Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Obama Plan To Spy On Doctors Cancelled. . . For Now

Sometimes, legitimate ideas die as a result of guilt by association. For example, you can bet that Pop Tarts would not be as popular today if Ted Bundy or Hitler gave them a rousing endorsement. And sometimes, good ideas get twisted by bad people. That’s the case with Obama’s latest attack on doctors, it was good idea perverted. Fortunately, they are abandoning it. . . for now.

The idea in question stems from the problem that more and more doctors are refusing to take Medicare/Medicaid patients. This has become such a problem that there is an acute doctor shortage developing for these patients. I’ve discussed the main reason for this before (LINK): doctors lose money on Medicare patients because the government doesn’t fully reimburse them.

In any event, whether the reason is simple economics or the crushing imposition of paperwork and other requirements/limitations imposed when doctors accept Medicare/Medicaid patients, fear of being ensnared in a Medicare/ Medicaid fraud through some paper work error, or just prejudice, it is a solid and good idea to determine the reason doctors won’t see these patients. Why? Because the government has promised to provide Medicare/Medicaid patients with medical care and it can’t do that if doctors won’t see them. Therefore, the government must get to the root of the problem and fix it. Thus, investigating this is a good idea.

Also, the mere fact that such an investigation is done secretly does not make it evil. Sometimes these things are best conducted secretly. Perhaps the only way to get at the truth is to conduct a secret investigation. Maybe doctors will be more honest in “blind” interviews than they would be on surveys. It’s the same thing with secret shoppers, where the only way to truly judge service is to keep the store from knowing which customers are rating them.

So far, so good. But here’s the catch. . . trust.

If Obama had been a trustworthy fellow, then I might say that conservatives are making too big of a deal about his plan to secretly call 4,185 doctors’ offices in nine states. But Obama is not a trustworthy fellow, and I doubt very much this study was planned to actually investigate the problem. Instead, I think it was intended to generate data for another ObamaCare anti-doctor campaign, e.g. “look how bad these evil doctors are, one even called Medicaid patients ‘filthy.’”

And let me give you the main reason for my suspicion other than Obama’s history and the fact that generating such data would be in his political interests: I can see no value in the type of information this study would be likely to collect. Indeed, the only way this study method works is if doctors are some form of James Bond villain, who would lie on official surveys but couldn't stop themselves from blurting out the truth to random people on the phone: “well, I would never say this on a survey, but you seem trustworthy Mr. John Smith, so let me tell you what’s really going on before I turn you away mwhooo ha ha!!” This is why the whole premise of this study is laughable -- unless you realize its real goal is to goad doctors' receptionists into make unflattering comments about Medicare/Medicaid.

And thus, a good idea is perverted.

Fortunately, HHS has canceled the program after doctors complained. But if history is any judge, they will try again. In the meantime, we should remain vigilant for more attempts by Team Obama to generate politically helpful data. In fact, coming on the heels of the “gun walking” scandal, this is starting to look like a trend.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Video Game Violence: What About The Parents?!

Being a huge proponent of freedom of speech AND a believer that videogames, television, advertising and films can negatively distort people’s perceptions of reality, you would think I would be torn about yesterday’s 7-2 decision by the Supreme Court striking down a law that prevents minors from buying violent videogames. But I’m not. The court got it wrong, pure and simple.

The issue before the Supreme Court was a California law that makes it illegal for retailers to sell violent videogames to minors. The law defines “violent” as games that depict the “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” It carried fines up to a $1,000.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia struck down the law, saying that the First Amendment applies to “entertainment,” and thus, videogames are afforded the same degree of protection as books and movies. He conceded that states do have a legitimate interested in protecting children, but he held that “does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.” And since “disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression,” the law had to be struck down. Indeed, by way of comparison, he noted that television and children’s books throughout history have depicted violence:
“Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore. Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed.”
If we were talking about adults, then I would agree with the court. Free speech is one of our most vital freedoms. It is the way we determine which ideas have value and which don’t. It is how we test our beliefs. And our society is more than strong enough to allow idiots to present stupid, disgusting or wrong ideas without fear that our country will collapse.

But we’re not talking about adults, and that’s where the court went wrong.

The court should have upheld the law for one simple reason: children do not have freedom of speech rights. If they did, then public education would be virtually impossible as children would have a right to decide which ideas they wanted to be exposed to and which they didn’t. Similarly, parenting would become impossible whenever the state got involved, for example at a child custody hearing, as children would have all the rights of adults.

Justice Thomas made this point in his dissent where he noted that the First Amendment does not “include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.” In other words, children's rights get exercised through their guardians, and the state is well within its rights to say that children may not engage in free speech, or commerce, or gun ownership or anything else without the approval of those guardians.

Putting this another way, the court’s question of whether disgust is a significant enough basis to restrict the child’s freedom of speech rights is a false premise because the child has no such rights in the first place. Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer (the other dissenter) backed this point when he noted that the state was not trying to bar the minor having such material, it only required the approval of a guardian:
“The statute prevents no one from playing a video game, it prevents no adult from buying a video game, and it prevents no child or adolescent from obtaining a game provided a parent is willing to help.”
Breyer also made the less principled, but quite logical point that since the court still forbids children from buying pornography, the court has created an incredible hypocrisy here:
“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”
The dissent is correct. This was a mistake.

And let me be clear, I’m not siding with the “what about the children” crowd. That’s sophist nonsense used to hide true motivations and is usually advanced by busybodies who want to rule over others lives. What I’m talking about here is respecting the right of parents/guardians to make decisions regarding their children. If this law had tried to ban children from being given such material, then I would have supported the court’s decision. But it didn’t. All it did instead was try to prevent retailers from circumventing the rights of guardians/parents to make decisions for their children. That is well within the constitution and no rights are violated by such a statute.

How can we legitimately tell parents that raising kids is their responsibility when we take away the state’s power to help parents enforce those decisions.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Time To Change Gay Marriage Strategy?

This is clearly my week for endearing myself to religious conservatives, so let's go for the unhappy trifecta! I think the fight against gay marriage is lost. Don't get me wrong, I'm still opposed to it, but I also think it's time to consider a change of strategy.

I’ve explained before why I oppose gay marriage. To summarize my position, the government cannot grant rights in a vacuum. If gays are given the rights of married couples, then those rights must come at the expense of other people’s rights. In this case, the rights the government would take away are (1) the rights of employers, who would become legally obligated to extend partnership benefits to gay couples, (2) churches, which could no longer refuse to recognize such marriages, and (3) taxpayers, who would be forced to bear the burden of subsidizing these new marriages through the government benefits that become available to married couples.

Thus, to extend marriage rights to gays, the government will take the property rights of businesses, the right to freedom of religious belief from churches, and will impose more burdens on the over-stretched taxpayers. I can see no justification for doing this based on a group that defines itself by its conduct rather than some innate characteristic. In other words, gays aren’t gay unless they act upon those impulses -- unlike blacks who are black no matter what they do. Thus, being gay is by definition a choice. And while gays may claim being gay is an impulse they cannot control, so is bestiality and serial killing, yet gays would not suggest extending rights to those groups. Thus, their argument is not principled and cannot support their claim.

Consequently, I oppose gay marriage.

And indeed, my fears are already being played out in England, where the government is forcing churches to provide equal services to gay couples and to hire gay employees, no matter what the church’s view on the morality of homosexuality might be. Consider this bit of incredible double-speak by The Economist explaining why this does not violate the freedom of religious belief:
“[The government] was not questioning the right of religious bodies to follow their own beliefs when hiring priests or imams; it merely wanted to clarify that, in recruiting for non-religious jobs (accountants, for example), churches must obey the law and refrain from discrimination against gays.”
I wonder if they would feel the same about the NAACP being forced to hire white racists, so long as they weren’t forced to hire them for their most senior positions?

In any event, on to the issue at hand. I think the writing is on the wall. Each liberal state, like New York, will slowly adopt gay marriage provisions. The conservative states are unlikely to at this time. However, even the conservative states will eventually cave in. For one thing, libertarians have wrongly fallen for the one-sided “we just want freedom” argument and have not considered the rights being taken. Moderates do not find homosexuality immoral and thus see no reason to oppose it -- a flawed bit of logic in American society, i.e. that having no reason to oppose something means a right thereto should exist. Thus, combining liberals, moderates and a chunk of the conservative ranks will be more than enough to eventually get gay rights passed.

