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[BOOKS] David Harsanyi’s ‘The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy’

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Democracy may be one of the most admired ideas ever concocted, but what if it’s also one of the most harebrained? After many years of writing about democracy for a living, David Harsanyi has concluded that it’s the most overrated, overused, and 51SYk6is6ZL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_misunderstood idea in political life. The less we have of it the better.

[Order David Harsanyi’s bookThe People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy” from Amazon.com]

“Democracy” is not synonymous with “freedom.” It is not the opposite of tyranny. In fact, the Founding Fathers knew that democracy can lead to tyranny. That’s why they built so many safeguards against it into the Constitution.

Democracy, Harsanyi argues, has made our government irrational, irresponsible, and invasive. It has left the American people with only two options—domination by the majority or a government that can’t possibly work. The modern age has imbued democracy with the mystique of infallibility. But Harsanyi reminds us that the vast majority of political philosophers, including the founders, have thought that responsible, limited government based on direct majority rule over a large, let alone continental scale was a practical impossibility.

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In The People Have Spoken, you’ll learn:

  • Why the Framers of our Constitution were intent on establishing a republic, not a “democracy”
  • How democracy undermines self-government
  • How shockingly out of touch with reality most voters really are
  • Why democracy is an economic wrecking ball—and an invitation to a politics of envy and corruption
  • How the great political philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Burke and Tocqueville predicted with uncanny accuracy that democracy could lead to tyranny

Harsanyi warns that if we don’t recover the Founders’ republican vision, “democracy” might very well spell the end of American liberty and prosperity.

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[VIDEO] Jonah Goldberg: How will Scalia’s Death Affect the 2016 Election? 

How will the upcoming fight on Capitol Hill over Antonin Scalia‘s Supreme Court seat bleed into the 2016 presidential race? AEI Resident Fellow Jonah Goldberg explains how Scalia’s passing drama.

Source: AEI


Richard Dreyfuss: ‘Hey, We Should Rewrite Second Amendment’

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‘It’s the only amendment that’s obscurely written’. People should be allowed have guns if they ‘participate in a militia’, only.

Awr Hawkins writes: In a July 23 interview published in the New York Observer, actor Richard Dreyfuss said he would like to rewrite the 2nd Amendment to make it clear it applies to the militia rather than individual rights.

Dreyfuss said this after being asked, “What was the Founding Fathers’ biggest mistake” and “What article of the Constitution would you rewrite?”

Dreyfuss said their biggest mistake was in not “[making] public education part of the Constitution.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sorry, Everyone, America Isn’t That Racist

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Read more…

The Federalist


Barack Obama, Re-Founding Father

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It isn’t just ‘Obama’s power grabs.’ It’s a redesign of the Founders’ original vision

renocol_DanHenningerDaniel Henninger writes: To the list of questions Hillary Clinton will never answer, add one more: Would a second Clinton presidency continue and expand Barack Obama’s revision of the American system of government that existed from 1789 until 2009?

The central feature of Mr. Obama’s rewrite of what one might call the Founding Fathers’ original vision has been to abolish Congress. Yes, the 535 men and women elected to Congress still show up at the old Capitol building, as they have since November 1800.

“If you put the president behind the wheel of a car in front of the White House to visit Congress, he’d probably get lost.”

But once past passage of ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank, the 44th president effectively retired Congress from its historic function. If you put the president behind the wheel of a car in front of the White House to visit Congress, he’d probably get lost.

This is not a joke if you are one of the many million Americans the Re-Founding Father has commanded, via vast executive power, to do what he wants you to do. He did it again last week.

“This is not the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton. It is the progressive left wing, which won party control by defeating the Clinton machine in 2008. As a matter of ideology, it is ‘impatient’ with the pace of change possible under the pre-2009 system of checks and balances.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, whose neo-constitutional function is to serve as a primary executor of Mr. Obama’s re-dos, waved into existence a massive expansion of the Clean Water Act. Landowners across America woke up to discover that the EPA has designated ponds, creeks, rivulets, ditches, catch basins and water-filled potholes as subject to what the Clean Water Act originally called “navigable waters.”

