Tuesday, September 29, 2009

P. J. on Jimmy

P. J. O'Rourke sobered up enough to write a column for the Weekly Standard skewering Jimmy Carter's racism remark, plus related sentiments. As usual, Miami of Ohio's Greatest Graduate cannot be epitomized in a quotation. Nevertheless, we offer a paragraph:

I hadn't noticed I was a racist, but that was no doubt because I was too busy being a homophobe. Nancy Pelosi says the angry opposition to health care reform is like the angry opposition to gay rights that led to Harvey Milk being shot. Since I do not want America to suffer another Sean Penn movie, I will accept that I'm a homophobe, too. And I'm a male chauvinist due to the fact that I think Nancy Pelosi is blowing smoke--excuse me, carbon neutral, biodegradable airborne particulate matter--out her pantsuit.

If the world were a decent place, this man, not Al Franken, would be the Senate's comedian.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Partnering with the World Was Supposed to Be Easy

The big story was that Dubya alienated America's global partners and that Obama has restored their confidence.

It may not be working that way.

The Pioneer, part of India's lively journalism industry, today offers the opinion that Obama has been the worst American President for India since Richard Nixon. Briefly but pointedly these Indian editorialists note their confusion in the wake of Obama's conflicting initiatives.

A telling quote:

At various points his diplomats and Generals have said different things. Yet, in all this the overarching political message has been missing.

There has been a remarkable absence of clarity on Mr Obama’s strategic goals. In the early months, it was easy to pretend he was making up his mind.
Now, it would seem he has no mind.

What India wants is respect as the world's largest democracy and a serious military and economic power. What Obama has given India, in stark contrast to Mr. Bush, is the short end of the trade and nonproliferation sticks. When in this region America needs a reliable friend and the world needs a stable democracy, Obama is more concerned with appeasing the protectionists in the American labor movement and the nonproliferation ideologues in the global left. And we wonder whether the matter isn't all the more easily settled for Mr. Obama because India was a notable object of attention and point of diplomatic success for Mr. Bush.

China and South Asia--including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh--comprise about 1/3 of the world's population. America's best friend in the region--indeed humanity's best friend in the region--is India. Why does Obama treat India like a problem?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Follow the Absence of Money

Having previously noted signs that portend a conservative/Republican resurgence , we note as well WaPo's observation that Democratic contributions are in the tank. The reasons noted: (a) complacency among rank-and-file; (b) big donors closing their checkbooks because they interpret Obama's focus on taxing the wealthy and regulating finance as a betrayal.

Meanwhile, the real kooks of the left are assembled in Pittsburgh for the annual display of pointless protesting at the G-(pick a number) summit. They seem just as upset with Obama but even less able to fund his party should he ask.

So, no money and no options for the party in power. Hard cheese for Dems.

It seems that every once in awhile, disappointed with the failings of conservative politicians and the bleak realism of the conservative worldview, Americans must vote left of center. Recent experiences (1952, 1968, 1980, 1994, 2000) suggest that their flirtation with the left always ends in disappointment. We keep looking for that free lunch . . .

All Things European Are Superior

Clintonista-Obamanoid John Podesta notes that an American value-added tax is more likely to become reality when American deficits are enormous. This outcome is to be celebrated in Mr. Podesta's view, as it would "bring a balance" between the American economy and its Japanese and European counterparts.

For those who wonder, a value-added tax is like a sales tax, only more insidious. Americans presently pay state and local sales taxes, which are added to the cost of a purchase when one pays for the purchase, calculated as a percentage of the retail price and clearly listed on a sales receipt. Value-added taxes, by contrast, are assessed more furtively. When raw materials are made into goods, a percentage of the "value added" to those materials at each stage of production is calculated and recorded. Those taxes are paid finally by the consumer, who forks over a retail price that adds a predetermined percentage of the pre-calculated "value added." The tax is thus entirely opaque to the buyer, who simply grumbles at how high prices are and blames the rapacious retailer for his unseemly greed.

How Mr. Podesta thinks that an additional tax that raises retail prices will bring the American economy into "balance" with other economies in a way that benefits Americans is not exactly clear, but that's not our point. Certainly Japan and Europe have had such taxes for some time, which is more to our point.

Our point is to ask why the left always thinks that European approaches are superior to American ones. As a frequent visitor to Europe and one-time expatriate resident of an EU member country, we appreciate many aspects of European life and culture. Europe is scenic, friendly, artsy and tasty. But we fail to see what is inherently superior about its mode of governance.

Moreover, we think it's obvious why so many Europeans, the SWNIDish ancestors among them, left the Old Country for the New World. The spirit of individual initiative and opportunity that has historically attracted immigrants to these shores continues, despite various moves away from its nurture, to exist in a measure that is palpable when one compares other industrialized countries, most particularly in Europe. It has its upside as well as its downside, certainly, but it is nevertheless a key ingredient in the growth in prosperity and sharing of opportunity that have been the hallmark of the American republic and continue to distinguish it from its competitors in the eyes of still-teeming immigrants to the American republic.

So why is it that lefties think that the mantra "Europe does it" is sufficient to imply, "So should we"? These days the politics of Europhilism applies in American discourse to such far-flung matters as taxes, trains and health insurance. Why?

We're not going to quote stats on employment, economic growth or social mobility to make our case. We aren't going to note how often and expensively in the last century the American part of "the West" came to the rescue of its European counterpart. We are simply wondering why, mostly having left Europe long or not so long ago, Americans now want to go back, and not just to see 23 cities in 25 days.

How Does He Do It?

Click this link, watch the slideshow of photographs with dignitaries at the President's recent appearance at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ask how it is that any human being can produce exactly the same beaming expression 130 times.

That's an amazing talent. We don't know whether it correlates with an ability to govern, but it's an amazing talent nonetheless.

Friday, September 25, 2009

SWNIDish Advice on the Art of Romance

As an end-of-the-workweek feature, today we offer advice to gentle readers on how to conduct their personal lives.

Over our extensive lifetime, we have observed the rite of the marriage proposal take on epic proportions. Where once the prospective groom might simply take his beloved's hand and ask her to plight her troth to him despite his extreme unworthiness, thereafter placing on her hand a simple ring affordable to his modest means, today he is expected to offer a production that includes a romantic setting replete with expensive elements of stage production. One hears tales of such proposals being "cast" with various actors--some volunteer, some even hired--and "staged" with lighting, music and special effects. And in the end, the prospective groom must present a hunk of crystallized carbon of a value that could purchase a late-model Toyota or provide a substantial downpayment on a domicile.

Such seems to have been the case recently on Hilton Head Island, where an unnamed groom placed some 150 luminaria on the beach to provide the setting for his proposal. We assume he got what he wanted, as the Charolotte Observer reports that the gentleman and his gentlelady retired to their rented home, presumably with chaperons, after he popped the question.

But the illumined luminaria continued to shed their light, confusing sea turtle hatchlings for whom the evening was also momentous. Dozens of doomed chelonia apparently circled the unnatural lights before expiring on the beach, never finding their watery homes. Oh, the reptility!

Moral: keep the proposal and the wedding simple and concentrate instead on the marriage that follows. You'll do less damage and protect what really needs protecting.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Praising Comrade Obama?

This video--schoolkids rehearsing a song praising Barack Obama--is making the rounds:

We find ourselves amused but unconcerned.

Yes, it sounds way too much like the vapid paeans taught to the innocent children of totalitarian dictatorships. Yes, the little minds are impressionable and will take seriously whatever their teachers and other authority figures tell them.

