Last Build Date: Wed, 08 Apr 2009 00:10:00 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2009
Wed, 08 Apr 2009 00:10:00 -0600
This week, by one vote, the Vermont Legislature overrode the governor's veto to impose same-sex marriage on that state. It's a breakthrough of sorts for the gay marriage movement: the first state to impose gay marriage through the legislature, rather than the courts. Expect Vermont to figure prominently in President Obama's crusade to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act later this year. The Democratic Party has now thrown its lot against the principles and priorities of the majority of Americans in favor of its richly endowed base of gay supporters. Democrats are the party of gay marriage -- a position opposed by 55 percent of the American people in the latest polls.
But the Vermont same-sex marriage bill was a breakthrough in another way which has received zero attention in the press. For the very first time, a legislature has formally acknowledged that gay marriage poses a serious threat to the religious liberties of Vermonters who disagree with the government's new definition of marriage. And the gay marriage movement has permitted -- if not exactly trumpeted -- that legislature to enact some imperfect yet substantive religious liberty protections, instead of the fake religious liberty protections generally offered to deflect voters' attention from the real issues at stake.
Same-sex marriage is quite different from bans on interracial marriage in one powerful respect: It asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief -- no, not Leviticus (disapproval of gay sexual acts), but Genesis -- the idea that God himself made man male and female and commanded men and women to come together in a special way to image the fruitfulness of God.
Many religious people and groups will bow to, if not exactly endorse, the power of gay activists. Witness Rev. Rick Warren, who on "Larry King Live" this week came very close to recanting his support for Proposition 8. Rick did not quite do so. What he did, instead, is what many good people will do in the face of the massive campaign of intimidation and harassment designed to silence Christians and others of good will who support marriage: He dodged. Rick said, more or less: I am not now and never have been an anti-gay marriage "activist."
Let me be clear. I have enormous respect for Rick Warren. What has happened to Rick, who did nothing more than speak from his pulpit to the members of his own church on Proposition 8, is what lies in store for many good men and women. The deal they will be offered by the government and the culture dominated by same-sex marriage is: Mute your views on marriage so you may continue your other good works. Many good and brave people, to preserve their ability to save lives in Africa or to protect the poor in this country, will take that deal.
I'm not here to criticize him or them -- merely to point out the underlying power of the movement that can get a Baptist minister to recant about marriage on national television.
Take it seriously. On a religion and the law list-serve, the widely respected UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who favors same-sex marriage, took time out to acknowledge that the religious liberty implications of same-sex marriage are not "scaremongering."
"It seems to me plausible that judicial decisions banning opposite-sex-only marriage rules would likewise come to be extended -- by legislatures or by courts -- to go beyond their literal boundaries (a decision about government discrimination) and instead to justify bans on private discrimination," Volokh wrote. "It seems quite likely that they will spill over into diminishing any constitutional (or Religious Freedom Restoration Act-statutory) claims to engage in such discrimination by private entities, including Boy-Scout-like organizations, churches, religious universities and other institutions."
Is Vermont the beginning of a new willingness on the part of the powerful gay-marriage movement to let Christians be Christians? Or is Rick Warren the future of Christians in America?
Time will tell.
Thu, 02 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600
He is an assistant principal at a public high school -- Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School.
Should public school teachers receive special protection from sex abuse charges?
A new bill pushed in New York (similar legislation has been introduced in other states) has two remarkable features: 1) It removes the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits against sex abusers at schools and charities for one year, and 2) it exempts public schools.
Removing the statute of limitations means that people who believe they were victimized as children can reach back 30 years or 40 years or more and sue not only individuals (likely dead or poor), but the institutions that hired these individuals. A flood of new litigation based on ancient cases, by victims who never came forward before, will make it difficult to defend against false claims (or honest claims by disturbed people) because so many of the people involved are dead.
Sex abuse of children is a horrifying crime. So is punishing people for crimes that did not occur. We have a statute of limitations for a reason. Even rape victims are not typically allowed to come forward 30 or 40 or 50 years later because determining justice after so much time has passed is too hard.
I don't mind crucifying the abusers, whatever their religion. But in this case permitting lawyers to collect vast sums from nonprofits is not going to punish the abusers. It's going to punish, even potentially shut down, students, teachers and parents at religious schools and other faith communities who never did anything wrong. Schools and churches are not businesses. Their expenses are paid by people using them now. The people who will pay for this flood of litigation are mostly those who had no control over what happened 30 years ago.
Sex abuse survivors say that justice requires taking this drastic step and running this risk. And I'm willing to entertain that idea because sex abuse of children is appalling.
But if justice requires this drastic step, we need justice for all victims, not just victims who happen to have been abused by nonprofits.