From somewhere on Capitol Hill, a plaintive Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat North Dakota’s voters bothered to elect in 2012, said: “It’s frustrating that after so much time, the EPA today decided to finalize this rule instead of . . . releasing a revised rule as our legislation would require.” Legislation?

ILLUSTRATION- DAVID GOTHARD

“With Congress rendered moribund, the new branch of the American political system is the federal enforcement bureaucracy.”

Conservatives by now are numb to Mr. Obama’s expansions of executive power. They call it an “abuse” of authority, and no doubt it is. “Abuse,” however, makes it sound like the whim of one politician, a Huey Long-like convulsion. This isn’t a one-off. This is how the modern Democratic Party governs. It is how a Clinton presidency would govern every day of the week.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

This is not the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey,Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton. It is the progressive left wing, which won party control by defeating the Clinton machine in 2008. As a matter of ideology, it is “impatient” with the pace of change possible under the pre-2009 system of checks and balances. Former law professor Elizabeth Warren could teach seminars on the progressive Re-Founding of America.

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“Former law professor Elizabeth Warren could teach seminars on the progressive Re-Founding of America.”

Barack Obama, channeling decades of theory, says constantly that the traditional system has failed. He said it in his 2011 Osawatomie, Kan., speech: “It doesn’t work. It has never worked.” He has attacked Congress repeatedly as a failed institution, teeing it up for mass revulsion just as he did the 1%.

“This is not a joke if you are one of the many million Americans the Re-Founding Father has commanded, via vast executive power, to do what he wants you to do. He did it again last week…Landowners across America woke up to discover that the EPA has designated ponds, creeks, rivulets, ditches, catch basins and water-filled potholes as subject to what the Clean Water Act originally called ‘navigable waters.'”

With Congress rendered moribund, the new branch of the American political system is the federal enforcement bureaucracy. Read the rest of this entry »


Michael Barone: Is it Time for Civil Disobedience of Kludgeocratic Bureaucracy?

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Michael BaroneBarone-3 writes: Is there any way to reverse the trend to ever more intrusive, bossy government? Things have gotten to such a pass, argues Charles Murray, that only civil disobedience might — might — work. But the chances are good enough, he says, that he’s written a book about it: By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.

“The Progressive push to give politically insulated bureaucrats power to impose detailed and often incomprehensible rules was a product of the industrial era, a time when it was supposed that experts with stopwatches could design maximally productive assembly lines.”

Murray has a track record of making seemingly outlandish proposals that turn out to be widely accepted public policy. His 1984 book Losing Ground recommended the radical 51j9hLRFPVL._SL250_step of abolishing all welfare payments. A dozen years later the federal welfare reform act took a long step in that direction.

[Order Charles Murray’s book “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission” from Amazon.com]

Murray was prompted to write By the People, he says, when a friend who owns a small business was confronted by OSHA inspectors and had an experience similar to one recounted in Philip Howard’s The Death of Common Sense.

[Read the full text of Michael Barone’s article here, at WashingtonExaminer.com]

The inspector found violations. Railings in his factory were 40 inches high, not 42; there was no automatic shutoff on a conveyor belt cordoned off from workers; a worker with a beard was allowed to use a non-close-fitting dust mask. Picayune stuff. But unless changes were made, the inspector said, we’ll put you out of business.

“What is to be done? Citizens, says Murray, should be willing to violate laws that the ordinary person would instantly recognize as ridiculous. And deep-pocketed citizens should set up a Madison Fund, to subsidize their legal defense and pay their fines.”

How had things come to this pass? Murray ascribes it to the abandonment of effective limits on government embedded in the Constitution by its prime architect James Madison. That started with the early twentieth century Progressives, who passed laws setting up independent and supposedly expert bureaucrats in charge of regulation, and furthered by New Deal Supreme Court decisions.

