Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Adults

They happen to be Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan.

Ryan months ago proposed a plan that initiated the honest discussion that is now leading to the fiscal pact about to be enacted. And what he proposed is still better than anything proposed since.

Rubio yesterday on the Senate floor offered the most cogent analysis of the situation that we've heard:



Too bad they're still too inexperienced to lead a national ticket. In the best case, they can do so in 2020. In the worst, in 2016.

Outlines of Debt Compromise Emerge - Major Garrett - NationalJournal.com

If conservatives can't live with a deal like the one hastily outlined and hastily linked below, they are divorced from political reality. To wit: no new taxes.

Same for lefties. You got clobbered in 2010, and you only won in 2008 because your guy was cool.

Hey, Chicken Little! Revise your celestial estimate! The Chinese will still buy Treasurys on Wednesday.


Outlines of Debt Compromise Emerge - Major Garrett - NationalJournal.com

Friday, July 29, 2011

Al Franken: Still Wrong, Not Funny, Except by Accident

At least as a senator, he's not supposed to be funny.

Al Franken is advertising on Facebook to get people to sign a petition against the Defense of Marriage Act. Such internet petitions, of course, are really trolling for the email addresses of likeminded people to hound them for donations to the upcoming Battle Royale that will determine whether future Americans will live in a place like America or one like Greece. But we enjoy Franken's unsubtle attempt at such subterfuge because the former comedian, forced into politics by his inability to be amusing, manages now to be unintentionally funny. Note the opening paragraph of his marketing-ploy-disguised-as-a-cause:

There’s no good argument against marriage equality. There’s no good argument in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. And there’s no reason we should wait one more day to repeal it.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The arguments/reasons (why the shift from "argument" to "reason" in the third sentence? the lack of commitment to the rhetoric is an additional irritant) are good enough to convince a lot of people more thoughtful than the failed founder of AirAmerica.

In keeping with the gravity of the web posting, we registered Messrs. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, always suspected of seeking an unconventional marriage to each other, as supporters of Franken's campaign. Really, for those who maintain a secondary email account for receiving rubbish, it's kinda fun to sign up for these things, knowing that you will then receive endless emails inviting you to send $10, $100 or $1000 to slay the barbarians and usher in Utopia. They're fun too, that is, at least as fun as this was:


Dr. K: It's About Two Views of Our Republic

We’re in the midst of a great four-year national debate on the size and reach of government, the future of the welfare state, indeed, the nature of the social contract between citizen and state. The distinctive visions of the two parties — social-democratic vs. limited-government — have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama’s inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

Yep. Opinionist Charles Krauthammer and journalistic analyst Gerald Seib see things exactly the same way. The current debate is about different notions of how economic and political life ought to be lived. And the issue can only be settled by an election.

To everything else they and we have said about this, we'll add one more element. Much depends on whether Americans will own up to their individual double-mindedness about such matters. To wit: most citizens are insistent that the government both (a) get off their back; and (b) give them increasing entitlements. Hence, both (a) Tea Party conservatives who want the budget balanced yesterday without touching Social Security and Medicare; (b) Subaru socialists who want the price to be paid by the rich, who happen to be just beyond the economic ambitions that they have for their offspring.

In our mind, we imagine a political Don Corleone who will do to Our Republic what that celebrated character did to Johnny Fontane:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott Showed Us How It's Done

In tribute to the late John Stott, we link not one of the many articles of tribute that has appeared since his death yesterday but an article from 2004 by David Brooks of the New York Times. Brooks captured Stott's contribution to Christianity in SWNID's generation as well as we've ever seen it done.

As a sometime visitor to All Souls Langham Place, where Stott preached next door to the BBC's studios, and as an admirer of every aspect of his ministry, we add this tribute. In our view, Stott was one of the first to realize that Great Britain, Europe, and North America had entered a post-Christian cultural condition. He led first his church and influenced many others to articulate the Christian gospel in ways that were clear, accessible and appealing to a post-Christian audience, and without sacrificing any aspect of historic orthodoxy. We believe that when the history of Christianity in our lifetime is written centuries from now, Stott will be noted as crucial to the church's survival and revival in lands where once it had been predominant but then had become marginalized.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wallis's Fundies Prooftext Budget Debate

Sojourners is buying radio time to hector the budget debate with prooftexts.

