Monday, May 31, 2010

How to Reform U.S. Immigration (II)

The Council on Foreign Relations’ (Council) study of immigration policy is most passionate about one point—we need to make it much easier for skilled immigrants to come to the U.S. America’s most important comparative advantage is our high quality universities and related research institutions, along with scientific and technological spin-off industries. Why are we not exploiting our advantage by making it easier for skilled foreigners to work and create jobs here?

We should open up more opportunities for skilled foreigners to work here, no matter what else happens with immigration reform. And we should begin with foreign students. The Council study states that 600,000 foreigners are currently studying at U.S. universities, half at only 150 colleges, and they make up only 3% of total college enrollment. Many, many foreign students want to continue working in the U.S. after graduation, but our current law is so crazy that half the students who secure green cards allowing them to remain here do so by marrying Americans.

The Council study recommends foreign students with graduate degrees from U.S. universities should qualify for work visas here if they find jobs, and there should be no limit on the number who qualify. They would be able to move from job to job, and to qualify eventually for green cards. Those with undergraduate degrees, along with other skilled workers who qualify for work visas, could similarly change jobs and eventually obtain green cards. The latter group, however, would be limited by a cap on total visas that would vary based on the economy’s health, but overall would be significantly higher than the current work visa quota.

The government would watch companies that hire large numbers of skilled foreign workers, make sure they also seek out American workers, and ensure all workers receive adequate pay. To make the skilled worker visa program even more useful, the Council study recommends government repeal legal provisions disqualifying presumed intending immigrants, streamline the application process, and eliminate national quotas that particularly restrict Chinese and Indian applicants.

The Council study recommends continuing the current annual quota of 480,000 for family member visas, with immediate families of U.S. citizens (spouse, minor children, parents) outside the quota. The study failed to recommend elimination of the preference given adult siblings of U.S. citizens, a preference other countries rarely honor, and one that could overwhelm the U.S. if 13 million illegal immigrants eventually became citizens. We should stop giving preference to adult siblings—they often have little real connection to their new citizen brothers and sisters—and instead allow even more visas for skilled immigrants.

In any case, America should dramatically liberalize existing restrictions that keep skilled foreigners, especially those already here as students, from becoming U.S. citizens who contribute to our economic future. We should move the skilled worker visa reform forward now. It has few real opponents—big upside, small or no downside—and therefore should not be linked to other, more controversial immigration issues.

How to Reform U.S. Immigration (I)

Our immigration policy is a mess. Immigrants have zero to few rights and little influence in our political system. Policy is made and controlled by Hispanic groups and Democrats interested in enlarging the size of the Hispanic vote, by business people and others searching for cheap labor, by labor unions fearful of competition from cheap labor, by nativists fearful of a multi-racial America, by new citizens who want their relatives to join them, all purporting to act on behalf of national security or civil rights. With all these competing interests, small wonder immigration reform flows at the speed of molasses.

I have read the recommendations (pp. 83-111) offered in the Council on Foreign Relations study, U.S. Immigration Policy, from a panel chaired by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty. As usual, the study recommends comprehensive immigration reform, meaning securing the border and punishing employers who hire illegal aliens in exchange for granting “earned legalization” to the 13 million aliens living here illegally. I believe such reform tries to do too much at once, that most Republicans (though not Jeb Bush) oppose comprehensive reform, and that many Democrats who want Hispanic votes but understand voters fear cheap immigrant labor cowardly hide behind the more open Republican opposition. We tried comprehensive reform in 1986 with amnesty offered those already in the country, and it didn’t work. In the following 24 years, illegals kept pouring across an open border. This time, we need a new approach.

The country wants our border with Mexico sealed. We need a fence across the entire length of the Mexican border. We also need, as the study recommends, biometric, electronic verification of every worker’s legal status in the U.S. Employers who check electronically with the Department of Homeland Security will have immunity from prosecution, but they will have to undergo on site checks, and will face serious penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants already in the country will be allowed to stay under strictly controlled conditions that allow them to work with a permit, but not to advance toward citizenship at this time. No green cards for illegals. The rule will be secure the border first, then talk about amnesty later for those inside.

Another change that should come after the border is sealed: provision for increased numbers of legal, unskilled (now called “low-skilled”) labor immigrats. The Council on Foreign Relations’ study makes a case for limiting temporary worker visas only to seasonal, mostly agricultural or tourism, employees. Anyone seeking more permanent employment and first hired by a U.S. employer should come to the country with a path to eventual citizenship, and should have a worker visa that enables him/her to move from job to job. The study points out unskilled workers won’t take jobs from Americans if workers are guaranteed adequate wages (meaning an American could be hired just as easily, if available), and if visa holders can change jobs (meaning employers can’t blackmail their workforce into working for less in the job that brought them here). Making provision for legal, unskilled labor will lessen the pressure on our border.

