Sunday, May 31, 2009

“Time We Collect Our Reward”

Last June, I warned the media wanted credit for electing Obama, credit it could call in post-election to help arrest their declining influence. I wrote:

The media [will] falsely paint McCain as Bush. . . because given [the media’s] slipping power, they want to be seen as so biased in favor of Obama that they will be blamed for (actually credited with) Barack’s win.

Now the L.A. Times’ Tim Rutten is calling in the chips newspapers think they earned by electing Obama. Rutton says,

Unless . . . newspapers find a way to charge for the content they currently give away free on their websites . . . most papers won't survive . . . Over the last three years, American newspapers alone have lost 40% of their classified advertising -- $7 billion worth -- to free Internet sites such as Craigslist. Over that same period, display advertising sales have dropped by a quarter, which amounts to an additional $12 billion each year.

. . . newspapers can't begin charging for online content or licensing their journalism to search engines unless all . . . do it at once. . . newspaper proprietors ought to go to Congress and demand [an] exemption from the antitrust and price-fixing statutes. . . Nancy Pelosi has endorsed the idea. The law, she said recently, needs to . . . "reflect current market realities." The Justice Department's antitrust division, however, opposes the baseball-style exemption. The Obama administration . . . needs to change its mind.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My “Eureka!” Moment

Democrats rule through special interest groups, including the Hispanic minority that figures in the Sotomayor appointment. Organizing people into groups leads to gaining the votes of people as members of groups.

Above the groups sits the American national elite. Its members meet each other in college, and move from college to top positions in academia, the bureaucracy, knowledge-based business, the media, the “Third Sector,” and entertainment and the arts. They acquire and maintain power through the Democratic Party, the party of the new class. Their numbers are too few (hey, this is an elite!) to vote in leaders on their own. The votes come from the special interests. The Democrats act on behalf of the people the special interest groups represent, and pay lip service to democracy. But within the elite, they fully understand they are a minority controlling a majority, a contortion that requires continuous deception and propaganda.

America is the land of equal opportunity. It’s right that those who work hard rise to the top. Before Democrats gained full control of America in 1932, an unselfconscious elite based on wealth including inherited wealth ruled through the Republican Party. Republicans regained some power, never total domination, in the 1968-2008 period when Democrats and their government at various times failed to deliver peace or prosperity.

But now it seems (Eureka!) Democrats so dominate the elite [see chart] that Republicans have no choice. They must organize the people themselves to overcome elite rule. The people v. the elite. I think gaining popular support starts with understanding that a nearly united elite has coalesced to run the country, believing in some updated version of the “philosopher-king” rule Plato advocated in The Republic. Plato opposed democracy, just as he opposed rule by the wealthy. The new class believes wise people should rule, for the benefit of all.

How many Americans oppose elite rule, and want power devolved to individuals, not elite-run groups? People want power in their own hands; democracy. As Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Reflections on elite America.

Michael Gerson makes some of the same points about Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination that I earlier made. But Gerson more skillfully links Sotomayor’s thinking to the American meritocracy she represents:

In elite academic settings [Obama’s University of Chicago, Sotomayor’s Princeton--picture], it is commonly asserted that impartiality is not only a myth, but also a fraud perpetuated by the privileged. Since all legal standards, in this view, are subjective and culturally determined, the defenders of objectivity are merely disguising their exercise of power. And so the scales of justice -- really the scales of power -- need to be weighted by judges to favor the "weak" and the "powerless."

Sotomayor's decision in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano is disturbing because it seems to affirm this judicial philosophy. . . Because [the New Haven, Conn., firefighters] were not part of a group deemed "powerless," they were rendered powerless as individuals. Empathy turns out to be selective empathy—not for human beings, but for social groups. Just imagine the frustration and anger of standing before a federal judge who is predisposed against your claims for racial reasons of any sort.

The danger of first making all ideas relative, and second, molding the relative mush into a progressive weapon with which to beat up mindless reactionaries, is one I spotted in a discussion of the late Ivy League philosopher Richard Rorty.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hispanic America: Basic Facts

Do Republicans have to be careful in how they handle Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the Supreme Court? You bet.

In 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanics made up 9% of the electorate. They voted Obama over McCain by 67%-31%. Bush had 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. A look at election results suggests Hispanics helped move Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico from Republican in 2004 to Democratic in 2008.

The Hispanic vote’s importance grows rapidly in the future [chart]. For a graphic look at the location and strength of America’s Hispanic population, please go here.

Sotomayor and Identity Politics

Republicans "oppose her at their peril."