No, we don't think it's part of a massive, conspiratorial power-grab. People who do this kind of thing are willing accomplices of politicians' lust for power, and lacking a sense of self-criticism or irony simply trust their own pure motives to be sufficient to protect them from causing unintentional harm or humor. But such nonsense is seldom effective beyond the moment. Kids grow up and rebel, public opinion changes, today's hero is tomorrow's villain, and so the effect of such "indoctrination" is marginal at worst.

On the other hand, we recall a time when the SWNIDish progeny were taught a song praising the CEO of a local grocery chain, ostensibly as thanks for his corporation having made a substantial gift for arts education. And we realize now that our children seem to be completely addicted to groceries. Perhaps all this indoctrination is effective after all.

Update: Too much buzz about this video misstates that the "tune" of the performance is "Jesus Loves the Little Children" and so concludes that the event was blasphemous as well as tasteless. Gentle readers/listeners will note that the first performance has no tune at all but is a pale, rhythmless rap the words of which quote the gospel song's racial taxonomy "red and yellow, black and white." The second performance, actually "sung" by the children, appears to be set to fragments of the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," though the quality of performance makes any judgment uncertain. Julia Ward Howe's ditty is, of course, not distinctively Christian but is part of the expression of civil religion that has pervaded American history and public life. In any case, we take the allusion to the religious song to be a tribute that the young President practices what the Christian faith preaches, certainly no blasphemy, though perhaps a generous overestimate.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Kind of World Is It Where . . .

  • The President of the United States delivers a speech prompting praise from Fidel Castro?
  • Canada shows exclusive North-American mettle by planning to walk out on Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahamadinejad's upcoming UN speech?
  • Not the head of a democratic state but reformed state terrorist Mamound Gadhafi castigates the UN for its impotence to stop some 65 wars?
  • The only head of state willing to say that a climate-change summit was a sham is the President of the tiny Czech Republic?
  • The American President and his State Department place sanctions on a tiny, poor nation whose in independent judiciary and legislature had taken action against its executive for unconstitutional exercise of power while conspiring with a large, relatively wealthy nation to return that executive to power?
Answer: a world in which dictatorships are celebrated and allies scorned, where the fashions of the left and the faults of the American Experiment are dogma.

This is not what Americans thought they were voting for in November 2008.

VDH: Obama the College Prez

The erudite Victor Davis Hanson today offers a most telling, brutal comparison of Barack Obama to the arch/stereotypical university president.

We don't know who should be more offended--Barack Obama, university presidents, other university administrators, or university faculty. But belonging to a couple of those groups, we still say that the article is an insightful hoot.

A few (well, many) quotations:

For many in the academic community who have not worked with their hands, run businesses, or ventured far off campus, Middle America is an exotic place inhabited by aborigines who bowl, don’t eat arugula, and need to be reminded to inflate their tires. They are an emotional lot, of some value on campus for their ability to “fix” broken things like pipes and windows, but otherwise wisely ignored. . . .

It is the role of the university, from a proper distance, to help them, by making sophisticated, selfless decisions on health care and the environment that the unwashed cannot grasp are really in their own interest — deluded as they are by Wal-Mart consumerism, Elmer Gantry evangelicalism, and Sarah Palin momism. The tragic burden of an academic is to help the oppressed, but blind, majority. . . .

Just as there are few conservatives, so too there are felt to be few who should be considered radicals in universities. Instead everyone is considered properly left, and even fringe expressions are considered normal calibrations within a shared spectrum. The proper question is not “Why are there so many extremists in the administration?” but rather “What’s so extreme?” . . .

On most campuses, referenda in the academic senate (“votes of conscience”) on gay marriage or the war in Iraq are as lopsided as Saddam’s old plebiscites. Speech codes curb free expression. Groupthink is the norm. Dissent on tenure decisions, questioning of diversity, or skepticism about the devolution in the definition of sexual harassment — all that can be met with defamation. The wolf cry of “racist” is a standard careerist gambit. Given the exalted liberal ends, why quibble over the means? . . .

Czars are a university favorite. Among the frequent topics of the daily university executive communiqués are the formulaic “My team now includes . . . ,” “I have just appointed . . . ,” “Under my direction . . . ” (that first-person overload is, of course, another Obama characteristic), followed by announcement of a new “special” appointment: “special assistant to the president for diversity,” “acting assistant provost for community affairs and external relations,” “associate dean for curriculum enhancement and development.” . . .

Academic culture also promotes this idea that highly educated professionals deigned to give up their best years for arduous academic work and chose to be above the messy rat race. Although supposedly far better educated, smarter (or rather the “smartest”), and more morally sound than lawyers, CEOs, and doctors, academics gripe that they, unfairly, are far worse paid. And they lack the status that should accrue to those who teach the nation’s youth, correct their papers, and labor over lesson plans. . . .

In short, campus people have had the bar raised on themselves at every avenue. Suggest to an academic that university pay is not bad for ninth months’ work, often consisting of an actual six to nine hours a week in class, and you will be considered guilty of heresy if not defamation. . . .

Many of the former Professor Obama’s problems so far hinge on his administration’s inability to judge public opinion, its own self-righteous sense of self, its non-stop sermonizing, and its suspicion of sincere dissent. In other words, the United States is now a campus, we are the students, and Obama is our university president.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Measuring Obama's Vitals

Within and without, things are tough for the Obama administration.

Within, someone leaked to the iconic Bob Woodward the report from General Stanley McChrystal concerning Afghanistan security. As Politico notes, this reveals personal fissures within the administration, which are unsurprising, but accompanied by a sense that the President can be pressured into a course of action, which is troubling so early in his term.

Without, Obama's approval numbers at this point in his administration are tied for lowest in postwar history, with the iconic Bill Clinton and the iconic Ronald Reagan. Both, of course, staged impressive comebacks, though for Clinton the comeback came at the expense of his legislative agenda.

We think that the poll numbers and the leak both say what's wrong with Obama. Poll numbers indicate that essentially all of Obama's loss of approval has come from Republicans (who started at 41% approval and now at 18%) and independents (once 66% and now 46%). Democrat approval peaked at 92% and now stands at 86%.

The number of independents who are cooling show that the drop is not a function of pure partisanship. The issue is that Obama has catered to his base in nearly every initiative thus far. The hard left may decry his weak leadership toward their agenda on healthcare, but the rest of the political spectrum sees where he is and understands where he's headed. And they don't like it. They voted for moderate Barack.

Same goes for the leak. Obama was going to take care of business in Afghanistan. Now he's questioning the recommendations of the general he appointed to do the job. Caution is one thing, but when caution seems to align with the surrender wing of the Democratic Party, more and more revealed as what Obama regards as his true base, anyone who isn't part of that wig get antsy.

What drove Reagan's comeback from a miserable political position was economic recovery, driven by permanent tax cuts that gave businesses the assurance they needed to start investing and hiring. Obama has made extremely clear that such is not his agenda. The iconic Arthur Laffer notes that Reagan's successful employment of supply-side economics to fuel economic recovery is the extreme opposite of the Obama agenda, which are more congruent with policies that lengthened and deepened the Great Depression.

What drove Clinton's comeback was an economic recovery coupled with his abandonment of his party's left wing after his own healthcare debacle. From 1994, a chastened Clinton worked as much with as against a Republican Congress, adopting a moderate, pragmatic stance that won him reelection against a lackluster opponent in 1996. Obama at this stage seems unlikely to make such a move, even as the Rs seem unlikely to stage as dramatic a comeback in the off-year election as they did sixteen years before. Still, no one anticipated a Speaker Gingrich, let alone a Clinton-signed welfare reform bill.

