Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chris Christie Talks the Talk

As Rand Paul makes conservatives and Republicans look like out-of-touch ideologues, Chris Christie is saying what we've been thinking for a long, long time. Here's an account of an exchange from a public appearance of Christie's:

Governor Christie on Tuesday told a borough teacher to find another job if she did not feel she was compensated enough as he defended his state budget cuts and promoted a plan to cap annual growth in property tax collections. . . .

Borough teacher Rita Wilson, a Kearny resident, argued that if she were paid $3 an hour for the 30 children in her class, she’d be earning $83,000, and she makes nothing near that.

"You’re getting more than that if you include the cost of your benefits," Christie interrupted.

When Wilson, who has a master’s degree, said she was not being compensated for her education and experience, Christie said:

"Well, you know then that you don’t have to do it." Some in the audience applauded.

Christie said he would not have had to impose cuts to education if the teachers union had agreed to his call for a one-year salary freeze and a 1.5 percent increase in employee benefit contributions.

"Your union said that is the greatest assault on public education in the history of the state," Christie said. "That’s why the union has no credibility, stupid statements like that."

Wow! No esoteric appeals to out-of-touch constitutional theories, no messing around with stuff that folks don't get, just to-the-point declarations of obvious fact.

How soon can we run this guy on a national ticket?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Streetcar Named Expire

Cincinnati has demonstrated some sense.

Two thirds of those polled by our local newspaper voice disapproval of plans to spend gazillions for a streetcar that will carry inebriated UC students to a wider variety of bars than they can presently reach on foot.

Cincinnati's public transportation problem is not that it lacks public transportation modes. It's that it lacks the density of population and concentration of jobs to support a robust public transportation network.

And for a city that, like most, can't afford the princely and princessly pensions it promised to its civil servants, spending large numbers of dollars for that most inflexible of public transportation modes hardly seems timely.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Saving Grace in the War on Terror

Fox News reports that a key al Qaida figure has blown himself up "messing with a bomb." This comes after the various comical failures of plots to destroy airliners, Manhattan tourists and such.

Say what you will about the competency (previous administration) or focus (present administration) of government to fight terrorism, what protects the public best from terrorism is the unshakable truth that terrorists is stupid.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Local Pundit Gets Local Airtime

In the world of local news, being available before the deadline can get you on the air.

More on Paul's Confusion

Esteemed political thinker Rand Paul says that BHO's criticism of British Petroleum sounds "really un-American."

Paul is aligned with a group that calls itself the Tea Party, honoring an event in American history in which Colonial patriots boarded a ship in Boston Harbor and threw its cargo of tea into the water, protesting the French government's imposition of taxes on its American colonies without those colonies citizens being represented in the French Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Americans and the British have always been BFFs.

We promise not make this blog's subject matter all Paul. That would be appalling. But we are hard pressed to resist making obvious jokes when the man supplies a straight line a day.

Why Rs Must Prevail in November 2010

The American Spectator's Jay Homnick, analyzing the awful relationship between the Chief Executive and the Congress and the press, explains why the electoral tide is turning and must complete its turn in November:

The press overplayed its hand. It has thoroughly abdicated its role in questioning government when Democrats are in office. The same press crew that challenged Bush on the economy when there was 4.6% unemployment now reports as wonderful the fact that unemployment when [sic] up from 9.7 to 9.9 in April. This proves more people are optimistic enough about the future to re-enter the job market! Imagine if we hit 11 or 12, we will have to send a ticker-tape parade down Wall Street.

This tells the independent voter there is no longer a contest between Democrat and Republican. There is a contest between charismatic leaders surrounded by naïve sycophants versus practical leaders surrounded by skeptical interrogators. The independent has to vote Republican not because he buys the ideology but merely because he thinks it healthy to have a guy who is challenged rather than venerated.

Those last two sentences constitute today's memory verse for gentle readers, so we repeat them: "There is a contest between charismatic leaders surrounded by naïve sycophants versus practical leaders surrounded by skeptical interrogators. The independent has to vote Republican not because he buys the ideology but merely because he thinks it healthy to have a guy who is challenged rather than venerated. "

As SWNID says often: words to live by.

