perils to private business if they over-promise benefits to their retirees. Ironically, the poor decisions of both can hurt the U.S. taxpayer. If public sector employees get too much, well, it's fairly obvious who foots the bill. However, in addition, the private sector may soon come calling to the American taxpayer, too.

In 1974, the U.S. government set up the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation to protect retirees of private companies from losing their benefits. This pseudo-government corporation was supposed to keep an eye on private business as sort of an insurance for private pensions. If a company failed, the PBGC would pick up the pension tab. Unfortunately, the PBGC have been too lax in their oversight and many companies have taken advantage of them by underfunding their pensions. The result has been an increase in PBGC bailouts as companies have become bankrupt, the recent example of United Airlines is a case in point. However, in addition, some companies are looking to shed their pension liabilities altogether by calling on the good graces of the PBGC.

An editorial in yesterday's New York Newsday warns that the UAL "fix" may signal a danger to U.S. taxpayers

Washington [should] shore up the listing finances of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government corporation that insures defined benefit pension plans and pays those benefits when companies can't.

Doing nothing will invite pressure for a taxpayer-financed bailout of distressed pension plans. With the pace of defaults quickening and plans around the country underfunded by a total of $450 billion, that's a bailout that deficit-ridden Washington can ill afford.

The PBGC is not taxpayer funded. It collects premiums from firms whose pensions it insures, assumes the assets of the plans it takes over and earns money on its investments. But with the United default, PBGC's obligations now outstrip its resources by $23 billion. It's an insurance company that can't set its own rates (Congress does that) and can't manage its risk, (it has to insure all comers).

United Airlines is not alone in shedding responsibility for its pensions, and other troubled airlines must be watching. Pan Am, TWA, Eastern, Braniff and U.S. Airways all defaulted on pension plans; most went out of business. Other distressed sectors of the economy, such as the auto industry, could see defaults.

The White House has proposed increasing the $19-per-plan participant premium, the first hike since 1991, and other tweaks to improve PBGC's fiscal picture. That's the least Congress can do to help workers caught in the gears of the shifting pension paradigm.

I've posted on need for morality in government before. It is patently obvious that there is also a need for morality in business. As Jeff Adams at RealityCheck writes
Mind you, I’m no fan of unions, who I think more often than not these days push too hard and far with contract negotiations to the point where they break companies. Still, why was not enough money set aside to fund the pension plan? United had to know they were cutting corners and eventually the crap would hit the fan.

Is anyone at United being held accountable? I haven’t heard anything about stockholders being upset at this move (but then why would they be if it improves their bottom line), and it’s obvious that the government is in on what could be a really sweet deal if United is able to get itself back in the black. Even though United just unloaded billions in debt off on the American taxpayer (how else do you think the PBGC is going to pay those greatly reduced pensions?), the feds will come out pretty good on this (surely you don’t think the PBGC will use the notes and stocks they acquired in the deal to pay those pensions; especially when they can stick to us via taxes).

An added concern in this situation is how other companies with pension plans will react to what United has done. Companies can claim they are in a bind and screw over their employees by dumping the problem on the federal government. This should cause people to stop and think. Remember the S&L mess? Businesses were mismanaged and the feds (read taxpayers) paid billions to ‘save’ them. Social Security is going down the toilet, and there will be few, if any, benefits to receive in old age (an age the government wants to keep increasing to delay paying back what they took from us, hoping we’ll die before we can collect), and there’s huge potential for a growing trend in defaul! t on pension plans by corporations, leaving the government to ‘cover’ those pensions at a fraction of their value.

I believe in the benefits of capitalism, but the benefits can only be accrued consistently and over a long period of time if we remember that virtue, including honesty and responsibity, is not something to be dispensed with if it inhibits increasing the bottom line. Capitalism and freedom form a symbiotic relationship as they draw from and support each other, but they are both supported by the structures of a moral society. It is up to us to continue to foster and adhere to moral tenets. It is simply wrong to promise something and then willfully engage in practices that will render those promises unfullfilled. Many conservatives hold their government to a high moral standard. It is incumbent on us to also hold private business to the same standard. We have neo-cons, theo-cons, paleo-cons, etc. Color me a virtue-con.

The Press' Abu Ghraib: Newsweek Apologizes, But Only After Inflicting Serious Damage to USA Interests

Austin Bay Blog comments on the serious damage done to the interests of the United States and to its allies fighting worldwide terrorism, beginning with these comments:

History may see Newsweek's fatal "Koran flushing" story as the US press' Abu Ghraib.

Under any circumstances, Newsweek's flagrant, tragic error is an error a long-time-coming. The magazine's "apology" doesn't begin to account for the damage. [The apology appears at the end of this post. Call the mea culpa "News Weak."]

Several other websites have covered the issue of anonymous and "single sourced" allegations. (See Powerline’s take here and here. Roger L. Simon says there’s no business like source business. Michelle Malkin covers the story with "Newsweek Lied, People Died.")

The sin of greed always seems to creep into every scandal and it's certainly lurking in this tragic incident. Newsweek wants market share, and a scoop grabs readers. But profit generated by a frantic "me first" quest isn’t the only motive. The "Vietnam-Watergate" motive's also in play. That's a tired and dirty game but for three decades it's been a successful ploy for the New York-Washington-LA media axis. It's rules are simple. Presume the government is lying– always make that presumption, particularly when the president is a Republican. Presume the worst about the US military– always make that presumption, even when the president is a Democrat. Add multi-cultural icing– the complaints and allegations of "Third World victims" are given revered status, the statements of US and US-allied nations met with cynical doubt and arrogant contempt. (Yes, the myth of the Noble Savage re-cast.)

But why might this be the press' Abu Ghraib?...

There's a war going on, a global war, and Newsweek acts like it's trying to "Get Nixon"...The problem is not simply a reporter's mistake but editorial ignorance of the global information grid...

Anti-American propagandists –and that includes Al Qaeda– have used Gitmo and Abu Ghraib as emotional/political weapons. Responsible reporting must take that into account– in fact, credible reporting has to take that into account. A news organization will ultimately lose credibility if it doesn't factor the Al Qaeda propaganda angle into its reporting on Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. I know, this makes for a more complicated story, but this is an intricate, complex war on an intricate, complex planet. I argue that the "Vietnam/Watergate" template directed Newsweek to "get Bush"– and that’s a narrow vision for a quality journalistic enterprise in a world where information technology puts us all within earshot of one another...I will bet that Al Qaeda has sympathizers in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are cued to re-act to Western news reports that "insult Islam" – particularly reports involving US troops.

Read the rest of the posting to learn more and follow the links.

For additional commentary, see this JunkYardBlog posting, which includes these words:

The mistake this time--Newsweek erroneously reporting that US interrogators flush the Koran down the toilet to elicit confessions from terrorists--has gotten more than a dozen people killed and turned many in Afghanistan and other Muslim states irrevocably against the US. The damage that this story will do will be with us for a long, long time--long after that part of the world has stopped ignoring Newsweek's too-late apology.

So why doesn't Newsweek make a mistake in the US' favor once in a while?

The same posting also contains a link to this comment:

Austin: I’m on my way back to Kabul, as I typically do every summer, but my family is completely opposed to my travel and work this year in Afghanistan even though I’ve safely transited there, in and out of State and UN/NGO service for nearly 20 years. The word I receive from Kabuli friends is that Isikoff has singlehandedly turned US triumph in the country to a total disaster. It was thought an anamoly last summer that some wonderful–and tragically forgotten–American DynCorps workers (mostly ex-military and my good friends) were killed in an environment that was pro-American to the core. That could be seen as a terrible tragedy, an unreasonable sad event impinging on an overall positive atmosphere–a last ditch effort by desperate Al Qa’eda remnants from outside Afghanistan to vent anger at the overwhelming success of the Americans. Now thanks to one Bush-hating reporter (google Isikoff if you doubt his intentions,) the recidivist Taliban-Pathans of southeast Afghanistan once again have an issue to de-legitimize the Karzai-US alliance. This is a disaster perpetrated by a single reckless reporter…will he ever be required to answer for his sins? Fifteen dead so far…how many more? The streets of Afghanistan, just days ago filled with pro-American citizens, are now roiled with hatred. What has Newsweek wrought? Who will call Isikoff to answer in courts or Congress for his destruction of an important alliance? GW…it’s time for you to step up to the plate and talk directly about this issue, this renegade journalist, to both the American public and the Afghan people.

This is the last thing we needed to have happen to the USA and its allies in the war on terror.

The Anchoress and La Shawn Barber have both posted on this story and have links to numerous other related postings. Michelle Malkin shares a reader's observation which, when combined with the links in that posting, shows how Newsweek's woefully biased political agenda made such unethical behavior possible.

And who said that the lack of editorial control means the blogsphere has legitimacy problems? That wasn't people in or attached to the mainstream media, like Newsweek, was it?

Debunking a Church/State Separatist Polemic

Marc Comtois

Over at Spinning Clio, I've written a longish piece ("Christianity as a 'Founding Religion' Disavowed: What DID the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli Say (and when did it say it)?" that investigates the historical interpretation of a rather obscure treaty that has been used to buttress the arguments of many secularists and others who seek to remove religion as a founding principle of the U.S. It is part of the History Carnival, a bi-monthly roundup of history blog posts. (This one is being hosted by Saint Nate, I'll be hosting one of the two next month, incidentally.) If so inclined, please take a look.

May 15, 2005

Where's the Moral Outrage? Part VI

This is another periodic posting about the intolerance of the secular left fundamentalists in academia, building on these previous postings here, here, here, here, and here.

David Limbaugh recently wrote an editorial entitled False Promises of Academic Freedom, which included these excerpts:

If you want to get a real glimpse of the thought-tyranny of the academic Left, you should look at the case of Scott McConnell, who was recently expelled from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., because his personal beliefs didn't fit within the school's indoctrination grid.

The Left, through an extraordinary process of self-deception, routinely congratulates itself for its enlightenment and open-mindedness, but the slightest scrutiny of its behavior in academia alone puts the lie to its claims…

McConnell was pursuing a masters in education at Le Moyne. He achieved a 3.78 grade-point average for the fall semester and an "excellent" evaluation for his outside classroom work at a Syracuse elementary school when he made the mistake of relying on the university's promise to honor students' academic liberty and due process…

Among McConnell's unforgivable sins were his audacious dissent from the university's dogma extolling multicultural education and his gross insubordination in asserting in a paper that "corporal punishment has a place in the classroom."

Notably, McConnell received an A- on his blasphemous paper from Prof. Mark J. Trabucco, who also wrote him a note saying his ideas were "interesting." But when Trabucco forwarded the paper to the department chair, Cathy Leogrande, McConnell got his academic head served to him on a platter…

Note that Leogrande did not list McConnell's academic performance as a reason for his dismissal, merely that his personal beliefs weren't in synch with the school's propaganda. Note also that Leogrande didn't give McConnell any opportunity to respond prior to kicking him out on his ear…

McConnell then wrote a letter to Dr. John Smarrelli Jr., academic vice president, informing him that he wished to appeal the decision to expel him…

Smarrelli, rather than responding directly to points McConnell raised in his letter, copped out, repeating that McConnell would not be permitted to appeal because he had only been "conditionally accepted."…

McConnell's mistake is that he dared challenge politically correct dogma concerning corporal punishment and multiculturalism. Here's hoping he prevails in his lawsuit, and, in the process, exposes Leftist academic tyranny, censorship and hypocrisy for what it is.

Now recall how much time the Left spends spinning its tale that it is the Right which is pushing theocracy on all of America - and have a good laugh at the bigotry and absurdity of that assertion!

May 14, 2005

The Injustice of Smearing A Fellow American For Political Gain

There is an excellent posting on Captain's Quarters about Janice Rogers Brown, one of the court nominees being filibustered by Senate Democrats, that references this Sacramento Bee editorial written by a liberal who, among other things, said:

I know Janice Rogers Brown, and she knows me, but we're not friends. The associate justice of the California Supreme Court has never been to my house, and I've never been to hers. Ours is a wary relationship, one that befits a journalist of generally liberal leanings and a public official with a hard-right reputation fiercely targeted by the left...

Even though being in general disagreement with Brown's political philosophy, she notes Brown's dissent in the case of The People v. Conrad Richard McKay and comments further:

I find myself rooting for Brown. I hope she survives the storm and eventually becomes the first black woman on the nation's highest court.

I want her there because I believe she worries about the things that most worry me about our justice system: bigotry, unequal treatment and laws and police practices that discriminate against people who are black and brown and weak and poor.

Consider these words from the conclusion to Brown's dissent in the referenced case:

In the spring of 1963, civil rights protests in Birmingham united this country in a new way. Seeing peaceful protesters jabbed with cattle prods, held at bay by snarling police dogs, and flattened by powerful streams of water from fire hoses galvanized the nation. Without being constitutional scholars, we understood violence, coercion, and oppression. We understood what constitutional limits are designed to restrain. We reclaimed our constitutional aspirations. What is happening now is more subtle, more diffuse, and less visible, but it is only a difference in degree. If harm is still being done to people because they are black, or brown, or poor, the oppression is not lessened by the absence of television cameras.

I do not know Mr. McKay's ethnic background. One thing I would bet on: he was not riding his bike a few doors down from his home in Bel Air, or Brentwood, or Rancho Palos Verdes - places where no resident would be arrested for riding the "wrong way" on a bicycle whether he had his driver's license or not. would not get anyone arrested unless he looked like he did not belong in the neighborhood. That is the problem. And it matters...

It is clear the Legislature could not authorize the kind of standardless discretion the court confers in this case. Why should the court permit officers to do indirectly what the Constitution directly prohibits? How can such an action be deemed constitutionally reasonable? And if we insist it is, can we make any credible claim to a commitment to equal justice and equal treatment under law?

Well...No. Not exactly.

Do those words sound like some scary extremist? Of course not.

And yet, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid recently said this about Brown:

...She is a woman who wants to take us back to the Civil War days...

Which leads The Captain's posting to end with these words:

This is the real Janice Rogers Brown, not some bogeyman dreamed up by People for the American Way and Ted Kennedy. Even her presumed political opponents in the California state capitol know better. It's high time for the GOP to put an end to the smear campaigns of the Left and get Brown the up-or-down vote she deserves.

Nobody has put forth evidence that Janice Rogers Brown has let her personal beliefs cause her not to follow the Constitution in her judicial opinions. Rather, all they can offer are certain public comments which confirm that she holds some conservative viewpoints. The last time I checked, expressing such opinions was still an allowed freedom in America. This point is reinforced by Thomas Sowell.

Unsurprisingly, Reid's comments have not stopped with just Brown. Here is what he recently said about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:

I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don't--I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.

Discussing a Supreme Court case, Reid also said this about a dissent by Thomas:'s like looking at an 8th grade dissertation compared to somebody who just graduated from Harvard...

Also in the most recent link, James Taranto of the responds with these thoughts:

When Trent Lott crossed the line two years ago, Republicans, after some hesitation, did the right thing and ousted him as their leader. If the Democrats retain Reid, it will tell us something about the party's commitment to racial equality.

Here is the link to a 2003 Wall Street Journal editorial that explains the underlying motives for the words and actions of Senate Democrats:

The truth is that Judge Brown is all too qualified, and what scares the left is her chances for promotion. More U.S. Supreme Court Justices--including Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas--have come from the D.C. Circuit than from any other federal court...

The lesson liberals learned from Clarence Thomas's success is to start attacking early when fewer people are paying attention. Senators who had approved Judge Thomas's appointment to the D.C. Circuit found it politically difficult later to oppose his promotion to the Supreme Court...

So she's getting the by-now-ritual Borking...

...attacks ultimately descended into something close to parody...Democrats accused her of being insensitive to victims of rape, housing discrimination, age discrimination and even racial discrimination.

