Monday, December 26, 2005

Giving Is Good, Being Pestered About It Is Not

I feel like I’ve been very blessed in this life. I don’t have all of the things and trappings of luxury, but I guess I don’t put that great of a priority on those things anyway. There are many things I would like, but don’t have. Still, my family and I have everything we really need plus a lot of other stuff as well, even if we do drive old cars and don’t wear the latest fashions.

It is partially for this reason that I feel a need to help the less fortunate. Considered objectively, that means the vast majority of other people on this planet. I’m not here to toot my horn about this. Jesus was clear about not liking that kind of thing (see here). I like to consider myself generous in the giving of time and solid resources, but I probably fall very short of C.S. Lewis’ measure of Christian behavior when he wrote, “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” (Mere Christianity, 1996, Touchstone, New York, p. 82)

I like to give time when possible, but I also give food, clothing, money, etc., because many needs simply cannot be met through donation of my time. Over the years I have donated to a broad variety of causes. Lately, however, I have been narrowing the number of causes to which I donate for several reasons.

For starters, I have discovered that it is very important to be fully aware of the nature of the recipient organization/cause. Who runs it? What do they really do – how do they spend the donations? How effective are they? What percentage of the donation actually gets to those in need? Is the aid being given truly helping achieve worthwhile results or is it promoting more social ills?

A few years back I was donating to an organization that I understood was helping to properly care for hiking trails. I was chagrined to later discover that most of its donations were actually spent lobbying politicians and agencies to implement anti-human environmental policies.

One of my pet peeves is the incessant in-your-face pandering for money, even by respectable organizations. I can’t say how thankful I am for caller-ID and the do-not-call listing. Years ago we decided that we would make no donation in response to telephone solicitation. We have politely informed many callers about this, asking that they send us a mailing so that we can consider their worthy cause in light of our family budget. Since many of these nice folks are telemarketers that get paid for getting a donation on the spot, we often never hear from these organizations again.

But it really bothers me when I am repeatedly hounded by organizations I have deemed to be worthy of my donations. Outside of our church or special situations, we usually donate to an organization once annually. It burns my hide, however, when organizations that do much good, like the American Red Cross haunt me with direct mailings up to 20 times throughout the year. How much of my donation do they waste asking me for more money?

It might be better to give anonymously, but that requires a lot of thought and work in our modern financial system. I’d have to get cash (which I usually don’t have in my wallet) and physically drop it off at some place that collects donations for the target organization. There would be no tax deduction, but it might be healthier for the spirit.

I’m afraid that I have been mostly taking the easy road. Organizations that make nuisances of themselves by repeatedly pestering me for funding are cut from my list. I don’t give less in total because the funds are then channeled to fiscally responsible organizations that are more circumspect in their requests for donations. There are even some worthwhile organizations that I know will never solicit from me directly, such as LDS Humanitarian Services.

I truly do want to help others that are less fortunate than me, but I want to make sure that what I do is actually helpful, and I don’t want to be endlessly harangued about it. The boards of charitable organizations should take the nuisance factor into consideration when planning their solicitation campaigns. Otherwise they will lose donors. I imagine that I’m not the only one that dislikes wasteful solicitation tactics enough to quit giving to an organization.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Should Republicans Act More Like Democrats?

In an earlier post I discussed Dick Armey’s call for Republicans to return to the basic principles of “lower taxes, less government and more freedom.” But Armey is from the Reagan era. Some Republicans are calling for outright abandonment of those principles, arguing that a party built on the ideology of limited government is ill suited to preside over the expansive government we actually have.

Ross Douthat (an associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly) and Reihan Salam (formerly a writer for the New Republic), writing in the Nov. 14 edition of the Weekly Standard have a provocative article entitled the Party of Sam’s Club, where they make such an argument.

Douthat and Salam begin by sounding like Democrats bashing Pres. Bush, but from an insider’s view. “President Bush's domestic policy looks less and less like a visionary twist on traditional conservatism, and more and more like an evolutionary dead end.” They run through a laundry list of what they see as failings of the President and the Congress. They then present their grand plan for breathing new life into the flagging party.

They base their ideas almost wholly on the results of polls. Remember that Dick Armey warned against governing by polls (here), saying, “You can't get your finger on the problem if you've got it in the wind.” Douthat and Salam say that polls show that among those that supported Bush in ’04, few of them are interested in limited government, preferring to use government as a tool to achieve their desires.

Douthat and Salam believe this empowers Republicans to “take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability.” They then embark on a lengthy discussion of several programs they believe will steer the government behemoth toward conservative ends and ensure that the Republican Party remains firmly in control.

The suggested programs are breathtakingly socialistic. They include:
  • Paying mothers to have children and rear them at home.

  • “Market-friendly health care reform,” which would require everyone to have health insurance and would eliminate some of the bottlenecks in the existing system.

  • Subsidies to working class men to make “them more desirable marriage partners,” thereby keeping them off the welfare rolls and encouraging them to become responsible fathers.

  • Targeted tax cuts and targeted tax increases that would achieve conservative social engineering goals of more stable families.
Not all of the authors’ suggestions are bad. They make some very good points and are serious about addressing serious social issues. They correctly point out that the decline of the traditional family is a slow train wreck in the making. They offer suggestions for re-ensconcing the traditional family and promoting policies that would strengthen that unit of society. They conclude with this call:
“So today's Republican party should be in favor of helping recent immigrants get ahead and slowing the flow of illegal labor--in favor of providing a helping hand to the hard working poor and cutting subsidies to the idle and shiftless--in favor of a tax policy that favors the working class and the productive rich. Above all, it should be in favor of limited government, and in favor of using government's considerable power to shore up the institution that makes a limited government possible--the beleaguered but resilient American family.”
While that sounds all mom and apple pie, Douthat and Salam’s suggestions will stun many Republicans, especially those that lean Libertarian. Government seems like the least likely entity to do well at these tasks. Nor is it certain that the actions Douthat and Salam suggest will achieve their targeted goals. I’m not sure, for example, that making working class men wards of the state will make them feel more responsible or make them more desirable marriage partners. Nor am I sure that socialist programs will make for limited government.

Douthat and Salam argue that polls show, in essence, that Reagan’s principles are as dead as he is, so the party had better get with the program and do what polls show most people want. Somehow that sounds a lot like Aesop’s fable of the Man, the Boy and the Donkey. No matter what you do you can’t please everyone. But it goes beyond that to abandoning the party’s basic principles.

I would counter that what the polls actually show is a lack of adequate leadership on the party’s basic principles. Douthat and Salam call for “steal[ing] a page from the Democrats' playbook,” but I think Armey is correct, when he says, “When we act like us, we win. When we act like them, we lose.” Prior to Regan becoming president, while many in the GOP used the argument of limited government to bash the Democrats, few in the party power structure actually held it dear to their hearts. However, once Regan achieved control of the party and began to clearly articulate his vision, it was amazing how many were converted – not just within the party, but among the general populace.

Right now Republicans don’t have a strong leader preaching the gospel of limited government, so the ideology lies dormant among the masses. The party needs many of what Armey calls the “Young Turks” to stand up and stir things up. I argue that rather than becoming more like Democrats, Republicans need to become more like Republicans. I’m not arguing for a Reaganesque messiah, but for a return to basic party principles among the leadership and elected officials – and encouraging those officials that aren’t converted to move along. When these principles are articulated strongly and well, the people will respond.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fear of Success

Eminent neo-conservative writer Norman Podhoretz has written an article that seeks to expose the truth about our situation in Iraq.

Reflecting on the current anti-war conundrum, Podhoretz recalls the quintessential 1776 Thomas Paine essay that became the first in the American Crisis series. It was written in a season of immense panic about the state of the war. We have a similar panic occurring today, but there is a stark difference. “In that early stage of the Revolutionary War, there was sound reason to fear that the British would succeed in routing Washington's forces. In Iraq today, however, and in the Middle East as a whole, a successful outcome is staring us in the face.”

Podhoretz is puzzled by the “increasingly frenzied” anti-war rhetoric. He documents how the MSM coverage of the war stands in profound contrast to the actual state of affairs. He notes the clever ploy of brazen hostility against the military under the guise of feigning concern for the lives of American soldiers. He discusses the antiwar rhetoric in a fair amount of detail. His writing is actually fairly entertaining as well as enlightening.