Why are public schools being protected? It's not because sex abuse by public school teachers is rare. In just the last few weeks, for example:
Robert Becker Jr., 36, a substitute teacher at Franklin Central School in Delaware County, N.Y., pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual abuse. Becker has been employed by the government on several occasions, not only as a teacher but as a corrections officer.
In Orange County, Calif., El Modena High School band teacher Carlie Attebury faced eight felony counts stemming from charges of having sex with her students.
Then there is Daniel Acker, 61, the swim coach at Frank Lloyd Wright Middle School in West Allis, Wis., who was arrested on felony sexual assault charges stemming from a 2005 incident with a 15-year-old boy.
But significantly, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "A man in his 40s had told police that day that Acker sexually assaulted him from 1971 to 1976, when he was from 11 to 15 years old. Since then, at least three other men in their 40s -- including one who lives in Tennessee -- and a 19-year-old man have told police they had been sexually assaulted by Acker when they were minors."
Under laws like those being pushed in the New York Legislature, victims like these will be discriminated against. Why?
Are we talking justice for victims, or is this political payback time for religious institutions alone?
Wed, 25 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Gee, this explains a lot about Washington, D.C., doesn't it? The Obama administration? Why President Obama's approval ratings have suddenly tanked in the latest Zogby and Rasmussen polls. And why Barney Frank just won't shut up about the number of things he thinks he should be in charge of.
In the real world, we have things called "reality checks." When the president of a successful company makes bad decisions, he gets fired. His company goes bankrupt. He loses his stock options.
In Washington, there are no reality checks, only taxpayer checks that the government believes will never bounce.
Only government bails out the bonuses of executives who run their company into the ground, then expects applause for trying to get the money back. Only government would buy a failing car company (or two!) in order to funnel taxpayer money to labor unions that voted for certain government officials who shall remain nameless (OK: President Obama). Only Barney Frank would think that the moment he's got Tim Geithner in front of his banking committee would be a good time to announce on national television he thinks the government should control compensation for ALL executives, not just those who accept bailout funds.
Only in Washington, D.C., can a guy who's made as many mistakes as Barney Frank not only keep his seat, but appear unabashedly as if the whole thing was somebody else's fault and he's the guy who is going to fix it.
"People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers," professor Willingham again explains. "Unless the cognitive conditions are right, people will avoid thinking."
And not just in Washington. Consider one small education story in New York. Only in government would you find executives threatening to put one of their most successful companies out of business -- because some paperwork conditions have not been met. Bronx Preparatory Charter School is a shining city on the hill in terms of New York City public schools. The percentage of middle-schoolers who meet state requirements in math and reading is 22 points higher than the district average, according to the New York Post. So what's the problem? Some of the great teachers producing these great results with poor kids are not properly "certified."
Even Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute had trouble justifying the policy, since studies have shown only a weak correlation at best between teacher quality and paper credentials called "certification": "Certification in and of itself doesn't explain a whole lot about teacher effectiveness."
Formal rules designed to benefit labor unions are more important than actually educating kids in some of the most difficult terrain on Earth? The people who think that way about certification should be certifiable.
According to The Washington Post, "The Obama administration is considering asking Congress to give the Treasury secretary unprecedented powers to initiate the seizure of non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds."
Only people in government would conclude that now is the moment in history to give Tim Geithner the unilateral power to seize vast new economic territory.
Because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Wed, 18 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600
They met to discuss a big new idea: Trade federal civil union protections for more generous religious liberty exemptions.
Why compromise? Rauch argues, "The consensus around the meaning of marriage in this country has broken down, it's fractured, and I think it's going to be decades ... before we have anything like a broad national consensus on what marriage means."
Gay marriage advocates who see quick victory around the corner are fooling themselves, according to Rauch:
"If you ask people ... do they favor gay marriage, or civil unions, or nothing, it's basically a third, a third, a third. If you look at people age 29 and younger, yeah, more of them favor gay marriage -- 40 percent, instead of 30 percent -- but it's really not all that different; they're also very divided."
It's going to be a long-run fight, he says. In the meantime, "Some sort of federal recognition would be a huge day-to-day improvement in the lives of ordinary gay people."
David Blankenhorn makes a different point:
"I take second place to no one in my passionate, personal opposition to gay marriage," he says. But "we have to figure out a way to live together, that's the principal."
I've been ruminating on the great gap between politics and real life -- about how nice Americans are, and how nasty our politics appear.
If, like me, you go around the country protecting marriage as the union of husband and wife, of course you get a lot of hatred directed your way. (Why, just this morning, one young woman told me at great length that what I do is exactly like what Hitler did. I can only imagine Jon Rauch's e-mail.)
But then these precious American moments also recur. Last week at Harvard a woman in a same-sex marriage came up and said, "I'm so grateful to you for speaking up about abortion." Why did she do that? Why did she make such an effort to connect across great disagreement, to point to the things we share and not just the things that divide us? Well, Americans are like that.