Paulism Meltdown Sets Political Record

We console our libertarian gentle readers with those most comforting of words: we told you so.

Rand Paul was triumphant in victory on Tuesday. On Thursday, he handed his opponents victory in November.

There are certain things in politics that one simply doesn't do. One is question the legality or applicability of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Once upon a time, one could have interesting discussions in public about whether such acts should extend to the regulation of private, commercial transactions. Those discussions are now widely regarded as disturbing--as those who want to hold them are widely regarded as disturbed.

Hey, once upon a time you could have interesting public discussions about slavery and property rights and restitution to slaveowners for emancipation. Try that one on for size sometime soon.

Rand Paul is officially a real-life Borat-from-Bowling-Green. Except no one's laughing. Maybe it's the lack of an interesting accent.

We anticipate the defiant rejoinder: Paul will still win in November. Fair enough. But if he does, Republicans are nationally stuck with the label "racist" for at least another generation, condemning them to a demographic disadvantage that will paralyze political discourse and condemn the Republic to social-democratic stagnation.

The GOP lost yesterday, and they'll need to work extra hard and fast and smart to limit the damage to one Senate election. We say it's time to defenestrate Paul, risk alienating Paulites for a season, let the Ds have the tainted KY seat, and go national with redoubled efforts to retool as a Contract-for-America-style smaller-government, freer-enterprise party pronto. Starting with a purge of the old-hand leadership for some insurgents (there are loads of keen minds in the party's second string--Ryan, Cantor, Daniels, Christie, Thune--all with curb appeal that shames the McConnells and Boehners of this world who can't think their way through the present opportunities) certainly commends itself. An announcement Monday after a round of condemnations of Paulism on the Sunday talk shows would be most excellent.

We quote the eminent social philosopher Forrest Gump, or his momma, to be precise: "Stupid is as stupid does."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Taking Bill Maher to Church

Faith is not the enemy of thought. The lazy and unethical way many of us have been taught to practice religion is.

That's from the Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock, who offers this worthwhile bromide near the end of his verbal dismembering of political ranter Bill Maher, always a purveyor of opinion but now mostly a purveyor of doctrinaire antireligious opinion.

Whitlock, a liberal and fan of Maher's, nicely notes that labeling all religious belief delusional is more delusional than most religious belief.

Note well Whitlock's litany of moral accomplishments of religious people. Then note that in theswe stories of accomplishment the religion in question is almost universally the one with an incarnate god who willingly dies and rises for the sake of undeserving people.

That's the other thing that needs to be said to Mr. Maher and others. The burning question is not the place of "religion" in the world. It's really the place of Christianity in the world. Bad versions of Christianity bear a more-than-superficial resemblance to various religious and irreligious phenomena, all of them bad too. Christianity that's properly Christian bears little resemblance to anything else--in what makes it properly Christian.

The Nation: Socialism Another Casualty of the Recession

Q: What's black and white and red all over? A: The Nation.

Now here's proof that the Great Recession is an extreme right-wing plot to destroy the left and so take over the world for fascism. The Politico reports that venerable lefty rag The Nation is in desperate financial straits, even enlisting journalists to send fundraising letters for help in offsetting its million-dollar deficit.

Our last experience with The Nation in print was while riding the CTA's 22 bus north on Clark Street through the city's tonier residential districts to our cheap, obscure hotel in a more modest quarter. There we watched a well-turned out, genteel, elderly lady turn its pulp pages--laden with graphics strongly reminiscent of so-called "socialist realism" but notably unburdened with advertising, save appeals from the ACLU and The Nation itself for charitable gifts, including especially estate gifts. We recall thinking that the fine lady's gloves certainly cost more than several years' subscription to her reading material, while her hat and coat would certainly exceed the value of certain autos in the SWNIDish fleet.