As CNN reports:

The minute-long spot attacking Boehner's plan says the book of Proverbs "teaches that where there is not leadership a nation falls and the poor are shunned while the rich have many friends."

"Sadly Congress has failed to heed these Biblical warnings, and our own Rep. Boehner is risking the health of our economy if America defaults on its debts," the ad says.

Wow, that settles it, doesn't it? Why bother with marcroeconomic considerations when you've got Wallis and his ilk to make it all so very simple?

Jim, we won't ask how things like means-testing Social Security benefits or cutting off government money for NPR would hurt the poor. We'll just take your word for it, and take spiritual comfort in our shared indignation. And write you a check so that you can continue to articulate biblical principles for the sake of those who have no voice in the debate.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Truth Behind the Pay Wall: Seib Describes Rival American Political Philosophies

WSJ's Gerald Seib, always as mild and moderate as lowfat vanilla yogurt, today offers as apt a description as one can imagine of the contrasting fiscal philosophies of Our Republic's only two political parties. As it's behind the pay wall, we quote from our privileged position as a Kindle subscriber:

Democrats see the governments' [sic] role edging up as the nation ages and its economy matures. Moreover, they see that as the inevitable and desirable evolution of a nation making good on its social compact with a graying population and competing in a global economy where state-directed economies such as China's use the power of government to prevail.

Republicans watch those same trends and recoil from what they see as a nation drifting away from its traditional economic moorings and toward the inherently flawed models of a socialist Europe and a mercantilist China. They see a social compact that needs to be trimmed as the economy matures and a government role in the economy that shouldn't grow to compete with China but rather be curtailed to differentiate the American model from the Chinese one.

Indeed! And, we add to the last sentence, to continue on the path that historically and universally has produced more prosperity for more people than its competitors, both in the United States and elsewhere.

Seib is as evenhanded as he can be with this, really a model of journalistic neutrality (and note well that he continues to work for WSJ long after Evil Genius Rupert Murdoch's sinister takeover). Some with weak constitutions may respond by saying, "Well, both sides have good things to say. Who can determine who's right in this? I'll just vote for the best candidate."

Wrong. Given that politics and economics is as much art as science, one is compelled to say that the obvious bet is to bet on oneself and people like oneself. Citizenship, not client-patron relations, makes us happier, healthier, wealthier, and wiser. Vote for the people who affirm your adulthood. Blame the people who infantilize you.

And so one party says that we much tax the rich more so that we can include the rich amongst the clients of government patronage, never means-testing entitlements or stifling crony-capitalistic ventures that we label "investments in our future." The other plans to not so much to starve the middle man as put him on a diet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

2012 Is Why We Don't Have a Deal Yet

WaPo's Jennifer Rubin reports what John Boehner and Eric Cantor said to their caucus yesterday about the dissolution of talks on a debt-ceiling deal. We take two points away.

One is that there will be something passed in time to avoid the train wreck, though a slip in the bond rating is probably inevitable anyway.

The other is that the problem is 2012, and it's more a problem for the Ds than the Rs. Ds know that they were decimated in 2010 and face the same in 2012 without a game changer. Getting hung with a fresh "tax-and-spend" label would make matters worse, but pulling Bill Clinton's trick of blaming the Rs for a government-shutdown-type experience could be just enough to get BHO a term to follow his warmup.

Meanwhile, you've got to listen awfully, awfully closely to hear that spending at 24% of GDP is fundamentally higher under Obama than ever before in the post-WWII era, that no matter what we do with tax rates, we've never managed to collect much more than about 20% of GDP in taxes, and so the problem is not that Richie Rich pays too little but that we all, through the patrons we elect every two years, spend too much.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Once Again, What the Real Problem Is

From columnist Jack Kelly:

Another way to indicate the problem is spending -- specifically, Mr. Obama's spending -- if federal spending were held to what it was during President Bush's last year in office, deficits likely would be eliminated in four years.