And why shouldn’t we welcome unskilled labor? Daniel Griswold, writing in Commentary, reminds us why immigration has been so good for our country. Immigration lowers our crime rate, increases social stability, leads to a smaller underclass, growing educational achievement, fewer drop-outs, and fewer non-immigrants living in poverty. Competition for low-skilled jobs drives Americans toward high school degrees, and immigrants, by enlarging the workforce, create openings for native born workers the next level up. With immigration up 29%, we will see an annual boost in total income of $180 billion, due to the “occupation mix effect” from increasing higher level job opportunities.

Seal the borders first. Good changes can follow. And it could happen with more Republicans in Congress.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Let's face it this has been the toughest year and a half since any year and a half since the 1930s.

--Barack Obama, 5.25.10

Daniel Halper, writing in the conservative Weekly Standard, rightly excoriates the President for his self-absorbed reading of history. Halper sarcastically notes the “smooth sailing” FDR enjoyed with World War II, Truman’s ending World War II by having to nuke the Japanese, Eisenhower’s Korean War, and Kennedy and Johnson’s Vietnam, along with living with the Russians ability to nuke America from Cuba, or any other place in the world.

Here are my candidates for “toughest year and a half” since the 1930s:

1-18. August 1939-August 1942 (separate overlapping 18-month periods: 18)

Germany and U.S.S.R. sign non-aggression pact; Hitler invades Poland; U.S.S.R. invades Poland and Finland; Hitler invades Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, conquering most of Europe; Battle of Britain, unrestricted submarine warfare in Atlantic; Mussolini invades Egypt, Greece; Rommel advances in Africa; Germany invades Yugoslavia, takes over Greece; Germany invades the U.S.S.R.; Japan attacks Pearl Harbor; Japan captures Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, invades Philippines, Burma, Dutch East Indies, controlling most of Southeast Asia, advances into India and toward Australia.

19. August 1949-February 1951

Soviet Union shocks world by exploding A-bomb; China falls to Communists; top State Department official Alger Hiss convicted of perjury for lying about Communist Party membership, legitimizing U.S. “Red scare” and unleashing McCarthyism; ex-Communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg arrested for passing A-bomb secrets to Soviet Union, convicted March 1951; North Korea invades South Korea; U.S. sends forces to Korea and moves to protect Taiwan, French Indochina; China enters Korean War against U.S.; Gen. MacArthur demands U.S. nuke China.

20-32. October 1967-May 1970 (separate overlapping 18-month periods: 13)

March on Pentagon dramatizes strength of U.S. anti-war opposition to Vietnam war; McNamara resigns as Secretary of Defense; Vietcong Tet Offensive, resulting in attacks on several provincial capitals, capture of Hue, and successful penetration of the U.S. embassy compound in Saigon; strong reaction in U.S. against Vietnam war; President Johnson gives up re-election plans, announces partial bombing halt and effort to begin peace talks; Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinated; Soviets invade Czechoslovakia and crush peaceful “Prague Spring”; Police riot mars Democratic convention; Nixon elected president, but war continues unabated, as does anti-war movement; Nixon efforts to appoint two successive Supreme Court justices blocked by Senate; Nixon (in frustration?) invades Cambodia, setting off riots across U.S. and closing many college campuses for the year.

33-48. October 1979-August 1982 (separate overlapping 18-month periods: 16)

1979 energy crisis caused by revolutionary Iran’s cutback on oil production continues throughout 1980; in October 1979, government-backed militant students seize U.S. embassy in Iran, capture 66 Americans and hold 52 hostages for 444 days; President Jimmy Carter responds by dramatizing seriousness of crisis, which helps him win primary election battle with Ted Kennedy, who appears disloyal for taking on his party’s leader during a crisis; dramatic “America Held Hostage” reports every night on ABC TV; hostage issue turns strongly against Carter after his effort to free the hostages ends in spectacular failure in the Iranian desert, with Carter’s Secretary of State resigning in protest; inflation reaches 11.3% in 1979 and an unbelievable 13.5% in 1980; Fed Chair Paul Volcker drives up interest rates to kill inflation and sends unemployment from 5.9% in November 1979 to 7.8% in July 1980; economy enters recession in 1980, pulls out, goes back into recession for 1981-82; entire period marred by “stagflation,” no growth plus inflation; the “misery index”, which measures Inflation + unemployment, hits its all-time high of 22 in July 1980; Ronald Reagan defeats Carter on twin issues of Iran and the economy; under Reagan, Volcker keeps driving interest rates up until the Fed funds rate hits 20% in June 1981 with the prime rate up to 21.5%, with resulting unemployment reaching 10.8% in November 1982; Henry Kaufman’s August 17, 1982 pronouncement that interest rates have passed their peak kicks off a stock market rally that signals the end of “stagflation.”

