The Weekly Standard has a new piece out, shocked! that the Obama White House is using the office of "faith-based initiatives" to mount a campaign against climate change. It quotes Jim Towey, a former director of the office, decrying the efforts.
The use of churches and congregations to advance the administration’s climate-change agenda, Towey says, “looks a lot like this is simply a political outreach initiative.” He adds: “The faith-based office was supposed to be a common-ground effort with Republicans and Democrats working to assist the poor—and that’s just long gone.”
Oh yes, it's awful to use a government-church partnership to advance a political agenda!
I'm not going to defend this. I'm just amused that Republicans, who were warned and criticized during the Bush Administration about the problems inherent in establishing church-state partnerships, are suddenly on the side of critics now that Democrats are in charge.
It's not as if politicization of the office of faith-based initiatives is new. Remember David Kuo, who served in the office when Bush launched it? He wrote a book about the experience:
Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairsdirector Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.
Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush’s 2004 Ohio victory “at least partially … to the conferences we had launched two years before.”
None of this, of course, is in the Weekly Standard story -- no hint that maybe the whole idea of a government office of "faith-based partnerships" is always problematic, prone to abuse by whoever holds the reins of power. Of course it is! But in the Standard's view, it's the Democrats who are really the bad guys. Of course.
...crazy women blasted on wine, meth, pot and downers kill people:
An Australian woman who ran down and killed a man who threw cheese-flavoured snacks at her car was jailed Thursday for 25 years.
Sydney woman Sarah May Ward intended to injure Eli Westlake for throwing the snacks at her vehicle, judge Roderick Howie told the New South Wales Supreme Court, describing the 21-year-old's murder as "a senseless act of anger."
"She clearly wanted to teach the young men a lesson," the Australian Associated Press quoted judge Howie as saying as he sentenced Ward to jail for a minimum 18 years.
The jury was told Ward, 39, had drunk two bottles of wine and used cannabis, amphetamine drugs and anti-depressants before getting into her car in Sydney's northern suburbs on June 7, 2008.
She decided impulsively to use the vehicle as a weapon after Westlake threw the snacks at her car as a joke while walking home with his brother and a group of friends.
It's a horrifying story, and I'm glad the woman is going away. Yet I cannot help but think of this.
Greg Sargent reports that Democrats are amassing "bipartisan support" for legislation aimed at limiting the Supreme Court's small but vital affirmation of free speech in Citizen's United v. FEC. "The bill that Dems are planning will have more bipartisan support than expected, a Dem leadership aide confirms," Sargent writes at the Plum Line.
How much more support? "[A] Dem leadership aide says it will be introduced tomorrow with at least one more GOP sponsor in addition to Mike Castle, though the aide wouldn’t reveal who. This will allow Dems to push back by pointing out that the measure has GOP support." So at least two moderate-to-liberal Republicans will sign on. That's nice.
And what would this bill do? "The legislation seeks to increase transparency and disclosure of political spending, including provisions forcing heads of organizations spending big money on elections to reveal their personal involvement," Sargent writes. "It also seeks to prevent foreign money from influencing elections, and ensures that recipients of Federal money — contractors, TARP recipients — can’t spend cash in elections."
Foreigners are already barred from contributing to U.S. elections, not that they don't try. Prohibiting recipients of taxpayer largesse from spending on elections has visceral appeal, especially where I'm sitting.
An earlier New York Times story notes that Democrats are indeed pushing for more disclosure: "One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said." Sounds like fun.
Disclosure is controversial, of course. I tend to favor more disclosure rather than less in conjunction with fewer limits on who can give what to whom. Politics is a public business, after all. Here's what I wrote in the Scripps-Howard column in September:
The cure for campaign finance reform is fewer rules, not more. There should be little or no restriction on money in politics. There should be no limits on what a candidate can raise and spend. Political parties, corporations, unions... let them all in. The only exception should be for foreign contributions.
Transparency and instant Internet disclosure make most of the old objections and warnings about quid pro quo corruption irrelevant. If a political candidate receives the financial aid of large corporations, and public knows about it, then the question of undue influence falls to the voters to resolve. As it should be.
I realize, of course, there are strong arguments against more government-mandated disclosure rules. As Bradley Smith, the former federal elections commissioner, argued recently in City Journal: "Disclosure has resulted in government-enabled invasions of privacy—and sometimes outright harassment—and it has added to a political climate in which candidates are judged by their funders rather than their ideas." Justice Thomas dissented from part of the majority in Citizens United on that very basis.
We'll see what other odious provisions appear in the new legislation. I'm sure there will be plenty of nasty surprises. Congress has a rather elastic reading of the First Amendment. It says "make no law," ladies and gentlemen. "Make NO law."
(Cross-posted at Freedom Pub.)
"Murrieta police spent hours Monday night searching for a man who lost his pants in a bizarre botched carjacking, but the half-naked fugitive escaped capture, authorities said," reports Sarah Burge in the mighty Press-Enterprise.
I know what you're thinking: Aren't pants-less carjackers a dime-a-dozen in Southern California? Believe it or not, no. But the story probably wouldn't be worth sharing if not for this glimmering nugget of detail:
About 8 p.m., a passer-by flagged down officers to report a pants-less man running through a field. A police bloodhound sniffed out a pair of bloody boxer shorts that officers suspect the would-be carjacker snagged scaling a fence.
