8
Jul

Standards of Outrage

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

Lately, it seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new government surveillance program to worry about.  This whole series of revelations started back around the time that the Democrats needed any excuse to get off the topic of Benghazi and, ever since, has blossomed into a full fledged story in its own right.

In the past two months, we’ve learned that the government wiretapped a Fox News reporter, routinely gathers metadata about international calls (this wasn’t news), metadata about purely domestic calls (this was), may or may not have direct access to the data we store on the internet through a program called PRISM, and stores the contents of every encrypted message they happen to intercept (even the completely domestic ones) until such a time as they break its encryption, and has pictures of every envelope sent through the mail since somewhere around 2001.  Looking further back in time, anyone who’s watched an episode of CSI knows that the government can track your cell phone, often without a warrant.  Less well known is the fact that the government can read your email, without a warrant, as long as you store your email in the cloud1 and it’s been more than 180 days since you sent or received that message.  Automated license plate readers store the passing of every car in a database for police to access and the data is considered so non-sensitive that private insurance companies are allowed access.

Despite voluminous reporting on the subject, it’s hard to see the overall response as anything other than a collective shrug of the shoulders.  The liberal media, for its part, has been more interested in playing a game of “Where in the World is Edward Snowden?” than it has been in investigating anything that he had to say.  Conservative media, too, seems far more interested in Edward Snowden himself than in any of the information he brought to light.  In typical fashion, Democrats have no qualms about invasive government programs as long as it happens to be a Democrat running them.  Somewhat surprisingly, Republicans — even the smart, conservative ones — are satisfied that the government is legally allowed to do these things, which makes the whole thing a non-story.

If there’s really nothing to see, here, how about we go back to talking about Benghazi?

The fact of the matter is, the story here is huge.  But it’s a story that nobody wants to tell, and it’s a story that most people don’t want to hear.  We are, for the most part, content to believe that the only people who have something to fear from government surveillance are people who have done something wrong: Our enemies, terrorists, and criminals.  But law abiding citizens have plenty to fear, as well.  After all, if there was no benefit to collecting data on law abiding citizens, what possible reason could justify its collection?

To even ask the question in that way — to ask the government to justify why it is doing something — is to defy the current prevailing wisdom.  We almost never demand to know why the government does something.  Instead, we’re content as long as they stay within the bounds of the Constitution, as we’ve come to accept those bounds, and accept them at their word that whatever they’re doing is important.

As recently as six years ago, our news reporting was filled with hard questions about whether or not the government had become too powerful for anyone’s good.  Time and again, liberals expressed their outrage in volumes about how the government mistreated its enemies; cried about how Bush’s actions were, if not unlawful, then at least unbecoming of the most powerful nation in the world; and ran to the courthouse demanding that any law which supported the military’s activity be stricken.  It simply didn’t matter whether or not the government acted lawfully, it didn’t even matter if what they accused the government of doing even happened; the one and only question was whether what the government allegedly did was right.

As I plan to explore in my next series of posts, there is absolutely nothing right about what the government has done to privacy in America.  Its erosion has been a long term campaign, waged by both parties, each one picking up where the last one left off.  In many cases, the encroachment by the government has been lawful, but that doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders.  Instead, we ought to be out in the streets, in front of the Capitol, and maybe even in court to demand that the government step back.  It’s time we got pissed.

  1. This includes using a web mail provider like GMail, Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Live, or any of the hundreds of others out there; checking your mail using the IMAP protocol; or if you  have some other way of synchronizing your email between more than one device. []
1
Jul

Initiatives, Cases, and Controversies

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

What an interesting resolution the Supreme Court found to the question of California’s Proposition 8 in Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Although a resolution on jurisdictional / standing grounds was always a real possibility, it had always struck me as one of the least probable outcomes.  Like many others, I expected the Supreme Court to reach the merits of the case to decide either, narrowly, whether the initiative process could be used to overturn the California Supreme Court or, broadly, whether the Federal Constitution requires acknowledgement of gay marriage.  The non-ruling has left many commentators discussing the implications of the decision with respect to Prop 8 (with the State, very quickly, jumping at the opportunity to begin ignoring it state-wide, despite it theoretically remaining in force outside the District Court’s geographic jurisdiction).  The implications for gay marriage, however, are probably the least interesting part of the ruling in the long term.  Far more important is what the ruling means for the ability of the people to check the actions of their government through the initiative process.