49. April 1945-November 1946

Truman, unknown, unbriefed, unprepared, forced to replace the dead Franklin Roosevelt with war unfinished, negotiates with Stalin at Potsdam terms favorable to U.S.S.R. control over Eastern and Central Europe all the way to the Elbe River, drops two A-bombs on Japan, presides over post-war America that sees inflation leap as high as 6% in a single month as government lifts wartime price controls, rising unemployment, unprecedented numbers of strikes and labor disputes, rising tension with the U.S.S.R., tremendous housing shortages as soldiers and sailors return and start families, all resulting in a resounding defeat for Democrats in the 1946 mid-term elections.

50. November 1963-July 1965 (20 months)

Kennedy’s assassination sends America into a funk; Vice President Johnson takes over, pushes a strong domestic agenda of civil rights and a “War on Poverty,” later, his “Great Society,” but postpones until 1965 the tough decisions on Vietnam as the situation in that country deteriorates monthly; finally, in February-March 1965, Johnson begins bombing North Vietnam, then escalates even more in May-July 1965 by sending in American combat troops, changing the conflict from a civil war to a “war of national liberation” that pits North Vietnamese nationalists against the neo-colonialist U.S., leading to America’s first losing war.

51. September 2001-March 2003

George W. Bush responds to 9.11 terrorist attacks, the worst ever on U.S. soil with more expected, by invading Afghanistan and overthrowing its pro-al Qaeda government, while reshaping our domestic defenses; Bush then mobilizes country and international allies to deal with the threat oil-rich Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein and armed, we thought, with weapons of mass destruction, poses as a potential base for future al Qaeda attacks on the West; after Saddam denies U.N. weapons inspectors access to several facilities, thereby violating several U.N. resolutions, and fearing time was running out on an invasion in advance of Iraq’s crippling summer heat, Bush invades Iraq, triggering an insurgency that still has life, even as the situation in Afghanistan flares up again.

52. June 1961-October 1962 (16 months)

Fresh, new American President John Kennedy seeks to take the measure of his Soviet rival, Nikita Khrushchev at Vienna in June 1961 to bad effect; Khrushchev thinks little of the callow Kennedy, follows up the meeting by generating a Berlin crisis, demanding the West withdraw all its troops from Berlin by year's end, and eventually building a wall across Berlin that violates agreements treating Berlin as a single city; Kennedy responds by calling up the reserves and doubling the draft, taking us to the brink of war; Khrushchev moves on in 1962 to shipping offensive, nuclear-tipped missiles to Cuba in a bold effort to tip nuclear power balance in the Soviet Union’s favor, thus creating the Cuban Missile Crisis that perhaps had a one-in-three chance of ending in nuclear holocaust.

53. February 1973-August 1974

Nixon’s “Watergate caper” goes bad when some of those directly involved begin talking; the cover-up grows worse as higher-ups implicate the President himself; as Nixon fights to hang onto power, he creates a constitutional crisis at home, and carries us to the brink of war with the Soviet Union during Egypt’s October 1973 Yom Kipper invasion of Israel as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. stand on opposite sides; the war triggers an oil crisis and deep recession, partly related to Nixon’s inattention to duty as he fights unsuccessfully for his political life.

54. October 1957-March 1959

Soviet Union launches Sputnik satellite, followed a month later by Sputnik 2, a massive, 1/2-ton satellite with a dog inside that proves Soviets have rocket engines powerful enough to fire intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) sending thermonuclear warheads directly from the U.S.S.R. to the U.S., U.S. attempt to launch its own Vanguard satellite a month later ends in ignominious failure as rocket blows up on launchpad in full view of world; a humiliated U.S. undertakes major reorganization of its research and education system in effort to catch up with Soviets, close perceived "missile gap"; economy meanwhile spins into its worst recession since the Great Depression, while overseas, China frightens the world by undertaking its "Great Leap Forward," a massive reorganization of rural China into communes that first claims tremendous increases in output but ends in mass starvation; the Sputniks and the bad U.S. economy under President Eisenhower cost Republicans dearly in the 1958 elections, with Democrats picking up 15 Senate seats and 49 in the House.

55. September 2008-March 2010

Bush and Barack Obama cope with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the worst recession since 1982, while continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

OK. Perhaps Obama’s “toughest year and a half” isn’t the 55th worst 18-month period since the 1930s. It most certainly isn’t #1, however.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Will Government Pac Man Consume the Economy?

USA Today has a chart and article about the rising share of personal income passed on to people as government benefits, and the correspondingly shrinking share of personal income from private sector output. Unfortunately, the chart doesn’t add in government wages, an additional 9.8% of personal income, meaning government benefits plus wages now total 27.7% of personal income. The private sector’s only 14% ahead!

