Saturday, August 29, 2009

Open Thread

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Boston, August 29, 2009

Funeral services today for Edward M. Kennedy. Mary Jo Kopechne unable to attend.

End of post.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Does BHO Rhyme with WHO? It Should.

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The metastasizing, coercive power of government, increasingly unchecked by constitutional restraint, led by a narcissist and his far-flung elitist cohort of KGB-progressives from the houses of congress and offices of bureaucrats to the streets of ACORN. One and all channeling the shades of Rousseau, Marx, Gramci, Marcuse and Alinsky; recklessly betting the wealth of our nation and the liberty of its people on the impossible prospect of reaping a bountiful harvest from the tainted soil of Utopia. Grownups who live on this side of the rabbit hole have reason to be afraid

Childish Fear

The darkened, crape-hung rooms, cobwebs, spaghetti intestines, pans of blood, severed heads, painted-grape eyeballs, skeletons, moans and screams from dark recesses... pretty scary stuff for an impressionable kid. You round a corner and come face to face with a motionless, ghoulish figure. You freeze and sharply draw in a breath. But by now you're beginning to sort things out -- it's just a prop, another dummy meant to terrify you. You relax and then the 'dummy' comes alive, jumps out at you and grabs you by the shoulders. BOO!

Adult Fear

The state of American politics today is somewhat reminiscent of that first haunted house. It has the same eerie, menacing otherworldly quality. And the same terrifying BHO!

Chairman BHO! now rules the haunted house, and if he holds sway, we may see it furnished with real body parts. There is ample precedent.

Pat Santy Resumes Her Blog

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After a brief lacuna between July 6 and August 20, the Dr. Sanity blog is back in business. Since I wrote earlier about her decision to quit, I post here to square the record. Glad she's back.

End of post.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Comprehensive Legislation: Just Say No - Part II

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Across the political spectrum, this mantra is often repeated: “Real immigration reform must be comprehensive…”

It’s the word “comprehensive” that really bothers me when used in connection with any big government program. Stimulus, healthcare reform, Cap and trade, Energy policy and the former, failed initiative for immigration reform — all are comprehensive. And bloody-well scary.

Here, I deal with immigration reform because the content of that legislative proposal is less unclear than, say, healthcare reform. The only kind of comprehensive reform I can imagine endorsing is one that addresses dysfunctional law-making (Part I).

Government regularly shows itself to be inept and incompetent even when writing simple, targeted law (such as the “wildly successful” Cash for Clunkers), how much worse will be legislation that addresses an issue as complicated as immigration reform?

Any comprehensive law will typically be embodied in hundreds or thousands of pages that are virtually incomprehensible — sections filled with arcane legalisms and referencing equally incomprehensible prior legislation. Perfect vehicles for the deliberate obfuscation of all manner of pernicious agendas. Perfect vehicles for engendering unintended consequences that will themselves eventually require more comprehensive laws.

Rather than comprehensive, reform (any) law ought to be incremental, carefully prioritized, narrow in scope and clearly written. That would permit quicker implementation and allow for empirical evaluation and adjustment, as needed. The sum of incremental legislation would, over time, become, effectively, comprehensive.

Over time?
one might object. But we haven’t got time; this is urgent (another scary word in government)! I would reply by noting that healthcare reform under the Clintons was the most urgent problem facing that administration; what might have we accomplished by now if we had approached that issue incrementally?

If, in the case instant, the elements of reform (many complex, but not complicated) were properly prioritized, many parts of “big bang” style reform might become moot. For example, if we began with aggressive law enforcement (requiring a robust form of state ID) — employer sanctions, penalizing “sanctuary” violations etc., it is likely (in fact, already proven) that illegal immigrants would return to their native homes of their own volition. In itself, serious enforcement would eliminate the need for a complicated and almost-impossible-to-administer legalization program — the major and most controversial element of reform. Likewise, if would simplify and reduce the cost of healthcare burdens (simplifying reform in that area), presumably reduce the cost of policing in major metropolitan areas (addressing crime associated with illegals), and soften the pressures on the prison system. The list goes on.

Aside from ad hoc efficacy, there are other benefits to the incremental approach. They are best illustrated by looking at the destructive effects of comprehensive bills. They cause confusion, social and political tensions, frustration, resignation, apathy and contempt among American voters. Worse, the public’s sense of confidence in their representatives and government itself is eroded, inviting a pervasive cynicism that effectively discourages citizen participation at all levels of government. High prices to pay.

