The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is this 2004, or 1980, or something yet different?

I was looking at a post by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine called “2012 Election Is Bush-Kerry in Reverse,” likening this election to the one eight years ago, in which, to quote Chait,

The parallels between this year’s presidential election and the one we had eight years ago are striking. Incumbent president with middling approval ratings faces rich guy from Massachusetts with a reputation for flip-flopping.

We all know how that campaign ended up, of course: the incumbent defeated the “rich guy from Massachusetts.” Presumably, Chait favors Obama and wants the same to happen this year.

Many of the people commenting on this post say, in effect, “no, it's more like the 1980 Reagan-Carter election,” and again, we all know how that one ended up too. I don't imagine any of the people making that comparison are Obama-supporting liberals! But in fact, every election has its own factors. Romney, unlike Kerry, didn't claim to be a war hero in a war he then strongly opposed, and he inherited his wealth (and then increased it by good businessmanship, the point he is raising to emphasize his qualifications to handle this economy) while Kerry married his, so the 2004 comparisons are pretty lame. While, compared with 1980, there are also major differences: Reagan had a history of connecting with the people, from his acting background, while Romney is not exactly the warm communicator that Reagan was.

So, yes, there are elements in common with 1980, and also with 2004, but this one looks to play out in a totally different way. And I hesitate to predict what will happen in November based on any of the presidential elections we've had in the past.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Another comment on our president's negatives

Yesterday, a columnist named Steve Huntley posted the following on the Chicago Sun-Times' site:

The no-holds-barred Democratic machine is laboring overtime to come up with reasons voters should re-elect President Barack Obama. He’s more likeable than Mitt Romney. The presumptive GOP nominee is a right-wing extremist. The cool, hip Obama has the women and youth vote locked up. In short, the White House strategy is to talk about anything but the economy.

Democrats gleefully cite polls showing Americans like Obama more than Romney. That harkens back to the 2004 race when President George W. Bush was seen as the guy you have a beer with rather than losing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

But the economy was in good shape then, so it was easy to vote for the affable frat boy Bush over the dour Kerry. With unemployment above 8 percent for the longest time since the Depression and the economic recovery limping along at the most anemic pace in modern history, voters might reject the more popular guy in favor of the sober, get-the-job-done executive who has economic home runs like Staples and the Sports Authority on his resume.

To try to further paint Romney as less likeable, the Democratic propaganda apparatus intends to use the long, divisive GOP primary to label the former Massachusetts governor as a right-wing extremist. That ploy might run into trouble with all that videotape of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum condemning Romney as “a Massachusetts moderate.”

On another front, the administration tried to build on the Democrats’ favorable gender gap with women by dragging the Catholic Church into a controversy over insurance coverage for contraceptives. That blew up when a Democratic strategist and frequent White House visitor alienated stay-at-home moms by saying Anne Romney “never worked a day in her life.” Romney used that to talk about how women are attuned to economic reality through daily household buying.

Making matters worse for Democrats was an analysis of White House pay by the conservative Washington Free Beacon showing pay for women employees to be 18 percent below that for men. That recalled a former top female official saying that when she worked at the White House, “It actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.’’

Obama then did a college tour touting his proposal to keep interest rates on student loans low. It turned out that Romney backs that too. Making matters worse for Democrats was an analysis by the Associated Press showing that the labor market in the Obama economy is so weak that half of 2012 college graduates were unemployed or working in jobs below their skill levels. Will young people vote for cool and hip, or for a better chance to get a job so they can pay off those loans?

The line of reasoning that voters might prefer competence to likability got a boost from, of all people, former White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley, though he obviously didn’t mean to. In a Chicago speech, Daley said, “The president has a very difficult time with the business community. Most people in business and most people who are successful are Republican. That’s just a fact of life.”

Considering that fact of life, who would you rather have in the White House, a charisma-deprived guy from the party of success or the likeable guy from the party of, well, not success?

Some useful points to ponder.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How reliable are the polls?

Polls now seem to show that President Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by a slim margin. There are a few recent polls with a lead for Romney, but more favor Obama. Should we put any trust in them, though, this long before the election? Probably not.

Let's look at the polling data from 2008, four years ago. Remember that this was an election that Obama won by 52.9% to 45.7%. What were the polls showing around April 26? Mostly a tie. In between, a lot happened. Among other things, John McCain built up a bit of a lead in September — though even at that time, the polls ranged from 54-44 McCain to 47-45 Obama. Then, the economy tanked. Obama went ahead, in one poll by as much as 53-38. But his eventual margin was a lot less.

The point is, we don't know what will happen between now and November. We could have another 9/11 — though it's not likely. If gasoline prices hit $5, it will hurt Obama (though I myself would hardly notice, since I don't own an automobile). The Supreme Court will announce its decisions on Obamacare, the Arizona law on illegal immigrants, and other matters in a couple of months and this will inflame tempers one way or the other. North Korea may do something, or the war between the Sudans might escalate to the point of affecting us. But nobody knows now what the news will be in the next few months.

So I look at the polls, but I think it is impossible to place a lot of trust in them, especially when it is only April.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Catholic Church, Trayvon Martin, abortion, and the death penalty

A few days ago I wrote a post about the Trayvon Martin case. I received a comment by a reader, disagreeing with me, including strong support for the right of self-defense. And among other things, it included the words:

As long as a thug could come at you in your home or whatever, and threaten your physical person, you have a right to self-defense. As long as that threat exists (and it exists big time in Britain, where gun crimes have increased since they've been yanked out of the hands of law-abiding citizens), you have a natural right to defend yourself with equal force.