“The cultural uniformity that people remember from the post-World War II decades is the exception rather than the rule in American history. We were a religiously, ethnically and regionally diverse nation in James Madison’s time, Murray says, and we are once again. The uniformity temporarily imposed by shared wartime and postwar experiences is no more.”

Murray argues that these mistakes cannot be reversed by the political or judicial processes. The Court won’t abandon longstanding doctrines on which millions of people have relied. Congress, even a Republican Congress working with a Republican president, won’t repeal vaguely worded statutes that give regulators wide-ranging discretion. Read the rest of this entry »


And Now a Word from James Madison

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Read Charles C. W. Cooke‘s Congress Seems Happy to Have Its Powers Usurped 

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Don’t blame King Obama, blame his enabling band of cavaliers…

Disclaimer: The James Madison quote is 95% accurate.

more at NRO

 


The Madison Paradox and Obama’s Constitution Day Stealth Comment: Referring to Our Constitutional Rights as ‘Privileges’

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 15: Ethan Kasnett, an 8th grade student at the Lab School in Washington, DC, views the original constitution. (Brendan Smialowski/GETTY IMAGES)

Maybe James Madison was right. Maybe the Bill of Rights wasn’t just unnecessary, it was a bad idea, destined to be viewed in the distant future exactly the wrong way

For United LibertyJason Pye catches Obama’s shaded wording, and writes a welcome blast of corrective historical clarity. Though I can’t resist including my own comments in the margins, the piece stands as testament to the power of word choices. Pye writes:

…In his presidential proclamation marking Constitution Day, President Barack Obama offered some insight into how he views the Bill of Rights. “Our Constitution reflects the values we cherish as a people and the ideals we strive for as a society,” Obama said in the release. “It secures the privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.”

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“It secures the rights privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.”

Given that this White House is known for its expansive view of executive power, the assertion that the rights guaranteed and protected under the Bill of Rights, the fact that President Obama views these fundamental liberties to be “privileges” isn’t too terribly surprising. After all, President Obama treats the legislative branch — which, again, is supposed to be a co-equal branch of the federal government — as an afterthought as it arbitrarily changes statues and even refuses to founding-brosenforce laws.

[Check out Joseph J. Ellis’ “Founding Brothers” at Amazon.com]

But words matter. To say the rights secured by the Constitution are “privileges” implies that they can be revoked. Let’s put this another way: a high school-aged kid is given the privilege of taking their father’s car out to go hang out with friends, that is until they abuse it by getting caught speeding or into a car accident. The disappointed father would, no doubt, take away the privilege.

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Rights and liberties, however, are based on a solid foundation. They can’t be taken away by some paternalistic president. The view of the framers was that the rights protected under the Bill of Rights existed before the formation of the federal government under the Constitution. In short, they were natural rights.

In fact, James Madison believed that a list of specific rights was unnecessary.

editor-commen-deskThough we celebrate the ratification of the Bill of Rights, I can’t help but interrupt to expand on Jason Pye‘s oversimplification — Madison didn’t believe that a list of specific rights was unnecessary, Madison and others believed listing individual rights would set a dangerous precedent. As illustrated in my half-remembered reading of Joseph J. Ellis’ “Founding Brothers” the dissenters wisely understood that making a special top-ten list of rights could lead to a troubling misperception that individual rights are limited, reducible to a specific list. Which could then be used to mislead future generations into accepting false limits.

It’s federal powers that are finite, narrow, and limited. So limited you could number them. (enumerated powers) Individual rights, as conceived by the founders–aren’t limited, they’re virtually infinite. Not reducible to a list. Enshrining some of them in a list would lead to, well, exactly the misunderstanding that persists to this day. The argument resisting an enumerated “Bill of Rights” wasn’t perfect, but it had merit. It showed foresight.