In his dissent, Justice Kennedy lays out the new and significant hazards posed by the Court’s ruling for the initiative process (citations omitted):

The very object of the initiative system is to establish a law-making process that does not depend upon state officials. In California, the popular initiative is necessary to implement “the theory that all power of government ultimately resides in the people.”  The right to adopt initiatives has been described by the California courts as “one of the most precious rights of [the State’s] democratic process.”  That historic role for the initiative system “grew out of dissatisfaction with the then governing public officials and a widespread belief that the people had lost control of the political process.” The initiative’s “primary purpose,” then, “was to afford the people the ability to propose and to adopt constitutional amendments or statutory provisions that their elected public officials had refused or declined to adopt.”

The California Supreme Court has determined that this purpose is undermined if the very officials the initiative process seeks to circumvent are the only parties who can defend an enacted initiative when it is challenged in a legal proceeding. See id., at 1160, 265 P. 3d, at 1030; cf. Alaskans for a Common Language, supra, at 914 (noting that proponents must be allowed to defend an enacted initiative in order to avoid the perception, correct or not, “that the interests of [the proponents] were not being defended vigorously by the executive branch”). Giving the Governor and attorney general this de facto veto will erode one of the cornerstones of the State’s governmental structure. And in light of the frequency with which initiatives’ opponents resort to litigation, the impact of that veto could be substantial. As a consequence, California finds it necessary to vest the responsibility and right to defend a voter-approved initiative in the initiative’s proponents when the State Executive declines to do so.

In other words, the State of California provides special standing to proponents of initiatives precisely to defend against the type of gamesmanship played by the State in this case.  By enforcing a law that it refuses to defend in court, then refusing to appeal its loss (if “loss” is even an appropriate term, under the circumstances), the State can use a Federal District Court to strike down initiatives that it does not like without a single appellate court having any opportunity to review the case.  Such a result defies our usual understanding of Due Process, which typically includes so many appeals that we often wonder if a case is ever going to end.

The appellate process serves as a check on the human nature of judges and courts.  Even an ideal judge, with years of education and experience, who is committed to the law with no plausible interest in the outcome of a case (either personally or politically) is prone, as all humans are, to making mistakes.  The appellate process is a means to reverse those mistakes after they’ve happened, but before they can have a lasting effect on the parties, the law, or the nation.  In cases where a judge may not meet the ideal, the appellate process is all the more important.  Indeed, it is worth wondering, in a case such as this where there is no realistic opportunity for appeal, if the case should even have been heard in the first place?

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hollingsowrth, it now seems clear to me that it should not have been.  What possible “controversy” can there be when the plaintiff comes to court asking for a law to be overturned, and the State, as defendant, essentially tells the judge, “Yes, we would like that, too.”  When all of the parties in a case agree, there is no plausible controversy to find.  That an interested third party has a different point of view should make absolutely no difference; Hollingsworth makes clear that only the named parties matter for federal Article III standing.  In addition to vacating the decision of the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court should also have vacated the District Court’s opinion and instructed that the case be dismissed for lack of Article III jurisdiction.

Even if the Supreme Court had dismissed the whole case, the initiative process would still be in trouble.  States could provide a pro forma defense of undesirable initiatives to create a false “controversy” which a court could adjudicate and then, as they did here, bow out of the appellate process as soon as their “opponents” win.  Perhaps that could be corrected somewhat with a state constitutional amendment compelling state officials to appeal the loss on any initiative all the way to the Supreme Court, but how to enforce such a mandate is a critical and hard question that would need to be addressed.

Assuming that the mandate could be resolved, a pro forma defense is certainly not the sort of vigorous defense that makes for effective litigation.  In the realm of criminal defense, we have requirements for effective assistance of council which are particularly applicable to public defenders (attorneys who, it is often assumed, do not have the utmost interest in giving their clients the best possible defense, or the skill to provide such a defense even if they wanted to).  To eliminate the pro forma problem, we would need something similar in the initiative defense arena, but, as the only people interested in claiming ineffective counsel would be third parties who lack standing, there would be no means to develop or enforce such a system unless federal judges were to take it upon themselves.  Federal judicial interest in creating such a system is doubtful for a number of very good reasons.