Doubtless the subscriber whom we saw decamp from the bus near a Lincoln Park high-rise condo building could fund the journal's seven-figure deficit without much trouble. Whether relying on the charity of the top 1% indefinitely is a feasible business plan for an avowedly socialist publication is still questionable.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What These Off-Elections Mean

Fact: many elections presently are resulting in upsets.

Interpretation: Some call it an "anti-incumbent" mood. Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics calls it an "anti-establishment" mood. And the problem for Democrats is that currently the establishment is theirs.

We think that's about right as a measure of what's up. It's not incumbents per se that rile people; it's business as usual. This hypothesis has the virtue of specificity and demonstrates enormous explanatory power, accounting for more electoral results than mere anti-incumbency.

We long for the day when the mood will be "anti-stupidity," but that isn't coming to a Republic near us any time soon.

In the meantime, we hope that those who run with a pledge to do things differently will do them differently in a reasonably smart way. That means leaving alone what works. That means relying on historical and empirical observation at least as much as ideology. That also means doing things that matter, not just things that look good. That also means not staking out politically impossible goals to which they can cling for decades as they are re-elected by quixotic, naive, isolated constituencies (yes, we are referencing the perversity of Paulism again, with its paleolithic rants about balanced-budget amendments and the gold standard and isolationism).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Kinds of Political Liars

Republican Congressman Mark Souder resigned after admitting an extramarital affair. As we have observed before, Rs who cheat have to resign. Those who don't end up as pathetic lame-duck laughingstocks (see Sanford, Mark).

Meanwhile, Democrat Richard Blumenthal has been habitually "misstating" his military record, clearly implying service in Vietnam though he was only a stateside reservist. He remains a candidate and shows no signs of dropping out. This, of course, makes him something like the unnatural love child of John Kerry and John Edwards.

We say yet again: all politicians are dogs, yet one party's dogs are rather more dependable than the other's. With all its failings, the GOP at least likes to pretend it has standards. Since there are only two viable choices, and since political choices are always between evils, we choose the Party of the Lesser Evil.

The Question of the Evening

Q: Because Arlen Specter is now a lame duck, cut loose from any loyalty to his party, whose standard he will not bear again, or any responsibility to his constituents, who will never see his name again on a ballot, how will he behave in the Senate?

A: As he has always done, without any loyalty to his party (either one of them) or any responsibility to his constituents.

KY GOP: Epic Fail

On the 150th anniversary of the Republican Party's nomination of Abraham Lincoln as its candidate for President of our Union, the Republican voters of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, one of the slave states that the cagey Lincoln managed to keep in the Union throughout the Civil War, are poised to nominate as their candidate for the Senate the son of arguably the most politically marginalized member of the House of Representatives and the self-rechristened namesake of arguably the worst novelist and political theorist of the previous century.

Rand Paul's nomination probably gives the Dems their only shot at gaining a seat in the Senate this year, assuring Harry Reid's successor marginally more support for his party's program of bleeding the electorate with taxes, spending, borrowing and inflation until every citizen has become a client.

So a generation from now we can expect a nutjob named for L. Ron Hubbard to be appointed Prefect of the Appalachian Protectorate.

Our recommendation to the GOP after today's big primaries: remove Mitch McConnell as minority leader in the Senate and John Boehner from the corresponding position in the House, replacing them with John Thune and Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan respectively. If the Establishment guys can't run the party well enough to articulate a rationally conservative position to appeal to a deep-red state like Kentucky, then it's time to make way for a generation that can.

*Paul's statement that he's a fan of Ayn Rand but just accidentally stumbled from "Randall" to "Randy" to "Rand" achieves the same score on the SWNIDish Credibility Meter as such famous political statements of autobiography as "I am not a crook," and "I didn't inhale." His statement dismissing Rand's estrangement from the great Austrian economists as a personal tiff is akin to calling World War I a minor misunderstanding among the cousins who ruled Europe. His statement that he embraces novels of both Rand and Dostoyevski testifies to the kind of artistic taste that equates Thomas Kincaid with Rembrandt and Kenny G with Charlie Parker. We vainly recommend exile for all such Philistines.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Unemployed Ministers: WSJ's Pastoral Perspective

Today's WSJ offers some observations about unemployment among the clergy classes. We consider the article interesting because of its subject, not its execution. But it certainly provides a starting point for opinionated discussion of the topic of careers in ministry, which we SWNIDishly consider to be massively misunderstood by most in the church, including many who are so employed.