I conclude by saying that comprehensive legislation (read sweeping changes) in any form is a bad idea. One would hope for a time when legislation was written in a way that voters — let alone congressmen — could not only understand, but explain to others. The simple, clear and broad language of the Constitution and Bill of Rights should stand as a model. On that point I entertain some hope but no optimism.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Open Thread

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Cash for Clunkers: Taxes for Government. A perfect metaphor

Friday, August 14, 2009

Comprehensive Legislation: Just Say No - Part I

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This essay is meant to provide some background for a subsequent posting which opposes any kind of "comprehensive" legislation (reform or otherwise) and argues for a radical simplification in the crafting of law. What is at stake is the principle of individual and community sovereignty.

Beginning with the Johnson administration it became the mission of government to write all laws -- general and regulatory -- in a way that they would be extremely detailed, anticipate future judicial scrutiny, be self-executing and account for all contingencies. * That trend continues unabated with the result that these laws are largely impenetrable by legal minds and laymen alike. Tax law is the example most often cited, though environmental law may be even more labyrinthine. Among the consequences are the sheer difficulty and cost of deployment. implementation, compliance and enforcement. Laws that once might have been simple, clear and brief are now beyond understanding. Perhaps the worst effect of the current state of affairs is the fact that the courts can interpret law in a way that suits them; in other words, the rule of law has been superseded by the rule of men.

It was the intent of the Founders that laws be made as general as possible to be adjudicated by the courts on a case-by-case basis. It is worth noting that the most important, foundational law of the land -- the constitution -- was written in just such a way. None of the amendments in the Bill of Rights exceeds a single paragraph! Of these some of the most important (I think of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments) each comprise a single sentence.

The intent of the modern style of legislation is to increase the power and control of central government. Perhaps the best contemporary example is the EU constitution, which has grown from a mere 27,000 pages in April 2008 to about 40,000 today. Compare that with the widely circulated Cato edition of the Constitution, all amendments and the Declaration of Independence, which fits comfortably in a shirt pocket.

Phillip K. Howard, The Death of Common Sense, Ch. I

Thank God For Barack Obama

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Hillary Clinton could not have carried off the feat so effectively as has BHO. His singular achievement has been to awaken and energize the essential conservatism of the American plurality.

The robust elitism of Mrs. Clinton could not have rivaled the malignant narcissism of Obama -- a narcissism which prevents him from concealing effectively his sinister and wholly pernicious anti-American agenda.

The president has created for himself a persona* that some have seen as magisterial, sanctifying and noble. But a little scratching at the surface reveals a buffoon, profoundly ignorant of history, lacking a foundation in common knowledge and common sense, innocent of the values of the Western Tradition, but keenly attuned to Marxist principles. His persona might have been more skillfully crafted -- more marketable -- with the benefit of a true understanding of "America as it is".

It is frankly amazing that the American heritage of distrusting the centralized power of government has not entirely been bred out of our citizens -- casualties of K12, academe and the media. But apparently some notions of individual sovereignty yet persist.

Middle America seems to have awakened sufficiently to perceive the threat that Obama poses to the the nation. One can hope that it will lead -- even modestly -- to a revival of appreciation for founding principles. Thank God for Barack Obama.

Because the narcissist has no innate sense of self, he creates a persona -- an image -- of what he wants to be. In the words of Drew Pinsky (The Mirror Effect), "The key to understanding the Narcissus myth is not that he fell in love with himself, but that he failed to recognize himself in his own reflection."

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Palin Fault Line

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More interesting, perhaps, than Sarah Palin herself is the hysterical reaction she elicits -- from the left especially, but also from a few on the moderate right. It is a phenomenon. It is a war of social and political memes. A war between WASP America and "America as it should be".

As I see things, the characteristic reactions from the left are essentially different in kind from those on the right. The left is visceral, suggesting that Palin is seen as an existential threat (about which more); their reactions are marked by expressions of fear, anger, rage and a deep-seated hatred. The right shows more restraint, suggesting that differences may be more about turf -- political poaching -- and contention over conservative orthodoxy.

On the grand scale we see that a proxy war is being fought in America. The person and candidacy of Sarah Palin are incidental as a cassus belli; she is a symbol of a 'dangerous' worldview. She represents traditional American values and ideas of American exceptionalism so despised and feared by the institutional left. It is also about liberal lifestyles derivative of its own contrarian values.

In this essay I aim to say more about lifestyles (as an expression of social and political values) and less about worldview. The latter I will dispose of with the broad strokes of postmodernist philosophy and some of its most pervasive and pernicious subsets: multiculturalism and militant secularism, relativism and, in particular, elitism.

Politics-as-war. The punishment dealt to Sarah Palin by the elitist left is astonishing, both in scope and virulent meanness. She was attacked on every front: by her political enemies in Alaska (for which some justification might be found) by the usual suspects in print and TV media, by organized Democrat lawyers and (as MediaMatters chortles) by activist bloggers.

