Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Should the Republicans Do Now?

Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin offers this advice in this Wall Street Journal commentary:

Take Some Political Risks

After two straight electoral defeats, it is time for a substantial party shake-up. We don't need a feather duster; we need a fire hose.

We need to be honest about the root causes of our current financial crisis: loose money, crony capitalism and a lack of market transparency and information. We need to adopt a policy of sound money by requiring the Federal Reserve to focus exclusively on keeping inflation in check, as I've proposed with my Price Stability Act. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose excesses helped lead to the current mess, must be taken off the backs of taxpayers. We need a complete overhaul of our outdated financial regulatory system to emphasize market transparency and accountability.

The greatest threat to our nation's future prosperity is the explosion of entitlement spending. Our entitlement programs are headed for a painful collapse that will bankrupt this nation and leave our children with an inferior standard of living. If we don't tackle these problems, they will tackle us.

We must also offer bold alternatives to the destructive tax policies that the Democratic majority will work to enact. We must go beyond simply calling for lower taxes. We need a complete overhaul of our tax code. At a time of fierce global competition, the individual and business tax reforms I put forth earlier this year would encourage companies to invest in America, promote jobs here at home, and strengthen the paychecks of American workers.

We must take control of the health-care debate, and champion patient-centered alternatives to the socialized health-care proposals advocated by the Democrats. Health-care decisions should be made by individuals and their providers, not government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats. We need to offer reforms that make health care more affordable, more portable and more transparent, while strengthening the social safety net.

We cannot simply put up roadblocks to the emboldened Democratic majority. We need to offer an alternative future. Absent reform, our federal government will double in size within a generation. We must change course from this path of stagnation, and we must have leaders willing to provide a path that keeps alive the American ideal and keeps our government limited.

Our party has become too fearful of our own ideas. Since 1997, congressional Republicans began a steady retreat from principled leadership to political expediency. A party built on spending discipline and government reform succumbed to the siren songs of government expansion and earmarked giveaways. Republicans squandered the opportunity to limit and reshape the relationship between the federal government and the individual.

I ran on these bold ideas and innovative solutions in a congressional district carried by Barack Obama -- yet I received 64% of the vote. I challenge my colleagues to rethink political risk taking. Taking on our most serious fiscal challenges will restore relevancy to the Republican Party and will keep alive America's commitment to freedom and prosperity.
In other words, Republicans in Washington DC (and elsewhere) ought to start acting like (gasp!!) Republicans!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Blowing Air in a Burst Bubble

"It's a terrible bill, but we have to do something!" Congress cried last week.

You'd think I could have come up with the above headline a couple of weeks ago and called it in to my Congresscritter (who, not running for re-election didn't give a whit for my "please don't vote for the bailout" phone call and voted for it both times -- then again, the entire point of Mr. LaHood's political career has been, in good, respectable Country Club Republican fashion, to soak the taxpayers across the nation for the benefit of those of us in his district) when it had a chance of being a useful slogan, rather than thinking it up only this morning as the Dow was sinking below 9700.

Be that as it may, I'm whittling down my e-pile of unread notices from The Daily Reckoning, where this popped up in the Mogambo Guru's message of two weeks ago,
...the federal budget is now more than a staggering $3 trillion dollars, which is a hefty $10,000 for every man, woman and child in the country, and it's equivalent to $30,000 being spent by everybody who has a non-government job!
You can read the rest here. But remember that is the budget (not including all that is off-budget) before borrowing another $700 billion in Panic of 2008 actions.

This ain't good on so many levels, folks....

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fiddling with the Constitution

The first sentence of Section 7 of Article 1 of the United States Constitution reads:
All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
How, then, did this week's bailout ("rescue"), which originated in the Senate (having first failed in the House of Representatives) become law? Note that this is not the first time a major tax bill originated in the Senate, but I never could figure out how such laws never came to the attention of the Supreme Court. Now I know, thanks to this article by John E. Mulligan of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal. (Hat tip to Dr. Jerry Pournelle's View from Chaos Manor and the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto.)
...[I]t has to do with the U.S. Constitution. Article 7, Section 1 says tax bills must originate in the House of Representatives.

In order to improve chances that the bailout bill, which the House defeated on Monday, would be approved this time around, the Senate tacked on several popular provisions, such as extending the life of business tax cuts that were set to expire and changing the alternative minimum tax, a much-loathed part of the tax code intended to ensure that the well-to-do pay their fair share but that in recent years has increasingly affected the middle class.

And an element of the tax package was legislation advanced by [Rhode Island Rep. Patrick] Kennedy that requires health-insurance companies to offer coverage of mental illness on a par with that of physical illness.

Once the Senate added those provisions to the rescue bill, it qualified as a tax bill, which the upper chamber is constitutionally prohibited from originating.

In order to get around the Constitution, the leaders turned to the time-honored stratagem of finding a live but dormant House bill — Kennedy’s mental-health parity bill — to use as a shell.

“They take out the entire text” of Kennedy’s old bill, “and then, by amendment, they substitute the other bill,” said Don Ritchie, an assistant Senate historian. Two bills, in this instance: the emergency rescue bill and the tax provisions and the final version of Kennedy’s mental-health parity wrapped inside.
And that is how the "Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007" was turned into the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

That other sound you hear (besides the one of the US Dollar's printing press in overdrive) is the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Republican Liberty Caucus on the Bailout

The Republican Liberty Caucus is much more libertarian than Whig. Nevertheless, their critique of how we got into the current financial crisis and the proposed "solutions" offers some important warnings.

"NO Bailout for Failure, NO Rescue from Risk," says Republican Group

Thousand Oaks, CA - A national caucus of Republican activists has urged GOP legislators to stand firm against the "Paulson Bailout" of a corrupt financial regulatory system. "This proposal is a government takeover of the entire U.S. economy," says Republican Liberty Caucus Chairman William Westmiller, "whose only purpose is to rescue those who made risky bets on bad mortgages."

The Caucus [www.RLC.org] opposes any taxpayer payoff to rescue those who made bad investments in any sector of the economy. "The problem is not a lack of government control," says Westmiller, "but rather the decades of market distortions imposed by Congress through subsidies, mandates, guarantees, and constraints on free-enterprise mortgage offerings."

The Paulson proposal grants the Secretary of the Treasury total control over all mortgage-related financial instruments, nearly a trillion-dollars in discretionary funds, and the power to nationalize or deputize every financial institution in the nation. "This isn't a rescue plan," says Westmiller, "it is an economic police state."

Over the past five years, Congress has refused - on multiple occasions - to impose standard accounting practices on "Government Sponsored Enterprises", maintained an implicit taxpayer guarantee against all of their losses, and expanded the discretion of federal agencies to allocate new national debt to failed investments and insurance brokers. "This is not free enterprise, nor anything even remotely associated with the American Dream," says Westmiller, "it is pure and simply corporatism, designed by oligarchs, suitable for a Weimar Republic or Soviet Union, not the United States of America."

The RLC favors clear legislation protecting individuals against fraud, misrepresentation, and theft. It opposes any law that benefits one class of Americans at the expense of another, including any form of financial guarantee or subsidy that rewards failure or encourages foolish investments.

"The worst aspect of all the proposals now pending in Congress," says Westmiller, "is the destructive craving to save a system of patronage, political favors, and class benefits that has brought us the current crisis. More of the same is no solution."