Jason Pye continues:

Thankfully, George Mason and others, to ensure ratification, convinced Madison to come up with proposals, ten of which were passed by Congress and approved by at least three-fifths of the states. Read the rest of this entry »


Don’t Know Much About History: Senator Schumer Credits Jefferson for Bill of Rights

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For Washington TimesStephen Dinan reports: Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, stumbled Tuesday over basic American history, crediting Thomas Jefferson for authorship of the Bill of Rights during a debate over the First Amendment and campaign finance.

facepalm-teapot“I think if Thomas Jefferson were looking down, the author of the Bill of Rights, on what’s being proposed here, he’d agree with it. He would agree that the First Amendment cannot be absolute.”

– Harvard graduate, Senator Charles E. Schumer

While Jefferson is deemed the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, he was not intimately involved in the writing of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, which is the first 10 amendments to that founding document.

Indeed, Jefferson was out of the country, serving as minister to France at the time of both the Constitution convention and the congressional debate over the Bill of Rights. Read the rest of this entry »


Will: Progressives are Wrong About the Essence of the Constitution

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 writes: In a 2006 interviewSupreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitutionis “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected.

Now the nation no longer lacks what it has long needed, a slender book that lucidly explains the intensity of conservatism’s disagreements with progressivism. For the many Americans who are puzzled and dismayed by the heatedness of political argument today, the message of Timothy Sandefur’s “The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty” is this: The temperature of today’s politics is commensurate to the stakes of today’s argument.

The argument is between conservatives who say U.S. politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy the source of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty preexists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when “instituted” to “secure” natural rights.

Read the rest of this entry »


Smart Guns Are Dumb

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And Eric Holder is not exactly brilliant either. 

Charles C. W. Cooke writes: Addressing the assembled congressmen in his inimitable style last Friday, Attorney General Holder told a House appropriations subcommittee that he wished to “explore” the opportunities that might arise were he to be given millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and a copy of the movie Skyfall:

I think that one of the things that we learned when we were trying to get passed those common sense reforms last year, Vice President Biden and I had a meeting with a group of technology people and we talked about how guns can be made more safe.

By making them either through fingerprint identification, the gun talks to a bracelet or something that you might wear, how guns can be used only by the person who is lawfully in possession of the weapon.

It’s those kinds of things that I think we want to try to explore so that we can make sure that people have the ability to enjoy their Second Amendment rights, but at the same time decreasing the misuse of weapons that lead to the kinds of things that we see on a daily basis.

There is much that is remarkable about this rather ugly little disquisition, not least of which is Holder’s apparent inability to construct coherent, intelligible, and appropriate trains of thought. Eccentric syntax notwithstanding, the request is absolutely dripping with noblesse oblige, the clear implication being that the government remains prepared to indulge the exercise of basic liberties providing that it can find a way to ensure that the nation’s dilettantes don’t hurt themselves in the process. Read the rest of this entry »


What Happens When The Facts Don’t Fit The Progressive Script?

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The Founders’ epistemic humility and progressives’ epistemic arrogance is a lesson for all time.

For The Federalist write: From the “climate change” debate to policy disputes over early childhood intervention programs and the minimum wage, the American Left prides itself on following the facts: what they posit and describe is there for everyone’s eyes to see. When the unrepentant blind demur, Progressives can claim at least a moral right to shut down debate–after all, there is no reason to pretend that those who ignore the facts have any real standing to dispute Progressive findings.

“The American founders’ humility led them to propose less comprehensive solutions for the social and political problems of their day. But even more important, it made them tolerant of differences even on important questions and magnanimous toward those whose judgment led them to very different conclusions.”

What, then, is to be done when the facts don’t follow the Progressive script?

Consider a couple recent fact-based reports:

Nancy Pelosi on the minimum wage report: “The C.B.O. made it absolutely clear: raising the minimum wage would lift almost one million Americans out of poverty, increase the pay of low-income workers by $31 billion and help build an economy that works for everyone.” In other words, pay no attention to the 500,000 people behind the curtain.

“Progressive overconfidence shows itself most obviously in their serial efforts to remake American society, but most ominously in their lack of tolerance for those who endanger their deepest commitments.”