In sum, the Presidential Patient is politically sick. But he may well stage a recovery, though not by continuing to do what he is doing presently.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is Carville Writing Ad Copy for CNN?

SWNID has little use for any particular television news outlet. Most offer j-school pablum, made even more bland for safe consumption by senior citizens. Though clearly catering to the right, Fox News is in the SWNIDish estimation shrill and jingoistic. We are not a fan.

Nevertheless, Murdoch's Fox is cleaning up in ratings, while Turner's CNN, once ascendant, is slipping.

So is it a big surprise that CNN is now advertising as if the competition between them and Fox is a political campaign, all about distortions of what the other guy has said?

We look forward to the next time that a CNN commentator decries the lack of civility in political discourse.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

Neoconservative thinker Irving Kristol is dead at the age of 89.

Kristol once described himself as "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." A self-styled "Trotskyist" in City College in the 1930s (who in City College's student body of the 1930s wasn't?), Kristol began reading folks like Niebuhr who expressed pessimism about the human capacity to operate under such idealistic systems as socialism and pacifism. With the rise of the Great Society, Kristol became an ardent advocate of conservative principles, including a robust American military to project power in support of democracy and monetarist and supply-side economics to promote growth over the equilibrium favored by the then-reigning Keneysianism.

Having drunk occasionaly from Kristol's prodigious well in the past, we appreciate his remark quoted first in a collection of quotables in Kristol's columns for WSJ, one especially timely in this moment of debate about healthcare reform:

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling," wrote Oscar Wilde, and I would like to suggest that the same can be said for bad politics. . . .

On Educational Statistics, Quality, Choice

Cincinnati media are buzzing that the region's number of National Merit Semifinalists bumped up significantly this year, with 230 in the region, up about 50 from last year.

With an personal interest in one semifinalist, we note that local numbers show ongoing concentration in a few schools. Giant Oak Hills, which boasts the highest enrollment and number of course offerings in Ohio, has two. Lots of big publics have one or none. The big numbers come from selective publics (Walnut Hills); large, upper-middle-class-suburban publics (Sycamore, Mason); small, upper-middle-class-suburban publics with a history of high tax support for education (Wyoming, Mariemont, Indian Hill); and well-funded, selective privates (Seven Hills, St. Xavier, Cincinnati Country Day).

Still, why the bump? In a local case, it could be sheer coincidence. Trends take time to develop, of course. We'll see if this is but a blip.

If it persists, we suspect it could be reasonably attributed to some schools' deliberate competition to serve bright students better. For awhile there's been a quiet rivalry among some local high schools for Greater Cincinnati's smart kids. To attract them, schools have to cater to them. In catering, they offer programs that educate that segment better, putting a few more kids over the top on the standard for standardized-test excellence than they might otherwise.

Too bad there isn't similar competition to do the best with other demographic segments, at least as far as we can tell. While there's been plenty of attention given to working with at-risk students, there's nothing resembling healthy competition to attract their enrollment. Communities may work to attract and retain families committed to education, but we need not enumerate the disincentives to attracting the other end of the pool.

Meanwhile, what of the middle? Perhaps some of the schools with lonely-only National Merit Semifinalists are indeed putting their focus on the average to moderately bright student and show good outcomes in graduating such students and getting them successfully enrolled in postsecondary education (not necessarily college, but that's another subject). These stats won't reflect that effort.

But we doubt very much that there's a real competition to attract such students with programs aimed at them. And we think we know why.

Such students are served almost exclusively by public schools, though Cincinnati's robust parochial system is a sort of public-school surrogate. Public schools by nature don't see themselves in a competitive situation, apart from athletics. Kids go to the school because they live in the community. Homeowners and realtors generally push the schools to be attractive as a means of supporting demand for homes in the community and thus supporting home values and sales. Residents want better rather than worse, at least if they have kids enrolled. Meanwhile, property owners want the lowest taxes possible on their homes, applying pressure (wholesome, in our view) on spending.

But if you live in a school district, you're normally stuck sending your kids to the local schools. Many folks make the calculation that moving for education isn't worth the bother, though they might jump at the chance to send their kids to another school if they could do so at the same cost as their local public entity. And if such were possible, schools would be driven by competition to improve services to attract such students.

This, of course, is exactly what school-choice advocates say: choice breeds competition, breeding quality improvement over time.

For those in Cincinnati with bright kids--statistically better funded than most families, more committed to education and so more willing to make the expensive choices presently available--the results of such choices just might be visible in this statistic, not least because such schools have deliberately competed for such families. We'll see what the future holds before we draw that conclusion, but the correlation is at least interesting.

Meanwhile, and by way of SWNIDish advice to the young and thoughtful, we'll note yet again that Cincinnati Public Schools comprise a low-cost, competitive choice for families with a commitment to education for their bright kids but limited finances. For district residents there's no tuition for Walnut or the best elementaries in CPS. Cincinnati proper has lots of housing bargains, making it affordable for just about anyone to go to great schools. Taxes could be lower, but they're partly offset by lower costs for housing.

And interestingly, CPS long ago created (accidentally?) a competitive market. In the 1920s it provided a selective, college-prep high school that soon became competitive with the best private academies. In the 1970s it created what became a small, highly regulated but still competitive market among its elementaries and high schools, allowing several schools to enroll city-wide.


Friday, September 18, 2009

The Obama Persona

Would it be a violation of House rules to yell, "You elide!" in the middle of a Presidential address?

Charles Krauthammer describes the President thus in his weekly column appearing today. Enumerating the ways that Obama's recent speech misdirects attention and understanding, Dr. K concludes:

Obama doesn't lie. He merely elides, gliding from one dubious assertion to another. This has been the story throughout his whole health-care crusade. Its original premise was that our current financial crisis was rooted in neglect of three things -- energy, education and health care. That transparent attempt to exploit Emanuel's Law -- a crisis is a terrible thing to waste -- failed for health care because no one is stupid enough to believe that the 2008 financial collapse was caused by a lack of universal health care.

So on to the next gambit: selling health-care reform as a cure for the deficit. When that was exploded by the Congressional Budget Office's demonstration of staggering Obamacare deficits, Obama tried a new tack: selling his plan as revenue-neutral insurance reform -- until the revenue neutrality is exposed as phony future cuts and chimerical waste and fraud.

Obama doesn't lie. He implies, he misdirects, he misleads -- so fluidly and incessantly that he risks transmuting eloquence into mere slickness.

We stipulate that politicians by nature do not speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with or without divine help. We call attention to the truth issue in the President's address simply to remind gentle readers that this sobering reality applies even to an impressively cool guy who makes appealing promises.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Month of Metro Midpoint, Musings

SWNID is commuting by bus in September 2009.