"The 'Pelosi Compromise' is a fruitless exercise of battling against the most extreme Democratic proposals," says Westmiller, "adding new layers of bureaucracy, prolonged studies of alternative interventions, and phased-in destruction of the dollar is not progress, it is more, much more, of the same failed policies."

The RLC applauds the stamina and fortitude of multiple Republican Senators and Congressmen who have opposed any corporate bailout, expansions of government fiscal power, new burdens on taxpayers, or any further assaults on the value of the dollar through inflation.

The RLC is a political membership organization working within the Republican Party in support of individual rights, limited government, and free enterprise. The Caucus has members in all 50 states and 20 chartered state chapters. The RLC has urged all of its members to communicate to their representatives in Congress their total opposition to any bailout.

- 30 -


RLC Statement of Principles and Positions:"We oppose all restrictions on the voluntary and honest exchange of value in a free market ...We oppose all legislation that concedes Congressional power to any regulatory agency, executive department, or international body. We support the phase out of any government subsidies and incentives that support or favor any business or special interest ... We favor the privatization of all government assets and a transition to free market management and services for all programs that exceed the enumerated powers of the Constitution. http:// www.republicanliberty.org/docs/rlc2004_principles.htm

RLC Advisor Mike Pence (R-IN):"House Republicans believe that we should not pass along the cost of a $700 billion bailout from Main Street to Wall Street ... I simply find it anathema that the federal government would borrow $700 billion from future generations of Americans to nationalize every bad mortgage in America". http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec08/lawmakers_09-26.html

"Economic freedom means the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. The decision to give the federal government the ability to nationalize almost every bad mortgage in America interrupts this basic truth of our free market economy." http://www.politico.com/blogs/thecrypt/0908/Pence_comes_out_against_the_plan__again.html

RLC Advisor John Shadegg (R-AZ):"The problem here is that the government created this. ... Now we see the two chairs on each side, adding all kinds of things to the bill. I think the last thing you do when government policies get you in trouble is write a blank check to the government." http://johnshadegg.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=103296

RLC Advisor Ron Paul (R-TX):"Unfortunately, the government's preferred solution to the crisis is the very thing that got us into this mess in the first place: government intervention." http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/23/paul.bailout/index.html

"By doing more of the same, we will only continue and intensify the distortions in our economy - all the capital misallocation, all the malinvestment - and prevent the market's attempt to re-establish rational pricing of houses and other assets." http://www.ronpaul.com/2008-09-25/ron-paul-my-answer-to-the-president/

RLC Advisor Vernon McKinley on "Corporate Welfare King and Queen" [1997]"The GSE structure is a classic case of a special legislative benefit that its recipients will fight to the death to maintain. Congress should immediately revoke all the benefits of government sponsorship ..." http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6047

Republican Liberty Caucus
44 Summerfield Street
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
(866) RLC-Liberty [752-5423]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Not Yours to Give

One of my childhood records was Bill Hayes' "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," the third stanza of which is
He went off to Congress and served a spell
Fixin' up the Government and the laws as well
Took over Washington, so I heard tell
And he patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell
Davy, Davy Crockett, seeing his duty clear
But I never really thought about Davy Crockett as a Congressman until, during my university years, I read this account from
The Life of Colonel David Crockett, by Edward S. Ellis, a book first published in the 1880s that is still in print. One of the reasons this blog is called "21st Century Whig" is the following lesson I learned from a 19th Century Whig.

I was one day in the lobby of the House of Representatives when a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support – rather, as I thought, because it afforded the speakers a fine opportunity for display than from the necessity of convincing anybody, for it seemed to me that everybody favored it. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose. Everybody expected, of course, that he was going to make one of his characteristic speeches in support of the bill. He commenced:

"Mr. Speaker – I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him. This government can owe no debts but for services rendered, and at a stipulated price. If it is a debt, how much is it? Has it been audited, and the amount due ascertained? If it is a debt, this is not the place to present it for payment, or to have its merits examined. If it is a debt, we owe more than we can ever hope to pay, for we owe the widow of every soldier who fought in the War of 1812 precisely the same amount. There is a woman in my neighborhood, the widow of as gallant a man as ever shouldered a musket. He fell in battle. She is as good in every respect as this lady, and is as poor. She is earning her daily bread by her daily labor; but if I were to introduce a bill to appropriate five or ten thousand dollars for her benefit, I should be laughed at, and my bill would not get five votes in this House. There are thousands of widows in the country just such as the one I have spoken of, but we never hear of any of these large debts to them. Sir, this is no debt. The government did not owe it to the deceased when he was alive; it could not contract it after he died. I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain. Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

Like many other young men, and old ones, too, for that matter, who had not thought upon the subject, I desired the passage of the bill, and felt outraged at its defeat. I determined that I would persuade my friend Crockett to move a reconsideration the next day.

Previous engagements preventing me from seeing Crockett that night, I went early to his room the next morning and found him engaged in addressing and franking letters, a large pile of which lay upon his table.

I broke in upon him rather abruptly, by asking him what devil had possessed him to make that speech and defeat that bill yesterday. Without turning his head or looking up from his work, he replied:

"You see that I am very busy now; take a seat and cool yourself. I will be through in a few minutes, and then I will tell you all about it."

He continued his employment for about ten minutes, and when he had finished he turned to me and said:

"Now, sir, I will answer your question. But thereby hangs a tale, and one of considerable length, to which you will have to listen."

I listened, and this is the tale which I heard:

Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. When we got there, I went to work, and I never worked as hard in my life as I did there for several hours. But, in spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them, and everybody else seemed to feel the same way.

The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done. I said everybody felt as I did. That was not quite so; for, though they perhaps sympathized as deeply with the sufferers as I did, there were a few of the members who did not think we had the right to indulge our sympathy or excite our charity at the expense of anybody but ourselves. They opposed the bill, and upon its passage demanded the yeas and nays. There were not enough of them to sustain the call, but many of us wanted our names to appear in favor of what we considered a praiseworthy measure, and we voted with them to sustain it. So the yeas and nays were recorded, and my name appeared on the journals in favor of the bill.

The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up, and I thought it was best to let the boys know that I had not forgot them, and that going to Congress had not made me too proud to go to see them.

So I put a couple of shirts and a few twists of tobacco into my saddlebags, and put out. I had been out about a week and had found things going very smoothly, when, riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. As he came up I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly, and was about turning his horse for another furrow when I said to him: "Don't be in such a hurry, my friend; I want to have a little talk with you, and get better acquainted."

He replied: "I am very busy, and have but little time to talk, but if it does not take too long, I will listen to what you have to say."

I began: "Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and – "

"'Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.'

This was a sockdolager... I begged him to tell me what was the matter.

"Well, Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the Constitution to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest. But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is."

"I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutional question."

"No, Colonel, there's no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?"

"Certainly it is, and I thought that was the last vote which anybody in the world would have found fault with."

"Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity?"

Here was another sockdolager; for, when I began to think about it, I could not remember a thing in the Constitution that authorized it. I found I must take another tack, so I said:

"Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did."

"It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution."

I have given you an imperfect account of what he said. Long before he was through, I was convinced that I had done wrong. He wound up by saying:

"So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you."

I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go talking, he would set others to talking, and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:

"Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it full. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said there at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot."

