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Archive for March, 2010

A few random observations of the week so far

In response to the subway bombings in Moscow the White House issued a statement on Monday in which the president said the American people stand united with the people of Russia in opposition to violent extremism and “heinous” terrorist attacks. Consequently,  the DHS, in the persona of the FBI, arrested nine Christians in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

In a move reminiscent of Hilary Clinton’s “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” President Barack Obama says he believes the Tea Party is built around a “core group” of people who question whether he is a U.S. citizen. Obama said he feels “there’s still going to be a group at their core that question my legitimacy.” Now, I’m not a law professor or Harvard graduate, deo gratias, but it doesn’t take a genius to point out the obvious. Show us the birth certificate you so adamantly refuse to release. One can’t hide all one’s records from scrutiny and then complain that there are some who question one’s legitimacy.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the individual mandate portion of Obamacare. The left’s spin on this is that Bush and McCain, et al, supported the same sort of mandate, so there’s no room for complaint by the people opposed to Obamacare. The fact that Bush was wrong doesn’t prevent pointing out that Obama is wrong, as well. As my mother always said, two wrongs don’t make a right. And the 55 per cent of voters who oppose Obamacare would agree with her.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 52% of U.S. voters believe the average member of the Tea Party movement has a better understanding of the issues facing America today than the average member of Congress. Only 30% believe that those in Congress have a better understanding of the key issues facing the nation. And yet there is an almost daily media attack on the Tea Partiers as rednecks and racists.

I find it interesting that liberals are doing everything in their power to disenfranchise and marginalize the American citizen. They claim to be for empowerment, and the right of the people to choose their own destiny, until, of course, it clashes with what they want. Obama spent the better part of a year suggesting we were too stupid to understand Obamacare. As did Pelosi, Reid, Hastings, et al. Not surprisingly, only eleven per cent of voters hold a favorable view of congress. And the anointed one ain’t doing so well, either.

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A few things about Obamacare

There are a number of things about Obamacare that bother me. There are things about the process, things about the substance, and things about the style. There are things about the people involved, too. The real problem is where to start? When Alice asked the Caterpillar the same question, the caterpillar replied, “Begin at the beginning, and when you come to the end, stop!” The only difficulty is that there are so many places to start, and the end is nowhere in sight. So, in no particular order, here are a few things.

Alcee Hastings. What can I say? A Federal judge, impeached for bribery and corruption, found guilty, and thrown off the bench, is then elected to the House of Representatives by a district in Florida.  His quote about the process of reconciliation and deem and pass? “There ain’t no rules around here, we’re trying to accomplish something.”  And “therefore, when the deal goes down, all this talk about rules, we make them up as we go along.” And the congressmen all wonder why the people are annoyed?

In what has to be my favorite political endorsement of the year, even better that Sean Penn’s billet doux to Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro announced that he fully supported Obamacare. My mother always told me that a man was known by the company he keeps. Apparently, hearing no denunciations of the communist dictator’s endorsement, we can conclude that Obama is pleased by this vote of confidence. But then again, he was slow to denounce Rev. Wright, and never did denounce Bill Ayers.

The health care reform bill shouldn’t really be called that. Since Huey Long, oops, I mean Obama, has been demonizing the insurance companies, it should be called the health insurance reform bill. First off, you should know that insurance costs, as a percentage of US health care spending, are about four percent. So when the politicians talk about controlling costs, they really don’t mean it. If they did, there are bigger cuts and more savings elsewhere. Why is there no tort reform? Can anyone say trial lawyer lobby? Where are the reforms of the hidden costs of the AMA limiting the number of medical school slots available to prospective students?

Before the bill’s passage, there were, according to the proponents, about thirty million people without insurance. After the bill’s passage, there will be about twenty-one million. A year’s debate, thousands upon thousands of hours of work, deal making, conferencing, and all the rest, all for what? So we cover an additional nine million people? That’s the best they could do? It’s clear that increasing the number of people covered was not the goal here.

When all is said and done, and that will be a long time from now, the things this bill doesn’t do is impressive. It doesn’t make health care more available. It doesn’t make health care better. It doesn’t make health care more affordable. It doesn’t create more primary care doctors. It doesn’t provide for more care in traditionally underserved areas, like Appalachia or the Indian reservations. It doesn’t make prescription drugs any cheaper. So I find the moniker “health care reform” ambitious, if not downright foolish.

What it does do is regulate the insurance companies. They can’t do this, they can’t do that. They must do this, they must do that. It regulates us. We, i.e. the people, will be forced to purchase insurance, whether or not we want it. Why? So that the insurance companies will have a larger pool of clients and be able to collect premiums from healthy people to pay for sick people.