The circumstances are immaterial, but the experience is material. We note the following about the experience:

  • In our case, a bus commute roughly quadruples time spent commuting. Circumstances would be different if we were doing what our local bus system is set up to accommodate: commuting from the suburbs to downtown and back again. But the time investment is still greater than driving oneself for nearly every customer.
  • Even owning an automobile, we figure we're saving at least $40 this month in fuel expenses. If we rode regularly and got rid of our hole-in-the-garage-into-which-we throw-money, we'd save a lot more on insurance, depreciation and maintenance.
  • Cincinnati's Metro buses are pleasant enough. Seats are comfortable and, on our route, readily available. Drivers are careful, if sometimes seemingly anxious to accelerate or brake. Despite what some folks think, smells and dirt are minimal.
  • Fellow passengers comprise a friendly assemblage. Folks smile, greet one another, shift their belongings to accommodate riders, hold small children for caregivers, and even supply extra quarters for shorthanded riders.
  • Every person who rides the bus has a story. We aren't anxious to hear them, but someone looking for human-interest material can get it riding the bus.
  • Buses run on time with few exceptions. SWNID has missed zero appointments so far.
  • All this makes commuting by bus a pleasant, stress-free, stimulating experience.
Nevertheless, we expect to return to driving to work when our circumstances allow. Like most Americans, we think our time and freedom are more valuable than the enumerated benefits of bus riding. More amenable to public conveyance than most of our peers, we nevertheless eschew the bus for our private car, not because it's private but because it's much faster and not yet prohibitively expensive.

The only thing that would change our behavior would be a massive increase in the expense of car travel, either in money or in time. The latter is what explains extensive use of public transportation in some of the largest, oldest, most congested American cities. The former is what explains it in gas-taxed Europe. For various immutable reasons, neither situation is likely to obtain widely in our Republic in the foreseeable future.

All of which says something about present initiatives for better public transportation services, specifically the "stimulus" funding of intercity high-speed rail services. SWNID would like nothing better than to take a swift, comfortable train to other cities of the Midwest. Eight billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. But it won't buy actual high speed rail service. It's a down payment on passenger trains that would run at about 80 mph on rail lines shared with freight trains, connecting a few cities. Operational costs would be extra, requiring subsidies to make tickets even remotely competitive.

So the typical intercity passenger will ask why he or she should pay to ride a train to the origin of which he or she will require other transportation and from the destination of which he or she will require other transportation when said train is not substantially faster or cheaper than interstate highways. Everyone will ask why tax dollars are being used to finance such a venture. No one will provide a credible answer (this assumes that reducing CO2 emissions is not a credible answer).

To put it more succinctly: Amtrak.

Jimmy Carter: Mind Reader

To his impressive list of accomplishments, Jimmy Carter now adds ESP. Man looks on the outward appearance; the Saint from Plains looks on the heart.

Reports the AP:

Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst to President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress last week was an act "based on racism" and rooted in fears of a black president.

"I think it's based on racism," Carter said in response to an audience question at a town hall held at his presidential center in Atlanta. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."

So it wasn't a publicity stunt after all.

We stipulate that racists exist in large numbers in our large Republic. We insist that racism is bad. We aver that labeling any act as motivated by racism requires a kind of knowledge rightly called divine. We regret that Mr. Carter, having known God rather well for a lifetime, continues to confuse himself with the One he knows.

We SWNIDishly warn others of the same.

We additionally remind gentle readers that it's better to tell someone, "That sounded/looked/felt racist," than to tell that someone, "You are a racist."

More could be said, of course, e.g. the way that Carter decries comparisons of Obama to Hitler as prima facie evidence of racism but says nothing about what was said about former POTUS Chimpy W. Hitliar. But we leave it to others to say such things.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kristof's "Body Count" Doesn't Add Up to Obamacare

Peripatetic columnist Nicholas Kristof has a typical human-interest angle on the healthcare debate: a tragic story of a young woman felled by lupus because she couldn't get insurance and so couldn't get timely care.

We note that such stories are exactly the kind that reformers of all stripes want to eliminate. The question is how.

Kristof reveals the key issue in a sentence: "And once she lost her job, she lost her health insurance."

The original sin of American health insurance is tying it to employment. We do this not because we planned it but because the practice arose during another attempt by the federal government to contain costs in a crisis, inarguably a much more severe crisis than anything existing at present. During World War II, FDR imposed wage and price controls. When defense-related businesses couldn't get the workers they needed at the wages and salaries allowed, they lobbied for permission to give non-wage, non-salary compensation to attract qualified workers. The result was employer-provided health insurance, which as non-income income was not taxed and so grew in size and scope over the years as a means of protecting a portion of income from the ever-growing income tax.

Kristof's tragic victim, whose story is no less tragic for this reason, was felled because of the perverse incentives of our insurance system in tying insurance to employment. Those incentives include not only the tax code which doesn't extend tax benefits to individually purchased policies but also the economic incentive for insurers to prefer large groups to small ones.

We could say more, but we've said it all before.

What we say now we've said before as well, but we'll say it again. It's illogical to move from the notion that such tragedies ought not occur to the conclusion that there is but one way to fix this thing. We say further, yet again, that the best way to avoid future tragedies is not to provide a public option and additional regulation but to decouple employment from tax preference for insurance, remove barriers to the functioning of the national free market for health insurance, and then requiring insurance for catastrophes but allowing discretion in whether individuals choose comprehensive health insurance or other plans like HSAs for ordinary healthcare expenses, backed up with subsidies for the poor.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More Critique of ObamaCare

In other words, Obama would encourage unlimited health care consumption by patients while eliminating the last vestige of price consciousness.

That's from Shika Dalmia of Forbes. She offers a nice analysis of the perverse incentives and effects that would be created by enactment of Obama's healthcare proposals.

Meanwhile, Rich Lowry offers thirteen steps to constructing a speech just as brilliant as Obama's. He starts with:

1) Create a false center. In his speech Wednesday night, Obama positioned himself between the left calling for a single-payer system and the right agitating to end employer-based health insurance. Presto -- he's the very definition of a centrist. Anyone advocating almost any position can benefit from the same insta-centrism.
Meanwhile, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, who's had a crush on Obama that barely replaces her former crush on Bill Clinton, swoons that having orated like Lincoln, Obama must now legislate like LBJ.

Ms. Clift is doing better than usual. She's half right.

Lincoln's rhetoric managed to avoid self-righteous swipes at his political opponents, if we use the stellar addresses of Gettysburg and the second inaugural as the exemplary standards. Obama's rhetoric is better characterized by Lowry as a collection of tricks, long played by the left but played with virtuosic skill by Mr. Obama.

But she's right on the LBJ thing. Johnson passed the Great Society legislation, now the gold standard for a Democrat President, because he was skilled in retail politics. Always a man of the Congress, Johnson had been famous for his ability to schmooze and cajole and twist arms and trade promises to get his legislation passed. He came to the Executive Branch after serving over twenty years in the House and Senate, much as Senate Majority Leader during the Eisenhower administration.

Johnson had a legislative resume as long as Imelda Marcos's shoe inventory.

Which brings us to a point made during the campaign but now largely forgotten: Barack Obama is responsible for no significant legislation and had a mere two years' experience on Capitol Hill.

With a divided party already looking to midterm elections and a stirred up conservative/libertarian demographic (see below), something akin to Johnson's skill is surely what Obama needs most and has least.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Analysis of the Speech: Nothing's Changed, Including the Hypocrisy

John Hinderacker of the SuperBlog Powerline offers trenchant analysis of Obama's speech just ended. In sum, there's nothing new, including the ongoing vagaries of specifics, dissimilutions about intentions and effects, and disrespect for dissent.

We endorse.

"You Lie" Postscript

SC Congressman Joe Wilson says his emotions got the better of him last night when he yelled, "You lie." He has also apologized.

Count us skeptical. Congresspeople get the text of the President's address before it's delivered. Politicians have emotions, but they tend to calculate political impact.

