In my last post, I argued that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed. Once upon a time, Americans from across the political spectrum could agree on at least one principle of good governance: federalism, or more generally, localized decision-making.
To put a fine point on it:
- Your state knows its own values and interests better than the national government does.
- Your county knows its own values and interests better than the state government does.
- Your city knows its own values and interests better than the county government does.
- Your neighborhood knows its own values and interests better than the city government does.
- Your household knows its own values and interests better than the neighborhood does.
- And you arguably know your own particular values and interests better than other members of your household do.
Depending on who’s won lately, the people in power at higher levels of organization may approximately reflect your values and interests, but the further away they get, the less likely this is to be the case. Simply put, the more people you have to represent, and the further they are away from you, the harder it is to faithfully represent them all.
Even if your Congressman is a tremendously intelligent and virtuous man, what he doesn’t know about his constituents’ beliefs and circumstances could fill libraries.
So as a general rule, it makes sense that we should want matters to be decided at the most local level possible. If you have a personal problem, you have the greatest incentive to fix the problem, your values will determine what trade-offs you’re comfortable with, and the matter probably shouldn’t leave your household — or at worst, your peer groups. If it doesn’t naturally spill over into other people’s lives, they don’t want you to make it their problem.
Largely because so much power has accrued at higher levels of government, people increasingly turn to the impersonal and ignorant forces of those higher levels to handle their problems. Today, the federal government has so much power, reaching down to the most local possible decisions, that people focus an inordinate amount of their attention and aspirations on who controls it and what they do with it. Everyone’s fate is determined by whose collective hand controls the Biggest Lever.
I cannot stress enough how dangerous a development this is. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, how centralized control and planning tend to double down on mistakes rather than correct them. They have much more insidious effects.
Making everything a national issue has poisoned the national debate. It is a significant cause of the Culture War (see Roe v Wade, or Defense of Marriage Act). It has contributed to making politics personal, and it’s why so many people have become emotionally invested in the person of the President. Think about how much more common it has become for both parties to use the language and imagery of dictators to describe the president — usually when we disagree with him.
Bottom line: it is difficult to tolerate your neighbor’s difference of opinion if his opinion controls your life. It has become too difficult to mind one’s own business.
Let that marinate for a minute, and I’ll move on to my suggestion for one solution. Continue reading
Where to start with this joker:
California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested that his party is out of touch with average Americans on the issue of health care.
“You’ve got to listen to the people. If the nation is screaming out loud, ‘We need health care reform. We want to have universal health care. We want to have everyone insured. We want to bring the costs down. We want everyone to have access.’ I mean, that’s what they want; that’s what you do,” Schwarzenegger said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Arguing that California Republicans were out of touch with the majority of Californians who wanted to raise taxes to fix the state’s budget crisis, Schwarzenegger said it is “the same nationwide.”
He said Republicans need to embrace what the people want, even if it means accepting tax increases that go against their party principles:
“Even though it maybe is against your principles or philosophy, you still have to go, because that’s what the people want you to do,” he said.
A) Healthcare: the nation isn’t screaming any of that out loud. A definite minority want it. But just as large a minority don’t want any part of it. A third minority isn’t sure one way or the other.
B) If the purpose of government is to simply give the people everything they want, then there’s no reason for a budget, a legislature or a governor. Just put everything to a direct vote via referendum, write a program that can figure the cost of each “yes” referendum, figure the tax necessary to fund the approved program and assess the tax. If you must have a legislature or governor, they would only write the law and rubber stamp it based on the referendum (per the Schwarzenegger “philosophy” only unanimous approvals allowed) and the “governor” is there to do nothing more than to sign it into law – period. Once taxes reach 100% nothing else can be signed into law and the legislature is in permanent recess and the governor is no longer needed (hey I can be just as absurd as Schwarzenegger).
Oh, wait, I forgot – you have to have a governor and a legislature to pile up trillions of dollars of debt “giving the people what they want” and drive the state into bankruptcy – my bad.
C) Why have principles if you’re not supposed to live by them/act on them. Why run on them, tell voters they’ll be your guide and get elected because of them? Schwarzenegger has gone from a somewhat entertaining RINO to an outright idiot.
“Even though it may be against your principles or philosophy” do it anyway because that’s what the people want? This guy would obviously rather be liked than principled (if he ever was really principled). Principles are a hindrance to his pursuit of approval (see what steroids will do to your brain?). And my guess is, he’d label this nonsense as “leadership”.
Lord help California. Schwarzenegger makes Gray Davis look great.
George Will argues we should repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. I doubt it will happen–too many people are convinced of the Populist notion that the more direct the democracy, the better. But I’ve been arguing for years that this measure would restore a great measure of federalism to the US, and that we would generally benefit from such a change.