The unfortunate reality is that states now have a judicially sanctioned playbook for eliminating initiatives that they do not like which initiative sponsors will find difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.  Indeed, the states now have a perverse incentive to want to litigate in federal court, where the decision of a single Federal District Court judge is enough to overrule the opinion of the state’s voters in a way which cannot be reviewed on appeal.  Because District Court rulings are technically binding only on the parties to that particular case, a state can (decline to) litigate the issue ad infinitum, in multiple courts, in front of multiple judges, with multiple plaintiffs, in a variety of circumstances, and needs only to get an un(?)favorable ruling in any single one of those cases to have an initiative federally, permanently, and unreviewably enjoined statewide.

The initiative system in California, and other states, was originally developed as part of a populist movement in which public distrust of the government led to an effort to enact laws in a more democratic manner.  Because the initiative process was a check on government power, it is intentionally difficult for the government to undo an initiative once it’s been enacted.  But now, because it will nearly always be possible to find some judge somewhere to rule against any law, defeating initiatives just became as easy as encouraging lawsuits and waiting.

Despite the apparent modesty of the Supreme Court’s ruling, their opinion in Hollingsworth has dealt a critical — possibly fatal — blow to one of America’s most well known direct democratic processes.  It is, in fact, a sweeping power grab for state governments by way of the federal judiciary.  While it’s impossible to know how the Court might have ruled on the merits of the case, it is doubtful that any merits ruling would have had such a profound and sweeping impact as their decision ducking the merits seems likely to create.

11
Apr

The Growth of Childhood

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

One of the long term progressions of Western society is the increasing length of time in which people are considered to be, in important ways, children.  Although there remains a robust and healthy debate over when a person ought to be considered to have changed from a child into an adult, the progress of society has increased the age significantly regardless of our opinions as to what the age ought to be.  While the Millennials are not unique in finding themselves bound to a longer childhood than that of their parents, the amount of the change is more dramatic than it has been at any other point in history.

Increasing the age of adulthood has been a trend in Western society for centuries.  As anyone who watches Game of Thrones will discover, people as young as thirteen were once able to hold positions of importance and leadership in the medieval world.  As life expectancy increased to the point that people were no longer “over the hill” at age twenty, so too did our understanding of childhood.  By the time of America’s founding, leadership was generally not given to teenagers, although many held jobs and participated in the militia and other armed forces.  Over time, society would settle on an amalgamation of ages each of which represents certain aspects of adulthood; common “adulthood” ages in the US are sixteen (age of consent in many states), eighteen (legal adulthood in most jurisdictions and the approximate age of high school graduation for most students), and twenty-one (drinking age).

Those three most common ages of adulthood came about in roughly that order.  Age of consent is particularly challenging because its contours vary widely between jurisdictions, interacting with marital age (which can often be as low as 14), consent between minors, and differences between state and federal law.  Legal adulthood largely maps to the fact that people aged 18 years or older are able to serve in the military and vote, thus giving them the legal ability to decide their own fate.  The drinking age came as a result of federal legislation in the 1980s which uprooted drinking ages in many states which tended to extend as low as 18.  High school graduation, of course, is about as close as America has to a cultural “rite of passage”, although its occurrence at the same time as the age of majority is most likely a historical accident.

More recently, however, the goal posts for adulthood have been moving again.

By some measures, twenty-two is becoming a new demarcation of adulthood for America’s youth.  As young Americans are increasingly pushed into college, high school graduation has become a less significant event than it once was.  Instead of marking the transformation from being a student to being a worker, completion of high school is increasingly becoming a much smaller transformation from the world of mandatory education to the world of nominally optional education that everyone is told that they need to have.  Individuals making the march from 18 to 22 are now expected to do so on a college campus, where they may live farther away from their parents, but are still largely unable to support themselves.  College graduation today is becoming what high school graduation used to be, but it does so four years farther down the line.

Then, of course, there’s Obamacare, which took the unprecedented step of defining childhood all the way up to 26 years of age.  That change extended childhood once again past one-third of the average American life expectancy by adding a full five years to the previous highest adulthood measurement defined by law.

Socially, it’s becoming increasingly common to view college students as children despite many being older than when their parents would have been seen as adults.  Society has not yet accepted 26 as being so child-like, though it’s possible that this recent legal innovation has simply not had time to work itself into the fabric of society.