So, gentle readers, we invite you to read and think, and you may discuss in the comments if it suits you to do so.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What a New Jersey Conservative Looks Like

Chris Christie updates Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jersey style:

Except it isn't Washington. Yet.

Is Christie a prospect for the national political stage?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BHO Threatens to Veto Own Plan. SWNID Wonders Why.

The Obama has threatened to veto his own healthcare plan.

Thanks to "unexpected" costs, BHO now says he'll veto upcoming healthcare spending bills because they spend too much. He magisterially demands that Congress find offsetting spending cuts to compensate. How noble!

Meanwhile, 14-term West Virginia Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan was trounced in a primary by an opponent rabidly critical of the incumbent's support for ObamaCare. How irksome!

The coincidence of these developments is obviously coincidental. Purely.

Liberty Lessons: Best to Be SWNIDishly Modest

Liberty University (motto: "maybe in 50 years we'll outlive the legacy of our founder") has another potential scandal brewing.

This one concerns whether the dean of its seminary, Ergun Caner, really has the dramatic personal testimony that he has claimed.

Caner apparently autobigraphically narrates a birth in Turkey and a conversion to Christianity in his teens.

Bloggers have discovered legal records indicating a birth in Sweden to parents who emigrated to Our Republic when Caner was four. A subsequent divorce left his Muslim father without custody and, presumably, without significant religious influence. So how much of a conversion Caner's was is at least subject to debate.

SWNIDish wisdom on this subject is simple: when exaggerating one's autobiography, one should exaggerate toward either modesty or self-deprecating humor. Even if your historic heroics are genuinely historical, making them your primary personal narrative simply obligates you to repeat the heroics, something that few can do. So why not be the first to ridicule yourself, thereby saving yourself the shame of hearing someone else do it?

We're sure that this advice is expressed somewhere in Proverbs.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Global Evangelism, Nothing Is Forever Except the Gospel

We heard it through the grapevine of our global mission contacts. Now you can read about it in Christianity Today. Recently tolerant of Christian mission activity, Morocco has now expelled dozens of Christian workers.

This development is sad for the missionaries and for Morocco. But it is not surprising. Moderation is not an easy path for the governments of predominantly Muslim countries. And historically
Christian missionaries have consistently been the objects of official scorn, as the powerful resent those who assert the authority of a higher power.

It Pays to Serve Jesus, At Least More than Social Work

Making the rounds is a Yahoo Hot Jobs posting of the ten worst-paying college degrees.

Third worst is theology. Second is elementary education. First is social work.

SWNID is interested for many reasons. One is that surveys of pay in higher ed show that professors of education and social work do better than professors of theology and religious vocations. If the yahoos at Yahoo are right (and something makes me trust the professionalism of the College and University Professionals Association more than the folks who work for a company that also lists the Ten Worst Fashion Mistakes at the Oscars), then there is systemic injustice in the pay of Bible college and seminary faculty (making a number of SWNIDish colleagues right). Generally, pay in higher ed tracks at about 80% of pay for the equivalent profession (if there is one) in the allegedly Real World.

Another is that the list as a whole represents just about the entire range of stuff that either is or prospectively might be part of the curriculum of the SWNIDish IHE. Thus, when students report that their degree lacks value, we suspect that they are responding in strictly pecuniary terms. Meanwhile, our place of business adheres to a strict No Pay for Performance mandate.