Remember that this was pushed upon us under the guise of a “crisis situation.” But also remember that so was the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and the war in Iraq. Aldous Huxley told us years ago that “continued crisis breeds continued control.”

Reconciliation and deem and pass are both political maneuvers to allow congressmen to claim they never voted for this bill. This will be big come election time. After Watergate, it was hard to find someone who had voted for Nixon, even though he won in a landslide. My guess is, that it will be very hard to find a congressman who will admit to having voted for this bill when November rolls around. But remember George Orwell’s dictum that “whoever controls history, controls the future.” Don’t let the political machines make you forget who did what when it’s time to vote. I can’t imagine that a clean sweep of the House and Senate would be a bad thing.

There are a few things to remember about this collection of miscreants in office. And to be fair, there are some notably principled people in the congress. Unfortunately they are in the minority. But most of them are happy to be thugs and thieves, demagogues and deceivers.

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How Soon They Forget…or Do They?

Today we take a short trip into history. Come with me as we journey far into the past, back to the beginning of 2010 and the anointed one’s message of hope and salvation, otherwise known as the State of the Union Address.  You remember, the one where he excoriated the Supreme Court for its decision involving the first amendment. The one where a justice was caught on video telling the home audience that Obama was wrong.

A large part of his address was taken up with the anointed one’s opposition to a then recent Supreme Court decision that allowed, in a victory for the first amendment, corporations and unions to spend money on ads supporting or opposing various issues. Do you remember that we were warned that the decision would be the downfall of our republic? Corporations and unions allowed to fund issue advocacy? How could the court unleash this enemy of the common folk upon us? The talking heads on the left were apoplectic with indignation. Why, to hear them tell it, any second now the NRA was going to conspire with Smith  & Wesson to buy congressmen.

OK, fast-forward to the present. Yesterday I saw a television ad for Health Care for America Now, urging us to contact our U.S. Representative and demand they pass Obamacare. So, on whim, I went to their website and began digging for some information. According to their website, HCAN is a “national grassroots campaign of more than 1,000 organizations in 46 states representing 30 million people dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care.” They hope to “mobilize people…to stand up to the insurance companies and other special interest groups.” So, I’m pretty sure that qualifies as issue advocacy.

I did a little further digging, and I managed to find out who some of the players are. The steering committee, that decides policy and positions, is composed of fifteen members. The list, in no particular order:

Center for American Progress

Campaign for America’s Future

National Women’s Law Center

AFL/CIO

NEA

La Raza

AFSCME

MoveOn.org

Working America

ACORN

Communication Workers of America

NAACP

Children’s Defense Fund

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

Campaign for Community Change

American’s United for Change

SEIU

Six unions, and ten social change organizations. And at least three of them with George Soros’ fingerprints all over them. Not to mention the incestuous relationships between some of those board members. For example, the Campaign for America’s Future has a board member, Eli Pariser, who is affiliated with MoveOn.Org. The Campaign for Community Change has one board member who is a board member who is the director of the AFL/CIO’s Health Care Reform Campaign, and one who is the assistant to the president of the SEIU.

Not one of those groups would even be remotely considered representative of the conservative side of the issue of Obamacare. Which is OK, they have every right to support one side of the argument. What is amazing, though, is the deafening silence surrounding their TV ads. Sixteen unions and corporations, all spending vast sums of money, to affect the outcome of public policy debate in America. Where is the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the doomsayers? Where are the complaints about corporate and union money ruining America? Or is it only right-wing money that ruins things? Georgy boy and his billions are without taint because his motives are pure?

Let’s face it, there is no qualitative difference between the SEIU and the NRA. Both are private groups, and both spend their own money advocating for the things they think worthwhile. If one opposes corporations and unions spending money on issue advocacy, speak out now. It would be mighty hypocritical to ignore the issue you complained about so loudly only months ago, merely because you agree with the point of the ads now.

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What Kind of Education?

I was in a local suburb over the weekend, doing a little shopping, and I happened to drive past the local high school. In front, as is often the case, there is a message board. Usually, these contain some sort of motivational message, or an administrative reminder. This particular board sported a message that I assume the school was proud of, although why they would be, I’m not sure.

The sign proclaimed, “We produce collaborative workers.” Now mind you, this was not a vo-tech school, or even a high school in blue collar town, where job skills might be an important focus. This was a high school in an expensive Chicago suburb. The kind of suburb where the soccer-moms drive Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW sport utility vehicles. They are almost universally white, blonde, and sport those insect-looking sunglasses. The moms, not the vehicles. The children all have cell phones, computers, and an air of indifferent superiority combined with an attitude of entitlement that would have shamed the French royalty.