One thing that amazes me is that the above comment comes from a priest of the Catholic Church. (And no, I'm not revealing anything that the poster has not already stated in earlier comments here. He has said as much.) Now the Catholic Church has said that it is sinful to kill a little bit of tissue growing in a woman's uterus because this bit of tissue has the potential to become a human being — despite the fact that carrying this fetus to term could seriously impact the woman's health, possibly even endanger her life. And the same Catholic Church has come out against the death penalty, denying the right of a state to kill someone who is not merely a threat to someone's life, but has actually killed someone.

Now I do not know whether the priest who posted the words quoted above represents the teaching of the Catholic Church, for presumably he posted it without asking his bishop, but I do know that as a priest, he is certainly expected to embrace his church's teachings, as I stated them, on abortion and the death penalty. And it seems to me that there's a bit of an inconsistency there. You can't abort a fetus — even if it endangers the life of a pregnant woman. You can't execute a convicted murderer. But it's just fine to shoot (and kill) someone you perceive as a threat to your person. Even if all he's carrying is a box of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea.

Explain this to me again.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Voter identification laws

Let me begin this post by going back to something that happened to me in 1964 — yes, if you're younger than 48 years old (which I suspect the majority of readers are), before you were born! But I'm certain of the year because I was working at a job which I began in February, 1964, and left the following September. This job was located in Philadelphia, and it was my habit to spend the week there from Monday to Friday, and go back to New York City, my real home, Friday afternoon after work, returning Monday morning to Philadelphia. It was only an hour and a half — though if you added the subway trip from where I lived in Marble Hill (the northern tip of Manhattan) to Penn Station, that made it somewhat more than two hours, too long for a daily commute, but reasonable to do on this one-round-trip-a-week schedule. Now, I found myself leaving work on this particular Friday without enough money in my wallet for a round-trip train fare to New York, and in those days there were not ATMs at all the banks, as there are now. And it was Good Friday, which is in Pennsylvania a bank holiday (or at least was in 1964; I don't know if this is still the case), a fact I was not aware of because in New York it is not. The Penn Central ticket agent (this was before Amtrak) would not accept a check, so I went to the Greyhound station — and was told that only if I had a driver's license would Greyhound accept a check — shucks, if I had a driver's license, why would I be taking Greyhound?! (And this was before State-issued non-driver's IDs!) I was forced to buy a one-way ticket; the next day, since I had a bank account in New York City at a place that was open Saturdays (not all were, in those days!) I could go to that bank and get some money. (Again, those days were different — I had one account at a New York bank and one at a Philadelphia bank, because in those pre-ATM days that was the only way I could be sure of having some way to get money 6 days a week!)

Now fast-forward to 2011. I had a State-issued non-driver's ID card — with an expiration date of July 13, 2011. But I tried to use it to get into a Federal building on August 6, less than a month after it had expired — and was refused entry! One would think that a card which would have proved I was who I claimed to be, if I had presented it twenty-five days earlier, would still be acceptable on that date, but it was not.

The Greyhound Company would not let me cash a check for less than $10 without an ID in 1964. (Yes, fares were that low back then!) The Federal Government would not even let me enter a building with an ID 24 days after the expiration date last summer. Yet that same Federal Government is claiming it would be an undue burden for a State to require identification of a voter! There's some sort of a disconnect there. Certainly it is important enough to make certain that someone is a registered voter before allowing him to cast a vote that such a requirement is reasonable — and if the Federal Government thinks that even an ID that had been valid less than a month previously is not good enough to get into a building, how can they insist that no identification can be required to vote?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The last big controversial Supreme Court case of the year

This week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Arizona v. United States, dealing with the State of Arizona's law to deal with illegal immigrants in the State. The Obama administration says that Arizona had no right to pass such a law, because the Federal government has primary responsibility over immigration policy. Arizona, however, maintains that everything it has legislated is in conformity with Federal law, that it is an attempt to harmonize State law with Federal immigration law, and it is attempting to deal with Federal laxity in enforcing its own laws.

Once more, as with “Obamacare,” the Court will hear arguments and then leave us in the dark as the Justices make their decision, which will not be announced for months. It is a frustration that the Court's way of doing things is so slow, but I suppose this ensures that the process is deliberative rather than political. But I find it hard to wait.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The difficulty of transition

Right now there is a problem which really needs to be addressed, which lies behind the major difficulty we will have in settling the massive debt that our government has accumulated. And it is a problem that will occur especially if libertarian solutions are attempted to just about any of our strains on the relationship of government to populace. I will elucidate this problem by firsty describing my own personal history in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, and even into the very early 1990s, I was, perhaps not rich, but financially comfortable. Not in the league of a Mitt Romney; not even in the league of your typical corporate executive; but doing well enough that I could travel to Europe, Australia, and Japan for nice vacations. I could still, too, save money for future needs, and I did. But when they invented the concept of the Individual Retirement Account, the IRAs you still hear banks and such institutions pushing, I did a calculation. You could not (still cannot today) withdraw money from such an account before age 59½ and that was, for me, a long way off in the 1970s and 1980s; I would not turn 59½ until 2002!