For the Millennials, the growth of childhood presents significant immediate problems which may have serious long term consequences.  Whatever their age, the opinions of people perceived to be children are generally considered less valuable than the opinions of people considered to be adults.  In a world where people stop being children after their teens, such an attitude makes some logical sense.  Most ten year old children simply lack the experience or the maturity to hold well founded opinions on important matters.  Most eighteen year old individuals are not so disabled, although they still lack a great deal of experience.  Thanks to college, many 22 year olds are little better off than they were at 18.

As a result, the older and more experienced generations are largely able to have their way because the Millennials are unable to effectively argue to the contrary.  Even into their higher twenties, the Millennials are still treated as if they have no understanding of how the world works, and as if they need the kind guidance of the older generations to make all of their decisions for them — decisions which, naturally, benefit the older generations far more than they benefit the Millennials.  Disturbingly, the younger generation seems to not even realize that this is happening.  Having been indoctrinated for years through the media and through their government sponsored educations, the Millennials have been deprived not only of their adulthood, but also of their ability to notice the deprivation.  The result is that the Millennials, in too many cases, still act child-like, reinforcing the belief that they are still too young to be taken seriously.

The ever expanding domain of childhood needs to be understood as a problem for the future of America.  Older generations naturally and inevitably give way to the young, and it is up to the children to be able to take over when the time comes.  For the Millennials and for the generations that come after, each generation is being given progressively less time to prepare.  In the vocabulary of the skilled trades, we should be journeymen in our development by now.  Increasingly, however, we would be lucky to even be acknowledged as apprentices.

Today’s young Americans live in a remarkable future.  From the day we were born, we’ve been told by our parents, our relatives, our teachers, our coaches, our mentors, and our friends that the world for us is a land of unbounded opportunity.  Pick a dream, we were told, and fight for that dream.  Nothing would be off limits to those of us who worked hard enough.  Thanks to our parents, racism, poverty, sexism, and so many other social ills had supposedly been defeated; men had gone to the moon; and dinner could be made by placing food inside of a magical box-shaped machine.  We were handed what looked like a world of guaranteed excellence, without any significant obstacles left in our way.

To earn our place in this brave new world, we dutifully spent our childhoods in school (not that we had a choice).  There we learned how to read (sort of), how to write (or type, whichever), and how to do math (2 + 2 = potato?).  We learned about history (so full of evil white men, and nobody else, ever, except maybe MLK… and the guy who invented peanut butter!), science (E = mc2 = atom bombs), and government (all five1 branches).  We took classes on art and music (until their budgets got cut).  And in the end we were told it was time to go to college, to learn the skills that we would need to prepare us for the rest of our lives.

Those of us who followed the template, we each spent a year or two in preschool, twelve years in mandatory education, another four (or five, or six) years in might-as-well-be-mandatory education.  What we got in exchange for those twenty years of our lives was a confidence that we were finally ready.  We were told that it was time to take on the world, to be truly our own people, and to make our dreams come true.

Confident and daring, we went out and got ourselves into post-collegiate housing (which looks conspicuously like our childhood bedrooms) and mastered the art of gourmet cooking (“Insert burrito [A] into magical machine [B]“).  We got used to taking charge household chores like mowing the lawn (or calling the lawn service, or letting the lawn service service call the lawn service, or letting the lawn service service service… uh… where were we?), vacuuming (roomba!), and laundry (just like in college).  We went out and got found looked for talked on Facebook about how hard it is to get jobs, thankful that being an adult doesn’t mean we have to stop playing games with our friends.  And when one of our things breaks, our parents are right there to tell us how to fix it (or to just fix it themselves, since, after all, they already know how).

Right from the beginning, we’ve been raised in a sea of useless knowledge with a promise that, somehow, all of that would come together to unlock the pathway to our dreams.  The truth is that, for most of us, it won’t.  Very few of us pass our days dreaming of being able to sit around for days on end thinking, perhaps trying to conceive of amazing new worlds, or unique new perspectives through which to view the world that we share.  Most of us want to actually do something, but through our whole lives we have never learned how.

The full ramifications of this are far from obvious, but a few important observations are in order.  Because we have been systematically denied knowledge of the world, we are often ill-equipped to handle many of the bad situations which naturally arise during life.  This leads to the perception that even though we are now in our 20s and 30s, that we are still children who are helpless without our parents’ care.  Worse still, it denies us the ability to stand up for ourselves, because we have become so dependent on others for help that we wouldn’t dare to risk disrupting that support network — a support network which includes the government.