What’s more, the pressure will increase when the world doesn't end. Little will change as a result of gay marriage laws. Cities won’t erupt into panic or fall into Sodom-like levels of debauchery and God’s not going to turn everyone in Boston into salt. . . though he should for several reasons. A small number of gays will marry, giving further proof they are only 1-2% of the population and not 10% as Kinsey claimed, and few people will even notice the difference unless they work in their firm’s HR department. If the world doesn’t end, then even conservative states will begin to wonder what the big deal is. And I suspect it will only be a matter of time before they follow suit.

So the thing to do now is to reconsider the strategy. And to do that, we need to consider what the goals are. If the goal is to change public perceptions about homosexuality, then a massive public relations campaign will be in order to explain why it should bother average Americans that there might be gays lurking in neighboring homes. This will be very difficult unless places like New York implode. Thus, a better strategy might be to figure out whose rights will be infringed upon and work to pass laws protecting those rights. For example, I would suggest legislation that:
(1) Prevents employers, businesses or landlords from being forced to recognize any marital arrangement they consider outside their moral beliefs and specifically granting these employers, businesses or landlords the right to discriminate against those types of marriages. Unfortunately, this would probably require a Constitutional change.

(2) Prevents churches from having to recognize any relationship, hire any person, or extend any right, privilege or benefit to any person where such an act would violate the church's religious doctrine. This would be consistent with the First Amendment and would probably work.
A better approach, however, might be to get the government out of the marriage business entirely. Let me ask this, has it helped or hurt the institution of marriage that the government has been recognizing and affirming marriages? I would say marriage is in much worse shape now that the government is involved -- as with everything else the government seeks to help. By making the government blind to marriage and returning this institution to churches, it would be entirely up to the churches and private employers, businesses, landlords and individuals if they choose to recognize and/or favor marriage.

This may sound radical, as indeed I thought it was when I first heard it, but it might be a good solution. It gets the government out of deciding what is moral and what isn't and away from social engineering. It also returns the role of the regulation of marriage to the churches, and thereby makes both stronger institutions again. Churches could require things like pre-marriage counseling, a waiting period, and consideration of numerous things the government doesn't ask anyone to think about. Indeed, this last point could be critical as removing the government from marriage would force people to take more care in arranging their affairs (e.g. inheritance, care of children in the event of death or divorce, etc.), things people now assume the government will do for them automatically. This should certainly force people to go into marriage with their eyes open.

Maybe a little bit of independence would be a good thing for all concerned?


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Sunday, June 26, 2011

2012 Contender: Michele Bachmann

On social issues, Michele Bachmann is solidly on the Religious Right. On economic issues, it’s not clear what she believes. She excels at political theater and inflammatory rhetoric, using words like “Marxist,” “socialist” and “gangster” liberally against all her opponents -- left and right. But I see little substance, and what I see is decidedly pro-Big Business.

1. Personal Background. Bachmann grew up as a Democrat, but switched parties in college when she didn’t like Gore Vidal “mock[ing] the Founding Fathers” in his 1973 novel Burr. She became political praying at abortion clinics. Between 1988-1993, she worked for the IRS as a tax collection attorney. She served in the Minnesota State Senate before becoming the third woman to represent Minnesota in Congress. She has five children and was a foster mother to 23 teenagers.

2. Social Conservatism. Social conservatism appears to be Bachmann’s primary motivating concern:
Abortion. Bachmann got her start in politics praying outside abortion clinics. As a Minnesota state senator, she introduced a constitutional amendment to ban the use of state funds for abortion. In Congress, she co-sponsored bills (1) to ban Planned Parenthood’s funding, (2) to make it a crime to take minors across state lines to have an abortion, (3) to ban federal funding for abortion, (4) to declare that life begins at conception, and (5) to give fetuses equal rights under the 14th Amendment. She supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortion except in the cases of rape or incest.

Gays. In 2003, Bachmann proposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. In 2004, she tried to get a same-sex marriage ban on the referendum ballot. In 2005, she tried again with the proposed constitutional amendment. Each effort failed. She supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. She has voted against extending employment discrimination laws to gays. Also, related to this issue, her husband owns a Christian counseling clinic which apparently seeks to convert gays to heterosexuality.

Creationism. Bachmann supports teaching intelligent design.
3. Economics. Bachmann’s economic policies lack substance. She doesn’t have a website yet (a red flag considering she’s been running for President for years), which means we have no economic plan to consider. Aside from such a plan, her legislative record is scant, contradictory, and filled with meaningless votes and gestures. It’s rare that she drafted legislation to get her views made into law, she was never a deciding vote on any issue, and there's no evidence she can build coalitions to get legislation moving:
● As a state senator, she proposed amending Minnesota's constitution to add a taxpayer’s bill of rights, based on Colorado’s TABOR. This went nowhere.

● In 2005, she blasted Tom Pawlenty’s proposed 75 cent per pack surcharge on cigarettes, but she ultimately voted for it.

● She opposed the Wall Street bailout bills (TARP and TALP) in the form they passed. Instead, she advocated suspending the accounting rules that require banks to value mortgages at their fair market value -- this would have artificially made banks appear solvent. I found no evidence she introduced legislation to back her proposal.

● She advocated breaking up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and barring its executives from receiving excessive compensation or golden parachutes, but I found no evidence she introduced legislation to back this up.

● Bachmann opposed the auto bailout bill in the form it passed. She instead proposed an alternative bailout with additional conditions that set benchmarks for reducing debt and renegotiating labor deals. Again, I found no legislation.

● Bachmann voted against the first $825 billion stimulus (Jan 2009) and the third $60 billion stimulus (Sept. 2009). But, she voted for the second $192 billion stimulus (July 2009).

● Bachmann voted against expanding the student loan program. It passed.

● Bachmann opposed increasing the minimum wage, which passed.

● In March 2010, Bachmann proposed legislation to bar the government from replacing the dollar. This is already illegal, and her bill went nowhere.
4. Big Business v. Main Street. Bachmann joined the Tea Party movement, but much of her legislative effort has been decidedly pro-Big Business. Note that she didn’t actually oppose the auto or Wall Street bailouts, she just wanted them done differently. Her Wall Street plan was the one advocated by most of the big Wall Street investment firms. She also voted against regulating the subprime market in 2007. Moreover:
● In 2008, Bachmann coauthored a bill with Democrat Tim Mahoney to remove statutory damages against credit card companies for abusive debt collection practices.

● In 2011, she joined other Republicans in advocating the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law on the basis that “Dodd-Frank grossly expanded the federal government beyond its jurisdictional boundaries. It gave Washington bureaucrats the power to interpret and enforce the legislation with little oversight.” But that’s simply wrong. Dodd-Frank was written by Wall Street insiders to give the appearance of creating a financial regulatory scheme without actually changing anything, and the Democrats/Republicans are playing their constituents for chumps on this. A Tea Party person should have recognized this.
5. ObamaCare. Bachmann introduced a bill with Rep. Steve King to repeal ObamaCare. She later criticized Republican leadership for not shutting down the government until Obama agreed to the repeal (and defunding Planned Parenthood) -- after originally supporting the deal to avert the shutdown. That’s grandstanding.

Her own version of healthcare reform is standard Big Business Republican rhetoric: let insurers compete across state lines, increase health savings accounts and tort reform.

6. Social Security/Medicare. Bachmann has called for phasing out Social Security and Medicare, except for people already “in the system.” But then she opposed the part of Paul Ryan’s budget that does that for Medicare, stating that she puts an undefined “asterisk” next to her vote for the budget on that issue.

7. Global Warming. Bachmann considers global warming a hoax and opposes cap and trade because carbon dioxide “is not a harmful gas.” In 2008, she and 24 co-sponsors introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. The bill wasn't considered by the committee or brought to a vote. In 2008, she became an advocate for increasing oil and natural gas exploration in ANWR and offshore. She also supports wind, solar and nuclear.

8. Immigration. Bachmann’s position on immigration is to secure the borders and enforce existing laws. I found nothing more. She supports making English the official language.

9. Guns. Bachmann supports gun rights and in 2007 co-sponsored a bill to bar Washington, D.C. from requiring gun registration or trigger locks. In 2009, she co-sponsored a bill to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry their guns in other states.