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council on the pipeline report: “We’re taking the inclusion of that scenario as good news” – referring to the hypothetical case, considered by the State Department, where future demand for oil is too low to encourage the development of the Canadian oil fields absent the pipeline. In other words, imagine a world where the facts fit one’s pre-determined values.

Read the rest of this entry »


The President’s Power Grab

Critics have warned that the president's promise to act in the face of congressional gridlock might amount to executive overreach. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The president’s executive overreach erodes constitutional checks and balances (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Bambi is not a dictator, but there is a danger in his aggregation of executive power

Another Op-Ed warning about Executive overreach in the Obama era is not unique. What is unique, is that it’s in the LA Times. Does Obama want to be a ruler, instead of a president?  Interestingly, the LA Times included this link in the body of the article: Photos: A peek inside 5 doomed dictators’ opulent lifestyles. Think Obama’s personal luxury is overstated? Kings and Queens are required to manage their affairs more modestly than modern U.S. presidents. As Mark Steyn likes to point out, the operational cost of the White House exceeds operating cost of all the remaining Monarchies on earth, combined.

Jonathan Turley writes:

Recently, a bizarre scene unfolded on the floor of the House of Representatives that would have shocked the framers of the Constitution. In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced that he had decided to go it alone in areas where Congress refused to act to his satisfaction. In a system of shared powers, one would expect an outcry or at least stony silence when a president promised to circumvent the legislative branch. Instead, many senators and representatives erupted in rapturous applause; they seemed delighted at the notion of a president assuming unprecedented and unchecked powers at their expense.

“The United States is at a constitutional tipping point: The rise of an uber presidency unchecked by the other two branches.”

Last week, Obama underlined what this means for our system: The administration unilaterally increased the transition time for individuals to obtain the level of insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act. There is no statutory authority for the change — simply the raw assertion of executive power.

Our system is changing in a fundamental way without even a whimper of regret. No one branch in the Madisonian system can go it alone — not Congress, not the courts, and not the president.

This massive shift of authority threatens the stability and functionality of our tripartite system of checks and balances. To be sure, it did not begin with the Obama administration. The trend has existed for decades, and President George W. Bush showed equal contempt for the separation of powers. However, it has accelerated at an alarming rate under Obama. Of perhaps greater concern is the fact that the other two branches appear passive, if not inert, in the face of expanding executive power. Read the rest of this entry »


NSA Spying Undermines Separation of Powers

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The program makes it easy for the president to spy on and blackmail his enemies

Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes:  Most of the worry about the National Security Agency’s bulk interception of telephone calls, e-mail and the like has centered around threats to privacy. And, in fact, the evidence suggests that if you’ve got a particularly steamy phone- or Skype-sex session going on, it just might wind up being shared by voyeuristic NSA analysts.

But most Americans figure, probably rightly, that the NSA isn’t likely to be interested in their stuff. (Anyone who hacks my e-mail is automatically punished, by having to read it.) There is, however, a class of people who can’t take that disinterest for granted: members of Congress and the judiciary. What they have to say is likely to be pretty interesting to anyone with a political ax to grind. And the ability of the executive branch to snoop on the phone calls of people in the other branches isn’t just a threat to privacy, but a threat to the separation of powers and the Constitution.

Read the rest of this entry »


Analysis: Federalists vs. Technocrats

Today, we treat politics as a sport, but it’s really a conflict of ideologies between federalists and technocrats…

Illustration by Barbara Kelley

Illustration by Barbara Kelley

Bruce S. Thornton writes: The media and pundits treat politics like a sport. The significance of the recent agreement to postpone the debt crisis until January, for instance, is really about which party won and which lost, which party’s tactics are liable to be more successful in the next election, and which politician is a winner and which a loser. But politics rightly understood is not about the contest of policies or politicians. It’s about the philosophical principles and ideas that create one policy rather than another—that’s what it should be about, at least.