But the difficulties of getting to compromise were also on display at Brookings last week. Nathan Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations spoke of the mistrust generated by the way in which on many issues having nothing to do with marriage, "many in the gay rights activist community did not respect religious liberty or religious institutions' rights."
Meanwhile, Lara Schwartz, of the Human Rights Campaign, had a less nuanced reaction to Rauch and Blankenhorn's proposal:
"We don't need it. We could repeal DOMA," she states, referring to 1996's federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Compromise is sometimes the product of trust and goodwill, but it is at least as often the stepchild of political necessity.
Lara Schwartz doesn't think she needs to compromise. Why should she care about religious liberty?
So here's what I think:
Getting to tolerance, to compromise, to live and let live on this difficult issue is going to require not just a different kind of conversation, but a more effective political movement -- one that organizes Americans who care about religious liberty into a more politically powerful and strategically effective force.
Does that sound cynical? As a wise man once said, "Original sin is the only Christian doctrine that can be empirically verified."
Wed, 11 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600
It means research that is willing to destroy some nascent human lives in order to (possibly) save others. The politically astute move by the president produced one of the beautifully self-serving front-page headlines: "Obama Puts His Own Spin on the Mix of Science With Politics," as The New York Times put it.
Dr. George Q. Daley, who studies blood diseases at Children's Hospital in Boston, said private money is drying up for embryonic research, making the public money particularly welcome.
Why? Controversy may be part of the reason, but venture capital basically is streaming away from embryo-destroying research precisely because the science is moving so powerfully (at least in the short and medium term) toward other more convenient sources of stem cells, as the science reporter for The New York Times admits:
"The Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found in 2007 that adult cells could be reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease. ... For researchers, reprogramming an adult cell can be much more convenient, and there have never been any restrictions on working with adult stem cells.
"For therapy, far off as that is, treating patients with their own cells would avoid the problem of immune rejection."
Every week, more stories cross my e-mail about potentially lifesaving treatments being developed from stem cells. These stories almost never make the headline news (or even back page) precisely because they share one salient characteristic: The researchers making these brilliant discoveries do not obtain stem cells by destroying human life. And so their achievements are not "news," at least, not big news -- not a front-page stick with which to beat former President Bush and his pro-life ilk over the head.
They are not that interesting, in other words, to politicians and partisans fighting culture wars. They are only of interest to someone who knows and loves a person suffering from one of the diseases they may someday help cure.
Just yesterday, for example, not one but two potential breakthroughs crossed my desk -- two very typical ones:
The Whitehead Institute reports that for the first time it has been able to reprogram skin cells from Parkinson's patients into "pluripotent" stem cells (similar to embryonic) that can be used to create dopamine-producing neurons, while leaving behind potential cancer-causing genes. The neurons are genetically identical to the patient from which they come, which might eventually prove hugely important to patient care and is even more immediately important in testing possible new drug therapies.
Meanwhile at the 67th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologists presented study findings in which cultured stem cells and bioengineered skin were used to successfully treat skin ulcers of three scleroderma patients -- a painful and incurable disease affecting 300,000 Americans. Where did the researchers get these stem cells? In small amounts of bone marrow from the affected patient's hip.
Not news, in other words, just good news.
If you queried these researchers, they may well support lifting government restrictions on taxpayer financing of stem cell research. I do not doubt that most scientists would prefer that government money came completely unfettered from any oversight. (Come to think of it, so do most bankers, most welfare mothers and most overmortgaged homeowners.)
But the people who are betting their own money are betting against embryonic stem cell research as the most likely pathway to cures for diseases. Companies that have invested in embryonic research are correspondingly desperately anxious to use government to commandeer your money and mine.
And they have used politics precisely to make it happen.
Wed, 04 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Among the recent cases:
Six high school students from Greensburg, Pa., were charged with possessing, manufacturing and distributing child pornography this month after nude pictures of several underage girls were confiscated from one of the boys' phones. The three 14- and 15-year-old girls who sent the self-made child porn and the three 16- and 17-year-old boys who received it were arrested.
In Fort Wayne, Ind., a teen boy faces felony obscenity charges for allegedly sending a photo of his private parts to several girl students.
Nor is this always kids' play. In a suburb of Phoenix, the assistant principal of Buckeye Union High School faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on charges that he received (voluntarily) sexually explicit photos sent from a 17-year-old girl student's cell phone.
In Tennessee, the Memphis City Schools system is launching a new task force to deal with "sexting." In Utah, according to the Daily Herald of Provo, Republican state Rep. Sheryl Allen has introduced a bill that reduces the first child porn offenses by teenagers from felonies to misdemeanors, with repeaters subject to felonies.
North of Seattle in Bothell, Wash., two cheerleaders sent naked photos to their boyfriends, only to find that the images rapidly passed through the entire school, ending up in the office of a school administrator who punished both girls for violating the high school code. (The girls' parents are suing the school district for its staff members passing on naked photos of their daughter to several other school personnel.)
