Archive for the ‘News’ Category

25
Mar

A Conservative Victory in the Senate

   Posted by: Robert

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

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

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

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 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.

24
Jan

The New Obama Honeymoon

   Posted by: Robert Tags: , ,

News reports out of Washington yesterday continue to be deeply disappointing for anyone who believes, even a little bit, in spending cuts and deficit reduction.  Apparently seeking some version of prudence in putting off the debt ceiling fight until they can better make the case for spending cuts, Republicans have given Obama a blank check with a sticky note asking to talk to him about it later.  This strikes me in every way as being yet another example of Republicans giving Obama and the Democrats almost everything they want, in exchange for… I have no idea what.  It’s really starting to look as if the Republicans in Congress have completely lost their minds.

If there is a single upside to what the Republicans have managed to accomplish, it’s to lay bare once and for all the farce formerly known as the debt limit.  As a trip point for political and media chaos, the debt ceiling was an unbelievably potent tool.  Every few months for the past few years, we’ve had this highly compressed political dance of talking about the government running out of money and how we need to get serious about reducing the deficit.  At the end of the day, though, the whole thing ended up being nothing but political theater after the first couple of rounds made it obvious that Republicans would always blink first in the game of financial chicken.  When you get right down to it, the debt ceiling has been effectively unlimited for years.

By always being the side that blinks, Republicans have done an exceptional job of losing all credibility in the recurring battles over deficit reduction.  Everyone knows that when the going gets tough, the GOP backs down.  And while they used to at least frustrate the Democrats a little bit in their compromises, the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling “compromises” have been nothing but capitulation in exchange for trivialities.

Behavior like this is exactly why conservatives have no faith in Republican candidates and it is precisely why Republicans have so much trouble turning out their base.  Low conservative turnout for elections is a vote of no confidence in the Republican party.

As I’ve said before and will say again, when Republicans do the things that they say, they are unbeatable on the economy.  Republicans won huge in 2010 on a platform of economic issues.  Romney beat Obama handily among economy-oriented voters.  Americans want deficit reduction, debt reduction, and spending cuts.  The GOP doesn’t need to take their time to prepare that message; they have done that successfully.

What Republicans need to do is start acting like they believe in any of it.

And so as I understand it, May will come and with it will come the expiration of the unlimited debt ceiling.  The media, which will have ignored five more months of Republicans attempting to talk about spending cuts, will once again get all amped up over the financial crisis du jour and put Republicans back on their heels with cries that the GOP wants to cut off America’s financial legs.  Republicans, having never tried to spread their message by any means other than the mainstream media, will have no choice but to extend the unlimited debt ceiling again, while promising future talks about spending reduction, “for real this time, you guys!”  And so it goes, and so it goes…

Until the country plunges to its doom.

17
Dec

Of Cornball Brothers and Racial Insularism

   Posted by: Robert Tags: ,

Making news during the middle part of last week was a comment by ESPN’s Rob Parker regarding the racial authenticity of NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III.  The comment provides a great living example of one aspect of racism in today’s America and underscores the challenges faced by the Republican Party in attracting the minority (and especially the black) vote in coming elections.

Here’s a quotation of what was said (emphasis added):

Rob Parker: “But my question, which is just a straight, honest question, is: Is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?”

Cari Champion: “What does that mean?”

Skip Bayless: “Explain that.”

Parker: “He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.

Champion: “Why is that your question?”

Parker: “Well because that’s just how I want to find out about him. I don’t know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about how he’s a Republican, which, I don’t really care, there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods was like, I’ve got black skin but don’t call me black.”

At its core, what we are witnessing is a brand of racial insularism which has been carefully cultivated by the left since at least the 1970s.  Conservatives will recognize it as the same web that is used to attack black conservatives like Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice.  It’s the product of a delicate web of skin color, culture, privilege, and overt racism which acts to ensnare racial minorities for the benefit of the Democrat Party.

To understand the web requires an understanding of how all four parts tie together.  At its core is a union of color and culture which provides its members with a sense of identity.  That identity, of course, does not enjoy white privilege, and so is disadvantaged in our society.  Overt racism, like that used by Mr. Parker, is used as a tool to keep dissenters in line.

The color-culture identity is something that’s relatively hard for white people to understand because they don’t experience their identity in that way.  Indeed, if asked, most white people would likely assert that there is no such thing as white culture at all.  Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky does an acceptable job of explaining why those people are mistaken, but for my purposes, it’s enough to note white culture is the America’s dominant culture and that blindness to white culture is an element of white privilege.  That said, for white people, understanding color culture may be easiest by considering a different cultural identity, such as religion.