10. Census. In June 2010, Bachmann said she would boycott the census. She backtracked on this and eventually introduced the American Community Survey Act, which sought to limit the amount of personal information collected by the Census. The bill went nowhere.

I like Bachmann a lot, but I'm concerned. Her preference for political theater over coalition building makes her ineffective. She’s had numerous squabbles in Minnesota and Congress, which resulted in her being kept out of or kicked out of leadership positions, and she has yet to show she can get things done. In this regard, she's much like Ron Paul, casting meaningless protest votes. But I'm most concerned that she appears disinterested in economic issues and that her default position seems to be “do what Big Business wants.” I'll reassess her economic plan when she finishes her website, but based just on what we know now, I have serious doubts she would make a good President or a good conservative President. Right now, she comes across ideologically as George Bush Jr. plus a penchant for indiscriminate bomb throwing.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Commentarama Reading List (Part 1)

Today we unveil part one of the Commentarama Reading List. These are the top conservative/liberal fiction books you should know. Next time, I’ll do nonfiction books. Then we’ll finish with books you should know to be well-versed in our culture. Today’s list contains thirteen conservative and eight liberal fiction books that best represent the ideologies. These are well-known/influential books with strong messages about liberal and conservative principles -- even if that wasn’t the author’s intent. A couple will surprise you.

Interestingly, finding books that genuinely belong on the list was difficult. Lots of books include political messages on particular issues, but few truly represent the ideology. Also, breaking these down as liberal or conservative proved difficult, particularly as many authors intended something other than the message they ended up creating. So feel free to disagree with my selections and let me know what you think should be added or subtracted.... maybe we can get the list to 25? FYI, check (HERE) to see my criteria for separating them.
The Conservative Books
1. 1984, George Orwell (1948): Number one has to be 1984. Although Orwell was a socialist with communist sympathies, 1984 became the seminal anti-collectivist, anti-big government book. No other book so clearly expresses the nightmare of all-powerful government crushing the individual. 1984 also was ahead of its time, foreshadowing everything from political correctness to doublespeak to thoughtcrime to the surveillance society. . . Big Brother is watching. This is a must read for conservatives.

2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1957): A capitalist opus, Rand’s Shrugged graphically portrays the destruction of society by a government that takes from those who can to prop up those who can’t. If economic equations can be expressed as plot points, this novel does that. Singing the virtues of capitalism, competition and self-interest, this book proved prophetic as leftists have systematically tried to repeat the acts of her villains, always with the consequences she predicted. Shrugged is also unapologetic about the fact that socialism is not noble, it is theft and oppression.

3. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1931): Huxley is a bit of a contradiction. An extreme critic of the utopian visions of the 1930s, he was also an LSD user who fell for every whacko and mystical idea. Nevertheless, Brave New World is an essential companion to 1984. BNW replaces Big Brother’s government with a corporate “The World State,” but the effects are just as onerous as individuality is crushed to serve the collective good. Yet, unlike Orwell’s 1984, this crushing isn’t done by the government stick, it’s done by an endless supply of government carrots that placate and sedate the public. As Huxley explained, the civil libertarians who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

4. Animal Farm, George Orwell (1945): Animal Farm is an attack on Stalinism (which Orwell described as “ceaseless arrests, censored newspapers, prowling hordes of armed police”), but inadvertently tells us why no collectivist society will ever work. Without the possibility of personal profit, the animals become indifferent free riders who don’t work but expect to receive the benefit of everyone else’s labor. And the collectivist leaders quickly set themselves above the law, keeping the spoils of society for themselves and using cold-blooded murder to eliminate their opponents and suppress the population. All animals are equal, but some animals are indeed more equal than others.

5. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (1943): Rand’s Fountainhead brought the concept of objectivism to life. This book teaches that the only way for mankind to achieve its potential is to free individuals from the sabotaging/protectionist efforts of others. This is brought home brilliantly as a bevy of lesser architects struggle to prevent genius Howard Roark from achieving his potential and thereby exposing their own lack of talent. In essence, Rand argues that society should let people exercise their talents without restraint and let them succeed or fail on their own merits.

6. Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1955) and The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis (1950): I’ve lumped these together because they’re on the list for the same reasons. Both LOTR and Narnia are favorites of religious conservatives, though some groups complain about “pagan imagery.” But they make our list because they are more than just religious allegories: they advocate classic heroic/ethical values, i.e. the stuff the Greeks described as the noblest parts of humanity -- belief in honor and duty, self-sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, and staunch opposition to evil without trying to justify it as shades of gray. These books define the “personal responsibility” portion of conservative thinking.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960): Listing this as a conservative book may seem counter-intuitive as the Civil Rights Movement has been defined by the left as a liberal idea. But the values taught by Lee outline the conservative view of civil rights -- equality under the law for all individuals combined with moral persuasion to end discrimination. . . not the group rights of liberal thinking. Thus, this book's philosophy does not fit with liberal thinking. Indeed, if this book were published for the first time today, I suspect liberals would attack it as Uncle-Tom-like because of its passive acceptance of the world as it is, i.e. its failure to advocate a government solution.

8. The Trial, Franz Kafka (1925): Kafka is another socialist who gives us a reason to fear the consolidation of power. In particular, The Trial warns us against abandoning the rule of law. In this case, a man is arrested and prosecuted by a government which refuses to show itself to him and which refuses to reveal to him the nature of the crime for which he is being charged. This is more real than you would think.

9. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling (1997): Yep. The Harry Potter series is packed with conservative themes. And while this isn’t a social commentary per se, it does a heck of a job promoting conservative values. For example, as I’ve noted before, the Harry Potter series promotes families, capitalism, individual responsibility, and it shows government to be bureaucratic, corrupt, abusive, manipulative and evil. The series also clearly recognizes the difference between good and evil and doesn’t fall into shades of gray or excusatory psychobabble. These books may not have the gravitas of Lord of the Rings, but their pro-conservative politics are even stronger and more obvious.

10. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1902): A deeply conservative writer, Conrad hated both socialism and direct democracy. Darkness is Conrad’s attack on colonialism and is about good and evil and the dangers to our souls of doing evil deeds. While modern liberals like to lump colonialism in with other supposed “conservative” crimes, its actual roots were liberal -- a utopian belief that government force used benevolently could make natives better people. That’s the same belief that later powered socialism.

11. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1951): The left loves to accuse the right of book burning, primarily because the Nazis burned books and religious groups periodically try to ban one thing or another. But the Nazis were left-wing and the communists were equally guilty, though they were quieter about it. And in terms of modern thinking, it is the left that seeks to ban politically incorrect books, words and ideas from society. Thus, Fahrenheit is a conservative book as it attacks over-bearing governments that control their people by controlling what ideas they can know about.

12. Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961): An anti-war novel about the marginalization of the individual, this book defined the modern view of bureaucracy. Unlike the darker 1984 and The Trial, Catch-22 explores the circular reasoning and absurdity of bureaucracy as the heroes encounter “no win situations” and “double blinds.” This book does have a counter-culture feel however, and could also be seen as liberal, but its theme is conservative.

13. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein (1966): A novel about a lunar colony’s revolt against rule from Earth, with themes of “rational anarchy” and seeing government as non-existent except as the acts of self-responsible individuals, Heinlein’s Moon is considered one of the most influential libertarian novels of the last century. This book is credited with coining the phrase “there’s no free lunch.”
The Liberal Books
1. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair (1906): Jungle defines progressive politics as it exposes the corrupt practices of the American meatpacking industry and complains about the lack of social programs for the poor. Originally published in a socialist newspaper, Sinclair hoped this would encourage a welfare state. Much to his chagrin, the public focused only on his safety complaints about the meat packing industry and ignored his concerns about the poor.

2. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (1928): As mentioned the other day, this book is liberal not because it’s anti-war, but because it’s anti-society. This book is anti-officer, anti-family, anti-church, and anti-traditional “heroic” values like honor, duty, self-sacrifice, courage, and friendship. It is the ultimate expression of selfishness, right down to the indifference to the suffering of their comrades. But this is also an excellent book and it became the prism through which modern society would see war.

3. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922): A retelling of the The Odyssey by avant-garde stream of consciousness writer Joyce, Ulysses dwells on the squalor and monotony of life in 1920s Dublin, Ireland. Originally banned as obscene because a character masturbates, this book was the crown jewel of the modernist movement which revolted against realism, tradition, the Enlightenment, and belief in God.

4. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1939): The story of sharecropping “Okies” from Oklahoma who flee to California after the dust bowl, this story is leftist propaganda about the idealized working poor being exploited by the demonized rich. It advocates unions and the New Deal, though it complains that not enough money was spent by the benevolent government. Still, it’s a good book for understanding the historical context of the New Deal.

5. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003): On the surface, Code seems like nothing more than conspiratorial fiction. But this book highlights the recent style of attacks on traditional values by the left. This book takes a provably wrong theory that insultingly cuts to the core of Christian belief and presents it as fiction “based on” truth, i.e. it pretends it’s true without saying so. This book is the latest form of soft propaganda.

6. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen (1879): Ibsen’s House is not only feminist propaganda, but it heralds the truly selfish thinking that dominates liberal thinking. Ibsen’s heroine not only rejects traditional society, but she walks out on responsibilities she’s undertaken, i.e. her children. Ibsen says he wasn’t trying to create “propaganda” for “the women’s rights movement,” but was instead trying to show the need of every individual to become the person they really are. And apparently that means abandoning your family to find yourself. Welcome to the 1960s. . . one hundred years early.

7. The Stand, Stephen King (1990): The Stand appears on some conservative book lists, but I suggest they look closer. The Stand is anti-capitalist, anti-American-society and deeply anti-military, which it shows to be enthusiastic murders. And while many Christians mistake its message for being pro-Christian, it actually advocates liberalism combined with meekness and mysticism as a substitute for religion.

8. Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1954): Conservatives believe people are good and can be moved to improvement with moral persuasion. Liberals believe people are evil and must be controlled by force. Flies makes the liberal list because it tells us that left on their own, children will become murderous animals for no particular reason, i.e. it views humans as inherently violent and evil.

Thoughts? Additions? Subtractions? Corrections?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Global Warmists Lie About Ocean Levels

No sooner did we discover that the trees are sabotaging global warming, than we get news that global warming enthusiasts are fudging their data to make the oceans appear to be rising, when they aren’t. This has been a bad month for the enthusiasts. In fact, it’s been a bad couple years.

Climate change enthusiasts have had a bad time of late:
1. Their seminal religious text, the Nobel-Prize-winning Fourth Report (2007) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been repeatedly disgraced:
● They had to retract a completely unsupported statement that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035.

● Accurate satellite, balloon and mountain top observations made over the last three decades have not shown any significant change in the long term rate of increase in global temperatures. In fact, global temperatures are currently below the “low end” of the IPCC’s prediction. What’s more, 1999-2008 showed no warming, and certainly not the 0.20 degrees Celsius expected by the IPCC.

● It was revealed that flaws in weather stations wrongly created warming.

● It was revealed that the report wrongly used summer data for winter months to generate warming.

● The IPCC claim that global warming will hurt biodiversity was shown to have no basis -- not to mention that the world’s species are at least one million years old and thus have all been through hundreds of climate cycles.

● They had to retract unsubstantiated fears about threats to the Amazon rainforests;

● The IPCC’s statement that sea level would rise 2.3 mm per year was shown to be based on data collected in a part of Hong Kong that is sinking.
2. Real scientists have debunked much of the enthusiasts claims. For example, despite claims by enthusiasts, CO2 does not constitute 3% of the atmosphere, it actually constitutes 0.037%. What’s more, ice core samples show that we are currently in a low CO2 period compared to earth’s history. Indeed, CO2 levels have been as much as 10 times higher than today. And CO2 changes typically follow temperature changes, i.e. they do not lead temperature changes, and often by hundreds of years.

3. In 2009, the climate “scientists” primarily responsible for tracking global warming were caught fudging their data and formulas and waging a jihad against their opponents (see climategate).

4. In January, IPCC scientist Osvaldo Canziani was listed as an advisor on a report that overstated warming by 1000%, and which was published even after this error was pointed out to the study’s authors. They neither corrected nor noted the error.

5. Last week warming enthusiasts had to back down from claims about warming because it turned out that trees were actually absorbing carbon dioxide. . . as expected.
Now we have the sea level issue. Warming enthusiasts assert that rising sea levels would wipe out islands and coastal cities. The IPCC predicts sea level rises equal to 2.3 meters per century, with 2.7 feet happening this century. But in January 2010, they had to retract this report because of “mistakes in time intervals and inaccurately applied statistics.” Then in May of 2010, a paleogeophysics/geodynamics professor from Stockholm University in Sweden issued a report that observations from around the world showed no rising sea levels in the last 40 years.

So what do you do when the sea just won’t do what you predict? The University of Colorado’s Sea Level Research Group decided to add 0.3 millimeters a year to their sea level figures to create rising sea levels where none exist.

But don’t worry, they assure us, this rising is real. . . you just can’t see it because the land level is rising too. Does this make sense to anyone? If this is true and both land and sea are rising equally, then where is the justification for panicking the world into fighting global warming? And if it’s not true, then this is just another example of poli-scientists fudging their data to make their predictions appear to be true. And if land and sea are rising equally, why add 0.3 millimeters to create the impression that the sea is rising faster than the land?

Do you know what the Sea Level Research Group responded? Come on, we're not adding much.

I kid you not.

(P.S. Sorry for not continuing the 2012 contender series today, but Bachmann is requiring more research than expected. Besides. . . Ronald "Huntsman" Reagan has it all sewn up, right?)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How To Tell Liberal From Conservative Books

I’m working on a Commentarama reading list, which will be published Thursday evening. Before I do that, however, it might be wise to define “liberal” and “conservative,” as these concepts are rather nebulous and easily confused. Indeed, as we saw when National Review and Big Hollywood started listing “conservative” films, most people have no idea what constitutes a liberal or conservative film, and they instead confuse things they like for "conservative" and things they dislike for "liberal."

For starters, let me recommend that you go back and read my article on What Constitutes A Conservative Film. That article lays out the difference between mere conservative elements and actual conservative stories, and how to spot both. In particular, you need to look at the context of how issues are presented and how conflicts are resolved.

Secondly, let me ask: should we judge a book by its content or the author’s intent? Take 1984. Orwell was a committed socialist and even a fan of Soviet communism (until the truth about Stalin’s murderous ways came out, at which point he disavowed the Soviets, but not communism.) Yet, 1984 is the seminal anti-totalitarian text. How can this be? Because Orwell meant 1984 as an attack on Nazism, which he considered a right-wing philosophy and which he didn’t see as being at all like communism. So should we call this a leftist book because Orwell meant to attack what he perceived to be a “conservative” philosophy, or should we call it a conservative book because it attacks leftist oppressive government? I believe we should treat books for what they actually are, not what they are intended.

So how do we separate liberal from conservative books? Well, let’s start with the problem: confusion.

Liberalism and conservatism are often confused for a variety of reasons. For one thing, these ideologies are not always honest about what they believe because they know it will not play to the mainstream. (Liberals in particular use rhetoric that does not match their actions.) This blurs the line. Moreover, sometimes liberals/conservatives take ideological positions on particular issues that they would normally oppose so as to maintain political alliances or because of historical accidents. Also, some people who claim to be liberals/ conservatives really aren’t, and they advocate things that are antithetical to the underlying principles of the ideology. Populists and kooks fall into this category as they shift back and forth between pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Yet these groups are “loud” enough that liberalism/conservatism often gets associated with their views.

More importantly, however, both liberals and conservatives largely see the same problems and injustices within society and thus lay claim to the same issues. This generates further blurring and thereby confusion. However, the two ideologies almost always differ in the solutions they propose. And that is where we must look.

To understand this point, one must realize that both modern liberalism and modern conservatism claim roots in classical liberalism -- although the liberal claim is dishonest. Classical liberalism advocated the rights of the individual against the state. It believed in things like freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion or non-religion, freedom of property, freedom of person, and freedom from conformity. However, those freedoms were not unfettered, as classical liberalism also assumed that personal responsibility was required to exercise those rights and government intervention was allowed when personal responsibility failed. Modern conservatism grew from these roots and largely continues to follow these principles today -- a balancing of individual rights against personal responsibility.