Judge Brown was born into a family of Alabama sharecroppers in 1949. She has personal experience with racial segregation and every other precept of Jim Crow America. The idea that she needs a lecture on discrimination the all-white and mostly male Senate is absurd on its face. But for Democrats the goal is to make her look somehow like an inauthentic black.

As Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Justice Thomas and others can attest, liberals reserve their harshest and most personal attacks for minorities with the audacity to wander off the ideological plantation...Hardly an "extremist," Judge Brown...wrote the majority opinion for the court more times that any other Justice in the 2001-02 term...

This is about political power, and overturning the results of the 2000 and 2002 elections...

Senate liberals are in the process of filibustering a rainbow coalition of conservative judges that deserves to become a major Republican campaign issue: One black, one Hispanic, three women, two Southern whites and perhaps soon an Arab-American. Let's have a 2004 election debate over which party is really the enemy of diversity, intellectual and otherwise.

The Left just doesn't want any blacks wandering off their plantation. No conservative blacks allowed. No school choice for poor inner-city black kids. The list could go on. Now ask yourself who really believes America should be the land of freedom and opportunity for ALL Americans.

See here for more on the Senate judicial filibusters.


Peter Kirsanow adds these thoughts about Janice Rogers Brown. Nat Hentoff comments here.

More Thoughts on the NEA Contract Dispute in East Greenwich

The two local newspapers published last Thursday a new letter to the editor I wrote about the ongoing NEA teachers' union contract dispute in East Greenwich. The editorial begins:

The issues of retroactive pay and "work-to-rule" are at the heart of the dispute in the East Greenwich NEA teachers union contract dispute. The union expects salaries to be made whole via retroactive pay increases. But if the union believes they will get such pay, then they have no incentive to settle the contract for anything less than their one-sided outrageous demands. Yet, in the meantime, our children will not be made whole retroactively for all the times teachers have, due to "work-to-rule," refused to do the same things for our children that they did in past years. This is an inequitable situation that needs to be rectified.

The balance of the editorial offers my specific recommendations on how to settle certain key financial terms in any new contract - and it starts with eliminating retroactive pay and dedicating some or all of those funds to providing tutors and other help to our children.

The West Bay edition of the ProJo carried a shorter version of the same editorial, available here for a fee.

Also last week, the newspaper reported that the Town Council did cut the proposed 2005-2006 school budget by $800K - which has the effect of making it difficult for the School Committee to offer retroactive pay in any settlement. In addition, the School Committee has taken retroactive pay off the table, at least for now:

[School Committee member Steve Gregson] said the item has not been specifically discussed in talks, but, like Bradley, said the board, right now, is not willing to offer the pay because of the contract compliance situation. Gregson said the committee, in a unanimous executive-session vote, moved to take the retroactive pay off the table for now.

"The union has decided not to fill their complete obligation," he said. "We don't believe they deserve it."

All of these developments led Roger Ferland, the East Greenwich NEA representative, to do one of the few things he does well - whine:

Roger Ferland, president of the East Greenwich Education Association, said he was confused by the council's directive and said members should not meddle in the talks.

"It's unfortunate that the Town Council is trying to put their hands in this," he said. "I'm not sure why they did that. It's not going to help things. In fact, it's a good way to sabotage them."

Ferland said the members of the School Committee are elected to handle the talks and the council should respect that and let them do their jobs. He said he hoped that there might be some kind of change by the financial town meeting in June.

You can read more about the specifics of the East Greenwich dispute here, here, and here.

You can read more about the broader public education issues here in Rhode Island here, here, and here.

Why these issues matter so much is summarized in this posting about the horrible state of American public education.

More Celebrity Nonsense Talk

I have always failed to understand why our society pays so much attention to the opinions of Hollywood celebrities, as if they have any ability to offer rich insights into the issues of life.

This opinion was reinforced this morning by two separate news articles about Brad Pitt, both coming from the same interview:

In the first article:

Lucy and the GQ gang were invited to Brad's place for the shoot where he talked candidly about his hopes of one day becoming a daddy.

"He seems very ready for that in a way that he didn't used to be," she added. "He knows that there was a time that he was all about the adventure."

So what kind of father does Mr. Pitt think he will be?

"I'll be able to figure it out when I get there. I have great faith in that. I'm just really aware of the responsibility of putting your life second, and your job is to show this little one around the world," he told GQ.

In a second article from the same interview, Pitt also said:

The actor revealed to GQ magazine that he never quite bought the whole "until death do us part" thing in the marriage vows.

"The idea that marriage has to be for all time -- that I don't understand," Pitt, 41, admits in the interview conducted not long after Aniston filed for divorce in March. "It's talked about like it failed, I guess because it wasn't flawless. Me, I embrace the messiness of life. I find it so beautiful, actually."...

For a guy who has previously expressed concerns over the idea of lifelong monogamy, even before the split when he told Vanity Fair last year, "I'm not sure if it really is in our nature to be with someone for the rest of our lives."

Brad Pitt thinks he is ready to be a father but staying married to a wife for the rest of his life is unnatural. Sounds like a man whose only experience with children consists of junkets to Africa with Angelina Jolie and her child where Pitt can drop in and play - and then go his own way. All the upside fun, none of the downside hardships, and none of the long-term responsibility and commitment.

A profoundly fake view and understanding of the real world. Kind of like making a movie isn't it? So, again, why do we pay any attention to what Hollywood people say?

Sexual License

Jayd Henricks offers this commentary on the issue of sexual license and why the homosexual-rights and abortion-rights groups are politically united:

The Human Rights Campaign recently named Joe Solmonese as their new president. Solmonese moves from his position as CEO of Emily’s List — a political-action committee aimed at electing women abortion advocates to public office — to HRC, the largest homosexual-rights interest group. Meanwhile, homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson has announced his support for Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the U.S. Both of these are emblematic of an interesting phenomenon in the cultural battle defining American politics today: Homosexual interest groups often form a significant part of the coalition supporting abortion rights. Why is a population that by definition does not procreate heavily involved in the “right” to end a pregnancy?

One might argue that this is simply what defines a liberal. A liberal defends the power of an individual to do as he or she pleases. While this is selectively true (where is the liberal movement to defend the rights of an individual to pray in the public square, or for parents to send their children to the school of their choice?), it’s not quite specific enough. At any large event in support of abortion rights, rainbow flags and other symbols of the homosexual culture are prominent. Homosexual groups frequently advertise pro-abortion events on their websites and publications, and abortion groups often support activities promoting homosexual causes. The two groups clearly overlap. Why is this?

On the surface it is an unlikely coalition, but upon closer examination there is common ground. While the two groups are very different in their particular circumstances, the common denominator between the two agendas is sexual license. Homosexuals are often strong advocates of abortion not because they need access to it but because homosexual activists are driven by the same philosophy that drives abortion rights: sex without restrictions or consequences. The two groups share the same foundation and it is in an effort to fortify this foundation that the two are committed to each other.

The homosexual is provided “rights” to marry, etc. to the degree that society accepts the idea that there are no consequences of a sexual relationship beyond what the individual chooses. The abortion proponent sees an unwanted pregnancy as an imposition on the woman’s (and man’s) right to sex without consequences. Sex becomes merely a matter of personal choice and expression, without consideration for its natural purpose of procreation. In this philosophy the homosexual activist and the advocate of abortion share the same starting point, and while they lead to different modes of existence, the philosophical foundation is the same.

This is why the cultural battle in defense of traditional marriage is largely the same battle waged to protect the innocent life of the unborn child. Marriage defined as a contract between one man and one woman, or the recognition of the rights of the unborn child, naturally flow from a sense that sex is something more than an act of personal gratification. Sex provides physical pleasure but it also is a profound gift to the individual that comes with responsibility. Sex does have consequences that place some restrictions on sexual activity. The restrictions, however, are not limiting but rather put sex within a context that is natural and healthy for both the individual and society. Without this foundation of human sexuality, sex becomes nothing other than the pursuit of personal gratification.

It is critical to recognize the ideology of absolute sexual license that drives and unites abortion and same-sex-marriage advocates. They form a strong coalition that has reshaped the political landscape. It is, consequently, necessary to fight the two fronts of the cultural battle (the dignity of life and the definition of marriage) with the same reaffirmation of the dignity and responsibility of sex. Sex is a great good, but its consequences and procreative purpose cannot be ignored if it is to remain so.

Pat Buchanan: Nazi Apologist

Stephen Green of Vodkapundit offers a striking counter-argument to Pat Buchanan's editorial entitled "Was World War II worth it?":

It took 40 years, but today Pat Buchanan hit bottom on the slippery slope from Young Turk conservative columnist to Nazi Apologist troglodyte...

Shame on Buchanan. We must never let the evil of World War II be whitewashed. I would encourage you to read the entire posting.

Ahistorical America: Are We Doomed to Repeat the Past?

It is common knowledge that many of our children are ignorant about their American history.

We then have the secular left fundamentalists actively trying to rewrite history, especially our understanding of the American Founding.

As a result, this article by David Gelernter, a senior fellow in Jewish Thought at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, should come as no surprise to anyone:

A report just issued by the Bible Literacy Project suggests that young Americans know very little about the Bible. The report is important, but first things first: A fair number of Americans don't see why teenagers should know anything at all about the Bible.

Scripture begins with God creating the world, but there is something these verses don't tell you: The Bible has itself created worlds. Wherever you stand on the spectrum from devout to atheist, you must acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

…Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation's Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history--and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?--the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence"? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) "the last, best hope of earth"?

We know of people who are certain of their destinies from childhood on. But nations?

Many things made all these Americans and proto-Americans sure; and to some extent they were merely guessing and hoping. But one thing above all made them true prophets. They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel's covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. ("Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke," said Winthrop. "Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.") They read about God's chosen people and took it to heart: They were God's chosen people, or--as Lincoln put it--God's "almost chosen people." The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.

Evidently young Americans don't know much about the Bible (or anything else, come to think of it; that's another story). But let's not kid ourselves--this problem will be hard to attack. It's clear that any public school that teaches about America must teach about the Bible, from outside. But teaching the Bible from inside (reading Scripture, not just about Scripture) is trickier. You don't have to believe in the mythical "wall of separation" between church and state--which the Bill of Rights never mentions and had no intention of erecting--to understand that Americans don't want their public schools teaching Christianity or Judaism.

But can you teach the Bible as mere "literature" without flattening and misrepresenting it? How will you address the differences (which go right down to the ground) between Jews and Christians respecting the Bible? (The question is not so much how to spare Jewish sensibilities--minorities have rights, but so do majorities; the question is how to tell the truth.) What kind of parents leave their children's Bible education to the public schools, anyway? How do we go beyond public schools in attacking a nationwide problem of Bible illiteracy?...

America's earliest settlers came in search of religious freedom, to escape religious persecution--vitally important facts that Americans tend increasingly to forget. A new arrival who joined the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1623 "blessed God for the opportunity of freedom and liberty to enjoy the ordinances of God in purity among His people." America was a haven for devoutly religious dissidents. It is a perfect reflection of the nation's origins that the very first freedom in the Bill of Rights--Article one, part one--should be religious freedom. "Separation of church and state" was a means to an end, not an end in itself. The idea that the Bill of Rights would one day be traduced into a broom to sweep religion out of the public square like so much dried mud off the boots of careless children would have left the Founders of this nation (my guess is) trembling in rage. We owe it to them in simple gratitude to see that the Bill of Rights is not--is never--used as a weapon against religion.

You cannot understand the literature and experience of 17th-century American Puritans unless you know the Bible…

* * *

The Bible Literacy Report: What Do American Teens Need to Know and What Do They Know? was commissioned by a nonprofit organization called the Bible Literacy Project; it was published April 26. Students in the Gallup-conducted survey were mostly in 7th through 9th grades; they were enrolled at 30 public and 4 private schools (one Catholic, one Protestant, and 2 non-sectarian). Forty-one teachers took part--"a diverse sample of high school English teachers in 10 states." All are reputedly "among the best teachers in their subject."…

The teachers are strikingly confused about the legal status of Bible-teaching in public schools. The ACLU and kindred organizations are winning the fight to suppress religion in public--to ban it from the public square as religion has traditionally been banned under regimes that tolerate it only marginally; to force it indoors and under wraps, as minority religions have traditionally been treated by powerful majorities that threaten violence. The ACLU and friends are winning by court order and--more important--by confusion and intimidation. "It was not uncommon," says the report, "for educators to hold erroneous beliefs about the legality of using the Bible and Bible literature in public-school classrooms."…

What to do? Every school that teaches American history must teach the Bible's central role. Easily said; but experience suggests that many of today's classes in English and U.S. history are stuck somewhere between useless and harmful…

But students need to read the Bible, not just about the Bible. High school Bible-as-literature electives are rare and controversial...

There are good reasons to be wary of such courses. There is nothing wrong with them on constitutional grounds, and the Bible Literacy Project has reasonable, serious curricula of its own on offer. But these courses have to keep well clear of teaching the Bible as a sacred text, or promoting religious views of any kind. And it happens that nearly all of the smartest, deepest readers of the Bible through the ages have approached it from a religious direction. No doubt their views can be worked in somehow, but in how natural a way? And won't they be a lot easier just to skip?...

So let's have Bible-as-literature electives in every public high school, by all means. But let's also face facts: These are hard courses to teach at best. Do we have teachers who are up to the job? (With laudable foresight, the Bible Literacy Project is already developing workshops for teachers.) And let's also keep in mind that, for most children, such courses can only be half-way houses. Children studying the Bible should learn their own religious traditions as precious truth, not as one alternative on a multicultural list.

Teaching precious religious truth is not what America's public schools are for. Ultimately there is only one solution to our Bible literacy crisis. Our churches, our synagogues, and all other institutions that revere the Bible must do better. How well are they doing? To judge by the new report, lousy…

What has the Bible been to this country? In 1630, John Winthrop repeated Moses' instructions: "Lett us choose life." How to do it? By reading and obeying the Bible, above all "the Counsell of Micah"--"to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God." Americans (by and large) have done their best to follow Winthrop's instructions. If they haven't always succeeded--if America has managed at times to be a profoundly sinful nation (which is no less than the Bible expects of all nations)--they have also tried hard to be good. They have tried hard to choose life. And the Bible has been as good as its own word (Proverbs 3:18)--"It is a Tree of Life to them that lay hold of it."

This study confirms yet again how we are an increasingly ahistorical and ill-informed society that is becoming disconnected from the roots of our Founding and Western Civilization.

A quote from George Santayana puts this issue into perspective:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience.

May 13, 2005

Strange Bedfellows, Indeed

Marc Comtois

Welp, what are we all to make of this?

Mr. Gingrich and Mrs. Clinton have a lot more in common now that they have left behind the politics of the 1990's, when she was a symbol of the liberal excesses of the Clinton White House and he was a fiery spokesman for a resurgent conservative movement in Washington.

Beyond the issue of health care, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich have forged a relatively close relationship working on a panel the Pentagon created to come up with ways to improve the nation's military readiness, according to people close to them.

Mr. Gingrich says he has been struck by how pro-defense Mrs. Clinton has turned out to be at a time when other Democrats have criticized President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq. He chalked that up to her experience in the White House, where her husband, as commander in chief, had to deal with grave national security matters.

"Unlike most members of the legislature, she has been in the White House," he said. "She's been consistently solid on the need to do the right thing on national defense."

It was, in fact, during one of the defense panel's meetings in Norfolk that Mr. Gingrich suggested to her that they join efforts to push legislation on an area of mutual concern: the need to spur greater online exchanges of medical information among patients, doctors, health insurers and other medical experts. That, in turn, led to the press conference that both attended this week.

Political opportunism on both parts? Or could there be something to the idea that a personal relationship can overcome too-often hyperbolic partisan rhetoric? I actually think its encouraging. Though I must confess that there is no way I could trust Mrs. Clinton as President. Nonethless, when she's right (as she has been on military affairs), she's right.