So I was surprised to see that sign in that suburb. I’ve had an interest in education ever since I had kids of my own. Not just in the immediate sense of making sure my kids made it through a dysfunctional system, but in the broad sense of how to fix the system, and what the goals of the system should be. And that sign shocked me because it graphically announces to the world why the schools have failed, and continue to fail, the youth of America.

We have all heard, almost ad infinitum, the stories about what our children don’t know. Half of high-school students can’t locate America on a globe, two-thirds don’t know their home address, ninety percent can’t tell when to use whom. But those are the little things. That’s not to say knowledge is unimportant. I believe in Santayana, good grammar, and a functional command of mathematics. But they are little things in the scheme of what education means, and what its goals should be.

There are, apparently, two schools of thought about what the nature of education is. There is what I call the economic school. This group believes that the goal of education is to provide economic advantage to the student, the community, or the country. They believe that education should be aimed at training students to be productive workers. This is the group that our current president belongs to. Obama’s White House web site says, “Our nation’s economic competitiveness and the path to the American Dream depend on providing every child with an education that will enable them to succeed in a global economy…” Or this, from the same source, “President Obama will reform America’s public schools to deliver a 21st Century education that will prepare all children for success in the new global workplace.”

Then, there is the second school of thought. I’m not sure what to call it, perhaps the human school. This group believes that the goal of education is to develop a fully human person. This group believes that economic considerations are unimportant, by that I mean whether an education will produce economic benefits, and that what is important is developing a person who is as fully human as possible. This school of thought also believes that economic advantages will flow from such an education, but that it is a corollary effect, much as a healthy diet produces a corollary effect of a good night’s sleep.

These groups hold fundamentally different positions about not only the nature of education, but about the nature of human beings, which is really the critical issue.

The first group, which, by the way, includes the National Education Association, sees human beings as a means to an end. They see the individual as merely as implement to be used to create wealth. An asset, or perhaps a collaborative worker, if you like. We see the results of this mindset throughout society. What in business used to be called Human Relations became human resources, now asset management. We see an ever-increasing importance placed on consumerism as the engine that drives the economy. Buy, they exhort us, so our economy can prosper. We wind up with people who know the cost of everything, yet the value of nothing.

The second group believes that each and every human being has within himself the capacity to become more that an instrument of commerce. No longer must men and women be merely commodities, serfs, or possessions. To borrow the words of a man who belongs squarely in this second group, every human being is the repository of an irreducible dignity. It is the purpose of education to take this repository, and help it become as much as it can. Not measured in economic terms, but in human terms. Throughout history, it has been products of this second group that have made the greatest strides in bettering the human condition.

We would do well to heed the words of Epictetus, who said, “Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

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Bye, Bye, Birdie of Bipartisanship

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed yesterday that he plans to use the reconciliation process to pass the final changes to the Senate’s health care reform legislation. Republicans are infuriated by the move and claim it’s an abuse of what’s called “normal order” in moving legislation through. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was quoted as saying that a health care bill passed through reconciliation “would be the loss of the Senate as a real viable institution.”

Democrats counter that in the past Republicans have regularly used the tactic to pass legislation they prefer. Republican uses included the 1996 Welfare Reform bill and a 2007 expansion of student loans. And both parties have used the process to win expansions of social benefits, from enhanced Medicare benefits to COBRA health plans extending health insurance coverage to the unemployed. Republicans respond to this by arguing that none of the past uses were as consequential in terms of impact on the economy and Americans’ lives. The whole thing is just a litle “tu quoque” for either side to claim the moral high ground.

Harry Reid said there were still issues remaining to iron out, and Nancy Pelosi said there were still bribes to be worked out “member-by-member.” And after months upon months of study, fighting, negotiating, and pontificating, Pelosi said,  “We have a pretty good idea of where we are going on it.” I’ve been listening to these people for over 2 years talk about health care reform, and they have a “pretty good idea” of where we’re going? One might think that the anointed one would have explained it to them by now. Or are they, like us, too stupid to understand the bill?

Of course, Madame Speaker said that once the bill and cost estimates are complete, she will give House members one week to study the proposal. “But it is not something that we want to drag out,” she said. Two years later, God forbid we drag it out.

In further news on the bipartisan front, it appears that Democrats are undecided on whether to attach to the reconciliation package the anointed one’s proposed revamp of the federal student loan program that would boost aid for the neediest students. Reconciliation can only be used on one bill this year and Democrats fear attaching the student-loan provision to the healthcare bill could hurt its chances of approval.