By comparison, modern liberalism adopted the rhetoric of individual rights, but actually disdains those rights. Instead, it advocates collective rights and imposition of a solution by those in authority. This is because modern liberalism really traces its roots back to progressivism, which sought to use government power to fix the ills of society. Moreover, liberalism has disdain for the concept of individual responsibility. Instead, it balances competing group interests.

What this means is that when you get a topic like civil rights, it is propaganda to say that one side cares more than the other about the issue. Indeed, both sides have adopted this as a cause. But they see the issue differently and they advocate very different solutions. For example, the conservative solution is to require equality under the law combined with moral persuasion to get people to see all individuals in a color-blind way. The liberal solution is to use the power of government to force group equality. Moreover, both define equality differently, with conservatives believing in equality of opportunity and liberals believing in equality of result. Other issues are similarly divided.

Thus, when trying to separate books into liberal or conservative, the relevant question is not what issues they address, the relevant question is what solutions they propose?

Now let me add two caveats. First, on conservatism: it is important to realize that being religious and being conservative are not the same thing. Religion deals with the relationship between ourselves and God, politics deals with the relationship between man and the state. Thus, being politically conservative and being religious address two different aspects of the human condition. There can be significant overlap, particularly as many people let their religious views inform their sense of personal responsibility, but it is very possible to be conservative without being religious. The corollary is true as well, as it is equally easy to be religious without being politically conservative. What this means in terms of labeling books is that just because a book has a religious theme does not make it conservative. . . it makes it religious. Whether or not the book is also politically conservative will depend on how the religious themes are applied to the relationship between man and the state.

Secondly, on liberalism: there is another aspect of liberalism that must be considered. Liberalism has a destructive core that asserts itself periodically. That’s why socialist movements turned to violence in the 1900s, 1930s, and 1960s. And that’s why the counter-culture found a home within liberalism and why counter-culture values, i.e. the tearing down of existing societal institutions and norms, continue to hold so much sway within liberalism today. Thus, books that promote counter-culture values, even where the underlying issue may be of concern to both conservatives or liberals, must be considered liberal.

A good example of this would be All Quiet On The Western Front, which predates the official counter-culture movement, but shares its elements. Neither left nor right is “pro war.” Both have found reasons to start wars and both have shown a willingness to resist wars. Thus, it would be wrong to say the anti-war All Quiet is a liberal book just because liberals have been more anti-war lately than conservatives (in the 1930s, this was reversed.) What makes All Quiet a liberal book, rather than a conservative book, is its disdain for the traditional institutions of society. This book is not merely anti-war, but it is anti-officer, anti-church, anti-family, and anti-hero, by which I mean it disdains the individual values society normally considers noble, i.e. self-sacrifice, courage, honesty, faith, etc. That puts the book firmly into the counter-culture wing of liberalism and makes it a liberal book.

And let me be clear on this counter-culture point. Merely advocating change does not make one an advocate of counter-culture values. Counter-culture values are at odds with society and human nature as a whole and they seek to destroy existing institutions rather than reform them -- it is the difference between eliminating racism within police ranks (i.e. reform) and eliminating the police force (i.e. counter-culture values). Counter-culture values tend to be extremely radical.

That’s how I would divide books ideologically. If they propose a government or collectivist solution or they advocate group rights, or if they advocate counter-culture values associated with breaking traditional society, then they are liberal. But if they advocate freedom for the individual vis-à-vis the state coupled with individual responsibility, but without pushing those freedoms to the point of being counter-culture beliefs, then they are conservative.


Tune in Thursday for the list. . .

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Next Obama Scandal: “Gun Walking”

Operation Fast and Furious was an idiotic attempt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to get proof that Mexican drug cartels are buying guns from American gun shops. This reckless operation had no chance of success and it got people killed, including American Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. What's more, it has all the hallmarks of being politically motivated and is likely to reach into the White House.

Starting in 2009, the ATF, part of Eric Holder’s Justice Department, got cooperative Phoenix-area gun shops to sell guns illegally to Mexicans. Rather than arrest these buyers, as they would have done in the past, the ATF instructed its agents to turn a blind eye to the sales. This has been called “gun walking” because they let these guns walk out the door. The ATF hoped the guns would be recovered from Mexican crime scenes, which they believed would let them build conspiracy cases against Mexican drug cartels. It didn’t. In fact, it couldn't because the entire concept is flawed. Consider this:

1. By telling the gun shops to knowingly sell the guns illegally, the agency itself made it possible for the guns to reach Mexico. Thus, this operation cannot stand as proof that American gun shops are selling to Mexicans because it was the ATF itself that made this possible and there is no evidence that any non-cooperating gun shops made similar sales.

2. Secondly, there’s no way to connect the drug cartels to the gun sales because the ATF didn’t keep track of the guns. In other words, even if cartel members used these guns in Mexico, there’s no way to trace the gun from the purchase to the cartel. And if the ATF's plan was just to assume the connection (something that is not permissible in a court of law) then why even bother releasing the guns?
Thus, even if the operation worked perfectly, it still could not have achieved the ATF's goals.

But more importantly, what was the cost of this stupidity? Republicans Rep. Daryl Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley just issued a 51 page report damning Operation Fast and Furious. From the start, this operation was criticized by experienced ATF agents as “reckless.” Said Grassley: “Both line agents and gun dealers who co-operated with the ATF repeatedly expressed concerns [about the operation]. . . but ATF supervisors did not heed those warnings. Instead, they told agents to follow orders because this was sanctioned from above.” And when ATF bosses were told this could result in people getting killed, they responded: “if you are going to make an omelet, you need to scramble some eggs.” In other words, they didn’t care. Apparently, they even threatened to fire or punish agents who complained.

It is unknown how many crimes these guns were used to commit because the ATF had no way to monitor what happened to the guns. But before the operation was stopped, 1,730 guns were allowed to disappear onto the black market, including hundreds of AK-47s and sniper rifles. One of those AK-47s was later used to kill Board Patrol Agent Brian Terry. And when he was killed, the ATF embarked on a cover up. William Newell, the special agent in charge of the operation, ordered the arrest of 20 of the minor gun buyers and then declared the operation a success even though nothing was ever linked to a single senior cartel member. When he was asked if the guns the ATF had let disappear were deliberately allowed to end up in the hands of criminals, he lied: “Hell no!”

So what you have here is a government agency that embarked on a policy that could not achieve the goals for which it was planned, which endangered thousands of American and Mexican lives, and which covered up the mess it created. If that’s not an argument for reining in the government, then nothing is.

Naturally, Obama has denied any knowledge of the operation and I’m sure Eric Holder will too. There is speculation that acting ATF director Kenneth Melson will be made the scapegoat here. But this is not the kind of operation that happens without higher up approval. In fact, one ATF agent has stated that this operation was cleared by the State Department, i.e. Hillary Clinton (who "coincidentally" came to the border to decry American guns right before this operation started).

To dodge this scandal, the Democrats are spinning this as the fault of the gun lobby for blocking the appointment of Obama’s choice to run the ATF -- that's the same Democrats who had a 60 seat majority but didn't confirm the guy. They also are trying to claim this started in 2006, which is true of the overall operation but not of the gun walking -- which only started in 2009 apparently after the approval of State. The ATF is trying to spin this as the result of the ATF not having enough personnel to monitor the guns, but that begs the question why they even started the operation.

In fact, why would they do this at all? The ATF says they wanted to get a better grasp on how cartels work, but that kind of knowledge is already available and this wouldn’t have helped them in any event. The real goal, in my opinion, was to create data to prove what Obama/Hillary/Holder were all arguing: that gun control is needed because American gun shops are arming Mexican drug cartels. That argument wasn’t working because everyone knows better. As I pointed out at the time, it’s silly to think Mexican cartels were buying guns from American gun shops when they have co-opted whole departments of the Mexican police and whole military units -- they could easily get better hardware out of Mexican armories. BUT. . . if American guns with serial numbers known to the ATF could suddenly be traced to a significant portion of murders in Mexico, then Obama/Clinton/Holder would have a new argument to aid them in their gun control attempts.

It strikes me this is a prime example of politicians abusing law enforcement to generate a controversy to help them score political points. People died so Team Obama could score those points. This is shameful and needs to be investigated.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Global Warming Fails Again

Global warming is a politically-created myth. It relies on climate models that are so inaccurate they couldn’t predict an increase in room temperature if you started a fire. What’s more, warming enthusiasts have shut down all inquiry that might improve the science because those inquiries keep disproving the underlying theory. Now we have perhaps the biggest laugher yet to blast a glaring hole in their theory: the very trees are against them.