Can we all please agree to the math and get on with the decision?

Just Where You'd Least Expect It: "Born That Way" Doesn't Cut It

Before today, we would've nominated Mother Jones as one of the top five places where we'd least expect to find a serious journalistic piece challenging the orthodoxy that gays are born that way.

Which is reason alone to recommend Gary Greenberg's "Gay By Choice: The Science of Sexual Identity."

The article is worthwhile for multiple reasons, really: as a summary of the history of thought on homosexuality, as a review of the present state of the research on the origins and causes of the same, as a thoughtful report on people who dissent practically from the established position that the only thing for people to do who experience same-sex attraction is to accept and embrace it as of their essence, as a challenge to dogmas of all kinds on the issue.

We won't even try to summarize, except to say that Greenberg shows that with people, things are not as simple as we try to make them. And if folks who debate the politics of this were simply as thoughtful as Greenberg, the discussion would certainly be more edifying to all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Revising Monogamy, or the Prophet Homer Simpson

In 2003, when the Supremes ruled that states can't criminalize same-sex sex acts, Justice Scalia dissented that this reasoning demands that any so-called "private" behavior be legal, including polygamy. Of course, he wasn't the first to see a slippery slope in the derivation of a "right to privacy" in the American Constitutional tradition.

Since then, those who object to same-sex marriage have commonly repeated Scalia's notion, to the cacophonous catcalls of the cause's champions.

Lately, of course, the champions of the cause seem to be carrying the day, as the enlightened legislators elected by the enlightened citizens of New York have voted to equate same-sex relationships with opposite-sex relationships by legalizing same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, in the deserts of Utah, a small, unconventional "family" is suing for what they call same right, the right to be left alone. And their intrepid attorney makes their case in--you guessed it--the Gray Lady.

Jonathan Turley, Esquire, pillories Scalia, of course. One can't mention Scalia in the Manichean Times without damning him. Taken as a whole, however, his piece affirms that Scalia was right in his pronouncement, as Turley rejoins with the journalistic equivalent of, Who cares? It's none of your [obscene participle deleted] business! Here's a telling quotation:

Justice Scalia is right in one respect, though not intentionally. Homosexuals and polygamists do have a common interest: the right to be left alone as consenting adults. Otherwise he’s dead wrong. There is no spectrum of private consensual relations — there is just a right of privacy that protects all people so long as they do not harm others.

In other words, there's no slippery slope: the "right to privacy" is an elevator straight to the bottom. There's no spectrum because the right of privacy trumps any perception held by the public that a "private" behavior is wrong. So stop trying to scare the public with nasty-sounding terms for esoteric, allegedly "perverse" behaviors. It's all just "privacy." Turley's objection to Scalia is not his reasoning about what privacy entails but his disapproval of any of the behaviors deemed private.

Concerning plural marriage, we urge Mr. Turley to do the math and the history on the way to deciding what deserves disapproval. Men and women exist in approximately equal numbers. If they pair off exclusively, all have more or less the same chance for forming a family. If some men take multiple wives (essentially it never works the other way, of course), some men are deprived the chance. Thus arise power plays: rich men enticing multiple wives, progressively younger, while poor men are strategically marginalized (note the polite understatement). Stories of teenage males being pushed out of polygamous communities in Our Republic's still lawless Intermountain Region are but one example (the M√ľnster rebellion is another) of the inevitability that arises from human arithmetic. It's not for nothing that some describe the development of monogamy as the most powerful social equalizer in human history. Monogamy, dare we say it, is the foundational institution of social justice.

By the way, this is the genius of the biblical standard of monogamy: that in a culture that had never questioned polygamy, the Bible begins with the articulation of the monogamous ideal, proceeds to narrate polygamy as an inevitably disastrous adventure, and climaxes with a story that forever makes all human relationships--including permanent, faithful, heterosexual marriage--about serving others rather than self. "Privacy" gets crucified, if you will.