In our culture and media, it’s become common to make fun of the Millennials for being so clueless about “common sense” kinds of things.  While this makes for good comedy, it neglects the true nature of what’s really happened.  The lack of knowledge isn’t a result of laziness or stupidity.  It is, instead, a systemic result of doing what we’ve been told, learning what we’ve been taught, and living the life that was set out in the template that we were provided at birth.

It seems that our world without obstacles may be an obstacle all to itself.

  1. Legislature, President, courts, administrative agencies, and the news []
4
Apr

A Generation of Broken Promises

   Posted by: Robert   in Philosophy

Over the Easter holiday, I had the opportunity to catch up on some television as I passed some time with my best friend.  In watching some of those shows, it was hard for me not to notice their disturbingly accurate portrayal of the Millennial Generation.  The plight of the generation raised by the Baby Boomers remains largely unknown in society and in America’s popular culture.  Although most people know a Millennial whose life is not all that it seems like it should be, and while many people recognize that such trouble is common to the point of seeming normal, the plight of the Millennials remains largely an open secret.  At its core, much of the trouble comes from a series of bad and broken promises which threaten to destroy the entire generation.

On those rare occasions where we see Millennials in the media, the portrayal is often far from positive.  The standard portrayal is of young adults who live mostly single lives, often amidst a stream of broken or failed relationships which are as heavy on sex as they are light on romance.  These Millennials tend to have rather poor jobs, when they have jobs at all, and being satisfied with their work is more of a bonus than a goal.  The Millennials are educated far more than people would realize based on the jobs that they have (or don’t have), although schooling is also not a focus.  Indeed, it’s hard to discern any particular focus, as they mostly seem cast astray in an uncaring world filled with uncaring people who offer no help or direction for their lives.

Reality, it seems, is kind of like that.

On a whole, vast range of issues, Millennials were promised the world by their Boomer parents only to find that the world is a lot different than they had expected.  Millennials were taught during their childhoods that they can do anything, only to find out that they were never taught how.  They were told that they are unique and special individuals, only to find their lives reduced to data which gets fed into overgrown advertising machines.  They were taught that education was the key to success and that college was the key to unlimited achievement, only to find that even the most banal of jobs have come to require a bachelor’s degree.  They were shown a world full of opportunity, only to find that the people who currently hold all of the power are trying to cling to the world of yesteryear with no great visions for the future.

This month, I plan to consider the Millennials and the unique circumstances which affect the generation which will be the next to blossom across the American scene.  Although they have been carefully hidden, their issues will become an increasingly important part of the American landscape within the next twenty years.  Understanding their issues now may pave the way to ensure that there is still some future left for a generation which is trapped in the shadow of their parents.

25
Mar

A Conservative Victory in the Senate

   Posted by: Robert   in News

In news that is unlikely to be hailed as a major conservative victory, the Senate last week passed a budget for the first time in four years.  The Senate’s budget is rife with all of the usual vices of the Democrat agenda, including a new round of tax increases and minimal reductions in spending.  Unlike the Republican budget passed in the House, the Senate budget never balances and could hardly be portrayed by anyone as being a true gesture of fiscal responsibility.  The Democrat budget, in other words, is every bit as liberal as one would expect from the Democrats.  But its very existence is a victory for conservatism.

Ever since Republicans took decisive control over the House in the 2010 elections, passing a budget has been a major party focus.  For conservatives, a budget was promoted as a cornerstone of fiscal responsibility and a core feature of the Tea Party movement.  For liberal Republicans, the budget was a low risk vehicle which would allow them to feign opposition to big spending Democrats without taking positions on actual issues.

For Democrats, however, the story was different.  They have been generally opposed to creating a budget ever since they took control of the government in 2008 and likely for many years beforehand.  By their nature, budgets tend to constrain spending and limit the possibilities for distributing pork.  Even a grandiose, Democrat promoted budget is more constraining than having no budget at all.  The closest that Democrats have come to a budget came during the 2011 budget debate when President Obama offered a budget proposal which was never meant to be taken seriously, but was used to deflect criticism from charges that Democrats were refusing to consider any budget.  Hilariously, many Democrats refused to consider even the President’s budget proposal.