So during this period, I opted for the flexibility of investing my money in more normal investments — it meant I had to pay taxes, but I could take the money out without the early withdrawal penalties that IRAs involved. I figured that when I turned 50, more or less, would be the time to think about opening up an IRA.

But a funny thing happened on the way to age 50 — or really, just after I had my 50th birthday — in 1992, Bill Clinton was elected President. You have to understand: the reason I was doing well financially in the 1970s, 1980s, and into the early 1990s was that I was working for companies that were contractors with Government — mostly space and defense-related contracts (not exclusively, but overwhelmingly more than anything else). And in particular, the job I had in 1992 was funded out of the Strategic Defense Initiative program (nicknamed “Star Wars”). It wasn't really military, but it was funded by the military on the premise that the scientific instruments we were supporting could be used to search for such threats as incoming missiles. Bill Clinton had campaigned on a promise to end the SDI program — and though he didn't immediately do so, by 1994 I was unemployed.

And I was still unemployed four years later, in 1998. And I could scarcely think of starting an IRA; I was drawing on all the money I'd invested before that, and when my mother died in 1996, on the inheritance as well. I am glad I had not put the money into a form where I could not take it out until 2002; I needed it then and there.

From 1998 to 2006, I managed to do some work, though some of the time I was unemployed, and even when I was employed, a lot of it was part-time work, that would not have paid for an apartment in this county. From 2000 to 2006, I was living in homeless shelters. In 2006, the job that I had then closed its office. Rather than look for work then, at age 64, I realized that I could make more money in Social Security retirement benefits than I was making on that job — actually, quite a lot more — so I retired. I was able to move out of the shelter only then.

Now, I depend on my Social Security benefits. Perhaps, if I had put the money that was withheld for Social Security into a different investment, I might be making more money from that investment. I don't know; I was not given that opportunity. But the point is that at any point in time, such as now, there are people who have paid money into Social Security, and don't have that money in any investment account. Any plan to phase out Social Security is going to hurt these people. And nobody has presented a plan that addresses this difficulty. Even when they say that everyone over age 55, say, will be guaranteed a Social Security benefit comparable to what the status quo provides, what about someone who is 54?

And it's not just Social Security. People have made economic decisions based on the Government providing certain benefits. They have not put aside their own money to provide for these contingencies, because it has been reasonable to plan that the Government will continue to provide what it has provided. And it's not being foolish to do this: nobody knows the future, but these people have been sold on the promise that these benefits will come to them. Now what?

I admit I have questions, but not answers. But what are the answers to these questions?

Saturday, April 21, 2012


A recent poll says that Republicans favor Chris Christie for VP on a Romney ticket. And, unlike such as Marco Rubio, Christie has not taken himself out of the running:

There is only one person in my party who gets to make that decision and that’s Gov. Romney. If Gov. Romney comes to me and wants to talk about it, I’ll always listen.

Not surprisingly, I think Christie is a good choice. I would have liked him for President; I'd certainly be happy to see him as VP. If you look at my earlier posts about Gov. Christie, they are almost all positive. So I think it should not be a surprise that I'd be happy with him on the ticket.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The vice-presidential guessing game

Now (although Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are concentrating on each other) many people are trying to guess who will be Romney's vice-presodential choice. Of course, nobody can read Romney's mind, so it's pure guesswork. Not many expected Sarah Palin to be John McCain's VP choice in 2008.

Many polls have been taken, though Romney is not likely to use the polls as a guide. Some of the results of the polls are interesting. Naturally, since I've said good things about them as presidential choices in the past, I'd be happy with such choices as Condoleezza Rice, Mitch Daniels, or Chris Christie for VP: I've seen all three in the poll results. Of course, all three specifically deny their interest, but one never knows whether such denials are for show or real. It is bad form to say you want the VP slot, and I imagine that anyone who actually said he/she wanted to be VP on a Romney ticket would immediately be stricken from the list!

There is a good chance we will not know for many months. The convention is a long time off, and Mitt Romney doesn't need to announce his choice till then. On the other hand, if he announces his VP choice soon, that person can start to campaign against the Obama-Biden ticket as presumptive nominee, which could be an advantage.

It's just as much a speculation trying to guess when Romney will announce his choice as to guess who his choice will be, however. I guess we simply have to wait and see, as we have to wait and see what the Supreme Court will do in the Obamacare case or any of the other things we are waiting to play out at this time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

When is a recess a recess?

Some time ago, President Obama made some recess appointments under the Constitutional provision (Art. II, Sec. 2, clause 3) that:

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

And at the time, I thought nothing could really be done about it, that even though it was a misuse of the recess appointment clause, there was no way to challenge it. Well, I've been surprised. Yesterday I read an article entitled “GOP senators sue Obama over sham labor board nominees.” And it seems that Noel Canning, a family-owned business in Washington State that bottles and distributes soft drinks, is challenging the National Labor Relations Board’s determination that it must enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union on the basis that members of the NLRB were illegally appointed in that way. And this lawsuit has been joined by the Republican leadership of the Senate.