We think that The Hon. Joe Wilson calculated the impact that his Rebel Yell would have on a constituency in the first state to secede, not to mention his fundraising. There are probably a lot of people who will respond to Wilson's fifteen minutes of fame as does the blogger who posts here.

It'll also energize some opposition, which is fine with Wilson, who will win anyway, thereby siphoning funds from competitive races.

Meanwhile, he will temporarily replace Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin as Most Hated Republicans.

UPDATE: Looks like we were right (as if this were hard to figure out to begin with).

SWNIDisms on the Speech

On the Morning After the Evening Everything Changed, we make the following observations about the President's halftime pep talk to the Democratic healthcare team:
  • Telling Moment #1: Obama's intro remark, "I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last." Even as a throwaway bit of rhetorical ornamentation, this was highly regrettable. No one is ever the last person to take up a cause. That is, unless Obama is making a veiled prediction of the coming apocalypse. What this remark feeds is the disturbing, recurrent suspicion that Obama wants to personally make history more than make sense.
  • Telling Moment #2: Joe Wilson's stupid and unparliamentary yelling of "You lie" was instantly met with The Look (a.k.a. The LQQK, a.k.a The Death Stare) from Speaker Pelosi. The public has heard rumors of The Look in party caucus meetings and the like; now we've seen for ourselves its laser-like, ruthless intensity. Altogether, Ms. Pelosi's visage was the event's primary source of variety. We note in passing that those who continue to beat the illegal-immigration drum will kill the Republican Party exactly when it is most needed.
  • Telling Moment #3: "And while there remain some significant details to be ironed out . . ." This after saying, "Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan." Republican laughter in response was their only good moment.
  • Telling Moment #4: Arguing the need for more competition because of the lack of competition in some states ("in 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies," which suggests a mean of 15% of market share for states where the number is indeed five, or less than Kroger's share of the Greater Cincinnati grocery market; "In Alabama, almost 90 percent is controlled by just one company," which we assume in the absence of research is the result of significant legislatively imposed mandates on coverage, which have driven providers out of other states, e.g. Kentucky, until such mandates are reversed), saying a "public option" will provide such a source of competition, but then asserting, "we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up." So how much competition will be provided by a plan that only captures 5% of the market?
  • Telling Moment #5: The biggest applause line of the evening was, "Now, part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for -- from the Iraq war to tax breaks for the wealthy." Obama said "part," but his party applauded like he said "all and then some." The Democratic caucus has nothing to unite it except Bush hatred.
  • Most typical moment: Obama's favorite rhetorical device is to set up a false choice between extremes and position himself in the middle. And so he said, "There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's, where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everybody. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end employer-based systems and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own." This he then uses to justify a move to "build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch." This device justifies what is most reprehensible about Obama's approach. The present "system" is no system at all but a series of historical accidents and miscalculations that has so distorted ordinary human behavior in markets as to remove restraint on demand, thereby driving up costs and consumption simultaneously. Promising improvements that will lower out-of-pocket expenses and remove caps on coverage hardly gets at the root of the problem.
  • Fulfilled prediction: Obama mentioned and ridiculed the "death panels" accusation. We don't claim any real predictive credit for this. Everyone knew it was coming.
  • Biggest problem for Obama: how to pay for all of this. Even the AP notes that math doesn't work. Even RINO Olympia Snow agrees that there's no way to make the math work. Obama's best hope is that a nation that plays the lottery en masse won't notice or care.
  • What Hillary is thinking: You dog! In the primaries you attacked me for proposing mandated coverage, I said that you were being unrealistic and dishonest to promise unconditional coverage without a mandate, and now you flip-flop while I'm sitting in the front row wearing a bright red pantsuit!
  • What McCain is thinking: You dog! You attack me in the general election for proposing a tax on high-end benefits, and now you want to do that very thing, disguising it as a fee on insurance companies, yet you claim to be bipartisan by proposing a program for folks with pre-existing conditions, something that I adopted from Democrat plans!
  • Greatest pathos: the extremely predictable closing reference to St. Ted the Rogue. For widow Victoria, it appeared to be a genuinely touching moment, and we offer her sympathy on her loss. For the Dems, it was a script with which they are familiar, and they responded on cue with expressions of grief. For the mainstream America, which has celebrity-driven curiosity but little sentimentality about the Kennedys, it was a bomb. All Obama did with his closing was fulfill the expectations of those closest to him, perhaps revealing that he lacks the political acumen to judge the public mood accurately.
In sum, it was a decently crafted political speech, delivered with Obama's usual aplomb. It doesn't move a blessed thing. By leaving the details up to Congress, Obama hasn't moved tactically from where he was in January. By sticking with patching the distorted system rather than reorienting it to behavioral realities reflected in market economics, he will suffer the same defeat as Clinton.

As long as Democrats long to do what FDR couldn't--federalize health insurance--rather than provide access to health insurance, they will continue to peddle this inferior product, experience political failure in the form of popular rejection of their proposal, and then blame themselves for being stupid tacticians.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

And on the Day of Obama's Big Speech . . .

Republican spokesmodel Sarah Palin channels an opinion column in WSJ. The piece is well ghost-written in the SWNIDish view and offers incisive critique of the President's healthcare proposals and nonproposals.

We note the article not because it is notable in itself but because, appearing on this notable day, it reflects a notable reality and will elicit a notably predictable reaction.

The reality: the Rs essentially have no one on their bench right now except Palin. So she's up to bat when the Prez is on the mound. This must change if we are to have change we can believe in in 2012.

The predictable reaction: the left will . . .
  • draw attention to the palpable fact that Palin didn't personally write this piece, ignoring the palpable fact that no politician whose by-line has appeared in the WSJ or any other major news outlet in the last generation has personally written their pieces.
  • accuse her of dealing in demonstrable falsehoods by using the phrase "death panels" yet again, not acknowledging that she uses the phrase with ironic self-reference and context the differentiates between proposing a "death panel" directly and setting in motion forces that will make such entities likely outcomes.
  • dismiss all objections to Obamacare as the false and divisive rhetoric emanating from the mouths of such bona fide numbskulls as Ms. Palin, ignoring the substantial body of evidence and expert opinion that the column reflects.
Still, we think the issue is over, though the shouting will continue. Ds think they need better tactics to get something passed. They simply can't acknowledge what 75 years of political history show: the Republic rejects government financing of health insurance. The Democratic Left has a bad product, not a bad marketing strategy. Ds are not being undermined by Wascally Wepublicans. The Rs are mostly inept presently. They're being undermined by their own bad idea.

Paglia: Selected Quotations

At Salon, Camille Paglia holds forth today with exceptional iconoclastic strength and analytical rigor in assessing the Obama administration's trajectory. We merely quote selectively but representatively:

By foolishly trying to reduce all objections to healthcare reform to the malevolence of obstructionist Republicans, Democrats have managed to destroy the national coalition that elected Obama and that is unlikely to be repaired. If Obama fails to win reelection, let the blame be first laid at the door of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who at a pivotal point threw gasoline on the flames by comparing angry American citizens to Nazis. It is theoretically possible that Obama could turn the situation around with a strong speech on healthcare to Congress this week, but after a summer of grisly hemorrhaging, too much damage has been done. At this point, Democrats' main hope for the 2012 presidential election is that Republicans nominate another hopelessly feeble candidate. Given the GOP's facility for shooting itself in the foot, that may well happen. . . .

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism. . . .

But affluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it's positively pickled.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What Could Be the Last Word on Healthcare

Having drawn attention to the perverse system of disincentives embedded in America's present system of paying for healthcare and the even more perverse set of disincentives provided by Obamacare, we now declare a Last Word. As if such a thing were possible.