Podhoretz takes each of the most favored anti-war arguments one by one, and without the filter sensational emotionalism reasons through each one to show that each is in reality a paper tiger. He includes the multiple mistakes that have been made in Iraq, but concludes that by any historical standard, these “amount to chump change,” and have not substantially prevented us from making historically unprecedented progress.

Citing the continual positive feedback from multiple close-range observers outside of the MSM, Podhoretz says that our nation building is going rather swimmingly, despite “the persistence of major problems” and the fact “that we still have a long way to go before Iraq becomes secure, stable and democratic.”

The dichotomy between the way things really are and the “increasingly desperate” reporting of the MSM causes Podhoretz to assert that the antiwar crowd is actually fearful of American success in Iraq. He coins the phrase “the Vietnam syndrome” to put a name to the military-detesting “religion” of the Left. He says that success in Iraq could deal a fatal blow to this religion. He argues that the increasing panic on the Left is because they can see the writing on the wall, and they hate the fact that military actions they despise are delivering “better things … than are dreamed of in their philosophy.”

As I read the article, I was reminded of a discussion I heard between Michael Medved and an articulate antiwar activist. Mr. Medved pinned the activist down on every single of the antiwar crowd’s favorite talking points, demonstrating that there was essentially nothing behind them. The activist had no substantive answer for any of the (strongly ignored) evidences of success in Iraq. The activist finally fell back on an extremely bigoted argument that essentially stated that the people of the Middle East are irredeemable – that even if they do vote democratically, it will be bad because they will select leaders not bearing our government’s stamp of approval.

Podhoretz concludes by calling on Americans to “take pride in the nobility of what the United States, at whose birth Tom Paine assisted, is now, more than 200 years later, battling to achieve in Iraq and, in the fullness of time, in the entire region of which Iraq is so crucial a part.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Make a deal with the devil and you're the junior partner

Dick Armey, who was a Republican congressional representative from Texas for 18 years and served as the House Majority Leader from 1995 to 2003, has written a scathing article aimed at his own party. To understand Armey’s focus, you have to remember that he was one of the major role-players in the Republican takeover of Congress and in the Contract With America, that aimed to seriously limit the growth of government. Armey is a strong believer in Ronald Reagan’s statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The main thesis of Armey’s article is, “Why are Republican leaders governing like Democrats?”

Armey cites three principles that he calls “Armey’s Axioms.” They are as follows:
  • Make a deal with the devil and you're the junior partner.

  • You can't get your finger on the problem if you've got it in the wind.

  • When we act like us, we win. When we act like them, we lose.
I have written previously about my disgust for the runaway spending habits of the current administration and Congress (see here – has links to other prior posts). Armey carries the argument further than the financial side of the equation, and discusses the importance of limiting government growth and government intrusion in our lives.

I have to admit that I have long appreciated Armey’s homely charm. When the whole Monica Lewinsky affair hit the fan, he responded to a reporter’s question about if he would resign if he were in President Clinton’s place by saying, “If I had been in the President's place, I would not have gotten the chance to resign. I would be lying in a pool of my own blood hearing Mrs. Armey standing over me saying 'How do you reload this d****d thing?'” (see here)

Armey’s first point is that when Republicans cut deals that go against the basic principles of “lower taxes, less government and more freedom that got them elected” they are making a deal with the devil. The result is that constituents everywhere are saying, “I can't tell a dime's worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats.”

Armey’s second point is that Republicans should govern according to their basic principles rather than adhering to poll numbers. He says that “good policy is good politics for Republicans,” but “when we let politics define our agenda, we get in trouble.” He cites the “embarrassing spectacles” of the recent highway bill and the Medicare expansion.

Armey understands why right leaning politicians somehow find it easy to end up leaning leftward.
“As the party of smaller government, Republicans will always have a more difficult job governing than Democrats do. Government naturally wants to expand. It is always easier for politicians when both you and your political base truly believe that there is a new government program to solve any problem, real or imagined. We will always have to work harder and be more entrepreneurial than our political opponents when it comes to implementing reforms.”
Armey’s native bluntness comes through as he discusses the Republican’s inability to pass meaningful Social Security reform. “I've never quite understood the bed-wetters' fears when it comes to personal retirement accounts. How could you possibly lose by saving future retirees--our children and grandchildren--from another broken government promise?”

Armey says that while the challenges ahead of congressional Republicans are great, they are not insurmountable. He believes the party’s underlying principles to be sound and cogent, while “the "ideas" of the left are bankrupt.” Of course, people on the left say the same thing about conservative ideas.

Armey’s final point is that unless Republicans align their behavior with their basic principles, voters will fire them next November. He points to the recent elections as a harbinger of that event, and asks, “What will happen to Republicans if … freedom-loving, grassroots activists don't show up for work next fall?” Hence, his warning that, “When we act like [liberals], we lose.”

Can Republicans pull out of their left-leaning funk (4+ years in the making) in time for next November’s elections? It will take the reintroduction of serious backbone and near-religious adherence to conservative principles. I’m not sure they have it in them.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Heretics Today

In 1633 Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment for advocating the scientific theory of heliocentrism (the sun as the center of the Universe). This theory, which Copernicus inaugurated among medieval Europeans, was strongly opposed by the Catholic political establishment of the day. The official doctrine was geocentrism (the earth as the center of the Universe), although, a number of individuals in the establishment were open minded about heliocentrism.

A study of the legal and political events surrounding Galileo’s trial shows that the main reason for establishment opposition to helicentrism was the belief that it would diminish political power and authority. The actual scientific merits of the theory were never really an issue.

We now know that some of Galileo’s conclusions were flawed, even by the scientific standards of the day, but his observations made it impossible to support geocentrism. However, the establishment prohibited even the dissemination of Galileo’s observations, let alone his conclusions. The message to others was clear: don’t even think about challenging geocentrism.

This episode is often cited to support the idea of religious contempt for science. However, taken in a broader view, it is a classic example of suppression of competing thought by an establishment of power.

Fast forward almost four centuries. In our enlightened era, an establishment of power is doing everything possible to prevent serious debate of a particular theory accepted as scientific. Most of our schools are prohibited from even discussing certain observations, while the officially sanctioned doctrine is proclaimed to be unassailable fact. As in Galileo’s day, the establishment is less concerned about actual science than it is about losing power.

The firm entrenchment of Darwinist theory in our educational industrial complex is receiving some unwelcome competition from the heretical theory of Intelligent Design (called junk science in this link). The establishment’s opposition to questioning Darwinism smacks of the same stuff as the suppression of Galileo.

Tom Bethell points out here that the establishment’s main argument against Intelligent Design (ID) is that the theory is not scientifically verifiable. That is, there is no acceptable test currently available to determine whether it is true or false. But Bethell points out that supporters of Darwinism necessarily cut off the branch upon which they are sitting with this argument, because there is also no actual test available to determine whether Darwinism is true or false, either.
“Darwin's claim to fame was his discovery of a mechanism of evolution; he accepted "survival of the fittest" as a good summary of his natural-selection theory. But which ones are the fittest? The ones that survive. There is no criterion of fitness that is independent of survival. Whatever happens, it is the "fittest" that survive — by definition. This, just like intelligent design, is not a testable hypothesis. As the eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper said, after discussing this problem that natural selection cannot escape: "There is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this." Popper was the first to propose falsification as the line of demarcation between theories that are scientific and those that are not; both intelligent design and natural selection fall by this standard.”
Scientist John P. Pratt takes a parallel vein here, where he discusses how public application of science has been twisted away from the actual scientific method. He says that a couple of lies have been very successfully perpetuated in our society. One is the secular myth that “[n]othing exists which cannot be observed.” The truth, of course, is that “science is the study of everything that can be observed, but true science makes no claim that it is the study of everything that exists.” Otherwise, we would have to conclude that atoms did not exist before they could be observed via a verifiable test.

Pratt says that those that use the shield of science to promote a secular or atheistic agenda use the sleight of hand trick of “focusing on the past and on the future, which are both areas beyond direct observation of the present, the realm of science.” This allows the “fabricat[ion] all sorts of complete nonsense about the origins of the universe, the solar system, the earth and all of the creatures that live on it. None of these theories can be tested, but that does not stop [them] from [being] proclaim[ed] as absolute truth.”