I had thought such a suit would founder because nobody might have standing to sue. But perhaps I was wrong. Let us see what the courts say here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The conservatives' problem

The Washington Examiner, a paper that I read regularly, is a rather conservative newspaper; one in fact that makes me, by comparison, seem a liberal. And a lot of the columnists in the Examiner are, similarly, a lot too far right for me, and my criticisms of these columnists in this blog have been numerous. But I've noticed one of the Examiner's columnists with whom I usually agree: Noemie Emery — and readers of this blog will find my references to her columns pretty much uniformly favorable. And today's column is not an exception to this. I quote her column here:

Pity the conservatives — they certainly do pity themselves — in their perennial election-year plaint. Since time immemorial — 1988 — they have presented large fields in primary contests, and each time they have been forced to take squishes and Bushes, mavericks, Doles and McCains. They suspect plots, but the reasons are simple: The candidates they have backed have been pretty appalling. And the market for a genuine movement conservative may not be as big as they think.

Putting second things first, they fool themselves with statistics, noting that the number of self-described conservatives (something over 40 percent) is twice as large as that of self-described liberals. They assume they have a built-in and reliable base. But the word “self-described” is the problem. Mitt Romney would call himself a conservative, as would Rudy Giuliani, as would John McCain. People conservative on only some issues describe themselves as conservative. If the question were phrased to fit movement conservatives, the number might be cut in half.

Even among the Republican primary electorate, the largest plurality is “somewhat conservative,” and they are the ones who elect the McCains. In recent primaries, Rick Santorum won among evangelicals who self-described as “very conservative.” Evangelicals who weren't “very conservative” and the very conservative who weren't evangelicals voted for Romney. Very conservative strong evangelicals do not define the Republican Party. These leaders don't know their own base.

As to part A, let's go to Jim Geraghty's words: “I would argue that a conservative presidential candidate who aspires to be the actual president, not just the metaphorical president of the conservative movement or the president of a faction of the movement, has to clear a bar of credibility,” such as actual record at governing, the ability to form and maintain coalitions, and the ability to establish a level of trust. The sad fact is that while the establishment picks have been Senate leaders (Dole and McCain), effective state governors (Romney and Bush 43), and a vice president, CIA head and ambassador (Bush 41), the right-wing insurgents have largely been vanity candidates, activists somewhat far out on the fringes, and people who never held office at all.

In 1988, it was Dole and Bush 41 against Jack Kemp, Pete du Pont and Pat Robertson. In 1992 it was Bush 41 against Pat Buchanan. In 1996, it was Dole against Buchanan, Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes. And in 2000 it was Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes against Bush 43 and McCain.

(The outlier was 2008, when all the major candidates were the size of a president, and all were strong Reaganites on at least one set of issues — McCain and Giuliani had War on Terror credentials; Romney had business credentials; and Mike Huckabee had social conservatives' backing. All were suspected of moderate leanings elsewhere.)

The 2012 contest upped the ante on vanity candidates, with six or more cranks, losers and retreads against the lone figure of Mitt. In the last 24 years, of all the insurgents who have run to the right of eventual winner, only four — Hatch, Gramm, Rick Perry, and Kemp — had the right resumes to be running for president. The first three were nonstarters. Kemp's attempt to run as the true heir to Reagan was derailed by the claims of Reagan's loyal vice president, the elder George Bush.

Why was Reagan the last “real conservative” to win the nomination and the election that followed? He was the last and only with the experience and the political talent to reach beyond his own base. If conservatives want to win, they should try running a good politician. Who knows? It could work again.

As usual, Ms. Emery makes a lot of sense. Though, if the truth be told, I think that it's probably a good thing that “the right-wing insurgents have largely been vanity candidates, activists somewhat far out on the fringes, and people who never held office at all.” Because I certainly do not want an extreme right-winger. Some of the people she has mentioned as “establishment candidates” — people like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Bob Dole — have been the kind of person I really wanted to see in the Presidency.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Obama and the Organization of American States

The Organization of American States recently met, and we see headlines like “Cuba issue deals blow to US stature at ‘Summit of the Americas’” on the news media. Yet, for once, I think President Obama did something right, and I want to commend him for it. The OAS was where a number of left-wing Latin American leaders pulled for Cuba to be allowed to rejoin the group. And President Obama said ‘no’ — not until they revert to democratic rule. This actually was a pleasant surprise — our President has been running such a left-wing administration that he would seem sympathetic to such a push. But here he did the right thing. And I will say as much, as I promised to do.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What is there to write about?

It's hard to write a blog post right now. Mitt Romney seems unchallenged in his quest for the Republican nomination, but it won't actually be given to him till late summer. The Supreme Court has heard all the arguments on “Obamacare,” and probably has even voted on how they will rule on the case, but their practice is to keep everything secret until June, when they adjourn for the summer, so nobody knows what the decision is. I've said about all that comes to mind on Trayvon Martin and on Hilary Rosen — though it seems that Bill Maher has raised the ante on Rosen's comment. So what do I write about?

Well, today I noted a Rassmussen poll that showed: “In a hypothetical Election 2012 matchup, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney earns 48% of the vote, while President Obama attracts support from 44%.” That's close, too close to gloat over, but a sign that the trends are going the right way. Obviously, I want to see a Romney victory over Obama in November — I say “obviously” because anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a strong negative opinion of President Obama, and while I have some negative points to raise against former Gov. Romney, they are overwhelmingly dominated by the positive ones.