The Atlantic this month carries an extensive article by one David Goldhill, a business executive prompted to consider the American healthcare "system" after the death of his father from an infection contracted at a major hospital. Goldhill notes meticulously and clearly how the present system discourages and prevents consumers from evaluating healthcare options from a cost/benefit standpoint, unlike virtually every other area of a rational economy.

His proposal involves a transition to mandatory catastrophic insurance, health savings accounts, subsidies for the poor, and reorganization of healthcare providers into more cooperative, efficient systems that don't rely on fee-for-service but allocate costs on bases that incentivize providers to give effective care.

It is completely unlike what the present party in power proposes.

Goldhill's most telling point: if folks think that such a system is unlikely to provide what they need when they need it, they simply should ask what they would do if handed $1.7 million to provide healthcare over their entire lifetime. That's a good approximation of the present cost per patient.

This is a longish article, so settle down for a good read.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

An Economic, Cinematic Syllogism

Major Premise: "Capitalism is Evil" (says the new Michael Moore film)

Minor Premise: Michael Moore is a capitalist (says Michael Moore)

Conclusion: You can't write parody that's this absurd.

Van Jones Resigns from Meaningless Post

"Conservatives" have been up in arms about outrageous statements made by Obama Green-Jobs czar Van Jones.

Yesterday Van Jones resigned, blaming "lies and distortions" that "distract and divide."

Meanwhile and all the while, conservatives* note with some frustration that Obama's appointment of some thirty-one czars represents administrative ineptitude of the first order.

We assume that the utter foolishness of this move is clear enough to anyone with experience at any level of organizational management. But we'll explain for the sake of having something to write about.

Any one person can manage only a limited number of direct reports. Each person reporting to an a person in an organization needs access to that person's time, attention and energy. Every person's resources are finite, so direct reports need to be limited.

Barack Obama is clearly an exceptional individual. He may indeed be the brightest and most talented person of his generation. Some can lightly but rightly view him as the anointed one. But even he has limits. Even Superman is vulnerable to kryptonite. Even Jesus had only twelve direct reports.

The President has a cabinet. Counting the VP, it has sixteen members. Six additional officials serve the POTUS at "cabinet rank." That's twenty-two.

Add thirty-one czars and you've got fifty-three direct reports. And the President has the time and energy to consult with each of them. Plus take Michelle to dinner in NYC, and have a beer with Henry Louis Gates and that hapless policeman, and tell kids to stay in school.

We note further the clear lines of authorty of each of these czars and czarinas. Amongst the czars, one is in charge of auto recovery; another, of cars. One is in charge of energy and environment; another, of international climate. One is in charge of weapons; another, weapons of mass destruction policy. One is in charge of the economy; another, the Troubled Asset Relief Program; another, pay; another, stimulus accountability. There's a czar for health and another for drugs.

Also, some parts of the world have czars of their very own. Sudan, Afghanistan and the Middle East have czars, the last especially tasked with "peace." California has a water czar. The "central region" and the "Great Lakes" have czars, though the rest of the West, the South and the East are apparently without imperial authorities to oversee them. Perhaps these appointments are being held up pending the appointment of the czar of czars. Anyway, we don't know whether regional czars have any authority in their regions for the realms of authority of the issue-czars. Can the central region czar deal with, say, economics in Kansas, or just with areas untouched by other czars' portfolios?

Now, go to the cabinet and note that by statue, certain cabinet members have executive authority for certain areas of government activity. As it stands presently, the cabinet pretty much has someone for everything. But for every cabinet member, there are just under two czars, all authorized to work in areas governed by cabinet-level departments. At least two-czars-per-cabinet-member is an average, so at least the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs has a relatively free hand to run his department.

What in the name of all that is reasonable motivated Mr. Obama to make all these appointments? Several possibilities come to mind. One is that he wanted an office and a salary for people to whom he owed favors. That might explain a few,** but we doubt, for example, that Paul Volcker thought that he ought to get a sinecure as a payoff. Maybe some were appointed as a bone to throw at their fans. But we're not sure that Carol Browner (whose name is misspelled in the Politico piece linked above) has fans.

Maybe the young President, never having run anything except a campaign, simply misoverestimated his ability to do multiple things at once, and so for every possible problem he appointed a czar, to whom he would delegate his own superior political prowess to address all that is unsatisfactory in our world. That explanation has the virtue of fitting most other issues in the Obama Presidency so far.

Well, whatever the reasons, the truth is that Obama's czars were destined to dysfunction: not simply getting nothing solved but getting in each others' way and in the way of the cabinet to foul up ordinary governmental functions.

And that's why we deem Jones' resignation inconsequential. Sure, he's aligned with the looney wing of the Democratic Party. Yes, he's one of the radicals to which David Horowitz has recently drawn attention. But so what? He was in a job that could do nothing but draw a wasteful salary. Like that's anything new.

Conservatives, as opposed to "conservatives," understand that the problem here is the scope of the Obama agenda, which is nothing short of Changing the Whole World in the First One Hundred Days. In this world, you're lucky if you can bring marginal change to one thing in one thousand days.

It was said that Reagan could express his entire administration on three points written on one 3" x 5" index card. Obama needs a 975-page document with footnotes and appendices.

By not prioritizing and focusing, Obama made the error of every leader who believes his publicity. Now forced by reality to choose one issue as a focus, he's choosing healthcare, the Holy Grail of the left since FDR failed to get health insurance as part of Social Security in the 1930s. Meanwhile, voters have moved that matter down their list, behind jobs, economic recovery, taxes and federal spending.

This will be his second mistake: to confuse the priorities of his base with the priorities of the majority. And that is not just a mistake of administration but of politics, and it will threaten to undermine his ability to sustain a majority in Congress or get himself elected to another term.
*Please note our new convention of placing the term conservative in quotation marks when it refers to the liberal stereotype of conservatives or people who behave according to that stereotype. The absence of quotation marks indicates that the term refers to those who are not stereotypical but nevertheless and truly conservative.

**We note that despite a promise to appoint career diplomats to ambassadorships, Obama has so far appointed a disproportionate number of political supporters, especially so-called "bundlers," to key posts like Tokyo. Obama seems a true heir of Jackson in this as well as other regards, minus the populism.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

NIV Revision: Zondervan Protects Brand, Cedes One Market

The announcement that Zondervan is revising the NIV is noteworthy, but the accompanying notice that it's discontinuing the TNIV is telling.

Gentle readers will recall that the TNIV appeared in the 1990s as the "gender neutral" edition of the NIV. A committee had revised the NT of the NIV to make more inclusive the translations of expressions that in the Greek New Testament referred to groups of mixed gender. For example, the expression adelphoi, literally meaning "brothers," was rendered "brothers and sisters" in the TNIV when in context it referred to a group that included males and females. Notably, the TNIV did nothing to God-language, adhering to the literal use of masculine language for the deity.

What followed was a brief but mighty Battle for the Bible. James Dobson, then functionally the Evangelical Pope, gave a strong endorsement to the position articulated most stridently by Wayne Grudem of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who criticized the TNIV for distorting the meaning of the text with its inclusive language.

Grudem, a highly qualified New Testament scholar commonly noted for having the strength of his own opinions (not that there's anything wrong with that), was largely alone in his criticism of the TNIV. Multiple NT scholars who share Grudem's opposition to the eradication of gender differences in the church nevertheless took issue with his criticisms (e.g., Don Carson, Craig Blomberg, Mark Strauss and yours truly).