The "Hypocrisy" of Conservative Individuals Doesn't Negate Their Ideals

Marc Comtois

Travis Rowley has an excellent piece in today's ProJo explaining that Conservative "hypocrisy" as evidenced by the moral failures of some prominent conservatives does not render the moral ideals themselves invalid. Yet, that is what liberals are essentially implying when they cry "hypocrisy" when a conservative suffers a moral stumble.

If a Sunday Preacher challenges his congregation to uphold a higher morality and speaks of the wickedness of pedophilia, murder, and thievery, but then is discovered to have committed such acts himself, who among us would then defend those acts and let them become our societal norm? Nobody would, but such reasoning saturated Joel Connelly's [recent] column...

Connelly. . . took issue with the stunning observation that, yes, values-pushing conservatives also do wrong. Gasp! So shocked was Connelly that he has become "deeply suspicious of proper places and public piety."

No column could have better exposed liberals' craving for right-wing hypocrisy, their utter incomprehension of traditional thought, and their shameless assaults on the character of their political foes. When your adversaries are winning the minds of a moral majority, one option you have is to destroy their integrity. If you can't discredit the thought, discredit the source. This is entirely consistent with the left's political heritage, and Connelly wasted no time staying true to leftist form. His column ripped through the personal lives of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.), former Rep. Robert Bauman (R.-Md.), Rep. Dan Burton (R.-Ind.), Rep. Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.), a Catholic bishop, and numerous citizens in the pious town of Spokane. . . . However accurate Connelly's accusations are of those mentioned above, they serve no substantive point in the domain of argument, and perfectly exhibit the left's failure to understand why conservatives hold the moral high ground.

The subtitle of Crowley's piece really does say it all: "Right's hypocrisy isn't the left's virtue." For more,

. . .Conservatives readily admit to the fall of man. Evidence of this is their humble turn toward religion, which their political adversaries somehow attempt to portray as bigoted and judgmental. This is because modern-day liberals are, in fact, moral relativists, right down to the bone.

The charge of moral relativity has never implied the total decency of those making the charge: that some of us are sinners while others are as pure as the wind-driven snow. It has always been about the acceptance of the slippery slope, and Connelly's column exhibited the contrast between those who are ready to accept the ways of the morally defiant and those who are not. We should be careful with such a literary piece, because it asks us to join the rabble of pacifists and apologists, and a philosophy driven by a cowardly outlook.

This mentality does not discriminate between right and wrong. It does not ask people to do better, or be better. To do so would be cruel, unenlightened, and too critical for liberal taste buds. This is a dangerous mind-set, to say the least.

Conservatives battle such a mentality not out of self-righteousness but out of fear of a decline in cultural decency, and from a concern about what kind of world they may pass on to their children. Therefore, there is no genuine right-wing hypocrisy to be discovered. The slippery slope, conservatives understand, is not a selective phenomenon. Moral deviance invades society as a whole. Just as a rising tide will lift all ships, a depraved society will sink all souls.

Even something as devout as the Catholic priesthood has been infiltrated by an increasingly decadent humanity. No doubt trying to incriminate the traditional Catholic Church, Connelly touched on this fact, but failed to understand the root of American priests' moral failures. They are simply immersed in an immoral society, one whose popular culture consists of Britney Spears, Howard Stern, and widespread pornography.

Connelly declares that all of this hypocrisy from conservative pundits and politicians "fits a pattern."

Sure, but it seems to be a pattern that only the left is willing to accept.

May 12, 2005

Being Another "Face of Hate"

Justin Katz

As I've announced on Dust in the Light (I think), I'll be writing a biweekly column, published Thursdays, for, an online opinion magazine jointly sponsored by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and the Culture of Life Foundation. My first offering is "Communicating with the 'Faces of Hate'," about conservative Christians' designation, in some circles (e.g., among certain professors at the University of Rhode Island), as an unprotected target class.

Religion and Civic Virtue

Marc Comtois

In the left-leaning Boston Review, Princeton professor Albert J. Raboteau, a Christian Orthodox, writes of the how religion inspired many social reform movements throughout America's history and that it continues to form the basis for our nation's civic virtue. I don't know (but can guess) Raboteau's political leanings, and I sense a bit of Christian Orthodox proselytizing, but that doesn't matter. What he says is important and I've excerpted some of it in the continuation of this post.

In short, Raboteau reminds that we cannot remove religion from our political society without repercussions, some of which have already occurred. He concludes with this observation about secularism

Secularism is not antireligious. It approves of religion by turning it into what Niebuhr called an “idol,” one among others suited to our self-gratification. Secularism, in this sense, robs the Church of its eschatological dimension. It is no longer the primary community for us, the source of our life and our joy, but one more activity in a busy week, competing with work, social life, and entertainment.
Thus, it cannot be denied that the morals and virtues of a civilized nation are derived from religion. Many of us grew up in a time when it was OK for religion to be considered a valuable part of our national heritage. We, just as the Founders, believe that "civic virtue" is nothing if not supported by religion or faith. However, some have accepted the morality outlined by religion, but have rejected the need for it to be as integrated into our society as it was when they themselves developed intellectually, philosophically and politically.

They forget that the morality they have internalized was ultimately derived from someplace other than themselves or other men. They seem to believe that morality and virtue are somehow self-evident and that man and his government can adequately convey some set of widely-agreed upon values without having to call upon the religious and cultural tradition on which these values were originally based. Yet, it is arrogant to believe that we will be able to tell the next generation that virtues, variously defined (if at all), are "good" simply because "we say so" without providing the heritage and history, including religion, that informs our judgement. It will ring hollow. "After all," they may ask, "if these morals are so important, why is it that you ignored that which so obviously inspired and supported them?"

Here are some further excerpts:

The prominent presence of such figures as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos, and Roman Catholic priests and nuns in the front lines of civil-rights marches demonstrated the deep moral resonance that moved peoples of different faiths to protest injustice, based upon the age-old call of their traditions to seek justice and show mercy. Religions throughout history have motivated some to stand on the margins of society as critics of the dominant cultural and religious values.

The American experiment offered these traditions a special role. Freedom of religion, despite the long-lasting cultural hegemony of evangelical Protestantism, gave leeway to various religious groups to fight discrimination and establish public worship and public institutions. And by so doing, they made politically viable in this nation the principle of freedom of conscience and resisted the age-old tendency of governments to absorb religion into systems of state ideology.

The principle of religious freedom provided a powerful opportunity for religious-based dissent. In addition to democracy’s inherent capacity for self-criticism and renewal, the mobilization of the prophetic role of religion in the political life of the country has served as a critique of national ambition and hubris, from the Puritan Jeremiad to the Abolitionist Movement to Lincoln’s Second InauguralSpeech to the anti–Vietnam War protests.

However, Raboteau adds that something has been lost.
The American idea of freedom is centered on the rights of the individual person, but with the premise—more strongly observed at some times than others—that the respect due to the individual makes possible his participation in common, public, civic life. Freedom of conscience and freedom of choice enable individuals to participate in civil institutions, which exist to serve the commonweal.

The democratic tradition defines authority as public service. It encourages participation and treasures the voice of each because you never know when it might be the voice of a prophet. This tradition is profoundly antithetical to status and power based on inherited aristocracy

He also reminds that too many seem to be pursuing liberty without thought to responsibility.

At its best, democracy balances the rights of the individual with the responsibility to participate in the public conversations and tasks that make civic community possible. However, the possibility of so stressing rights that we forget responsibility is a perennial threat to American liberty. The choice of privileging one over the other comes down to a simple, but profound question: “What is freedom for?” When Thomas Jefferson composed the Declaration of Independence he copied from John Locke the famous list of inalienable rights endowed upon us by the Creator—with one significant difference. Jefferson substituted for Locke’s life, liberty, and property, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Tragically, Americans ever since have found it too easy to reverse Jefferson by turning the pursuit of happiness into the pursuit of property. . .

If American democracy offers religion an opportunity, American pluralism offers it a challenge. Pluralism challenges us to experience religion as more than a cultural identity. Pluralism means encountering the values and attitudes and beliefs of others with respect for those who hold them. Pluralism, when taken seriously as respect for difference, rejects relativism for avoiding the hard truth that we do indeed differ. It is the difficult road we walk to achieve a mature understanding of the truth and the opportunity to share that truth with others who are seeking it. It challenges us to appropriate, internalize, and live out the religious identity passed to us by family and society. It creates an opportunity to discuss and to argue for one’s own position.

Pension Fund Politics: How the AFL-CIO Violates Its Fiduciary Responsibilities

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial entitled "Pension Fund Politics" in which it made these comments about labor union practices:

One of the more dangerous political trends these days is the misuse of public pension assets for partisan ends. So it was encouraging this week to see the Labor Department give a refresher course on fiduciary duty to the AFL-CIO.

The instruction came in the form of a legal warning that spending pension fund assets on partisan crusades is a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or Erisa. "A fiduciary may never increase a plan's expenses, sacrifice the security of promised benefits, or reduce the return on plan assets, in order to promote its views on Social Security or any other broad policy issue," wrote Alan Lebowitz, a deputy assistant secretary and career Labor official, in a letter to the union group.

This legal brushback pitch is a response to the AFL-CIO's attempts to enlist pension managers as partisan allies. The union umbrella has threatened to pull its $400 billion pension business from any financial services company that supports personal Social Security accounts. This is political intimidation that no corporate pension fund would dare to attempt, lest it be sued. But it is part of a new union strategy that runs from California's Calpers fund siding with striking unions against Safeway last year, to New York State's Democratic Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, threatening Sinclair Broadcasting out of running a documentary critical of John Kerry.

The AFL-CIO claims to be unworried by the Labor warning, but this is probably both a legal and political mistake. Union leaders are already under scrutiny for wasting member dues on politics, with no apparent results or accountability. If workers discover that unions are also dipping into their pension assets, or are picking investment advisers based on politics more than return on assets, their desire to join unions will only decrease.

Labor's resort to pension-fund politics reflects its overall shrinking fortunes in the workplace. Union membership has fallen precipitously for years, and last weekend came news that the AFL-CIO was forced to dismiss more than a third of its 424 employees. During John Sweeney's 10-year presidency, the AFL-CIO's reserve fund has dropped to $31 million from $61 million. Pension fund assets are the last stash of cash out there to exploit.

As the Labor Department has now made clear, that's illegal. Resisting that advice will invite a lawsuit, as well as Congressional oversight to underscore that the fiduciary obligation of public pension managers is to workers, not to the political causes of union leaders.

John Adams on the Importance of Morality & Religion

John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of America, wrote:

We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

He also said:

You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments: rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the universe.

Another Adams quote contains these words:

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

Finally, John Adams said:

Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.

These quotes are consistent with other previously noted quotes by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson contained in this posting as well as these words from Calvin Coolidge.

These words from three leading Founding Fathers and four American Presidents can only lead to the unanswered question: Why are today's secular left fundamentalists so committed to rewriting the history of our country's Founding by claiming the Founding was a completely secular occurrence.

Where is the Moral Outrage? Part V

This posting continues a periodic series of postings (here, here, here, here) about some of the strange behavior in the academic community.

Roger Kimball weighs in with an editorial entitled "Retaking the Universities: A battle plan." It is a lengthy piece, worthy of being read in full. Here are some choice excerpts:

...In my book "Tenured Radicals"--first published in 1990 and updated in 1998--I noted:
With a few notable exceptions, our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Every special interest--women's studies, black studies, gay studies, and the like --and every modish interpretative gambit--deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism, and other postmodernist varieties of what the literary critic Frederick Crews aptly dubbed "Left Eclecticism"--has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary.

"Tenured Radicals" is a frankly polemical book. In some ways, however, it underestimates if not the severity then at least the depth of the problem...

As Irving Kristol observed in his essay "Countercultures" [available for a fee from Commentary Magazine, Dec 1994, Vol. 98, Issue 6, p. 35]:
"Sexual liberation" is always near the top of a countercultural agenda--though just what form the liberation takes can and does vary, sometimes quite wildly. Women's liberation, likewise, is another consistent feature of all countercultural movements--liberation from husbands, liberation from children, liberation from family. Indeed, the real object of these various sexual heterodoxies is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.
Yesterday the slogan "free sex"; now, ironically, it is something closer to "free from sex." The [Financial Times] quotes Paisley Currah, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and a board member of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute: "Just as Herbert Marcuse's theories were important on campus in his day, gender theory is important now."...In his "protests against the repressive order of procreative sexuality" and insistence that genuine liberation requires a return to a state of "primary narcissism," Marcuse sounds a very contemporary note. Such a "change in the value and scope of libidinal relations," he wrote in "Eros and Civilization," "would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family."...

The chief issue is this: Should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens--or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation? Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. The goal was to produce men and women who (as Allan Bloom put it) had reflected thoughtfully on the question " 'What is man?' in relation to his highest aspirations as opposed to his low and common needs."

Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the "adversary culture of the intellectuals." The goal was less reflection than rejection. The English novelist Kingsley Amis once observed that much of what was wrong with the 20th century could be summed up in the word "workshop." Nowadays, "workshop" has been largely replaced by the word "studies." Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies: These are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances. They exist not to further liberal education but to nurture the feckless antinomianism that Jacques Barzun dubbed "directionless quibble."...

John Silber, the former president of Boston University, summed up the fate of academic freedom in his essay "Poisoning the Wells of Academe." Originally, Mr. Silber observed, academic freedom "entailed an immunity for what is said and done by dedicated, thoughtful, conscientious scholars in pursuit of truth or the truest account":

Now it came to entail, rather, an immunity for whatever is said and done, responsibly or carelessly, within or without the walls of academia, by persons unconcerned for the truth; who, reckless, incompetent, frivolous or even malevolent, promulgate ideas for which they can claim no expertise, or even commit deeds for which they can claim no sanction of law.

This is what Mr. Silber referred to as "the absolute concept of academic freedom," according to which "the academic can say whatever he pleases about whatever he pleases, whenever and wherever he pleases, and be fully immune from unpleasant consequences."...

The use and abuse of academic freedom to indemnify not the expression of unpopular opinions but political incitement of various kinds is one symptom of the degradation of American academic life. The newfound impatience with some extreme examples of that abuse is a heartening sign. Nevertheless, the whole issue of academic freedom is only part of a much larger phenomenon. Academics have an unspoken compact with society. As scholars, their charge is to pursue the truth in their chosen discipline; as teachers, their charge is to help preserve and transmit the truth by encouraging thoughtful study and candid discussion. The largely unspoken nature of this compact was part of its glory--it underscored the element of freedom that has always been a central ingredient in liberal education. To a large extent, that freedom has been violated. How has this happened?

Academic life, like the rest of social life, unfolds within a frame of rules and permissions. At one end, there are things that one must (or must not) do; at the other end, there is rule of whim. The middle range, in which behavior is neither explicitly governed by rules but is not entirely free, is that realm governed by what the British jurist John Fletcher Moulton, writing in the early 1920s, called "Obedience to the Unenforceable." It is a realm in which not law, not caprice, but virtues such as duty, fairness, judgment and taste hold sway. In a word, it is the "domain of Manners," which "covers all cases of right doing where there is no one to make you do it but yourself."

A good index of the health of any social institution is its allegiance to the strictures that define this middle realm. "In the changes that are taking place in the world around us," Moulton wrote, "one of those which is fraught with grave peril is the discredit into which this idea of the middle land is falling." One example was the abuse of free speech in political debate: "We have unrestricted freedom of debate," say the radicals: "We will use it so as to destroy debate."

The repudiation of obedience to the unenforceable is at the center of what makes academic life (and not only academic life) today so noxious. The contraction of the "domain of Manners" creates a vacuum that is filled on one side by increasing regulation--speech codes, rules for all aspects of social life, efforts to determine by legislation (from the right as well as from the left) what should follow freely from responsible behavior--and on the other side by increased license. More and more, it seems, academia (like other aspects of elite cultural life) has reneged on its compact with society...