Hundreds of Sunni men disappeared for months into a secret Baghdad prison under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's military office, where many were routinely tortured until the country's Human Rights Ministry gained access to the facility, Iraqi officials say.
The alleged brutal treatment of prisoners at the facility raised concerns that the country could drift back to its authoritarian past.
It increasingly looks like the United States traded one human-rights abusing no-WMD strongman for another in Iraq. Only this one is beholden to Iran. As bad as the war has been, it might be years or decades yet before we know the true magnitude of the disaster we unleashed.
After a hiatus, the podcast returns at the tail-end of tax season and tea party mania. Ben Boychuk and Robb Leatherwood last month interviewed John O'Hara, author of A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes. We very much wanted to post this sooner, but paying work got in the way. Our apologies to O'Hara, who gave a great interview here.
Among the questions we explore:
• Who's running these tea parties?
• Are the tea parties really creatures of the Republican Party?
• Is there a coherent tea party platform?
• Aren't tea parties really just astroturf?
• Can the tea party movement move beyond street protests to shape political reform?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Anarchy X," Queensryche
• "Gun Battle," (From the "Billy the Kid" Ballet Suite), Aaron Copland/London Symphony Orchestra
• "New Avengers-Raw Deal Mix," Snowboy
• "Tax Free," Jimi Hendrix
• "Traitors (Verräter)," Peter Thomas
• "Always Tomorrow," The Shazam
• "Eyes of a Stranger," Queensryche
From today's New York Times' poll on the Tea Party movement:
They do not want a third party and say they usually or almost always vote Republican. The percentage holding a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, at 57 percent, almost exactly matches the percentage in the general public that holds an unfavorable view of him.
When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.
But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”
There are undoubtedly many sincere small government conservatives among the Tea Partiers. But it appears that many hate Big Gubmint, except when it benefits them. And the fact that the majority still love George W. Bush -- he of the Medicare drug benefit, the original bank bailout and the early stages of the car company bailout -- suggests that (for the movement as a whole) what really makes them mad are not violations of principle, but the fact that a Democrat is president.
My friend and colleague, Zack Christenson, has produced a great video for The Heartland Institute about the Tea Party movement. Not only is it packed with historical references, it's also very well-produced.
I have two -- count 'em, two! -- op-eds in two -- count 'em, two! -- newspapers on Friday on massively important subject of education reform.
The Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register kindly published my commentary on a bill by Illinois State Senator James Meeks that would establish as pilot voucher program in Chicago. Meeks may seem an unlikely champion of school choice, but it turns out this pastor of the largest black church in Chicago's South Side understands that liberating school kids from the status quo is more important than milking contributions from the teachers union:
School choice has been proven to empower parents, help children excel, narrow the achievement gap among poor and minority students, and save taxpayers money. Yet teachers unions, education bureaucrats and their patrons from the White House on down oppose any reform they cannot stifle with red tape and regulation.
But they cannot kill school choice. Against the odds, choice keeps coming back, in the unlikeliest of places.
A voucher program is one step closer to reality in President Barack Obama’s own home state, despite fierce opposition from the powerful Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Meantime, the Sacramento Bee on Friday publishes my take on the first round of Race to the Top funding. I've written about Race to the Top for the Bee in the past. As it turns out, the program is quite a bit lamer -- and more insidious -- than I initially had thought:
Race to the Top was always too good to be true. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan sold the $4.35 billion stimulus program as education reform’s 21st century “moon shot.” But as this week’s announcement of the first two state grant recipients shows, it’s just another expensive sop to the education establishment, no less beholden to politics and bound by bureaucratic red tape.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia made the list of finalists, but only two applicants—Delaware and Tennessee—made the grade. Delaware will receive about $100 million and Tennessee about $500 million to put their comprehensive school reform plans into practice over the next four years.
Cash-strapped states passed over in the first round are scrambling for a piece of the remaining $3.4 billion in Race cash. Any state that lost out should take a close look at not simply what plans passed muster with the Education Department but why those plans succeeded.
Turns out, those plans succeeded by compromising with the unions. More innovative plans that did not win union support did not win...period. The union often wins, though events in Illinois suggest the public is not with the union at all. We'll see.
Joel's computer has been a bit balky today — lots of mysterious viruses, strange things showing up on his screen, and whatnot — but he urged me to relate this big news to the Monkey Community. In fact, it's big news for the both of us. Joel was hesitant to post this himself, but I think it's too important to keep secret anymore.
I repeat Joel's proposed announcement verbatim — that he emailed to me earlier today — whether he likes it, or not:
As many of us have heard, Dr. Zaius will soon be leaving the sunny hills of Southern California to be Communications Director of The Heartland Institute in Chicago. And, out of the goodness of his heart, Jim has agreed that this jobless bloke could use a "hand up." So, beginning in July, I will take my place at the Good Doc's right hand, as Assistant Communications Director of the free-market, libertarian think tank.
The job requires that I leave behind the political viewpoints I have long defended around here, but desperate times require desperate measures. And since Jim had long assured me that many libertarian Heartlanders were against the War in Iraq and Bush's power-grab in the War on Terror, I should be a pretty decent fit.