Things this time appear to be different.  Conservatives and some Republicans have continued to advocate strongly for a budget as a matter both of fiscal discipline and common sense.  The pressure on Democrats has increased substantially, heightened by increasing public disgust at the tri-monthly cycle of fiscal near-disaster.  Interestingly, despite the best efforts of the partisan political media to blame Republicans for sequestration, the public at large has been willing to blame everyone in the government, with Democrats taking at least some of the heat.  To their credit, Republicans have managed to stay largely on point with their argument that the solution to America’s rolling fiscal near-disaster is an actual budget.  With the help of Paul Ryan, Republicans were the first to deliver.

Against that backdrop, Democrats were forced to not merely talk about a budget or to have the President propose a budget which could then be forgotten.  No, this time around Democrats have been forced to vote for a budget, with a narrow majority in the Senate doing just that.  In so doing, the Democrats have been forced to accept the premise that a budget is necessary.

Forcing Democrats to accept that premise is a huge win for conservatives, because political premises are often more important than the policies that they produce.  By convincing the nation that we had a present and urgent health care crisis, Democrats were able to force Obamacare or comparable alternatives onto the public and capture the nation into being concerned about an issue that wasn’t nearly important as it had been made out to be.  If conservatives are able to be successful here with the budget — an issue which actually is at least as important as it seems — any result can only benefit conservatism.

Conservatives will still have a long way to go before they are able to see any lasting success.  The Democrat budget is entirely ridiculous and its failure to balance makes it an immediate non-starter.  But as a starting point, having Democrats focused on developing a budget is excellent news for conservatism.  It can only get better from here.

14
Mar

Budget, Ho!

   Posted by: Robert   in News, Philosophy

On the heels of the striking success Senator Rand Paul had in addressing the threat of drone strikes against American citizens, Congress’s other famously conservative Paul has come out with a full fledged budget proposal to solve the sequester and put America on the path toward fiscal sanity.  Representative Paul Ryan’s latest budget should come as a surprise to nobody who has paid any attention to his work the past several years.  Indeed, it’s substantially the same budget he proposed back in 2011, but repackaged to account for the progression of time over the past two years.  The goals of the budget have remained the same, and most of the specific policy initiatives are familiar.  Expect a video depicting Paul Ryan throwing a grandmother off a cliff any day now.

What is different this time around is the pretence of Democrats and Republicans having a common objective in budget negotiations.  To be specific, we had that in 2011. This year, any illusion of common ground is being swiftly laid to rest.

Case in point is an article in the New York Times which quotes President Obama as saying, “Our biggest problems in the next 10 years are not deficits.”  According to the New York Times, he went on to say, “It may be that ideologically, if their position is, ‘We can’t do any revenue,’ or, ‘We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,’ if that’s the position, then we’re probably not going to be able to get a deal.”  The New York Times summarizes the Democrat position in this way:  “Congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama, noting that the government has long operated with deep deficits, do not see a need for a balanced budget as long as spending is kept in check.”  A budget proposal from Senate Democrats adds $100 billion in new stimulus spending and runs a $600 billion deficit in ten years.  The contrast with Congressman Ryan’s proposal is stunning.  The Ryan proposal makes meaningful changes to entitlement programs and cuts spending throughout the government.  His proposal eventually balances the budget without raising taxes.

Fundamentally, the difference between the Right and the Left is that conservatives believe that prosperity comes from saving money, while liberals believe that prosperity results from spending.  Between those positions is no common ground, which means that there’s ultimately nothing to negotiate over.  Victory in this battle over budgets means winning outright.

The good news for conservatives is that, even despite Obama’s victory, Republicans are still seen as being the party of choice when it comes to finance and the economy.  Even better, because nothing much has changed about the Republican budget since the last time it was introduced, the Democrats have already used up most of their attacks.  Also good is the fact that the nation is surviving the sequester well enough that getting away from it is hardly the national crisis that it was made out to be.  Indeed, by proving that the country can survive with reduced spending, the sequester plays directly into conservatives’ hands.

The key for Republicans is to not negotiate a chance at victory into a certain defeat.  Republicans need to stand by Senator McConnell’s assertion after the “fiscal cliff” tax increases that additional tax increases are off the table, and will stay there.  Democrats must not be allowed to have a “balanced approach” of immediate tax increases coupled with deferred imaginary spending cuts to happen at a later date never.

The contrast between the Republican and Democrat budgets is a great backdrop for renewing the conversation about economics and government spending in America.  With a boost of momentum right now on our side, now is the time to push forward and stay strong.  After all, a balanced budget is a wonderful thing.