Faculties often take it amiss when critics appeal over their heads to alumni, trustees or parents. But ultimately teachers still stand in loco parentis, if not on everyday moral issues then at least with respect to the content of the education they provide. Many parents are alarmed, rightly so, at the spectacle of their children going off to college one year and coming back the next having jettisoned every moral, religious, social and political scruple that they had been brought up to believe. Why should parents fund the moral decivilization of their children at the hands of tenured antinomians? Why should alumni generously support an alma mater whose political and educational principles nourish a world view that is not simply different from but diametrically opposed to the one they endorse? Why should trustees preside over an institution whose faculty systematically repudiates the pedagogical mission they, as trustees, have committed themselves to uphold? These are questions that should be asked early and asked often...

May 11, 2005

Father James Schall: On Being Neither Liberal nor Conservative

Father James Schall offers his thoughts on the inadequacy of labels:

The division of the world into "liberal" and "conservative" on every topic from politics to our taste in cuisine, clothes, or automobiles is one of the really restricting developments that has ever happened to us...

Such a view makes things very simple, I suppose. But it also reduces our minds to utter fuzziness. We are required to define everything as either liberal or conservative even when the two allowable terms of definition are not adequate to explain the reality that they are intended to describe.

Our political language is likewise amusingly confusing, especially when used to describe theological issues or currents...

Whether the notions of "liberal" or "conservative" themselves are, in content, stable and definite concepts or not is another-and not unimportant-matter...

The reason the present pope is consistently called "conservative," or "arch-conservative’ has nothing to do with the normal use of these terms or a fair understanding of his ideas. We might better call Benedict XVI a wild "radical" or even a crypto-"revolutionary," because what he stands for is not something that is constantly changing. His whole purpose in the world as pope, in a way, is to be sure that what was presented in the beginning is still presented in our own time, however it be depicted-liberal or conservative, radical or reactionary...

If we are what is classically called "orthodox," we are neither liberal or conservative as these terms are used today. We are wildly radical and revolutionary. No one is radical as we are over against a culture that has embodied these practices into its very soul. This is what Pope Ratzinger meant by observing that it is the world, not he, that has changed. When Benedict XVI is called a "conservative" or an "arch-conservative," he is in fact nothing of the sort. He is much more "radical" than the wildest theory on the left or the right, however it be designated.

Any pope is ultimately judged by only one criterion, "did he keep the essence of the faith in an articulate manner that was the same as that originally handed down to him?" If he did not, what he has become is nothing more than a conformist to our times in the values used most to define liberal and conservative. If he is beyond these things, as he is, he listens to another voice. This is the root of our freedom-that this voice remains for us to hear.

There is, in the end, something beyond liberal and conservative. That is the truth of things according to which we have a criterion that is not constantly changing between liberal and conservative and, in the meantime, one that means nothing but what we want it to mean. Thus if we claim we are "neither liberal nor conservative," we announce that there are criteria that exist outside of our narrow way of thinking, categories that better define for us what we are and ought to be.

The NEA: There They Go, Again!

Peter Byrnes of the Liberty Files blogsite notes another clear example of the hypocrisy behind the NEA teachers' union political positions, this time on Social Security reform:

In any case, I heard on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" today that the NEA has stepped outside education to oppose any privatization of the Social Security system. It would seem that the NEA has no dog in this fight. Not so.

Here are the NEA positions on privatization, among other issues. Follow the links. It's all there. And here is an explanation of the inner workings of the NEA. Read the whole thing. It's easy to follow.

The NEA opposes privatization of accounts, but the funny thing is that they have members in various states who opt-out of social security to enjoy the benefits of private retirement accounts. So, on its face, the NEA wants to deny the rest of us the very same thing that its members are permitted. hypocritical enough to be sure, but the NEA is not just about politics. Like any liberal parochial organization, it is about itself to the exclusion of its members.

The President's plan will most likely involve mandatory participation in the social security system, which means that employers, not the state, will likely be participating in making a defined contribution to their employees' retirement. That means that where the teachers have opted out of Social Security, they are back in, and thus there is less salary from which the NEA can collect member dues. But more to the point, the NEA's ability to bargain for the defined benefit plans for teachers' retirements--a happy source of revenue--would be gone.

The NEA seems to get that. Check this from their site:

Mandatory coverage of public employees would increase the tax burden on public-sector employers. Ultimately, these increased tax obligations would lead to difficult choices, including reducing the number of new hires, limiting employee wage increases, reducing cost-of-living increases for retirees, and reducing other benefits such as health care.

Ignoring the granny-scaring for a moment, the bottom line is that the NEA is concerned that there will be fewer members for them, or in any case, less salary for them to prey upon.

The NEA is in this because member benefits affect their bottom line. Whereas requiring teachers to be more knowledgeable than their students on the matters which they teach them was a problem for the NEA, so too will be reforming a retirement system which currently benefits them. But this union needs to be seen for what it is--an organization that exists for itself, not for the advancement of students, nor even for the future financial security of teachers.

There they go again, focusing once more on their own self-interest which has no connection to delivering excellence in education.

Oh, but it doesn't stop there.

Consider this recent story from right here in Rhode Island:

Having helped some 200 inner-city students do better in a special charter school than in other public schools, Rick Landau has announced that he will step down as chief executive officer of Providence's Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy.

The reason? Teachers'-union leaders are furious at him for trying to protect his school's role as an engine of innovation.

In struggling to keep together a team of excellent teachers, Mr. Landau took aim at the sacred cow of "bumping" -- a practice in which public-school teachers with seniority hold on to their jobs during a layoff through the dismissal of teachers with less seniority, even at other schools, regardless of how well they perform.

Mr. Landau asked his Textron Academy teachers to explore setting up a separate bargaining unit after it seemed that six of them -- a third of the teaching staff -- might be laid off so that teachers from other Providence schools could be shipped in. The teachers'-union leaders made it clear that they would allow no such innovation...

Mr. Landau had argued, correctly, that his school could not fulfill its mission unless it had the best teachers possible -- regardless of their status in the public-school bureaucracy...under Mr. Landau's leadership, Textron Academy established standards, raised test scores, and improved literacy.

Now all this may be at risk...

America faces an ongoing crisis in the non-performance of our public education system. You can read here, here, here, here, and here for other examples where the actions of teachers' union go against the best interests of students, taxpayers and the long-term competitive strength of our country.

There will continue to be thoroughly mediocre performance in our public education system as long as the teachers' unions retain their ability to dictate both ridiculous management rights which block excellence and outrageous compensation terms which bleed dry the financial resources of our communities.

A Revolution of Discipline

Justin Katz

In email conversation with URI women's studies professor Donna Hughes — who has published on NRO and FrontPage — about an online course that she'll be teaching in the fall, "Human Rights and Foreign Policy," I suggested that conservatives have quite a bit of work to do to reclaim inclusion with issues that are often considered "liberal" by definition. It shouldn't be reasonable for students registering for a women's studies course to assume that they know for whom their professor voted in the past five presidential elections or what her view on stem-cell research is. The following part of Prof. Hughes's response struck me as worth publishing, here, and I've done so with her permission.

Even if you disagree with certain points of view, you have to read and understand them to know how to counter them. Otherwise, you're arguing in ignorance. Where I find that bias hurts students is when they've been taught opinion as fact. No one tells them that what they are learning is just one side of a debate or a particular political perspective.

For example, I'm opposed to the legalization of prostitution from what I consider a feminist point of view — it's not good for women! Yet that puts me in opposition to most liberals who support legalization or decriminalization of prostitution, and I find allies among social conservatives and faith-based groups who agree with me, but often for different reasons.

I just finished teaching a course on "Sex Trafficking." I have my students read both points of view on the debates on trafficking and prostitution. They read some of the things I've written, so I don't hide my point of view, but when they write essays they have to clearly indicate that they understand the debate and the arguments. In the class discussion, they frequently state their opinions. I don't discourage that.

In the area of human rights and foreign policy, a very interesting coalition has come together in Washington to successfully pass a number of bills. As a feminist working to advance the well being and status of women around the world, I meet every week and frequently speak every day to members of our coalition made up of conservative Christians, Jews, Bahai's, social conservatives, and liberals. I've learned that conservatives have different philosophies about foreign policy — and they can be more effective than the liberal approaches sometimes. As a result of working together, we have built a strong political alliance, learned to respect each other — and become friends. As a feminist and women's studies professor, I was invited by the Midland Ministerial Alliance to come to Midland, Texas, and talk about trafficking of women. I spoke to a room full of Bush supporters. We got along great because we were united behind the Bush administration policies on trafficking and prostitution.

I will be drawing from my experience in this new class. That's why I think conservative students might be interested in taking it. It will not be hostile to their views. The world is rapidly changing, and frankly, I think the liberals are out of ideas on what to do about it. From the perspective of a feminist who wants to promote the well being and status of women, we need more democracy and freedom in the world. It is only under those conditions that women can organize and lobby for more rights. Also, one of the greatest threats to women in the world today is Islamic fascism and it seems to be the neoconservatives that have figured out what a threat it is to the world.

President George W. Bush in Latvia and Georgia

President George W. Bush made two important appearances this week in Riga, Latvia and in Tbilisi, Georgia. At each stop, he spoke about freedom and democracy:


Here is how a Wall Street Journal editorial described the visits to Latvia and Georgia:

...two...moments from the trip better capture its real import.

The first was the sight of Mr. Bush standing alongside the presidents of the Baltic states at a press conference in Riga, Latvia. Asked by a reporter what he had to say to those who argue the U.S. is "inappropriately meddling in the neighborhood," Mr. Bush replied: "The idea of countries helping others become free, I would hope that would be viewed as not revolutionary, but rational foreign policy, as decent foreign policy, as humane foreign policy."

The second moment came Monday upon Mr. Bush's arrival in Tbilisi, Georgia. The President was met at the airport by his Georgian counterpart, Mikhail Saakashvili, with a bouquet of roses, a reminder of the Rose Revolution that peacefully toppled Eduard Sheverdnadze's post-Soviet regime. His motorcade was then cheered by thousands of onlookers as it made its way into the city; some 100,000 Georgians were expected to hear Mr. Bush speak today in the city's Freedom Square...

But perhaps the most important aspect of Mr. Bush's trip is that it underscores the coherence of his broader foreign-policy objectives. "Freedom is on the march," the President likes to remind his audiences, and that message is as apt in Riga or Tbilisi as it is in Baghdad or Beirut. It also serves as a reminder that the achievement celebrated on May 9 was an incomplete one, and that the project Mr. Bush is embarked on now is nothing if not an extension of that achievement. As Mr. Bush said in his extemporaneous remarks in Riga:

"We now have the same opportunity -- this generation has the same opportunity -- to leave behind lasting peace for the next generation, by working on the spread of freedom and democracy. And the United States has got great partners in doing what I think is our duty to spread democracy and freedom with the three nations represented here."

These speeches are important additions to the public debate about freedom and democracy, joining the arsenal of other key speeches put forth by the President since the War on Terror began. This posting links to those other key speeches since September 11, 2001.

May 10, 2005

LNG III: Clark's Report

Marc Comtois

Richard Clarke has produced his risk analysis report (PDF)concerning expanding the KeySpan LNG facility in Providence. Given that he was hired by Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who opposes the plan, it should come as no surprise that Clarke found the proposal too risky and attractive to terrorists to be recommended. His "NET ASSESSMENT" summarizes his conclusion and offers the logical point (stripping away the hyperbole) from which to start a serious debate over where to locate an LNG facility.

While there is no adequate way in which to determine the probability of a terrorist attack on the proposed urban LNG facility and inland waterway transit routing, there is adequate grounds to judge that such an attack would be consistent with terrorists demonstrated intent and capability. There is also a basis to judge that likely enhanced security measures would not significantly reduce the risk. While there are some differences among experts about the conditions needed to generate a catastrophic explosion and about the precise extent of the resulting damage, there is significant grounds to conclude that a high risk exists of catastrophic damage from the types of attacks terrorists are capable of mounting. Those damage levels would overwhelm regional trauma, burn, and emergency medical capabilities. The LNG facility’s insurance is likely to be inadequate to fully compensate victims and to rebuild facilities. Siting the LNG off loading facility in a non-urban setting would reduce the terrorists’ incentives to attack it. Non-urban locations may possibly increase costs to the LNG operator and consumers.

If all alternative sites do cost more and governments decide to proceed with the proposed urban location because of that cost differential, then the cost trade off can be precisely measured. Governments would be deciding that avoiding the possible additional financial cost to the LNG operator and/or consumers of a more secure location is more important public policy than avoiding the additional risk of a catastrophic attack involving mass trauma and burn injuries which does accompany a decision to permit an urban LNG facility. [Source: LNG Facilities in Urban Areas: A Security Risk Analysis for Attorney General Patrick Lynch Rhode Island, p. 9-10.]

If this premise is accepted, then it follows that the argument of $'s for lives is an emotionally, and thus politically, unwinnable argument. That is why reasonable and cost-effective alternatives will simply have to be produced. The economic burden placed on Rhode Island by limited energy supplies needs to be addressed. As I've written before, the LNG shipping and offloading industry is intrinsically safe with a virtually spotless record. It is only when the spectre of terrorism is mentioned, correctly if sometimes too hysterically, that the dangers are nigh irrefutable. In a pre-9/11 world, the fears of an LNG explosion would be hysterical. But that's not the world we live in now.


A Letter to the Ed. of the ProJo today (5/13/05) echoes my feelings.

Well, surprise, surprise! Richard Clarke has provided Rhode Island Atty. Gen. Patrick Lynch, Governor Carcieri, Providence Mayor Cicilline, and the various General Assembly naysayers (none of whom know anything about liquefied-natural-gas tankers) with what they were looking for: a doomsday report.

Has it occurred to any of these people that the real risk is not in the LNG tankers' plying the Bay but in a structure that already exists: the storage-and-transfer facility? Shore-based facilities are far more vulnerable to terrorist attack than are ships at sea, with their varying courses, speeds, and schedules.

Has any of these people picked up the phone to talk to someone who actually knows something about ships, and energy?

Roger Buck, a retired Navy captain, has "spent more time on a backing bell" in Narragansett Bay than these people have collectively spent aboard vessels of any kind. Captain Buck has also spent a second career analyzing and administering the energy needs of Rhode Island. I doubt there is anyone better qualified to speak on this issue. (See "Our suicidal NIMBYism: One LNG tanker or 2,000 trucks?" Commentary, March 26.)

While Captain Buck may not have the celebrity that Richard Clarke has, I would take his advice over Mr. Clarke's any day. Captain Buck lives in Newport; his phone number is in the book.

I do not mean to make light of a terrorism risk. However, anyone with half an imagination can conjure up disaster scenarios involving acts of terrorism. The conclusion that we cannot possibly defend against all potential threats is precisely why we have taken the war to the terrorists, and why the war our sons and daughters are fighting around the world is so important to our security and way of life.

For Rhode Island it is far more likely that the greater risk comes from lack of energy resources, rather than from exploding tankers. It does not even take a consultant with an imagination to tell us the consequences of having insufficient electricity to turn on the lights or insufficient oil and natural gas to heat our homes during a frigid winter.

Our failure to develop alternative energy resources has left us with few choices here in New England, yet our "leaders" perceive that their political survival is more secure if they follow a policy of NIMBYism.

LNG tankers provide a modest but real solution to the urgent need for acceptable energy resources. The risk involved with the tankers is manageable. Anyone who gets in an automobile containing 20 gallons of a horrifying substance called gasoline should understand the concept.

It is time for our "leaders" to get their facts straight and show some political courage, for a change.



I agree with MacDougall, but my analysis and writing on this issue is based on the premise that there is no way that we will be able to overcome RI nimbyism, especially when the political will is obviously not there.