No wonder Larry Flynt is standing in line for some government stimulation. Oh, for the good old days when men were actually expected to pay for porn!
By now the way in which modern technology makes the consumption of pornography universally available is old hat. The sexting craze underlines the way the creation of pornography has been equally democratized -- in this case right into the hands of suburban 15-year-old girls pathetically trying to attract or keep the attention of porn-jaded boys.
Why do girls act like this? In his book "Boys Adrift," Leonard Sax writes about asking a 16-year-old girl "as gently as I could, why she was wearing a Hooters outfit to a school Halloween party."
"If you don't dress like this, nobody will even notice you," she told him.
The savvy scholars at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy uncovered the news that more than half of teen girls who send sexy photos of themselves do so in response to pressure from some guy -- usually boyfriends or potential boyfriends. It took an intrepid New York Post reporter to discover these and even sadder reasons why some suburban teen girls cave to ex-boyfriends' pressure for self-made porn.
A 15-year-old New Jersey high school sophomore explained that she fired off 40 naked pictures to her ex-boyfriend in a failed attempt to win him back. One 16-year-old from New Jersey offered a different reason: "(My ex-boyfriend) kept asking me, and it was annoying," so she finally gave in and sent him photos.
Gee, what could possibly be more pathetic than a girl who sends an ex-boyfriend naked pictures to win him back? How about a girl who sends an ex-boyfriend naked photos to make him go away?
Right now we have a decision to make: Is underage porn (these aren't really children) a crime or not? If so, how do we treat girls and boys who engage in it "for fun" and not for profit?
After all, if the thought that their fellow students, their teachers, their employers, their college admission officials, the entire football squad, their mothers and the local district attorney may well see these cell phone photos is not enough to discourage teens -- then we really have a problem on our hands.
Thu, 26 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600
"We've got to have equal rights for everyone," he went on. "I'm very, very proud to live in ... a country who, for all its toughness, creates courageous artists."
Sean Penn calling on us to repent our evil ways and turn to the good -- but who represents the good? "Courageous artists" like himself.
Narrow, intolerant, zealous, self-congratulatory. If that's not pontificating without portfolio what is?
Meanwhile on Monday, 3,000 miles away on the opposite coast, the the next Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, was taking center stage.
I have always felt for Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop Dolan's predecessor, because he had an enormously difficult job to do: clean up the financial mess created by beloved Cardinal John O'Connor. No one who lacks the power to print money (note to Obama: maybe not even you) can spend more than they take in for very long. Restructuring of parishes and the closing of some schools was an inevitability. In such times, intelligent, dutiful managerial competence counts for a lot. But it doesn't win you many hearts and minds. Not nearly as many as it should.
At the press conference introducing Archbishop Dolan, the good cardinal inadvertently illustrated this truth. When Archbishop Dolan commented that Cardinal Egan had informed him more school closings were not likely, Cardinal Egan quickly intervened to justify his record: "I told the archbishop all the statistics, and they are great."
The statistics were great. Put that on your epitaph.
Archbishop Dolan, who The New York Times still feels obliged to explain is actually Catholic (aka "hardline" and/or "conservative"), is no shrinking violet. He wrote a beautiful column in 2004 explaining that he was deeply concerned by any politician who promoted abortion, whether Catholic or not, because abortion is a civil rights issue, not a denominational one.
But when asked his strategy for recruiting new seminarians -- the future Catholic priests -- he said simply, "Happiness attracts."
WABC news tried to get a bystander to comment on the Irish archbishops's Spanish (or lack thereof), but the Hispanic New Yorker responded, "I just noticed the smile."
But it's more than the smile -- it's the big, head-thrown-back belly laugh that reassures. Dolan is an archbishop who looks good in a miter and knows it. He stomps around with his bishop's staff like a man who knows that we need larger-than-life heroes who nonetheless care about our everyday lives. In his first statement Archbishop Dolan offers us the opposite of the Sean Penns of this world: "my life, my heart, my soul" -- love without pontifications, without conditions.
But never a love that lowers its standards. Rather, one that raises aspirations above this world.
The actor and the archbishop, unbeknownst to each other, squared off this week -- the first of many contests between these two massive opposing forces in our culture:
One, a self-confident, self-appointed, culture-creating liberalism anointing itself the spokesperson for all that is good about America, and denouncing as evil all that opposes its latest bromides.
And a faith leader who understands how hard it is to actually do good in the world, to believe in good, to have a faith that goes outside the mainstream, the conventional, the self-congratulatory.
Just two days before Lent. Could God Himself have scripted it better?
Fri, 20 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Greta: "Do you have a philisophical or religious opposition to (contraception)?"