11
Mar

Changing the Game

   Posted by: Robert   in News

Late last week, Senator Rand Paul accomplished one of the most important conservative victories since the midterm sweep of 2010.  Taking to the floor of the Senate chamber, the Senator from Kentucky captivated the nation with a simple, though long spoken, request to President Obama.  Concerned over a memo which indicated that the administration may consider the use of targeted drone strikes on American soil against American citizens believed to be terrorists, Senator Paul wanted assurance that the President, quite simply, would never do such a thing.  And he wanted assurance in writing.

Senator Paul’s request comes with both a political and a constitutional dimension.  Politically, it should be an embarrassment to the administration that targeted drone strikes against American citizens suspected of terrorism on American soil should even be considered when they have taken great care to ensure that known members of al Qaeda have access to America’s civilian courts.  It’s made all the more egregious when you consider that the administration once publicly expressed their belief that military veterans, gun owners, and people who vote Republican are all one bad day away from trying to blow up the White House.  Constitutionally, Senator Paul spent a great deal of time talking about due process, which was a major issue for the Left back when President George W. Bush authorized the capture and indefinite military detention of American citizens on American soil.  While the Supreme Court ultimately allowed President Bush to have his detentions, in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, I continue to believe that Justice Scalia’s dissent was correct: The constitutional solution to citizen terror suspects is to suspend habeas corpus, or to try and convict them of a crime like treason.

But my point here isn’t to discuss the merits of Senator Paul’s argument, because what he did is far more important than what he said or why he said it.

To understand what Senator Paul accomplished, it’s important to understand what was supposed to have happened.  Wednesday night was the meeting between President Obama and several senior establishment Republicans to discuss finding a way out of the national “emergency” of the sequester.  The news cycle on Thursday was supposed to be about bipartisanship, and compromise, and reaching across the table, and finding a balanced approach.  While nobody was supposed to actually achieve anything, it was supposed to be the start of a dialog that would (and likely still will) result in the Democrats getting more tax increases and Republicans getting very few spending cuts.  Mostly, it would let the establishment Republicans look like they’re accomplishing something even as they actually accomplish nothing.

What actually happened was pretty much the opposite of that.

Senator Paul, the Freshman from Kentucky and son of libertarian congressman Ron Paul, took to the Senate floor for an extended speech about drone strikes against American citizens.  The issue is one that most people didn’t even know existed before Wednesday night.  Senator Paul was politely insistent that President Obama issue a written statement that he would not use drones to attack American citizens suspected of terrorism on American soil who were not actively engaging in terrorist acts.  His argument was a compelling, common sense vision for what Due Process means for citizens in America.  It was also fundamentally conservative, insisting that there is a limit on the government and demanding that the government recognize itself as being so limited.  He did not ask for a bipartisan agreement on cutting death warrants or razing taxis, he insisted on a specific, tangible result.  He dominated the news cycle Thursday, Friday, and through the weekend.

Making matters even more remarkable, the media was unable to control the story.  They had doubtlessly already written their reports about the sequestration dinner when Senator Paul stood up to begin his filibuster Wednesday night and they surely had no interest in giving attention to anything else; surely not the off-topic ramblings of the Tea Party backed son of Ron Paul.  But even in this era of perpetual filibuster, an actual speaking filibuster remains so unusual that its happening is unavoidably news.  What’s more, his subject was so resonant with American values that despite the media’s attempt to portray as crazy the notion that drones would be sent after Americans sitting in American cafes, they had no room to move as long as the President came across as sounding even crazier by his refusal to agree.  Indeed, the most coherent criticism came from people who believe that blowing up cafes with drones might, under some circumstances, actually be a good idea.

Conservatives take notice: By speaking powerfully and with the conviction of principle, Senator Paul disrupted politics as usual, captured the attention of the American people, and tied the hands of the media.  From the moment he stood up to begin speaking, he was in command of his message.  He didn’t need moderate Republicans — all of whom were with Obama and were most likely pounding their heads on the dinner table — to make his message more attractive to independents.  Bedrock conservatism won the day, as it always does when we let ourselves express it.

And best of all, when the dust settled, Senator Paul got the commitment he was after.  That makes him more effective after thirteen hours than establishment Republicans have been in four years.