So, goodbye liberalism! Nice knowin' ya. But duty to family, my career — and a nice paycheck — calls.
P.S. That means you're on your own, Khabalox. Sorry.
I'm sure we all would like to congratulate Joel. But let me be the first to do it here at Infinite Monkeys.
(The official announcement, is here.)
Although I mailed back the form a couple of weeks ago, today is technically Census Day. Stories about low response rates might have been premature, especially if people read the form literally and waited until today before actually filling it out. But I somehow doubt it.
I've been half-listening to talk radio this afternoon. Michael Medved spent about an hour taking calls from people who refuse to answer the form. There is a word for these people (and if you are one of them, I do not apologize for this): Morons.
Listen, conservatives. The census is in the Constitution. It's an original duty of citizenship. Either you're a constitutionalist, or you aren't. This isn't a game.
There is a political angle to the Census, too. Never mind those insulting ads about making sure everyone gets their goodies. Conservatives who resist filling out the form are helping Democrats gerrymander congressional districts in their favor for the next decade. As Ed Morrissey points out:
I’m always a little suspicious of questionnaires on ethnicity, but the Census has a Constitutional mandate — and it has far-reaching consequences. People in states where conservatives outstrip liberals could be committing political suicide if a boycott effort results in shortchanging those states in Congressional representation to the benefit of states like California, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts. It seems better to ensure that an accurate count gets taken by a concerted effort to count conservatives than the results a boycott or a “slowcott” would produce.
Fill the damned thing out, as the Constitution requires, or be content to languish in the minority for years to come. Your call.
That's the headline on this week's Scripps-Howard column by Joel and yours truly, in which we tackle the Obama administration's announcement this week of plans to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling -- with some crucial caveats, of course.
My take, briefly:
Fact is, the United States is going to be a petroleum-based economy for some time to come. Rather than rely on volatile supplies from increasingly hostile regimes, Obama should open the Outer Continental Shelf -- and Alaska and California, for that matter -- for American firms to explore and use until better, cleaner and greener technologies are ready to for the market.
Joel's take, briefly:
Politics aside, there's a real danger here: Nobody believes that the world oil supply will last forever. Offshore drilling can be useful only if we intentionally use it as a bridge to our low-carbon alternative-energy future. It should only proceed on that basis. Otherwise, Obama might just be the next in a long line of presidents who deepened our unsustainable addiction to oil, even while deploring it all the way.
Why not read the whole thing and share your take?
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.
The ruling by Judge Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, also rejected the Justice Department’s claim — first asserted by the Bush administration and continued under President Obama — that the charity’s lawsuit should be dismissed without a ruling on the merits because allowing it to go forward could reveal state secrets.
The judge characterized that expansive use of the so-called state-secrets privilege as amounting to “unfettered executive-branch discretion” that had “obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.”
In 2008, Congress overhauled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to bring federal statutes into closer alignment with what the Bush administration had been secretly doing. The legislation essentially legalized certain aspects of the warrantless surveillance program.
But the overhauled law still requires the government to obtain a warrant if it is focusing on an individual or entity inside the United States. The surveillance of Al Haramain would still be unlawful today if no court had approved it, current and former Justice Department officials said.
God bless activist judges. You know: the ones who uphold the rule of law.
According to Obama, the movement is a "loose amalgam" whose "core" consists of "folks who just weren't sure whether I was born in the United States, whether I was a socialist." Around that core, the president acknowledges, is a "broader circle of people, who are legitimately concerned about the deficit, who are legitimately concerned that the federal government may be taking on too much."
Paul Mirengoff doesn't have much nice to say about Obama's analysis, but he fails to say that Obama has it exactly backwards.
The Tea Party is, at is "core," peopled by Americans who "are legitimately concerned about the deficit" and are "legitimately concerned that the federal government may be taking on too much." Around that core, at the exterior fringes, are the "birthers" — though closer in are people who have good reason to believe his history and policy proposals reveal a socialist at heart. Give Obama points for the cleverness in linking them together, delegitimizing discussion of the political philosophy of the empty vessel we elected president.
As Mirengoff notes, Obama's perception of the Tea Party movement as a tiny, insignificant bunch of unhinged crazies is not an informed opinion — but one that "stems from the same condescending a priori leftist narrative" reflected in his "famous comment that working-class voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest" are a bunch of Bible-thumping, gun-hugging simpletons ... more or less.
There's no penalty for me, or the public, supposing Obama dismissively thinks of non-elites on the coast in this fashion. But I reckon there will be a political penalty for Obama thinking what he thinks about the Tea Party folks. Ignorance in politics is not bliss.
I expect this essay in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal will have people animated. Here's the crux:
A historic figure making history, this is emerging as an over-arching theme—if not obsession—in the Obama presidency. In Iowa, a day after signing health care into law, he put himself into competition with history. If history shapes men, "We still have the power to shape history." But this adds up to one thing: He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history. And, oddly, he may be a more effective liberal precisely because his liberalism is something he uses more than he believes in. As the far left constantly reminds us, he is not really a true believer. Rather liberalism is his ticket to grandiosity and to historical significance.