May 9, 2005

"Crunchy Conservatives"

Marc Comtois

In an attempt to dispel any notions of conservatives marching in lockstep, I'd point everyone to Rod Dreher. In a 2002 piece, he described how he and his wife found themselves rather quirkily with one foot in the conservative camp and the other in the crunchy camp. "There are four basic areas that are touchstones for crunchy conservatives: Religion, the Natural World, Beauty, and Family." (For more, see the extended entry to this post). Now, Dreher has just completed a book on the topic. It should be an interesting read. In some ways, this is similar to the idea of a so-called "Purple America" that has been proposed more recently. In short, it is possible to be politically conservative, enjoy the "fine things" (like wine, opera, classical music, art, literature, etc.) and not "buy" all the way into free-market capitalism and consumerism. In all things there is an appropriate balance and the quality of a conservative's life is often more important than the quantity of goods one can buy at the right price.

Excerpts from Rod Dreher's "Crunch Cons"

Kim Anderson (not her real name) lives with her petroleum-engineer husband and their eight homeschooled children in Midland, Tex., the hometown of President Bush. They are serious Calvinists who get their crunchy-con marching orders from the first principle of the Westminster Catechism: The purpose of a man's life is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Says Anderson, "That enjoyment of God is not just for when we get to heaven. What are we to do with ourselves while we're here? We don't have a longing to return to the Fifties, or some past era. We just long for God and His ways, and are trying to figure out how to live our lives to go along with that."

For the Andersons, taking faith seriously means living and raising children in a more radical way than most churchgoers. It is no accident that they are converts to a more rigorous form of Presbyterianism. As you talk to religious crunchy cons, you find a surprising number who are religious converts of one sort or another, many of them to traditional Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. What they have in common is a craving for an older, more demanding kind of religion, a faith with backbone that stands against the softness of bourgeois Christianity. . .

The crunchy cons, religious or not, share a belief that something has gone seriously wrong in contemporary mass society, and are grasping for "authenticity" (a word you hear often from this group) amid a raging flood of media-driven consumer culture. . .

A view of the material world as fundamentally flawed but fundamentally good, and therefore to be revered, embraced, and celebrated within limits, is a key crunchy-right concept. Crunchy cons, even the non- religious ones, take this sacramental idea seriously, which leads them to beliefs and attitudes (stereo)typically associated with liberals.

Take the environment. Crunchy cons tend to look at the world through the eyes of Tolkien's Sam Gamgee, returned from the war to his beloved shire, only to find the land despoiled by industrial "progress." While they reject the anti-scientific utopianism of hysterical mainstream environmentalism, crunchy cons are skeptical that the Republican party can be trusted as stewards of the natural world. . .

. . .American Enterprise Institute pollster Karlyn Bowman says that while the environment isn't a big political issue nationally, it is "very important at the state and local levels," particularly in populous, environmentally conscious swing states like California and Florida. AEI's Steven Hayward has studied these issues, and says that the GOP's bad rap on the environment is somewhat deserved. "It's the flip side of what defense policy is for the Democrats. Republicans don't like it, they don't study it very hard, and they tend to do a lousy job with it," he says. "Conservatives tend to belittle environmental concerns, or issue blanket condemnations of all environmentalists."

A closely related flashpoint is suburban sprawl, which is more of an aesthetic issue. Greer, a lifelong small-town Republican, says he would worry about conservatives' running his town's government, out of fear they would let developers gut the historic town center and call it another triumph of the free market. . .

In the crunchy-con view, right-wing indifference to natural beauty extends to the man-made world. Today's conservatives don't say enough about the importance of aesthetic standards. Ugly suburban architecture, lousy food, chain restaurants, bad beer, and scorn for the arts are defended by many rank-and-file Republicans as signs of populist authenticity, as opposed to the "elitist" notion that aesthetics matter. In previous generations, it was taken for granted among conservatives that cultivating taste was a worthwhile, even necessary pursuit in building civilization. Nowadays, talking like that in front of a number of right-wingers will get you denounced as a snob. . .

Though they share with many liberals a critical interest in aesthetics and the environment, a key difference between crunchy cons and the Left is the emphasis placed on these issues. Leftists tend to absolutize their tastes and convictions, look upon people who don't share them as morally deficient, and seek to impose them on an unwilling community. Crunchy cons, on the other hand, are more inclined to think simply that they've found a neat way to live, and want only to propose it to others.

Judy Warner, a rural Marylander who works in conservative fundraising, nicely captures the distinction in talking about the organic-farming, home-canning, composting, dulcimer-playing lifestyle she shares with her ex-Marine husband. "I'm a red-diaper baby and the conservative black sheep in my unreformed family. Here's the difference between my siblings and me: I do this as part of my life, a part I think is important and pleasurable, but not the most important. For them, it is the meaning of their life. It is their religion."

While crunchy cons would stop well short of imputing moral inferiority to those who don't share their own tastes in architecture, trees, or foodstuff, they would also say that it's a serious mistake to think of these issues as mere matters of taste. A child who grows up in a neighborhood built for human beings, not cars, may think of man's relation to his world differently from one raised amid the throwaway utilitarianism of strip-mall architecture. One's sensitivity to and desire for beauty, and its edifying qualities of order, harmony, "sweetness and light," has consequences for the character of individuals and ultimately for civilization. It's perilous to forget that.

You may be saying, "God save us from these Brie-eating bobos, who have the money to indulge their snobbish tastes and want to inflict them on the rest of us." But most crunchy cons are different from bobos — David Brooks's bourgeois bohemians — in part because they tend not to have a lot of money. Which brings us to the fourth big area that sets crunchy cons apart: their ideas about family.

Many religious crunchy cons have large families because they believe large families are a positive good. This usually means the mother, who is often highly educated, forgoes a career to stay home with the children — and possibly even homeschools them. . .

One does find that most crunchy cons are at least uneasy being fully open with both right-wing and left-wing friends. Some say they avoid talking about politics with liberal friends, because sooner or later someone will say, "How could a nice fellow like you be such a fascist?" On the other hand, to discuss the case for regulating sprawl or the deep pleasures of Humboldt Fog cheese around many conservatives is to set yourself up for knee-jerk mockery. Crunchy cons wish their fellow Republicans would show tolerance for diversity within their own ranks.

"I don't want a McExistence bought in a strip mall and a mega-mart, but that doesn't mean I disparage those who like the comfort and regularity of suburbia. The problem is many GOPers view anything not embraced by the GOP mainstream as suspect," says Kerry Hardy, 33, a D.C. libertarian. "Western civilization is not threatened by people eating tofu or wearing tie-dye, and if the GOP mouthpieces stopped acting as if it were and stopped a priori judging those who do to be liberals, they might find that many of them are on their side."

And not only on their side, but ready with something to teach them about ways to live more fully within the conservative tradition. . .

Mac on Lincoln and Emancipation

Marc Comtois

Our own Mac Owens sets the record straight regarding Lincoln and the when, where and how of emancipation today in National Review On Line.

May 5, 2005

The Religion of Environmentalism

Marc Comtois

Jennifer Marohasy's "Environmental Fundamentalism" in the Australian journal Policy described an environmental movement in her nation (Australia) that can be just as easily used to describe the same movement in the U.S. and, for that matter, the world.

Australians generally perceive themselves to be affable and rational, and part of a secular nation that determines its public policies—including policies on environmental issues—largely on the basis of evidence. Most of us feel comfortable in the belief that our fellow citizens, and especially our policy leaders, are unlikely to ever be swept along by quasi-religious ideas. The reality, however, is somewhat different. There is ample evidence that environmental fundamentalism drives public policy decision making on a range of issues, with significant social and economic impact but little if any environmental benefit.

I consider myself an environmentalist. I want to ensure a beautiful, healthy, biologically diverse planet for future generations. But this will be best achieved if we are honest to the data and proceed with our minds open to the evidence. A problem with fundamentalist creeds is that they are driven by adherence to predetermined agendas and teachings. The fundamentalist’s position is rarely tolerant of new information and is generally dismissive of evidence. Environmental fundamentalism is subversive in that it draws on science to give legitimacy to its beliefs—the same beliefs that, in many instances, have no basis in observation or tested theory. Environmental Fundamentalism

Now, I really don't mean to sound like a one note piano here by continuing to equate liberal-tending "movements" with religion, it's merely a coincidence. Anyway, Marohasy provided more detail in her following article, which she summarized thusly (emphasis mine):

Recently, I gave a lecture to university environmental science students on the ‘Burden of Proof in the Environment Sphere’. My key message was that proof or evidence appears to be becoming less necessary as scientists increasingly operate on the basis of belief. The point was made back to me by the students that, ‘Belief is important. It is what makes the world go around.’ One of their main concerns was that if people believed that everything was OK, the environment would be destroyed. While environmental campaigners express great concern over a problem, they often also seem deeply committed to the continued existence of the same problem.

Evidence is information establishing fact. Belief is trust and acceptance of a received theology. It is the latter, acceptance of the belief system that underpins environmental fundamentalism, which is increasingly underpinning public policy decision making in Australia.

Forest is replacing once open native grassland across approximately 50 million hectares of rangeland in Queensland, but tree clearing is being banned. Why? Because trees have become sacred in Australia—like cows in India. The act of pulling or cutting down trees offends environmental fundamentalists. Their beliefs now take precedence, with the management of our rangelands complicated, and development opportunities forgone.

Environmental advocates masquerading as scientists have been misleading us on the health of the Murray River system for years. They have been screaming imminent catastrophe based on the hypothetical. The successful environmental initiatives of the 1970s and 1980s that reversed the then trends of increasing river salinity and rising water tables have gone largely unreported.

State governments banning GM [Genetically Modified] food crops was my third example of environmental fundamentalism dictating public policy. . . . I respect the rights of those who do not want to eat GM food—in the same way I respect the rights of Muslims to not eat pork. But the anti-GM campaigners do not appear to accept my right to choose GM. I might choose GM because of the real environmental benefits from reduced pesticide use, and its potential to feed a world population with an increasing appetite for meat and dairy products. More land will need to be brought under cultivation unless we can produce more animal food from currently cultivated areas.

In material, standard of living terms, Australia has progressed and benefited enormously from the secularisation of society and the power and independence of science. It is time we returned to this solid foundation. It is time we started demanding a rational evidence-based approach to public policy on environmental issues.

I would argue with Marohasy whether it is proper to equate secularism with rationalism, but her larger point, that environmentalism is becoming more fundamental and less scientific, is still well taken. As she hinted, environmentalist organizations, just like other advocacy groups, survive and thrive when they seek to wrong an ill, either real or perceived. Thus, we must ask: What would happen to them, to their jobs, money and power, if the "problems" they sought to end. . . actually did? If science shows that the some of the very real environmental problems, or those not so convincingly real, are not so bad, then environmentalists have nothing to fall back on but their own dogmatic rhetoric, may Gaia help them.

The Public Interest Ends: The Fight for Morality in Government Continues

Marc Comtois

The journal The Public Interest is ending a 40 year run with this issue. In a "look back" article, editor Nathan Glazer recounts how the PI was "Neoconservative from the Start." Some of his pull-quotes from past issues illustrate that many of the same problems we are facing today are nothing new and were, in fact, predicted by the writers and editors of the journal.

We began to realize that our successes in shaping a better and more harmonious society, if there were to be any, were more dependant on a fund of traditional orientations, "values," or, if you will, "virtues," than any social science or "social engineering" approach. Consider Dan Bell writing on "The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism" as early as Fall 1970, in the PI's special issue on "Capitalism Today":

"The deeper and more lasting crisis is the cultural one. Changes in moral temper and culture-the fusion of imagination and life-styles-are not amenable to 'social engineering' or political control. They derive from the value and moral traditions of the society, and these cannot be 'designed' by precept. The ultimate sources are the religious conceptions which undergird a society...."

Irving [Kristol, editor of PI] was in complete agreement with this thesis. Capitalism, Irving wrote in this same issue, had promised three things: affluence, individual liberty, and

"the promise that … the individual could satisfy his instinct for self-perfection-for leading a virtuous life that satisfied his spirit (or, as one used to say, his soul)-and that the free exercise of such individual virtue would aggregate into a just society…. It was only when the third promise, of a virtuous life and a just society, was subverted by the dynamics of capitalism itself, as it strove to fulfill the other two-affluence and liberty-that the bourgeois order came, in the minds of the young especially, to posses a questionable legitimacy."

. . . Irving wrote in Spring 1973 that "for well over a hundred fifty years now, social critics have been warning us that bourgeois society was living off the accumulated moral capital of traditional religion and traditional moral philosophy, and that once this capital was depleted, bourgeois society would find its legitimacy ever more questionable."

In short, the fight we conservatives fight has been going on for decades now. We conservatives (sans neo) believe "virtue," and its necessary antecedent religion, should be brought back into both private and public life, not because we desire a theocracy, but because our American society needs a moral base from which to operate. History has shown that religion, more than philosophy or reason, is the most effective means of instilling the necessary values and morals required of a civilized society. The Founders, whether Christians, deists or atheists, realized this. In the words of George Washington:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

Andrew on Bolton for U.N.

Marc Comtois

Andrew has a new piece up at Tech Central Station explaining how John Bolton is "Too Controversial Because He Is Too Conventional."

May 4, 2005

Social Security Reform Debate: Hypocrisy, Misinformation & Why Change is Necessary

As you continue to listen to leading politicians debate the merits of Social Security reform, consider the points raised in this editorial.

The Left strongly opposes Americans controlling their own retirement funds through personal accounts...

Three million federal employees, including members of Congress, invest pre-tax dollars into personal retirement accounts, which they control. Instead of Social Security, federal employees use the [Thrift Savings Plan] TSP, which allows them to allocate their retirement investments among five options, any of which beats Social Security's meager two to three-percent return. TSP 10-year average returns range from 5.45 percent for the international stock index fund to 11.99 percent for the domestic stock-index fund.

Individually owned, privately invested accounts yield greater retirement security: TSP proves it. So why does Senator Kennedy want to deny workers the same ownership rights and higher returns that he enjoys? Because he knows such ownership will change people's policy preferences. If the value of retirement nest eggs were tightly linked to individual earnings and long-term stock-market performance, people would demand a freer economy to pump up economic growth and stock performance. Freer markets deflate Big Government, which threatens the Left — but freer markets pay off handsomely for the individual...

Ownership motivates people to think long term and to maximize the value of their assets. People act differently with borrowed goods than with owned goods; nobody washes a rental car, for instance. But the Left wants to keep working Americans in the Social Security rental car precisely because they know people tolerate more government when ownership rights are restricted. The Left views private retirement accounts as the biggest threat to Big Government since Ronald Reagan. And they are right.

That's the real reason Senator Kennedy is fighting to stop ordinary Americans from having the same ownership rights over retirement funds that he has.

Here are some websites of organizations supporting social security reform:

National Center for Policy Analysis
Cato Institute Project on Social Security Reform
Heritage Foundation
Institute for Policy Innovation
Social Security Choice, a project of The Club for Growth
Freedom Works/Citizens for a Sound Economy

Here are some specific articles:

David Hogberg on Music to Reformist Ears

Be Not Afraid: Social Security reform is no radical idea

James Glassman on A Battle over Likes, Not Numbers

Peter Ferrara on AARP's Agenda

The Heartland Institute on 'Transition Costs' for Social Security Reform an Illusion

Stephen Moore on Two Financial Futures for Social Security

Alan Reynolds on Myths About Social Security

Various editorials by Free Enterprise Fund

Donald Luskin on Call it a "Lockbox!"

James Glassman on Hypocrisy From AARP on Social Security

Dan Balz on Social Security Stance Risky, Democrats Told

Brendan Miniter on The Democrats' welfare-reform pitfall has lessons for the GOP on Social Security

Star Parker on Why is the NAACP against Social Security reform?

Lisa De Pasquale on NOW is on the Wrong Side of the Social Security Debate

Peter Ferrara on Social Security Sellout

Jamie Dettmer on Social Security Reform

Tod Lindberg on Shaping the debate on Social Security Reform

Looking Back to Terri Schiavo's Death

World Magazine has an interview with David Gibbs, attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents.

...last week I sat down with David ask him what had gone so wrong. "What single thing," I inquired, "do you wish might have been done differently?"