Bristol: "No I don't want to get into detail about that -- I think abstinence is, like, the ... I don't know how to put it, like ... the main -- everyone should be abstinent or whatever, but it's not realistic at all."
Bristol: "Because it's more and more accepted now ... among kids my age."
(Note: I wonder if Bristol really thinks sexual virtue is harder these days than it was, say, 30 years ago when her mom and I were teenagers. That would be circa 1979. I could tell Bristol some stories -- the sexual revolution has been swinging pretty hard for a good long time now.)
Greta ask: "How do you change that?"
Bristol: "To see stories like this, and to see other stories of teen moms. ... You should just wait 10 years; it would be so much easier."
Of course the "not realistic" comment that blared across the headlines was only a stray comment by Bristol in the middle of a long interview. The headline vultures descended upon it because the "A-word" causes so many people to snort, see red and charge into battle against the bare idea that chastity is even a possibility for teens (or anyone else). We all know that sexual passion is difficult to constrain and direct. But there is something strangely dehumanizing about the way so many adults are so eager to insist that sexual self-control is actually impossible.
That, of course, was not Bristol's purpose. She wanted to emerge on national TV as an advocate against teen pregnancy.
"It's so much easier if you're married, and if you have a house and career. ... It's not a situation you want to strive for," the teen mom said.
But the headlines and the interview make clear that Bristol, perhaps, did not achieve her goal
For one thing, there's that darn baby looking so cute on TV, and the young mother apparently unfazed by it all.
Then there's her mom, the governor of Alaska, dropping by the TV studio to sing Bristol's praises: Bristol is "a strong and bold young woman, and she's an amazing mom. ... We're very proud of Bristol."
Gov. Palin goes so far as to suggest that, so long as the babies and their young moms are taken care of by families -- "five generations" of Palins are helping Bristol out -- and not by government, then well maybe it's not really anybody's business.
Despite Bristol's best intentions (and I don't doubt her sincerity), it's pretty hard to emerge from the interview asking hard questions about teen motherhood. And the subject of being married -- rather than merely old -- before having a baby doesn't seem to really come up.
I don't know if abstinence is "realistic." I do know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2002, 31 percent of girls Bristol's age (18 and 19) had never had sexual intercourse. In fact, almost one out of 10 adults between 20 and 30 has abstained from sex. Abstinence-until-marriage is definitely not statistically "normal" behavior in this day and age (nor was it when I was a teen), but does that make it "unrealistic"?
I don't know. But watching Bristol speak raises for me another more pressing question: Is it really wise for an entire society to adopt the point of view of the average inarticulate 18-year-old kid?
Wed, 04 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Let's admit it: This whole stimulus thing is just a guess -- the best guess our best and brightest can come up with. Use government to force consumer spending that will prevent a severe contraction and restore investor confidence and a normally functioning economy. Well, it's a theory; it's a shot.
Privately, the best and the brightest admit that if it works, this stimulus strategy will likely cause hyperinflation down the road. Running $2 trillion to $3 trillion deficits annually will do that. But hyperinflation, they whisper, is better than the alternative: another Great Depression.
So we have to do something. Unless confidence is restored, eventually, even the U.S. government (which produces no wealth but depends on the private economy for its spending) will run out of money, and investors will stop funding our deficits by buying U.S. Treasury bills.
Our modern sophisticated economy runs on trust. So does our political system.
In times of crisis, Americans rally behind our president. The latest Gallup Poll shows that 64 percent of Americans say they approve of the job President Obama is doing, far more than voted for him.
Keeping the trust of the American people in the difficult times ahead will be critical to President Obama and to our nation. The presidency consists mostly of words. As President Bush found, once you lose the trust of the American people, you're finished as an effective leader, because nothing you say matters.
Here's the best advice I can give this president, for whom I did not vote but who is my president now: Waste this crisis.
Do not misuse it. Do not spin it. Do not give off even the faintest whiff of appearing to use this economic crisis to gain votes for some other end, any other end, no matter how worthy that end seems to you and to your advisers.
The House Democrats' stimulus package is a disaster because it is a lie. How can a bill that spends most of the money in 2010 and many years beyond be a stimulus package for an economy collapsing now? The Senate version is only marginally better -- it promises to spend about three-fourths of the money it borrows from the American people by October 2010. But this is still an unacceptable gap between the alleged purpose and the reality.
Hidden in both bills are very large paybacks to political interest groups -- another clear disaster.
"I see multiple motivations in this bill, based on the language," Brett Glass, founder of Lariat.net, an Internet service provider in Wyoming, told The New York Times. "I do see a motivation to stimulate the economy. I think that's a good thing. I also see a motivation to hand out money to certain large corporations that are very good at lobbying." And Glass is speaking only of the $9 billion to expand rural Internet access -- sometime around 2013.