But back to the politics in a democratic republic. In many areas we consider it the state's business to regulate otherwise private behaviors for the public good. SWNID can't shoot deer or burn trash in his back yard, for example, even though there are private benefits to both and little, if any, direct public detriment (a few rounds from a single rifle or a little smoke from a single trash fire are statistically no  risk to anyone). But the reasoning for prohibiting such things is Kantian: what if everybody did it, or at least a lot of folk? We don't want the city's atmosphere filled with bullets and smoke, so we forbid even one act that, when replicated, gives rise to disastrous social outcomes.

The state has at least as much an interest in regulating what constitutes "marriage" as it has enforcing zoning laws, minimum wages, or a host of other matters that are essentially "private" (like, no joke, how big the SWNIDish compost pile grows in our urban landscape). Let's generously include the ObamaCare health-insurance mandate (tread carefully here, conservatives: your opportunism in attacking what might be ephemerally the political weakness of the Affordable Care Act may come back to bite you). That's why historically our laws have shown a sharp preference for opposite-sex monogamy as marriage's standard: isolated polygamy may be "mostly harmless" to everyone else, but what if it weren't isolated?

Truth is, we use laws all the time to encourage otherwise private behaviors that we deem preferable. "You can't legislate morality" simply means that law doesn't change people on the inside or attain 100% compliance with any law. Law influences behaviors away from what is illegal, as the slowdown on the highway near the state trooper's roadside hiding place persistently demonstrates.

Advocate-for-hire Turley does SWNID's work for us by tacitly acknowledging that "marriage" in our culture is already on life support. He notes the obvious: "In olden days . . . Now, heaven knows, anything goes" [not Turley's words, but for sure Cole Porter knew what he was talking about]. Specifically, Turley's piece would have no significance were it not for the fact that Western culture decided a generation ago that marriage is "just a piece of paper," not the socially preferred means of acting sexually and forming families. In that respect, his legal reasoning is almost immaculate.

We say "almost" because such reasoning sooner or later runs into the problem of social effect. That is, after people get on the privacy elevator and it swiftly descends to the behavioral bottom and opens its doors, they have to look around.

In 2005, Homer Simpson opened a same-sex marriage chapel in his protean garage. Challenged by the ever-insightful Kent Brockman that his practice meant that anything could be married to anything, Homer explored whether any limits remained: "It has to exist! . . . Or does it?" Those prophetic words now echo down the corridors of history.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sauce for the Goose: Why True Conservatives Should Swap Lower Marginal Rates for an End to Charitable Deductions

Just now we overheard an overheated radio host say that reducing or ending the tax deduction for charitable donations would make people more dependent on government.

A couple of weeks ago, at what purported to be a roundtable discussion of influential local conservatives, we heard nothing but fear and loathing for any reduction in the charitable deduction.

Conservatives should not think this way. Or maybe they just aren't thinking.

Is this heresy? No, it's free-market gospel. Not for profits would be better off without the charitable deduction. Follow our immaculate reasoning, gentle readers!

First, nobody who can do math gives charitably simply for a deduction. Even if you're taxed to the max, the deduction is always worth less than what you gave away (deduction's value = gift x marginal tax rate [which is well less than 100%]). People give because they want to. The deduction makes it cheaper, doubtless creating more giving, but the deduction doesn't motivate giving as such. Givers would still give without the deduction. Maybe not all givers, but certainly most; maybe not as much, but certainly still a lot. Just ask them.

Second, if people have more to begin with, they'll generally give more. Reducing marginal tax rates would put more money in people's pockets. If marginal tax rates are reduced while charitable deductions are reduced on a more or less dollar-for-dollar (revenue-neutral) basis, the reduction in gifts because of the deduction's phase-out could be offset by the effect of growing take-home income on generosity. And since reducing marginal rates historically has fueled economic growth, the extra-income dividend to charities may even be greater than otherwise.