Another is the fact that though these salaries are relatively low, no one is likely to starve if her means were at the mean for these debased vocations. Just how much it takes to be happy is an excellent question to ask in a time and place in which the poor are disproportionately overweight and the number of registered vehicles exceeds the number of licensed drivers. We are personally tired of people who fear ministry and other helping professions because of bad pay, or more specifically who demand that their children pursue something other than a helping profession so that they can join the upwardly mobile subcategories of the middle class.

Another is that despite the low pay, an enormous number of folk aspire to enter these professions. We include theology, as dire predictions of a shortage of qualified ministers seems never to materialize, and churches with openings that pay a decent wage and don't promise endless conflict are routinely swarmed with applications.

Finally, we surmise that one Joel Osteen was not included in the survey, as his massive income would have shot the mean up to the level of Fortune-500 CEO. And if more pastors followed his advice, we'd all be richer than Mr. Teeth himself. This, of course, assumes that what The Reverend Mr. Osteen does falls somehow within the boundaries of "theology."

Mullah Omar Captured: First Reports, Deeply Hoped True

One of contrarian journalist Andrew Breitbart's minions today reports that Taliban sultan Mullah Omar is in the hands of the good guys.

Let's hope so. We don't even care that feckless Democrats will take credit for what was going to happen sooner or later. We don't even care that feckless Republicans will claim that he's been Mirandized and is represented by Johnny Cochran.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Another European Thing Our Republic Probably Doesn't Want

Today the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is in a pickle. Without a single party winning a majority of seats in Parliament, and even though the leading third party actually declined in the most recent election, it now awaits one or the other of the two major parties to make a deal with number three to form a coalition.

And it looks like the coalition will be formed by the party that lost the most seats and now stands in second place.

For those who thought that the 2000 US Presidential election was a travesty that nearly destroyed democracy, such stories of parliamentary systems are instructive.

All democracies are limited by the reality that views change, coalitions shift, majorities are usually narrow, and stupid is stupid even if the majority says otherwise. When elections are especially divided and narrow, their outcomes must be decided by rule of law settled prior to the election. That's not to ensure that "democracy" prevails but that the losers agree that they lost even if they lost very narrowly.

In this country, we've agreed to abide by the rules of the Constitution, including the Electoral College with all its mathematical absurdities. In parliamentary systems, voters' divided choices can be remixed by politicians cutting deals for coalitions, but all still per rules agreed upon in advance. It is precisely that social contract to which all agree--to abide by the election's outcome, no matter how close--that makes decent government possible over generations.

The Kagan Nomination

Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supremes will doubtless occupy the attention of the chattering classes for much of the summer. Predicted discussion: her views on abortion, how liberal she is really, whether it matters that there's another woman on the court, the fact that there will be no "Protestants" on the court, whether she prefers the company of women over men and whether that ought to matter.

And we'll hear about her age. At 50 and given the apparently rejuvenatory properties of Supreme Court membership, Kagan could serve for forty years.

That's why we are ready to discuss something else: a constitutional amendment that will establish the number of justices on the court and limit their terms to 16 years.

The first move is to prevent what nearly happened under FDR--the stacking of the court by a powerful POTUS with a compliant Senate. The second is to prevent POTUSes appointing ever-younger candidates to serve ever-longer terms, extending the Presidential potency well beyond its natural and constitutional limits.

We imagine an amendment that would retire current justices over the next eighteen years, in order of their appointment, at a rate of one every two years. Thereafter, terms would be set, appointments would occur in a reasonable sequence, and any justice unable to fulfill a term would be replaced only for the duration of that term.

Thus would all POTUSes appoint two justices, none to be more influential by length of tenure than any other. Thus would the Supremes morph slowly but surely along the lines of the body politic as a whole.

We think this is a spiffy idea that will not be adopted, largely because the present body politic lacks the patience to endure the Constitutional amendment process.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Bergner: American Exceptionalism Means Saying No to a European-Style Welfare State

We break our long blogging silence, having been bored with current events, to call our now-listless gentle readers' attention to Jeffrey Bergner's extensive and important article in the Weekly Standard discussing American exceptionalism and the lust for a European-style welfare state.