He laughingly replied:

"Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You say that you are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and, perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way."

"If I don't," said I, "I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say, I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of the people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it."

"No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. This is Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you."

"Well, I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name."

"My name is Bunce."

"Not Horatio Bunce?"


"Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me; but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend. You must let me shake your hand before I go."

We shook hands and parted.

It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity, and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.

Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight, talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before.

I have told you Mr. Bunce converted me politically. He came nearer converting me religiously than I had ever been before. He did not make a very good Christian of me, as you know; but he has wrought upon my mind a conviction of the truth of Christianity, and upon my feelings a reverence for its purifying and elevating power such as I had never felt before.

I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him – no, that is not the word – I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if everyone who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue, and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted – at least, they all knew me.

In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:

"Fellow citizens – I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice, or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only."

I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation as I have told it to you, and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

"And now, fellow citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.

"It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit of it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so."

He came upon the stand and said:

"Fellow citizens – It affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today."

He went down, and there went up from the crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.

I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.

"Now, Sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday. I have had several thousand copies of it printed and was directing them to my constituents when you came in.

"There is one thing now to which I will call your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a week's pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men – men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased – a debt which could not be paid by money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $10,000, when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it."

(Singing): Davy, Davy Crockett, seeing his duty clear.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mark Sanford: A Bailout for All Our Bad Decisions?

For more on the economic side of the current financial crisis, you might check my main Pastor Zip's Blog. Here in the Washington Post Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina raises very important questions of what the responses to the emergencies of the last few years mean for the Republic. As you read it note this: the pattern of federalizing crisis response started long before 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.

Tip of the hat to Canon Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine.
A Bailout for All Our Bad Decisions?

I am worried for our country -- not so much because of the tumult in the financial markets but because of the federal government's response and its implications.

It seems that each new crisis is met with a new answer from the government. After Hurricane Katrina, the federal government assumed roles traditionally handled by state and local governments. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government federalized 25,000 workers through the Transportation Security Administration. The example of security-focused countries such as Israel, which elects to have that function handled by the private sector, did not matter. Now, our federal government is likely to commit three-quarters of a trillion dollars -- more than last year's Pentagon budget -- to a bailout based on what happened in the credit markets last week.

An ever-expanding scope of federal commitment and power is not what made this country great. Expanded power in one place comes at a cost in other places. American cornerstones such as individual initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit -- born in free and open societies with private property rights and the rule of law -- have never fit particularly well within the context of an ever-growing federal government.

For 200 years, the "business model" in our country has rested on a simple fact: that while one may reap rewards from taking risks, one should also be prepared to face the consequences of those risks. Some of the proposed actions with regard to the credit market turn that business model on its head -- absolving those who took too much risk, or bought too much house, from the weight of their own choices. If Congress passes the proposed bailout, we will be destined to have far greater problems in time, leaving those who are prudent in their finances to foot the bill for those who are not.

I am not writing to criticize Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. I respect his business judgment greatly, and his unenviable task is to find a short-term solution to problems grown by government over the long term. Whether his proposals are right or wrong is less the issue than the question of where we are, as a society, in terms of having government in the business of protecting people from their own financial decisions.

Last week's events were rooted in distressed mortgage securities whose optimistic values were facilitated by quasi-governmental entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The investment banking capital write-downs were turbocharged by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which did what too many laws do -- it fixed yesterday's problem. The amazing expansion of credit was fueled by a Federal Reserve offering an easy-money policy that led us right into a credit bubble. All this was made worse by the government enabling some people's tendency to want more house than they can afford.

With that bubble popped, we will now go through a major financial de-leveraging. It will be painful. Yet to preserve what has made this country great, we need to be on guard against Washington offering endless cures to our ills.

Many of the "cures" that are soon to be offered will have one thing in common -- telling us what others did wrong. Instead of listening to these, each of us as taxpayers must admonish those in Washington to get their own financial house in order. Washington is the master of creative and unsustainable finance, with $50 trillion in unfunded promises.

We will be told of bailouts that "won't cost anything." We should caution policymakers that this has never been the history of bailouts, and remind them of Milton Friedman's suggestion that the capitalist system never works without loss. Investment titans recently featured in Vanity Fair trading $60 million beach homes should never be sheltered from this old-fashioned concept.

We will be told of "temporary" funds and programs. We should remind our leaders of Ronald Reagan's words that the closest thing to eternal life is a government program.

We will be told "trust us" on pricing assets, and we should not -- because no matter how pure one's intentions, no one watches your money like you do. This makes transparency and open bidding incredibly important.

If we do these things right, we will weather the very rough patch ahead and be better for it as a country. If we do not, there will be more parallels between our nation and Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" than we would like to imagine. The difference lies in each of our hands.

Mark Sanford, a Republican, is governor of South Carolina. He represented South Carolina for three terms in the U.S. House and was formerly employed by Goldman Sachs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sharia Law in the UK

"ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases." Thus begins this story from last Sunday's edition of The Sunday Times.

I'll post more in a moment, but when you read it note most especially how Shaira law has come to be implemented in the United Kingdom. Then ask yourself, could this happen in the United States?

Revealed: UK’s first official sharia courts

Abul Taher

ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.

The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.

Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.

It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996.

Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.

Siddiqi said: “We realised that under the Arbitration Act we can make rulings which can be enforced by county and high courts. The act allows disputes to be resolved using alternatives like tribunals. This method is called alternative dispute resolution, which for Muslims is what the sharia courts are.”

The disclosure that Muslim courts have legal powers in Britain comes seven months after Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was pilloried for suggesting that the establishment of sharia in the future “seems unavoidable” in Britain.

In July, the head of the judiciary, the lord chief justice, Lord Phillips, further stoked controversy when he said that sharia could be used to settle marital and financial disputes.

In fact, Muslim tribunal courts started passing sharia judgments in August 2007. They have dealt with more than 100 cases that range from Muslim divorce and inheritance to nuisance neighbours.

It has also emerged that tribunal courts have settled six cases of domestic violence between married couples, working in tandem with the police investigations.

Siddiqi said he expected the courts to handle a greater number of “smaller” criminal cases in coming years as more Muslim clients approach them. “All we are doing is regulating community affairs in these cases,” said Siddiqi, chairman of the governing council of the tribunal.

Jewish Beth Din courts operate under the same provision in the Arbitration Act and resolve civil cases, ranging from divorce to business disputes. They have existed in Britain for more than 100 years, and previously operated under a precursor to the act.

Politicians and church leaders expressed concerns that this could mark the beginnings of a “parallel legal system” based on sharia for some British Muslims.
Read the entire article here.

Here in the United States, arbitration statutes were first adopted in the 1920s and, particularly in New York, bet din decisions will be enforced by civil courts under those laws. Of course, with arbitration, both parties must first agree to arbitration. Furthermore, halakhah (Jewish law) is used only when all parties in the dispute are religious Jews. Others are protected not only by halakhah itself, but by the religious freedom provisions in the Bill of Rights and established law. Nevertheless, since that "parallel legal system" exists here now, is that not precedent for sharia in the United States?