What is it about Sarah Palin that provokes the left to become so animated? To mobilize its army of destroyers so quickly? Is it her political views? I think not. She may be closer, politically, to Fred Thompson than to others on the early Republican slate. But Fred Thompson never caused much stir among the opposition. Unlike other candidates, Palin does not honor elitist rules -- the legacy from the childrens' rebellion of the 60's -- that demands political correctness and insincere comity toward that element of the opposition that resists demonization. In short, she is herself, and she has the effrontery not to join the club.

Elitist society in America grows and gains political power as a consequence of expanding government, which itself is increasingly elitist. Since its power is attenuated by pluralist notions asserting the competence of private citizens to make decisions, it is the natural enemy of pluralism. Jonah Goldberg points to the elitist component of big government:

It [fascism] was objectively and proudly populist while at the same time fascists openly argued for an elite cadre of superior, if not super, men who would run the country. The Leninists had a similar argument with all that avant-garde of the proletariat and whatnot. In America, I think a big, big, big part of the problem is the permanent civil service bureaucracy which is naturally sympathetic to big government and parties that champion big government. These governmental elites, in collusion with academia and the "helping professions," take it upon themselves to find new ways to "run" the society. [Emphasis mine]

He adds:

Whenever a political movement arises — like American conservatism — which challenges the elite-bureaucracy's authority they are accused of working against "the people" and the "downtrodden." Just look at all of the silly things people say about John Bolton. Journalists are key to this process because they share the bureaucratic elite's vision of both government and the masses.

The divide between Sarah Palin and the left, I believe, is fundamentally a proxy for that between elitism and pluralism.

She is elite, without being elitist. That is a thing the left cannot abide. The aura (self-arrogated) of moral and intellectual superiority is the liberal shibboleth for success, power and political entitlement. Elitism has the characteristics of membership in an exclusive club which rewards mediocrity and achievement alike. In the case of the former it masks, by general consent, personal and professional shortcomings. The tenured second-rate intellectuals of academe, writers and pundits for whom untested assumptions serve in the place of facts, bureaucrats and elected officials who rise by virtue of crafted appearances and in-network support rather than merit — all persons whose inadequacy is concealed under the mantle of club membership. To be sure, there are true elites in the club, but they hold the conceit that their achievements (in whatever field) entitle them to determine the course of the politea.

Elitism is not exclusive to liberals; it is all too common on the putative right. But, in my view, elitism is the defining characteristic of the left and a minor — if disturbing — attribute of the right.

Which returns us to Sarah Palin. She has elite bona fides, but she refuses to “play fair” (by elitist rules), thereby threatening to expose the the life-sustaining (read narcissist “supply”)* fiction of elitist superiority. She has shown a ‘dangerous’ and threatening willingness to name persons, things and ideologies for what they are. And that calls for circling the wagons.

Narcissist “supply” is the sum of inputs required to maintain an exalted self-image. For the narcissist it has an existential quality, sustaining the very life of the psyche. It is equivalent to the supply of drugs in substance addiction. I think that idea goes a long way toward explaining the sheer magnitude of the visceral hate-fear response from the far left. Elitism and bullying are prominent manifestations of narcissism.

Note 1: usually I avoid 'psychologizing', but I have come to think ideas about narcissism are justified by common sense and experience; more, I believe they have the virtue of explanatory power in analyzing irrational non-adaptive behavior.

Note 2: I rather like Sara Palin, but mostly because of her ability to set the wolves to howling. Jim DeMint would be my choice if he chooses to run.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Alien Obama - Part II

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Given a provenance as dubious and murky as that of our current president, an antique would find no market among careful buyers. Matters of interest include his mentors, associates and academic and professional records. Yet we have invested the treasure and security of our nation in a cipher -- Barack Hussein Obama.
Who is this man? What do we know about him? By deliberate concealment the public record is scant, but to many of us the little that is known is in no way reassuring. What we do not know may be even less so.

"Birtherists" is the derisive term coined (presumably by the left) to mock citizens who have a legitimate interest in verifying the details of his birth. Elitists of all political stripes assert that the question is settled and to pursue it further is unworthy and smacks of conspiracy paranoia. Though attributed to the strawman malign far right, I believe the desire for definitive resolution has popular support.

The verification of Obama's birth alone, however, focuses much too narrowly. It is a proxy for a plethora of other information deliberately concealed or suppressed. The concealment of information, in itself, raises questions.