Third, deciding and tracking what's deductible and what isn't is a big problem and a big expense. Charities engage in all kinds of subterfuge to stay legal while adhering to donor interests (e.g., gifts received for an individual's support are generally received with a weird work-around on the restriction that deductible gifts can't be given directly to benefit an individual). The charitable deduction is the primary problem in drawing the line between political and religious or other tax-deductible activity in many organizations. It's the primary problem for NPOs incorporating, as the IRS regulates such organizations with a view to protecting the integrity of the charitable deduction. It has led to the formation of bogus "churches" to which some dopes contribute their income so that they can collect (tax-deductible) housing allowances as clergy in their self-formed congregation of self-worship. Everyone would save dough if this were eliminated, legitimate charities most of all. Plus, everyone would save some integrity. Say farewell to the tax-shelter charity, America!

Fourth, there's every likelihood that the charitable deduction keeps alive some marginal NPOs that would otherwise disappear. We think that's not such a bad outcome. Who wants to justify every 501 (c) 3 organization's existence? Many need to merge, be taken over, or liquidate.

Fifth, it's hardly consistent with robust conservatism, opposed as it is to dependency on government patronage, to consider the charitable deduction necessary for the sustenance of those who do good through the gifts of those who do well.

OK, everybody. Let's show that thoughtful, charitable conservatives can buck the trend and lead the way on renouncing special-interest politics. Write your congressman today and insist that the charitable deduction be eliminated in what we hope is the impending round of tax reform.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Juxtaposition of Economic Notions

Today's Cincinnati Enquirer, by design or accident, brings together two opinion pieces that couldn't contrast more.

At the top of the opinion page is "community voice" (translation: unpaid, one-time columnist) Robert W. Thurston, a history prof at Miami U. The upshot of Thurston's column is that we need for the government to tax the rich because (a) they're presently not spending their money; (b) except on wasteful luxuries; so (c) we need to take their money to employ more people in government.

Thurston thankfully concedes that making and selling tasteless toys for the rich does employ people. But he doesn't bother to ask whether, on balance, people spend their own money better than the government spends other people's money. We'll stipulate all the Philistine geegaws that Thurston cites and throw in the various bridges to nowhere and $3000 toilet seats and such, bought on our behalf by the best and brightest in DC. Comparing the best "investments" of Uncle Sugar to the worst waste of Uncle Pennybags only prolongs our getting the point so aptly made by Adam Smith and updated by Milton Friedman.

At the bottom of the page is the sublime Amity Shlaes, herself also an historian, but an historian of economics, and one who has found gainful employment outside academe. She reminds the impatient that the economic roar of the Roaring Twenties was fueled by the assiduous efforts of the Harding (!) and Coolidge (♥) administrations to control public expenditures, wait out economic adjustment and thereby answer the distressed call for more public benefits with more private prosperity.

But, our friend Dr. Thurston might rejoin, what are we to do about the two trillions on which America's (evil, stupid, tasteless) rich corporations are sitting on? The answer includes: (a) understand how a recent crisis of liquidity encourages businesses to hold cash; (b) wait for the malinvestment of the previous boom, especially in real estate, to dissipate; (c) in the meantime improve the business climate by assuring reasonable tax rates (unburdened by policies that politically favor this or that kind of business activity), sound currency, and reasonably limited government activity; so that (d) when promising investment opportunities arise, as they always do, businesses will be ready to risk their capital on them; (e) thereby raising productivity and producing real economic growth from which all will benefit.

By the way, did anyone happen to notice that the austere balancing of Ohio's budget has already improved its bond rating, without the concomitant falling of the sky?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Looking for God? Blame Your Brain!

Science Daily today abstracts some behavioral research indicating that the human brain naturally posits such religious thoughts as the existence of gods with superhuman abilities and the survival of the person after death or its existence before birth.

As one researcher put it:

This project suggests that religion is not just something for a peculiar few to do on Sundays instead of playing golf.

What does this "prove"?