If this is a stimulus package, be rigorous. Keep in the stimulus bill all the spending on construction and other reasonable projects that can be spent by the government in 2009. Take the remaining money and give a check to every man, woman and child in the form of a debit card that can be spent anywhere a consumer chooses between now and Dec. 31, 2009.
Make your actions match your words, President Obama, so we can trust you.
Waste this crisis, Mr. President. Please.
Thu, 29 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600
The president is not punishing failed and spendthrift executives. He is rewarding them with billions -- nay, trillions -- of taxpayer dollars.
Obama is betting that a little ritual public humiliation will distract the public's attention from the really key fact: The plan to shovel money to failed corporate executives is now Obama's and the Democratic Congress' plan. Yes, I know it began as President Bush's plan, but Obama and the Democrats have eschewed change in favor of continuity with one of George W. Bush's worst ideas.
And there's only one question Americans really care about in the new "recovery plan": Will it work -- restoring economic growth and adding jobs?
From what I have seen so far, I do not think so. I think the current administration is operating on a set of old ideas that are going to fail on a massive scale, in part because this massive new government spending will not be targeted, as promised to the American people, on the current economic crisis.
Instead, huge sums will be used to pay back interest groups that helped elect congressmen and senators and, yes, the White House. This is not a stimulus package. It is a wish list for the hard-left special interests.
So Barney Frank's banker friends get a little help from Washington. Planned Parenthood, which donates millions to political candidates, gets paid back with instant access to taxpayer financing abroad. So "community organizers" like ACORN become eligible for billions under a new "neighborhood stabilization program."
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., told FOX News on Tuesday that the money amounted to a "payoff" for groups' political activities in the last election. Huge sums are added to shore up careless state governments that have overspent during the good times, subsidizing fiscal irresponsibility on a massive scale.
There is a powerful case for using government to shore up the nation's banking system, which has a special role in the nation's economy -- unless private lending takes place, the economy will collapse. But by following Bush's lead in expanding the "recovery package" to include bailouts to auto executives, congressional Democrats sacrificed the idea of targeting money to banks.
Now powerful Democrats appear to have given up on the idea of targeting government money to the economic crisis at all. Don't believe me? Read the Congressional Budget Office's Jan. 26 report. Just a little more than one-tenth of the $800 billion in extra spending appropriated by Congress in the House bill would be spent in fiscal 2009, according to the CBO. So, for example, of the $59.5 billion in highly touted new transportation infrastructure, very little would get into the economy this year. And only 85 percent would be spent by 2013 . Or look at the tenfold spending on rural broadband service. "Five to seven years" is the timetable the CBO lays out for spending that so-called stimulus money.
The New York Times' David Brooks notes that the Obama plan amounts to $223,000 for each job allegedly created. So for every $50,000 a new worker might earn, $175,000 will go to government waste and political payback?
Is this what change looks like?
As Rahm Emanuel confessed in November, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
I repeat the key question: Will it work? If, after Bush and the Democrats spent $700 billion and Obama and the new Democrats spend $800 billion, the economy is still in shambles six months to a year from now, the American people will know the answer.
And they will know who is responsible.
Fri, 23 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Is this what seriousness of purpose sounds like?
"This," our new commander in chief told us, "is the price and promise of citizenship. ... With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy current, and endure what storms may come," so that, as our new president of stern and noble mien promised, our grandchildren will say "we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
Let no one say that President Obama has not given us fair warning: The next few years are going to be, as my dad used to say, character-building.
The morning after the uplifting rhetoric brings, for many of us, the hangover: Obama's first act promises to be an executive order lifting the so-called Mexico City rule -- a ban on taxpayer money to international organizations that promote and provide abortions -- or so reports the Los Angeles Times.
The New York Times reports that President Obama is also considering overturning a new Department of Health and Human Services regulation, the "provider conscience rule," that expands legal protections for nurses, doctors and health care providers and clinics that have moral or religious objections to providing abortions. Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and seven states have filed a lawsuit challenging the new conscience protections in federal court.
Those who urge Obama to overturn the provider conscience rule offer two contradictory arguments: One is that new protections are unnecessary because other federal regulations such as the Weldon Amendment already protect nurses and doctors from being penalized or discriminated against for refusing to participate in abortions. On the other hand, they are also asking judges to stay implementation of the rule immediately, lest "confusion and chaos" -- as Connecticut's attorney general Richard Blumenthal put it -- reign.
The Hartford Courant gave a particularly breathtaking display of internal inconsistency by editorializing both that the new rule is an "assault on women's rights with an eleventh-hour rule that could keep rape victims from getting emergency contraception," as well as based on "imagining problems where there are none."
How can redundant regulations against imaginary acts of persecution wreak such havoc?
An inauguration is a moment of new hope and shared joy. Thanks to President Obama, the morning after will be the day your tax dollars will begin flowing to international organizations that perform and promote abortions.