--Sen. Chuck Schumer, speaking on Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination

Identity politics is political action to advance the interests of members of a group whose members perceive themselves to be oppressed by virtue of a shared and marginalized identity (such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation).

--Wikipedia entry

And "children of poverty" represent yet another oppressed group. Sonia Sotomayor is female, up from the projects, and the first-ever Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court. Since Democrats know she will be confirmed, it’s just the frosting on the cake when Republicans take her on, thereby alienating the fastest-growing and still fluid Hispanic voting bloc, as well as all the downscale, feeling-poor people watching our failing economy from the sidelines.

Here’s why Republicans have to oppose Sotomayor. It’s Ricci v. DeStefano, which concerns the blocked promotion of white (including one Hispanic) firefighters in New Haven. In the case, heard last year by a three-judge panel including Sotomayor, the city refused to certify promotion exams because none of the 19 promoted were black. The Sotomayor panel issued a brief opinion upholding the district court's decision, an outcome that infuriated Sotomayor colleague, Clinton appointee, and fellow HIspanic Jose Cabranes, who criticized Sotomayor’s slip-shod handling of the case.

The Sotomayor panel’s ruling, which the Supreme Court may overturn in June, identifies her with proponents of affirmative action, the identity politics centerpiece that pushes favored groups at the expense of other groups based on race. The Pew Research Center’s recent polling of Americans on affirmative action found the country opposed by a 65%-31% supermajority to preferential treatment for certain ethnic groups.

So while Sotomayor’s appointment honors those who rise from poverty, honors her Hispanic heritage, and helps Democrats gain Hispanic support, her affirmative action activism groups her and Democrats with a minority of Americans. Sotomayor's identity politics warrents a Republican challenge—Schumer or no Schumer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In the U.S. today, only 3 of 5 babies have married parents.

Listen to Cathy Young:

[the] 40% of all babies born in the United States . . .born to single women [is] up from 34% in 2002. Some sociologists believe we have reached a tipping point: the link between marriage and parenthood is no longer the norm. Why is this happening. . .? [A] difficult question. . .we ignore at our peril.

The powerful economic, social and cultural pressures that once pushed . . . people into marriage are gone almost completely. All that remains is romantic love - and refusing to marry your child's other parent is often seen as more honorable than marrying someone you don't love . . .

large numbers of men are alienated from family life and from the next generation.

Listen as well to Ari Armstrong:

the dramatic rise in out-of-wedlock births points to deep cultural problems. . . Out-of-wedlock births are largely a phenomenon of lower-class America. . . "Only 4% of college graduates have children out of wedlock."

The "percent of births to unmarried women" for "all ages" breaks down as follows:

All Races: 38.5
White: 33.3
Black: 70.2
Hispanic: 49.9

And listen to Rob Stein and Donna St. George:

60% of those who had babies between 20 and 24 were single, up from 52% in 2002,

The rate of babies being born to unmarried women in the United States is starting to look more like [Europe]. . . the percentage of babies born to unmarried women is . . . about 55% in Sweden, about 50% in France and about 44% in the United Kingdom.

Stein and St. George do zero in on the major problem with single-parent families:

studies have shown that children generally fare better when they grow up in stable households with two parents. "We know that babies and children do best with committed, stable adult parents — preferably married," said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

And Cathy Young as well points out:

there is abundant evidence that children generally fare better with two parents - and many children without fathers keenly feel their absence. . . a visiting dad is usually, even with best intentions, a pale substitute for day-to-day interaction with a father in the home. . .an intact marriage is still the most reliable way to protect the father-child bond. . . Giving up on the two-parent family as an ideal would be a sad defeat.

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a joint project of institutes at Princeton and Columbia, has several authoritative articles and papers documenting the importance of having fathers around, whatever the continuing romantic involvement between parents. Marriage, of course, works best to keep fathers in the home.

There’s one mitigating factor that cuts against the high percentage of out-of-wedlock births: about 40% of those births occur in households where couples are cohabitating. Not marriage, but better by far than true single-parent childrearing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It’s Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

Want to simplify American foreign policy? Look at the three-country region above. Muslim. Non-Arab. Home to Islamic extremism. Going nuclear. Do we really worry about North Korea? Except as it may hook up with this region? If these three countries didn’t exist, would the Arab world be a major concern? The Arab region may be a battlefield, Israel may be Islam’s biggest political issue, but an effective strategy for dealing with Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is our surest path to peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu certainly believes Iran is his country’s biggest threat. He sought U.S. agreement on the importance of keeping Iran from going nuclear during his Monday visit with President Obama. In exchange for U.S. help with Iran, he’s willing to restart in some form peace talks with Palestinians.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius has Obama’s take on Netanyahu and Iran. Obama wants the Arab nations working with the U.S. to isolate Iran and pressure it to give up nuclear weapons. But to earn Arab world support, Obama needs progress on Palestine; Arabs expect the U.S. to deliver Israel. So to get Netanyahu to start talking with Palestine, Obama is holding out the promise of recognition of Israel by Arab League nations, or what Jordan's King Abdullah calls the "23-state solution."