One side would say that there's something dysfunctional about our neurology that makes us believe things that aren't empirically verifiable. For example, the fact that children give up thinking that their mothers can see everything but persist in believing that someone whom they can't see can see everything can be taken as evidence that we simply need to give up belief in what isn't empirical. It's childish, maybe rooted in an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

Meanwhile, the other side says that we seem to be designed to entertain such thoughts, perhaps by the one who wants us thereby to respond to his overtures.

How to choose? Well, this is but one of many factors to consider, isn't it? We think that it's rather hard to keep looking for the means to explain the persistence of human thought about god as dysfunction. Call that epistemological surrender. We've run out of excuses, so we concede to God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Panetta Goes Off Message, Speaks Truth

We're in Iraq because of 9/11.

We didn't say that. Leon Panetta, the most productive member of the Obama Administration, said that.

And, of course, it's true. No, the Taliban and Al Qaida weren't based in Iraq. But Saddam was part of the Middle Eastern nastiness that gives rise to such groups, and everyone in the neighborhood was glad to have him gone as part of the American response to the war coming to the homeland.

The Daily Beast article linked above is worth reading for its larger analysis as well, because it comes from the sublime Fouad Ajami, who makes more sense of the Middle East than anyone alive. We extensively quote:

Perhaps the rift over Iraq can never be healed. But in the presidency of Barack Obama, and the stewardship of Leon Panetta, we might yet come to a reckoning with Iraq’s place in the broader scheme of the Pax Americana. We have gains in Iraq, and they are worth protecting. We have not remade Iraq—it continues to test our patience, its leaders are given to the obligatory expressions of anti-Americanism typical of that Arab-Islamic landscape. The Iraqis need the American presence, and the American training and air cover, but are too proud and timid to admit it. We have not hatched a perfect democracy on the Tigris, and this we know. But the center holds in that country, and in proximity to the brutal regimes in Iran and Syria, Iraq appears to be a place where America had not labored in vain.
In this time of great turmoil in the Arab world, Iraq had not come apart, its army has not turned against its people. Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, himself no friend of the Iraq War, conceded this truth about Iraq in his final days in office. In a tone of wonder, he said that Iraq has emerged as “the most advanced Arab democracy in the region.” Iraqis weren’t “in the streets shooting each other, the government wasn’t in the streets shooting its people,” he added. The scenarios of Iraq’s fragmentation along ethnic and sectarian lines—once so dear to Vice President Joe Biden—have not materialized. The Iraqi example hadn’t launched that Arab Spring, but there can be no denying the inspiration given Arabs beyond Iraq by the spectacle of Saddam Hussein being flushed out of his spider hole. He had been a proud rooster, and Arabs in Tunis and Cairo and Benghazi could henceforth imagine a similar fate for the roosters in their midst.
We needn’t trumpet in public that a residual American presence in Iraq would help monitor Iran next door. This would be no help to the Iraqis. In the nature of things, Iraq’s leaders will have to reiterate that they are neutral in the standoff between Iran and the United States, and that their country will not serve as a base for American military operations in Iraq’s neighborhood. Still, the American presence in Iraq will have a deterrent value in our dealings with Iran.
Let the erstwhile critics of the Iraq War now see, and defend, its gains. It would be too much to ask of them to own up to the errors of years past. Suffice it that they do the right thing, and that they nurture what their predecessors had secured.

More on the Marriage Watershed

The NY gay marriage vote continues to resound. Because it represents the first legislative victory for same-sex marriage, and because it is coincident with polling that indicates a majority of Our Republic's citizens don't see gender as a significant issue in marriage, one can say with some justification that we are at a cultural watershed.

So what should Christians do without cultural support for the Christian ideal of faithful monogamy that they have enjoyed for centuries? Columnist Rod Dreher doesn't know exactly, but he states well the broad outline:

What church leaders need now is to have a frank conversation among themselves, and to come up with a strategy for survival in the age to come. No, I'm not talking about surviving a persecution (though that may yet come), but rather the survival of authentic Christianity in a culture that is growing increasingly alien, even hostile, to what, from a sociological point of view, could be its core teaching.