In particular, Grudem's notion that readers would be misled if they read the TNIV closely struck most in the evangelical scholarly community as bunk. The NIV and TNIV, as "dynamic equivalent" translations that seek to translate ideas with clarity instead of words with specificity, don't led themselves to teasing out meaning from individual words. Truly, no translation does; rigorous exegesis of words requires access to original languages (and knowledge of general linguistics, which regrettably is often in short supply, but we digress).

When Grudem alleged that the TNIV represented an erosion of confidence in biblical authority or would promote the same, the embarrassment of those of us who took once took a class or two from him was complete. Worldwide, we cringed.

But Dobson, no scholar of the Bible but no stranger to controversy on gender, backed Grudem. And Dobson's endorsement of Grudem's condemnation proved to be enough. The TNIV tanked.

So, this week's announcement means that as it goes forward with the NIV brand, Zondervan is ceding the gender-neutral market to other publishers. The New Revised Standard Version seems now to have the permanent loyalty and nearly exclusive franchise of readers who want the text's inclusion of women explicit, not just implicit. Zondervan can't afford another fight for that territory when it might lose the NIV's massive hold on mainstream evangelicalism, certainly the biggest segment of the American Bible market.

If gentle readers are dismayed to think that marketing considerations enter into decisions about Bible translation, we regret again having to shake them from their naivety. Those who wonder need only contemplate the plethora of translations and editions available to English speakers, versus those languages served by single translations--some unidiomatic and based on flawed readings of the original-language texts or with no reference to the originals at all--or no translation at all. Millions of dollars goes into generating new Bibles in English, but millions more come back to successful Bible publishers. Scholars, anxious to work on something that people will actually read, are more than ready to answer the call when a publisher invites them to work on a translation project for yet another English version.

If gentle readers wonder which English version of the Bible SWNID recommends reading, the answer is Just About Any Version. The idea that any common English translation can be seriously or consistently misleading for those who read thoughtfully is disproved simply by observing the results for most people who engage the English Bible thus. We are much less concerned with whether people read the Right Translation and much more concerned that they read at all. Best of all is to read with a basic understanding of the translators' aims and methods, commonly explained in laypeople's terms in the prefaces to English versions.

And we find it unlikely that anyone has or will become a radical-feminist Christian from having read the TNIV, though we can guess that at least some will be put off from reading the Bible if they discover it only in an English version that eschews the contemporary convention of explicitly including women in collective and indefinite expressions. So we favor the promulgation of gender-neutral versions, lightly mourning the TNIV's premature death but confident that there remains a surplus of English versions by which anyone who reads English can hear God's Word understandably and without unnecessary offense.

Thaddeus McCotter Explains Why SWNID is a Republican

We believe five fundamental principles. Our liberty is from God, not the government. Our sovereignty is in our souls, not the soil. Our security is from strength, not surrender. Our prosperity is from the private sector, not the public sector. And our truths are self-evident, not relative.

For more from this obscure Congressperson, see his interview with Peter Robinson on NRO.

Not a Conspiracy Theory

We don't care much for Glenn Beck. We really don't care for scare tactics. But we do find this interview between Beck and ex-leftist agitator David Horowitz worth listening to.

It shouldn't be surprising that the Obama administration has some kooks in it, as the indispensable Peggy Noonan notes today. It's worth remembering that they came to power and attempt to hold power in the way that Horowitz describes.

Radicals are not worth being afraid of. FDR had similar kooks knocking around in his administration, some of them living in the White House and inexplicably in love with his wife. Dubya had more than a few homeschooled grads of Regent University's law school at Justice, not that there's anything wrong with that. In both cases, the Republic survived, thanks to the structural conservatism of our constitutional system and the political reality that you can't ignore majorities forever.

So stay calm, gentle readers. But speak truth to and about those guys with Che tee-shirts underneath their Brooks Brothers button-downs.

Less Is More: Laproscopic Surgery for American Healthcare

The political disagreement is not whether to cover everyone, but how to do so.

Keep it coming.

Today's WSJ has yet another eyes-wide-open discussion about reforming American healthcare, which is to say yet another approach that is pretended not to exist by those blindly following the lead of the left and so posting Facebook statuses reading "No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day."

The column is from Congresspeople John Shadegg and Pete Hoekstra, who are congenitally stupid and evil because they are Republicans but deserve a hearing first. They note:
  • American patients, whose bills are nearly all paid directly by employer-selected insurance companies or Uncle Sugar, have no sense of the connection between their treatment and the costs.
  • The legal means exists for states to subsidize care for individuals with expensive-to-treat conditions or with little means to pay for insurance.
  • The number of uninsured is less than represented but can be largely addressed by relatively simple measures.
  • The core of the American healthcare system is strong enough to yield the longest survival rates for all major cancers and just under half a million patients coming to this country from abroad for treatment each year.
Hence, they propose:
  • Allowing Americans to get the same tax break for individually purchased insurance as for employer-provided group plans, thereby empowering individuals to shop for the best price and the best coverage.
  • Creating the very high-risk pools that current law allows, enhancing them with reinsurance pools and the like, to cover folks who are inherently expensive.
  • Providing vouchers to those with low incomes to allow them the same flexibility to get coverage.
Ever wonder why there's everything from Safe Auto to State Farm for your car but not for your doc? Two reasons: (a) there's no effective price competition; (b) there's no effective limit to the expense one can incur trying to stay alive. Restoring individual control addresses the first, creating high-risk pools addresses the second. Vouchers make the benefits available to all.

It's a safe bet this won't be acknowledged Wednesday night.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Expectations of Obama's Upcoming Speeches

On Tuesday, President Obama will address school children. On Wednesday, he will address Congress.

What should one make of these events?

Some "conservative"* parents are protesting the Tuesday event, saying that the President is seeking to indoctrinate their children with socialism. We especially like the move of these "conservatives" in arguing that the state ought to review the speech to approve it as curriculum. Quite graceful to fight socialism with government control of education.

We say that parents who worry about indoctrination of their children ought to consider that children aren't stupid. If the President strays from the usual bromides about studying hard and staying off drugs, instead calling for students of the world to unite and throw off their capitalist chains, parents should simply help their children understand that socialism doesn't work. Begin the task of economic education with the rug rats. They'll catch on soon enough, sooner than they'll organize for revolution.

And by the way, if parents think kids are that easy for political figures to indoctrinate, let's see how effective the indoctrination proves to be as far as the studying hard and the staying off drugs are concerned.

So what should be made of the Tuesday speech is utterly nothing. We hope the kids enjoy a break from the routine to watch the President do his Presidential thing.

The Wednesday speech is more momentous, at least until it happens. The goal here is to restart the healthcare initiative. The Prez has one available gambit that might win: pull everything off the table except one element somewhere in the middle, like providing a tax break for individuals to buy insurance, paid for with a tax on high-end insurance offered by employers as a benefit. That is so noncontroversial that it ought to pass.

Except that the left wing of the Democratic Party expects the Prez to deliver everything or nothing. Liberal Democrats await the arrival of universal, government-provided health insurance like Christians await the return of Jesus, only with more urgency than most Christians. So a realistic, incremental, bipartisan move will go nowhere with this administration that owes its political life and soul to the left. And now, it seems, they've said as much, if Joe Biden is to be believed.