"I wish," Mr. Gibbs said simply, "that we'd been able to show the American public how very alive Terri was."

Acknowledging the severity of the brain damage Mrs. Schiavo had suffered and the limits that imposed, Mr. Gibbs still insisted that he had come to know his clients' daughter as a person. "There was a dynamic to her. She jabbered. She complained when she was in pain. She fussed at the staff. She laughed when her mother came in, and she cried when her mother left. She teased. Her father, Bob Schindler, would come in with his mustache and beard, and she would—in her own way—play with him about how they tickled her."

All those human details were critical to demonstrate to the public, Mr. Gibbs insists, because of the determination of Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, to portray her not just as brain damaged, but as brain dead...

But America—by careful design—never saw that warm and human exchange. More critical even than the various courts' final rulings that her feeding tube be withdrawn was their previous determination that any personal exposure to Terri would be limited to a tiny group of professional experts. No jury of peers got to hear or see Terri face to face. News reporters were officially excluded. The judges themselves never met or saw her—in spite of Mr. Gibbs's pleading that they do so. "She was altogether capable of coming to their courtrooms in a wheelchair," he insists now. "They turned down all my efforts to make that happen."

As a newsman, I understand Mr. Gibbs' sense of failure—for I share it painfully. Why couldn't we in the media have done our job more diligently? Why couldn't we have increased the wattage of our searchlight, forcing Michael Schiavo and his complicit judges to let the public see what Terri Schiavo's situation really was? If city and county councils have to operate with sunshine laws, why not doctors and judges?

...acknowledge that some of us in other fields may also have let down the public simply by not pursuing this story hard enough in its early stages. I'm haunted with the sense that had we done so, the judges' late-stage misbehavior might have been a lot less possible.

Father Frank Pavone offers his commentary on Terri's Final Hours: An Eyewitness Account.

I've known Terri's family for about six years now and they put me on the visitor's list. Terri was in a hospice but there were police officers stationed outside her room. If I were not on that visitor's list I could not get in that room beyond the armed guard because the visitor's list was kept very, very small and very well controlled. The reason? The euthanasia advocates had to be able to say that Terri was an unresponsive person in some kind of vegetative state, coma or whatever terminology they want to use to suggest that she was completely unresponsive. The only way to prove she was responsive was to see her for yourself...

Now, the night before she died I was in the room for probably a total of 3-4 hours, and then for another hour the next morning -- her final hour.

Brothers and sisters to describe the way she looked as peaceful is a total distortion of what I saw. Here now was a person, who for thirteen days had no food or water. She was, as you would expect, very drawn in her appearance as opposed to when I had seen her before. Her eyes were open but they were going from one side to the next, constantly oscillating back and forth, back and forth. The look on her face (I was staring at her for three and a half-hours) I can only describe as a combination of fear and sadness … a combination of dreaded fear and sadness.

Her mouth was open the whole time. It looked like it was frozen open. She was panting rapidly. It wasn't peaceful in any sense of the word. She was panting as if she had just run a hundred miles. But a shallow panting...

But besides Bobby and his sister and Terri herself, you know who else was in the room with us? A police officer. The whole time. At least one. Sometimes two. Sometimes three armed police officers in the room. You know why they were in the room? They wanted to make sure that we didn't do anything that we weren't supposed to do, like give her communion or maybe a glass of water. In fact, Bobby, sitting on the other side of the bed, would occasionally stand up to lean over his sister. When he stood up and did that, the officer would change position. He would move around towards the foot of the bed so that he could have a direct line of sight on what we were doing. The morning that she died we went in there fairly early and I had to go back outside in front of the hospice to do an interview. In order to go out on time I had a little timepiece in my hand and at the beginning of our visit I put it in my left hand, leaned over Terri and extended my right to bless her and we began praying. I closed my eyes and I felt a tap on my left hand. It was the police officer who said, "Father, what do you have in your hand?" I said, "Oh, officer, it's a little time piece." "I'll have to hold it while you're here," he said. We couldn't have anything in our hands. He didn't even know what it was. Maybe I was going to try to give her communion. Maybe I was going to try to moisten her lips. Who knows what terrible thing I was about to do?

You know what the most ironic thing was? There was a little night table in the room. I could put my hand on the table and on Terri's head all within arms reach. You know what was on that table? A vase of flowers filled with water. And I looked at the flowers. They were beautiful. There were roses their and other types of flowers and there was another one on the other side of the room at the foot of the bed. Two beautiful bouquets of flowers filled with water. Fully nourished, living, beautiful. And I said to myself, this is absurd. This is absurd. These flowers are being treated better than this woman. She has not had a drop of water for almost two weeks. Why are those flowers there? What type of hypocrisy is this? The flowers were watered. Terri wasn't...

...I also pointed out...that contrary to Felos' description, Terri's death was not at all peaceful and beautiful. It was, on the contrary, quite horrifying. In my 16 years as a priest, I never saw anything like it before.

After I said these things, Mr. Felos and others in sympathy with him began attacking me in the press and before the cameras....

Actually, there's a simple reason why they are so angry with me. They had hoped that they could present Terri's death as a merciful and gentle act. My words took the veil of euphemism away, calling this a killing, and giving eyewitness testimony to the fact that it was anything but gentle. Mr. Felos is a euthanasia advocate, and like all such advocates, he needs to manipulate the language, to sell death in an attractive package. Here he and his friends had a great opportunity to do so. But a priest, seeing their work close-up and then telling the world about it, just didn't fit into their plans.

One of the attacks they made was that a "spiritual person" like a priest should be speaking words of compassion and understanding, instead of venom. But compassion demands truth. A priest is also a prophet, and if he cannot cry out against evil, then he cannot bring about reconciliation. If there is going to be any healing between these families or in this nation, it must start with repentance on the part of those who murdered Terri and now try to cover it up with flowery language...

Terri's case is not about the withdrawal of life-saving medical treatment, but rather about the killing of a healthy person whose life some regarded as worthless. Terri was not dying, was not on life support, and did not have any terminal illness. Because some thought she would not want to live with her disability, they insisted on introducing the cause of death, namely, dehydration...

The danger in our culture is not that we will be over-treated, but rather that we will be under-treated. We already have the right to refuse medical treatment. What we run the risk of losing is the right to receive the most basic humane care — like food and water — in the event we have a disability...

With these words in mind, return to a National Review editorial entitled Killed by Euphemisms.

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

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

She was not close to dying. For death to arrive, she would have to be killed.

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

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

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

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

Next time it will be easier. It always is...

An Evangelical Reporter Speaks Up

Marc Comtois

Don has already called for an end to the political namecalling. John McCandlish Phillips, a former religion writer for the New York Times, has confronted the particular and recentyl popular application of the term "jihad" in relation to religious people by the predominantly left-wing op-ed writers in the Times and Washington Post (which published this column).

I have been looking at myself, and millions of my brethren, fellow evangelicals along with traditional Catholics, in a ghastly arcade mirror lately -- courtesy of this newspaper and the New York Times. Readers have been assured, among other dreadful things, that we are living in "a theocracy" and that this theocratic federal state has reached the dire level of -- hold your breath -- a "jihad."

In more than 50 years of direct engagement in and observation of the major news media I have never encountered anything remotely like the fear and loathing lavished on us by opinion mongers in these world-class newspapers in the past 40 days.

Phillips recounted most of the major, left-wing columnists who have picked up on the "jihad" meme and then, after he reassured them that religious people aren't going to hurt them, accused them of improperly revising history:

In the long journey from the matchless moment when I became "born again" and encountered the risen and living Christ, I have met hundreds of evangelicals and a good many practicing Catholics and have found them to be of reasonable temperament, often enough of impressive accomplishment, certainly not a menace to the republic, unless, of course, the very fact of faith seriously held is thought to make them just that. It is said, again and again and again, that the evangelical/Catholic right is out of accord with the history of our republic, dangerously so. What we are out of accord with is not that history but a revisionist version of it vigorously promulgated by those who want it to be seen as other than it was.
The main culprit in this revision are the secularists, whom I contend are just as fervent in their "religion" as any evangelical. Phillips explained why religious people are afraid of secularist goals.
Evangelicals are concerned about the frequently advanced and historically untenable secularists' view of the intent of our non-establishment/free exercise of religion clause: that everything that has its origin in religion must be swept out of federal, and even civil, domains. That view, if militantly enforced, constitutes what seems dangerous to most evangelicals: the strict and entire separation of God from state. This construct, so desired by some, is radically out of sync with much in American history that shows a true regard for the non-establishment of religion while giving space in nearly all contexts to wide and free expressions of faith.

The fact is that our founders did not give us a nation frightened by the apparition of the Deity lurking about in our most central places. On Sept. 25, 1789, the text of what was later adopted as the First Amendment was passed by both houses of Congress, and subsequently sent to the states for ratification. On that same day , the gentlemen in the House who had acted to give us that invaluable text took another action: They passed a resolution asking President George Washington to declare a national day of thanksgiving to no less a perceived eminence than almighty God.

May 3, 2005

Politically Incorrect News in Rhode Island

Professor Bainbridge has a posting about those pesky students at Roger Williams University here in Rhode Island who have done it again.

As Bainbridge writes, "What is it about becoming an academic administrator that causes one to lose not only one's sense of humor, but also the last shreds of one's common sense?"

Wilfred M. McClay: The Evangelical Conservatism of George W. Bush

Wilfred McClay offers his thoughts on the nature of the George W. Bush administration:

What I want to look at is, specifically, how the administration of George W. Bush seems to have marked a sea change in the evolution of Republican politics, in conservatism, in the present and future alignment of our political parties and ideologies, and the role of religion in our public discourse and public action. In addition, however, I want to talk about the ways that, taking a longer-range historical view, what looks like a sea change may in fact merely be the process of this administration and the political party it leads rejoining itself, consciously or not, to certain longer traditions of American political and social reform. And I will also want to ask, in the end, whether these changes or reorientations are entirely a good thing, or whether there are aspects of them that should give pause to Americans in general, and to conservative Americans and evangelical Americans in particular.

I would encourage you to read the entire article as well as William F. Buckley, Jr.'s commentary on it.

The Religion of Secularism

Marc Comtois

I highly recommend reading Don's latest post for some important context to the following (hopefully) succinct post.

As Don argues, radical secularism can be viewed as its own sort of religion whereby the "state" replaces the religious function and, despite claims otherwise, also assumes the role of the "higher power" [God]. It can be safely assumed that most secularists are on the political left and have a tendency toward moral relativism, which is the belief that we all live by our own moral code and "whose to say one is better than the other." However, in truth, secularists do belief in a set of moral truths: those that they determine.

Without getting too far into the weeds, even secularists realize there must be some kind of basic moral ruleset by which society must be governed. However, they have no room for religiously informed morality within government and purposefully have read the "separation of church and state" to mean the "separation of religion and state." To them, because religion is a private matter, it is improper for a state to derive its morality from religion (especially Judeo-Christian, I might add). However, secularists, some might say arrogantly, believe that men, usually highly educated intellectual such as themselves, are perfectly able to arrive at moral truths through rational reasoning. Once "discovered," these moral truths are best enforced by being codified into the rule of law. Thus, if its legal, it is moral.

On the face of it, it seems to hold that morality and legality are equivalent, but this is not necessarily true. For instance, most would agree that murder is both illegal and immoral. However, persuasive arguments have been made that both abortion and the death penalty are legalized murder: they may be legal, but they are immoral. So, while it is obvious that there are some gray areas, it gets even worse when reinterpreting seemingly obvious laws (or even terms, like "marriage") is deemed appropriate and necessary to reflect society's "proper" morality.

Ideally, lawmaking would be done through majoritarian political machinations. If most people agreed with a proposed law, it would be passed and would become the law of the land. However, to a secularist, if that is not possible, then relativistic reinterpretations of past laws are perfectly legitimate (so long as the reinterpretations mirror their "reasoned" morality). Therefore, it is important that people with a proper ideological view get placed within the ranks of those who can dictate and reinterpret law: the judiciary. Thus, a secularist's religion is government (especially the judiciary), his dogma is the rule of law ("properly" interpreted), and his high priests are judges.

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

A previous posting offered A Reasoned Alternative to the Ongoing Name-Calling in America's Public Discourse, including a list of 33 postings addressing important issues in America today.

C P Fuhrmann offered a response on that posting, which this new posting responds to as follows:

I thank C P Fuhrmann for the comments.

Nonetheless, I must disagree with the suggestion that "calling a spade a spade" justifies using terms such as "jihadist." To paraphrase William Voegeli, there are ways to make a point without resorting to language that only serves to polarize, not to convince. Cynthia Tucker’s language was inappropriate and degraded the public discourse.

I share C P Fuhrmann’s belief that Congressman DeLay’s comments about Justice Kennedy were inappropriate. In a posting that predated DeLay's comments, I have also noted questions about certain actions by the Congressman. Furthermore, I relayed other writers’ criticisms of his Justice Kennedy comments in this more recent posting.

I have been no less shy in criticizing Christians - with whom I share many similar views - who make public comments that I believe are inconsistent with the values of their religious beliefs.

However, enabling a constructive two-way public discourse requires people such as C P Fuhrmann to be equally willing to criticize Ms. Tucker’s language even if in agreement with the core of her arguments. You cannot have it both ways - criticizing DeLay's language while excusing Tucker's language any more than it would be appropriate for me to criticize Tucker but excuse DeLay or certain Christians. Civility practiced only by one side of the debate amounts to a form of unilateral surrender that only a fool would continue into the future.

But even that disagreement misses the bigger point: Focusing on stupid comments by the Congressman and Cynthia Tucker conveniently misses the three important issues that are not being debated across America:

First, is judicial activism appropriate?

I believe Justice Kennedy has joined a group of judges with the unfortunate habit of making up new rights and that amounts to the dangerous practice of legislating from the bench. The consequences of such judicial activism – and why it is a bad practice – has been argued here in one of the listed postings:

In their book entitled Democracy by Decree: What Happens When Courts Run Government, Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod note how judicial activism undermines government accountability to the citizenry:
Although [today's] system is far from perfect, democracy by decree makes it worse. It does not substitute the dispassionate rule of judges for the rule of politicians. Decisions by controlling groups are politics in a different form. By hiding ordinary politics behind the robes of judges, democracy by decree makes government less accountable and therefore less responsive. Judicial reason does not supplant politics. Instead, the courts become political.

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

I would point out that the so-called religious right has been far more willing to debate this issue publicly than the secular left – which has shown greater interest in either "borking" judicial nominees or blocking voting on them. (For further details, see JunkYardBlog postings here and here, both of which refer to attempts to collude and manipulate the judicial approval process by secular left fundamentalists.)

We should be conducting a public debate on the substantive issue of judicial activism, including the attempts at collusion, and its future implications for America.

Second, to quote Hugh Hewitt, should the "political objectives of people of faith have second-class status when compared to religiously secular elites?"

Hewitt goes on to say:

All of these charges [against the right] – from the most incoherent to the most measured – arrive without definition as to what "the religious right" is, and without argument as to why the agenda of this ill-defined group is less legitimate than the pro-gay marriage, pro-cloning, pro-partial-birth abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda of other political actors.

Hewitt notes that every political conflict is a choice between competing moral codes. We are failing to recognize how the politics of the fundamentalist political left is based on nothing less than a fervently believed secular religion. Repeating the quote from the previous posting, Neuhaus has described the problem this 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...

We should be conducting a public debate on the relative merits of these competing moral codes and why the secular left fundamentalists have the right to define the terms of the debate.

Third, do we understand and accept the consequences of privatizing religion to the individual level?

Secular left fundamentalists are aggressively pushing an agenda to strip naked the public square (see postings here, here, here, here, here) and are, by artfully focusing the debate on only the so-called religious right, getting a largely free pass from scrutiny. They deserve great scrutiny because Richard John Neuhaus has discussed in another listed posting how such privatization leads to the "establishment of the state as the new church – without any countervailing transcendent force to limit its ambition." Neuhaus has also noted that

...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…"

Or, as George Weigel said:

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...