Can government just keep growing its share of personal income, perhaps until government pays half of us? No, according to University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all. "This is really important," Grimes says. No kidding.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Free Enterprise or Government?

only free enterprise brings earned success.

--Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks is president of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. Writing in the Washington Post, Brooks builds his analysis on a Pew poll answer to the question, “do you think people are better off in a free-market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time, or don't you think so?"

Since 70% of responders said “yes,” Brooks believes the current “culture war" is between the 70% who believe in the free enterprise system, and the 30% “statists” who believe government should guide the economy, in line with Barack Obama’s views. Obama said, shortly before he became president, that:
If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. Only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the cycle that is crippling our economy.

In other words, "statists" favor European-style social democracy, or as we found out earlier from a Gallup survey, socialism pure and simple, a word viewed favorably by 36% of Americans.

The “culture war” that currently consumes America is, of course, more like 50%/50% than 70%/30% (as Brooks argues) or 58%/36% (36% being the share that views socialism favorably). To over-simplify, unmarried women, blacks, Hispanics, and un-named others are Democrats, however positive they may be about “free enterprise.”

And to an important degree, Brooks is wrong to identify “earned success” only with the free enterprise system. This blog has strived to paint a portrait of the establishment, the elite, who dominate the Democrats’ “government party.” They are a meritocracy much like the products of elite European universities who run governments in Europe, nothing if not champions of “earned success.” Ostensibly, they “redistribute tribute in popular ways,” in their words, "help the victims," just as the “new class” tried to do in the U.S.S.R., and as China’s bureaucracy seeks to do today. But of course, elites are doing so to retain control of their “kleptocracy.”

That, in fact, may be the difference for Brooks. Except in those limited cases, such as the civil rights struggle, where government indeed does good, the elite’s “earned success” pays off more for the elite member, less for society, in contrast to the private sector, where “earned success” produces jobs and income for others along with wealth for the entrepreneur.

If government is, as we argue, a “kleptocracy,” why would society ever choose “statists” over “free enterprisers”? One recalls Ronald Reagan's nine most terrifying words in the English language: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

You Saw It Here, First

1. Democrats Staunch the Flow

Just after I noted Democrats are narrowing the margin by which they trail Republicans in the generic ballot for Congress, AP/Ipsos published a poll that had Democrats moving ahead of Republicans, +3. The overall average is now Democrats, +0.3. In line with the polling, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out Democrats are turning their small edge into victory after victory:
One of the most remarkable records in politics is the six special election winning streak that the House Democratic campaign arm has reeled off over the last two plus years. Rep.-elect Mark Critz's (D) surprisingly wide margin in the Pennsylvania 12th district special election last night is a testament to the fact that [Democrats know] how to win close races in tough districts.

2. In Blair’s Shadow: Tories and Lib Dems Join

I used my blog to link Tory 43 year-old David Cameron, Britain’s new prime minister, Lib Dem 43 year-old Nick Clegg, Cameron’s deputy, and John Kennedy, who was 43 when he began as president and changed American politics. Now John Burns, in the New York Times, has done the same, linking the three 43 year-olds together, while like me ignoring any parallels to Obama. Also like me, Burns credits Tony Blair’s “New Labour” initiative for being the father of Britain’s fresh politics, with Cameron and Clegg following Blair’s path.

Burns, however, missed that Blair was also 43 when he became prime minister

Monday, May 17, 2010


Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Life is stronger than death
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

--Bishop Desmond Tutu (p. 80)

Tutu committed his career to fighting a South African minority white government he (the world) saw as evil, hateful, dark, and willing to murder in defense of its way of life. From the other side, white South Africa’s, it looked so different. Total fear, an entire way of life threatened by an unalterable fact: whites were a minority ruling over a vast and angry majority of blacks. To a lesser extent, white Southerners faced the same fear in America 30 years earlier, before civil rights laws forced whites to give up on denying blacks their constitutional rights and accept a multi-racial South. Fear.

We are only beginning to understand the latest U.S. culture of minority rule, minority fear. Imagine you are a member of that minority. You are part of the new American elite, empowered by the reordering of our society that followed government gaining control over the economy in 1933-45, government ensuring equal rights for blacks and especially women in 1954-80, the environmental movement’s increasing power over business, and the media-led re-ordering of national priorities away from war under Johnson, Nixon, and Ford in Vietnam, and George W. Bush in Iraq. War, including the Cold War, had enabled presidents to tone down domestic battles in the interest of uniting against the common enemy abroad. The media was able to focus our attention instead on domestic enemies—usually Republicans.

Elites are, by definition, minority rule. Banks, business, and landed wealth—white Republican males, mostly nominal Protestants—used to dominate our elite. Over the last 75 years, Democrats led by the media and associated with government—people sometimes “of color”, female as much as male, usually secular—have displaced the old elite. To the Democrats, America has finally gotten it right. Our leaders are “philosopher kings,” “the best and the brightest,” the people any ideally-constructed society would move to the top.