From that point of view, the conflict between Democrats and Republicans concerns the size and role of the federal government, which is no surprise to anyone who even casually follows politics. But more important are the ideas that ground arguments for or against limited government. These ideas include our notions of human nature, and what motivates citizens when they make political decisions. Our political conflicts today reflect the two major ways Americans have answered these questions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Government default? It’s already happened, twice

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Tim Cavanaugh writes:  Although President Barack Obama and the establishment media routinely describe a potential federal default as “unprecedented,” the United States government has flaked on its debt service several times, and one expert says the current default has already begun.

The historical default precedents should be of limited comfort to Obama, however. One of the deadbeat presidents was the commander in chief during a disastrous war that saw Washington, D.C. occupied and the White House burned to the ground. The other was Jimmy Carter.

According to Connie Cass of Associated Press, the U.S. government “briefly stiffed some of its creditors on at least two occasions.” The first default took place in November 1814, during the administration of James Madison, America’s tiniest chief executive. Just a few months after the British conquest of Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, the Treasury was unable to move enough precious metal to service its debt, and missed interest payments on bonds. Boston bondholders, according to Wayne State College history professor Don Hickey, were paid off in short-term interest-bearing treasury notes or more bonds. These debt service troubles, and the war, were resolved within a few months.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Hypocrisy Of Congress’s Gold-Plated Health Care

As close observers of history and human nature, James Madison and the other Founders of the U.S. Constitution knew that the equal and unbiased application of the law to all people, especially elected officials, is essential to freedom and justice and one of the primary safeguards from authoritarianism and oppression by a ruling class.

And so, referring to the members of Congress, James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 57: “[T]hey can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society.”

Today, elected officials need to be reminded of these truths. Under pressure from Congress, the White House has carved out a special exemption for Congress and its staffers from ObamaCare—the law it recently deemed necessary for the entire country. No Republicans voted for ObamaCare. Yet it appears that some of them support the exemption President Obama approved on his own—so they would not have to go on record with a vote for or against it.

This is the height of hypocrisy, and worse, a trampling of the Founders’ code of equal application of the law. Having forced a health law on the American people, the White House and Democrats now seek to insulate themselves from the noxious portions of the law, and from the implementation struggles, indecision and uncertainty that many other Americans face today. Read the rest of this entry »


Government Isn’t Us

Jay Cost

Last week, in remarks about further increasing efficiency in government after having “made huge swaths of your government more efficient and more transparent, and more accountable than ever before,” President Barack Obama said:

[In] this democracy, we the people recognize that this government belongs to us, and it’s up to each of us and every one of us to make it work better. We can’t just stand on the sidelines. We can’t take comfort in just being cynical. We all have a stake in government success—because the government is us.

That last sentence might sound familiar to seasoned observers of the president. Back in 2010, at the University of Michigan’s commencement (and as Tea Party opposition to the president and his health care bill reached its peak), Obama said, “When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.”

In early May, at Ohio State’s commencement, he did not use the phrase “government is us,” but he made essentially the same point:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

With trust in government near an all-time low, the president’s agenda stalled in the House because of skeptical Republicans, and a host of scandals that raise questions about governmental integrity and competence, we should expect to hear a lot more of this from President Obama over the next few weeks and months. Cynicism about government is bad because, in the end, it is just “us.” Why worry?

This is pernicious nonsense. It is, of course, typical for presidents of both parties to trot out poll-tested phrases that lack internal logic or external validity. Even so, for somebody who fancies himself a scholar-president in the mold of Woodrow Wilson, it is not asking too much for him to evince a little more understanding of the constitutional foundations of the republic.

For starters, this is not a “democracy” in the sense that Obama suggests. Government is not “us” inasmuch as we elect representatives whose job it is to represent our interests as they formulate policy. This should immediately induce some measure of skepticism about the government, for it points directly at the principal-agent problem. That is, how can principals (i.e., the voters) make sure that their agents (i.e., their elected representatives) are actually working on behalf of the public, rather than for their own personal gain? As questions of public policy become more complex, and the agents become more entrenched, it becomes harder and harder for citizens to ensure that the people they elect are doing the job they were sent to do.