Using Christianity as an example, consider the tenants of protestant Christian belief.  The price of entry into that identity is your belief that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  But there are other elements, too.  These include things like believing that the Bible is the word of God, living by the Ten Commandments, attending church regularly, praying, and marrying within your faith.  If you miss enough of the other elements — or even just one for a long enough period of time — and other Christians will likely doubt the sincerity of your Christianity even if you never stop believing that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  Once that happens, you will tend to find yourself isolated from your faith community and you may even find people saying hurtful things about you.

Color culture (in this case, blackness) is exactly like that.  The price of entry is your skin color (in this case, black), but there are also other elements.  Among those elements are the two pointed out by Mr. Parker: Not marrying a white person, and voting Democrat.  By missing those two elements, Mr. Griffin exposed himself to doubt about his blackness, even though the color of his skin never changed.

By injecting themselves into the black cultural identity, Democrats have secured an extremely powerful position within that community.  Indeed, while conservatives talk about wanting to encourage free thinking blacks, we neglect the reality that such free thought is an element of white privilege.  Blacks are decidedly less free in this regard because, no matter how conservative a black person may be, to actually vote Republican crosses a cultural boundary in ways which are unknown to white culture.  What’s more, voting Republican is seen as a threat to the cultural identity because Republicans themselves are seen as hostile to blackness, because Republicans are seen as the party of white privilege and as promoters of (structural) racism.
When viewed from that angle, it’s easy to see why people like Mr. Parker would have such unkind things to say about blacks who vote Republican.  Like any member of an identity group, he most likely feels a need to protect himself and his identity from attack.  That the attack comes from apparently within arguably makes it even more severe.  His overtly racist remarks can be seen as a sort of defensive strike or as a means of promoting a cohesive culture.  They are, in other words, the racial equivalent of telling someone they’re going to go to hell for something they’ve done.

18
Nov

A Tale of Two Workforces

   Posted by: Robert Tags:

In the news for the past few days have been some interesting stories about labor in America.  In news that has been making many headlines, Hostess, the company which famously makes Twinkies and Wonder Bread, is going out of business after a protracted labor dispute.  Meanwhile, Wal-Mart workers are threatening to strike over the Thanksgiving holiday, protesting low pay and benefits for store workers as well as the company forcing people to work on Thanksgiving day.  Both of these stories provide great illustrations of the relationship between labor and corporations in America.

At the hands of “evil corporate overlords” and “big labor bosses” throughout the country, America’s relationship between business and labor can sometimes seem fairly well strained.  In the classic tale from the left, dastardly corporations exist to systematically exploit a large number of people to generate extreme wealth for a small oligarchy of elites at the top.  In the classic tale from the right, labor unions promote a culture of laziness in which uncaring employees seek only to receive large paychecks for performing almost no work.  Each side is presented as hostile to the other, fighting against each other at every turn, in a battle which only the strongest will ultimately be able to win.

As the Hostess case reminds us, however, it’s often the case that nobody wins.  Leading up to their announced liquidation, Hostess had spent most of the past year working its way through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  As a result of their effort, the company won significant concessions from the Teamsters and a court-ordered settlement with the Bakers’ union, but couldn’t reach a permanent agreement with the latter.  In the end, Hostess and the Bakers played a game of chicken, and when neither side blinked, the lights went out.  By not finding a way to work together, an 80 year old business is gone and 19,000 people are suddenly in need of new jobs.

While it’s insane to think that a company that filed bankruptcy twice within seven years before ultimately closing its doors was milking its workers to line executives’ pockets with gold, other cases are a great deal less clear.  In still other cases, the disdain executives seem to feel toward their employees is on full display for all the world to see.  Such is the case with Wal-Mart.

A job at Wal-Mart is one of those things that seems best suited for high school kids, people who want a second job, and people who can’t find anything better.  Workers at Wal-Mart make at or near minimum wage, and from what I’ve been told, opportunities for advancement are quite limited.  The overall atmosphere is one where employees don’t feel valued; an environment which is a historic breeding ground for labor movements.  If it actually comes about, a Black Friday strike could give union the toe-hold they need to unionize the Wal-Mart workforce.  For the moment, however, the Black Friday strike seems a great deal closer to the sort of free market labor response that took place in the early days of modern labor organization than the labor bureaucracy that’s become common today.

The history of organized labor is a complicated one, which is like most human stories in being filled with heroes and villains, the greedy and downtrodden, money and power.  However, on a personal level, the lesson from both Hostess and Wal-Mart is the importance of respect.  The Bakers’ union held out in part because they had felt abused by Hostess.  Meanwhile, Hostess was destroyed because the union’s demands were more than the company could survive.  The essence of what Wal-Mart employees desire is to be treated like people, rather than as one of the cheap commodities found on the store’s shelves.