Seems to me the question is when this will come before one of our courts. And we've already learned just how lawless our courts can be.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Dignity of the Office

I wrote this in the very beginning of February, but for some reason I never posted it. Now that the 40th anniversary (40th? No way!) of RFK's assassination — immediately after winning the June 4 California primary made him the leading candidate for the Democratic Party's 1968 presidential nomination — has been observed, it seems timely once again to post this -- as the pundits are desperately trying to get the Vice-Presidential nominees tied up. (And, yes, I was again going to post this 2 weeks ago!)

29 January 2008

Over at Mere Comments, the blog for Touchstone magazine ("a Journal of Mere Christianity"), Prof. Anthony Esolen reflects upon a friend's comment that he intends to vote for Caligula's horse, Incitatus, in the upcoming primary, drawing upon a popular legend that the despotic Roman Emperor appointed his favorite horse to the Roman Senate. The legend may or may not be true, but given some of the things said by those running for President of the United States, particularly in this age of incessant campaigning, voting for someone with genuine horse-sense doesn't sound quite so bad.

Prof Esolen concludes:
Would Incitatus be "presidential"? Well, I do think so. He's not ambitious, in the old sense of the word, meaning that he doesn't make a nuisance of himself, running around trying to scramble up votes. William McKinley had that old Roman suspicion of the vice in mind when he refused to campaign for his re-election, appearing once in a while to give speeches from his porch, and that's all. He believed that electioneering was beneath the dignity of a sitting president. But in this regard we may be wiser than McKinley. If Bill Clinton did nothing else, he taught us that precious little is beneath the dignity of a sitting president.

Meanwhile, here it is the end of January and the political pundits have their knickers in a twist because the nominations for both parties are still unsettled. Heaven forfend that the conventions actually have something serious to do, like decide who the Party's nominee might be. I remember when California's June primary was something very important, though by the time I was old enough to vote, it had lost that importance.

But as one of the Youth for Reagan who rode several Continental Trailways busses from LA to Kansas City in August 1976 (I was 17, not quite old enough to vote), I actually attended a Convention where it was not certain who the Party's nominee would be. And it was more than "fun" for political junkies. It was a time for delegates and Party officials to get together, talk about differences (or perceived differences), and hash them out in a way that would enable them to work together to elect a President.

And it worked. Well, President Ford wasn't elected, but he very nearly pulled off a victory that no one was expecting, especially in the Summer of 1976.

C'mon, folks! Let the Party Conventions, and not the media punditry, do the work of nominating the Parties' tickets and setting campaign themes. Please!!!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Remember the Maine!!

Or: Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.*

The New York Times editorialized on Friday:
The Truth About the War

It took just a few months after the United States’ invasion of Iraq for the world to find out that Saddam Hussein had long abandoned his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. He was not training terrorists or colluding with Al Qaeda. The only real threat he posed was to his own countrymen.

It has taken five years to finally come to a reckoning over how much the Bush administration knowingly twisted and hyped intelligence to justify that invasion. On Thursday — after years of Republican stonewalling — a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee gave us as good a set of answers as we’re likely to get.

The report shows clearly that President Bush should have known that important claims he made about Iraq did not conform with intelligence reports. In other cases, he could have learned the truth if he had asked better questions or encouraged more honest answers.

The report confirms one serious intelligence failure: President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials were told that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons and did not learn that these reports were wrong until after the invasion. But Mr. Bush and his team made even that intelligence seem more solid, more recent and more dangerous than it was.

The report shows that there was no intelligence to support the two most frightening claims Mr. Bush and his vice president used to sell the war: that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons and had longstanding ties to terrorist groups. It seems clear that the president and his team knew that that was not true, or should have known it — if they had not ignored dissenting views and telegraphed what answers they were looking for.

Over all, the report makes it clear that top officials, especially Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, knew they were not giving a full and honest account of their justifications for going to war.
There's more, and you can read it all here. The Times concludes:
We cannot say with certainty whether Mr. Bush lied about Iraq. But when the president withholds vital information from the public — or leads them to believe things that he knows are not true — to justify the invasion of another country, that is bad enough.
At this point, let me observe it wasn't the editorial that caught my attention. It was the Letters to the Editor which were highlighted on my Google News page, headlined "The False Trail That Led to War" -- five letters in all published in the paper which you can read here. I went to the editorial only after reading the letters and noting that each of them had missed a key point. The same point completely missed in the Times' own editorial.

Let's take a closer look. In the first letter, Alan Kennedy-Shaffer of Mechanicsburg, Penn. writes in part,
Two years ago, I randomly sampled the administration’s speeches on Iraq and reached almost identical conclusions to the ones reached by the Senate Intelligence Committee and your editorial. It’s all there in my 2006 book, “Denial and Deception: A Study of the Bush Administration’s Rhetorical Case for Invading Iraq.”

The only difference is that I analyzed hundreds of speeches and public pronouncements, not just five major speeches, as in the Senate committee report. What surfaced was a clear pattern of denial and deception among top White House officials before, during and after the initial invasion of Iraq.

Especially disturbing to me was the fact that President Bush and his pals knew, or should have known, that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear weapons and no ties to Al Qaeda, and posed little threat to the United States.

The latest revelations are nothing new — they simply highlight what the administration has been denying all along.
In other words, "Dear New York Times, thanks for reporting the obvious."

Then there's Marcus Wiesner of Montclair, N.J.
What was cloudy became clear, what became clear has become crystal-clear: President Bush and his coterie misled the country into a war in Iraq that has cost the lives of more than 4,000 American servicemen and women, physically and mentally maimed thousands more, cost hundreds of billion dollars and damaged our moral standing in the world.

This action has placed a stain on our nation that only a new administration and a new direction can begin to erase.

If there were a low watermark for judging America’s past and present leadership, the Bush presidency would surely stand near the bottom.
Yeah, "It's all President Bush's fault."

Mark R. Godburn of North Canaan, Conn., just barely hints at something interesting, but then backs away from something that is very important:
The Senate committee report does show that Saddam Hussein was thought to at least have chemical and biological weapons programs. It is a fact that Democrats such as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV considered the Iraqi dictator to be a clear and present danger. It’s true that former President Bill Clinton thought that removing Saddam Hussein was the right move, as did Prime Minister Tony Blair.

All of these people could not have been part of a devious Bush plot to invade Iraq for oil or to spread democracy to the Middle East.

The decision to go to war at that time must be remembered in the light of the post-9/11 world, with the real fears of new terrorist attacks, anthrax in the postal system and so on.

There was bipartisan and worldwide belief that Saddam Hussein had to be dealt with. In that case, what was the Bush administration supposed to do? Voice every doubt and concern? List every argument that said Mr. Hussein was a threat with one that said maybe he wasn’t?

If every pro and con had been given, there would have never been public or press support for dealing with the dictator. The dangers of global warming are being overstated for the same reason.
That is, "America had 9/11 blinders on, and everybody was saying the same thing." Close, but no cigar.

Benjamin Solomon of Evanston, Ill. also makes an interesting observation, but is unable to draw a helpful conclusion:
The larger truth I draw from your forthright editorial about the Senate Intelligence Committee report is that a democracy can commit not just blunders but horrendous wrongful acts with disastrous consequences for another nation.

America regards itself as the greatest and most powerful democracy that ever existed and the advocate of democracy for other nations. Yet it is the clear thrust of the editorial that its chosen leaders abused the power of their offices to conquer and devastate another country that was not a threat to us.