As thousands descend on Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22 for the annual March for Life, President Obama is making it all too clear: "Hope and virtue" will not stand in the way of the inevitable march of death disguised as progress. The protests of people like me won't matter that much to him.
But will the prominent pro-Obama voices who so vigorously promised that good Catholics may in good conscience vote for him raise their voices loudly at this misuse of taxpayer dollars for international abortions? And if they do, will President Obama care?
Wed, 14 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Then something wonderfully and distinctively American happened: "Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said that he was no bigot and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue who was at the same time a friend to his country."
So the next morning America's founding fathers bowed their heads as an Episcopal clergyman prayed fervently "for America, for the Congress, for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston" (then under attack).
"It was enough," said John Adams, "to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, pacifist Quakers of Philadelphia."
More than 20 years later, Ben Franklin (who was not exactly a charter member of the religious right of his day) reminded his fellow Americans at the Constitutional Convention:
"In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?"
After all, in the days of the Declaration and war for independence, "we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered."
"Do we imagine," Franklin asked, "that we no longer need his assistance?"
Watching President-elect Obama laboriously attempt to assemble the most inclusive prayer team ever (a woman, a gay bishop and a Baptist preacher -- isn't there a joke like that?), one has to feel anew our enduring need of divine assistance in holding together this war-weary and culture-war-torn great nation.
Episcopalian Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who will pray at President-elect Obama's request on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, has been reading through inaugural prayers in history. He is "horrified" at how "specifically and aggressively Christian they were," according to The New York Times.
Yes, it is true that even back in 1953, Father Patrick O'Boyle prayed, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (alongside a prayer by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver). At FDR's 1945 inaugural, Monsignor John Ryan prayed, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ... Through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Oh, the horror of it all!
Bishop Robinson may have inadvertently relieved some folks' minds by making it clear that his prayer "will not be a Christian prayer and I won't be quoting Scripture or anything like that."
Robinson is ruminating on alternatives such as praying to "the God of our many understandings," a language he said he learned during his stint in alcohol rehab.
Perhaps in the future, taking Christian pity on the poor Michael Newdows of the world, presidential prayers can be re-addressed: To Whom It May Concern.
Thu, 08 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600
In 1980, Ronald Reagan changed all that. His coattails brought an unexpected swing of 12 seats that put the GOP in the majority 53 to 46. An era began. In a few days, that era will end, as President-elect Obama's inauguration ushers in a (likely) sustained period of strong Democratic majorities in the Congress and control of the White House.
An era is ending. It's a good time for reflection: What did conservatives accomplish?
No, we did not shrink the size of government. Federal government spending has grown from almost $600 billion per year in 1980 to almost $3 trillion in 2008.
The greatest achievement of my lifetime is the defeat of communism. Jihadism has its terrors, but they are limited (as President-elect Obama pointed out in the campaign) compared to the old communist threat. Today, no foreign force currently on the planet can credibly threaten to topple the democracies of the world, including the United States. That's a pretty big change.
Along with communism we triumphed over socialism. Everyone now agrees that some form of market economics beats massive central planning in generating wealth. (Ask the Chinese.) Even the current massive downturn is unlikely to completely erase this signal achievement. Marginal tax rates will never (cross your fingers) return to the confiscatory and self-defeating 70-percent-plus levels of my youth.
Obama's victory marks the consolidation of another conservative triumph: the acceptance of God in the public square. President-elect Obama, like most Americans, is comfortable bringing his faith into his conversation. Think about what a triumph this is for conservatism: The most ideologically liberal candidate perhaps ever elected is also a president who squarely comes down on the side of openness to religious language -- to acknowledging the American faith tradition in public.
Obama's inauguration reminds us: Liberalism's once fanatical attempt to rigidly turn the First Amendment into a club that government could use to beat back religious expression -- failed. A revival of the grand American tradition of religious liberty, in contrast to the French ideal of forced public secularization, is (I hope) one of the conservative movement's lasting achievements. The conservative movement brought forth not only a generation of intellectuals (like Richard John Neuhaus) to clothe the naked public square, but also a new network of public interest law firms to defend religious liberty, from Christian organizations such as the Alliance Defense Fund to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which defends all faith traditions' rights.
And in the end Democrats got tired of losing elections because their intellectual elites wanted to suppress the "G" word in public.
On life and marriage issues, the most important thing is that they are still around. In America, unlike, say, in Canada or Europe, marriage is still viewed as an important social institution for protecting children, and being opposed to an abortion is an intellectually and morally respectable position. Partial-birth abortions are at least theoretically banned. Conscience clauses, such as the Weldon Amendment, protect people, organizations and facilities from discrimination by the government if they refuse to participate in the abortion choice.
These are not small achievements. They are, of course, far less than I hoped for at age 20, surveying the glittering new world that the election of Ronald Reagan had opened up.