Of the two great societal goals—freedom and "the good"—freedom requires a conservatism, a discipline of principles over the good, limited government, and so on. No way to grandiosity here. But today's liberalism is focused on "the good" more than on freedom. And ideas of "the good" are often a license to transgress democratic principles in order to reach social justice or to achieve more equality or to lessen suffering. The great political advantage of modern liberalism is its offer of license on the one hand and moral innocence—if not superiority—on the other. Liberalism lets you force people to buy health insurance and feel morally superior as you do it. Power and innocence at the same time.
It's not just about Obama, then. It's about what Obama's America will look like after the man is out of office. Is freedom really in tension with the "good" society? Or is this a narrow understanding of what is "good" and just?
I'm trying not to use more than my share of valuable Infinite Monkeys bandwidth, so I invite you over to my place for a discussion of Lamar Alexander and his belief that the new student loan law makes America more like the Soviet Union. My question:
Why can't Republicans criticize Barack Obama without invoking the Soviet Union at nearly every turn? They do understand the difference between nationalizing all private industry with an accompanying program of killing/jailing/exiling everybody who disagrees and changing the method by which U.S. government money gets to students, don't they?
My conclusion: Lamar Alexander -- like a lot of people who invoke the USSR in these arguments -- is either a liar or supremely stupid.
My knee jerked a little bit this morning when I read in the New York Times that members of the Hutaree "Christian militia" are being charged, among other offenses, with sedition. My reading of American history is that sedition charges -- usually "seditious libel" charges -- have been brought here mainly in cases where the government sought to punish dissent rather than any real attempt to bring down the government.
Still, if you define "sedition" as the "stirring up of rebellion against the government in power," then the Hutaree -- if you believe the federal government's allegations -- seem to fit it. In the charge of "seditious conspiracy," the government says the Hutaree
did knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to levy war against the United States, to oppose by force the authority of the Government of the United States, and to prevent, hinder, and delay by force any execution of United States law.
These allegation have to be proven, of course. But if true, they do seem to fit the definition.
So why does this seem so ... weird?
I think it's because the term "sedition" does have such a fraught history in this country, used mainly (it seems to me) to punish anti-war dissenters and mostly harmless leftists than genuine revolutionaries. "Sedition" has been a means of punishing thought crimes in this country, in other words.
And it's something that presidents and prosecutors have, in recent decades, seemed to avoid: My quick Google research can find no record of sedition or seditious libel charges for at least a half-century in this country. (UPDATE: Ben points out it's merely been 20 years since there's been a seditious conspiracy charge in this country. Still: That's fairly rare.) That's been true even through the attacks on Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center, and even as Americans like Jose Padilla, John Walker Lind and Adam Gadahn have taken up arms in the service of American enemies.
It seems, at first blush, that the "sedition" label might well fit the Hutaree. But given the history, it still makes me a little bit uncomfortable. And it frankly presents a bit of a challenge to the Obama Administration: It is, politically, continually fighting charges of "tyranny" from the right. Accurately deploying a "sedition" charge does not make Obama a tyrant -- but it will surely make it easier for the righty fringe to portrary him as one.
One thing's for sure, the controversial former Republican Congressman from California who wants to get back to the House sure ain't riding a mule. The latest radio spot from Richard Pombo, seeking to replace retiring GOP Rep. George Radanovich in California's 19th Congressional District, is one feisty ad.
Yet it's hard not to (1) admire that radio spot of his, and (2) support his staunch property-rights stance — which includes ending the senseless man-made drought in California's Central Valley. Federal policies have turned off the irrigation spigots to protect a tiny fish that may not warrant such dramatic intervention to survive. The resulting loss of jobs has helped the unemployment rate in some Valley communities rise as high as 40 percent.
The title of this series is a work-in-progress. Perhaps intended consequences is better. Or predicted consequences. We might have to work on that, because President Obama and Congress are quickly proving to be either charlatans or fools (and it's just as likely they are both.)
As I noted here Wednesday, the negative reaction of the private sector to the schemes of the America's new health care central planners did not take long to materialize. In fact, reacting to Verizon's notice to employees that the regulatory and tax burdens of ObamaCare will result in a decrease in benefits due to increased corporate costs, I wrote:
[This] story will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months.
"Months" is turning out to be a slow-walk prediction. According to Bloomberg News, AT&T "will book $1 billion in first-quarter costs related to the health-care law signed this week by President Barack Obama."
American industry giants John Deere ($150 million), Caterpillar Inc. ($100 million), AK Steel Holding Corp. ($31 million), Valero Energy (up to $20 million), and 3M Co.($90 million) have also come out with their legally mandated earnings and costs estimates, and they ain't pretty. Overall, consulting firm Towers Watson estimates health-care costs may shave as much as $14 billion from U.S. corporate profits. Based only on AT&T's estimate — and the fact that corporations try to give the sunniest "negative" numbers legally possible to stockholders and the Securities Exchange Commission — I'm guessing Towers Watson will be upping that estimate down the line.
Why all the gloom and doom? Well, the corporate tax increases are one reason. Another, especially for Verizon and AT&T, is that the tax break those corporations got for crafting their own prescription drug plans for retirees was immediately eliminated in ObamaCare. So, without that tax break to the eeeeeviiiil corporations, they'll have to dump those folks into the inferior government-backed Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Multiply those actions by AT&T and Verizon by thousands and we'll get a "donut hole" blown through the rigged and sunny CBO ObamaCare cost projections. Why?