How can we redeem ourselves? What do we owe the Iraqi people? What can we say to the families of our dead and wounded soldiers? Can we continue to promote the virtues of democracy to the rest of the world?

And we still have the daunting problem of extricating ourselves from the scene of the crime.
Finally, Jim Bridges of Washingtonville, N.Y. (whom the Times identifies as a Unitarian minister) actually just misses a bull's-eye, but is too fixated on another target to notice:
Thinking back to the time before the days of “shock and awe,” I recall the largest demonstrations in the world against the proposed Iraq war. I also recall numerous arguments within the antiwar movement against attacking Iraq. Those arguments, positions and reasoning received scant notice from the news media. It was as if they did not exist.

In sharp contrast, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others received much news coverage and media exposure on their arguments for war. The Senate committee’s report basically leads one to conclude that the antiwar movement was correct in its prewar analyses. The unasked question is: When will America learn to listen to the peace movement?
No, Rev. Bridges, that is not the unasked question. Note again the title of this entry. I learned "Remember the Maine!" as a child learning American History in the public schools. That slogan, fanned by the Yellow Journalists of 1898, got us in the Spanish-American War. No one seemed particularly interested in finding out what really caused the USS Maine to explode in Havana Harbor. It was "obvious" that the Spanish were to blame.

As the election of 2002 was being contested, suddenly in autumn the top thing was to get at somebody to pay for 9/11. And not just for President Bush and his neo-conservative advisors. For after years of reporting how the Kurds in northern Iraq were for all practical purpose independent of the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad; after years of reporting how the US Air Force had been controlling Iraqi airspace ever since the Gulf War of 1991 and that via our daily fly-overs under the authority of the first President Bush, all 8 years of President Clinton; and the current President; after years of reporting that Saddam Hussein was a secularist who was viewed by Arab Muslims, especially jihadists, as an infidel worthy of death; suddenly by October 2002 all we heard and read from the mainstream press -- the TV Networks, the big newspapers, even National Public Radio -- was how Iraq was working hand-in-glove with those who though 9/11 hadn't gone far enough. And the New York Times was chiming in with all the rest.

The only voice against this non-stop, full-fledged, bi-partisan, media-charged press for invading Iraq seemed to be Sen. Wellstone -- who was killed shortly before the election when his airplane crashed. Yes, every once in a while, there would be buried somewhere in a story that, say Sen. Hagel (a Republican!) was raising questions. There were a few other voices, too, from both parties in both Houses of Congress. But that wasn't being reported. It was Remember the Maine! all over again. But it wasn't Yellow Journaliism leading the charge. It was all the American press corps -- including the Gray Lady -- fanning the flames for war, while ignoring all that they had been reporting for years.

Only after Congress gave President Bush "authority" to invade Iraq (question: Why has Congress not "declared war" since Dec. 1941?) -- which, indeed, he eagerly sought; only after the 2002 mid-term election was concluded; only after American troops were being committed to points half-way around the world...

...in other words, only after it was too late to stop the invasion, did the press, led by the New York Times, begin to report on those who questioned the conventional wisdom. And even then, those reports focussed on where the President was (or might be) wrong -- never on the collective amnesia of the Fourth Estate.

An amnesia that deliberately continues to this very day. Everybody (says the Times, the letters to the editor, even the US Senate) is blame, it seems, for getting us into this botched war and occupation. Except, of course, the press that poured gasoline on the spark in the first place, and counts on us not remembering it -- for they certainly won't.

So much for "The Truth About the War."

*- With apologies to Mark Twain.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A "Living Constitution" Is Dead Constitution

Following is a review of Ron Paul's book, The Revolution: A Manifesto, by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and editor of The Mises Review. It's kind of strange to suggest that the establishment in 2008 of constitutional government in these United States would be "revolutionary." If Dr. Paul's book is half as eloquent as this review, I agree: it is a must read.

The review is found in the Summer 2008 issue of
The Mises Review.

In his historic campaign for president, Ron Paul again and again held up the Constitution as a benchmark to judge the policies of the American government. For this, some libertarians criticized him. Was Paul not guilty of "constitution worship"? What has a document that began as an effort to replace the Articles of Confederation with a more effective and powerful central government to do with libertarianism? Indeed, some of his most severe critics claimed, Ron Paul did not qualify as a libertarian at all.

In The Revolution: A Manifesto, Ron Paul responds magnificently to this false and irresponsible charge. He is well aware of the limited value of the Constitution: it is a far from ideal arrangement. Nevertheless, it remains the fundamental law of the United States and, if interpreted correctly, provides an excellent means to check the depredations of a government that violates its provisions.
To be sure, the U.S. Constitution is not perfect. Few human contrivances are. But it is a pretty good one, I think, and it defines and limits the scope of government. When we get into the habit of disregarding it, ... we do so at our peril. (p. 67)
To say this at once raises a new question: how is the Constitution to be interpreted? Paul answers that it must be read in a way consistent with the underlying principle of the document, the promotion of freedom. In this connection, he cites effectively a speech by Daniel Webster that condemned conscription as unconstitutional. The Constitution does not mention the subject at all: how then could he be so sure that the government lacked this power? Webster said that since the Constitution aims to promote freedom, no infringement of freedom could possibly be constitutional unless the document explicitly mandated it.
A free government with arbitrary means to administer it is a contradiction; a free government without adequate provisions for personal security is an absurdity; a free government, with an uncontrolled power of military conscription, is a solecism, at once the most ridiculous and abominable that ever entered into the head of man. (p. 56, quoting Webster)
Webster's view, here adopted by Paul, closely resembles Lysander Spooner's method of constitutional analysis, by which he controversially attempted to show the unconstitutionality of slavery, long before the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Of course the most well known of Ron Paul's recent attempts to use the Constitution to check federal power involves the Iraq war. The Constitution vests in Congress, not the President, to right to declare war. The Iraq war is then illegal, since Congress has not issued such a declaration. Supporters of the war cannot appeal to "authorization of force" resolutions. Congress cannot constitutionally delegate its power to declare war to the president, leaving it for him to decide when force is to be used appropriately.[1]

Paul makes his criticism even stronger by connecting it to the just-war tradition. It is an uncontroversial part of that tradition that a war cannot be just unless it is initiated by one holding authority to do so. In our system of government, it is Congress that possesses this power. Absent a Congressional declaration of war, then, the Iraq war is unjust. (The point must not be misunderstood. It is not a requirement for any just war that it be authorized by legislative resolution: it is only that if a legal system vests the power to declare war in this way, it cannot be justly exercised otherwise. In the American system, war without a Congressional declaration is unjust as well as illegal.)

Ron Paul also uses the Constitution as an instrument for sound monetary policy. As everyone knows, he is an able and effective advocate of Austrian economics. "I myself identify with a school of economic thought known as the Austrian School of economics, whose key twentieth-century figures included Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and Hans Sennholz" (p. 102). This careful student of Murray Rothbard realizes, much better than any other member of Congress, that sound finance demands the abolition of the Federal Reserve System and the restoration of the gold standard. He shows that the Constitution can be read in a way that promotes these goals. The government is granted the power to coin money, but in Paul's construal, this authorizes only gold or other metals as money. Fiat money is, he holds, specifically forbidden by the prohibition on emitting bills of credit.
The power to regulate the value of money does not mean the federal government can debase the currency; the Framers would never have given the federal government such a power. It is nothing more than a power to codify an already existing definition of the dollar ... in terms of gold; it also refers to the government's power to declare the ratio between gold and silver, or gold and any other metal, based on the market value of those metals. (pp. 138-39)
Against the line of analysis that Paul has followed, some might object that the Constitution must be read as a "living" document. Why should we care today what the Framers of the Constitution intended? Paul responds that the "living constitution" eliminates any limits on the power of the government.
That's why on this issue I agree with historian Kevin Gutzman, who says that those who would give us a "living" Constitution are actually giving us a dead Constitution, since such a thing is completely unable to protect us against the encroachments of government power. (p. 49)
Just the point of resort to the Constitution in the first place was to resist government; we cannot then embrace a scheme of interpretation that prevents us from realizing this purpose.