The National Center for Science Education represents the establishment view that Darwinism is an irrefutable fact. It has a humorous project called Project Steve, which attempts to show that scientists overwhelmingly believe that a Darwinist form of the theory of evolution is unquestionably true. Did you get that? They are counting scientists that *believe* that Darwinism is true. Perhaps they arrived at their conclusions by observing the scanty fossil record, but Hugh Nibley discusses here how easy it is to misinterpret the record and how established points of view influence conclusions. We have many examples in history of many people being wrong together while mutually supporting each other’s beliefs.

The fact is that there is *no one* on the face of the earth that can satisfactorily demonstrate macroevolution a la Darwin. There is no procedure currently in existence that can test the theory for success or failure. What we are teaching as solid truth in our schools is nothing more than the strong belief of people comprising the power structure of our education establishment. And exactly how is this basis superior to that of ID? Both systems require faith.

I’m not suggesting that we begin teaching ID in our schools. I am advocating that we take a serious, objective, rigorously scientific look at evolution as it is taught in our schools today and develop a rational policy without regard to the existing education power structure, the religion of secularism or any other religion. But we should not continue to disingenuously teach as scientific fact a theory that cannot be demonstrated as such.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Our National Security Depends On Iraq

Until relatively recently, the idea of immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq was politely relegated to the fringe Left. But the drumbeat for repeating our cut-and-run episode in Vietnam has grown incessantly louder, not just from the bitter Left, but from relatively mainstream politicians.

Victor Davis Hanson explains here what has changed to allow this to happen. Hanson thinks this is a losing strategy. He notes that it only worked in Vietnam due to the Watergate scandal, and that despite the Bush loathing of the Left, the Plame kerfuffle doesn’t come close to rising to that level. Hanson asks some serious questions.
"First, are the metrics of this war in the terrorists’ or our favor? Are the Iraqi security forces growing or shrinking? Are elections postponed or on schedule? Are Europe, Jordan, Lebanon, and others more or less sympathetic to a war against Islamic terrorism in Iraq? Are bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Zarqawi more or less popular or secure after we removed Saddam? Is al Qaeda in a strengthened or weakened position? Is the Arab world more or less receptive to democracy in the Gulf, Egypt, Lebanon, and the West Bank? And is the United States more or less vulnerable to a terrorist attack as we go into our fifth year since September 11?"
To be sure, the President’s approval rating is low and people are tired of the war. But the same pollsters reveal that relatively few Americans seriously think we ought to pull out and leave Iraq high and dry. Hanson says that this is why “wiser,” “street-smart” Democrats “give full rein to the usefully idiotic and irresponsible in their midst, but make no move yet to undo what thousands of brave American soldiers have accomplished in Iraq.”

Fortunately, there are some politicians that are serious about our national security that assess Iraq in a levelheaded manner. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) wrote in such a manner in an op-ed piece published in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, written following his fourth trip to Iraq in 17 months. His article should be required reading for American adults and youth old enough to understand.

Lieberman is very optimistic about the future of Iraq, but he is also realistic about what is going on there and the road ahead. He admits mistakes have been made. I might add that mistakes are still being made (see here). Lieberman says, “the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.”

Lieberman clearly defines what the war in Iraq is about. “It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern.” He discusses some of the good things that are happening in Iraq.
"In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni community, which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution, registered to vote and went to the polls instead of taking up arms and going to the streets. Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.

"None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country."
Senator Lieberman says that while polls show Americans are increasingly dour about the war effort, Iraqis are very optimistic. “Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today.” Lieberman praises our military troops and their tremendous accomplishments.

Lieberman explains why our effort in Iraq is critical. “We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.”

Lieberman asks “whether the American people and enough of their representatives in Congress from both parties understand this.” He expresses disappointment in Democrats that are more concerned about scoring political points against President Bush and Republicans that are more concerned about their chances in next November’s elections than they are in the long-term security of our nation. He aptly says that it would be “a colossal mistake … for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.”

As I have written before, we have a duty to clean up the mess we’ve got in Iraq. Some may argue that the best way to do that is to run away from it, naively thinking that the terrorists will also leave if we do. Lieberman notes that we have a strategy (forged in part by past mistakes) that is working well and that will lead to victory if we follow it through to its conclusion. President Bush has done what both the U.S. and Iraqi legislatures have asked, and has provided a thorough plan for victory in Iraq and the ultimate redeployment of American forces from Iraq (see here). As the President noted up front, it will still be a long, hard slog. But it is a slog we must endure.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Turning Our Backs On Iraq Is Not the Answer

Fred Barnes has an absolutely frightening article about the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. But he’s not talking about the parallels on the ground in Iraq. He’s talking about the parallels on the political front in the U.S.

Barnes echoes what Richard Nixon says in his book, No More Vietnams (see my post here). The Vietnam War was essentially won. The U.S. had pulled all of its military personnel out of Vietnam, and South Vietnam was holding its own against the well-funded communist north—but only with significant aid from the U.S. But antiwar sentiment prevailed in Washington, and Congress slashed funding, leading directly to “a stunning and unnecessary defeat for America and for a free Vietnam.”

Indeed, that defeat resulted in untold volumes of death and human suffering. But somehow the fact that this was inflicted on residents of Indochina made it all OK for the antiwar crowd. This sentiment finds a parallel today. Lysis discusses this here saying, “Iraqi heroes fighting beside our troops count for nothing, their deaths not worth a moment’s outrage. At the same time [antiwar people] have spent years screaming about the vulgar prank pictures from Abu Grahib, or alleged toilet flushings at Guantanamo Bay.” Do Americans truly believe that having toppled Saddam, we are morally free to let the Iraqis fend for themselves against well funded terrorists?

Barnes says, “the lesson is clear: A war can be won on the ground overseas and lost in Washington.” Barnes then details the chain of small events that he says may constitute the beginning of a ground swell that culminates in another unnecessary defeat.

Barnes specifically points out the (dramatically failed) Murtha resolution, the disastrous Republican Senate resolution rebuking the President on the war, and former President Clinton turning against the war. He explains why each of these small events has greater meaning, and why when taken together they are “ominous.”

Barnes concludes with the chilling note that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, also sees parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. “In his intercepted email to al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said, "Things may develop faster than we imagine." He wrote that "the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam--and how they ran and left their agents--is noteworthy."”

As sentiment turns against the war and we see our politicians line up to score political points through antiwar grandstanding, terrorists are taking note. Barnes asks, “What message did this package of events send to the insurgents in Iraq? Stay the course, the Americans may be going soft again, just as they did in Somalia a decade ago, in Lebanon in the 1980s, and in Vietnam in the 1970s. What other conclusion could the insurgents draw?”

In the wake of 9/11, I frequently saw a bumper sticker with the words “These colors don’t run” emblazoned across an American Flag. Apparently a fair number of Americans think there should have been a qualifier attached that says, “… unless it gets too expensive or we grow tired of it or we simply wimp out, etc.” As in the Vietnam days, some antiwar folks are absolutely giddy about the idea of American defeat.

As a Scout leader I frequently tell boys on campouts that Scouts always clean up after themselves and that we leave our campsites better than we find them. (I know from experience that some leaders don’t insist on this and that means that someone else eventually has to take care of it). We’ve got the mess in Iraq now. We can argue about how we got there—which sounds like my kids bickering in the back of the van about who touched whom first—or we can roll up our sleeves and deal with the mess. Clearly, as was shown by the 403-3 vote against the Murtha resolution, just turning our back on Iraq and leaving is not the answer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Wrong Educational Focus Will Hurt Our Economy

It seems like every time a new study is published ranking American schoolchildren with those of other nations, we rank ever abysmally lower than before. From the trend, it appears that the solutions being generally applied are akin to C.S. Lewis’ analogy of people frantically running around with fire extinguishers during a flood.

The areas of greatest concern revolve around the core subjects of science and math, commonly called the hard sciences. Some are inclined to think, “So what? I hated those subjects when I was in school. Why are they so important?”

Kathryn Wallace has an interesting article on this subject in the December 2005 Readers Digest (America’s Brain Drain Crisis – sorry, no electronic version available). In it she documents how much of America’s economic prowess is built on our scientific and technological advances. She quotes several experts to make her point, including David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology and a Nobel Laureate, who says, “We can’t hope to keep intact our standard of living, our national security, our way of life, if Americans aren’t competitive in science. Period.”