What will the Wednesday speech produce, then? We say nothing. Obama's initiative is dead, not because he's a bad politician but because he's backing an inherently bad idea. Folks know that you can't do what Obama promises without more money than there is now or ever will be. It'll take awhile for the drama to play out, but this "failure" will be about the same as Clinton's, also accompanied by a speech to Congress, some sixteen years ago.
*We hereby adopt the stylistic convention of putting conservative in quotation marks whenever it refers to the liberal stereotype of conservatives or people who behave like the liberal stereotype of conservatives.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

This Gets It

We applaud the brief excerpt featured in the Daily Mail from a forthcoming Prayer Book for Spouses published by the London-based Catholic Truth Society. We quote from the story:

Roman Catholic couples are being encouraged to pray together before they have sex.

A book published by a prominent Church group invites those setting out on married life to recite the specially-composed Prayer Before Making Love.

It is aimed at 'purifying their intentions' so that the act is not about selfishness or hedonism.

The prayer, which appears in the Prayer Book for Spouses, implores God 'to place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes'.

It adds: 'Open our hearts to you, to each other and to the goodness of your will.

'Cover our poverty in the richness of your mercy and forgiveness. Clothe us in true dignity and take to yourself our shared aspirations, for your glory, for ever and ever.'

Grade: A+. If the theology of the cross doesn't affect every aspect of life, it isn't properly applied This is the notion that true, joyous life is found in giving oneself, not in receiving--the very heart of the implication of what Christians confess.

The Impending Conservative Resurgence

We briefly call attention to the following:
Meanwhile, what seems to be getting lots of press is Sam Tanenhaus's book The Death of Conservatism. Not having read the book but having been overwhelmed with reviews, we conclude that this book is the subject of buzz not because it is obviously correct--political conservatism has been around since the Enlightenment and has managed other periods of popular decline without extinction--but because its presaged outcome is so devoutly wished for by many readers.

In fact, our scant attention to his book makes us think that Tanenhaus is not predicting the death of conservatism as such but the short shelf-life of some of its most obvious spokespeople at present. Like most libs, what Tananhuas seems to dislike most passionately is not conservative ideology but conservative rhetoric, specifically people like Sarah Palin (always first on the list presently), Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove and the Evil Dubya himself.

And so we wonder: what would political and religious life be like if people could distinguish between their reasoned disagreement with a position and their visceral, aesthetic dislike of a person?

We doubt that such will ever happen. But we do think voters are getting in touch with their gag reflex once more as they continue to be exposed to leaders of the left. And so we expect changing political outcomes in the next election cycle.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Creation v. Evolution in Religion with a Calendrical Fixation

Seventh-Day Adventists, a mixed religious multitude if ever there was one, are mixing it up on Creation v. Evolution.

The controversy is at La Sierra University, a California institution of the SDA, where a student has publicly protested his grade on a paper submitted as the capstone project in a capstone course dealing with paleontology. The student submitted a paper, which the professor deemed insufficient. The student then countered that he believed that his paper was downgraded (to a C: the student graduated as planned) because he was advocating a young-earth position. The professor elaborated on his critique and took responsibility for poor communication to the student about his expectations. Then all this went public, to the predictable consternation of all concerned.

To lots of folks, this appears to be yet another battle in the apocalyptic struggle between the truth and ignorance/unbelief (and note that it appears to be such from either of the two polarized sides, with designations switched). Based on what we pre-confess to be a superficial reading of the primary-source documents, we think it's a little different than that.

First, the paper is the predictable, oft-seen outcome for students who genuinely fail to engage their studies beyond the superficial. The student's paper reads to us like so many that we read--what in our weaker moments we blame for our reluctance to grade the papers that stack up on our desk. It's superficiality is suffocating. Littered with the pleasant cliches that students use to dress up their writing with what appears to them to be academic rigor, adorned by specific data that by its exclusive selection misrepresents the issue, it really just channels some very dated critiques of the evidence for an old earth which themselves fail to get down to business.

The SWNIDish academic discipline is not part of the natural sciences, of course. It's a historical, literary, theological discipline: New Testament exegesis. But SWNID has read more than his share of papers of this kind, from underclassmen, graduating seniors, and even graduate students. We share the frustration of professors at La Sierra who have spent a semester laying out the data that make an issue complex while at the same time leading students to a response to the data that is consistent with Christian faith, only to have the students (not all, not most, but more than we care for) retreat in their final written work to inaccurate, hackneyed, half-baked, over-simplified rhetoric borrowed from some internet site, trade publication (curse you, Josh McDowell!), Christian seminar, or Sunday sermon.

In our case, the student might ignore our careful exposition of such observable realities, big and little, as:
  • the fact that no one today seriously argues against the resurrection of Jesus based on stolen-body, wrong-tomb or swoon theories.
  • the fact that narrative works in the Bible, based on their own internal structure, are not written as compendia of things to imitate directly but must be read with respect to the themes that emerge from their compositional elements.
  • the fact that "if you are the Son of God" in the temptation narrative of Matthew and Luke is not in Greek a statement of doubt about Jesus' identity.
Yet we regularly read student essays that do such things as:
  • ignoring the real contemporary challenge to the resurrection of Jesus, that it is a visionary experience or allegorical/mythical narrative, and instead "refuting" the stolen-body, wrong-tomb and swoon theories to "prove" that Jesus really arose.
  • ignoring the thematic elements of a narrative book in favor of expositions on "Jesus' method of discipleship," "Paul's leadership methods in Acts," or "church growth principles in Acts."
  • discussing how Jesus' temptation shows that Satan's "first strategy is to make you doubt who you really are."
We used to think this happened because as a teacher, we are a dismal failure. Now we conveniently blame the students for paying scant attention until the end of the term and then scampering to say something coherent to get out of jail on their third roll. In a panic, they fall back on what they've heard others say, even if they just heard it five minutes ago through a Google search. What they've heard and reproduce often has the virtue of being the very thing they've been explicitly and specifically warned against all semester, without their offering timely objection or even query.

We note that our examples of such failures will strike most readers as noncontroversial. Indeed they are, though at least one was for us briefly and inconsequentially made a matter of controversy by those precious few who enjoy such inconsequential controversy. All this from our view affirms that what happened at La Sierra was nothing more than the usual student failure, except that the matter fell in a subject about which people are fighting and will continue to do so for some time.

Second, the SDA is in a tough spot. Their historic preoccupation with dates on calendars leads them to the unenviable position of having to work with statements of faith that affirm young-earth creationism explicitly. La Sierra University seems to be attempting to skirt this issue. If we were interested in the internal politics of the SDA, we'd wonder whether this controversy might lead to an open dialogue within the SDA about whether such matters really are essential to the church's belief system--as it did sometime back when many SDA members began adopting a soteriology more in tune with historic Christian (and biblical, in our view) notions of grace. It's obvious from a quick reading of the La Sierra affair that many associated with the SDA don't accept a young earth as a matter of dogma. If the SDA is to continue its commitment to maintaining universities of the arts and sciences, it'll have a tough time doing it if the church raises its commitment to a young earth to the point of revising curricula and replacing personnel.

Third, what drives this controversy, as in so many other areas, is the nefarious false choice ("Exposing the Nefarious False Choice" would be a good alternate name for this blog). Those who are taking shots at La Sierra are calling it a matter of creationism versus Darwinian evolution. Of course, we ask, Might it be possible that the God of Genesis 1-3 created the earth and the universe it occupies through a process lasting several billions of years up to the present? It only takes a tentative yes to make this issue noncontroversial for people who want their faith to be biblical.