The Employee Benefit Research Institute notes that the tax break would have "cost" taxpayers $665 per person next year, but dumping them into Medicare will cost $1,209 per person. Nice going. This is what happens when you don't read the bill, or — more to the point — don't care what's in it as long as it centralizes government power.
This was all predicted by ObamaCare opponents, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — most prominently at Obama's ballyhooed "Health Care Summit" a while back. Ryan said the cost curve would not bend downward, but upward. Obama blew him off. Reality now laughs in the president's face, and it's not at all funny.
But now Congressional Democrats are childishly stamping their feet. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has fired off a nasty letter to those companies. He's demanding they appear before his committee on April 21 to answer for answering to fiscal reality. The legal obligation of these companies to immediately and publicly estimate the fiscal impact of new legislation, Waxman says, "appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs."
"The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers from leading U.S. companies, asserted in November 2009 that health care reform could reduce predicted health insurance cost trends for businesses by more than $3,000 per employee over the next 10 years," Waxman wrote.
That's the thing about "independent analyses." They are hard to control. As Bruce McQuain notes at the libertarian Q&O blog:
You’ve got to love it – Waxman’s strongest case is an association comprised of some CEOs who “asserted” – got that? “asserted” – that health care reform “could” – again, “could” – reduce cost trends.
In other words, instead of actually doing the work of checking with authoratative sources that could have actually run the numbers and vetted the requirements of the law, he, Waxman, went with the assertions of a bunch of CEOs because they said what he wanted them to say. Reminds you a bit of the IPCC, doesn’t it?
Actually, it reminds me of government bullying — the kind the left decries as McCarthyism. Waxman is going to haul these CEOs before his committee and berate them for telling the fiduciary truth they are required by law to tell. He'll be, in essence, bullying them to lie about what the real-world impacts of ObamaCare will be on American companies — and, naturally, the Americans who work for those companies ... otherwise known as us.
What Waxman will actually be doing, however, is highlighting the kind of fraudulent and fantastical accounting that only government can get away with. How dare these corporations defy the word of Obama and Pelosi and Reid and Waxman that the laws of economics are what the government says they are! If we say ObamaCare will reduce costs, they will. THEY WILL!!!! Who are you to say different?! And I'm going to use the power of government to set you straight.
Awesome. This is today's America: The private sector dragged before Congress and berated to agree they believe in the Tooth Fairy.
I'd love one of those CEOs to ask Waxman what color is the unicorn he rides to work each day. I'll settle for: "Have you no sense of decency, sir."
It is difficult not to stand in awe -- and a little envy -- of Garry Wills. His casual brilliance has made him one of the more prolific writers and thinkers of the age, and his thinking has been supple enough to carry him from an early alliance with William F. Buckley to an esoteric ideology that still seems to call itself "conservatism" while finding itself most comfortable on the pages of the lefty New York Review of Books. He's the kind of guy who appears capable of tossing off a 250-page book between lunch and dinner, while the rest of us are struggling to compose coherent blog posts in a comparable amount of time.
His new book, Bomb Power, reads a little bit like that -- a 250-page blog post. Wills makes the case that the advent of the Atomic Age also ushered in an era of presidential overreach: that Harry Truman used the prerogatives of the bomb to assert unconstitutional powers (in warmaking, foreign policy and even domestic policy) and to shield his efforts from congressional and judicial oversight; that every president since then (with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter) has tried to expand on that unconstitutional foundation.
At its best, Bomb Power serves as an overview of 65 years of expanding presidential power. But Wills doesn't really pursue his own thesis with much zeal: we see the advent of the bomb at the beginning of the book, and the rise of some institutions to govern its production and use. Wills, though, doesn't do much to make the connection to the overreach he describes thereafter: Korea, the Bay of Pigs and the Gulf of Tonkin all the way up to Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.
And his argument is made more difficult by a lack of context. Except for some brief references to Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln, we're not given much of a lesson in how executive power was wielded prior to World War II -- only told that the legislative branch was given more primacy than it currently exercises.. And in critiquing the unconstitutional nature of the postwar rise of the Cold War national security state, Wills doesn't bother to discuss whether the measures taken in the name of anti-Soviet national security might've been, you know, useful. This book, in other words, is written for people who already agree with Wills' point-of-view on such matters.
Wills finally peters out with a single paragraph looking to the future. "Some of us entertain a fondness for the quaint old Constitution," he writes. "It may be too late to return to its ideals, but the effort should be made."
As it happens, I'm pretty sympathetic to Wills' perspective. This book, however, felt like an appetizer for some other, longer and better-argued work of history.
You must obey an order -- no matter how trivial -- by a police officer, or face
electrocution a serious shock (see update, below) or other bodily harm, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Friday. Or, as James Joyner of Outside the Beltway put it, "The 9th Circuit ruled yesterday that police can Taser pregnant women posing no risk so long as judges can concoct an implausible risk years later."
Clearly, they can give you a robe and a gavel, but they can't give you good judgment, either.
This outrageous decision stems from a 2004 traffic stop in Seattle. Malaika Brooks was driving her son to school when she was stopped by officers for doing 32 mph in a 25 mph school zone. Brooks told officers the car in front of her was speeding, so she refused to sign the ticket for fear of admitting guilt.