Given where the upcoming generation stands, those are pretty sobering words. If you understand how Nobel laureates are chosen, you have to take Baltimore’s words with a grain of salt. Still, he has a point.

We are producing steadily fewer graduates in the hard sciences, while many other countries are graduating steadily more. In 2000 China graduated 56% in hard sciences while the U.S. graduated 17%, a sharp decline for the U.S. from three decades ago.

Moreover, Wallace notes that our supply of nerdy smart foreign immigrants is drying up. It used to be that many came to the U.S. because they could not get a world-class education in their home countries, but that is changing. Many are staying home because university programs in hard sciences in their own countries are achieving world-class status.

Paul Goss notes here “there is ample reason to worry that America's longstanding lead in science is slipping away. … A recent National Academy of Sciences report concludes that "Without high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs and the innovative enterprises that lead to discovery and new technology, our economy will suffer and our people will face a lower standard of living."”

The problem doesn’t originate in our universities, but in our K-12 education. Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, has been running around blasting the “dismal” quality of our K-12 math and science programs (see here, here and here). Wallace quotes Bill Gates as recently saying, “Our high schools, even when they’re working exactly as designed, cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.”

Barrett says what many other CEOs are confirming. American business is going for offshore talent not simply because it is cheap, but because “It's well-educated labor that can do effectively any job that can be done in the United States.” Many managers complain about the inability to domestically hire the type of people they need.

What do we do? If you ask those involved in K-12 education, the answer will always be the same: “Give us more money.” But Wallace says, “Don’t blame school budgets. We shell out more than $440 billion each year on public education, and spend more per capita than any nation save Switzerland.” Yet we still rank 24th in math, tied with Latvia.

Wallace quotes Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association as saying, “The highest predictor of student performance boils down to teacher knowledge.” But she notes that about a third of our 7-12 math and science teachers are inadequately qualified to teach their subjects. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) questions, “How can you pass on a passion to your students if you don’t know the subject?”

We need serious reform of our K-12 educational priorities. Some state and local governments are trying a variety of measures. Many business and philanthropic efforts are underway. But all of these together are insignificant given the sheer size of the problem. There are some things Congress can and should do, but we need to be careful about feeding more cash to the ever-growing centralized bureaucratic monster.

In fact, that bureaucratic monster is part of the problem. In her article, Wallace shows how other countries are staffing their governments with grads from the hard sciences. One of the most sobering lines in the article comes from a professor at Georgia Tech, who said, “That’s quite a difference from a government made up of lawyers.”

We need to wake people up and get them to realize what is at stake. When large numbers of people understand the nature of the problem, we can have public discourse on the matter that will help us fashion both private and public efforts to confront it. If we don’t, the ultimate cost will be enormous.

Monday, November 14, 2005

With Urquhart Out, It's Most Likely Term Six for Hatch

I’m sorry to see Steve Urquhart drop out of the U.S. Senate race. Steve said up front that he knew it would be an uphill battle. He knew that he had to get 60% of the vote at next spring’s state Republican convention. Steve’s a smart guy, and he could see that the current trajectory wouldn’t carry him to that goal. But keep your eye on Steve to continue to be a mover and shaker in Utah politics. Maybe the future will see him in national politics.

Perma-Hatch can now breathe easy that he has no Republican challenger. Ethan at SLC Spin has an interesting series of posts on this issue here, here, here, and here. Ethan and some of his readers postulate whether conservatives will now support Pete Ashdown, who is running against Hatch as a Democrat.

Gary Thornock suggests that conservatives should like Ashdown because he stands on the conservative “principles of … limited government, local control and fiscal restraint.” As appealing as that may be, I believe that most of the people that actually vote in Utah won’t give five seconds of thought to Pete Ashdown between now and the ’06 elections.

Frankly, most Utahans really aren’t disenchanted with Senator Hatch. Hatch really hasn’t done anything terribly controversial over the last three decades. He generally gets pretty good press. Most Utahans don’t really understand how ineffective Hatch has been for Utah and how bad he is for technology. His tenure is seen by most as an asset rather than a liability.

Most voters aren’t going to toss an incumbent out unless they are seriously unhappy with him. And most Utah voters aren’t unhappy with Hatch. Steve Urquhart understood this. He knew that he had no chance in a primary election against Hatch. That is why he was working to win at the state convention.

But that’s only part of the problem. Many Utah voters consider themselves conservatives, but they define the term rather fuzzily. When it comes right down to it, they are mostly moral conservatives rather than fiscal conservatives. If they were fiscal conservatives more than half of the Republicans in the Legislature wouldn’t be there and our state budget and tax systems would look very different.

Ashdown may score some points on the side of fiscal conservatism, but he doesn’t speak the same moral language as the majority of actual Utah voters. Although he steps carefully when discussing moral hot button issues, the reality is that Ashdown comes down on the opposite side of most actual voters on those issues.

What’s more is that it probably doesn’t really matter what Ashdown says publicly on moral issues. His national party affiliation hurts him. The stand of the DNC on moral issues important to Utah voters speaks louder than the candidate. Party representatives like Rocky Anderson and Howard Dean don’t help matters much. When Steve Urquhart said that the senate seat would remain in Republican hands, he wasn’t being arrogant. He was simply being pragmatic.

Many people grouse about Utah’s lopsided political system, but there are two ways of looking at it. One is that DNC positions have killed the party’s opportunities in Utah. The other is that Utah voters are too stupid to vote Democratic. And don’t expect voters to support people who think the latter unless they are running in areas heavily populated by Democrats (a la Rocky).

Well, if it’s so difficult for a Democrat to be elected in Utah, why do we have a Democratic Congressional Representative? Jim Matheson serves a district that is closely divided between the two parties. It is not representative of greater Utah. He was initially elected in an open election in 2000. He didn’t have to unseat an incumbent because the Republican voters did that for him by unseating Rep. Merrill Cook in the primary election. Since gaining office, as Democracy for Utah noted here, Matheson has proved to be “a sell-out Democrat who votes with the Republicans. That's why we like him.” And that’s why voters have sent him back to Washington twice and will likely do so again next year.

Unlike Matheson, Ashdown has to win the entire state. He has to unseat a sitting incumbent that has given most voters no reason to vote against him. Unless Perma-Hatch does something like have a public extramarital affair, I think Ashdown is unlikely to win. Even if Hatch were to die, voters might give him a sympathy vote, much the same as Missouri voters did for Mel Carnahan in 2000 (see here), rather than elect Ashdown.

So should Ashdown not run? Of course he should run! Even if he has no realistic chance of winning at the moment, politics is a strange business and the only sure way to lose is to get out of the race. You never know what might develop between now and next November. Besides, Ashdown has the opportunity to influence the public debate on current political issues. That may even mean indirectly influencing national policy. I could be wrong about all of this, but I think it’s the most realistic view.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Real Reasons For the French Riots

The riots that have raged throughout France and spilled over into neighboring countries over the past two weeks can be described in simplistic terms, but they are the result of multiple factors. Many have looked at the riots through one lens or another, but have failed to get to the bottom of the issue.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal included a masterful article by Joel Kotkin of the New America Foundation. Mr. Kotkin demonstrates how the socialist agenda of Western Europe, particularly France, over the past three decades has killed off job growth and opportunity for advancement, leaving youth with a lack of opportunity. The entire EU has generated only 4 million (mostly government) new jobs in the last 25 years, while the U.S. has generated 57 million. While Mr. Kotkin is correct, he fails to drive to the heart of the matter.

Western Europe’s plummeting birthrate has required very relaxed immigration to supply sufficient people to support its infrastructure. Millions of immigrants have moved there, mostly from Islamic countries. But they came as “guest workers” rather than as full citizens. I’m not disregarding the immigration problem we have in the U.S., but there is a difference (more than theirs being legal and ours being illegal). Immigrants to the U.S. have the opportunity to advance, to achieve affluence, and to become equal with long-term citizens. Europe’s guest workers don’t have that. They will always be regarded as less than full Europeans, even generations later.