Ok, let’s start with some grade-school logic, the kind global warming enthusiasts can’t do. What do trees and plants need to grow? Yes, soil, water and. . . carbon dioxide. Trees, flowers and grass absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The more they get, the more they grow. The more they grow, the more carbon dioxide they absorb out of the air. Thus, logic tells us that an increase in carbon will be largely offset by plant life growth.

Sounds simple, right? The problem is that’s heresy.

Global warming enthusiasts don’t want to hear this because it undermines their theory that carbon dioxide is a useless industrial pollutant that will sit in the atmosphere forever causing the earth to warm up over centuries. Indeed, they’ve even put out “studies” (read= guess work opinion pieces) like one by the University of Minnesota in 2006, which claimed that “atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may rise even faster than anticipated, because ecosystems likely will not store as much carbon as had been predicted”! Oh my! Note, by the way, the hedging throughout this sentence. There is no science here, just speculation that reality might not be reality and thus we should destroy the world economy now to stop the release of carbon dioxide. . . evil, evil, pointless carbon dioxide.

Well, on June 5th of this year, experts from Finland and the United States were shocked. . . shocked to learn that reality works like everyone other than global warming enthusiasts knew it would. This report found to the enthusiasts’ horror that rising carbon dioxide levels caused forest density to increase: “Global warming, blamed by the U.N. panel of climate experts mainly on human use of fossil fuels, might itself be improving growth conditions for trees in some regions.” That’s right, trees are getting fatter. And the consequence of this is. . . well. . . um. . . it’s “offsetting climate change.” In other words, it’s keeping global warming from happening.

Yep. Everything the enthusiasts predicted is once again proving false and everything we realists said would happen is happening. The earth remains in balance as always.

Of course, this isn’t what global warming enthusiasts want to believe, so we’ll see if they accept this or if they choose instead the burn the heretics at the carbon-free stake?

Interestingly, this follows some other recent revelations. For example:
● In 2008-2010, global temperatures dropped sharply enough to cancel out the entire supposed net rise in the 20th century. This is important because global warming theory relies on cumulative increases. Thus, their whole theory has fallen apart. . . again. Enthusiasts tried to blame this on the "unexpected" solar cycle -- an eleven year pattern that has repeated itself consistently throughout history and seems to coincide with scaremongering about new global ice ages or new global warming. Enthusiasts also complained that the oceans reacted in an "unexpected" manner by doing what they've always done rather than changing as the climate models suggested. And now the dirty trees have done the "unexpected" by doing what they've always done and refusing to conform to the models. Are you seeing a pattern? It seems that every time the Earth does what it's always done, it's "unexpected."

● In 2008, hundreds of actual scientists heaped scorn on the supposed “scientific consensus” reached by the enthusiasts, a collection of psychologists, gynecologists and other assorted experts with no knowledge of climate science.

● What’s more this most recent report notes that the evil United States, which we know is dominated by people who just like killing trees for no reason except pure spite, has experienced a surge in forest density. Between 1953 and 2007, forest volume in capitalist America grew by 51%. That's right, the whole time they were putting out PSAs and experts were appearing before Congress decrying “deforestation,” forest volume was increasing by half. And not only were there new trees, but existing trees were growing, something we were told wouldn’t be happening -- indeed, the last decade was all about growth, not replanting.
These are hard times for Chicken Little.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

2012 Contender: Rick Perry

Let’s continue the 2012 Contender series with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Frankly, I don’t entirely know what to make of Perry. He’s clearly a hardcore Christian conservative well outside the mainstream of American thought on social issues. He generally appears to be a fiscal conservative. But his fiscal record seems rather short and indifferent for a man who has run the state for 11 years. This makes me wonder whether he is a conservative reformer or just a caretaker governor in a conservative state?

1. The Politician: Perry is clearly a politician’s politician. He’s changed his views several times to match changes in Texas voting patterns, going so far as to change his party from Democratic to Republican in 1998. Disturbingly, he was the chairman of Al Gore’s Texas campaign in 1998. In 1999, he became the first Republican Lieutenant Governor in Texas history, having previously served in the legislature since 1984. In 2000, he became governor when George Bush left for the White House.

In his time in office, he’s been quite willing to engage in politics with his appointments, having appointed both moderates and conservatives, having put up challengers to people he doesn’t like, and having appointed opponents to get them out of the way. He’s also adept at pushing painful decisions into the future by, for example, using bonds that don’t mature until after his term rather than tax hikes to pay for projects, i.e. deficit spending. He now claims to be a Tea Party supporter.

2. Economics: In economics, Perry is what you expect from an average red state governor: largely fiscally conservative with the realities of state governance sometimes superseding principle. Interestingly, there is nothing monumental here and certainly no big ideas that might tell us what he would do with the bloated federal government designed by blue staters:
Taxes: Perry resisted creating an income tax, resisted increasing the state sales tax, and resisted increasing the cigarette tax. But he has increased user “fees,” added surcharges to traffic tickets, and has borrowed $2 billion in road bonds. In 2006, Perry signed a $15.7 billion property tax cut, but he also increased the state franchise tax, which many claim is a backdoor way of creating an income tax. In 2001, Perry asked Congress to let Texas impose a tax on internet sales -- Texas loves taxing out-of-staters. But last month he vetoed a bill that would have imposed this tax.

Spending Increases: In 2001, Perry convinced the legislature to increase health spending by $6 billion. Some of these programs were later cut without objection from Perry. In 2002, Perry increased education funding by $9 billion.

Stimulus: Perry turned down $555 million in stimulus money for unemployment because it would have required mandatory changes to state law. But he then applied for a $643 million federal loan to cover a shortfall in Texas’s unemployment insurance fund. Also, while playing up his refusal of the unemployment stimulus money, Perry simultaneously accepted $6.4 billion in general stimulus aid to cover a $6.6 billion budget shortfall.

Medical Malpractice: Perry supports limiting malpractice lawsuits against doctors and in 2003 sponsored a constitutional amendment that capped medical malpractice awards. This resulted in a 30% decrease in malpractice insurance rates and apparently brought more doctors to Texas.

Private Roads: In 2001, Perry proposed a $145 billion multi-lane highway from Mexico to Oklahoma. He intended to use the state's eminent domain power to grab the land and then would have a Spanish construction firm build the road at their own expense. They would earn their fee by imposing tolls. This is CATO Institute-libertarian stuff (though CATO is wrong on this point). In any event, the plan collapsed when everyone opposed it.

ObamaCare: Perry wants to repeal ObamaCare. Unfortunately, his own plan consists of tort reform (which is a drop in the bucket) and using federal money to expand services in rural areas.
3. Social Issues: Perry is clearly a hardcore-Christian social conservative and his views are on the far end of that spectrum.
Gays: Perry opposes gay marriage and civil unions. He also criticizes the Supreme Court decision striking down Texas’s sodomy law, i.e. he takes the view that states should be allowed to make gay sex illegal.

Abortion: Perry opposes abortion in all cases except rape, incest or to protect the mother’s life. He has signed bills banning late-term abortions and requiring parental notification, and has endorse a law requiring women to get a sonogram before they can have an abortion. He wants to ban stem cell research, not just federal funding of it.

Creationism: In 2006, Perry supported teaching “intelligent design” as well as evolution in schools.

Vaccineers: In February 2007, Perry issued an executive order requiring Texas girls to receive a human papolloma virus vaccine -- HPV can cause cervical cancer. The order did have an opt-out provision for parents. But the vaccine crowd attacked “the moral implications” of the order and Perry did not try to stop a May 2007 bill undoing his order.
4. Crime: Perry supports the death penalty. In June 2002, he vetoed a ban on the execution of the mentally retarded. In August 2002, he allowed the execution of a Mexican citizen despite diplomatic protests. He has supported mandatory DNA testing before executions can be allowed and the creation of standards for capital defenders. He wants the federal government to leave drug policy to the states.

5. Immigration: Perry opposes building a fence along the border as he thinks it will harm our trade relationship with Mexico. Instead, he wants the federal government to use the military and technology to “secure the border” He is particularly concerned about drug traffickers. He opposes sanctuary cities, favors issuing special drivers licenses to people here on visas so we can tell when they’ve overstayed, and implies that he wants to cut off benefits to illegals. He wants the federal government to pay all costs of illegal immigration and wants illegals who commit crimes deported. He supports Arizona’s immigration efforts and would be willing to sign a similar bill in Texas. He also wants to expand the guest worker program for the agriculture industry.

6. Environmentalism: Perry rejects global warming for lack of valid scientific proof and he rejects regulation of “greenhouse gas emissions.” He has backed incentives to research clean coal technology, and he supports an “all of the above energy strategy” including oil, coal, nuclear, biofuels, hydroelectric, solar and wind.

7. Philosophy: Perry has written two books outlining his philosophy. Don’t expect me to read either. The first (On My Honor...... (Feb. 2008)) celebrates the Boy Scouts, of which he was a member, and attacks the ACLU. The second (Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington (Nov. 2010)) discusses his support for limited central government. Perry also has endorsed a resolution supporting state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment. In April 2009, he implied that Texas might secede from the union, but he backtracked in May 2009.

Perry's social conservative views raise a serious electability issue. Excluding his religious views, Perry seems like a fairly conservative politician who can generally be counted on to do the conservative thing, unless he thinks there is political gain to be had by doing something more moderate -- it’s unlikely he would do anything overtly liberal and he has demonstrated a willingness to use the veto. I am troubled, however, by the lack of any ideas in his record. He strikes me as more of a caretaker governor than someone who can be counted on to reform our bloated, abusive federal government.

Would he make a good President? Most likely. Would he make a good conservative President? Probably. Would he be the reformer we need right now? That I’m not sure.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Republican Debate Round Up

In light of last night’s debate, let’s push the Rick Perry 2012 Contender article off until tomorrow morning. The debate is part of the bigger picture of choosing the right candidate and there were several interesting things last night that are absolutely worth pointing out. Observe:

Winner: The Republican Brand. The first thing to leap out about the debate was just how civil the whole debate was and how unified the contenders were. There were no attacks, no finger pointing and no cheap shots, no matter how much CNN’s moderator John King tried to bait them. Instead, all the attacking was directed at Obama and even that was kept on a professional level, i.e. not personal. At several points the candidates even noted how close they all were on the issues, and they agreed that anyone on the stage would make a better president than Obama. And that's actually how they came across -- as a group of serious, smart, hands-on professionals who are more interested in fixing Obama's mess than personal ambition. The party should be much happier with their choices after last night, and frankly, this group blows away the 2008 group.

Winner: Romney/Pawlenty. If you knew nothing about their policies, I would rate the winner as Romney with Pawlenty as a close second. Romney had a flawless and very strong performance. He came across as smooth, likeable and knowledgeable. He said all the right things and he made me want to vote for him. . . except that I doubt him based on his record.

Pawlenty was not as flawless as Romney and seemed a little less comfortable. However, he came across as having a stronger record than Romney or anyone else, and he seemed to have a better plan for what he wants to achieve. Despite not being as smooth as Romney, he too came across as professional and likeable and made me want to vote for him. Interestingly, the people I watched the debate with really were impressed with Pawlenty and saw him as the winner, though I’m sure Romney will get the headlines.

Winners: Santorum. Santorum won mainly by not losing. He came across as serious, thoughtful and credible.

Winners/Loser: Gingrich Newt came across as serious, thoughtful and credible. He also sounded like he was full of ideas -- though in truth, his ideas were just well-disguised slogans. Then he re-opened the Ryan wound by suggesting that "if you can't convince the public it's a good idea, then maybe it's not a good idea." Go home Newt.

Draw: Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann proved that she belongs on the stage and would make a credible President. I would rate her as a winner for that except for three points:

First, she was the only candidate to stumble over her words, something she did quite a lot. This stuck out by comparison.

Secondly, one of the concerns I’ve had with Bachmann is that I don’t know how much of a coherent political philosophy she has compared to simply answering issues as they come up. This was on display again in her response to the gay marriage issue. When asked if she would try to change gay marriage laws in New Hampshire, she said that she would not interfere in state decisions because she believes in the Tenth Amendment. But then the question was asked differently, i.e. whether she would push for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and she said yes. These two positions are inconsistent and that continues to leave me wondering if she has an intellectual framework or if she just answers the question of the moment without regard to conflicting prior answers?

Third, she engaged in the most scripted speaking, and it generally didn’t work, especially since much of it felt like self-promotion.

Loser: Herman Cain. I like Herman Cain and I want to support him. But he has yet to catch any sort of fire. For being a talk radio host, he seems to lack cleverness and a quick wit. He also hurts himself with his honesty because he keeps answering questions about which he lacks sufficient information by promising to look into the issue (as any businessman would). Thus for example, on Afghanistan, he said he needs to meet with the generals first before he can formulate a strategy. This is the most truthful answer anyone gave. But perversely, this comes across as him not being ready for the job because everyone else gave their opinions. I don’t know that audiences will grasp this and won’t punish him for his honesty.

Loser: Obama. Obama was not only the subject of a couple zingers -- especially one from Ron Paul when he said he couldn’t think of anything Obama had done right. But even more so, this group came across as unified in their criticisms of Obama, right down to the specifics of what he’s done wrong. Their unified responses gave this message a seriousness and believability. And their no-hostility tones will make this a hard group to demonize.

Ron Paul: Ron Paul did his usual. He gave some absolutely brilliant answers, but he mixed them with some paranoid/conspiratorial stuff. He also came across as a bit strange as his suit didn't fit and he kept getting frantic in his tone. This made him seem somewhat insane. But he is Rasputin-like in his appeal and I kid you not when I say that if Paul were 20% smoother, he would be President in a heartbeat.

Some Issues: On economics, they all agreed that we need smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation. Jobs was the number one word all night and free markets was how jobs would be created. The format did not allow for much more depth beyond that, as CNN’s John King started interrupting all answers about 20 seconds in.

The candidates differ on gay marriage. Romney, Santorum, Pawlenty and probably Bachmann want to ban gay marriage. Newt thought this was a state’s rights issue. Paul thought the federal government should get out of the marriage business entirely.

On foreign policy, there was a general sense that it’s time to reduce America’s commitments overseas and to start bringing the troops home, though most said they would confer with the generals. The two exceptions were Paul and Romney. Paul said that he would tell the generals what to do and that is to bring everybody home. Romney went the other way entirely saying he would consider bringing troops home at some point, but so long as anyone wants to kill Americans, he was going to stop them.

Several of them grasped the importance of appointing judges.

The Question No One Answered: The one question which frustrated me because none of them could answer it came from a “traditional” Republican who asked the candidates to prove that there was still room for him in the party despite the Tea Party influence. They all missed the obvious answer: the Republican Party is a big tent of different groups who share about 80% of their views. Getting that 80% would change the world, and that should be our goal. Anything after that is a matter for each group to convince the rest, i.e. build a consensus. No one group can force its will on the rest. Thus, the idea that there is no room for non-Tea Partiers is just wrong on all counts.

Those are my impressions. The field came across as a lot stronger than they seemed a month ago. Some people come across much better than their records would indicate and some disappointed -- though only slightly. They weren’t exciting, but it gave me hope watching them that this group of people is capable of saving our country from the damage wrought by Obama.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Total Implosion

One of the things the Presidential marathon accomplishes is that it weeds out the hopelessly inept. Candidates who can’t attract support or money or can’t figure out where to park their bus all blow up along the way. But the most spectacular implosion in my lifetime (and that includes Colorado’s own Gary Hart -- who dared the media to follow him to his illicit rendezvous) has been Newt Gingrich. For a man who’s both had power and been so close to power, and for a man who has spent his life studying politics, Gingrich proved to be a fool at best. I actually think he’s something slightly worse.

I’ve previously outlined the problems with Newt’s platform. Despite a reputation as a deep thinker/oracle of the Republican Party, Newt’s platform proved to be nothing more than tired platitudes, insignificant promises, and a desperate desire to feel loved -- something which has made his personal life a mess. But while my research showed serious problems, it couldn’t have predicted the implosion that was coming.

The very day Newt announced his long awaited campaign, he made an unforgiveable gaffe. Indeed, right out of the gates, Newt chose to throw Paul Ryan and conservatism under the Medicare bus. When he was offered the chance to recant, he only made things worse by trying to deny that he said what he said, attacking the media for reporting it, and then trying to explain it away while still standing by it. He finally realized he needed to recant, but by that time his support collapsed from 15% to 7%.

This seemed fatal to his campaign, but Newt wasn’t done imploding.

Last week, it was announced that 16 vital players in Newt’s campaign (including people who have been with him for decades) quit en mass in protest over the way he was handling the campaign. What upset them? They demanded that Newt spend more time on the campaign. Apparently, Newt thought he could campaign for President using Facebook and Twitter and a part-time-candidate approach. Not only did he ignore their concerns, he decided instead to go on a two week Greek cruise with his wife.


If someone wrote this in a book, they would be accused of writing the absurd. Yet, Newt thought nothing of taking two weeks off out of the country right after bombing the introduction of his campaign. When he got back, his staff quit.

And we’re not done yet.

Now it comes out that Newt burned through the campaign war chest so badly that they couldn’t afford the $25,000 entry fee for the upcoming Iowa straw poll. How could they be so broke? Well, for one thing, Newt wasn’t willing to do the fund raising that candidates normally do. . . and being on vacation didn’t help. But the bigger cause of his financial problems was that he was spending $500,000 on a chartered jet so that he could fly home each night.

Newt is either the stupidest candidate we’ve ever had or he was never serious in the first place. I suspect it’s the latter. I have long thought that Newt had no intention of ever running for President as he was satisfied being the party’s guru. But to maintain that position, he needed to maintain the illusion that he intended to run one day so that people would keep seeking his blessing and donating to his organizations. I speculate that he got into this race because he had no choice and he intended only to do just enough to give the appearance of running a campaign. Then he planned to bow out after Iowa on some trumped up reason and return to being the flirty guru again. . . always promising to make another at some point in the future. Sadly for him, it never dawned on him that his staffers might have expected him to run to win or that his donors wouldn’t be too thrilled to realize they’ve been had.

It’s only a matter of time now before Newt drops out. I would guess that his actual campaigning is finished and he will drop out after a few more weeks of pretending. We’ll see, but in either event, no one can take him seriously at this point. And he better watch his legal back before his donors start to scream fraud. They might just have a case.

In the meantime, his implosion opens the door for Rick Perry, who has hired some of Newt’s staff. Tune in tomorrow morning for the scoop on Perry.

So what do you think? Stupid? Fraud? Misunderstood genius?

(P.S. Don't forget that there's a debate tonight at 8:00 PM EST. Feel free to discuss in the comments.)

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Talk Radio Is Hurting Conservatism

I’m finding myself troubled by talk radio. In particular, I’m stunned at how ignorant and how pointlessly incendiary their coverage of the Republican primary field has been. Not only is talk radio doing a major disservice to the candidates (and by extension the country), but it’s doing an even bigger disservice to its listeners and to the conservative cause.

Here’s the thing. Talk radio is a resource, much like Commentarama, where conservatives and conservative-leaners can collect information that is not generally covered by the MSM. Some of these hosts (like Rush) reach millions of people each day. And if they are doing their jobs right, they will investigate the candidates in the primary and let their readers know what they have discovered. . . the goal, after all, is to promote conservatism. We’re doing that in the 2012 Contender series and we’re not even paid to do it. Nor do we have a staff who can look these things up. Nor do we have the reach to interview the candidates. Thus, if we can do it, there is no reason these radio people can’t do it.

Yet, they aren’t doing it. In the past month, I’ve heard a dozen different talk radio people, and not one of them has done any research into the candidates. Oh, they openly and vehemently opine about who the audience should support, but they have nothing to back that up.

Rush, for example, is pimping Palin, despite his claims of neutrality. Yet, unfortunately, at no point has he ever laid out a single minute of her record or explained her supposed beliefs. Instead, he just calls her a “conservative” without proof, attacks her conservative critics as gullible, somehow personally insecure or lying about being conservatives, and keeps repeating the argument that she must be a good conservative because the left attacks her so much. Yet, that is deeply flawed logic. Do we attack Joe Biden because we fear him? Hardly. We attack him because he’s an easy target because he’s stupid and gaffe prone. Do we attack Pelosi because we think she’s effective? No way. We try to associate the entire left with her because her views and personality are unpalatable to middle America and it helps us disgrace liberalism by claiming that all liberals are like her. The left attacks Palin for the same reasons: she's an easy target and she turns moderates off conservatism. But even putting that aside, my point is that Rush has yet to give a single reason why we should support Palin other than doing the opposite of what the left tells us. Was she a good governor? Did she act according to conservative principles? Does she understand conservative principles? You wouldn't know from Rush.

Some guy who sat in for Laura Ingraham (can't think of his name, don't care either) was pimping Romney because of “his business record.” Yet, he clearly didn’t know what that record was. He also categorically excused every criticism of Romney’s time as governor by saying “well, he was governor of a blue state.” Yet, he calls Pawlenty, who governed like a red-state governor in an equally blue state, a RINO without ever saying why. If anything, these labels are entirely reversed, yet this guy doesn’t know that because he's never actually looked into either candidate. Yet, he's happy to tell his listeners to trust him.

Some guy out of Denver was pimping Trump as a genuine conservative until he dropped out. Now he's jumped on the Christie bandwagon because "man, you saw all you need to know in that youtube video." Ann Coulter too keeps appearing on different shows to pimp Chris Christie and to label him as the only conservative who can keep Romney from getting the nomination. But on what issue does Ann think Christie is a conservative? She's never said. And you’ve seen the report on him, he fails the conservatism test on. . . every. . . single. . . issue. He makes Olympia Snowe look like Barry Goldwater. In fact, he went far left on issues even the Democrats would have expected him to go to the right on -- like appointments. If she had done even five minutes of research, she would have known this. But like Rush, Ann never looks into his record, yet she happily anoints him as the conservative savior.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. These people are out there making these categorical statements: “candidate X is a true conservative and everyone else is a RINO,” and not one of them has any idea what they are talking about.

This is horrible for conservatives and horrible for the Republican Party. If there is a true conservative in the race, these people not only won't find them, they will actively smear them as a RINO just to promote the RINO they think is a true conservative based on nothing more than faulty logic about things said by the MSM or youtube videos. That’s how we'll end up with a RINO sitting in the White House as all the talk radio guys scratch their heads wondering how they were fooled. . . “gee, he seemed so conservative in that ONE youtube video I watched.”

And let me tell you, I see these same "arguments" mindlessly repeated at websites like Big Government, where it's clear that a majority of the commenters not only aren't even reading the articles, but are just self-righteously repeating what they heard on the radio verbatim: it's become a slogan shouting room for the hopelessly ignorant.

This blather is destructive as it depresses conservatives who need all the enthusiasm they can gather for this next election. Right now conservatives should be looking over candidate websites, digging into records and listening to interviews to find the best candidate to represent their views. When that person is found, conservatives should volunteer their money and time to that person. But instead, conservatives are sitting at home frustrated because talk radio is blaring out every single day “there ain’t nothing but RINOs in this race!” The Democrats couldn't have paid for a better voter-suppression plan!

What's more, if you listen to talk radio, you get the impression that no one is happy with the field. Yet, a poll released the other day shows how deeply misleading that is. Take a look at this graph (right). While dissatisfaction is up slightly from 2008, 61% of Republicans are actually happy with their choices. Thus, what talk radio is doing is presenting a view held by only 11% of Republicans (or 39% if you include leaners) as if it were universally held and are using that false claim to drag down a field that 6 in 10 people like. Does that sound familiar to anyone? Because that's the same thing the MSM does to boost the 40% in polls who support liberalism -- make them out as the vast majority.

And let me be clear.... if there are no good candidates, then it is a proper role for talk radio to point that out and to seek out better candidates to enter the race. But that’s not what’s going on because these talk radio people don’t have a clue if there are good candidates or not because none of them have done the research.

I understand that talk radio is all about generating outrage and controversy, but they have a responsibility too. That responsibility comes from their claim to speak on behalf of conservatism. And that responsibility is to verify their opinions before offering them. Do the research before you speak. Stop misleading your listeners, because right now, talk radio is a worse enemy to conservatism than the Democrats, the RINOs, and the MSM combined.

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