Update: This post originally referred to Senator Paul as being from Kansas.  He is actually from Kentucky.  Darned ‘K’ states.

7
Mar

One Fewer Dictator

   Posted by: Robert   in News

Starting last night and all through today, the news has been buzzing about the death of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  With his passing, the world is now short one more dictator who pillaged his nation in the name of his people and earned the praise of the American Left for his frequent denunciations of the United States.  He is the latest in a line of important dictators who are no longer available to continue their policies of power and destruction.  His death ushers in an interesting new era for the world as he has was the last celebrity anti-American power broker standing who had come to prominence before the start of the global war on terror.

In his policies in Venezuela, President Chavez was a classic liberal socialist dictator.  He amassed great personal wealth by leveraging his country’s vast oil reserves, becoming ever wealthier even as his nation grew more and more impoverished.  Under his leadership, poverty and hunger increased, crime increased, and human rights became decreasingly relevant.  As the leader of nationalized “big oil,” President Chavez took aim at organized labor, firing as much as 40% of the employees who worked for his oil company in retaliation for a strike during 2002.  President Chavez has also been entirely ineffective in the fight to prevent global climate change, allowing Venezuela to become the top carbon dioxide producing nation in the region.

He is, nevertheless, adored by the American Left.

With President Chavez out of the way, there appears at this point to be something of a vacuum in the global market for powerful anti-American celebrities.  Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il are all dead, and Fidel Castro may as well be.  Of course, fellow America hater Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came out right away to declare a national day of mourning in Iran over the death of President Chavez.  Fellow America hater Barack Obama was more reserved, issuing a statement that borders on meaningless.  The new leadership in Venezuela has already jumped in with both feet as well, as Vice President Nicolas Maduro blamed President Chavez’s cancer on the United States and ejected a military attache.

What an interesting world.

4
Mar

Rejoice! Rejoice! Sequestration has Come!

   Posted by: Robert   in News

In what should be looked at as one of the greatest political embarrassments in American history, a dispute over  fraction of a percent of the largest federal budget in history has been brandied about for weeks now as if it’s a disaster no less epic than the Great Plagues of Moses.  By increasing spending levels less than originally planned, sequestration is now to blame for a whole host of national crises.  We’re now being told that, thanks to sequestration, illegal immigrants (some of whom have also broken other laws) are being placed back on the streets, air travel is being disrupted, and an aircraft carrier is stuck in port.

Oh, and old people are going to die in California.

If you think that’s all a disproportionate response to the federal government not spending money that it already wasn’t spending, you probably don’t work in Washington.  Every bit of this debate was entirely predictable months ago, from the headlines promising disaster to Democrats calling for a “balanced approach” involving spending cuts and tax increases, despite already getting tax increases for free during the fiscal cliff debate.  Anyone who ever believed Senator McConnell’s promise that “the tax issue is over” was delusional.  The good news is that it only took Republicans two months to figure out that, yes, they really did raise taxes on everybody who earns a paycheck.  I didn’t think that would ever happen.

Sadly, the political drama isn’t the most embarrassing part of this whole charade.  More embarrassing is what it says about the American electorate when they believe that sequestration will make food less safe.  Most embarrassing is what it says about America if any of it actually is true.

The consequences of America being so fragile that it can be brought to its knees by $85 billion in reduced spending increases, the consequences are dire indeed.  After all, what would happen if terrorists bring violence which shuts down the Capitol, or the White House, or — perhaps worst of all — the Office of the Department of Health and Human Services?  What ever would we do if the Iranians set upon us with a Stuxnet-like virus that, rather than disrupting centrifuges in a nuclear facility, shaved a penny a month off of everybody’s Social Security checks?  If our enemies literally blew up the government, would we really be unable to survive?

Sequestration is a unique opportunity for us to judge how comfortable we are with the level of involvement the federal government has in our lives.  It’s relatively harmless, but it shows the degree to which the federal government has become a single point of failure that touches on almost everyone’s daily lives.  When even the people who are supposedly on our side can cause major chaos over almost nothing, that should be downright frightening.  After all, were the government to be disrupted by people or nations who wish us harm, the consequences would be much larger and longer lived.

Tax increases can’t make America stronger.  Spending cuts by them selves won’t either.  The only way to strengthen America to end the danger of disaster is to scale back the scope of the federal government.  Otherwise, our country will remain a house of cards, subject to collapse in even the lightest breeze.