When I lived in Norway over two decades ago, Norwegians saw the Muslims that came there, ostensibly under some contrived amnesty, as quiet people that worked the lower level jobs and that “knew their place” in society. It was pretty much the same throughout Western Europe. They had their own brand of Jim Crow. Now they have third generation Muslims that are being infused with Wahhabist (and similar) teachings from the Middle East. These factors create a cultural mix that has the makings of being highly volatile. Indeed, the Dutch (as well as most of Europe) were deeply shaken by the murder of pornographer Theo Van Gogh by a Dutch born Muslim in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street.

Ed Morrissey points out here that the French riots didn’t simply happen through spontaneous combustion. They were orchestrated. By whom? By militant Islamists. Although the MSM has gone to great pains not to mention this fact over the past two weeks, it is not exactly a secret. Morrissey notes that the Washington Post wrote last month about a September call to action against France by a well known Islamic terrorist group that outlined how to carry out some of the mayhem that has recently been perpetrated. So nobody wants the riots to look like terrorism, but there is no denying that terrorists at least used them as a terrorist tool. Neither the French government nor MSM wants to say so because it would lend credence to the much despised neo-con policies of George W. Bush.

But the problem goes deeper than Morrissey’s observations. Western Europe wouldn’t be in this predicament at all if it had family friendly policies. If it weren’t so secularized and socialized it would have those kinds of policies. So it’s a cultural issue that strikes at the heart of the personality of the culture.

Pitzer College’s anti-religious Phil Zuckerman has concluded (see here) that religion “seems to be critical to people's decision to raise children. People in these advanced industrial societies see children more and more as a liability.” He continues, that people “don't even need to get married since there is no legal advantage to doing so.” These self absorbed cultural attitudes become reflected in public policy.

Daniel Peterson argues here that the basis for Western Europe’s problems are its lack of faith in Deity. Peterson discusses the atheistic viewpoint and argues that, taken to its logical conclusion, it has no basis for claiming any kind of morality, and that morality requires a belief in God. He says that any morality claimed by atheists must necessarily be weakly borrowed from faith in God.

Critics will certainly ask whether religion isn’t part of the basic problem of the riots in France and of terrorism in general. Peterson, of course, cites the murderous secular regimes of Stalin, Hitler, Pot, etc. to show that atheism does not guarantee peace and freedom from atrocities. Peterson concludes that even in the face of doubt there are plenty of rational reasons for accepting God.

I have a friend that is fond of arguing that moral laws are eternal. Just as physical laws cannot be violated, neither can moral laws. C.S. Lewis notes in his book Mere Christianity that most of us deep down agree on basic moral principles of what is right and fair. In fact, we wouldn’t even argue about the fairness of something unless a basic moral law existed that defined fairness. Atheism simultaneously attempts to deny and embrace this fact.

Western Europe has been actively working to defy eternal moral laws for well over a century. The last three decades are just the latest version of the attempt. Their cultural situation is a product of that effort. But don’t worry, American society is working its way toward that goal as well. Fortunately there are some righteous among us by whose prayers we are largely spared (see here) the most dire consequences. I am grateful for them, and I aspire to be one of them.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Let the Free Market Help the Environment

There is still a lot of disagreement in the scientific world about whether global warming is really occurring in any meaningful manner. (Although, strong proponents will try to kill the debate up front by using lines such as, “No serious scientist questions whether global warming is occurring.”) Among those that agree that global warming is occurring, there is a wide variety of opinions regarding the degree to which human activity has any impact. (Again, strong proponents will attempt to kill debate using standard tactics.)

Conservatives are all over the board on this issue, but they are relatively united in the belief that government policy should not be based on the idea that we can successfully regulate human activity so as to reduce global warming. Many conservatives disbelieve the effectiveness of such proposed policies. Most are simply opposed to further restriction of liberties that would transfer more power to the government and to the environmentalist left.

Edwin Stafford, an associate professor at Utah State University, notes here that Wal-Mart is spending half a billion dollars to “reduce fossil-fuel greenhouse gas emissions over the next seven years.” He says that some conservatives think this will be money wasted and that some liberals think that it doesn’t go far enough. But he makes several interesting points arguing that Wal-Mart’s initiative will be both good for business and for the environment.

Stafford argues the initiative will:
  • Improve energy efficiency, thereby reducing the cost of goods and creating less pollution.
  • Cause innovation that will reduce the costs of environmentally friendly technologies, making them more generally available.
  • Set new industry standards that competitors will end up following, thus reducing costs and improving the environment across the board.
This is the kind of thing that we should be happy about. It is happening in the free market system rather than through repressive regulation and it has the potential of making life better for everyone. It should actually cost us less rather than costing us more and it should actually improve the environment. Who knows? Maybe a decade from now we will all be ubiquitously using energy efficient technologies for which we can thank Wal-Mart.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Will the Legacy Highway be Built?

A lot of people are breathing easier, thinking that we are now on track to build the Legacy Highway – um, Parkway (see here). Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t.

Rep. John Dougall (R-Am. Fork) notes that the following steps remain:
  • Approval of the agreement by the Gov.
  • An up or down vote by the legislature (no amendments, no changes).
Rep. David Ure (R-Kamas) thinks the agreement that was inked last month is immensely better than the July agreement, but he will still vote against it (see here). He opposes on principle negotiating with environmental groups perpetrating “Blackmail.” (Some would disagree with him – see here). Ure says that the state has more than satisfied the requirements of the original lawsuit, spending more than $2 million per mile of the proposed road just in environmental studies. He notes that the agreement has nothing to do with that lawsuit, but was negotiated in order to avoid another threatened lawsuit.

Rep. Dougall discusses here the federal process that got us to this point with environmentalists, noting that “Essentially, Congress hands them the gun, loading the chamber, and then expects us to negotiate.” His suggestion: “Don't like it? Contact your Congressmen (and/or one of their opponents).” Not a bad idea.

As we have known all along, the Sierra Club and its friends never had any intention of allowing Legacy to be built unless all of their demands were satisfied, not just the three issues cited by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The environmentalists threatened to file another suit that, regardless of merit, would tie the process up for another number of years. So UDOT decided to cut bait and give them what they want.

Rep. Ure cites John Adams’ statement that we should have “a government of laws and not of men.” He contends that “Giving in to groups who threaten to use the courts to rob Utah taxpayers of money and economic progress is giving in to a government "of men."” Ure says that despite his desire to get Legacy built and his wish not to delay it a single day more, it is more important to stand firm on the principle of being governed by laws rather than by men.

Rep. Dougall is more pragmatic. He says, “This was a win-lose agreement. Either way the Sierra Club, et al. won and the traveling public lost. The key debate will now be whether this settlement is better than just continuing the battle in court.” While Dougall never states how he will vote, he says, “The State's option is how do we cope with a bad situation and minimize its impact on the taxpayers.” I’m not sure that puts him at odds with Ure, but to me it comes across as more practical than principled.

Of course, many friends of mine are quick to point out that the Founders also created the judicial branch of the government. They will argue that Ure and Dougall are both off base in claiming that legal action or the threat thereof thwarted appropriate action. They will rather contend that it resulted in a reasonable outcome.

This all comes down to the basic struggle about the proper role of the judicial branch. Some want the courts to implement desired policies regardless of the will of the people expressed via the legislative branch. They want courts to find “innovative” interpretations of legal documents, including the Constitution. Others want our laws strictly interpreted to determine if they meet the standards established by the Founders in the Constitution.

This latter group’s understanding of the role of the judiciary was embodied in Chief Justice Roberts’ statement during his confirmation hearings that “judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.” This is why conservatives fought so hard to kill the Miers nomination. It is also why they are thrilled about Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. His record shows that he sticks to interpreting the law rather than making it up as he goes.

The simple threat of a lawsuit would not carry so much sting if our judicial system were dedicated to strictly interpreting the law. But that would solve only part of the problem. Our legislative branch sometimes creates statutes that they fully intend to be resolved by the judiciary rather than grappling with the hard issues up front. My friends in legislative positions will be quick to note that this is a chicken-before-the-egg kind of issue. Legislative bodies create statutes that way because the judiciary has gained so much power, and vice versa. But maybe if Congress actually did its job of judicial oversight, the judiciary would not be out of control. And maybe if we hadn’t federalized so many matters that should be handled locally, our local judicial jurisdictions could manage things at the appropriate level rather than tossing them up to the federal level. (See LaVarr Webb’s marvelous essay on federalism). And maybe if we hadn’t implemented so many socialist policies that the government is now in every facet of our daily lives we wouldn’t need all of those court rulings.