And then, there is the Senate legislation that would direct the broadest overhaul of financial regulation since the Great Depression. Chris Dodd will introduce it on Monday without any Republican support.

The vaunted bipartisanship of the anointed one seems to have vanished into the fog. Hell, Obama and his Chicago-style cronies don’t even care about what the people want. Poll after poll says the public is unhappy with the bill. The troika of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi answers that by saying we’re too dumb to know what’s good for us. Pelosi says ten or twenty years after the bill passes we’ll be happy with the outcome. Forgive me if the record of congressional failures doesn’t fill me with hope.

But more importantly, am I the only one that is infuriated by the politicians’ condescending attitude? “We know what’s best, don’t bother your pretty little head about it.” We see it time and time again. Politicians, once elected, become more and more insulated, and more and more convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority. Then, like light-fingered Charlie Rangel, when they get caught stealing, or lying, or adultering, they blame it on anyone other than themselves. For my fix to this problem, see an earlier post of mine entitled “Daddy’s Little Congressman.”

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Israel Slaps Obama

Joe Biden went to Israel, and effusively praised our allies for their commitment to peace and prosperity for all. In preparation for the upcoming indirect peace talks, he said that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. has always been a “centerpiece of American policy.” “Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel,” he said. This all to comfort the Israelis, who are feeling a little left out of the Obama love fest. They look back fondly to the “amen-corner” days of strong pro-Israel neocons in the white house. Polls show that Israelis have come to see Obama as less sympathetic to Israel than previous presidents. Biden’s comments appeared aimed at softening the administration’s image both among Israelis and their American supporters, whose backing is seen as crucial ahead of November’s congressional elections. So Obama sends his most trusted lieutenant over there to assure them of our undying love and affection.

Trouble is, they really didn’t seem disposed to accept Biden’s bouquet. Shortly after he shows up, Israel announced the construction of 1,600 homes in a settlement block in mostly Arab East Jerusalem, an open rebuff that led Biden to issue a sharply worded condemnation. “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House. Wow! From,  “gee, you guys are just the best, “to “you suck,” in less than 24 hours. The anointed one repeatedly had demanded a halt in settlement construction in order to revive the moribund peace negotiations. Pay close attention to this next bit. Biden said his visit was meant to highlight the “unbreakable” bond between Israel and the U.S., especially on issues of security.

And of course, officials from the Palestinian Authority said the Israeli decision to approve 1,600 new settler homes could torpedo the talks before they have even begun.

“This is a dangerous decision and will hinder the negotiations,” said Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina. “We consider the decision to build in East Jerusalem to be a judgment that the American efforts have failed before the indirect negotiations have even begun.” Apparently, the only things the Jews and Arabs can agree on is that Obama is a failure, at least as far as mideast peace goes.

Israeli and Palestinian officials already had expressed doubt about the indirect talks, calling them a step backward after 17 years of direct negotiations between the parties. One wonders whether the Palestinians will treat him any better during his visit to Ramallah.

The real question is about our unquestioned and uncritical allegiance to a country that has had, at best, a spotty record with regard to our security. It has even, at times, displayed an amazing callousness towards American lives. Starting in 1947 with activities by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), Israel has never had any problem with spying on America, or American interests. A cursory search of public records turns up at least 32 incidents of Israeli espionage directed against America, or directed at disrupting American interests. Think “The Lavon Affair.”

Jonathan Pollard spied on the US for years and stole nuclear secrets for Israel. Israel then sold those nuclear secrets to Russia in order to procure more exit visas for Russian Jews. Remember, this was at the height of the cold war.

According to Carl Cameron, Fox News correspondent, since Sept. 11, more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained, either under the new patriot anti-terrorism law, or for immigration violations. A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States.

There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are “tie-ins.” But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, “evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.”

I think merely mentioning the USS Liberty incident will suffice. Those who are interested in more details can certainly find a slew of them without breaking a sweat.

Now, all of this is not to suggest that Israel is necessarily worse than most countries in hurting America. China spies on us, so do many countries. During the Cold War, one almost needed a scorecard to keep track of the spies and whom they were spying for. The difference is, we didn’t go out of our way to make spying on us an inconsequential activity. We jailed Russians, Chinese, and other communist bloc spies with some regularity. We just as regularly traded their spies for ours. With the Israelis, we don’t even make the pretext of objecting!