The Revolution: A Manifesto is by no means confined to Constitutional issues. Owing to the central importance of resistance to the Bush administration's bellicose foreign policy, I propose to concentrate on Paul's treatment of this subject.

As mentioned before, Paul defends the traditional American foreign policy of nonintervention. In a recent book, Dangerous Nation (Knopf, 2006), Robert Kagan, whom I discuss elsewhere in this issue, has advanced a surprising claim. He denies that the interventionist policy he and his fellow neoconservatives favor breaks with tradition. Not at all, he says: America has from its inception wished to carry to others its form of government, based on free principles. America has always favored democratic revolutions abroad. The quest to bring democracy to Iraq is no aberration of Bush and his advisors, but solidly in the American tradition.

Paul does not refer to Kagan, but he offers sufficient material to refute this preposterous view. He quotes both John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay as rejecting intervention to help revolutions in foreign countries. Adams said of America,
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than our own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom. (p. 13)
Clay likewise said, "By the policy to which we have adhered since the days of Washington ... we have done more for the cause of liberty than arms could effect" (p. 14). Kagan's thesis flies in the face of the history he pretends to interpret.[2]

Paul also shows effectively that Bush's foreign policy breaks with American conservatism. In his televised debates with McCain, Giuliani, and others, Paul attracted much attention by appealing to Taft Republicanism. He continues that theme in The Revolution: A Manifesto and also notes that Felix Morley, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, and Robert Nisbet — all eminent conservative intellectuals — condemned the rampant interventionism of post-Wilsonian foreign policy.
Nisbet reminded his audience that war was revolutionary, not conservative. He likewise warned that socialist proposals have often, under wartime conditions, become the law of the land. (p. 33)
Whatever the validity of nonintervention in the past, have not the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed matters entirely? Now we must combat global jihad, which aims to bring down our way of life; and the old rules no longer apply.

Paul counters that the terrorist attacks have been a response to American intervention in the Middle East, not an amorphous assault against America as such. If we were to end our costly meddling in this region, there is every reason to expect that the terrorist danger would abate. In this connection, Paul quotes the renowned expert on al-Qaeda, Michael Scheuer:
About the only thing that can hold together the very loose coalition that Osama bin Laden has assembled is a common Muslim hatred for the impact of U.S. foreign policy... To the extent we change that policy in the interests of the United States, they become more and more focused on their local problems. (p. 18)
The Iraq war has not only caused death and destruction abroad. It has damaged our civil liberties at home. The "misnamed Patriot Act" (p. 114), as Paul aptly terms this nefarious piece of legislation, allows the administration to arrest and hold without trial anyone it wishes, not excepting American citizens. Were not such lettres de cachet a cause of the French Revolution? Even John Ashcroft, hardly a civil libertarian, had before his accession to the cabinet condemned measures like those he was later to enforce. "While a U.S. Senator during the Clinton years, Ashcroft warned about proposed invasions of privacy" (p. 117). Paul, not content with criticism, has proposed concrete legislation to end this outrage.

Ron Paul's outstanding book is must reading for everyone who values liberty.


[1] Some defenders of executive power claim that the president may initiate force that falls short of formal war. Louis Fisher, Presidential War Power (University Press of Kansas, 1995) and John Hart Ely, War and Responsibility (Princeton, 1995) have effectively refuted this position. See my reviews in, respectively, The Mises Review, Spring 1997 and Spring 1996.

[2] For further discussion, see my review of the book in The American Conservative, January 15, 2007.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Republic, if you can keep it.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as the delegates departed Independence Hall, a woman stopped Benjamin Franklin and asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?"

“A Republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied. (Bartleby.com)

I thought of that a couple of weeks ago as I read the opening of Howard Mintz' article in the May 22 edition of San Jose Mercury News:

Lifelong Republican finds himself unlikely hero of gay rights activists

California Chief Justice Ronald George could have taken the easy road in the legal conflict over gay marriage.

But as a crowd gathered outside the state Supreme Court's headquarters last Thursday morning, anxiously awaiting a ruling on the fate of same-sex marriage, George had already decided that the time was ripe for his court to make the hard decision and rewrite California's civil rights landscape.

When the clock struck 10 a.m. and the Supreme Court released its decision, George knew his court had made history.

"I certainly couldn't help but think that," George said in an interview this week in his office, cluttered with stacks of papers on desks and the conference table where the seven justices meet every Wednesday.

The 68-year-old George penned the 121-page ruling striking down California's ban on same-sex marriage, opening a new chapter in this era's most wrenching civil rights battle. The 4-3 decision, which George calls the toughest of his career, was announced as the chief justice was in his office, hosting a television crew from New York filming a documentary on the death penalty.

Now the ruling will define his legacy as chief justice. Already one of the most powerful judicial figures in California's recent history, George shrugged off the possibility of a political backlash by finding the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

He assigned the task of writing the majority opinion to himself as he typically does in contentious cases. He would take the heat. He dismisses the suggestion he thwarted the will of the voters.

"Basically, it comes down to the question of when is a judge shirking his or her responsibility by not acting," George said.

Just days after issuing the decision, George appeared to know it by heart. As he discussed the outcome, he jumped from his chair to retrieve a dog-eared law book, yellow Post-its jutting from the pages. He flipped to Perez v. Sharp, the equally historic California Supreme Court ruling outlawing a ban on interracial marriage in 1948.
Read it all here and weep.

The good news is that California voters can indeed (as we did with Rose Bird and her cohorts in 1986) remove Supreme Court justices who have proudly shirked their duty by creating law, rather than judging. Chief Justice George is up for re-affirmation in 2010.

But while removing him from office would be a just thing indeed, the question is whether the damage he has afflicted upon California and the nation can be repaired.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gay Marriage?

The following editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal in response to the California Supreme Court's creation of gay marriage. Before you read it, you may want to read the post on my other blog, "Talking about Marriage and Our Culture", or my observation here about comments made by the Episcopal Bishop of San Diego.

The WSJ's headline for letters responding to this editorial seems to get the issue better than the letters: Court Allows Gay Marriage: Tyranny or Its End?. Now, the editorial...

Gay Marriage Returns

May 16, 2008; Page A12

Just when the news was filling with stories about a Republican Party gasping for air, along comes the California Supreme Court's 4-3 decision yesterday legislating gay marriage. The GOP certainly hasn't done anything to deserve such luck.

Recall how in November 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Court, also by a 4-3 vote, issued a similar gay marriage pronouncement. It dogged Democrat John Kerry all the way to Election Day. The issue got so hot that the liberal fever swamps came to believe that Karl Rove had invented this greatest of all "wedge" issues.