The article is long and challenging for those who think of USA Today as serious journalism but should be digestible for our gentle readers. In sum, Bergner argues that Europe and our Republic historically have different views of government because we have different experiences, this Republic's having been formed largely to reject Europe's history of governance with something that could overcome Europe's failures.

As usual, we offer a few quotations in hopes of inducing a full reading:

Americans achieved a distinctive political system and saw European politics as more to be pitied than envied. So deep was this strain that it would not occur to any serious American for a full century afterward to borrow from Europe’s politics. . . .

Madison argued, in effect, that the equality of Americans lay essentially in their equal freedom, not in their social characteristics. In this way, the American innovations of union, liberty, and diversity would all work to reinforce one another in a new political system embodied in a government with limited powers. . . .

Tocqueville was of course well aware that aristocracy and social stratification continued to exist in Europe in the early 19th century. But he argued that the intellectual and social battle for the future had already been won and that the ideal of equality was the victor. In this, as always, he was prescient. He argued that Europeans were accustomed to being controlled by their governments and had been for centuries. As the ideal of equality drove out monarchies and aristocracies, one type of centralized control was substituted for another. Monarchies and principalities gave way to the centrally administered state. . . .

Europe is further down the course of self-created entitlements than the United States (though we have gained ground in the last 18 months). As ever new entitlements are provided, ever more taxes are levied; ever more taxes diminish the productivity and creativity of the people; the goals and ends of the populace become ever narrower, until finally even rearing a replacement generation is too great a burden, threatening people’s comfort; and ever more money is borrowed from ever fewer lenders. This is unsustainable, and the fact that it has not yet come to its unhappy conclusion is no reason to emulate it. European politics is a slow engine of self-destruction. The question is not whether, but when, it will collapse. And when it does, the result is likely to be a more rigid and meaner despotism than the soft despotism of today. . . .

The only corrective to a too great love of equality is a tempering dose of liberty, that is, a degree of prudence about what the central government should and should not do. The only corrective to bankruptcy short of centrally mandated rationing is restraint of the role of government. In all of this, America still seems a better model for Europe than vice versa. . . .

Europe has solved none of the fundamental political concerns that have animated American politics since the founding: union; limited government as the expression of a balance between equality and liberty; and diversity. It would be folly for the United States to emulate Europe’s political model. If, as seems likely, no serious U.S. statesman would trade America’s problems for Europe’s, why then emulate its politics?
Well, that should be enough. But we can't resist a little more:

The political left in the United States seizes on one thread out of the complex American political fabric—equality—and emphasizes it to the exclusion of all else. The left displays scant concern about using the federal government to force equality of condition; it displays even less concern for prudence in what it asks the government to do; and of late it displays virtually no concern at all for fiscal responsibility and the welfare of future generations. It chafes under constitutional and procedural restrictions on its ability to advance its agenda. And it seeks to stifle the free expression of religious and dissenting views in the public square.

The American left has turned its back on the incomparably rich and sophisticated political tradition that has been bequeathed to us. The narrative of the left has this great tactical virtue: It is simple, even simple-minded, in its conception, lacking the slightest nuance. Perhaps this accounts for the left’s singularly empty rhetoric; beneath its ad hominem attacks, faux emoting, and tactical calculation, its intellectual architecture could not support a feather.

And finally:

American exceptionalism is not, as the left caricatures it, some preemptive right to run the world. To the contrary, it is the practice of a politics that addresses fundamental problems in a specific way, namely, a way consistent with union, with a balance between liberty and equality expressed through limited government, and with a decent respect for diversity. If there is another nation that approaches the fundamental choices of politics in this rich way—as opposed to simple, majoritarian egalitarianism—I am unaware of it. President Obama expressed his true contempt for American exceptionalism when he said, “I believe in American exceptionalism—just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” A more shallow, cynical misunderstanding of American exceptionalism is hard to imagine.

Indeed. Some ideas have been tried enough not to be tried again.