What’s wrong with this picture? In a democracy, a true democracy, the people rule, not some enshrined, self-perpetuating elite, no matter how qualified. And the new American elite, deep in their gut, know this. And the elite fear losing their power. And they are fighting back, hard. So we get health care bills shoved through congress that, on average 11% more oppose than support (according to five different polling services since April 21). America has a new minority, gripped by fear, struggling to hang on, much as Afrikaners did in South Africa before 1994.

Don’t buy my reasoning? Here’s from others:

➢ Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, speaking of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan:
Ms. Kagan and her counterparts all started out 30 years ago trying to undo the establishment, and now they are the establishment. If you need any proof of this it is that in their essays and monographs they no longer mention “the establishment.” Ms. Kagan’s nomination has also highlighted America’s . . . meritocracy. Work hard, be smart, rise. The result is an aristocracy of wired brainiacs, of highly focused, well-credentialed careerists. . . what they know of life is not grounded in hard experience but absorbed through screens—computer screens, movie screens, TV screens.

The ones on top . . . will be those who start off with the advantage not of great wealth but . . .two parents who are together and who drive their children toward academic excellence. It isn’t “Mom and Dad had millions” anymore as much as “Mom and Dad made me do my homework, gave me emotional guidance, made sure I got to trombone lessons, and drove me to soccer.”

➢ Walter Russell Mead, in the left-of-center publication American Interest, says we are currently in the grips of gnostocracy: the rule of experts:
In a perfect gnostocracy, the smartest, best educated people make all the decisions for the rest of us. . . gnostocracy comes closest to the proposals Plato made in his famous Republic, when he calls for the rule of ‘philosopher kings’. Let the best and the brightest among us rule. . .

In practice [such rule] has only five little flaws. Gnostocrats . . . are prone to mistakes because scientific knowledge is by its nature evolving; the social sciences . . . most vital to politics like economics are the most error prone and the least capable of achieving accurate knowledge; political choices involve matters of morals and personal preference which cannot be decided by scientific procedures; no process of selection can be designed which promotes only ‘good’ and ‘honest’ gnostocrats to power and keeps out . . . frauds; and finally as a group scientists have [other] interests . . .such as . . . gaining power and wealth for themselves.

Mead concludes, “We trust the experts less and less, but they keep coming to us for money.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Democrats Staunch the Flow

The public, especially independents, increasingly believes Mr. Obama's policies threaten America's economic future. . . this [could be] a memorable, perhaps even epic, election for the GOP. Obama Democrats should beware.

--Karl Rove

Asking in the Wall Street Journal “How Badly will the Democrats Do?” this November, Republican guru Karl Rove starts out with two metrics—Obama’s job approval, and voter preference for Republicans over Democrats to run Congress. “RealClearPolitics”, the political junkie website, charts these two poll averages every day. Politicos watch these two averages the way stock brokers follow the Dow, the S&P 500, and Nasdaq.

Rove tries to make a case for the numbers continuing to run against Democrats. The reality (see chart) is different. The president’s job approval fell to a 48.6% average last December 13, as his health care bill, with its “Louisiana Purchase,” its “Florida Gatoraide,” and its Nebraska “Cornhusker Kickback” cleared the Senate. Since then, Obama's job approval numbers have remained fairly flat, i.e., they stopped getting worse.

The latest generic congressional vote trend is even more favorable to Democrats. The congressional vote average was +2.4% Republican in mid-December to the end of January. Now it’s down to just +0.2%, a virtual tie. Nobody’s really talking about it, but over the past five months, Democrats have stopped their blood letting; a possible big deal.

What’s going on? While the economy hasn’t turned into a positive, it’s no longer generating the uniformly negative headlines that helped drive Democrats’ numbers downward. But I think the biggest factor in stabilizing Democratic (un)popularity is Democrats' passage of health care. Two reasons:

1) Before passage, some Democrats were registering their unhappiness with the Democratic leadership for failing to pass health care by rejecting Obama and congressional Democrats. Now they are happier, and helping shore up the Democrats’ numbers.

2) The plodding heath care crawl through Congress was a negative for Democrats every day it hit the headlines. Just the absence of that sad story, even though little positive has replaced it, is enough to halt Democrats’ sliding numbers.

The November outlook for Democrats is still bad. But contrary to what Rove suggests, it’s no longer getting worse.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Real (Faculty Lounge) World

Michael Barone notes that Barack Obama (Harvard, J.D. ’91) and his Supreme Court judicial nominee Elena Kagan (Harvard, J.D. ’86) were not only both University of Chicago Law School professors, they were both professors at the same time, who could have chatted together in the law school faculty lounge. Barone believes Obama and Kagan share attitudes common to the faculty lounge, but much less common to the America outside:
Consider Obama's constant calls for civility -- starting with his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech -- and his harsh characterizations of those who oppose him on issues. The candidate who talked of his eagerness to listen to others, "especially when we disagree," is the president who in a commencement speech laments that through blogs, cable TV and talk radio, "even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I've had some experience in that regard." Obama fans have taken to calling disagreement "sedition."