Nope. Judges invent wedge issues. Always have. As with California's Supreme Court, many of the berobed judiciary take it as their solemn duty to do the people's thinking for them on the modern world's most difficult and divisive social issues. So it was with Roe v. Wade, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared 50 state legislatures irrelevant. The aftermath has been more than 30 years of the abortion wars.

California's Supreme Court is not the law of the land, but its 4-3 ruling, titled "In re Marriage Cases" for six consolidated appeals, explicitly told both the state's voters and its elected legislature to get lost. Back in 2000, California voters by 61% approved a proposition asserting that the state could only recognize a "marriage" between man and woman.

Now comes the court. In the court's words: "[T]he core set of basic substantive [court's emphasis] legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage . . . are so integral to an individual's liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process." This rule by judicial decree could hardly be clearer. What is also clear is that judges should again be an election issue.

The school of thought which holds that the American people should cheerfully accede to whatever social world unelected judges design for them is Democratic orthodoxy. We hope John McCain's debate coaches will drill him on the limitless verbal vagaries Barack Obama will drape around the subject of activist judges and in particular this California decision. Senator Obama for his part supports civil unions but opposes gay marriage. The question is whether he thinks the people of California are entitled to the same opinion.

While the popular spin on these gay-marriage rulings holds that this is an all-or-nothing war between Democrats and Republicans, nothing could be further from the truth. Absent an occasional burst of judicial fiat such as this, the American people have been conducting an admirable exercise in democratic discovery about gay marriage.

While 27 states have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, reflecting what opinion polls show to be overwhelming public sentiment, most Americans do not want the U.S. Constitution amended to prohibit same-sex marriage. Back in 2004, some 52% of Bush voters favored a union stopping short of a "marriage" designation. This was also Mr. Bush's position.

In other words, the American people, rather than simply shunning the desire of gays to form permanent unions, are clearly willing to take up the matter and work it through their legislatures. California's legislature has passed bills twice to authorize gay marriage; both were vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. If California can find a Governor willing to sign off, so be it. It is preposterous, though, to let four judges decide this for a state of more than 36 million diverse individuals.

Most of all, the gay community wants social acceptance. It should look to what flowed from Roe v. Wade: unending bitterness. A wiser course in 21st-century America is to trust the democratic process.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Superdelegate Defects

A week-old news flash from the Jewish World Review:

Bill Clinton Switches to Obama

By Andy Borowitz

Latest Superdelegate Defection for Hillary

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | In what some Democratic Party insiders are calling a particularly ominous sign for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, former president Bill Clinton today became the latest superdelegate to switch from Sen. Clinton to her rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill).

Sources close to the former president said that Mr. Clinton had been mulling such a defection for weeks, as early as the night of the Iowa primary, but that he only decided to make his decision public today.

"The American people want change," Mr. Clinton said at a press conference in New York. "Lord knows I do."

The former president said that "sometimes, at the end of a race, you have to put an old horse down," adding, "I'm not speaking metaphorically."
Read it all here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Feeding at the trough

A Bloomberg report today is headlined, "Clinton Loaned Her Campaign $6.4 Million, Aide Says." The current iteration of the story begins:
Hillary Clinton has loaned her Democratic presidential bid $6.4 million since April 11, bringing her personal investment in her campaign this year to $11.4 million.

Clinton gave her campaign $5 million on April 11, $1 million on May 1 and $425,000 on May 5, spokesman Howard Wolfson said today. She loaned $5 million in January, and had $10.3 million in unpaid bills as of March 31.
Read it all here, though it isn't until the end of the story that the real punch line appears:
Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, amassed a fortune of $109 million from 2000 through 2007, according to her campaign.
Think about that for a moment.

When the Clintons moved to the White House, they did not even own a home. The joke was that they'd always lived in public housing. Granted, it was a governor's mansion, but they were a couple of "modest means" (as the Washington Post phrased it in this report last year). The Clinton presidency was a disaster financially for the family; having not much money in the first place, they owed $11-12 million in legal fees when leaving office. The house which Mrs. Clinton used to establish New York residency was essentially a gift from supporters; they had no money to even make a down payment.

Since leaving office, the Clintons have become quite wealthy, reporting taxable earnings of some $109 million. Mrs. Clinton is a United States Senator. President Clinton gives speeches.

Years ago, one might demonstrate just how corrupt the government of Mexico was by asking how a man of very modest means could be elected President, and then leave office six years later worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Not pesos, but dollars.

Things have certainly changed since the year before I was born, when Congress granted President Truman a pension of $25,000 a year, plus a small office and staff, because it was embarrassing that he was unable to reply to all of his mail.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wanted: More Congressmen Like This

When reading the following in the February 2008 issue of First Things, I immediately thought of my 26-year-old State Representative who was then running in the Republican primary for the seat being vacated by Congressman Ray LaHood -- a seat previously held by the likes of Bob Michel and Everett Dirkson. This was the kind of thing any Congressman needed to read, especially one who could be at the beginning of his service, even more especially from a state in which both parties thrive on corruption.

So at his victory party on Primary Night -- young Aaron Schock received nearly 3/4ths of the votes -- I asked him if he knew about
First Things and George Weigel's article on Henry Hyde. No, he said, but Henry Hyde was one of his heroes and he'd like to read it. I saw him at another event a week or so later and handed him a copy, and I do hope that he's read it. And now that it's available on the World Wide Web for all to see, I commend it to you. The original is here and it's not so much about a good conservative, but about a politician who knew the purpose of the United States Congress. You might want to send it to your Congrescritter!

Henry Hyde (1924-2007)

by George Weigel

Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (February 2008).
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In September 1984, I had a sabbatical year at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. One day—while I was having lunch with a Seattle congressman, Joel Pritchard, then in the midst of a bout of chemotherapy—a portly gentleman came up to our table to ask Joel how he was feeling. Congressman Pritchard introduced me to Congressman Henry Hyde, who politely asked what I was doing in town. I explained that I was exploring Catholic thought on war and peace at the Wilson Center. Hyde smiled and went off to his own lunch.

Fifteen minutes later, he came back and asked me, “Have you ever written anything on church and state?” I replied that I had and would be happy to send him some things, which I did. As it turned out, Hyde had been asked to give a lecture at the Notre Dame Law School in response to the “I’m personally opposed, but . . .” abortion politics of Mario Cuomo and Geraldine Ferraro. (Note to younger readers: Cuomo was a three-term governor of New York; Ferraro was the vice-presidential candidate on a ticket that carried one state and the District of Columbia.) So I pitched in with the drafting of the speech, which was intended both as a rebuttal to Cuomoism and as a positive statement of how Catholic understandings of the dignity of the human person should engage the public square—a phrase then just coming into the national vocabulary.

From such an accidental beginning came one of the great friendships of my life and a twenty-year collaboration that would teach me a lot about how American politics really works.

Henry Hyde, who died on November 29, 2007, was, without exaggeration, a singularity. As Clement Attlee once said of Winston Churchill, Henry’s personality resembled a layer cake. There was the Hyde who reveled in the contact sport that is Illinois politics and who regaled friends with Mr. Dooley-like stories of campaign shenanigans and naughtiness (on both sides of the partisan divide). And there was the Hyde who was a close student of history, one of the most avid readers in the House of Representatives.