But there still seems little to write about. In addition to the poll I just cited, it's a good thing that the North Korean rocket launch failed — and even better that they publicly admitted it. But this and the Rasmussen poll hardly make material for a detailed blog posting.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The real perpetrator in the Trayvon Martin murder: Florida law

So George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin (claiming “self-defense,” though Martin was carrying nothing more threatening than some candy and an iced tea!) will be tried for murder in Florida. It took this long to charge him, because they had to figure out how to deal with Florida's “stand your ground” law. Zimmerman should, I agree, be tried, and if the facts are as we have been told, convicted and sentenced (Florida law would not, it seems, give him the death penalty for this crime. Too bad). But just the fact that Florida law encouraged Zimmerman to “stand his ground” and permitted him (a known overreactor, who once called 911 because a neighbor left his garage door open!) to own and carry a gun, makes me feel that the true villain of the case is the State of Florida.

I still feel, even if this puts me at odds with every other person who generally shares my “conservative/libertarian” philosophy, that no person, other than the military and law-enforcement personnel, has a genuine need to carry a gun. If Zimmerman had no gun in his possession, Trayvon Martin would be alive today. And he is not the first person, regardless of the race of the shooter or the victim, to be shot by someone believing he was acting in “self-defense,” who in fact was not threatened. (And then, there are accidental shootings, where nobody was even trying to kill someone!)

But some will argue that we need to be able to defend ourselves from really threatening people carrying guns. My response is: if guns were only made in quantities necessary to supply the police and military, how would the bad guys get them? Right now, perhaps, an insignificant minority of the guns circulating around were lost by police or military warehouses. Most were manufactured for private sale, intended of course to be sold to people who can, under today's laws, own them legally. If nobody could buy a gun (except the police and military), these criminal-owned guns would never have been manufactured. So there simply would not be a need for “self-defense.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Attacks on a Presidential candidate's spouse: "dumb" or fair game?

Hilary Rosen is a lobbyist and someone who has been described as a “Democratic strategist.” In 2008, she referred to attacks on Michelle Obama in the following words on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 show:

You know essentially, you've taken on sort of the most sympathetic person in the candidate's realm, the wife, who is taking care of the children, supporting the husband, doing everything she can because she loves him. Michelle Obama is a pretty terrific woman I have to say, and I think that attacking her is a dumb strategy on the Republicans' part.

Interestingly, “the wife, who is taking care of the children, supporting the husband, doing everything she can because she loves him” is fair game to attack if that candidate is Mitt Romney, rather than Barack Obama, and that wife is Ann Romney, rather than Michelle Obama. That same Hilary Rosen was recently quoted as having said:

Ann Romney has actually never worked a day in her life.

Hilary Rosen may feel that being a full-time housewife is not work, and in fact she is even correct in saying that most women these days work at a “regular” job even while raising kids, but if being “the wife, who is taking care of the children, supporting the husband, doing everything she can because she loves him” makes Michelle Obama “the most sympathetic person in the candidate's realm,” why does it not apply equally to Ann Romney?

This is certainly another case of damning the rich because they are rich, a tactic which Mitt Romney's opponents feel impelled to employ this year. Mitt Romney brings in enough money that Ann does not have to work. In many cases, of course, the female half of a married couple chooses to work outside the home anyway, even when her financial contribution is not needed, but Ann Romney happened to believe that her best way to attain fulfillment was to devote all her energy to being a full-time housewife. This should be her decision to make. (Hilary Rosen, also, is a lesbian, so in her case, at least one of the members of the partnership has to be a working woman, and would have to be even if the other one could stay at home!) Of course, such attacks on the rich simply because they are rich don't work in the United States. Even the non-rich hope to be rich some day, and so most people feel that the solution to our problems is not taking down the rich but building up the non-rich so that they can become rich.

Ann Romney deserves to be given no more and no less deference than Michelle Obama. If one is fair game, so is the other; if one is off limits, so is the other.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Warren Buffett's taxes

President Obama thinks he has been given a boost by a remark that Warren Buffett made about the tax laws allowing him to get away with paying a smaller effective tax rate than his secretary. The President now speaks of the "Buffett Rule" which would make everyone whose income was over a certain threshold pay at least as much of a percentage of their income as Buffett's secretary.

Of course, let us analyze this. First of all, even if the Buffett Rule were to go into effect, the additional revenue would not be more than a drop in the bucket as compared to the Federal deficit. All it would do is certify President Obama as a modern-day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and since there are more poor people than rich ones, he figures he gains votes by this scheme. Second of all, it gives Warren Buffett a good reputation — here he is, volunteering to pay more taxes! But, of course, he could do that more quietly and anonymously — simply by refusing to take all the deductions rhat tax law allows — the tax laws permit him to take these deductions; they do not require him to do so. So Buffett is simply doing this to give himself the image of generosity. Truly generous people are willing to do it without the fanfare.

I would say to Mr. Buffett: If you want to be generous, be generous with your own money — leave the other millionaires alone. It would be better to find ways of reducing the Government's need for funds, so that Mr. Buffett's secretary's tax bill could be reduced. After all, every dollar that the government takes from a citizen is $1 less that the citizen can control what it is spent on.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The primary contest is over. Now for the general-election fight

Rick Santorum has suspended his campaign. It appears that the real cause is his daughter's serious illness; such a reason is not something I'd wish even on someone I dislike as much as Santorum, but regardless of the reason, it appears that this opens the way for Mitt Romney to go into general-election mode, and train all his big guns on the real target — President Barack Obama. It will still be a difficult task, not to make the conservatives feel he's abandoned them as he points to his centrist record. But fortunately, it seems Obama has the same problem — with extreme-left Democrats who feel Obama has sold them out.