What we need is for everyone to go back to doing the job intended for them by the Founders. Changing Supreme Court justices can help, but it’s only part of the puzzle. We need to decentralize many functions that should be handled at levels below the federal level. We need Congress to exercise proper judicial oversight. We need legislative bodies to do the hard work of creating good laws up front. We need citizens to reduce their dependence on the government and legislatures to reduce socialist programs. Like a good team, we need all of the players to play their positions and to play them well.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

LDS Pilgimages Can be Misguided

As a Latter-Day Saint (a.k.a. Mormon), I don’t particularly understand the need to make pilgrimages to LDS historic sites. I appreciate the fact that these sites exist and are maintained. But I guess I look at a visit to one of these places the way I look at a visit to a museum rather than to a house of worship.

In saying this, I in no way intend to belittle those whose religious beliefs demand that they make pilgrimages. LDS doctrine demands pilgrimages of its members as well – to the chapel for weekly worship and to the Temple, for example. But while the LDS Church works hard to preserve historic sites, its doctrine does not demand that members visit these sites.

I am concerned with the underlying spiritual pilgrimage attitude with which some of my acquaintances encourage visiting LDS historic sites. I believe that they are getting away from the meat of the gospel of Jesus Christ and are focusing on peripheral stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe I would enjoy visiting places like Nauvoo, Carthage, Independence, Farr West, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Kirtland, and the Palmyra area. I have studied a lot about these places. But if I don’t make it there sometime during this life I won’t feel like I’ve shirked my duty nor will I feel spiritually slighted.

Of course, living in Utah I have visited many local LDS historic sites. Also, last year I had the opportunity of doing a mini handcart trek at Martin’s Cove. I also visited Rock Creek Hollow. I have enjoyed my visits to these places and have had some personal spiritual experiences on some visits. But I still don’t regard it to be my spiritual duty to make such visits.

I do not discount the value, even spiritual value, of visiting LDS historic sites. But let’s keep things in proper perspective. Visiting these places is more like dessert rather than the essential main course.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

R.I.P. Miers Nomination

I have said that I think that any presidential nominee that is qualified for a position should be confirmed. I still believe this to be sound policy. Elections mean something. We implicitly give those we elect as chief executive the privilege of nominating people to various positions. As long as the nominee is qualified and is clean, he/she should be confirmed even if we don’t agree with the nominee’s philosophy.

This morning Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination to serve as an associate Supreme Court justice, much to the relief of many conservatives. I have to admit that I feel strangely relieved as well. I have watched this whole process with the same kind of interested horror with which people view the aftermath of a nasty automobile collision.

On one hand, I sympathized with conservatives that felt sick inside about the Miers nomination. On the other hand, I felt that the right thing to do was to let the nomination run its course. The Senate should discover whether she was qualified or not (something that was not immediately apparent), and then vote based on their findings. I thought the nomination was most likely a mistake, but I also thought that the President deserved to have the nominee he wanted as long as she was deemed qualified via the normal process.

The Miers nomination was problematic from the outset. While some people were concerned about John Roberts’ personal philosophy, there was never any doubt that he was imminently qualified for the position. All we had with Harriet Miers was a huge question mark. Sure she had been a lawyer and had managed lawyers, but was she qualified to rule on matters of constitutional law? Nobody could really say yes or no on that.

The administration circumvented its vetting process to nominate Ms. Miers. Regardless of how good the President felt about her, that was not the right thing to do. Our system of government strives for transparency to prevent corruption. Many questioned whether the nomination of someone so close to President Bush violated what auditors call separation of duties. It doesn’t mean that something fishy is going on, but it allows the opportunity for such.

While I had a sinking feeling about the Miers nomination, I was shocked at how vociferously many conservatives attacked it. Apparently the Bush administration was even more shocked. Ed Morrissey says here that the conservative backlash was merely the release of pent up frustrations. Miers was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Morrissey aptly notes what I have said before, that Bush is really not that conservative. But because Bush was the best option for the war against radical Islam, tax cuts, and the general quality of judicial nominees, conservatives stuck with him. They kept mum on (or even supported) many very anti-conservative policies such as the huge expansion of Medicare, the federal oversight of education, and discretionary spending; McCain-Feingold; and ignoring illegal immigration.

But the Miers nomination was simply too much for many conservatives. They vented their pent up fury for all of Bush’s anti-conservative actions on this one nomination. After three and a half weeks of withering criticism, the nomination was finally withdrawn. Despite Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) protestations, few are actually sad to see the nomination die. The administration has been so battered that some observers wonder whether the President will be able to achieve any of his goals over the next three years. I think they underestimate this president’s resilience.

I said here that conservatives have set too high a standard for President Bush. They want him to be something that he is not. Morrissey thinks that flare ups like the reaction to the Miers nomination can be avoided if conservatives deal with issues as they go along, rather than sweeping them under the rug. Maybe if the administration and conservatives have a regular dialog about issues, even if it’s quite lively, it will be healthier for people on all sides and for the nation as a whole. At any rate, I hope the President and his administration get it right on the next SCOTUS nominee.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Networked Computing As a Model for Government

LaVarr Webb has a marvelous essay here that should be required reading for everyone involved in politics at any level. Webb postulates that the job of President of the United States has become too big for one person. He then artfully explains why this is so.
“We’ve come to demand and expect so much out of the federal government that the reality is it will never meet our needs and wants. We want government to take care of us from cradle to grave, handle every disaster and emergency, feed us, house us, educate us, provide us health care, make sure our caps cover our ears, button our jackets, tie up our little booties and wipe our noses. And do all of these things without ballooning the federal debt or taxing us too much. With those expectations, the job of leading this country is simply not doable.”
As a computer professional, I can relate to the solution Webb proposes because he uses the metaphor of networked computing. He likens the federal government to an old overloaded mainframe computer that has all of the power and performs all of the functions, albeit, poorly. That would make local governments equivalent to dumb terminals sending requests and waiting for responses.

The computing world has moved away from the old mainframe architecture because it was unwieldy, expensive, and extremely limiting. “The age of the mainframe computer, with all control and power at the center, has long been replaced with intelligent networks of PCs with intelligence and capacity dispersed out on the periphery, but networked together for plenty of interaction and collaboration.”

Webb says that this is how our governmental entities throughout the nation should work. “Just as in a computer network, states would have to agree on standards and protocols to deal with complex interstate issues. But the motto ought to be ‘national standards, local control,’ not top-down, bureaucratic dictates from a one-size-fits-all central government.”

What Webb is suggesting is actually the government envisioned and implemented by our founders, where the national government is limited to only the powers enumerated in the Constitution while state and local governments have indefinite powers.

Webb admits that our world is incredibly more complex than it was when the Constitution was written, and that it would be nearly impossible to implement his vision. However, he provides the success of moving welfare back to the states as an example of how we might go about doing this. Perhaps it needs to be done one piece at a time. Webb calls on our political leaders to start discussing how to accomplish this.

I agree with Webb. We need to start devolving power away from the wasteful central government. Not only would this make the federal government more manageable, it would make state and local governments more manageable and responsive to their citizens. It’s time to give our bureaucracy in D.C. a break and start shouldering the responsibility for our governmental needs closer to home.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Limit Federal Spending Now!

Recently while at the store, my 8-year-old son was miffed when I told him I didn’t have money to buy something he wanted. He looked at the items in the cart and asked how I could have money for all of that stuff, but not for the thing he wanted. For the umpteenth time, I tried to give him a 30-second course in family economics. He seemed to understand mentally, but he obviously still couldn’t grasp the concept emotionally.

Howard Headlee, president of the Utah Bankers Association, recently wrote an article calling for better financial education for our youth. He noted that despite the increasing sophistication of American youth, most “high school graduates are totally unprepared to manage their personal finances responsibly.” They don’t understand that paying the minimum credit card payment could leave them paying for a pizza or a CD months or even years later.

Years ago I received a bracing education in real world finances when I worked in the loan department of a bank. I was assigned to work with people that were delinquent on their credit payments. From working with these people and working with youth over the years, I believe that the main source of money problems is a failure to mentally and emotionally understand two concepts: the limited size of the pot of available funds, and priority of potential expenditures. It is amazing how fast financial problems evaporate when people properly understand these issues.