American politics is very different, post-Iraq. Republicans stand with Israel against Islamic extremism, including Iran’s version, Hamas, and the Syrian-Iranian backed Hezbollah—the kind of terrorists we defeated in Iraq. Democrats weren’t into that fight, see Israel as somewhat like apartheid South Africa, and Palestinians as freedom fighters in the spirit of the Viet Cong. As a consequence, according to Ignatius,

Netanyahu faces the full force of the Obama political phenomenon—a president who feels politically secure enough to ignore the usual rules of the U.S.-Israel relationship and push hard for what he thinks is right.

And that’s very specifically ending Israel’s policy of expanding West Bank settlements.

Will Netanyahu and his coalition realize progress on Iran depends on Israel’s halting West Bank settlement construction? Netanyahu correctly focuses on Iran. Obama, though, understands that countering Iran and pacifying the Iranian-Afghan-Pakistani region’s 275 million relates to reducing the anger over Palestine that pours from the Arab world’s 350 million.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Newsweek cuts circulation by 50%.

Howard Kurtz, in the Washington Post, which owns the magazine, has the details. Newsweek lost $20 million in January-March. Earlier, when Newsweek proclaimed the “fall of Christianity,” I wrote the story behind the story was Newsweek’s own fall. Newsweek plans to imitate the Economist by becoming smaller and more elite, but evidently seeks to pick up Economist readers by challenging the British magazine’s more positive view of religion.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Richard Haass: Misunderstanding Choice

Richard Haass can lay claim to being one of the current foreign policy wisemen. He’s head of the establishment Council on Foreign Relations after having served the last two Republican presidents, leaving in 2003 as Colin Powell’s policy planning chief.

Now he’s attempting to influence Obama’s foreign policy through a new book and a book-based Washington Post op-ed. He believes “We would have been better off without Bush’s war of choice” in Iraq, just as we shouldn’t have followed Gen. Douglas MacArthur into North Korea in 1950, we should avoid further escalation in that “ graveyard of empires” called Afghanistan, and that somehow (how, really?), we should allow Iran to enrich uranium, but not enrich enough to build a bomb (!).

Haass sees the world as “gray and nuanced.” In a recent interview, Haass defended his reasoning.

wars of choice are anything but straightforward - they pose some of the most fateful decisions for any president. [After 9.11,] the threat posed by Iraq and Saddam Hussein had in no way increased, [our] goals [weren’t] specific and limited. . . the idea was to transform Iraqi society, [but] it was never clearly stated how the U.S. would bring democracy to Iraq.

Iran’s strategic gain is . . . the principal strategic result of America’s Iraq policy. Iran is dominating in Lebanon through Hezbollah, they are dominating in Gaza through Hamas, and they are now closer to realizing their nuclear ambitions. . .The U.S. strategic position has worsened: Iran is much stronger, Iraq is weak and divided. . . We’re now in an era where Iran, various militias and terrorists now have a much larger share of power. We’re still the most important external actor in the region, but our position has clearly suffered. . . The [current] era of Middle Eastern history . . . will be worse for the United States. . . I think the prevailing view is that the Bush administration left things worse than they inherited.

(Why didn’t you resign?) I believed Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. Never once, in all my years in government, did some analyst take me aside and say otherwise.

Haass maintains the first Bush administration pursued a “Goldilocks outcome” in Iraq, wanting a weaker and more pliant Iraq, but not one so weak that it wouldn’t be able to balance Iran. But to me, this seems pretty far from where Bush 41 actually was. More accurately, 41 wanted Saddam out of power, but expected the Gulf War loser to fall of his own weight. Iran was a theocratic, anti-U.S. state in 1991 to be sure, but far from going nuclear and having barely fought Saddam to a standstill in 1980-88, Iran was less the problem than it was part of the anti-Saddam solution of that time. Iraq was the enemy.

Going back over 2002-07, after 9.11 we faced Islamic extremist threats from both al Qaeda and Iran. In Iraq, we took on and beat al Qaeda, leaving Iran the principal Middle East threat today. In my view, in the view of many others, we are safer today because Saddam no longer controls the world’s third-largest source of liquid petroleum, and because al Qaeda chose to take its stand in Iraq and lost.