To critics, this sounds like a contradiction: the man urging civility engaging in incivility himself. But to the professorial mind, the contradiction may be invisible. University campuses, far from being open-minded forums of opinion, are the most closed-minded parts of our society, with speech codes and something resembling re-education classes for those who violate them.

University administrators seem to believe they have a moral obligation to suppress speech that displeases or offends them. Obama -- the self-proclaimed paragon of civility -- seems, like most professors, to regard Rush Limbaugh and Fox News as outside the bounds of legitimacy.

The one issue on which Kagan has voiced strong opinions is the ban on open gays in the military -- a stand pretty much universally held on campuses, but on which the nation beyond is divided. In barring military recruiters from Harvard Law School, she condemned "the military's discriminatory recruitment policy," "the military's discriminatory employment policy" and "the military's policy."

But it is not the military's policy. It's the law of the land, mandated by a bill passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Bill Clinton, in whose White House Kagan was nonetheless willing to serve.

As dean at Harvard Law, Kagan signed a brief that sought to overturn the law denying federal funds to universities that barred military recruiters. Yet that brief, written by one of the ablest Supreme Court advocates, Walter Dellinger, was nonetheless rejected by the justices by a vote of 8 to 0.

In nominating Kagan, Obama said he wanted a justice who understood "the real world." But it seems that he nominated someone who, on one important occasion, utterly misjudged the real world beyond the campus.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Broken Shield

we’ve . . . clearly seen the dangers of too little government -– like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly leads to the collapse of our entire economy. (Applause.) [It’s] not whether we need “big government” or a “small government,” but how we can create a smarter and better government. (Applause.) . . . government . . . should give you the tools you need to succeed.

--Barack Obama, University of Michigan Commencement Address

Wow. Look. Obama forced to defend big government. It’s a subject he’d much prefer to ignore.

Democrats are the party of government. Government workers at every level are Democrats’ base of support. Academics work directly or indirectly for the government, non-profits (the Third Sector) depend in part or totally on government support, the media, arts, the entertainment industry, and trial lawyers have incomes dependent all or in part on government-protected rights, grants, or laws, increasing portions of big business depend on special protections negotiated with government, and Democrats have persuaded blacks, Hispanics, and unmarried women that government protects them against a threatening private sector jungle.

Since Democrats and a powerful national government joined forces during the Depression, the ability to rally voters behind the goal of supporting an expanding government has depended on defining a threat outside government that is bigger than government’s shortcomings. The outside threat shields voters from worries about a growing, large, inefficient government, and the higher taxes needed to support it.

From 1932 to 1938, Roosevelt successfully blamed America’s woes on “economic royalists” and their Republican friends, including Herbert Hoover. Hitler’s conquest of Europe and Pearl Harbor shifted our attention to the bigger threat overseas (1939-45), then Truman and Kennedy persuaded us Soviet Communism justified big government during the post-war era (1946-63).

The civil rights struggle, equal rights for women, and environmentalism gave Democrats and government the high ground from 1963 to Reagan’s victory. Two parties, only one on the side of the angels. But following Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980, “the Gipper” finally persuaded us government might be our biggest problem. Reagan pushed through the Democrats’ shield and exposed the party of government for what it was.

Democrats regained their footing by branding Washington Republicans’ inability to manage government the real issue—government was the problem only because the wrong people ran it. This worked as Iran-Contra helped Democrats re-capture the senate in 1986, when George H.W. Bush couldn’t keep the economy humming in 1992, when Newt Gingrich forced government to close in 1995, when Republicans spent a year trying to impeach Clinton in 1998, when George W. Bush in 2005-6 couldn’t win in Iraq and couldn’t save lives during Hurricane Katrina, and when the economy crashed in 2008. Each act of Republican incompetence allowed Democrats to argue they did government better.

Now all power is in the hands of Democrats, they have fully used their strength to make government bigger, fatter, more all-controlling than ever, and there is no way, no way at all, to blame any of it on Washington Republicans. So now the shield isn’t just down, it’s shattered. We see Democrats for what they are, standing before us, naked, the party of big government, wanting more, and more, and more, with no idea of how to stop gorging themselves.

Still, Democrats win if more than half the voters see their lives benefiting from monster government. Yet they lose, if voters understand the healthy, job-creating economy voters crave depends on less, not more, government.

GOP: “Europe, NOT!”

Athens' so-called "anti-government mobs" have been composed mostly of government employees going berserk about threats to their entitlements.