But the extreme right will vote for Romney over Obama, and the extreme left will vote for Obama over Romney. So both are going to have to try to capture the political center. And I am wondering how well each will succeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why is freedom good — but exporting freedom bad?

The question that forms the title of this post first entered my mind when I put up a post about Martin Luther King a couple of months ago, around the King birthday celebration. People honor King for working to free his people — Americans of African descent — while I look at his other attempts — to interfere with our trying to extend freedom to the people of Vietnam — and see King a lot less favorably.

But more recently this same question has occurred to me in the context of two other people, politically far removed from King: Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Paul and Johnson are both considered libertarians: Paul was the Libertarian nominee for the Presidency in 1988, though before and after that year he has been involved in Republican Party politics; Gary Johnson is seeking to be the LP's candidate in 2012, though, similarly to Paul, he has been an officeholder under the Republican banner. And both seem to feel that taking part in foreign wars to attempt to gain freedom for other people is a bad thing.

Ron Paul: The war mentality was generated by the Iraq war in combination with the constant drumbeat of fear at home. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who is now likely residing in Pakistan, our supposed ally, are ignored, as our troops fight and die in Iraq and are made easier targets for the terrorists in their backyard. While our leaders constantly use the mess we created to further justify the erosion of our constitutional rights here at home, we forget about our own borders and support the inexorable move toward global government, hardly a good plan for America.

Gary Johnson: I would completely withdraw our military presence [in Afghanistan].

The question with which I titled this post applies to all these people. Why is freedom good — but exporting freedom bad?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The big problem in the "health care" debate

One of the big problems — I think the biggest problem — in discussing the health care situation is that the “uninsured” are all considered in one category, while there are a lot of different reasons that people are uninsured.

There are those — mostly young and healthy — who are pretty certain that they are not in the near future going to need medical care, so it is economically a stupid thing to do for them to get health insurance. They are certainly right, by and large. Most of them make little use of the health care that is available, and making them buy insurance, against their will, as Obamacare does, is clearly and simply a confiscation of their money that is the worst feature of the law.

There are people who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions, and it is this group that Obamacare tries to help. But surely, the argument that you can't help this second group without forcing the first group to pay is specious. There must be a way of supporting the insurance companies — perhaps by a fund supported by general tax revenues — enough to compensate them for the additional cost associated with covering these people, without specifically hitting the young and healthy with a burden targeted at them.

Neither of these two groups, however, is the most important. There are those who simply do not have the kind of job that carries health insurance benefits. And the reason this is a problem is that we have uniformly depended on employers to provide health insurance, as a result of World War II wage controls! Yes, back in World War II, it was decided that wages had to be controlled, but to allow employers to provide health care benefits instead of increasing wages was all right, and tax benefits were put in place to encourage employers to do that. This leads to three bad results: (1:) Except for Federal employees (who have a plethora of choices!), people who are employed are locked into a single plan (or occasionally a small number of plans), without the ability to comparison-shop to pick the one that best suits them, (2:) People who change jobs have to go into a new plan, often needing to change their doctors, and (3:) people who are unemployed have no coverage, or can only buy it at a price far beyond their ability to pay, because they do not get a tax-subsidized rate like an employer or a group-based rate. This at a time when their income is reduced or eliminated!

It seems clear that the only way to fix our health insurance system is to detach it from employment. And Obamacare does not begin to consider this.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Obama with egg on his face

As I said in an earlier post, President Obama (who, by the way, I have found out was not a professor of constitutional law, but merely a senior lecturer, a far less exalted academic title) made the remark that a Supreme Court overruling of “a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress” would be “an unprecedented, extraordinary step.” Now, considering that ever since 1803 the Supreme Court has been recognizing that the Constitution trumps “law[s] that [were] passed by… a democratically elected Congress” (and the majority that passed PPACA was hardly “strong” — it was 7 votes in a House of 435 members!), it would seem that Pres. Obama's knowledge of constitutional law is rather deficient. (It would be deficient, even for someone who did not teach it at a law school!)

And he was called on it. A judge of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Jerry Smith, ordered the Department of Justice to submit a three-page, single-spaced memo stating the administration's position on judicial authority to invalidate unconstitutional laws in response to the president's rather hostile comments. Attorney General Eric Holder filed that memo Thursday, which included the words: “The power of the courts to review the constitutionality of legislation is beyond dispute.”

Interestingly, while the Obama Administration conceded this point, some liberal lawyers (such as Laurence H. Tribe) think it was Judge Smith who overstepped the bounds. I guess Tribe could not see in Obama's words what most people did — a challenge to the Court's right to void the PPACA if they saw it as unconstitutional. I wonder what planet Tribe lives on!

Friday, April 06, 2012


With Mitt Romney at over 600 delegates, nobody but Rick Santorum seriously doubts that he will be the GOP nominee for President this year. And so, people have been discussing a vice-presidential candidate. Since Congressman Paul Ryan strongly backed Romney and campaigned with him in Wisconsin (probably helping him win that state's primary earlier this week), his name has come up a lot in the discussions recently.

There are certainly good reasons for this. Unlike Marco Rubio, Ryan has not been pointedly taking himself out of the running. And unlike Sarah Palin on 2008, Ryan has a lot of experience: seven terms in the Congress, recently becoming essentially the GOP leader on budget issues in the House of Representatives. And Ryan and Romney certainly seem to get along well with each other.