Moreover, there is an inherent difficulty in aggregating the interests of individual citizens into something that rightly can be called “the public good.” Many times, for instance, the policy demands of one faction will result in harm to another. What to do then? At the very least, one cannot merely assume that a “democracy” will ensure that the public good is promoted after all the votes are counted, as Obama seems to suggest. If an aggressive faction holds a numerical majority, should the minority then expect to be plundered? How does that serve the public good?

Read the rest of this entry »


Who’s a journalist?

By GLENN HARLAN REYNOLDS

Sen. Dick Durbin thinks it’s time for Congress to decide who’s a real reporter. In The Chicago Sun-Times last week, he wrote: “Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech. But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.”

How do you decide who is a journalist? Essentially, he says, it’s someone who gets a paycheck from a media organization: “A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined ‘medium’ — including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news Web site, television, radio or motion picture — for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.”

Does it really? Everyform?

Because, as I write this, most of the information I’m getting from Egypt is being tweeted and blogged by Egyptians and American expats in Egypt. The media organizations are usually hours behind.

Personally, I think a journalist is someone who’s doing journalism, whether they get paid for it or not.

And Durbin is a constitutional ignoramus if he thinks that when the Framers talked about freedom of the press, they were talking about freedom for the press as an institution.

Journalism is indeed an activity, not a profession, and though we often refer to institutionalized media as “the press,” we should remember that James Madison talked about freedom of the press as “freedom in the use of the press” — that is, the freedom to publish, not simply freedom for media organizations.

In Madison’s day, of course, the distinction wasn’t as significant as it became later, when newspaper publishing became an industrial activity. It was easy to be a pamphleteer in Madison’s time, and there was real influence in being such.

But that changed with the increase in efficiencies of scale that accompanied the industrial revolution, and “the press” in common parlance became not a tool of publication but a shorthand for those organizations large and wealthy enough to possess those tools, much as the motion-picture industry has come to be referred to as “the studios.”

Yet now technology has changed things up again; the tools of Internet publication are available to anyone, however modest his or her means. (There are even homeless bloggers; I’ve met one myself.)

The ability to publish inexpensively, and to reach potentially millions of people in seconds, has made it possible for people who’d never be able to — or even want to — be hired by the institutional press to nonetheless publish and influence the world, much like 18th century pamphleteers.

Over the past few years, a lot of big scoops have come from people other than the institutional press — from James O’Keefe’s exposés of ACORN and voter fraud, to Edward Snowden’s release of NSA secrets via Glenn Greenwald, who talking head David Gregory suggested is not a “real journalist.”

Durbin’s pontifications about who’s entitled to press freedom were uttered in the course of promoting a federal “shield law” that would allow those “real” journalists to conceal their sources. I oppose such laws in general, but to the extent that they exist, they should protect everyone who’s doing journalism, regardless of where their paycheck comes from.

I wouldn’t trust Durbin (or most of his Senate colleagues) to baby-sit my kid. I certainly don’t trust them to decide who counts as a “real” journalist — and, more importantly, who doesn’t.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee.

via Who’s a journalist? – NYPOST.com.


A Solution to Secession Fever — Federalism

Letting localities make their own decisions would stifle silly secession efforts

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Since the election, we’ve seen more interest in secession. Hundreds of thousands Americans in all 50 states have petitioned to secede. Is the United States breaking up?

Nope. No more than in 2004, when disappointed Democrats were talking about secession, and circulating maps of America divided into “The United States of Canada” and “Jesusland.” (This formulation even inspired a not-bad futuristic novel by Richard Morgan about a United States that did split.) Seceding over a presidential election is silly.

So why talk about seceding? Well, partly to register disapproval. Though I doubt President Obama is losing sleep over it, that his White House petition site is full of calls for secession is certainly an indication that many aren’t overjoyed by his re-election.

But people also talk about secession for more serious reasons. They feel that the central government doesn’t respect them, forces them to live under laws they find repugnant and takes their money away to pay off its own supporters. You see secession movements based on these principles in places like Scotland, CataloniaNorthern Italy, and elsewhere around the world. Some might succeed; others are less likely to. But in every case they represent unhappiness with the status quo.