--George Will

So you think the European excessive spending crisis is over? Listen to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, a liberal, but a cautious one:
the European package . . . postpones problems rather than resolves them. It will delay Eurobond defaults another year or two, and it will add some fiscal discipline . . . But there's nothing to address the deeper structural imbalances between high-saving northern Europe and the spendthrift "Club Med" countries of southern Europe that used the euro as a credit card. Basically, the north's abundance created a low-interest Eurobond market that underpriced the risk of investments in the south.

the austerity measures have two big drawbacks. . . imposing harsh budget cuts and other belt-tightening on the "Club Med" countries, while appealing to German workers, may [hurt] European recovery [that] is so fragile. . . [Even] trickier . . . is building political support for the austerity measures that are coming. . . Europeans believe in the welfare state as a matter of social entitlement.

In the face of Europe’s problems, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger reflected on their implications for the U.S. Henninger's column made these points:

➢ . . . criticism of Mr. Obama and the Democrats [for] nudging America toward a European-style social-market economy came to awful life in the panicked, stricken faces of Europe's leadership: Merkel, Sarkozy, Brown, Papandreou. They look like that because Europe has just seen the bond-market devil.

➢ Europe's governments [once] told the devil that, more than anything, they wanted a life of social protection and income fairness no matter the cost. Life was good. [Then Greece collapsed], the bond devil arrived and asked for his money.

➢ A 4% growth rate, which Europe will never see again, pays social dividends innumerably greater than 2.5% growth. Which path are we on?. . . the floundering United Kingdom['s] failed prime minister, Gordon Brown, said on leaving, "I tried to make the country fairer." Maybe there's a more important goal.

➢ After Europe's abject humiliation, the chance is at hand for the Republicans to do some useful self-definition. They should make clear to the American people that the GOP is "The We're Not Europe Party."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

UK in the shadow of Blair: Tories and Lib Dems join together.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg, leaders of the Conservative (Tory) and Liberal Democratic (Lib Dem) parties respectively, today held their first joint press conference as leaders of Britain’s new government. It’s all very historic. The UK last had a coalition government 65 years ago, and Cameron is Britain’s youngest prime minister in 198 years. Cameron and Clegg said they had considered a Tory minority government that might have lasted months, but opted instead for a coalition that by law, will be set to endure for five years.

And why not? They have a seven-page document outlining their common agreement, the Lib Dems, with five cabinet seats, are in government for the first time, able to show they can help run the country, the Tories are back in power for a planned five years, the coalition’s combined total of 363 seats out of 649 (56%) is a solid majority, built on 17.5 million votes, 59% of the total votes cast last Thursday, and what is politics anyway, but the art of building and sustaining coalitions, whether within a party or across party lines?

Cameron took a big step toward making coalition with the Lib Dems possible by endorsing a referendum on alternative voting, which allows second and third choice votes to re-allocate to surviving candidates as each candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated, until one finally reaches 50%. It’s the voting system in Australia. Lib Dems, as we noted, put a high priority on electoral reform that helps smaller parties. Cameron’s pledge on alternative voting, combined with the failure of Labour in negotiations with the Lib Dems to stand behind their leader Gordon Brown’s pledge for a referendum on proportional representation, really set the direction toward a workable Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

The UK faces huge challenges. Today, at the dawn of a new government with a common platform offering reform and with both parties sharing power, one can be optimistic about the coalition’s ability to meet some of those challenges. And while the parties don’t share cultures and differ over many objectives, on the key issue of the economy, Dominic Lawson of the London Independent reported that two years ago, Clegg:
told me that "the Conservatives and Lib Dems see much more clearly than Labour that the great sea-change in British politics is that the experiment in big government has failed, it hasn't delivered the more socially mobile, socially just, society that it purported to and in any event can't be sustained financially in the way it has over the past few years". He added that he favoured "an aggressive tax-cutting approach". [Earlier,] Clegg had called for the "closing down" of the "industrial welfare state" and he has long advocated plans for market-based reforms of the public services.

The coalition might indeed work out.

Clegg, like Cameron, is just 43, the product of a top school (Cambridge; Cameron went to Oxford), sharp and articulate. Together, they form the response to Labour’s 13 year rule, which began in 1997 under its then 43 year-old, dynamic, articulate Oxford-educated architect of “New Labour”—Tony Blair. It seems that the right response to “New Labour’s” aging over time was most certainly not “old Labourite” Gordon Brown (who replaced Blair three years ago), and also not David Cameron or Nick Clegg alone, but it just might be Cameron and Clegg the team, working together.

The articulate, Harvard-educated John F. Kennedy was, by the way, only 43 when he began his presidency that in the early 1960s reshaped U.S. politics.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Unions Bankrupting Government: L.A.