We urge careful reading of Dreher's column for its sober assessment of the miserable situation that the present presents. This is a jeremiad, but a justified one.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Historic Cringe Moment Approaches

The inimitable and irrepressible James Taranto today articulates the First Rule of Liberalism: "government failure always justifies more government."

And it appears to be grimly so.

Having already passed an epic tax increase in the Orwellian-titled Affordable Care Act, BHO now holds out on necessary spending cuts for the sake of still more tax increases in the name of fairness. That's a trillion dollars of fairness, by the way. With a t. Apparently, fairness is taking as much of the public's money as possible in order to give it back to those favored by those who tax. And if half the populace already pays no federal income tax and 50% of the same is paid by 10% of the populace, it's merely proof that millionaires and billionaires aren't paying their fair share.

What are Republicans to do? Barter for as many spending cuts as they can manage, especially modifying the CPI adjustments to entitlement payments, tell the public that they gave in on taxes because the Dems were holding a loaded gun to the public's head, and then run the next campaign on tax relief.

We'll say it again: if it's been possible to run the federal government on less than 20% of GDP since WWII, why can't it be done now?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Westboro to Picket NACC: SWNID Advises Conventioneers

The extended-family/publicity-stunt/mind-control-cult known as Westboro Baptist Church will be in Cincinnati on July 7 to picket the North American Christian Convention.

This will cause conventioneers much dismay. Some will attempt to argue. Others will attempt to break through with Random Acts of Kindness.

We recommend a third alternative. Really, we'd like to insist, but we might as well just recommend.

It's what we've recommended before:

Ignore them.

Don't argue. They like that, and they don't listen.

Don't do the kindness thing. It's still attention, which is what these folk crave.

Just ignore them. Really. It won't give you much heroic stature, but it will do less to fuel the Westboro fire than any alternative that presents itself.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Passenger Rail: Now By Definition a Boondoggle

Michael Barone calls Our Republic's attention to Hawaii's bid to build a multi-billion-dollar heavy-rail passenger system in Oahu, most of it built through agricultural land or lightly populated suburbs.

N.B. that Oahu has a smaller population than any city with heavy-rail transit.

Why make such plans? For the opportunity to score "investment" dollars from a rail-happy Federal Chief Executive.

We could probably transport Oahu's commuters more cheaply by corporate jet.

Roast the Wild Goose

It's worse than first described.

The Economist, believe it or not, offers a retrospective on Wild Goose. We doubt that the correspondent was trying to mischaracterize the event, so let's say that a thoughtful reader of the article would probably write "syncretism" in its margin.

Oh, and dumb Christian theology also. Note well that in all the church's historical disputes about the rite of baptism, a self-administered bath has never been countenanced, inasmuch as the act is supposed to signify something done to the helpless sinner. Not so at Wild Goose.

Note well, gentle readers, that said correspondent aptly describes the "emergent" folk as disaffected evangelicals, implying that many are disaffected because of personal problems with Dad and Mom. Emergent/emerging Christianity is like rock and roll, which has been aptly defined as "music that adolescents like because their parents hate it."

BHO Attempts Dynasty Building

Joe Biden is out. Andy Cuomo is in. So sayeth the NY Post.

Given all factors there can be in a veep choice (balancing a ticket ideologically or regionally are the other issues, and Cuomo offers nothing for either), BHO's reasons are clear. Biden will not succeed to the throne after two BHO terms. Cuomo has presumptively presidential political potency and is young enough to lead his party for eight years.

We bet on this happening and will not take a bet against it succeeding. With every passing day, the GOP thinks wistfully of 1996, when it had a candidate of decent stature to lose against an embattled Democratic incumbent.

At Aspen Bill Clinton epitomized the situation well. Obama has enough to run on and not much to run against. He'll likely win.

We think that's especially the case because as the campaign wears on, voters in swing states (PA, FL, OH) that will decide the election will opt for the safe choice as they are underwhelmed by the alternative.