What it does suggest, however, is that we need to re-examine our allegiances. There is absolutely no reason to assume, pari passu, that Israel’s interests and ours are always identical. We need to remember that countries don’t have friends, they have interests. If we are so needy that we just must have a buddy in that part of the world, I nominate Morocco. They were the first country to recognize the U.S. after the revolution, and they have been an ally of ours since then. And, to the best of my knowledge, they have never engaged in a pattern of widespread spying on us, nor have they acted in a manner directly opposed to our interests.

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Supreme Court Fix?

 The Supreme Court has taken up the issue of how and if the second amendment applies to state and local government regulations. At issue are two uninteresting (except to geeky lawyers) and largely misunderstood provisions of the fourteenth amendment. One is what is called the “privileges and immunities” clause, and the other is the “incorporation” issue. Suffice it to say that both issues address the questions of what the fourteenth amendment provides or protects.

Originally, the U.S. Constitution was a compact between sovereign states. It was signed by delegations from each state, and had to be ratified by individual states. The bill of rights was added as a safeguard against the depredations of the new federal (not “national”) government. Ninety years later, after the late unpleasantness, as the old-time southern gentility puts it, the country ratifies the fourteenth amendment. It is designed to protect the rights of black americans in the “new” south. More years pass, and the Supreme Court, working their linguistic hoodoo, declares that the 14th amendment acts to “incorporate” the bill of rights, thereby prohibiting the individual states from violating the rights enumerated therein.

But not all of them. Only the ones the Supreme Court say are incorporated. So the states cannot, for example, limit the scope of the first amendment, but the can the fourth. And year after year, the Supreme Court adds right after right that is “incorporated.” Now comes 2010, over 200 years after the U.S. Constitution is ratified, and the court takes up the issue of whether the second amendment applies to individuals, and is incorporated into the 14th.

Aside from the incredibly easy to understand phrase “the right of the people,” the court is set to weigh in on whether Chicago can violate the constitution. Actually, the court is going to decide whether the constitution actually applies to Chicago. To those of us who live here, it is more than merely an intellectual question. We have a vested interest in this case. Around these parts, the constitution is seen as merely one more law to be circumvented. It’s actually surprising that Bush wasn’t a Chicagoan, given his feeling about that “piece of paper.”

And it is pretty much assured that which ever way they decide, some people will be highly annoyed. And rightly so. The reason this country is so divided and angry about abortion is because of the supreme court. The country was so opposed to the court’s decision in Kelo v. city of New London that states rushed to prohibit the activity the court found so appealing. And as I mentioned the other day, 3 out of 4 people don’t trust the government. Eighty-six percent believe it is broken. Nobody exempted the supreme court from those results. We are told, or used to be told, that the supreme court isn’t final because it’s infallible, it’s infallible because it’s final. In other words, we have to live with the results because there’s no place else to turn.

Now, in principle, that’s a great idea. Somebody has to be the final arbiter of disputes. Appeals can’t continue ad infinitum; there has to be a terminus in the interests of progress. The question is, why them? The short answer is because they say so. Way back in 1803, the supreme court said that they were the deciders of what the constitution meant. And, surprisingly, everybody went along with it. Since then, the court has been seen as the ultimate authority on the scope and meaning of the constitution.

This has resulted in a lot of unnecessary political tension. Supreme court nominees are subjected to intense scrutiny in an effort to determine whose ox they’ll gore. The potential for candidates to nominate affects their election. Confirmation hearings have become sort of an American Kabuki, where everyone knows the outcome, but the ritual plays out. So let’s fix it.

I propose a constitutional amendment to limit the power of the court to decide constitutional issues. I propose that a new, higher court be formed. Call it the Court of the States. This court’s jurisdiction would be strictly limited to those cases that call for a decision on what the constitution means. Any time the supreme court rules on an issue involving the constitution, there would be a right of appeal to the Court of the States. The interesting thing would be how this new court is composed. In my proposal, it would be made up of 11 judges. Each judge would be the head judge of their state. In Illinois, that would be the Chief Justice of the Illinois State Supreme Court. There would be a time limit on how long each judge would serve, and there would be a schedule of rotation so that each state’s chief judge would serve an equal amount of time.

This wouldn’t fix all the problems with the court system, but it would place a little more control in the people’s hands. First, the individual states would have a say, through their judges, on what the constitution says. Since the states are the ones that entered into the agreement, it seems fitting to give them a say in what it means. Secondly, most states have some voter involvement in judges; either electing them outright, or voting on their retention. This gives the voter a more direct say in what the constitution means. And after all, isn’t that the point? That the people are in really the ones in charge?

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