This principle extends to government as well. Former Congressman Dick Armey (R-TX) once said, “Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision.” Over the past five years our Congress has been spending like they have no adult supervision. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the limited amount of available funds and how to prioritize expenditures. If politicians run out of revenue, they simply mandate more debt. Everything people (and politicians) want becomes a top priority.

I have discussed this problem in these previous posts: 1, 2, 3, 4. Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware and chairman of the National Center for Policy Analysis notes here that, “The real annual growth rate of federal government outlays is nearly at its highest modern percentage.” Higher than during the Reagan years. Much higher than during the Clinton years. Even higher than during the Johnson years. And only a small portion of that is for homeland security. It’s mainly due to growth in social programs and pork barrel projects.

Interestingly, it is the Bush tax cuts that have kept this increased spending from swamping the economy. These tax cuts have made for a robust economy that has resulted in a 14% increase in tax revenue. But there is a limit to how much profligate spending the economy can handle.

Brendan Miniter says here that while cutting congressional pork is important and necessary, what we really need is “a coherent and broad-based plan to shrink the size of government by controlling spending.” Du Pont thinks that the problem has reached the point that we need “a constitutional amendment to hold the growth of federal spending to specific percentages of revenue unless there is a supermajority override by both houses of Congress.” Such a constitutional requirement would force the plan Mr. Miniter desires.

Du Pont notes the success experienced by Delaware, which passed such an amendment to its state constitution 25 years ago limiting government spending to 98% of revenue, with the remaining 2% going into a rainy day fund to cover things like disaster recovery. The result has been 25 years of healthy government and balanced budgets. In 1992 Colorado amended its constitution to limit the growth in government spending to inflation plus population growth. The result has been one of the highest rates of growth in GDP and personal income in the nation. These amendments have effectively controlled government spending and forced politicians and constituents to prioritize needs and wants.

I am leaning toward agreeing with Mr. du Pont. It looks like our federal government spending system needs additional checks and balances. But it’s incredibly difficult to pass a constitutional amendment. Our founders intended this to be the case. Federal politicians would have to vote to tie their own hands: “Stop me before I spend again!” State politicians have to vote to possibly cut their own states’ access to the federal trough. They also might be justifiably leery that Congress would simply mandate that the states cover desired programs, thus indirectly increasing states’ budgetary needs without impacting the federal budget.

Mr. du Pont suggests that even if the amendment failed, it would engender an important national discussion about “How big, how expensive and how fiscally generous to industries and local communities [and I would add, to individuals] should America's national government be?” I believe that it is essential that as a nation we engage in this discussion – and the sooner, the better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Laws Come At a Cost

Do we adequately study the economic impacts of the laws we pass? Some states now require economic impact statements on each legislative bill. Such statements are now routine parts of federal bills. But sometimes these statements are little better than optimistic narratives by the bill’s sponsors.

We need to wake up and realize that every new law has some kind of economic impact. Unfortunately we sometimes ignore the long-term effects of proposed laws in the passion of the moment. Let’s look at one example. Wait times in emergency rooms have increased exponentially over the past decade. Why?

This article explains that multiple factors have driven up ER wait times and costs. A big reason is that some people go to the ER instead of to their family physician for routine or chronic issues. Why? It’s sometimes difficult to see your doctor. I contend that this is partially the result of a payment system that obfuscates the customer-provider relationship. But well-meant legislation is also a major basis for the problem.

In 1986, indignant politicians passed an anti-dumping law that prevents ERs from transferring stabilized (often disadvantaged) patients to other facilities. The result has played out to be an annual loss of $4.2 billion revenue for hospitals. We pass the compassion test with flying colors, but the revenue loss has caused ERs to shut down in record numbers, especially in economically disadvantaged areas. Today there are 14% fewer ERs than 12 years ago. Fewer facilities means overcrowding at remaining ones, resulting in increased wait times.

Another well-meant piece of legislation imposes patient privacy rules that we all want. However, as one administrator notes, “people may be unaware of the resources that educating on and complying with federal regulations consumes nationally, and these valuable dollars become consumed by generating required paperwork instead of taking care of patients.”

The point is that we often pass legislation that most people think is important without understanding the long-term impact. Sure, there were egregious examples of patient dumping. Yes, we all want our medical records secure. But would we have passed the laws the way they are written had we understood how much they would contribute to higher costs and reduced availability?

Proponents of legislative bills are usually not the best people to look critically at all sides of the issue. We need elected representatives that are willing to flush out future effects of consumer adverse proposals so that decisions can be reached with more complete information. In effect, we need a better cost-benefit study system in our political process. At least we should understand the true cost of proposed legislation before we buy it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Why Are Conservatives Unhappy About Miers?

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a lot of division (and perhaps confusion) in the conservative community over the President’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

While some conservatives have stood staunchly by the President on this choice, far more are not excited about it, but are willing to see it through. Still others are quite upset about the whole thing. I’ve tried to show some of the various schools of thought in my previous posts here and here.

Famed author (and former Reagan speech writer) Peggy Noonan is among the group that is not happy. Her article here is representative of the feelings of many conservatives, where she openly calls the Miers nomination a mistake. She includes a long list of “maybes” that describe conservative disillusionment with the President that I sense (from a wide variety of blogs, articles, and radio shows) is somewhat prevalent among strong conservatives that consider themselves Bush’s base. She conjectures that maybe the President:
  • Doesn’t care about his base since he’s not standing for any future election.

  • Is showing his base who’s really boss.

  • Thinks his base will stick by him no matter what.

  • “Has decided the era of hoping for small government is over.”

  • “Sees the right not as a thing he is of but a thing he must appease, defy, please or manipulate.”

  • “After five years … is fully revealing himself.”
Noonan makes a point of why all of this is important. “Whatever the answer, history is being revealed here by the administration every day, and it's big history, not small.”

When it comes down to the Miers nomination, Noonan seems mostly upset that Miers is such an unknown quantity. She feels this is a bad thing that will further mystify the great, almighty, Supreme Court. She postulates that many big-time law types hide their personal philosophies, not only from others, but also from themselves. Then they reveal those hidden philosophies to the world and to themselves as they rule from the bench (as judges or justices). Thus, as the court (and the whole judiciary) becomes more powerful it also becomes more mysterious.

Noonan says, “We have a two part problem. The first is that no one knows what [justices] think until they’re there. The other is that they're there forever.” She then calls for a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of justices, (which may not be a bad idea). Her reasoning: “Why not? We'd amend it to ban flag-burning, even though a fool burning a flag can't possibly harm our country. But a Kelo decision and a court unrebuked for it can really tear the fabric of a nation.”

While relatively conservative myself, I feel that many conservatives have set too high a standard for President Bush. Because he’s a practicing Evangelical Christian, they expect him to be one of them. Though Bush is a man of faith, I have never been so easily persuaded that he is a staunch conservative. He certainly has never acted fiscally conservative either as Governor of Texas or as President. Despite his folksy and endearing demeanor, he is a shrewd politician that does well the things that successful politicians do – many of which aren’t terribly endearing to regular folks.

Also, I think conservatives, especially religious ones, sometimes think they are the only ones that voted for Bush or that vote Republican. Perhaps we conservatives need to open our eyes and realize that the Republican Party is a big party filled with people of many different stripes. I don’t think conservatives intend to be arrogant, but since many of us are quite strong in our views, we sometimes tend to think our way of thinking is the only “right” way of thinking. (note double meaning)

Many of the disillusioned conservatives seem to be going through phase 3 of a committed relationship with Bush. They’ve been through the honeymoon and have been upset by the power struggle. Maybe after disillusionment they will reach phase 4, where they learn to accept the man, warts and all. Maybe they will realize that the President can’t realistically toe the line they set for him all of the time or even most of the time.

Then again, maybe they will turn on him and his party and either not vote or support fringe candidates. Either would be bad for the Republicans in 2006. Maybe it would be a wake-up call. But for whom?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More On Miers

Ronald Cass makes a good argument in favor of Harriet Miers and against the arguments hurled against her here. He makes a good argument for trusting the President on this nomination. Fred Barnes makes a similar, but lukewarm argument here. National Review Bench Memos disagrees here with law professor Randy Barnett's cronyism take in the WSJ OpinionJournal here. Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg explains the real reasons conservatives are unhappy with the Miers nomination here.