One thing that might by some be taken as a negative is President Obama's repeated wailing about the “Romney-Ryan budget.” But, in a sense, that is not a big problem. President Obama will blame Ryan's budget ideas for every economy-related evil that liberals regularly attribute to conservatives, whether he is Romney's VP candidate or not! So making him the official VP candidate does nothing to focus Obama's criticisms any more sharply on him than otherwise.

Actually, the only real negative point I would have against picking Ryan is that Ryan's strength is the economic area, and so is Romney's — you usually want the VP to be strong in areas where the President is weak (Dick Cheney on foreign/defense policy, where George W. Bush had little experience, for example).

Well, Mitt Romney has a long time to think it over. It will be interesting to see who is his pick.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

1976, 1980, ... or 1964?

Rick Santorum has a pretty weird view of history. He looks back at the 1976 election, in which the GOP nominated Gerald R. Ford over the more extreme conservative Ronald Reagan, and seems to think that the reason the Republicans lost that year was Ford's moderation. He said recently:

“Let’s not make the mistake of 1976 again. Let’s bypass that era, and move straight to 1980, and let’s defeat a Democratic incumbent.”

In fact, after Richard M. Nixon was forced to resign and Ford pardoned him, the public disaffection for Nixon, more than anything else, was responsible for Ford's loss. And in any case, this is not 1976, and Santorum, in any case, is certainly no Ronald Reagan. Reagan was certainly a far more open man to the moderate wing of his party than Santorum has demonstrated himself to be. In 1976, Reagan had indicated that, if nominated, his vice-presidential candidate would be Richard Schweiker, about whom Santorum must have heard — he was a Senator from Pennsylvania, a post that Santorum himself has held. But Schweiker, unlike Santorum, was a moderate — and one well known as such. Reagan, in putting forth Schweiker's name, signaled that he wanted to include the moderate wing of the party in his vision of a Republican government. And in 1980, he did the same. Moderates in the party had favored George H. W. Bush, and Reagan named him as the vice-presidential candidate.

For that matter, Barack Obama is hardly a Jimmy Carter. Carter was, in 1976, a fairly obscure Governor of Georgia, whose record if anything was relatively conservative as Democrats go. Obama, by contrast, has pushed a hard left agenda for four years in the White House, with a clear record.

Ronald Reagan also embraced the ideas of libertarianism, which Santorum disdains. (Santorum was quoted as saying “I am not a libertarian, and I fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican Party and the conservative movement.” You can't get more hostile to libertarianism than that! Reagan, on the other hand, said “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism” in 1975.)

The biggest analogy to a 2012 in which the GOP might nominate Santorum is 1964, in which Barry Goldwater read the moderates out of the party in his acceptance speech: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” (Though, in fact, unlike Santorum, Goldwater's conservatism was very close to libertarianism.)

And we know what happened in 1964.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Memo to Barack Obama: We have a Constitution in this country!

President Barack Obama seems to think that this is a country like Britain, where Parliament is all powerful, rather than a country with a Constitution that limits what Congress can do. He is quoted as having said, about the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” better known as “Obamacare”:

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint -- that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example.

Why is this an “unprecedented, extraordinary step”? the Court has ruled lots of laws unconstitutional that were passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” The first time was in 1803, for heaven's sake!

President Obama used to teach constitutional law. If he thinks that ruling Obamacare unconstitutional would be an “unprecedented, extraordinary step” because it was “passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” I wonder what he taught his students when he was a law professor. It would be interesting to know.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

And now, some more waiting

This morning I went to the polls, as today was Maryland's primary day. Mitt Romney is expected to win big here today, and of course, he'll win even bigger in the District of Columbia, where Rick Santorum is not even on the ballot. So the real wait will be till late tonight when the results come in from Wisconsin, which is supposed to be closer.

Voting for Romney required me to make seven X's on the screen (we have touch-screen voting machines here); one vote for Romney himself, three for the three Romney delegates in my district, and three more for the three alternates pledged to Romney. It's not like the electoral college, where you vote the name of your preferred candidate, and it's automatically counted for all the electors pledged to that candidate. I did also vote for a candidate for Senate and one for the House of Representatives — I ignored the judgeship elections, which were uncontested, and the contests for the Board of Education, for reasons I've given before. So I voted nine times — seven of which votes were for Romney!

Romney already has more than half the delegates he needs for the nomination — more than twice as many as Santorum — but Santorum is still not convinced. Will he really have to get all the necessary delegates before Santorum concedes? That will be an even more frustratingly long wait.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The best case against Obama in 2012

Yesterday, in a posting on “The Daily Beast,” Michael Medved suggested that one of the reasons that Barack Obama may be vulnerable in this year's election is that he was elected on a “pledge to unify the nation and put aside petty, partisan differences.” Medved begins his post:

In the last 100 years, every U.S. president who lost his bid for a second term did so because he abandoned his principal promise to the American people. If Republicans can persuade the public that Barack Obama similarly shattered the pledge at the very core of his presidency, they will succeed in denying him the new lease on the White House he insists he deserves.

Four elected chief executives in the past century failed in their reelection campaigns—and each of them flopped by landslide margins. For William Howard Taft in 1912, Herbert Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992, broken promises doomed their chances for another four-year term.

He goes into some detail, which you can read on his post but which I am deleting for brevity, but the most important point he makes is:

If Republicans want to see history repeat itself in 2012, with a once-popular incumbent turned out of office by a deeply disillusioned electorate, they must persuade the public that Barack Obama has continued the big-loser pattern of broken promises. That means reminding voters of the most important theme associated with his rise to power: the pledge to unify the nation and put aside petty, partisan differences. Whatever happens with the unemployment rate or gas prices, the president’s failure to live up to these assurances remains both painful and apparent.