America has an unfortunate history with secession, which led to the bloodiest war in our history and divisions that persist to this day. But, in general, the causes of secession are pretty standard around the world: Too much power in the central government, too much resentment in the unhappy provinces. (Think Hunger Games).

So what’s a solution? Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do — national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights — and then let the provinces go their own way in most other issues. Don’t like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that’s more to your taste. Meanwhile, approaches that work in individual provinces can, after some experimentation, be adopted by the central government, thus lowering the risk of adopting untested policies at the national level. You get the benefits of secession without seceding.

Sound good? It should. It’s called federalism, and it’s the approach chosen by the United States when it adopted the Constitution in 1789. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

It’s a nice plan. Beats secession. Maybe we should give it another try.

via USA Today


Enough of the Self-Service!

At the end of my visit to my town’s brand-new supermarket the other day, the cashier said she would be more than happy to help me self-check-out my purchases.

I said, “No, thank you, I would prefer that you do that.” She said, “Actually, we prefer that the customers get into the habit of checking out their groceries.” I said, “Actually, I would prefer to never get into that habit. I would prefer that you handle the entire operation. You are the cashier. You are the vicar of groceries. You, not I, work here. So earn your money and ring up my purchases. And then bag them. Please.”

Are we entering a dark, deeply un-American era when we literally have to do everything for ourselves?

America was founded on the concept of service. It’s in the Federalist Papers.

Bagging your own groceries is a pernicious tradition imported from France, where people have a history of cravenly submitting to authority. America, by contrast, was founded on the concept of service. It’s what we fought for at Yorktown and the Alamo. John Jay even wrote about it in “The Federalist Papers.”

Today, we’ve forgotten this and ignominiously kowtow. But why should I have to self-direct my 401(k) or judiciously select from an a la carte menu of health-care services? Why can’t somebody do this for me? If I knew anything about health, I’d still be healthy.

It doesn’t end there. To order tickets, why do I have to go online to a stupid, labyrinthine website and fumble through all those boxes and continually get a message reading “Insufficient Information” while I race against time to make my purchase before six minutes expire? In the good old days I simply said: “Two balcony tickets for the Dexys Midnight Runners Tribute Band.” When did the revered customer become a lowly data-entry specialist?

This debacle started with ATMs and bussing your own table and being forced to personally aggrandize yourself instead of relying on well-earned kudos from others. Then people took to those feverishly unhygienic delis where you have to construct your own salad by selecting festering legumes and gobs of goo from an open trough. I hate making my own salad. I never strike the proper balance between carbs and proteins. And I always forget the horseradish sauce. I prefer that my salad be made by professionals.

Another watershed moment in our long march toward retail serfdom kicked in when Americans began pumping their own gas and cleaning their own windshields and checking their own oil. True, in New Jersey, they pump the gas for you. It’s a state law. But Garden Staters only do this because they know that otherwise nobody would ever visit New Jersey.

In the supermarket, I started to imagine other nightmare scenarios. Will I now be expected to cobble my own shoes? Short my own stocks? Raise my own arches? Canalize my own roots? Diagnose my neuroses?

“I think I’m mentally ill, doctor.”

“Could you be a little more specific? We prefer that our patients analyze their own conditions.”

“Well, I think that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, profound insecurity about my height, and aphasia.”

“What course of treatment would you self-recommend?”

“I was hoping you might prescribe some medication.”

“We prefer that our patients self-medicate.”

“Fine, I’ll take a case of Oxytocin and six crates of Prozac.”

“Great. That’s $350, out of network. No checks.”

I don’t even want to think where this is headed. Am I going to have to haunt my own house? Watch my own whales? Turn on my own dime? And at the end, will I be expected to self-euthanize? Self-eulogize? Self-spread my own ashes in the Grand Canyon? Self-belt-out a highly personalized, knee-slapping rendition of “My Way” at my own graveside?

I’d rather self-destruct.

via Moving Targets – WSJ.com