Obama Dems: Your turn at bat.
Wed, 24 Dec 2008 00:00:00 -0600
In the LA Times, nation editor Katha Pollitt called it "an insulting choice" to Obama's supporters. After all, how can a man who urged his flock to vote for Proposition 8 in California, which overturned a state Supreme Court decision imposing gay marriage, be invited to pray at Obama's inauguration? Are not those of us who worked to overturn Proposition 8 just like people who oppose interracial marriage? Isn't such a person supposed to be radioactively bigoted -- akin to George Wallace, barring the schoolroom door with dogs and raised billy clubs?
Yet here is President-elect Obama, in a fit of patriotic grace, busting the hard left's new narrative line about how scary it is that voters are "taking away rights" by voting to support marriage. Here the president-elect instead is acting as if gay marriage is ... what? Well, an important moral issue about which we disagree, not the dividing line between good and evil running through every human heart. (Memo to gay marriage supporters: Don't worry, Obama will still nominate the Supreme Court justices most likely to impose gay marriage for you across these 50 states.)
The president of the United State is the chief executive, but he is also head of state -- the symbol of our nation. The inauguration of a new president is the time we come together to celebrate the nation we share. We do this every four years, and have done so ever since any of us can remember -- though we often forget how extraordinary this moment is:
Every four years -- or eight years at most -- the single most powerful man on the planet (the one with his finger on the nuclear button) and the leader of the most powerful country on the planet (for the moment, anyway, by the grace of God), voluntarily hands the keys of this power over to an untried stranger, often his political enemy. Two hundred and twenty years of peaceful transfer of power as a result of a free and fair election -- well, that is something to celebrate together.
President-elect Obama understands that. So does Rev. Rick Warren.
And not only Obama. Rick Warren has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service on Jan. 19, 2009, at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Black leaders generally, it appears, are not going to stand for the idea that Rick Warren or the 70 percent of black Californians who voted for Proposition 8 are just civil rights bigots.
Symbols matter. They are the outward visible signs that the invisible things that matter most are real.
The things that divide us are great and important, and are worth fighting about. But they are worth fighting about, in part, because this thing that unites us -- this idea we all share called America -- is worth fighting for.
And Inauguration Day is the day for both sides in the culture war to lay down their arms. (Don't worry, it's only for a moment.)
Wed, 17 Dec 2008 00:00:00 -0600
"The Gods of the Copybook Headings," as Rudyard Kipling put it 100 years ago, promise that much.
Bankrupt. Some $50 billion vanishes because one man decides, inexplicably, to steal rather than to invest. And why in the world did he do it? Bernard Madoff was a wealthy man, the former head of the Nasdaq exchange. Why engage in a Ponzi scheme when the one thing you know about Ponzi schemes is that they must come tumbling down?
"They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings. So we worshipped the gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things."
Yes, we've all been caught up in the perpetual promise of "the Fuller Life," which as the poet says, "started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife."
We are still being promised "abundance for all, By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul."
The new car czar, according to Nancy Pelosi, should have the power to force General Motors into bankruptcy if the company does not come up with an allegedly "viable" recovery plan.
"So," says my son -- who, granted, is no financial genius but has an acute eye for the obvious -- "the people who are trillions of dollars in debt are going to tell the people who are billions of dollars in debt how to pay it back?"
Bankrupt. The latest news from Bloomberg is that Jefferson County, Ala., may be on the brink of the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, in part because the expert firm hired to advise the city on how to structure its bonds may have benefited from a sweetheart deal with the recently arrested mayor of Birmingham. Only the mayor, who previously served on the Jefferson County Commission, stands accused of any illegalities so far. But the same firm was hired by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- Obama's new secretary of commerce -- after donating $100,000 to Richardson's political interests.
No one is alleging Richardson did anything illegal, either. But isn't that the problem? When government controls the market, corporate cronies buy access into taxpayer cash flows in exchange for the paltriest sums of campaign cash. Beats the heck out of making a real profit by producing valuable goods and services doesn't it? Just ask General Motors.
Or for that matter the United Auto Workers, which is counting on Team Obama to protect its interests, including creating "job banks" to pay workers to remain idle.
"And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: 'If you don't work you die.'"
Bankrupt. The magnificent American economy is visibly grinding to a halt because people do not know whom to trust with their money. Hoarding Treasury notes at close to 0 percent interest is the contemporary equivalent of sticking gold under the mattress: It cannot produce the economic growth we need.
"Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew ..."
Lured into the idea that risk could be eliminated by sophisticated investment strategies (Split-strike, anyone? Bond insurance perhaps?), even the biggest players in the market neglected the simplest of the copybook headings: Trust but verify. Markets do not work when players who make up the markets begin to fantasize that thought: Work -- is not necessary.
And so, here we are:
"When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins, As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn, The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!"