The debate goes on. But given the danger Saddam posed to the world from 1990 on, including after 9.11, necessity (not choice) dictated we end his rule. Now we at least have the chance a democratic Iraq will help counter Iran’s extremism.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Climate Change as Religion

I’m not the only one who’s spotted the religious- like dogmatism associated with modern-day environmentalism. Here from political guru Michael Barone:

Over the past decade, [Gallup] has been asking Americans whether the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated or generally correct. From 1998 to 2007, except for the run-up to the 2004 election, they said it was generally serious by roughly a 2-1 margin -- 66 to 30% in 2006, for example. But in March 2009, that margin slipped to only 57 to 41%. [And] last month, pollster Scott Rasmussen found that only 34% believes that global warming is caused by human activity, while 48% said it is caused by long-term planetary trends. That's almost exactly the opposite of what he found 12 months before -- 47 to 34% the other way around. However, 48% of the . . . elite continues to believe global warming is man-made.

For liberal elites, belief in . . . global warming has taken on the character of religious faith [emphasis added]. We have sinned (by . . . driving SUVs); we must atone (by . . . recycling); we must repent (by supporting . . . cap and trade schemes). You may notice that the "we" in question is usually . . . ordinary American citizens. The liberal elite is less interested in giving up its luxuries (Al Gore purchases carbon offsets to compensate for his huge mansion and private jet travel) than in changing the lifestyle of the masses, who selfishly insist on living in suburbs . . . Ordinary Americans are seen not as responsible fellow citizens building stable communities but as greedy masses, who must be disciplined to live according to the elite's religious dogmas.

Obama’s Job Gap

President Obama promised his stimulus plan would create or retain 3-4 million jobs by 2010 (averages out to 3.5 million). Thus far, employment has dropped 1.1 million since Obama entered the White House. The resulting Obama job gap stands at 4.6 million jobs [chart]. We will follow the Obama job gap in the same spirit as former “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert followed Bush’s job count throughout Bush 43’s first term, or at least until Bush’s numbers turned positive (the term ended with Bush up 4.2 million jobs; Obama too is likely to be in positive territory by 2012). Credit to Karl Rove for inventing the “job gap” methodology.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

No Longer Golden?

George Will predicts California voters May 19 will reject several California propositions designed to raise revenue by upping taxes, extending tax increases, and raiding the lottery fund. We’ll see. But Will seems right about how things have gone wrong in the Golden State:

➢ Since 2004, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. In the last decade, net out-migration of Americans—as opposed to immigrants—has been 1.4 million.

➢ California's business costs are over 20% higher than the average state's. California's business conditions among the worst, as measured by 16 variables directly influenced by the Legislature. California's income and sales taxes are among the nation's highest; in 2006, the top 1% of earners paid 48% of the income taxes. Unemployment, the nation's fourth highest, is 11.2%.

➢ If, since 1990, state spending increases had been held to the inflation rate plus population growth, the state would have a $15 billion surplus instead of a $42 billion budget deficit. Since 1990, the number of state employees has increased by more than a third. Under Schwarzenegger—since 2003—per capita government spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased nearly 20%.

➢ California teachers -- the nation's highest paid, with salaries about 25% above the national average -- are emblematic of the grip government employees unions have on the state, where 57% of government workers are unionized (the national average is 37%).

To Will, “California's perennial boast -- that it is the incubator of America's future -- now has an increasingly dark urgency.” He ironically concludes, “California has become liberalism's laboratory, in which the case for fiscal conservatism is being confirmed.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

A (not so) remarkable video.

Take a look here:

One word.

“I have a dream.”

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have a gift.”

--Barack Obama

Blair Warns, Do We Listen?

"there can never be a friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power. We have sustained a defeat without a war. . . and do not suppose that this is the end. This is only of beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup . . . "
--Winston Churchill,
October 1938 Parliamentary Speech on Munich Agreement

Before he became Britain’s wartime prime minister, Churchill was making a name for himself prodding his country to rearm against Hitler’s rise. At 64, Churchill was so right. Now Tony Blair, a British senior statesman after having served as prime minister for a decade but who celebrates only his 56th birthday tomorrow, is warning the world about extremists within Islam.

Blair laid out his warning in a recent speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Blair said the extremist ideology, as a movement within Islam, “has to be defeated,” and is so deeply rooted, that “our strategy for victory has to be broader, more comprehensive but also more sharply defined. . . it is not going to be won except over a prolonged period. . . akin to fighting revolutionary Communism. . .”