We should be conducting a public debate on these consequences of privatizing religion.

The third question leads naturally into C P Fuhrmann's comments about the Terri Schiavo case. The "20 different judges" argument cited by Fuhrmann is, frankly, a tired one that proves nothing other than that Michael Schiavo had better attorneys than the Schindlers during the important early legal proceedings when the original findings were made. This critical legal point is discussed best by lawyers whose explanations are and highlighted on one of my listed postings. This separate posting by a prosecutor argues why the federal courts should have granted the Schindler's injunction after the feeding tube was removed.

As to whether there is medical misinformation in any Schiavo postings, I would simply note that both sides submitted medical information – often offered in the form of legal affidavits or court testimony – that contradicted each other and Judge Greer showed little interest in evaluating the merits of the issues behind the contradictions after he reached his initial conclusions.

More importantly, the possible medical information ambiguity does not translate into an equivalent level of ethical ambiguities. Terri Schiavo was killed before the public received any answers to some very serious ethical and procedural questions highlighted in this listed posting.

A society is only as good as how it treats its weakest members and a gross injustice occurred when Terri Schiavo died without answers to these questions. I was struck by the near total disinterest to finding answers to these serious questions by many of the people most actively urging on her death by starvation.

The underlying immorality of killing Terri Schiavo – regardless of what Judge Greer ruled or what euphemisms were used by Schiavo attorney Felos – is best clarified by a National Review editorial found in this listed posting. Read the editorial carefully and observe the extensive use of Orwellian language used by those pushing the culture of death. Again, many secular left fundamentalists showed zero interest in cutting through the euphemisms and publicly addressing the deeper questions raised in that article. Such euphemisms amount to lies and represent distortions of reality similar to those propagated by totalitarian societies. This most certainly does not advance civil discourse in America.

Yet another listed posting notes the core philosophical issue in the Schiavo case that continues unresolved even after her death:

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.

In summary, the putrid quality of our public discourse is caused in no small part by our failure to address three substantive open questions which we face as a nation:

1. Is judicial activism appropriate?

2. Are people of faith second class citizens in the public discourse?

3. Do we understand and accept the consequences of privatizing religion to the individual level?

We cannot expect our public discourse to improve when we engage more in uncivil name-calling than in addressing, in a reasoned manner, these important questions around which we need to build a societal consensus.

May 2, 2005

More on the Misguided Incentives in the Public Sector

Previous postings have addressed the Misguided Incentives that are structurally present in the public sector and how this leads naturally to Pigs at the Public Trough. These observations make Lawrence Reed's Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy an insightful read.

Why does this all matter? Here is another story that illustrates why:

Robert Novak has written an editorial about new U. S. Senator Tom Coburn and what happens to people who challenge the status quo:

Dr. Tom Coburn, a U.S. senator from Oklahoma for less than four months, last week was up to old tricks he started playing in the House a decade ago. He was making colleagues' lives miserable by exposing wasteful, unnecessary spending that is supposed to stay hidden. The Senate establishment, like its House counterpart, has retaliated by bringing ethics charges against the obstetrician-senator for going home to Muskogee, Okla., to deliver babies.

In a legislative body whose members spend much of their time off the Senate floor begging for money, it is worthy of Kafka that the only pending ethical proceeding involves Coburn's concept of the citizen-legislator. It is serious. Unless the rules are changed, Coburn must either break his campaign pledge of continuing baby deliveries or leave the Senate...

On Dec. 2, 2004, a Senate staffer handed Sen.-elect Coburn's chief-of-staff a letter signed by Sen. George Voinovich, the Senate Ethics Committee's Republican chairman, and Sen. Harry Reid, then the committee's ranking Democrat. The letter ordered Coburn to stop practicing medicine.

The staffer was no stranger to the new senator: Robert L. Walker, staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee. He had held the same post for the House Ethics Committee the year after it made the same demand in 1998. House rules were not as firm, and the Ethics Committee backed down in 1998 when Coburn made clear he would quit Congress before he quit medicine. But Senate rules prohibit "substantial" outside income.

During six years in the House, Coburn's campaign against pork-barrel spending made him anathema to Republican leaders. He planned a lower profile in the Senate, but the ethics complaint made that impossible. He also had an agenda ensuring him more attention than ordinary freshmen: bringing free market principles to health care, oversight of federal programs (as chairman of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee) and assaulting congressional pork...

"I believe this is the wrong way we should be doing things," Coburn told the Senate. "We need to stop. Our future depends on the integrity of a budgeting and appropriations process that is not based on politics but is based on having the future best will for our country."

It is hard to exaggerate how much Coburn's rhetoric riles pork-loving colleagues, explaining the absurd ethics proceeding against him. In answering charges that he is a part-time senator, Coburn wrote constituents last week that he will continue to "devote at least 60-70 hours per week to my Senate duties." Other senators spend as much time as Coburn back home but mainly for fund-raising. They are not stopped from padding their bankrolls with book royalties, farm income and investments.

With little chance Voinovich will bury the complaint in the Ethics Committee, Coburn can hope that the Senate Rules Committee under Chairman Trent Lott will save the Senate from embarrassment by amending the rule. What is sure is that Tom Coburn will neither yield nor shut up.

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XVI

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

It also builds on several previous postings on educational issues: There are well-known deep performance problems with public education in America. Yet, receiving a quality education can be the transforming event that allows many Americans to have a fair shot at living the American Dream. It is well know that the teachers' unions and the public education bureaucracy actively resist the very change necessary to improve public education. On a more granular level, postings IV and XIV above address contract negotiation issues in East Greenwich.

Tom Coyne of RI Policy Analysis has published a powerful editorial in today's Projo entitled "R. I. Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results", where he provides third-party data showing how residents overpay for underperformance by Rhode Island public schools. That begs a bigger question of what to do about this serious problem. Here are some of his observations:

If lack of spending isn't the cause of Rhode Island's poor performance, what is? Common sense tells you that in the absence of challenging standards, testing and accountability, few organizations get top performance from their people.

Plenty of studies have found that schools are no exception to this rule. Unsurprisingly, other studies have found that Rhode Island ranks poorly in this area...

Common sense also tells you that standards, testing and accountability policies should apply to teachers, too, just as they do to other professionals...

As I said, Rhode Island taxpayers and parents are fed up with this situation. Our total state and local tax burden is the fifth highest in the nation, and what do we get for it? In short, the moment of truth has finally arrived for Rhode Island's teachers.

Once and for all, they have to decide whether they really want to be professionals, in the true meaning of that term. Professionals do not refuse to have their performance evaluated, to be paid on merit, and to force incompetents out of their profession. Nor do professionals refuse to experiment with promising new techniques that have demonstrated the potential to improve Rhode Island's dismal educational results. How would you react if your child had a terminal disease, but your doctor said that she couldn't use a promising new drug because her union was against it?

So what can we do?

The Education Partnership, a coalition of businesses trying to improve Rhode Island's public schools, has just answered this question. It has produced an outstanding report, "Teacher Contracts: Restoring the Balance" (available at their website). It is filled with sensible recommendations that seem very likely to save money while improving performance (e.g., a single statewide teacher health-insurance plan and salary scale, merit pay, and more management rights for principals).

As citizens, we need to read and discuss it, and urge our school committees, state senators and state representatives to implement its recommendations. As a first step, why not call the Education Partnership at (401) 331-5222 and have a representative come speak to your group?

Whatever you do, please don't just sit there and complain. We now live in an integrated world economy in which over half a billion well-educated Chinese and Indian children will do whatever it takes to improve their standards of living in the future.

If Rhode Island's teachers unions continue to block common-sense changes that could improve the performance of our schools, they are effectively condemning our children to declining living standards in the years ahead -- and declining incomes (out of which we expect them to pay for our rising Social Security benefits).

I don't want to face my children 20 years from now and have to explain why I stood by and did nothing to change a situation I could see was going to cause them great harm. The time for us to act is now.

The teachers' unions have done a very effective job publicly of making criticism of union demands equal to criticism of teachers. We need to blow through the false logic of their argument because the information Tom shares shows how it simply does not hold up to empirical scrutiny. Our kids are suffering as a result of union demands and union-structured education - and the union does not care.

Teachers are going to have to take a stand about whether they are professionals or unionists. Only by acting as professionals will public education ever yield high educational performance. That won't happen as long as they are represented by unions and adopt a union worker mentality of only doing what is specified in the contract or of bringing an entitlement mentality to the terms of their compensation.

We need to stand with the teachers and others in our state who are willing to challenge the failed status quo that dooms our children to be at a competitive disadvantage as they head into the global economy.

The challenge is up to us. Will we rise to that challenge and do right by our children?

Morning Roundup 5/2/2005

Marc Comtois

Nota Bene: This post is an experiment. I thought I'd try providing a bunch of different links to different web posts, articles, stories etc. that I found interesting. The goal is to point to some articles that may be of general interest to conservative readers with enough of a summary to indicate whether or not it would be interesting. I'd appreciate any feedback as to whether this is a worthwhile endeavor.

  • Glenn Reynolds has posted that he heard Bill Bennet complaining about the First Lady's tongue-in-cheek monologue (video can be found here) over the weekend and tells him to "lighten up." I caught the "show" over the weekend on C-SPAN and thought it was funny. There were references to the Chippendales and milking a male horse. Does being conservative mean having a prudish sense of humor? Does laughing at a "blue" joke indicate one is compromising their conservative ideals? Some think so. [UPDATE: The last one is a spoof according to NRO Corner].
  • Kevin A Hasset at National Review wonders if President Bush's approach towards Social Security reform should be judged like the Patriot's draft: both have been pretty successful before, so should we question them based on first impressions?
  • In today's Boston Globe, Cathy Young reports on "A left wing witch hunt on campus" against an admitted [gasp] libertarian conservative (and College of Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year) at Southern Illinois University.
  • The Weekly Standard has a couple good columns up. First, Paul Mirengoff explains that the Left has gotten quite good at using metaphors to argue that the missteps made by the U.S. in the War on Terror are the ever-becoming rule. However, these attempts fail because the arguments rest on the flawed underlying assumption that such "atrocities" will remain unaddressed and become the norm when there is no evidence to support such a belief. The second article is by Steven G. Calabresi who explains how raw politics is behind the filibuster by Senate Democrats. In short, there could be nothing worse for them then non-white conservatives on the bench.
  • In the spirit of scientific debate, some leading science journals are preventing publication of papers that call into question the theory of global warming.
  • The Economist warns, "If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas." Please step back John Muir, come on up. . . Adam Smith? But wait, putting the shoe (or sandal?) on the other foot, perhaps free-marketers can learn from "greens," too. (Pssst, John, come over here. . . let's make a deal). Meanwhile, Jared Diamond believes many great societies haved died because of "ecocide," though Tim Worstall believes that the "Yankee idea" of inventing something to solve ecological problems will prove fruitful.
  • While the debate between evolution and intelligent design continues, Michael Ruse thinks that evolutionists have damaged their own cause because they insistently make no room for religious belief in their scientific world.

May 1, 2005

Learning More About How Dues Paid To Big Labor Are Spent

One of the more interesting informational black holes has always been the forced payment of dues by union members and exactly what those funds were then spent on by the union.

Thanks to some new reporting requirements that kick in this summer, we are about to get the first real glimpse into what is going on with the millions and millions of dollars paid in union dues.

The Wall Street Journal recently published this editorial on Big Labor's upcoming new reporting requirements:

Among the endless piles of paper that make up Washington, a new stack has been rising in a corner of the Department of Labor. But these forms, known as LM-2 disclosure reports, are actually news, especially if you're a dues-paying union member.

The first George W. Bush Administration took a fresh look at the LM-2, which is supposed to reveal how unions spend member dues. The form had remained virtually unchanged since 1959, and today's union leaders were required to provide only the barest details. So in 2004 the Labor Department began to require expanded forms and, while the filing requirement doesn't officially kick in until this summer, a few early birds have started shipping their information.

Talk about eye-openers. Consider a LM-2 filed by a California local of the Communication Workers of America. While the union's spending is fairly routine, its dues base certainly isn't; 47% of its members are "agency fee payers." In plain English, these are members who, exercising their right under the Supreme Court's 1988 Beck decision, have withheld any dues that go to political or non-bargaining-related activity.

This suggests either that the members disagree with their leaders' agenda, or resent their forced enrollment in the union in the first place. It is especially notable because a vote of only 50% of a union's participants can oust the current leadership, or more drastically decertify the union altogether. Evidence of such disgruntlement in the ranks is exactly the sort of information that union chiefs would prefer to keep quiet.

The rank and file are also beginning to see a precise breakdown of how their money is spent. Prior to the new form, unions could lump millions into vague categories such as "overhead," or the ever-favorite "other disbursements." Unions must now account for dollars spent on anything from the grievance process to organizing to politics. This will help to keep leaders accountable and perhaps reduce such fraud as the officials of a Washington, D.C., teachers union who apparently bought mink coats and alligator shoes with dues money.

The forms will also shine a light on one of labor's darkest, dampest, corners: trusts. These affiliates are barely regulated slush funds into which unions funnel dues and then spend at will. The Detroit Free Press ran articles in 2001 detailing three such funds that the United Auto Workers ostensibly set up to finance worker training but in fact were also used by the top brass to sponsor Nascar racing, host political parties and underwrite trips to Palm Springs. Under the new rules, unions will have to account for this trust spending.

The AFL-CIO has branded the new rule "anti-union" but it's hard to see how. Unions exist to benefit their members, not their leaders. It's especially odd to see AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney, who stumps for greater corporate disclosure, demanding that labor chieftains be exempt from comparable transparency. As it is, the new disclosure rules apply only to the largest unions, those with annual receipts over $250,000 (about 5,000 of 30,000 unions).

None of this has stopped the AFL-CIO from attempting to block the regulation in court on grounds that Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao lacks the authority to order such disclosure; a panel of appellate judges will rule on the case soon. Assuming Ms. Chao prevails, unions will begin delivering their first required reckonings this summer.

This upcoming, new information will clarify publicly the previously shielded money flows that have implemented the political agendas of Big Labor.

Transparency about dues monies will ensure greater accountability to union members and the taxpaying public. That can only help advance the cause of liberty in our country.

If You Won't Deal With Economic Reality, Then It Will Deal With You

The overall economic cost structure of the American airline industry is pathetically unsustainable. This is not news; the elephant has been sitting in the room for years now but most everyone has refused to acknowledge its presence.

United Airlines is in bankruptcy because of its unsustainably high cost structure. In an effort to become cost-competitive, it has just proposed turning its pension obligations of nearly $10 billion over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation of the United States government. I.e., all taxpayers will now be paying some portion of the overly generous pension commitments made by the company. This proposed action has now led to threats of strikes by the union.

US Airways is in bankruptcy for the second time in several years, re-entering because they failed to make themselves cost-competitive earlier - which was the whole reason for going into bankruptcy the first time. They still are not anywhere near being cost-competitive and their future is uncertain. As one commentator notes, that uncertainty may be a good thing and finally cause real change.

Delta Airlines is in weak financial shape and, periodically, there is talk of them filing for bankruptcy as well. American Airlines flirted with bankrupcty in the last few years, too.

Everyone acknowledges that the events of September 11, 2001 threw the industry for a loop. High oil prices certainly have not helped. But the cost structure problems within the industry existed before then. And all the government has done is give more of our taxpayer dollars to the industry and sustain the unsustainable status quo. Only a free marketplace can move the industry toward the structure necessary to create an economically viable business model for the industry.

The best thing that could happen is for some of these airlines to fail. There is an economically sustainable industry business model out there - it will likely look similar to the model pursued by Southwest and some of the other younger airlines. It will not have the unsustainable cost burdens from legacy union contracts and it will be savvy about things like hedging against higher fuel costs. But change will not occur in a timely manner until the government stops propping up a failed business model.