Those who care about governance, not just politics, still have something to do in 2012: elect a Republican-led Senate and re-elect a Republican House and Republican statehouses and governors' mansions. Divided we stand!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Wish We Could Have Been There!

Douthat on Marriage of All Kinds

SWNID has been working on an essay on the impact of same-sex marriage on marriage in general. But now that essays is almost entirely redundant. Ross Douthat, the Gray Lady's estimable token conservative Catholic (which is to say, someone who attempts to think Christian-ly), has done it for us.

Douthat surveys the potential points of impact, variously, that same-sex marriage will (a) make same-sex relationships more conservative and faithful than they have been heretofore; (b) make all marriages less faithful; (c) provide the means by which the relative faithfulness of a marriage will be negotiated by the partners.

Fair enough: we don't see any other likely permutations. But then Douthat gets the the heart of the matter: America's prosperous classes experimented with swinging a generation ago (as Updike chronicled, by the way), and discovered increased misery. Hence, marriage among the better off has become more stable most recently.

So here's the lesson that ought to be learned, but won't be learned often enough or deeply enough:

Institutions tend to be strongest when they make significant moral demands, and weaker when they pre-emptively accommodate themselves to human nature.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Fourteenth to the Rescue

As political brinksmanship livens up the cool, damp summer, a constitutional battle between the executive and legislature is now unfolding.

Congress, divided between two polarized political parties, cannot agree on a budget that will give its members political cover to raise the so-called debt ceiling. Default looms, with the specter of interest rates going up like Roman candles and the economy exploding into ashes like the same. Both sides trade political barbs about the other, with one side having the politics of class warfare as its only tool to keep its atrophied patrons in organized labor and leftist netroots happy, while the other, no less shameless in its employment of inane political rhetoric, at least pursue virtues of macroeconomic common sense.

Will the political impasse lead to economic collapse? We doubt it, thanks to the genius of the US Constitution.

On its way to ending discussion of the Union honoring Confederate war debts or paying reparations to slave owners (and leaving the question of reparations to slaves wide open, by the way), the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution begins its fourth section by stating flatly, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

This clause gives the Obama administration reason to consider whether the President's oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States authorizes him to order the Treasury to issue debt to cover the spending that a feckless and spendthrift Congress has authorized. SWNID is no constitutional scholar, though our academic discipline bears a closer resemblance to such than to just about any other. But we venture the opinion that this interpretation of the Constitution is probably sounder than what has been done over a generation to the "commerce clause."

Go for it, Mr. President. Sell those bonds! It's your duty. We mean it, without the least hint of sarcasm. When husband tells wife, "Spend more than we have, but don't use the credit cards," the wife is justified in doing one or the other, but not both. If the federal marriage is to work, the one who does the spending and borrowing needs to be able to decide whether to do both or neither when the legislative instructions conflict.

For those who think that Congress rulz on such matters, or that the Supremes ought to settle it, we draw attention to the long history of such conflict, anticipated and even designed by the Framers, in our Republic's glorious history. Start with Jefferson, who refused to spend funds that Congress appropriated for what he deemed unconstitutional activity, and who then acted without Congressional authorization or explicit constitutional mandate to take advantage of Napoleon's real-estate clearance sale of "Louisiana." Go to the War Powers Act, the constitutionality of which every POTUS of both parties until BHO has refused to acknowledge since its Congressional inception in Our Republic's dark ages, now a mere political side show in our generation's history of low-level American warfare.

This stuff is our government at its finest. Americans think that they like the idea of Congress getting along with each other and with the President, but the truth is that we should be a little suspicious when that's the case. It's decades of agreement about government patronage that have us in this mess, so maybe we ought to embrace the dispute that's on the way to getting us out.

Who arbitrates such disputes? Voters. Sharpen your pencils for bubbling in on 06 Nov 2012, citizens!

PS: We note in passing that the President's ordering the Treasury to issue the debt would have the salutary effect of ending the charade of Congress separately authorizing deficit spending and a limit on the Treasury's authorization for borrowing. The authorization to spend implies the authorization to borrow, n'est se qua?