How many people within the Obama administration, those who buried the words “war on terror,” preferring instead “man-caused disasters,” well, how many of these folks are focused on a “prolonged” struggle akin to that which we waged against Communism? Blair may be as much in the wilderness today as was Churchill in 1938.

Here’s more from Blair:

”Look there are people in this world who are crazy,” a friend said to me the other day, “leave them to be crazy.” Except the problem is that they won't leave us in the comfort of our lives. That's not the way the world works today.

Blair identifies six elements to a successful strategy against Islamic extremism:

1. Understand we have not caused this phenomenon but we can help beat it. Terror is the enemy of progress. The responsibility for terrorism lies with the terrorist and no-one else.

2. This battle can only be won within Islam itself and the fact is we have allies. The world of Islam includes large parts of Asia including Indonesia, the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country.

3. We need hard and soft power. We have to persuade where the battle is for hearts and minds. We have to fight where we are being fought against.

4. Where we are called upon to fight, we have to do it. If we are defeated anywhere, we are at risk of being defeated everywhere.

5. Reject the view that democracy is unattainable or unaccepted in the Islamic world. It will be hard to accomplish. But it is only by the embrace of greater democracy that this battle will be won.

6. Re-discover confidence and conviction in who we are, how far we've come and what we believe in. We are standing up for what is right. The body of ideas that allows us to vote in and vote out our rulers, that provides a rule of law on which we can rely, and a political space “more transparent than anything that went before isn't decaying. It is in the prime of life.”

Blair indirectly rejects the foreign policy “realists”--the Henry Kissinger school enjoying a post-Bush comeback under Obama--when he attacks the foreign policy

of the world weary, the supposedly sensible practitioners of caution and expediency, who think they see the world for what it is, without the illusions of the idealist who sees what it could be; those who regarded politics as a Bismarck or Machiavelli regarded it. . . all a power play; a matter, not of right or wrong, but of who's on our side, and our side defined by our interests, not our values. We should remember what such expediency led us to, what such caution produced.

The former Labour Party chief also cautions us against “abandoning the market or open economic system,” saying instead we should adjust the system that “has delivered amazing leaps forward in prosperity for our citizens and we shouldn't, amongst the gloom, forget it.”

Because Islamic extremism is cloaked in religion, Blair believes part of defeating it lies also in religion, “in a consistent and clear critique of its religious error by religious leaders within Islam; and in the burgeoning initiative for dialogue, understanding and action between the different faiths of the world.” He adds, “The more we reach out across the world of faith, the more the extremists and reactionaries within all faiths can be challenged.”

To Blair,
This war needs to be at the centre of policy, properly resourced, properly serviced. It needs to go down into the education systems, ours as well as theirs, into collaboration between institutions of learning, into arts and culture. Foreign policy needs to be completely re-shaped around such a strategy. And, of course, the Israel-Palestine question must be resolved.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Richard Rorty

The Hoover Institution’s Peter Berkowitz believes he has found the philosophical underpinning for Obama’s pragmatism. It’s based on the 1990s work of Richard Rorty (1931-2007)[picture], an Ivy League philosopher who revived the early 20th century school of thought launched by Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Pragmatism stands for flexibility in solving problems as opposed to solutions based on religious dogma or rigid moral and political agendas. At its extreme, pragmatism denies the existence of objective truth, arguing that opinions we declare true are merely those that have proved useful to one interest or another.

Rorty’s work gives pragmatism a partisan meaning, earning him a place in philosophy departments, among political theorists, in law schools, and in the university world Obama inhabited. Rorty subordinated philosophical questions to political questions, and posited that the proper political question in America is how to promote progressive ends.

In Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, Rorty maintained that "nobody knows what it would be like to try to be objective when attempting to decide what one's country really is, what its history really means." Nevertheless, Rorty seemed to believe the right in America is the party of the status quo, fighting to preserve inherited privilege. By contrast, the left that takes its cue from Walt Whitman and John Dewey--"prophets" of a "civic religion"--is the party of hope working to bring America into harmony with democracy's progressive promise.

Flatly rejecting biblical faith as childish nonsense, Rorty celebrated democracy's progressive promise as an alternative faith. Rorty wanted the pragmatist to make "shared utopian dreams" his guide to politics. Yet while purporting to focus on practical consequences and dismissing the distinction between true and false as a delusion, Rorty equated what works with actions that increase government's role in promoting social justice, and treated the progressive interpretation of America as, in effect, good and true. Thus under the guise of inclusiveness, Rorty denigrated and excluded rival moral and political opinions.

Pragmatism as a religion, the only true faith. Ironic, no?