Companies built on a foundation of respect are capable of doing great things.  Many industries in America remain largely non-union by choice.  In the tech sector, large companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft thrive on innovation and modern work practices without the need for organized work practices.

Treating people like people…  There’s a conservative value if ever I saw one.

9
Oct

A Tale of Two Cancer Stories

   Posted by: Robert

Making its way around the news reports for the past couple days has been news from the US Preventative Services Task Force that calls for an end to annual screenings for men at risk for prostate cancer.  If this recommendation seems eerily similar to another recommendation published in the wake of Obamacare, it should.  This is the same group that said breast screenings for 40-something year old women should go the way of the dinosaur.  Like pretty much everyone else who wrote about the breast cancer story, or who is writing about the prostate cancer story now, I’m woefully unqualified to offer any intelligent comment on the merits of the recommendation.  Watching the responses to each, though, is interesting.

When the breast cancer recommendation came down, it set off something of a media firestorm almost overnight.  The new recommendation made top headlines, with denouncements coming from all across the political spectrum.  The topic was an instant women’s health issue, with story after story of women whose lives were saved because they were examined and their cancer was caught early.  The reporting circled for days before the chaos finally subsided.

It’s very different, now, with the prostate cancer recommendation.  I first saw the story slip into the churn of the news stream on Friday where, perhaps in part thanks to the weekend news cycle, it seems to be sitting, more or less dead.  The reporting, far from the vitriolic response to the breast cancer recommendation, has been very matter-of-fact and really quite boring.

I can’t help but wonder if there’s some lesson to be drawn from the difference in reporting on these two topics.  Is it just that the flood-the-world-with-pink strategy of the breast cancer awareness crowd has us on heightened alert to any challenge to the testing orthodoxy?  Is there, perhaps, a more anti-male message to be taken from this?  Or have we simply gotten used to the idea that, now that the government is taking over healthcare, part of their job is going to be telling us that we shouldn’t actually get to receive any?

21
Dec

Seizing Freedom

   Posted by: Robert

A few weeks ago, a new proposal for a federal law first came to my attention.  The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) would give the federal government authority to police various forms of copyright infringement on the Internet.  The Act itself is not long to read, and it essentially boils down to giving the Attorney General the authority to take down domain names with a court order if whatever is located at such domain names is shown to infringe on copyright.  Though the law is brief, its implications are staggering.  What’s more, other recent events raise serious questions as to whether such a law is even necessary at all.

A law like COICA represents a radical departure from the history of copyright enforcement in the US.  The Constitution vests in the federal government the authority to create laws to promote useful creativity by protecting things such as patents and copyrights.  Congress, in turn, put together a regulatory scheme in which copyright issues can be brought to the courts, but where the government is otherwise uninvolved.  In copyright suits throughout US history, the obligation has fallen to rights holders to identify instances of patent or copyright infringement and bring an appropriate action against the infringing party.  Although laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) have fueled the debate about how much protection rights holders deserve, the basic structure of private action in a federal forum has never been greatly tampered with.

Until now.

Politicians in recent years have been under increasing pressure from Big Content (RIAA, MPAA, etc.) to change the way copyright is handled in America.  Pretty much ever since Napster, the content industry has been learning a great deal about fighting copyright infringement in the digital age.  Perhaps the most important lesson they’ve learned is that fighting copyright infringement is expensive and time consuming, with rewards for success questionable at best.  As usual when it comes to battles in a courtroom, the only people who win are the lawyers.

Big Content have, naturally, grown a bit tired of paying their attorneys to go out and sue people for huge sums of money, most of whom can’t pay even if they lose.  In their view, it makes a whole lot more sense to let the government take over.  Big Content keeps its profits while taxpayers cover their legal bills.  A bill like COICA is an appetizer to the government sponsored, taxpayer funded feast that Big Content hopes to enjoy.

Recent events, however, point out that COICA may not only be bad policy, it also may be entirely redundant.  The ability to seize and destroy domain names apparently already exists in the arsenal of weapons employed by — of all agencies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Why ICE should be more concerned about protecting our recording labels than they are about protecting our borders is a mystery to me, but there it is just the same.  Best of all, it appears that they can close down domains without much legal process other than obtaining a court order — notice to the domain owner, an opportunity for the owner to challenge the takedown in court, a trial over reasonable questions of fact and law, and other legal protections usually associated with at least two amendments in the Constitution are apparently not required.

If Homeland Security can do all of this on its own authority, what does Congress need to pass laws for?  If the government can take private property (and domain names are property) without due process of law, what do we have a Constitution for?

These days, it seems like not much.