The same issues apply to the American auto industry, as highlighted in the General Motors case study in the latest edition of Business Week.

GM is in a horrible bind. That $1.1 billion loss in the first quarter doesn't begin to tell the whole story. The carmaker is saddled with a $1,600-per-vehicle handicap in so-called legacy costs, mostly retiree health and pension benefits. Any day now, GM is likely to get slapped with a junk-bond rating. GM has lost a breathtaking 74% of its market value -- some $43 billion -- since spring of 2000, giving it a valuation of $15 billion. What really scares investors is that GM keeps losing ground in its core business of selling cars. Underinvestment has left it struggling to catch up in technology and design. Sales fell 5.2% on GM's home turf last quarter as Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., and other more nimble competitors ate GM's lunch. Last month, CEO G. Richard "Rick" Wagoner Jr. and his team gave up even guessing where they'll stand financially at the end of this year.

Worst of all, GM reached a watershed in its four-decade decline in market share. After losing two percentage points of share over the past year to log in at 25.6%, GM has reached the point at which it actually consumes more cash than it brings in making cars, for the first time since the early '90s. GM, once the world's premier auto maker, is now cash-flow-negative. That's a game changer. Without growth, GM's strategy of simply trying to keep its factories humming and squeaking by until its legacy costs start to diminish is no longer tenable. If market share continues to slip, its losses will rapidly balloon.

Normally a company in such straits contracts until it reaches equilibrium. But for GM, shrinkage is not much of an option. Because of its union agreements, the auto maker can't close plants or lay off workers without paying a stiff penalty, no matter how far its sales or profits fall. It must run plants at 80% capacity, minimum, whether they make money or not. Even if it halts its assembly lines, GM must pay laid-off workers and foot their extraordinarily generous health-care and pension costs. Unless GM scores major givebacks from the union, those costs are fixed, at least until the next round of contract talks in two years. The plan has been to run out the clock until actuarial tables tilt in GM's favor (a nice way of saying that older retirees eventually will die off). But with decreasing sales and a smaller slice of the market, that plan backfires -- leaving GM open to an array of highly unattractive possibilities.

How bad could it get? BusinessWeek's analysis is that within five years GM must become a much smaller company, with fewer brands, fewer models, and reduced legacy costs. It's undeniable that getting to that point will require a drastically different course from the one Wagoner has laid out so far. He is going to have to force a radical restructuring on his workers and the rest of the entrenched GM system, or have it forced on him by outsiders or a bankruptcy court. The only question is whether that reckoning comes in the next year, if models developed by Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz fall flat; in 2007, when the union contract comes up for negotiation; or perhaps in five years, when GM may have burned through its substantial cash cushion...

Remember the old ad slogan, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile"? Well, this is no longer your father's auto industry -- but GM is still run as if it were. Fifteen years ago management struck a deal with unions that made it all but impossible to close auto plants or lay off workers without incurring massive costs. GM also agreed to cushy retiree benefits that put it at a severe disadvantage. Much of what ails GM today flows from that accounting reality and its inability to increase the business at home. The need to keep those plants running, to generate cash, and to feed a sprawling web of aging auto brands compromises car design and results in too many models that sit for years without an update...

But Wagoner will be hard-pressed to get enough relief on medical costs, at least before the scheduled contract negotiations in 2007. The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Mich., estimates that GM could save at least $1.2 billion a year just by closing the gap in co-payments and deductibles between different kinds of employees. A single, salaried worker pays at least $100 a month toward health costs, while hourly union workers pay no premiums and only a $5 co-pay on drugs. But so far, the United Auto Workers leadership has shown no sign that it's willing to reopen a contract that still has two more years to run. When GM's Group Vice-President for labor relations Gary L. Cowger suggested synching up the union and nonunion plans, UAW Vice-President Richard Shoemaker quipped: "If GM wants to give the salaried workers the same health-care plan we have, we're happy to share."...

Private-equity investors seem to believe that the company's global cost handicap will eventually force it into bankruptcy court to shed union and dealer obligations. Wall Street bankers already are salivating over the opportunity to pick off GM's profitable mortgage operations. But the auto business is a whole other animal. For now, the legacy costs are too onerous and the politics of chopping so many jobs just too dicey for it to be worth the trouble of a takeover. Says one senior banker: "The joke used to be that all of the airlines would have to go through a car the car companies are going to have to go through the car wash. That's the challenge for anyone looking at these businesses and saying, Look, how do you deal with starting at a $2,000-a-car disadvantage vs. the rest of the world?"...

GM's cash hoard makes a court filing unlikely -- at least for now. If it happened, though, a GM bankruptcy would boggle the mind. The auto maker would bring to a judge four times the assets of the largest case filed so far, by WorldCom Inc. in 2002. Its 324,000 worldwide employees are about 70,000 more than Kmart Corp. (SHLD ) had before it filed that same year. GM could almost certainly find a judge who would allow it to dump many of its most burdensome obligations, says Lynn M. LoPucki, a law professor at UCLA. GM's pension plans are fully funded for now, but if GM's finances worsen or its pension investments sink in the coming years they might still be dumped on the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. GM also could shed its union contracts, firing anyone who didn't want to take lower wages or benefits. Ending health-care obligations to retirees alone could save $4 billion to $5 billion a year.

Imagine the uproar, though, if that happened. Even if GM could demonstrate to a judge that it had negotiated for the cuts in good faith, the UAW would certainly respond with a strike. That would burn up in a few months much of the cash that any raider coveted. And pensioners could still sue for their benefits. "If there was value, you wouldn't get away scot-free," notes Wilbur L. Ross Jr., who has taken interests in bankrupt steel, textile, and coal companies.

Breakup or bankruptcy are the ghosts of GM's future. They become much more substantial threats if current management can't deliver on its promised turnaround over the next couple of years -- or if the board doesn't find someone who has a better idea of how to deploy GM's $468 billion in assets....

Maybe Wagoner will decide to bite the bullet and spend the billions needed to launch such a dramatic overhaul now, rather than waiting. And maybe the UAW leadership will get religion and offer more than token help. Where they decide to take GM will matter a great deal to the army of auto workers toiling away in its factories, the vast web of businesses that feed off of them, and legions of investors. As we learned a long time ago from outfits like AT&T, no company is too big to fail, or at least shrink dramatically. Not even mighty GM.

I have spent a majority of my career leading numerous successful turnarounds in the healthcare industry. By the time I am brought in by the investors, it is usually the case that management has ignored economic reality for too long. Sometimes, external factors beyond the control of management change the nature of an industry. However, it is my experience that a lack of disciplined management behavior contributes substantially to the problems in most cases.

There is simply no excuse for indecisive management behavior or lax oversight by the Board, including tolerating union contracts that put the company at a competitive disadvantage in this global economy. In the end, it is the working people in the company who are at the most risk and management has an ethical obligation to make the right decisions sooner rather than later.

Tinkering with problems in only minor ways and moving slowly over extended periods of time - as the airline and auto industries have both done - will likely lead to failure with a greater cost to employees and the society than if decisive action had been taken earlier. It is an immutable law of nature that if you won't deal with economic reality, then it will deal with you - on its terms.

For those of us living in Rhode Island, this immutable law of nature is equally as relevant to our salary, healthcare benefits, and pension problems in the public sector. The misguided incentives of the public sector mean that it is possible to ignore the problems longer than the private sector marketplace would tolerate but there should be no question - the state's residents will pay a price at some time. The analogy with the private sector is real: The longer our politicians and bureaucrats fail to address our unsustainable public sector costs, the more likely we are to face severe consequences which will be borne most heavily by the working people and retirees least able to afford it. It is a matter of justice, therefore, that Rhode Island adjust its rich and unaffordable public sector salaries, healthcare benefits and pension offerings in order to make them competitive with the non-union private sector marketplace.


The first sign that change may be looming at General Motors comes with the news that Kirk Kerkorian is buying a substantial equity stake in the company.

Now if someone could just find a way to introduce similar market forces into the public sector....


As I said, if you won't deal with economic reality, it will deal with you as Standard & Poors has downgraded both GM and Ford credit ratings to "junk" status. For GM, the rating agency said:

The credit agency said its downgrade of GM to non-investment-grade status reflects its conclusion that management's current strategies may not be effective in dealing with the automaker's competitive disadvantages, which include rising health care costs and billions of dollars in post-retirement liabilities.


The May 11 edition of the WSJ reports:

A bankruptcy judge approved a proposal from United Airlines parent UAL Corp. to transfer four underfunded employee pension plans to the federal government, paving the way for the largest pension default in U.S. corporate history.

The plans, which have a shortfall of $9.8 billion, cover more than 120,000 United workers and retirees. United, the nation's second-largest carrier in terms of traffic, wants to transfer them to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., or PBGC, which would add to the already heavy strain on the agency from a spate of pension defaults in recent years. Since accounting for United's obligations last year, in anticipation it would assume them, the agency has taken on obligations exceeding its assets by $23.3 billion.

The PBGC and UAL joined together in the settlement agreement approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Eugene Wedoff in a Chicago court. The judge said the agreement didn't amount to a breach of the carrier's union contracts. But with many workers facing big cuts in their benefits, United's unions are preparing to fight the decision...

The court's decision could have wide repercussions in the airline industry, which is struggling with high fuel costs, intense fare competition and overcapacity. Sidestepping its pension liabilities will help UAL attract additional funding, while giving it a huge cost advantage over many of its rivals, which are saddled with underfunded defined-benefit retirement plans of their own. That will put further pressure on those airlines to slash their costs or in some cases seek bankruptcy protection in hopes of terminating their own pension plans...

The United move likely will provide impetus for pension-insurance overhaul legislation that will be introduced in Congress. The bills are expected to include many provisions sought by the White House, including raising company premiums to put the PBGC on firmer financial footing, imposing a seven-year deadline on companies to fully fund their pension plans and imposing a new method for more precisely measuring assets and liabilities.

The PBGC was created in 1974 to guarantee corporate pension plans and pay benefits to workers whose employee-sponsored plans fail. To finance its activities, the PBGC collects premiums -- currently about $1 billion a year -- from employers with defined-benefit plans. It also receives funds from pension plans that it takes over and earns returns on its investments. So far, the agency hasn't had to use any taxpayer funds, but some analysts warn a bailout funded by taxpayers could be on the horizon if the agency's deficit keeps growing.

Delta and Northwest Airlines are backing a bill introduced recently in Congress that would allow them to stretch out payments on their pension shortfalls for 25 years -- if they freeze the plans in question and ensure that the deficit wouldn't grow any larger. The bill has run into resistance from lawmakers reluctant to give airlines a special break.

Lawmakers fear other companies in distressed industries, like the auto-parts makers, could seek to shed their pension plans while under bankruptcy-court protection. Some companies, like US Airways Group Inc., have done so already.

The court's approval will help UAL sidestep more than $3 billion in pension contributions over the next five years, while leading to retirement benefit cuts for many of its workers and retirees. The agreement requires the PBGC to make a final determination soon that the plans meet the requirements to be taken over. It also requires UAL to give the pension insurer as much as $1.5 billion in notes and convertible stock in the reorganized carrier to settle its claims. The size of the PBGC's potential stake in UAL isn't known because the airline hasn't finalized its plan of reorganization, but the PBGC has said that the settlement agreement leaves it in a better financial position than other creditors...

In a statement, United said the settlement agreement "is a crucial step forward for the future of United, as it strengthens the financial platform this company needs to attract exit financing and compete effectively."...

Judge Wedoff said that because the PBGC initiated the pension termination, the union's labor contracts with UAL wouldn't be breached. Under retirement law, if the PBGC initiates termination, that takes precedence over contractual obligations, the judge said...

[Richard Turk, a spokesman for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association local in San Francisco] said the union still has contractual rights to the retirement benefits in its current contract, but UAL hopes today to persuade Judge Wedoff to void that contract so the airline can impose lower pay and benefit terms on the workers...

The PBGC, according to terms of the settlement, would guarantee payments to plan participants totaling $6.6 billion, meaning workers and retirees would be shorted by $3.2 billion in the form of benefit reductions. The agency's maximum guaranteed benefit is set by law and adjusted yearly; generally, lower-paid workers have a greater chance of receiving all of their pension. This year the maximum paid to most retirees is $45,614 for a 65-year-old person, meaning many United workers -- particularly pilots, who must by law retire at age 60 -- would receive less than they expected.

The likely jettisoning of the costly defined-benefit pension plans is central to UAL's business strategy as it works to attract $2 billion to $2.5 billion in debt financing to step out of court protection this fall. Prospective lenders have told the airline in no uncertain terms that they aren't interested in raising money if the airline is going to pay it all out in pension contributions in the next few years...

UAL has been suggesting since last summer that it couldn't come out of Chapter 11 with the big pension liabilities. In a second round of employee concessions, its pilots agreed to let their pension plan be shifted to the government in exchange for $550 million in convertible notes in the reorganized UAL. But retired pilots, who stand to take a huge hit between what they were getting from the airline and what they will receive in payments from the PBGC, continued to object yesterday in court...

A related story is here.

Are We Capable of Self-Government?

David Gelernter writes:

Who could possibly be against cutting voter fraud on election day? You'd have to be some sort of fruitcake. But when Georgia's Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue recently signed a bill to reduce voter fraud, under which voters must show a photo ID before casting their ballots, many of Georgia's black legislators stormed out in protest. They even threatened to sue. The new process is simple, easy and fairly effective, but Democrats alleged that it would reduce voting by minorities, the elderly and the poor. So black legislators had to oppose it.

For legislators to announce that getting a photo ID is too tricky for their constituents is downright amazing. Wouldn't you expect those constituents to say, "Drop dead! Stop treating us like morons!"?...

As Michelle Malkin points out on her blog, those outraged Democrats are treating their constituents like children. But actually the episode points to a bigger, deeper, uglier truth: Democrats habitually treat Americans like children…

How could anyone be opposed in principle to private investment accounts within Social Security? I could understand Democrats arguing that "private accounts are a wonderful idea but the country can't afford the transition costs right now." But mostly I hear Democrats saying they're a lousy idea, and that President Bush wants to wreck Social Security — because, after all, he wants to let you keep a great big whopping 4% of your payroll taxes in a private account instead of handing over every cent to the government. How on Earth could anyone be opposed in principle to letting taxpayers manage a minuscule fraction of their own money (their own money, dammit!) if they want to? Because private accounts violate the Infantile American Principle, so dear to Democratic hearts. Little kids should turn over their cash to the Big Smart Government for safekeeping.

But of course they can't say that, so instead they say, "Bush wants to privatize Social Security" — as if government were going to wash its hands of the whole mess. The technical term that logicians use for this rhetorical gambit — applying a correct word for one part of a proposal to the proposal as a whole — is "lying."

Here's another one: How could anyone be opposed to school vouchers? Vouchers let you decide where to spend tax money to educate your children. You give the voucher to any public or private school; it's your call. But Democrats worry that (among other things) too many parents will spend their vouchers at a local Obedience School for Little Nazis or the neighborhood Witchcraft Academy. That's what they think of their fellow citizens. That's what they think of you!

Now some readers will say, hold on, be fair! Democrats only oppose vouchers because the teachers unions ordered them to. Agreed, teachers unions are a big factor in every major decision a good Democrat makes, starting with what cereal to have for breakfast. But Democrats also oppose vouchers out of honest conviction. They are honestly convinced that ordinary Americans don't have the brains to choose a school for their own kids.

...Why is it their business? Because Democrats are professors in disguise. Scratch a Democrat, find a professor.

It all goes back to central planning, socialism, Marxism — let the experts run the economy; free markets are too democratic and messy...

Professors see the world in terms of experts and students: "We are smart; you are dumb." That's the Infantile American Principle in a nutshell. Now go play with your toys and don't bother me.

The Founding Fathers of America believed we were capable of self-government. Do we still believe that they were correct...or not?