George Will has a column on the problems Los Angeles is facing financing its government. And he has uncovered a recommended solution, however politically-unrealistic it may be.

Will writes that Richard Riordan, L.A. mayor from 1993 to 2001, calls the city's current fiscal crisis "terminal." We should "face the fact" that "between now and 2014 the city will likely declare bankruptcy." L.A. got to this bad place because it gives too much money to bureaucrats, a California-wide problem we discussed earlier. Especially for pensions, where L.A. has “conveniently but unrealistically” assumed 8% annual growth of the city's pension funds assets when their actual growth over the last decade has been between 3.5% and 2.8%.

Will notes that nationwide, government employees are what remains of "defined benefit" America: over 80% of government workers have defined benefits--as opposed to defined-contribution--pension plans. Only about 20% of private-sector workers have defined-benefit plans. California is broke because of health-care and pension promises negotiated with public employees' unions. Riordan (and Will) want defined-benefit pensions replaced with 401(k) accounts for new public employees.

Riordan also recommends the public employees retirement age should rise from 55 to 65, employees should pay more than the maximum of 9% of their salaries for pensions, and the city should end $1,200-a-month health insurance subsidies for those who retire before becoming eligible for Medicare. These are really good, practical, if politically-unpalatable suggestions. Will correctly says government is organized as an interest group to extract through taxes ever-larger portions of wealth from the private sector (kleptocracy), with government workers making up the party of government’s (the Democrats’) electoral base.

L.A. faces another gigantic, union-based problem, one recognized by current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa [picture] himself:
The city's long-term success depends on its schools, in many of which most of the children come from homes without fathers, and in some of which, Villaraigosa says, 40% of the children are in foster homes. He has little control over the school system and, anyway . . . holding his fingers three inches apart to suggest the thickness of the standard contract with the teachers' union, Villaraigosa calls the union "the most powerful defender of the status quo."

Monday, May 10, 2010

North Rhine-Westphalia Defeat Weakens Germany’s Angela Merkel

North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the westernmost, most populous, and economically most powerful German state, with 18 million people and 22% of German GDP. Its capital is Düsseldorf, the largest city is Cologne (Köln), and other major cities include Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, Aachen, Bonn, and Münster. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, along with her coalition ally, the Free Democrat Party, lost control of the province in an election yesterday, and with it, control of the Bundesrat, the German upper house. When former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democratic Party lost control of NRW in 2005, it helped cost Schröder his chancellorship a few months later.

According to a New York Times story, NRW’s voters used Sunday's election to express their displeasure with Germany’s bailout of the heavily indebted Greek government. The bailout is wildly unpopular in Germany. But local issues figured as well; the Christian Democrat leader of NRW was implicated in a fund raising scandal. While Merkel is hurt nationally by the defeat, the loss of NRW at least enables her her to push back against more conservative allies who have been calling for tax cuts in the midst of Germany’s economic crisis. The tax cut proposals now seem dead.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

UK Tories Come Up Short

Click on chart to enlarge.

Conservatives are going to win the 650th seat—the final contest’s being re-run in a Tory constituency because one of the opponents died. But the resulting Conservative total of 307 will be 19 short of what the party needs to rule. Liberal Democrats, with 57 seats, could help the Tories to power, either by supporting a Conservative minority government with its votes, or joining the Conservatives in a coalition government. Talks are underway now to cement such an option. The Economist predicts Tory leader David Cameron will be the next prime minister.

It’s easier to predict Cameron will have a rough go. Liberal Democrats are a frustrated third party—it took 120,000 votes to get each Liberal Democrat seat, versus only 35,000 for each Tory seat and 33,000 votes for each Labour winner. Liberal Democrats want proportional representation, which awards seats off a ranked list based on total vote. Most parliamentary systems have proportional representation in some form. Labour has promised to hold a referendum on proportional representation, while the Tories believe any shift to proportional representation will deny them power for a long time.

Liberal Democrats would find it easier to join Labour in a coalition that led to a referendum on proportional representation if it weren’t so obvious that Labour and their leader Gordon Brown just lost the election, and the inconvenient fact that Liberal Democrats + Labour only hold 315 seats combined, with 326 needed to form a government (though other smaller parties also interested in proportional representation have offered to help make up the difference).

One wonders why Liberal Democrats will help the Tories, when Conservatives won’t help Liberal Democrats with the issue about which they care most.

And there’s a deeper problem. Britain faces severe economic difficulties caused by years of government over-spending. A Conservative majority might have fixed this problem, but cutting back on Big Government isn’t a big Liberal Democrat priority.

The UK is going downhill. The Tories might do best to go into the next election—which observers think is no more than a year away—as the opposition to a failed Labour/Liberal Democratic/Scottish and Welsh National/Northern Ireland Socialist coalition. But today, that seems less likely than Conservatives leading their own failed government.