There was the Hyde who was the undisputed legislative leader of the American pro-life movement, the man who almost single-handedly kept the federal treasury out of the abortion business. And there was the Hyde who defied some conservative orthodoxies by arguing that it was nonsensical to claim that the Second Amendment created a constitutional right for eighteen-year-olds to own AK-47s and other assault weapons.

There was the Hyde whom Cokie Roberts (no conservative) once described to me as “the smartest man in Congress.” And there was the Hyde who was one of the best joke-tellers of all time.

There was Hyde, the ambitious politician. And there was the Hyde who passed up what would turn out, later, to be a chance to become Speaker of the House, because he had given his word to minority leader Bob Michel to vote for Michel’s candidate for whip.

There was the Hyde who was a master of rhetorical cut and thrust, the greatest extemporaneous debater in recent congressional history. And there was the Hyde whom the likes of Nancy Pelosi liked, respected, and perhaps even came to love.

One indelible memory that captures Henry Hyde in full involved Thanksgiving 1986. Henry’s prostate was giving him grief, so he spent the holiday in Georgetown University Hospital. When I went to visit him on Thanksgiving Day, I found him sitting up in bed, tubes running in and out of him, smoking a six-inch-long cigar, watching TV as his beloved Bears played the Lions—and reading a massive tome on William Wilberforce, the British parliamentary scourge of the slave trade. I asked Henry whether he’d had a lot of visitors. He replied that a guy who was interested in running for his seat had come in and expressed grave concern. Said Henry, in a growling whisper, “I told him, ‘The last words you’ll ever hear me say are gonna be, ‘Get your foot off the oxygen hose.’”

He loved the U.S. House of Representatives, and, while he made important contributions to foreign policy as one who married a profound concern for international human rights to a principled anticommunism, I think Henry most enjoyed chairing the Judiciary Committee after the Republicans took control of the House in January 1995. His remarks during the committee’s first meeting under his chairmanship are worth remembering:
In our American system, justice is not an abstraction. Like all the virtues, justice is a moral habit; we become a just society by acting justly. The duty to “promote justice,” which we lay upon ourselves when we pledge to defend the Constitution, is a duty we exercise through the instrument of the law. [For] the “rule of law” distinguishes civilized societies from barbarism.

That simple phrase—“the rule of law”—should lift our hearts. To be sure, it has little of the evocative power of Lincoln’s call to rebuild a national community with “malice toward none” and “charity for all”; to celebrate the “rule of law” may stir our souls less than MacArthur’s moving call to “Duty, Honor, Country.” But if that phrase lacks the eloquence of Lincoln and MacArthur, it nonetheless calls us to a noble way of life.

Legislators—makers of laws in a democratic republic—are involved in a vital task. Ours is not just a job; public service in the Congress is not just a career. What we do here we ought to do as a matter of vocation: as a matter of giving flesh and blood to our convictions about justice—our moral duty to give everyone his due. I have been in public life long enough to know that not every moment in politics is filled with nobility. But I have also been in public life long enough to know that those who surrender to cynicism and deny any nobility to the making of the laws end up doing grave damage to the rule of law—and to justice. If we don’t believe that what we are doing here can rise above the brokering of raw interests—if we do not believe that politics and the making of the law can contribute to the ennobling of American democracy—then we have no moral claim to a seat in the Congress of the United States.
It was a touching confession of political faith, and Henry’s conclusion was met with applause and cheers. Even such sworn partisan foes as the ranking minority member, John Conyers, and the ultra-pro-choice Patricia Schroeder were moved and leaned across to shake the new chairman’s hand. (Chuck Schumer, if memory serves, continued to eat a jelly doughnut while chatting on the dais with his friend Howard Berman of California.)

In less than four years’ time, of course, chairing the Judiciary Committee got Henry embroiled in the impeachment inquiry against President Clinton. Hyde was a model of fairness throughout, as even a Clinton defender like Barney Frank acknowledged. His own falls from grace, decades in the past, were dredged up by reporters, aided and abetted (I am convinced) by unscrupulous Clintonistas, all of whom somehow imagined that the impeachment inquiry was about extracurricular sex. Henry was hurt, badly, and even talked of resigning. I remember telling him that no two people I had ever met had been more married than he and Jeanne (who had died in 1992), and that he owed it both to her forgiveness and his duty to press ahead. Which he did, in the conviction that President Clinton had put the Congress and the country in an impossible position. How could the nation have as its highest law-enforcement official a man guilty of a crime—­perjury—for which more than a hundred other men and women were serving time in federal prisons?

When the House managers solemnly carried the Articles of Impeachment across the Capitol to the Senate, Henry Hyde saw in Trent Lott’s eyes (as he told me later that night) that “we’re not going to make it; Trent won’t fight.” Rather than let the trial of the president descend into farce, Henry tried heroically, through the force of argument and rhetoric, to keep the country focused on the nobility of the rule of law, as he did in opening the Senate trial for the House managers:
Every senator in this chamber has taken an oath to do impartial justice under the Constitution. The president of the United States took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in his testimony before the grand jury, just as he had, on two occasions, sworn a solemn oath to “faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”

The case before you, Senators, is about the taking of oaths: the president’s oaths, and your own oaths. That is why your judgment must rise above politics, above partisanship, above polling data. This case is a test of whether what the Founding Fathers described as “sacred honor” still has meaning in these United States: two hundred twenty-two years after those words—sacred honor—were inscribed in our national charter of freedom. . . .

In recent months, it has often been asked—it has too often been asked—so what? What is the harm done by this lying, by this perjury? The answer would have been clear to those who once pledged their sacred honor to the cause of liberty. The answer would have been clear to those who crafted the world’s most enduring constitution. And the answer should be clear to us, the heirs of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay.

No greater harm can be done than breaking the covenant of trust between the president and the people; among the three branches of our government; and between the country and the world. For to break that covenant of trust is to dissolve the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice. And to break the covenant of trust by violating one’s oath is to do grave damage to the rule of law among us.
The Senate acquitted the president, but students of American history will read Henry Hyde’s remarks during the impeachment inquiry and trial for decades after President Clinton’s memoir (with its bitter criticisms of Hyde) is pulped.

Late in the Reagan years, House Speaker Jim Wright (of all people) asked Henry to speak at a luncheon Wright was hosting for newly elected members of Congress. Henry graciously congratulated the neophyte solons, cracked a few jokes, and then got very serious. “You are basking in the glow of victory,” he told them, “and that is entirely understandable. But permit me to suggest, on the basis of long experience, that if you don’t know what you’re prepared to lose your seat for, you’re going to do a lot of damage up here. You have to know what you’re willing to lose everything for if you’re going to be the kind of member of Congress this country needs.” That was Henry Hyde. And even his most bitter enemies knew that he spoke the truth.

Once, addressing the National Right to Life Convention, Henry reminded the ground troops of the pro-life movement that they were not “playing to the gallery, but to the angels, and to Him who made the angels.” Last November 29, I imagined the angels giving him a rousing Chicago-style welcome. So, I expect, did today’s holy innocents, the unborn, whose cause he led for decades with wisdom, wit, and effect. It seems too much to ask that we’ll ever see his like again. How blessed we were, as a nation under God and under the rule of law, to have had his services for so long.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His most recent book is Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday).