Monday, December 27, 2010

Tequila for the GOP

The newest thing to hit the newspapers is the Tequila Party. No, it’s not some college drinking game, but an incipient grassroots political movement. Modeled after the Tea Party (in structure, not agenda), it aims to mobilize Hispanic voters to push for immigration reform.

Its founders threaten to break the Hispanic vote off from the Democrats, where it has long served as a bastion of support. The Tequila big-Shots argue that the Democrats have taken the Hispanic vote for granted and have thus done little to meet their needs. This undoubtedly true, but unsurprisingly the heavy-hitting and xenophobic fringe of the GOP has prevented the Republican Party from peeling off the Hispanic vote. Until maybe now. The Tequila Party is yet another sign of the need for realignment in the political landscape. The GOP should do everything it can to promote the free movement of the Hispanic vote.

The logic behind this strategy is clear. First, as the Tequila Party displays, there is growing dissatisfaction in Latino communities at being a rubber stamp for Democratic candidates. This opens a prime window for the GOP to step in. Second, due to demographic changes, the Latino population is becoming increasingly important in many electoral districts. This has been compounded by redistricting following the 2010 Census, where Hispanic-heavy states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada, all gained seats in the House or Representatives (and Electoral College). As The Washington Post expounds, “Much of the population growth is attributed to Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic. As a result, Republican candidates won't necessarily have a lock on all of the seats created.”

These ‘logistical’ issues alone demand Republican attention; however, Hispanics often make natural allies for the GOP on many issues. For instance, many Hispanics share traditional, family-oriented values that are endemic on the Right. However, due to the Democrats’ success, aided by a small but vocal far-right, at portraying Republicans as anti-Hispanic, the Left has been successful at minimizing the rightward drift of the Hispanic vote. This has chiefly, although not exclusively, been an issue in the immigration debate.

The GOP needs to change tack quickly. The new Congress should come out leading on immigration reform and attempt to set a tone and agenda that displays a pro-Hispanic sentiment. This does not mean discarding the principles of border security, legality, and fair-play that have been staples of the Right’s position, but redefining the battle with the Left to not only display a new image but to show those Hispanics who have blindly followed the Democrats that there is another perspective that can speak to their interests.

First, anti-illegal immigration has to be separated from anti-immigration. The GOP must come out strongly in support of legal immigration. Not only is our nation built on this open model, but continued immigration is necessary for America to maintain its primacy. Democrats have done a phenomenal job at muddling the two issues, which has done the GOP much disservice. Rhetorically, for every attack on illegal immigration from the right and every labeling as anti-immigrant from the left, Republicans must respond with acclamations of support for legal immigration. Words, however, are useless alone and must be complemented with proposals to facilitate easier and fairer immigration for both skilled and un-skilled workers.

Second, the GOP needs to demonstrate that playing by the rules is in everyone’s interest. While seemingly obvious on its face, this point often gets lost (or drowned) in the hubbub of politics. In particular, it needs to be shown that having clear-cut and enforced rules for immigration benefit not just non-Hispanic Americans, but legalized Hispanic-Americans as well. Secure borders and fair-play (not cutting the line via amnesty) are necessary for all Americans to get the most out of this country. Playing by the rules is not an excuse for exclusionary action but the structure that is necessary for a functioning society.

Third, Republicans need to offer a solution to the immigration issue that reconciles the need for immigration (pro-market and pro-Hispanic family) with the needs for rule-of-law and security. This is something that is easily achievable if Republicans simply take the initiative. Immigration reform is essentially a political problem that can be solved under fair, conservative principles. Aside from the far-left open-border type and the far-right xenophobes, a solution could be designed that would satisfy most Americans. The underlying principle that costs to illegal immigration need to be sufficiently high, while costs to legal immigration sufficiently low is the logical starting ground.

Immigration reform should be the first area where the GOP begins its efforts. It is clearly the most volatile and emotional issue. Republican leadership (and justice) on this issue will create significant advances into a community that can serve as a strong electoral base. While the Tequila Party may not end up being the ideal vehicle for GOP inroads into the Hispanic population – its platform is still largely unclear, if not non-existent – the message it brings is resounding – the Hispanic population is a prime and necessary demographic which the GOP needs to start courting.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Class Warfare and the Social Yard-Stick

Class warfare is becoming a full-blown storm on Capitol Hill. It is not really anything new – a time-tested strategy frequently relied upon by the left, but also used by the right. President Obama’s latest deployment was during his announcement of the bipartisan tax deal with Republicans.

Presumably, such a cross-aisle deal is a time to rejoice at actually finding middle ground in the exceedingly divisive Congress. Instead, the “class card” was thrown about. Obama likened the deal to one made with hostage-takers [Can a deal really be enforceable if made under duress?!]. He stated, “I’ve said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed.”

Now, the merits of Republican tactics aside, the interesting issue is the continued desire of American politicians, particularly on the left, to sow the seeds of class warfare. The storyline is familiar – greedy fat cat CEOs, those over $250k not “paying their fair share,” and “tax-cuts for the rich.” Republicans feed right into this game, defending the economics of high salaries and bonuses (needed to incentivize performance), arguing for low tax rates (high rates stifle economic growth), claiming that some “rich” just really are not all that rich, and pointing to all the good that some wealthy do for the community.

All of this is probably true and these arguments need to be made. However, they miss the fundamental point and allow the political game to be dictated on far-left terms. The left loves class warfare. It plays into a multitude of arguments defending wealth redistribution and increased government involvement in the lives of private citizens. But it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what income’s purpose is.

The left looks at income as a sort of social yard-stick, a tool to measure one’s value to society. By this logic the more one makes, the more good they should bring. However the argument goes, there is quite a bit of injustice in the system! Greedy CEOs do not help the country and yet they get rich, while struggling laborers barely make ends meet! The natural solution? Take from those who undeservingly make a lot of money and give to those who deserve it, but do not get it.

Implicit in this argument are at least two assumptions. The first is the particular standard regarding who deserves what. The left has come up with some arbitrary criteria of what is “deserving” and thus how wealth needs to be redistributed. Enter the Republicans – who try to challenge the left’s definition of “deserving.” This is where the class warfare is generally fought. Republicans, for instance, argue that CEOs, for better or worse, do deserve at least some of their recompense.

However, by playing the game of “what social value do [insert: CEOs, top 5% of income earners, those who make over $250k, etc] have,” Republicans are tacitly acknowledging the deeper assumption in this leftist [daresay socialist] argument – that there is even a relationship between social value and income.

The fact of the matter is that income is a measure of one’s services in a given line of work. It is the market’s determination of what value an individual provides for a certain occupation. Income, like the price of nearly every other good, is motivated by a host of factors, including, of course, supply and demand.

However, it is not – and should never be – a measure of one’s value to society. This is too arbitrary of a claim. Society – government in particular – has no right to pass judgment on an individual’s value or their associated income. [Beyond the issue of right – government simply has no, non-arbitrary means to determine value outside of the market-mechanism.] The rich are no more or less deserving of their wealth, than the poor are of their dearth. “Deserving” just simply is not a concept that the government is fit to act upon.

It is time to cut the class warfare. It is far too divisive and harmful for our country. Not only does it lead to strife between individuals and groups, but it creates an environment where the government feels even more compelled to meddle in the private affairs of citizens. One may not like that someone else makes more than him, but that never justifies arbitrarily taking it from him. Why should it be any different for the government?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WikiLeaks and a Middle East Peace on FutureChallenges.org

The post, WikiLeaks and a Middle East Peace?, originally written on ANR is now an expanded article on FutureChallenges.org.  Check out the Security and Anti-Terrorism section for the full article, now called "WorthyLeaks?:  Could WikiLeaks Have Some Positive Results?"

The article discusses a possibility of the WikiLeaks disclosures having some positive effects on diplomacy - in particular in the Middle East.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Budget, Entitlements, and Government

In today's Washington Post, Robert Samuelson wrote a poignant editorial on the much needed buget cuts.  He argues that government benefits, once lavished upon the electorate, are largely (politically) unremovable, becoming in the eyes of the people "property rights."  Coupled with the desire to minimize taxes this creates an untenable budgetary mess.  Samuelson correctly argues that partisan interests - whether farm lobbies, the elderly, or others receiving undue government support - should recognize a moral need for change and put aside their self-interest for the national interest.  In other words, he calls for a rewriting of the social contract.

The thrust of the argument is on the areas of the welfare state (or benefit state to construct it more widely in order to include agricultural subsidies and the like) that need to be slashed; however, he does tepidly venture into the more philosophical realm of the role of the state when he discusses the defense budget.  Samuelson argues that cuts to defense should not be treated the same as cuts in other areas of the national budget because "[n]ational security is government's first job."  He, unfortunately, does not take this to the next level, namely by opening a discussion on what the proper role of government is.  Government's role within society has expanded enormously and if America is to not only solve its budgetary issues but also resolve the government's wayward drift, the people need to pin down what, philosophically speaking, the purpose of government is.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks and a Middle East Peace?

Could the WikiLeaks disclosures, which are causing all sorts of negative fallout for the Obama administration’s foreign policy, actually lead to some foreign policy successes? Regarding most of the leaks the upshot will probably run the gamut from benign, to embarrassing, to trivially detrimental; however, there is one area where there may be a potential, albeit slight, for a constructive outcome.

Two facts, which were previously widely assumed, have now been confirmed. The first is the growing fear in the Arab world about Iran’s expanding power and nuclear ambitions. The second is Israel’s clandestine diplomacy with these same Arab powers.

Regarding the former, leaked documents show a number of Arab states’ unease with Iran’s nuclear program. These documents, as reported in the Financial Times, call for the US to stop Iran’s ambitions, including with direct attacks. This is relatively unsurprising as balancing between the big Arab states and Iran is a constant feature of the region. No Arab state, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the other two regional heavyweights, want to see a nuclear Iran.

Likewise, the disclosure of Israel’s communications with some of these states is unsurprising. Israel does not have official diplomatic channels with most Arab nations; however, despite public rhetoric they do often have common concerns.

While none of this is surprising to the casual follower of the region, most know that these Arab leaders say one thing in public while another thing behind closed doors. Much of this, of course, is due to the strong opinions of the Arab street and Muslim fundamentalists. However, now the metaphorical cat is out of the bag.

What is done with this “cat” though could have interesting consequences for the region. Most likely the Arab states will attempt to distance themselves from these revelations, brushing them off as distortions or simply ignoring the leaks. However, if the Arab leadership address these facts head-on and take ownership, it could profoundly alter the political map.

As both sets of disclosures prove, Israel and the Arab states are, at least in some issues, on the same side. In particular, Iran represents a growing threat to stability in the region and, at a minimum in Israel’s case, an existential threat. Currently, however, Arab nations and Israel are precluded from working together largely by the Arab street’s political pressure over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Islamic fundamentalism’s abhorrence of the Jewish state.

While admittedly these place enormous constraints on the Arab leadership, who might very well lose their power if they worked openly with Israel, the animosity towards Israel is increasingly a strategic anchor.  The Jewish state is no longer the (perceived) greatest threat to the Arab world, just as the Palestinian problem is no longer the most significant issue for Israel.

This opens the door for expanded coordination between the Arab world and Israel and, daresay, a potential path to peace. Rather than spurning these disclosures, Arab leaders should attempt to use these revelations of their true security concerns to begin a (yes, slight) redirection of the Arab street’s focus. While a rush to normalized diplomatic relations with Israel is probably premature, the Arab leaders can use the WikiLeaks disclosures as a first hole in the dike which has separated Israel and the Arabs for some 60 years.

Rapprochement between Israel and the Arab states is essential for both regional and individual state security. While domestic conditions certainly make this difficult, WikiLeaks may have helped get the ball rolling. It is certainly too early to tell where this will lead, but ironically someday Julian Assange might be called a hero (okay I doubt that) for lighting the spark that checked Iran’s nuclear rise and precipitating peace between Israel and the Arabs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lessons Learned?

Behind the wavering voice and choked backed tears, there was a small grin which John Boehner struggled to contain. The soon-to-be Republican Speaker of the House had every reason to be proud. Republicans, who two-years ago had been considered a disgraced group of has-beens, delivered a monumental change of power in yesterday’s election. While the final results are still trickling in, it appears that the GOP has achieved a swing of over 60 votes in the House – a magnitude not experienced since the 1930s. And while the Republicans failed to take control of the Senate, they nevertheless made impressive gains.

Needless to say, Boehner was far from exuberant – and rightly so. Boehner’s post-election speech was powerful, poignant, and somber (See here for full transcript) and appeared to offer at least a glimmer of hope that the Republicans correctly understand the significance of yesterday’s election.

Boehner emphatically stated, not once, but twice, that “this is not a time for celebration.” He characterized the election as a win for the American people and “a repudiation of Washington ... a repudiation of Big Government ... and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people.” However, nowhere did he mention that it was a groundswell win for the Republicans. Nor did he mention the Tea Party.

What he did focus on was the way forward. His message was clear; the Republicans must “roll up our sleeves” and get to work crafting policy that America wants. Boehner emphasized that the GOP is listening to Americans’ demands and will offer the agenda that has been requested.

This is the precise message that the Republicans needed to take from the election. The vote was against Democrat excess and detachment and only minimally for the Republicans. While the Tea Party certainly deserves some credit (particularly in the House), yesterday’s results show that it was not the Tea Party that America voted for, but the fundamental principles of limited government and responsibility. This can be clearly seen in a number of key races.

First there is Delaware, where fringe Tea Partier Christine O’Donnell was soundly beaten. Her loss came as no surprise; however, the GOP’s failure to win the Delaware senate seat was an unfortunate outcome that clearly kept them from taking control of the Senate. Had they selected, in the primaries, moderate Republican Mike Castle, Delaware would have most likely been won by the GOP. Castle, who was a perennial favorite in Delaware, was previously considered a shoo-in for Joe Biden’s old seat.

The same story unfolds in Nevada where Tea Partier Sharon Angle was defeated by a wildly unpopular Harry Reid. Despite the fact that Republicans, including Karl Rove, poured millions into her campaign Angle was unable to overcome the image of a loopy far-right nut. Ultimately, there was much split ticket voting in Nevada, as voters rejected Reid’s son Rory Reid for the governorship, choosing, by a comfortable 11% margin, Republican Brian Sandoval. Had the GOP selected Sue Lowden in the primaries, it is likely that Reid would have been sent packing.

Finally there is Alaska, where, as of this writing, Lisa Murkowski, appears to be leading in the senate race against Joe Miller, the Tea Party and Sarah Palin backed Republican. Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator who was defeated in the primaries, ran a write-in candidacy that may be the first successful one since Strom Thurmond in 1954. While it is still too early to decisively call this race, Miller’s low results certainly put a damper on the Tea Party movement.

Tea Party fanatics will surely point to both Rand Paul (KY) and Marco Rubio (FL) as examples of the movement’s successes. But what distinguishes these candidates is the fact that they have a broader appeal and a set of principles and ideas that are lacking in the likes of O’Donnell. Rand Paul is obviously a product of his father, Ron Paul, a long-time idealist libertarian. Paul the younger is no backwoods, angry militant, but a polished (albeit first time) politician. Rubio is no different. The significance of these two is that they have been able to successfully wear the Tea Party mantle but are not fringe candidates. It was this type of “Tea Party” candidate that meshed substance with their displeasure who won, not those that were simply angry candidates. [One could probably argue that these candidates came first and then co-opted the Tea Party, rather than being products of the Tea Party.]

What this leads to is the simple argument that opposition and anger are not enough. Democrats lost yesterday because America is angry, but more importantly because Americans want substance and direction. While the left has certainly offered an abundance of policy over the last two years, they have completely failed to grasp that their prescriptions were well out of bounds of what this center-right country wants.

And while the Republicans were able to successfully exploit the resultant anger, they only offered a vague alternative. Fortunately, they seem to be learning that opposition is simply not enough and are prepared to begin fleshing out a new direction. Boehner has correctly interpreted the election as a rebuke of the Democrats and a call for government to adhere to the classic American principles. Now let’s see if the Republicans can rise to the challenge.

 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Word to the Wise

As Republicans sharpen their knives for what looks to be an early Thanksgiving feast on November 2nd, they would be wise to heed a lesson from an unlikely mentor – Barack Obama. When the jubilations subside and the ticker-tape has been carted-out to recycling, Republicans must be prepared to offer America the leadership the country demands.

After having been banished to the wilderness only two years ago, the Republicans will indubitably be crowned victors in two days. However, a resurgent GOP, led by the pugnacious Tea Party, runs the risk of blinding itself with hubris if it fails to correctly interpret its win. Like Icarus and Obama, they may find themselves quickly plunging back to earth – setting the stage for dismal failure in 2012.

The risk that faces the GOP is the same miscalculation that the Obama administration made in 2009. Coming off an astounding victory, Obama misinterpreted his win as a mandate to lead America down a radically new and audacious path. America, he thought, had voted for him and for his new ideas. But the truth was much different and, after two painful years, reality has become palpable to the administration. In late 2008, America, blinded by Obama’s charisma and the amorphous promise of change, voted, not for Obama’s policies, but against George W. Bush.

The same story line applies to the upcoming election. America, after realizing that the administration was not the anticipated godsend, has increasingly become frustrated with the Democrats. As the party of “no,” the GOP has been able to hasten the administration’s decline; however, it has not endeared itself to the American public. Its anger and obstinacy, however justified, have not offered America the answers it has been demanding. Tuesday will be a vote against Obama and the Congressional Democrats, but not one for the Republicans.

The GOP needs to use the pending electoral win to show America that they can offer sound, thoughtful, and practical solutions to the nation’s problems. If they misinterpret the electoral results as a vote for the GOP, they will replicate the mistakes of the Democrats and fail to provide America with the leadership it wants. History will repeat itself and in two short years, the Republicans will find themselves on the receiving end of an angry and disappointed America, with a reinvigorated Obama celebrating another four years in the White House.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Mob

An atrocious display of mob mentality occured at the final Rand Paul-Jack Conway U.S. Senate debate, when supporters of Republican candidate Rand Paul brutually attacked a protesting Conway supporter from MoveOn.org.  Such tyrannical behavior is unacceptable, without exception.  Disputes should be settled with words, not fists; this is something that was supposedly taught in the first grade.  Thankfully, the Paul team has immediately condemned the act with unambiguous language.
The Paul for Senate campaign is extremely disappointed in, and condemns the actions of a supporter last night outside the KET debate. Whatever the perceived provocation, any level of aggression or violence is deplorable, and will not be tolerated by our campaign. The Paul campaign has disassociated itself from the volunteer who took part in this incident, and once again urges all activists -- on both sides -- to remember that their political passions should never manifest themselves in physical altercations of any kind.

The Tea Party Enemy

In today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen analyzed the ephemeral nature of the Tea Party.  He correctly points that this leaderless movement is a major threat to Obama, but he stops just short of making the necessary conclusion.  With parallels being made to Afghanistan, Cohen writes, "Obama is stuck in the classic dilemma of asymmetrical warfare: Who and where is the enemy?"

Cohen leaves this question hanging, going on to discuss the desire for change and raw emotion that are prevalent in the movement, concluding that, as ANR has argued before, there is much room and need to channel this into productive forums.  However, the answer to this question - and what lies at the root of Obama's problems - is that this "enemy" is America.  Whether individuals are members of the Tea Party or avoid it (possibly due to its heightened emotion) there is large agreement, across America, that the administration is out of touch with the needs of the country.  Charlie Cook, cited in another Washington Post editorial, sums it up nicely. "[Some leaders] are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don't get less bright, but hubris kicks in. [Obama] just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life."  Maybe Obama should stop fighting this specter of an enemy and listen to the desires of America.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Juan and Done: Political Correctness Gone Too Far

Juan Williams’s recent termination from NPR provides yet another stark example of a hostile and intolerant political correctness. The left-of center NPR, after seemingly receiving pressure from a number of sources, fired Williams after he made comments regarding his personal reaction to certain Muslims on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor.

Williams, who is also an analyst at Fox News, was challenging O’Reilly on associating terrorists with Muslims, stated, "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Putting aside the specific discussion of Islam and terrorism, there is a profound irony that Williams was terminated in the name of political correctness, precisely for an astute criticism of the horrid practice. In his discussion with O’Reilly, the first point that Williams made was that “political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.”

This philosophy is unerringly correct. Faced by pressures from left-wing relativists and, in this instance, Muslim interest groups, America has been confined to speak only in narrow platitudes and “tolerant” talking-points. Deviations, whether right or wrong, are inexcusable. But, as Williams so eloquently concluded, this creates reality-distorting paralyses, where real issues cannot be discussed in any serious fashion. This banality not only handicaps America, but it is representative of a growing illiberal intolerance.

The illiberality of this type of political correctness is relatively clear. While NPR is correct to argue that “[Juan] does not have a First Amendment right to be paid by NPR for saying whatever he wants,” this fact ignores the underlying need for free speech and free press. NPR does not have any obligation to keep Williams on, but if they are committed to being a relevant source for honest news, they are foolish to silence legitimate, mainstream discussions for fear of offending those who would rather not talk about difficult issues.

This tacit illiberality is precisely why political correctness is such a handicap. Real dialogue is indispensable to the functioning of any democracy and essential for the successful handling of innumerable issues. However, it cannot progress when stifled by the heavy hand of political correctness. Williams’s fear, again regardless of whether right or wrong, is one that is shared by millions of Americans. And while, for the sake of the argument we will postpone the discussion of whether this fear is justified, there clearly are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. Precisely because it is real for some many Americans, open discourse is necessary to address this trepidation – whether to assuage misguided fears or correct the circumstances that give rise to prudent concerns.

Williams’s honesty was exemplary of this type of dialogue. He was expressing a fact, not an opinion about what he felt (not a fact about Muslims being or not being a security threat). He was being honest and open. Furthermore, far from providing an opinion that such a sentiment was right, Williams was essentially offering a sort of confessional. He put forward, despite his belief that Muslims should not be categorically linked with terrorism, that he still felt something visceral.

More open dialogue of this sort is needed. By attempting to stifle Williams, NPR has contributed to a declining failure of American leaders and journalism in providing open forums for discussion about meaningful, but sensitive, topics. America’s progress will come to a crashing halt if prohibitions are continuously placed on this sort of dialogue.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On the Tea Party and Academia

In today's Wall Street Journal, the Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz wrote a profound piece regarding the prominent misunderstanding of the Tea Party.  While there are many problems with the Tea Party, the fundamentals of the movement are sound.  One of the issues, as Berkowitz alludes to, is that "the tea party sports its share of clowns, kooks and creeps. And some of its favored candidates and loudest voices have made embarrassing statements and embraced reckless policies."  These individuals have become an easy target for ridicule and disregard from the Left and have prevented rational conservatives from fully endorsing the movement.

This is a shame because the principles of the Tea Party are extremely valid and worthwhile.  The concepts of limited government and individual liberty are founding tenets of the American system which have, unfortunately, been slowly eroded over the years.  The recognition of this problem and the desire to prevent the future degradation of this arrangement are these most valuable parts of the movement.

The genesis of this erosion is, however, the real issue to which Berkowitz points.  He correctly elucidates the failure of academia to instruct its students in the basic concepts of the American system.  He writes:
For the better part of two generations, the best political science departments have concentrated on equipping students with skills for performing empirical research and teaching mathematical models that purport to describe political affairs. Meanwhile, leading history departments have emphasized social history and issues of race, class and gender at the expense of constitutional history, diplomatic history and military history.
Neither professors of political science nor of history have made a priority of instructing students in the founding principles of American constitutional government. Nor have they taught about the contest between the progressive vision and the conservative vision that has characterized American politics since Woodrow Wilson (then a political scientist at Princeton) helped launch the progressive movement in the late 19th century by arguing that the Constitution had become obsolete and hindered democratic reform.
Then there are the proliferating classes in practical ethics and moral reasoning. These expose students to hypothetical conundrums involving individuals in surreal circumstances suddenly facing life and death decisions, or present contentious public policy questions and explore the range of respectable progressive opinions for resolving them. Such exercises may sharpen students' ability to argue. They do little to teach about self-government.
Unfortunately, Berkowitz's analysis is all too correct.  The fundamental principles and ideals of political science are essentially ignored throughout the country's educational system.  Students spend more time analyzing revisionist history through modern progressive lenses than scrutinizing the development and interactions of foundational theories that have made America what it is today.

This is the root cause not only of America's wayward drift but the intense emotionalism of the Tea Party.  While many Tea Partiers viscerally understand the deterioration of the country, the deleterious anger and emotion have crowded out the focus on principles that is sorely needed.  Blame for this failure does not solely rest on the shoulders of the Tea Party, but rather on the demagogues who, in their quest for political power, drown out the intellectual voices of reason with the war drums of acrimony.  There are few leaders who have the desire or ability to push the Tea Party into a rational and productive direction.

What America and the Tea Party need are individuals who can guide the warranted, but unproductive, ire into constructive channels.  If academia continues to propagate failed leaders, other avenues should be taken to generate intellectuals schooled in the full history of America.  What is important, though, is not the means of reviving these ideas, but the end of having political and thought leaders who can cogently adduce the principles necessary to keep America on the right path.  The Tea Party's real worth will be shown if it can generate this revival.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Obama the Desperate

The growing fear in the White House is palpable. As Election Day and the looming Democratic defeat inch closer, the administration’s political tactics smack of a growing desperation to derail the Republicans at any cost. The most recent and unbecoming attacks have been unleashed by Obama upon the US Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, these misguided strategies not only put on raw display the administration’s weaknesses and failures, but will drive an already skeptical America further from the Democrats.

The latest issue began after a liberal think tank released an unsubstantiated report alleging that the US Chamber of Commerce has used foreign funds for political advertisements. President Obama quickly jumped on the bandwagon, seemingly hoping to link these supposed shady foreign dealings with Republican candidates who are often supported by the Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber of Commerce was quick to respond; denying any involvement in what is an illegal practice and emphasizing that there is no reason, outside of slanderous politics, for anyone to raise the generally institution’s funding practices. In a letter, Chamber President Tom Donohue wrote:

Let me be clear. The Chamber does not use any foreign money to fund voter education activities—period. We have strict financial controls in place to ensure this.... Under our accounting system, these revenues are never used to support any political activities. We are in full compliance with all laws and regulations.
Given these facts, the administration and Congressional leaders who attacked the Chamber have been challenged by journalists to produce any evidence to the contrary. They came up empty and, turning the American principles of fairness and justice upside down, our accusers have actually suggested that the Chamber should prove that it has not done anything wrong.
However, despite lack of any evidence and criticism by much of the press, the Democrats have been unwilling to back down. During recent questioning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to drop the ludicrous attack. He stated, “The president will continue to make the case that we don't know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas.”

Tactics to distract voters are often used by both political parties. When the issues do not look favorable for the party in power, it can be politically expedient to draw voters’ attentions elsewhere. However, in general, there should be at least a kernel of truth in the diversionary issue. In this instance, this appears to be lacking. By randomly targeting an organization, based on nothing but partisan differences, the administration is acting childish. If Democrats and Republicans were to consistently use this strategy, accusing every union, business group, lobby, or other partisan organization of unproven crimes, it would clog public discourse with frivolous babble. It is one thing to raise issues – say Christine O’Donnell’s witchiness – that, even if inane, are at least based in facts; it is quite another to harass organizations simply to divert voter attention.

This makes it all the more embarrassing for the president to mire himself in such puerile politicking. Such mudslinging should be left to loosely associated lackeys and radio talk show hosts, not the president himself. The fact that Obama feels the need to partake in this faux battle reveals a deep fear of November 2nd and a determination to avoid the anticipated outcome by any means. It puts on clear display the reality that the administration does not have the self-confidence to support fellow Democrats with its record or its policy proposals. It shows Obama understands that his policies have failed America. After all, if he believed America has been happy with his administration he would campaign on his successes, not pie-in-the-sky accusations.

However, it is unlikely that smear tactics will sway an unhappy electorate. America who, driven by a poor economy, distaste with the administration’s hubris, and general opprobrium with the Democrats’ inability to successfully run the country, will most certainly see through the ploy to distract voters. But more significantly, Americans will be angered by the performance. Generally speaking, they do not want their president to stoop to this level. The office should be above this type of low-brow partisan behavior and by dragging it in the mud Obama will hurt his image.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Obama’s strategy will surely backfire and reinforce his detached image. It will further convince America that the administration is devoid of practical and acceptable ideas and it will solidify the past two years as a time of wasteful government growth and backward policies. Elections should be about ideas and policies, not mudslinging. And while both parties often fail at this, Obama’s current inability to focus on real issues and a growing strategy of smearing the Republicans only signifies that he and his party are in big trouble.

Friday, October 8, 2010

D'Souza on Obama

Dinesh D'Souza wrote a very interesting article in today's Washington Post.  He agrues that Obama is a classical anti-colonist who gets his ideas directly from his father, a man who once called for complete socialism (and a 100% tax rate) in Kenya.  His argument, that Obama focuses not on poverty and equality but upon "the rich, whom he accuses of not paying their 'fair share,'" has a ring of truth to it.  Obama certainly spends a lot of time stoking the populist flame by portraying the "rich" and "Wall Street" as greedy.  D'Souza's article certainly raises a new and interesting argument regarding this side of the President.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Conservative Purity Test

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has performed yet another analysis of the so-called conservative purity test - the call by the supposedly "pure" members of the GOP to purge the RINOs.  Unsurprisingly, a high number of historical giants within the Republican Party failed to pass muster - including both Bob Dole and Gerald Ford.  Why is it that so many insist on purging the moderate and "liberal" Republicans from the ranks of the GOP?  Isn't the goal of a political party, particularly in a two-party system, to expand the tent to include as many allies as possible?  Even if one disagrees with a liberal Republican, it is likely that there is more ground for agreement with them than a Democrat.  Driving them from the party helps no one but the other side.  If the conservative members of the GOP really want a more pure (whatever that means) party, they're better off trying to convince these "tainted" Republicans of the rightness (pun intended) of the conservative viewpoint, thus keeping them in the fold.  After all, while ideology is important, in a democracy, numbers matter too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Union of Selfishness

The teachers’ unions are once again on the defensive, following the recent release of the much lauded movie, “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” The film, made by the same people that created “An Inconvenient Truth,” has fomented a surge of discussion on the woes of the American education system and, in particular, the dastardly effects of teachers’ unions.

The documentary highlights Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, as a paragon of what is right in education reform. Rhee, who recently sat down with The Washington Post for an interview, underscores human capital as the number one issue facing the system. In particular, she emphasizes teacher evaluations, pay-for-performance metrics, and tools to attract competent principals as key factors in improving underperforming schools.

Rhee could not be more correct in focusing on what are essentially competitive, free-market solutions to education’s woes. Unfortunately, as America is starting to realize, the teachers’ unions are standing in the way of the reform needed to help the country’s children. This battle has been all too clearly demonstrated in New Jersey, where the endearing Republican Governor, Chris Christie, has taken on the egocentric teachers’ union, heaping much deserved shame upon them for their inordinate selfishness. In a rousing speech (see video below), Christie bluntly countered the all-too-common argument that the unions add any value to society. The interest of the unions is not that of the teachers, who as he admits are mostly well intentioned, and certainly not that of the students, but solely of the union as a vested interest. Christie has continued his campaign against the obdurate unions in a recent political speech in Iowa, where he mocked the unions for their power hungry nature.

The issue is systematic of the market distorting effects that unions – or any consolidated power – have in industry. They often are founded with the notion of protecting a specific marginalized group, but quickly devolve into powerful and obstinate special interests that rarely help those they purportedly represent and always disrupt the industry in which they operate. Unions played a significant role in destroying the Detroit auto industry and have continued to drag America’s education system through the mud.

The problem is that the teachers’ unions not only prevent the best teachers from being favorably compensated and encouraged to excel, but also protect those “teachers” who are utterly useless. The infamous “rubber rooms,” which have been eliminated in New York City largely in name only, are a prime example of the harmful effects of these unions. Likewise, unions are often opposed to such logical and widely accepted business models such as merit-based pay. As The Economist points out, the DC teachers’ union turned down an offer from Rhee to double teachers’ salaries if tenure was removed and merit-based pay instituted. How such a refusal by the union helps the teachers – particularly the good ones – is questionable, but the harm done to students is palpable. A mock discussion, articulated by Christie, between a child and a parent sums up the foolishness of the unions,

To believe that, this is what you have to believe: Let's say your son comes home and he says, "Mom, Dad, I can't study. I can't study, I can't work, my grades are suffering, because you know, Mrs. Smith, she's not getting her pay raises. And it gets worse," he said, feigning whines. "She actually has to pay 1.5 percent of her salary for health benefits. I cannot focus. I cannot focus with that knowledge. Mom, Dad, stop the madness. Give this woman her raise and her free health benefits and I'll get all A's."
Ultimately, it is the schools and the students – and hence America – that suffer. The backward, selfish, and short-sighted policies of the unions sap resources that could otherwise help students. Instead, these resources aid the institutional structure of the union and the worst-of-the-worst teachers. If America wants to continue its growth and not see our children and economy continue to fall behind those of China and India, it is time to break the stranglehold that these partisan interests have on our schools.


Is Obama an Idealist?

What is Obama's foreign policy?  The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt asks this in a recent editorial.  As Hiatt points out, Obama has recently increased his pro-democracy rhetoric; however this stands in contrast to Obama's historical approach to foreign policy.  After an early start of kowtowing to foreign powers, a refusal to work with the revolutionary movement against the Iranian regime, and an increase in relations with tyrannical regimes, it is surprising to see democracy promotion coming from the White House.  It seems unlikely this is the result of a hidden idealism, particularly in light of Obama's (inept) realist approach.  Unfortunately, it is most likely nothing more than empty rhetoric - a bone tossed to the democracy promoters in his base.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's a Jungle Out There!

The left – environmentalists in particular – have long had an affinity for the jungle. The majesty and biodiversity of unmolested nature have inspired generations on the left to protect the jungle from man’s adulterous hands. In response, the right has often scorned such appreciation as the sentiment of mere hippies and tree-huggers. The jungle becomes a battleground between conservationists and capitalists.

But while the left claims the ‘righteous path’ of stewardship of the jungle, there is a lesson found in there that offers profound support to the beliefs of the right. If one spends a small quantum of time in a jungle, it becomes apparent that it is a prime metaphor for capitalism.

At first this may seem contradictory. After all, the common understanding the jungle is the epitome of nature, while the market is the embodiment of man’s conquest of nature. However, the fact often overlooked is that the market-system is nature. Men, in their hubris, often try to separate the world of mankind from the natural, forgetting that although humankind certainly has an inordinate power to alter his landscape, it still operates within the system of nature.

The beauty and biodiversity of the jungle arise from the same source that fosters the market-system – competition. Every actor in the jungle, whether plant or animal, is operating in its own self-interest, for its own survival. And while many environmentalists attempt to hang their hats on the concept of balance-of-nature, what is missed is that this balance comes spontaneously and is in no way planned. The panther is not a noble creature that consciously oversees the inner workings of jungle, but a selfish individual that takes what he can to provide for his own survival. If he fails, he dies; if he succeeds, someone else dies. There is no concept of justice, simply a self-correcting balance.

This leads to a high level of competition and subsequently specialization. This becomes abundantly clear if one looks at the profusion of wildlife and the niche roles that each species plays in the jungle system. Not only does competition develop this specialization, but it leads to a tangible wealth. The wealth of the jungle is a rich mosaic of life, of colors and of activity. In practice, the world of Charles Darwin is not that far from the market system of competition as elucidated by Adam Smith.

What is striking is that so many environmentalists stand against the notions of capitalism and never realize that they grow from the same source. This does not mean to disregard the natural competition in which environmentalists and capitalists engage over the use (or lack of use) of natural resources – which obviously puts them at odds. However, what is significant is that many can recognize the beauty of this natural, competitive process in the environment, while simultaneously dismissing it in the human environs of the world. In truth, those that appreciate this magnificence in nature should, at least in a philosophical sense, fall closer to the capitalists of the right, than the socialist planners of the left.

Keep on Eye on Christie

Chris Christie is the Republican to keep an eye on.  His demeanor and ability to step above the political game have endeared him to many.  Once again, Christie has taken on a bully with poise and an eloquence that not only silences those opposed to real reform and dialogue, but manages to make Christie look like the benevolent knight.  It is a unique characteristic among politicians, especially amongst those on the right, who far too often cower from standing firm on positions that are correct, simply for want of an understanding of the real idea behind them.  Not only does Christie have a powerful persona, but he is making a real difference in New Jersey.  If not in 2012 then 2016 will be the year for Christie. 

See here how Christie silences Meg Whitman's heckler:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ahmedinejad is 'At It' Again

Iran's bellicose leader - Mahmoud Ahmedinejad - is at it again.  While at the United Nations, he repeatedly used provacative language to take stabs at both Israel and the United States, threating a war that "would know no boundaries."  It is hard to believe that even he could take himself seriously, but it is far from likely that he is anything but sane.  So what drives his repeated rants?  Could he be fearing an upcoming Israeli attack?  Could he be attempting to stifle the domestic opposition by reiterating the supposed external threat?  Or is he simply trying to provoke others agains US rule?

For an interesting look at his political acumen (not to mention his 'odd' theories), watch the video below where he deftly ignores every question from George Stephanopoulos.

Jimmy Carter Redux

Most on the right have long compared Barack Obama to the most recent presidential disaster - Jimmy Carter.  Apparently, now the left is seeing the same dismal traits in their once god-like Chief Executive.  John Fund, of The Wall Street Journal, outlines a fair portrayal of the similarities, based on some key Democrats' opinions - including Walter Mondale, Carter's own Vice-President.

Hopefully, the Democrats will learn from Carter's mistakes before repeating them any further in the Obama administration.  However, it seems unlikely that the administration will even consider an about-face.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Do Muslims Want the Mosque?

While it seems unequivocal that Muslims have the right to build the Ground Zero mosque, there is much room for discussion on whether, out of sensitivity, it should be built.  It seems apparent that, if the goal is really to build bridges it is not going to happen through this manner.  SAIS's Fouad Ajami says this much in a recent Wall Street Journal editiorial.  He further points out that according to a recent Arab poll, 58% of Arabs are against the building of the mosque.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Krauthammer on Delaware

Charles Krauthammer wrote a great editorial on the GOP's primary election in Delaware, where Tea Partier Christine O'Donnell defeated the general election shoo-in candidate and liberal Republican, Mike Castle.  As political wisdom goes, the GOP will now most likely lose Delaware to the Democrats.

Krauthammer is right to object to voting for candidates in primaries that are unelectable in the general election.  The Tea Party may be angry - and justifiable in their upsets - but cutting off the nose to spite the face is just foolish politics.

A New New Republican

To My Readers:

As I am sure those of you who read regularly have noticed, the volume of my posting has declined precipitously over the past few months.  Since I have swithed life from a single, working professional to a married, graduate student (pursuing a MA in International Relations as Johns Hopkins SAIS), I have found far less time to give to ANR.  However, I don't want to see ANR wither away, so a change in format is necessary.

My aim is to have one old-style ANR 'essay' post each week, rather than the multiple that previously made up the blog.  In addition, I will provide short links - perhaps with some commentary - to various articles and editorials that are relevant to the ANR mission.  As always comments, feedback, and, now, links to interesting articles are always appreciated.  I hope you enjoy my new experiment.

Josh

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The "Right" Way to Look at Proposition 8

Supporters of gay marriage were handed a broad and sweeping victory in California earlier this month when Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 – a voter-initiated state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. While many on the right immediately reacted in protest, the ruling gives much reason for conservatives to reevaluate their stance and ultimately their politics in a fashion that is more consistent with their professed principles.

Much of conservative thought is grounded in the conception of individual liberty. Individuals have the natural right to be free from oppressive arbitrary coercion. While such liberty may result in some individuals choosing to live lifestyles that others may find objectionable, ultimately a principled conservative realizes that using the tools of government to force compliance with one particular way of life or discriminate against those who do not conform is unjust.

While most conservatives rightly uphold this principle, it far too often falls to the wayside when certain lifestyle choices come to the fore – in this instance gay marriage. Regardless of how one perceives a homosexual lifestyle, the concept of individual liberty cannot condone interference in such personal choices. Every individual should have the right to choose their life-partner and be treated equally under the law.

At the same time as ignoring this fundamental principle of conservative thought, many conservatives rely on the “family values” argument to bolster their position. However, anti-gay policies miss the true importance of family values. Not only does this distort what is truly worthwhile about family values, but it helps foster a counterculture that is unnecessarily opposed to such meaningful values.

The object is to recognize what “family values” are. The simplistic construct that family values represent a husband, wife, 2.4 kids, a picket fence, and a dog is meaningless. True family values are about a small social group – the family – that is built around the ideals of commitment, mutual support, responsibility, duty, and a number of other important attributes. In this sense, it is obvious that a family is much more than a husband and wife. In reality it has no relationship with the identities of the family members but has everything to do with the values the family members share and their treatment of each other.

A good family – which serves as the basis of American society – needs to possess these qualities regardless of its member’s genders or sexual orientation. Conservatives, far too often, seem to miss this simple, yet significant point. The GOP’s focus should be on building strong family values, not on bashing gays. By developing initiatives that teach the worth of commitment, communication, and responsibility, conservatives will be able to strengthen the family unit and help Americans learn how more successfully engage their loved ones.

There are many gays who would and do accept such values as their own (some in much better fashions than their heterosexual counterparts); however, the insistence of the right on linking “family values” with anti-gay policies not only tarnishes the associated values but breeds a guilt-by-association phenomenon. As a result, the baby is tossed out with the bathwater, as many dismiss everything that is good with family values in favor of a hedonistic counterculture that is destructive to the American way. While such a libidinous lifestyle is often associated with homosexuality, this needn’t be the case. Such a life is built in the rejection of family values, not the sexuality of the individual (after all there are many heterosexuals who live a counterculture lifestyle and many homosexuals that don’t). Smart conservatives should focus on separating the issues of individual sexuality from family values.

While conservative intolerance towards gays certainly does not compel every homosexual into an alternative lifestyle, it does repel a large majority from a political party that would otherwise be a natural fit. These imprudent policies unnecessarily shrink the base and handicap Republican efforts at bring about meaningful policy changes. The GOP needs to drop its foolish and losing anti-homosexual policy stance and embrace the fundamental principle of liberty that is so appealing to America. This will not only draw those that are ideologically similar back into the fold but reaffirm the commitment to true individual liberty and family values.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Morality of Profit Competition

So as I'm sure you all know I'm a little interested in politics and policy and I could use 30 seconds of your time to help me in a competition. I have recently submitted an essay to the Morality of Profit competition. An excerpt of my essay is posted here http://www.moralityofprofit.com/the-river-of-humanity-you-have-to-harness-human-nature/. If you could be so kind to quickly take a look at the link, it'd be a big help. The excerpt that gets the most hits will have the option of being published in an upcoming book. If you REALLY want to help, you can look at it on multiple computers and pass it along to friends and family that might be interested. And if the topic interests you, write comments and engage - I always love discuss.

For those of you that are interested in the policy issues - it is a very interesting discussion - take a look at the Seven Fund website.  The Seven Fund aims to help developing countries using free-market solutions.  Their goal in this project is to foster discussion on profit and morality.  Is profit moral?  Why? How?  Is it a means or end?  This is a particularly relevant topic given today's economy and issues such as BP's oil spill.

My take is that it is necessary and moral, not only as an organizer of society but as a method to obtain the best for everyone.  It is futile to fight against human nature, so we might as well harness it.  Check the link for my excerpt and other submissions!

Thanks.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The World vs. Israel

Israel once again stands alone versus the world, suffering an unjustified, biased, and prejudicial backlash over its handling of the attempted blockade-running by a group of pro-Palestinian activists-cum-aggressors. Earlier this week, a flotilla of six ships attempted to break the Israeli and Egyptian enforced blockade of the Gaza Strip in what they thinly described as a ‘humanitarian-aid’ mission.

The flotilla was anything but driven by humanitarian aims. The organizers themselves described it primary as a mission to break the blockade – a political, not a compassionate goal.  Greta Berlin, leader of Free Gaza, one of the organizing groups stated, "Our mission is to break the blockade of Gaza."  And while the activists filled their ships with wheelchairs and other non-military items, the cynical ruse was not to provide the supposedly oppressed Gazans with these supplies, but win a public relations battle versus Israel. In this vein, the flotilla refused offers from the Israeli navy to transfer the humanitarian supplies to Gaza overland via the Israeli port of Ashdod, instead opting to have a high-seas confrontation with the Israeli navy.

The activists knew very well that they could set a trap for Israel, creating a win-win situation. Either they would break the blockade, thus rendering Israel’s necessary defense ineffective or they would goad the Israelis into a battle that although winnable in a tactical sense would receive the standard international condemnation.

The Israelis were unfortunately caught in the latter, as the passengers of the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara¸ violently attacked the boarding Israeli commandos after refusing to stop their approach towards Gaza. Despite being primarily armed with paintball guns and cautioned to treat the mission as a police, not a military, assignment, the Israeli commandos were ruthlessly beaten, attacked, and savaged by the supposed ‘peaceniks’. The commandos responded in-kind, defending their own lives, and leaving nine Turkish passengers dead.

Unsurprisingly, there was quick condemnation from the international community. Many critics argue that Israel used excessive force in dealing with the activists. But while such denunciation is routine, is highly unjustified. Video footage [Clip 1 Clip 2 Clip 3 Clip 4] from the incident is unquestionably clear as to the violence of the passengers. News reports, largely ignored by the Western media, indicate that at least 50 of the 700 activists were hired mercenaries, strategically placed to inflict maximum harm. Other reports indicate that guns and other weaponry may have been thrown overboard after the fight. And to boot, there are firm connections between the organizers of the flotilla, a ‘charity’ referred to as IHH, and radical Islamist terrorists, such as Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Israel is the one country the world loves to pick on. In a combination of anti-Semitism, anti-Westernism, liberal apologism, Islamism, and a disgusting moral equivalency, Israel finds itself internationally isolated, save for some tepid support by the US administration. The backwardness and hypocrisy of this is appalling. Little is said when North Korea sinks a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors, criticism is muted against the intra-Muslim massacres that routinely occur in Iraq, and condemnation of the abuses of such regimes ranging from Iran to Sudan is dismissed; however, Israel, operating in a legal and just fashion to defend itself, is blasted from every corner.

Leaving aside the justness of the specific blockade for a moment, it is indubitable that any country maintaining a blockade of an enemy force will seek to maintain the barrier. The activists knew this very well and chose to pick a fight. No blockade can be successful if anyone claiming ‘humanitarian aid’ can simply waltz through. By not complying with the restrictions of the blockade the flotilla necessarily became an antagonistic force towards Israel, which rightly had to impede the ships’ progress. Any country at war would do the same, most without the conscientious regard for the perpetrators wellbeing (and the aid, by the way, is already en route overland to Gaza). As the fate of the other five ships demonstrates, the Israelis had no interest in harming any people on board; only when the pro-Palestinians became aggressive did the commandos feel a need to respond.

Critics, however, point to the blockade as the source of all problems. The fact is that the blockade is necessary, proper, and legal. It is (or has been) accepted by the Quartet, the four major negotiators in the region, and managed in tandem with Egypt. Both Egypt and Israel are threatened by the heinous leadership that is Hamas, which not only subverts its people but routinely sends rockets into Israel. The blockade is indispensable in preventing Hamas from rearming, which ultimately will save both Israeli and Palestinian lives.

The anti-Israel rhetoric is grounded in a baseless argument that the blockade and the fight against Hamas is anything but necessitated by Israel’s desire for security and self-preservation. Arguments that claim collective punishment or state oppression are meaningless pufferies that are aimed to excite the emotions of the na├»ve and ignore the reality in the region. One only need compare the conditions in Gaza to those in West Bank to see Israel’s true aims when it comes to the blockade. The West Bank, run by the more moderate Fatah, is far less violent and threatening to Israel, and thus has not been blockaded.

The Mavi Marmara incident has unjustly given Israel a black-eye, but should not sway the Netanyahu administration from the correctness of its course. As the next flotilla, led by the Rachel Corrie, heads towards Gaza’s shores, the Israelis must be resolute in protecting the blockade. To give an inch is to undermine the last defense they have against a resurgent Hamas in Gaza. As the international community slowly whittles away at the foundations of Israeli security, the tiny nation must do what it can to preserve its existence. While, per standard procedures, all actions should be taken to minimize civilian harm, Israel must recognize that no matter what actions it takes, short of liquidating itself, it will receive international condemnation. It is far better to receive global opprobrium than sow the seeds of your own destruction.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sitting Ducks?

It’s open season on incumbency. In a number of widely anticipated elections, the grassroots dealt a serious blow to the establishment. First, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) joined Republican Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) as the latest senator to lose a primary battle. Specter, a five-term, thirty-year veteran, was defeated by Joe Sestak, despite (or maybe due to) being endorsed by President Obama. Likewise, Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky. Paul, the son of Ron Paul and self-avowed Tea Partier, beat Trey Grayson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) hand-selected candidate. Finally, Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent Democrat from Arkansas, was forced into a runoff election.

These three elections, coupled with Bennett’s recent primary loss in Utah and Scott Brown’s senatorial win in Massachusetts, show the growing power of the anti-establishment movements in the U.S. Americans, on both the left and right, are largely fed up with the status quo and looking to replace everyone and anyone that is ‘part of the machine.’

Critics of this argument may point to the closely watched special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District as a counterpoint. The anti-incumbent storyline was supposed to award PA-12 to Republican Tim Burns. Burns was challenged by Democrat Mark Critz to fill the seat held for decades by the late Democrat Congressman John Murtha. Critz, a former aide to Murtha, was the epitome of the establishment. Simultaneously, the district met every characteristic of one that the GOP needs to win in order to take back Congress. Despite this, Critz managed to beat Burns.

However, while Critz won, the manner in which he ran his campaign only furthers the anti-establishment narrative. As Politico writes, “In districts like Critz’s… the lesson appeared to be that Democrats would be better off keeping their national leaders away—or perhaps only bringing in select figures who can still appeal to centrists, such as former President Bill Clinton, who appeared in Johnstown on Sunday with Critz and Murtha’s widow.” Critz not only is a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat, but opposed healthcare and fought off attempts to be linked to Pelosi and the administration.

All of this together is stark proof of the new political toxicity of incumbency and the Obama administration. While incumbent status used to offer politicians benefits, it now only seems to offer pains. There are a few lessons to be learned from this new pattern.

First, the Obama administration has squandered the overwhelming popular support that swept it into office less than two years ago. Not only did the Democrats misread the election results as a mandate to push forward a liberal agenda, but they so severely overstepped that they fomented widespread anger. As a result, Obama’s popularity has plummeted to 49% and the ‘national consensus’ behind the Democrats has been squandered. For many Americans, the Democrats have gone from the outsiders who could fix Washington, to the very essence of political hacks.

Second, yesterday’s elections profoundly display the political impotence of the administration. Obama had campaigned vigorously for the Democratic candidates in the Virginia and New Jersey governor races, only to see them won by the GOP. Likewise, the administration allowed Martha Coakley to lose Ted Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown. After these fiascos, the administration pushed Joe Sestak not to challenge Arlen Specter (Obama was presumably too embarrassed to even stump for Specter in the primaries). Sestak not only did not listen, but defeated the administration’s pick. The administration has shown itself to not just be unable to keep its party members in-line, but as a political liability to those campaigning under the Democratic standard.

Third, while the pattern of anti-incumbency is targeted at both Republicans and Democrats, it will in the short-run work towards the Republican advantage. This is simply due to the fact that the GOP is in opposition. Democrats are in power and will thus be deemed more responsible at the polls. Republicans who portray themselves as outsiders that are committed to the people and are not part of the establishment will benefit immensely come November.

Finally, all candidates should be wary about appearing to be detached from their constituents. Voters seem to want representation that is based on direct responsibility to the individual rather than an elitist and paternal Washington. Populist movements loathe the exclusive and condescending attitude of many of Washington’s finest. While their emotionalism may often override their common sense, politicians – particularly the moderates – must be aware of these sentiments if they want to maintain their positions and prevent America from divisive polarization.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Think Before Protesting

The controversy surrounding the recently passed immigration bill in Arizona is quickly becoming an exercise in protest for no sake other than to protest. The bill, although imperfect, sets out to accomplish a worthy and necessary goal. And in contrast to many criticisms, it has very little downside.

One of the primary aims of the bill is to allow the state of Arizona to enforce federal immigration laws that are not being adequately handled by federal forces. It now makes the federal crime of being in the country illegally a state crime. The law, which has in practice already been implemented in some parts of Arizona, allows local authorities to manage the large numbers of illegal immigrants that are in the state. While, according to Gallup Polls, 51% of those who have heard of the law, support it, its passage has sparked widespread, albeit misguided, controversy.