That's where it got interesting. The officers could have given her the ticket or let her go. Or they could have arrested her. They went with the latter. She told the police she was pregnant and refused to get out of the car. They threatened her with the Taser. She remained still.
The officers—Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones—then zapped her three times, in the thigh, shoulder and neck, and dragged her out of the car, placing the pregnant woman face-down in the street.
Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby a couple of months later. But the mother has scars. Brooks sued, alleging the officers violated her constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones allowed the case to continue. He declined to grant the officers immunity for performing their official duties and said Brooks' rights were clearly violated. Friday's decision overturned the trial court's ruling.
Here is the 9th Circuit's rationale. Read it and weep:
Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall [Reagan appointee] and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain [Reagan appointee] held that the officers were justified in making an arrest because Brooks was obstructing them and resisting arrest.
The use of force was also justified because of the threat Brooks posed, Hall wrote: "It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment's notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation."
They also noted that the force used wasn't that serious because the Taser was in "touch" mode rather than "dart" mode, which hurts more. They reversed the lower court's opinion and held that the officers were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit.
The officers' lawyers, Ted Buck and Karen Cobb, said the officers made the right decision under the circumstances they faced.
"Police officers have to have the ability to compel people to obey their lawful orders," Buck said. That's all the court recognized today. The 9th Circuit just applied the law instead of getting caught up in the otherwise unfortunate factual circumstances."
Judge Marsha Berzon, a very liberal Bill Clinton appointee and the one dissenter, called the decision "off the wall."
"I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense," she wrote in her dissent.
Berzon pointed out that under Washington law, the police had no authority to take Brooks into custody: Failure to sign a traffic infraction is not punishable by arrest, as it turns out, and it isn't illegal to resist an unlawful arrest.
Berzon also noted in her dissent that to obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer's official duties, "and the officers' only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation and give it to her. Brooks' failure to sign did not interfere with those duties."
It's rare that I find myself agreeing with the liberal side of the 9th Circuit, but this is one of those cases where the default "conservative" position on the supposed side of "law-and-order" is not justified. This is an sickening decision that grants far too much deference to police, promotes the us-vs.-them mentality pervasive in far too many law enforcement agencies, and may endanger police officers and members of the public alike.
"Judges have been, for going on four decades now, loathe to second guess police officers and the principle of Terry v. Ohio, that officers have a right to briefly violate the Constitution if they are scared (I paraphrase) has been stretched beyond belief," Joyner writes. "Judges and other public officials, not unreasonably, want to give officers a wide berth because their jobs are indeed dangerous and the prospect having their instincts questioned ex post in the calm light of day might make them take excessive risks."
But, as Joyner notes, this is a clear cut case -- not of some 200-pound crackhead on a rampage, but of three big cops domineering a pregnant mom.
"Yes, her refusal to sign a ticket after being told (and it being printed on the ticket) that signing is merely acknowledgment of receipt and not an admission of guilt, is annoying," Joyner writes. "But, clearly, this was a case of officers frustrated that a citizen dared question their authoritay, not an overreaction to reasonable peril."
It's a sure bet that decisions such as this one will in no way diminish confrontations between police and civilians. People don't like to be treated as subjects.
I would reiterate a point I made in an earlier post: I hope this decision doesn’t lend credence to the effort to ban law enforcement from using Tasers altogether. I don’t dispute for a moment that police have abused Tasers. But what would these dumb cops have done to Malaika Brooks if all they had were nightsticks, pepperspray and guns?
Joel sent me this story by way of a link from Digby's Hullabaloo. She was doing great, until she threw this elbow at the end:
BTW: where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else's right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.
Update: Eric at Classical Values shares the outrage about the case, while he admonishes and corrects:
What I do not agree with is (Digby's) ridiculous attempt to scold libertarians:
...where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else's right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.
That is such a crock. I've lost track of the number of posts I've written complaining about police abuses, and I'm not even going to dignify his argument by supplying links.
As to the "right not be be electrocuted" he does not know what the word means. This woman was tasered. Shocked with electricity. Stunned, not killed.
The word "electrocute" is not complicated, and I think most people know that it means killed:
1. to kill as a result of an electric shock
2. (Law) US to execute in the electric chair
[from electro- + (exe)cute]
So, while I believe that people do have a "right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket," that is not what happened here.
I don't know what is more shocking: the underlying story itself or its mischaracterization and gratuitous smear of libertarians as people who "fail to care about the constitution [except] when it comes to taxes and guns."
I'm going to stick my neck out here and venture that if there is a "right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket," then it follows that libertarians also have a right not to be electrocuted for allegedly remaining silent about a police outrage they might not have known about -- mainly because it was only reported yesterday.
I'm shocked! Stunned!
But I'm about as surprised as I am electrocuted.
Good point on electrocution. I should have been more careful.
This week's RedBlueAmerica column for Scripps-Howard delves into the question we've argued here at great length. (For the record, I don't particularly care for the headline, but neither Joel nor I have the last word on those matters.)
Here's Joel's take, in brief:
Many conservatives are no doubt sincere, if a bit hysterical, when they warn that the health reform law impedes the liberty of Americans. But they're working from a curiously abstract notion of "freedom." They believe that a larger government inevitably leads to a less-free citizenry -- and they can, in many cases, be correct. The new law, however, will liberate millions of Americans from the threat of illness and bankruptcy that makes them less able to escape debt, leave bad jobs or start new businesses.