I maintain that as long as the President's nominee for an appointment is qualified to serve, he/she should be confirmed, regardless of my opinions about his/her personal philosophy. Many conservatives used this argument in favor of Roberts, and they can't very well say it doesn't apply to Miers.

Monday, October 03, 2005

We Need a Balanced Tug-of-War

Although some of my conservative friends think I’m nuts, I am convinced that given our two-party system, it is best for the country when both parties are strong. We need checks and balances. We need strong competitors in the tug-of-war political system established by our Founders.

I know that some argue for a multi-party system like Germany’s – like that works so great (ha, ha) – but that is a topic for another time. I see little chance of discarding the two-party system in the foreseeable future, so let’s think about what is needed to make it work well.

I have to agree with Mark Steyn’s analysis of our current situation here. “American politics seems to have dwindled down to a choice between a big government party and a big permanently-out-of-government party.” “These days one party raises a ton of money from George Soros and the other raises a ton of money from you.” Steyn laments, “The Democrats' approach to government has been Sorosized, the GOP's has been supersized. Some choice.”

The reason for this is that the Democrats have weakened themselves with their decades-long obsession with ideologies reprehensible to middle America. With the President’s poll numbers in the dumps, Democrats have been licking their chops in hopes of a Congressional takeover in ’06. But due to widespread gerrymandering, the cards are stacked against them. Nor do voters seem at all thrilled about turning the reigns over to them, as the idea-free-hate-Bush party polls out as bad as or worse than Republicans.

The experience of American politics over the last six decades shows that when one party is weak, the other party goes nuts on government spending, regardless of which party is which. It is like watching a tug-of-war between 20 brawny and 10 scrawny guys. One side gets trounced regardless of its efforts. We need well matched strength on both sides.

During the eight Clinton years Republicans became strong and forced discretional spending to be held to an overall increase of 8%. During the five W years Democrats have been weak, allowing Republicans to increase discretional spending at a whopping 37% rate, only a small portion of which is related to homeland security. Surely these excesses could eventually prove the Republican’s undoing.

Of course, this theory somewhat presupposes that the right game is being played – that we’re kept within bounds established by the rule sheet of the Constitution. And that only happens when Congress properly exercises its authority to provide constitutionally mandated checks and balances on the judicial branch, something that has been in short supply.

The Founders dreamed of a system that would make for good government. Due to Democratic weakness and legislative dereliction of judicial oversight, we are lopsided right now. The possible solutions are for the Democrats to wake up and make changes as the Republicans did after being out of power for three decades (thanks to strong leadership by the likes of Reagan), or to die off and morph into something new as the Whigs did. Either way, the sooner we get there, the better.

Miers Is No Roberts (updated 10/4/05)

While conservatives appear to be reservedly content with new Chief Justice Roberts (we’ve yet to see the guy perform his job), they are decidedly less so with Harriet Miers, the President’s nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Conner. Ken Bingham’s blog has a post dated today that is a good representation of conservative thought on the matter.

WSJ OpinionJournal editor James Taranto’s Best of the Web Today says:

Bush: I'm Just Wild About HarrietAnd Harry's wild about her! "Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid was complimentary, issuing a statement that said he likes [White House counsel and Justice-designate Harriet] Miers and adding 'the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer,' " the Associated Press reports. "Reid had personally recommended that Bush consider Miers for nomination, according to several sources familiar with the president's consultations with individual senators."

“Last Thursday Reid put out a press release titled "Democrats Demand End to Culture of Cronyism and Corruption." This week the cry of "cronyism" is being heard from conservatives unhappy that the president passed over such distinguished jurists as Edith Jones, Janice Rogers Brown, Michael McConnell and Michael Luttig to elevate his longtime colleague to the high court. Here's National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru:

It's an inspiring testament to the diversity of the president's cronies. Wearing heels is not an impediment to being a presidential crony in this administration!
David Frum calls the nomination "an unforced error" (ellipsis in original):
I worked with Harriet Miers. She's a lovely person: intelligent, honest, capable, loyal, discreet, dedicated . . . I could pile on the praise all morning. But there is no reason at all to believe either that she is a legal conservative or--and more importantly--that she has the spine and steel necessary to resist the pressures that constantly bend the American legal system toward the left.
Glenn Reynolds declares himself "underwhelmed," and that pretty well captures our feeling too. We hope we're proved wrong--but we hate it when we have to say that.”

Conservatives are right to have hoped for something better. Of course, Ms. Miers may surprise us and turn out to be a strict constructionist, as Bush says she will. At this juncture, we need to do two things.

  1. Ask whether Ms. Miers is qualified to serve. If the answer is yes, she should be confirmed (even if done without enthusiasm). Many conservatives used this same argument in support of Roberts. They cannot very well change their minds when they are unimpressed with a nominee’s ideology.

  2. Work to make sure that the President and the administration clearly understand the consequences of choices such as this one. While this may sound diabolical, it is simply application of the rules of politics. Only by exacting a political price can conservatives hope to engender more attention to their concerns by this and future Republican administrations.

Update: 10/4/05 7:15 AM:
Professor of Law Randy E. Barnett (Boston University) writing in the WSJ OpinionJournal offers a differing point of view on confirming Harriet Miers. He notes Alexander Hamilton’s strong opposition to presidential cronyism in federal appointments discussed in Federalist No. 76. Barnett says, “Apart from nominating his brother or former business partner, it is hard to see how the president could have selected someone who fit Hamilton's description any more closely.” Barnett says regardless of how otherwise qualified Ms. Miers might be, she should be disqualified because her close association with the President smacks of what Hamilton calls “the spirit of favoritism.”

Although Barnett calls for Senatorial Republicans to reject Ms. Miers on the basis of cronyism, I doubt they will even think in that direction. Perma-Hatch was on Bill Bennett’s radio show this morning touting Miers’ nomination, and does so in text on his website. Barnett tries to put this into perspective for Republicans. “Imagine the reaction of Republicans if President Clinton had nominated Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills, who had ably represented him during his impeachment proceedings, to the Supreme Court. How about Bernie Nussbaum?” That’s pretty strong medicine.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

We Don't Really Want Parents Involved In Education

We live in a world of progress. We constantly pat ourselves on the back over our society’s accomplishments and genuflect to the god of achievement. We do it in just about every facet of life and at every level in every kind of institution. Is there anything wrong with that?

But we all seem to be aware that there is an ugly side to progress. We don’t like to think about it, but we know it’s there. We know, for example that the marvel of the television regularly spews mental and moral sewage. We also know that our enlightened education system is fraught with excesses and lack of intrinsic substance.

So, in our worship of progress, perhaps we should occasionally question whether all progress is good. Steve Farrell’s insights here provide and opportunity for just such introspection.

Farrell shows how our “progress” over the last 7½ decades has fulfilled many of the aims outlined by founders of communism. He cites the following passage from the 1930 book Toward Soviet America:
“[S]tudies will be revolutionized, being cleansed of religious, patriotic and other features of the bourgeois ideology. The students will be taught on the basis of Marxian dialectical materialism, internationalism and the general ethics of the new Socialist society. Present obsolete methods of teaching will be superseded by a scientific pedagogy.”
Farrell then shows how each of these goals has been achieved, specifically through our education system. He notes that one of Marx’s main aims was to destroy the family, “Because the traditional family was the transmission belt of Christian and Capitalist values.” But how do you do this? Offer free education – sponsored by the government. No longer would families and neighborhoods set curriculum and manage the teachers. This would all be centralized so that parents would be left out of the loop. Teachers cry for parental involvement, but our system is actually designed to prevent it. The result?
“That’s where we are today. ‘Christians and Jews shut up! — All you atheists, agnostics, communists, humanists, adulterers, and abortionists — your speech is protected! Your take on religion and morality will be in the textbooks, and shouted from the house tops. Criticism of your perspective will be prosecuted as hate speech!’”
I can already sense some clamoring about the need to standardize education so that our kids can obtain the skills they need to operate in today’s competitive world. But, if our standardization is so good, why did kids 40 years ago perform better in most areas than kids do today, and at only a fraction of the real dollar cost?

Farrell points out that the NEA and Department of Education are major players in the centralization theme. He includes some interesting quotes from the NEA that illustrate the problems of the system. He contrasts this with Horace Mann’s 1941 speech to the NEA, where he said we needed “an order of teachers, wise, benevolent, [and] filled with Christian enthusiasm.”