Those questions include troubling personal and political
associations, lack of information (records, grades, papers) regarding his education, early trips to Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, close connections with the Socialist party in Chicago, his communist mentor in Hawaii, the absence of written records.... The list goes on. Yes, these are things we have been able to learn, but only in the most superficial way. The president and persons with whom he was associated refuse to add probative detail. As many writers have already noted, Mr. Obama's record -- opaque as it is -- would disqualify him government employment requiring security clearance.

So in what way is President Obama an alien? I believe (despite K12, academe and the media) there remains a strong current of individualism, common sense and distrust of government among most Americans; core beliefs and opinions that are shared by the great majority but not by Mr. Obama and his cohort on the hard left. Two issues, for example, are the sanctity of life and the second amendment, but those differences with mainstream America are only ideological symptomatic of foreign worldview.

Therein, I believe, lies the clear disconnect that defines Obama as alien. In his speeches, actions, writing and thinking he has shown himself to be postmodernist, Eurocentric and elitist. He views The Constitution (which is at the heart of American values) as a malleable document that impedes the exercise of dirigiste government power. He is not a patriot in the deeply embedded American sense, seeing himself – as do all 'enlightened' persons – as “a citizen of the world”. How much at variance he is with the mainstream is suggested by a citation from the Washington Post:

Traditional values in the United States, Baker found, are very different than in other nations. Unlike nations where collective identity is based on common ancestry, in the United States, he wrote, the imagined community is "a shared set of ideas." These are the ideas of the Constitution: personal liberty, equality, democracy and the rule of law. America was invented, not inherited. Our traditional values don't come from the fatherland, the volk or an ancient regime. Nor are our most basic shared values a selection of moral positions held by conservative American Christians.
Seen in this way, it is clear that traditional American values are alive and well. Constitutional ideals have unchallenged legitimacy, as do the worth of family, religion (or spirituality) and national pride. This is a stark contrast to the countries that have radically rejected their traditional values: Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the former Eastern Bloc nations.

I close with an anecdotal reference that seems telling. Even allowing for the giddiness of campaign fatigue -- putting myself in the candidate's position -- I simply cannot imagine myself ever uttering the phrase, "57 states" or the revealing, "America as it should be."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alien Obama - Part I

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When we think of aliens our imagination may turn to the spacemen of the Roswell, NM or to the melded Robert Heinlein* sort. Of more recent vintage, sliders, conjured up by sci-fi writers who follow eleven-dimension physics -- parallel universes in "inner" space. Or infiltrated spies. More mundane, we may simply consider immigrants -- especially those reared outside the Western Tradition.

Whatever the kind of alien, the term conveys a sense of strangeness, otherness. It means strange, foreign, of or belonging to another. A person who is among us but not of us. It is notable that"Alien" and "Alias" derive from a common root.

Which brings to our president. Is he an alien or an alias, or both? If an alias, we might say, Obama A.K.A.... How to finish the sentence? Is he an original thinker or is he a creature of puppeteers? As I said in an earlier post, we know what he is by his actions and by those of his words that manage to make sense. But we do not know who he is.

I confess that I find it extremely difficult to understand, let alone characterize Mr. Obama and his stranger-than-Haight-Ashbury cohort. Most of their pronouncements are, to me, so outrageous -- so alien -- that I hardly know how to respond. Cognitive overload.

Of many examples, here are two. Mr. Obama on several occasions has put forward his view of "negative" and "positive" rights. Negative rights (one suspects that the adjective was deliberately chosen for its darker connotation) are the very ones spelled out in the Bill of Rights -- those crafted to protect the people from the otherwise inevitable abuse of government power. Positive rights -- those Mr. Obama favors, on the other hand, are those which would enable the government to exercise its power over the people -- always for "good" purposes, of course!

Then there is his stated and demonstrated disdain for notions of private property. Wealth is accumulated for the purposes of sharing -- redistribution; private enterprise, on its face, is not compatible with that view. These ideas are certainly alien to our founding principles.

James Lewis, in a fine article appearing in the American Thinker, captures the idea especially well.

And yet the Obama "birther" debate is important. What's important about it is the feeling a growing number of Americans have in their bones that Obama is foreign -- to our traditions, loyalties and shared understandings about the nature of America. In a way the legal debate matters less than that bone-deep sense that Obama is fundamentally "Other than American".


This is not a secret. Obama is foreign to America in a way that has little to do with his birth certificate. He could be American-born and still think in this very anti-American way. A lot of people are. But whatever he is legally, there is not a shred of doubt that he is steeped in an Anti-American way of thinking.

In the concluding Part II I will try to point out that the more we learn about Mr. Obama the more questions are raised.

Stranger in a Strange Land