If the Congress can command Americans to buy health insurance -- making insurance a condition of citizenship, equivalent to registering for Selective Service -- then there is nothing the government cannot command or restrict. Whatever one thinks of the draft, which the United States ended four decades ago, at least national defense is a clear, enumerated constitutional duty of government. Providing access to health care is not.
The bill Congress passed and President Obama signed on March 23 undercuts Americans' freedoms in other ways, both overt and insidious.
Turns out, this is a running theme among the commentariat this week.
Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times:
In September, Obama got into a semantic argument with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who noted that requiring all Americans to pay premiums for a government-guaranteed service sounds an awful lot like a tax. "No. That's not true, George," Obama said. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is . . . that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you." Stephanopoulos invoked a dictionary definition of a tax: "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes." Obama laughed off the idea that a dictionary might outrank him as the final arbiter of a word's meaning.
"George, the fact that you looked up . . . the definition of tax increase indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition."
OK, put aside your dictionaries. The legislation allocates $10 billion to pay for 16,500 IRS agents who will collect and enforce mandatory "premiums." Does that sound like the private sector at work to you?
David Harsanyi in the Denver Post:
Surely it is inarguable that the debate over a national mandate epitomizes the central ideological divide in the country today.
In broad terms, there is one side that believes liberty can be subverted for the collective good because government often makes more efficient and more moral choices.
Then there is the other side, which believes that people who believe such twaddle are seditious pinkos.
And judging from nearly every poll, the majority of Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama and his defining legislation. Whether they understand the mugging of freedoms in legal terms or in intellectual terms or only in intuitive ones doesn't matter.
Richard M. Esenberg, professor of law at Marquette University, explained the consequences of Obamacare like this: "If Congress can require you to buy health insurance because of the ways in which your uncovered existence (affects) interstate commerce or because it can tax you in an effort to force you to do (any) old thing it wants you to, it is hard to see what -- save some other constitutional restriction -- it cannot require you to do -- or prohibit you from doing."
Andrew Busch at the Ashbrook Center:
The leftist infatuation with Ben Franklin is abruptly over. Franklin’s warning that "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"—quoted incessantly during the war on terror, back when there was one—has been conveniently forgotten. Apparently, the security of the nation against foreign attack is not sufficient reason to forego the "essential liberty" of affording habeas corpus to paramilitary forces engaged in war against the United States, but to degrade the liberty of the whole people, which is assaulted in a myriad of ways by Obamacare, is acceptable (even commendable) when the prize is the security of government-subsidized band-aids for people with incomes four times the poverty level.
Suffice to say, I'm pessimistic.
"King of the World" director James Cameron is holding a grudge over Glenn Beck making a joke about him when Beck had a show over on the unwatched CNN Headline News network three years ago. Beck said the man who foisted "Titanic" on the world — especially Celine Dion's awful "My Heart Will Go On" upon the culture — must be at least in the running for election to become the Anti-Christ.
It was a joke. Did I mention it was three years ago?
But, apparently, a mantle full of Oscars and a few billion dollars worth of box office receipts can't heal the wounds Beck inflicted — in jest. Cameron unleashed a profanity-laced tirade Tuesday against Beck, and even The Hollywood Reporter is too dense, biased, or lazy to correctly place the easily discerned reason for Beck's "offensive" quote. Hint: It has nothing to do with Cameron's 2007 documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," which (1) no one has heard of, (2) didn't air until March of 2007, and (3) aired after Beck's comments of February 26, 2007.
We'll let the rest of the story be filled in by Beck's reaction to the flap on his show Wednesday night:
Why is James Cameron so certain he'd come out on top in a gunfight against a "global warming denier?" I think maybe he has been seen too many movies and thinks of himself as Gary Cooper.
The Obama administration has set back relations with Israel to perhaps its lowest point in decades. Go to Commentary's Contentions blog, read for 30 minutes, hit "Previous Entries," repeat as necessary, and Google some other stuff for details. (This is an Instamonkey post. Get your own damned backstory! But I need to provide just a bit ...)
Jackson Diehl at The Washington Post describes the Obama policy towards Israel as appearing "ideological" and "vindictive." Proof: Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has had to bascially sneak in and out of town for meetings with the president. No joint press conference. No public, quickie sit-down in front of the Oval Office fireplace, as is the minimal standard for other world leaders calling on the White House. No post-meeting statement. Even news photographers were banned. If we get any images at all (unlikely), they'll be ones taken by White House staff.
Jackson is not happy, and in his must-read piece, I was taken aback by this bit:
Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length.
At this point, I think the leader of America's most vital ally in the Middle East wishes he could get Obama's brand of "arms length" treatment toward a Third World dictator who is not "needed for strategic reasons."
Isn't there just something wrong with the fact that Obama has no qualms about yukking it up with the likes of Chavez, but doesn't seem to have time to display even routine public respect and decorum with allies like Israel and Great Britain? As Diehl says: "That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to."
And not favorably toward America's interests.