In the speech that made him a national figure overnight, Illinois Senator Barack Obama gave the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. “Alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people,” he intoned. “The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

In his Inaugural Address four-and-a-half years later, the newly elected president sounded strikingly similar themes. “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

Can even the most devoted Obama admirer plausibly claim that this new day of harmony and cooperation actually dawned in Washington?

Low approval ratings for all federal officials suggest that Americans recognize that the “conflict and discord” have become more bitter than ever before and that the president, despite his soaring rhetoric, plays a prominent part in the squabbling. He may attempt to blame conservatives exclusively for the small-minded gamesmanship, but he’s compiled his own long record of below-the-belt, straw-man attacks, sliming his opponents as greedy and corrupt, claiming that they place plutocrats and corporate power above the public welfare.

Instead of the fresh era of “unity of purpose,” President Obama must acknowledge that his signature legislative achievement, health-care reform, passed both houses of Congress without a single Republican vote, and led elected officials in the majority of states to challenge its constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

And furthermore, Medved reminds us:

When challenging Barack Obama’s claim on a second term, the Republicans should remind the American people why we entrusted him with the presidency in the first place. Beyond any specific expectations about jobs, taxes, and health care, the public welcomed the prospect of an end to the bickering with a new politics of common-sense reform.

The GOP candidate can expose the president’s spoiled promise by renewing the same pledge more credibly, and demonstrating in the campaign itself the coalition-building, pragmatism, and bipartisanship the people expected from the incumbent. Reinvigorated hope for unity and cooperation provides the best chance to highlight this president’s most fatal failure and to add his name to the melancholy list of discredited one-termers who broke faith with the American people.

No better reason to turn Barack Obama out on his ear in 2012. And there is an obvious choice as to who should replace him. Mitt Romney was a productive Governor in a State where the legislature was overwhelmingly under the control of the opposite party. And they were not conservative Texas Democrats, such as served in the legislature that George W. Bush had to work with. (He thought he could be “a uniter, not a divider,” but he'd never had to deal with Democrats luike Nancy Pelosi as Texas Governor.) These were liberal Massachusetts Democrats. And yet he found a way to work with them. Mitt Romney can be the force for harmony that Barack Obama said he could be.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A fight next door

While the Democrats have a cut and dried choice for their Presidential nominee, there is a nasty, bitter fight in the congressional district next to the one I'm in that has led to my Democratic-enrolled wife (who does not live with me) receiving an amazing number of campaign leaflets.

First, some background. The westernmost district of Maryland (the Sixth) has long been represented by a Republican, Roscoe Bartlett. A couple of decades ago, then Governor Parris Glendening, horrified at the fact that Democratic-majority Maryland had a 4-4 division in its Congressional delegation, pushed through a gerrymander which would have made Elbridge Gerry proud. And it worked. Maryland's delegation has been either 6-2 or 7-1 in favor of the Democrats since then. (The one time it went 7-1 was after a bitter Republican intra-party fight in one district that left the incumbent Republican, defeated in the primary, endorsing the Democrat.) But the current Governor, Martin O'Malley, thought he could go Glendening one better. He took Roscoe Bartlett's district and remodeled it so it extends all the way into relatively urbanized Montgomery County, hoping to put in just enough Democrats to defeat Bartlett. The new Sixth District ranges from the very rural western end of the state to the dense Washington suburbs, stopping just a few blocks away from my home.

Some say the new district was drawn especially for State Senator Rob Garagiola, who has decided to move to the federal scene. Certainly, Garagiola figured so. But a serious challenger showed up: John Delaney, a businessman who has never held political office, but who seems, in the eyes of many people, to be a better choice. (The fact that he actually does not live in the Sixth District is no barrier. The Constitution only requires Congressmen to live in the same State that they represent, not the same district. In fact, it does not even require States to divide themselves into districts.) Delaney has the support of many powerful local politicians, including Douglas Duncan, who was the County Executive for years. And even former President Bill Clinton for some reason got into the act. You do not often hear of an ex-President endorsing a candidate in a local race in a State where they do not live, but he has officially endorsed John Delaney.

Each of the two (there are actually three other candidates in that primary, but nobody bothers to talk about any of the other three) has been slinging as much mud as you could imagine at the other. Garagiola brought up a six-year-old article in Forbes Magazine talking about how Delaney's business practices were heartless, and Delaney was termed a “loan shark” in Garagiola's campaign material. Delaney, in turn, points to Garagiola's work as a paid lobbyist for organizations ranging from banks to labor unions, something that Garagiola has tried to hide. Local newspapers have come out for Delaney. So, although the district may have been drawn up for Garagiola, Delaney seems to be the candidate of everyone who might be called “establishment,” or at least the “Democratic establishment.”

Obviously, I'm not going to favor either of one — first of all, I'm not in the district; second of all, I hope that whoever wins the primary loses to Bartlett in November — but Delaney seems the more honorable candidate (even if he's far too much of a liberal Democrat for me to like him, and even if he has the endorsement of Bill Clinton, whom I despise!) But it will be interesting to see who wins, and whether the supporters of the loser can back the winner, or whether the beneficiary of all this infighting will be Roscoe Bartlett.