The major criticism is that the bill opens the doors for racial profiling. Obviously, it would be intolerable to establish a “police state” where the authorities could stop anyone, at any time, to ask for identification. If such a bill was passed (if it even could be passed) it would be a serious breach of individual liberty and a gross power grab by the state.

However, that is not the case in Arizona. The fears, fanned by media sensationalism, of a Nazi-esque state are ill-founded. If one takes a brief peak at the legislation it is plainly obvious that the language precisely prohibits such heinous behavior. The bill states,
A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements…
This was further affirmed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, “We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent or social status.”

It further emphasizes that law enforcement officials are only to act under “reasonable suspicion.” In other words, the police are only able to check for immigration status when some action, other than race, leads them to believe that a person is an illegal immigrant.

The fact of the matter is that despite critics’ attempts to ignore or dismiss this protective language, their inclusion is evidence of an important safeguard against the main fear backing the opposition to the new law. Furthermore, those who choose to dismiss the language fail to realize that this type of protection already, and successfully, exists in regards to a whole slew of current laws. There is, generally, no wanton abuse of police power – and when there is the courts deal with them in an appropriate fashion. As John Lott points out,
Police today already have to deal with the “reasonable suspicion” standard all the time in other areas of law enforcement, and most understand very well how this standard limits what they can do. Police know that they can't pull over drivers for fear that they are smuggling drugs just because they are black.
Being vigilant to prevent abuse of power and arbitrary racial profiling is essential, but that does not negate the underlying correctness of the law. Ultimately, the presence of illegal individuals within the United States cannot be tolerated. It undermines the sovereignty and security of the nation and introduces a whole host of logistical and economic problems.

However, the Arizona bill only goes halfway. As a state bill, it has no power to reform the immigration system, which is badly needed. Strict enforcement of immigration policy – a zero tolerance for illegal presence in the United States – must go hand-in-hand with increased ease for immigrants, whether permanent or temporary, to legally be in the country.

The federal government should seize the opportunity to establish a working immigration system that gives individuals the incentive to utilize legal avenues to sharing the bounty that is America. It is mutually beneficial to have a vast supply of legal immigrants. The nativism and xenophobia that opposes real reform is unfortunate, misguided, and detrimental (and probably smaller than many on the Left believe). It must not be allowed to be a force to hinder real reform; either by the Left to mis-portray the vast majority of the Right, or for the isolated xenophobes on the Right to hijack the agenda.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Goldman Sachs Witch-Hunt

It is no shock that Goldman Sachs’s hearing before a Senate subcommittee yesterday was an episode in subterfuge and political posturing. However, the level of bipartisan vitriol and populist grandstanding was inexcusable.

The subcommittee, chaired by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), hounded a number of Goldman Sachs executives for the better part of the day. This was no exercise in fact finding, but a brutal cross-examination by a biased plaintiff. Nearly every Senator (except at rare moments Tom Coburn (R-OK)) came with a pre-planned agenda to portray Goldman Sachs as an epitome of a rampant Wall Street-gone-bad that wrecked havoc on the poor innocent investor and America’s economy. The Senators repeatedly waved sensational, but otherwise meaningless, documents in the air, simplifying the extremely complex issues until they were a digestible, but un-nutritious mush ready to be consumed by the populist masses.

These politicians are not stupid. While their understanding of the financial markets is clearly limited, they obviously comprehend the intellectual dishonesty that they exhibited. It is hard to believe that such a display, coupled with the recent bogus charges brought against Goldman Sachs by the SEC (a decision which in relatively rare form was controversially split), was anything but motivated by the desire to force through a regulatory reform package. Even the Republicans, such as John McCain (R-AZ), who is in a tough reelection battle, walked to the ‘bash Wall Street’ drumbeat.

The fact of the matter is that there is little evidence that Goldman did anything wrong. While to the uninitiated it may be difficult to understand the market and readily easy to misconstrue it as misguided, this does not stand as evidence of wrongdoing.

To begin, Senator Levin attempted to cast Goldman as the bad guy for making a profit. It is ironic that those that realized the housing bubble was inflated (and thus helped to mitigate its wanton expansion), are now being chastised for being ahead of the curve. The Washington Post says it best,
[If Goldman did not bet against the market as early as it did t]he firm would have lost billions, and it might have wound up needing an even bigger bailout by U.S. taxpayers than it actually got. It could have ended up like Citigroup, which tried to ride the bubble until it was too late and had to be propped up with hundreds of billions of dollars in federal cash and credit guarantees.
There is nothing wrong with this behavior. It is done all the time and is, in fact, what keeps the markets going. Short sales are necessary and proper in markets – even if against a long-position controlled by the same entity. This sort of hedging protects institutions and the economy in the long-run. If the world of finance is too complicated in this regard, one only needs to look to that of farming or commodities to see the same practice. Farmers, for instance, will bet against agriculture to insure against the risk of crop failure.

Besides the criticism of profit-via-short, the committee also bashed Goldman for selling, what was termed in one of the infamous documents, a “shitty” product. Needless to say, the definition of “shitty” is subjective and quite unscientific, but even if a product could be objectively proven to be “shitty” is it wrong for a company to sell it? How many less-than-stellar consumer products are sold on a daily basis? It is up to the consumer – and in this case they were quite sophisticated investors – to evaluate their purchases. Ultimately, Goldman’s knowledge about how the product was constructed has no bearing on the ability of an individual investor to assess its quality.

Now to be clear, there were a myriad of mistakes made at all levels of the economy; however, the targeted witch-hunt is unfair. It misguides popular attention from the real issues. As a result simplistic solutions are proposed to solve non-existent problems, while the real issues are ignored. The characteristic problem is the desire to find the causation of bad outcomes in practices which only look odious with hindsight. This is poor logic. Fraud must be distinguished from both bad business and good business that had bad luck. Every decision relies upon an analysis of the probability of certain outcomes. Even if the analysis is done correctly sometimes that low-probability outcome will occur. Politicians inability to address this non-sound-bit ready fact and instead chose to bash Goldman Sachs is quite unfortunate.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Religious Assault on Liberty: When Religion Coerces the Individual

Secularism-as-a-religion is by far not the only threat to liberty. Religion too can mount insidious molestations on freedom. In the newest incarnation of the Muhammad cartoon uproar, Comedy Central’s South Park, which offers puerile but wickedly intelligent social commentary on a ‘nothing is sacred’ basis, has been under attack. Creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have received loosely worded death threats for their portrayal of Muhammad – a sacrilege for many Muslims.

The threats have prompted increase police security and an unfortunate back-down by Comedy Central, which censored the cartoon. As has been discussed on ANR before, such kowtowing to radical demands is foolhardy.

At the base of the debate comes the value of the individual’s or the group’s rights. Like the radical secularists in France who are attempting to ban the burqa, the radical Muslim’s here are drastically encroaching on the right of the individual to behave as they see fit. The claims of sacrilege and a religion’s right to not be insulted are a group’s claim that attempts to subordinate the individual to the power of a few elite. In this case, the elite is the fundamentalist Islamist leadership which has determined what constitutes ‘correct’ in the eyes of their creed.

The desire to oppress the individual in the name of religion is a pernicious aim that has far too often claimed victims over the course of history. Religion, like any other influential grouping of people, should have no special rights over the individual. Each man or woman should be free to choose how to associate with others, as long as such associations do not have destructive effects on third-parties. However, such associations should have no rights to force others to adhere to their voluntarily agreed upon memes.

As offensive as South Park may or may not be, groups do not have any special privilege to not be offended. By calling for such special treatment, fundamentalist Muslims are only deepening the cultural divide and severely trampling on the fundamental rights of man. They should accept the fact that coercive force will never convince the alleged offenders to toe the line. Instead, they should work to educate others about their beliefs and affirm their own convictions regardless of what occurs in the ‘outside’ world.