Asked if insurance companies might raise their rates on health coverage and blame the increases on the new health-care bill, Pelosi said that the insurance companies should be aware that they’re not “automatically included” in the new health exchanges the bill creates.
“Unless they do the right thing, they’re not going in,” she said. “They will be relinquishing the possibility of having taxpayer-subsidized consumers in the exchange,” she said.
But don't let anyone spread lies about how ObamaCare is a government take-over of the health care industry. No sir.
What if an insurance company has to raise rates but doesn't blame it on the new health care bill? Does that qualify as doing the "right thing"? Even if the rate increases are due to the health care bill, as the Congressional Budget Office said? Is an insurance company on Pelosi's black list merely for raising rates to cover rising costs? Or is it only put in exile if it dares to tell the truth about why its costs are rising? The fact that this is now a legitimate public policy question is rather depressing.
In related news, Verizon just today sent a memo out to its employees saying its analysis of the plan means its insurance rates will go up, so it will probably have to start cutting benefits in the near future. That story will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months. So much for Obama's promises that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it."
More from Dionne's post:
Under the new law, the health exchanges Pelosi referred to will be created in 2014. By pulling customers together, they will give individuals and companies a better chance of bargaining when they buy health insurance. Because the exchanges are expected to serve millions of new customers, insurance companies will want to be part of them.
That's a pretty loose use of the word "want." More accurately, the insurance companies will be have to dance to Pelosi's tune or go out of business — and I'm betting on both happening. To hell with economic forces! Washington will dictate how much health care costs in this country now. I'm betting on that plan not working out so well, either. I'd rather not win that bet, but I have the history of the failure of centrally planned economics on my side.
Richard Adams makes a very good point at NoLeftTurns:
Every bill has unintended consequences. That does not mean one can't predict what that are likely to be, if one pays attention. People don't like being told what to do, and will, if possible try to find ways to avoid laws.
He goes on to suggest what one such predictable consequence might be. Who says nationalizing health care won't be good for the economy? It just depends on what sector of the economy you're talking about...
I have a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal today, taking issue with Karl Rove's column last week on the merits of No Child Left Behind. Needless to say, I'm expecting an exploding "turd blossom" to be sitting on my doorstep any day now.
My boss Sam Karnick, from his perch at The American Culture, examines the cultural implications of health care reform. They aren't pretty:
(A) public without a strong understanding of what individual freedom really means and the reasons why it is precious has little defense against the ever-increasing encroachments of government—until something as obviously grotesque, wrongheaded, and overweening as this health care bill comes along.
That’s what makes this fundamentally an issue of culture, and it’s why those stubborn souls who persist in believing in individual rights must engage the culture, especially by wresting control of the public schools from the hands of the progressive myrmidons who have debauched it.
...(I)t’s clear that the real concern was that the option of personal choice was being taken away from individual citizens in this vital area of life. The power to control people’s health care, in addition to the hegemony over the one-sixth of the economy which it represents, conveys to the government an enormous amount of control over individual lives, a level of control surely unprecedented in this nation.
This is not regulation; it is rule. And the public finally realized that the current government does not intend to be gentle in its rule.
I don't really have much to add, except to say that the health care reform debate casts in stark relief, perhaps more than most people would like to admit, how there really are two Americas -- one that believes in the relative benevolence of the state and one that believes in its relative malevolence. One needn't be an anarchist to hold the view that the size of the state is inversely proportional to the size of the citizen. Bigger state, smaller citizens. Bigger machine, smaller cogs.
The legal challenges to ObamaCare are sure to come, on many grounds. It is not wise for opponents of this monstrous usurpation of liberty to get their hopes up — though I find it interesting that the list of state Attorneys General lining up to challenge the mandate to purchase health insurance continues to rise.
However, Ed Morrissey over at HotAir has unearthed an interesting memo that the sacrosanct Congressional Budget Office issued in 1994, the last time government-run health care was a hot political topic:
A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.
Federal mandates typically apply to people as parties to economic transactions, rather than as members of society. For example, the section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires restaurants to make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities applies to people who own restaurants. The Federal Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from paying less than the federal minimum wage. This prohibition pertains to individuals who employ others. Federal environmental statutes and regulations that require firms to meet pollution control standards and use specific technologies apply to companies that engage in specific lines of business or use particular production processes. Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law.
Note the CBO said a mandate on conditions of citizenship, such as what ObamaCare would impose, are "extremely rare," not unprecedented. Yet other than Selective Service registration, the CBO cites no other examples. If they are so rare, one would also think them memorable, and perhaps another example or two would have come up in the evaluation. Interesting. And, of course, one difference between the Selective Service registration and the forced purchase of health insurance is that the former is cost-free.
Yes, I've anticipated the argument that American citizens are forced to pay income taxes — with the targets of the tax and the amount dictated by ever-changing statute. And I'm sure that will be a counter-argument we'll hear in court from ObamaCare defenders. But one may note that the income tax itself was not instituted by mere statute, but by a constitutional amendment. So the people, in a manner enormously more difficult than the way ObamaCare was rammed through, approvingly validated the income tax by making submission to the tax a constitutional requirement of citizenship.
Alas, that was a different time, when even the progressives understood that epochal proposals remaking America and the relationship between the citizen and the state required overwhelming public validation. Today's progressives are of a different breed.
(HT: Daniel Foster)