Doug Mataconis of Below the Beltway isn’t so sure. He writes,
As I’ve noted before, it’s a provocative argument, but I think there’s something missing:
My take on the subject is this — from a procedural point of view the 17th Amendment is certainly one of the factors that has made the expansion of Federal power, and the erosion of Federalism, more easy to accomplish. Returning to direct election of Senators *might* have a positive impact, but that will only happen if the Senators elected have a proper understanding of their role under the Constitution.
And if the state legislators appointing them have that same understanding.
Given the political climate in America today, having Senators who are beholden to the whims and wishes of state legislators is unlikely to produce a better breed in the Upper House than having Senators who are beholden to the whims and wishes of voters.
In some sense, repealing the 17th Amendment involves turning back the clock in more ways than one. We can return to the procedural methods that the Framers first put in place, but that doesn’t mean that the philosophy that will guide the Senate will change in any significant respect.
I can’t comment on whether we’d get a “better breed”, but the procedural change would change the practice, if not the philosophy, of senators. As I argue in the comments, the purpose of many of the checks and balances in the Constitution of the early republic was to have people in power answer to those who were jealous of their own power. Repealing the Seventeenth wouldn’t cure all ills, but it would help.
For example, the federal government has extended its power over state and local matters by using its superior funding power to provide goodies, and attaching strings to that money.
If we posit that state legislators want to arrogate more power to themselves, then–given the power–they will resist those strings. US Senators, realizing that their appointment to the Senate (and all the attendant benefits) requires pleasing the state legislators, will avoid attaching those strings. They don’t need to understand anything except who’s buttering their bread.
Let’s say that state legislators still like the idea of getting federal money without having to levy their own taxes. Well, if the Senate tries to appropriate no-strings-attached money for the states, naturally the House and President will resist. They don’t want to levy taxes and receive no controlling benefit in return.
A smaller number might be ideologically committed to using the superior federal power of taxation to fund these goodies, but not having strings attached to federal money would dull the incentive.
That is how the headline should have been written.
However, Think Progress chose to characterize it this way: “Jindal Rejects $90 Million In Recovery Funding That Would Have Benefited 25,000 Louisiana Residents“. Says Think Progress:
Today, however, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced his intention to oppose changing state law to allow his Lousiana citizens to qualify for the second two unemployment provisions.
So why did Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal do what he did? Well here’s what his office says in a press release:
The Governor said the state will not use a portion of the stimulus package that requires the state to change its law to expand unemployment insurance (UI) coverage to qualify for up to $32.8 million of the federal stimulus funding because it ultimately would result in a tax increase on Louisiana businesses.
Sounds like a governor who feels he and his legislature should be deciding their law and not the federal government.
Isn’t that what he’s elected to do? Doesn’t that sound like a perfect 10th amendment defense? Someone point out to me where the Constitution specifies that the federal government can reach down and, without debate or legislative or executive input, force a change of state law as a requirement to receive the aid.
Think Progress says:
But it is not clear why participating in the expanded unemployment insurance program would result in tax increases for business. By Jindal’s own estimate, the recovery package would have funded his state’s unemployment expansion for three years, at which point the state could — if it chose to do so — phase out the program.
Here’s a better idea – pull the requirement at a federal level. Why isn’t that the Think Progress position instead?
TP quotes a real expert in this area to close out the post:
As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin suggested earlier today, perhaps Jindal’s presidential ambitions are “clouding” his judgement. “I think he’s been tapped as the up-and-coming Republican to petition a run for president the next time it goes around. So he has a certain vernacular, and a certain way he needs to talk right now,” Nagin said.
Leave it to Mr. “Chocolate City” to see it that way instead of understanding Jindal’s position is the right position for his state. You have to wonder how Nagin would feel if Jindal told him the state would only pay for levee repair if he changed the law in New Orleans and did something the state required, even if it wasn’t in the city’s best interest?
We’d hear him hollering “no way” clear to Atlanta.
“We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled.”
Why that would be Ray LaHood, the supposed Republican Secretary of Transportation.
“The policy of taxing motorists based on how many miles they have traveled is not and will not be Obama administration policy.”
Well if you guessed Barack Obama, you’re wrong. And if your second guess was Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s Press Secretary, you’re 0-2.
No, it was Lori Irving.
And who is Lori Irving?
Well she’s the department spokeswoman for Secretary Ray LaHood’s Transporation Department.
Which begs the question – who is running Transportation? Or, perhaps, for whom is Lori Irving really the spokeswoman?
And more importantly why is a Republican putting this idea forward in the first place, I mean if its true they’ve finally “found” themselves?
David Brooks does his usual NYT spin job:
Our moral and economic system is based on individual responsibility. It’s based on the idea that people have to live with the consequences of their decisions. This makes them more careful deciders. This means that society tends toward justice — people get what they deserve as much as possible
That’s the rumor. The reality, as we’ll see, doesn’t conform with the rumor. The why is in a single word: ‘justice’. What Brooks talks about here are the supposed foundations of our civilization and way of life. Individual responsibility and justice. Individuals are responsible for their condition (through their choices) and expected to live with them. Their condition isn’t anyone else’s fault or problem barring force or fraud. A just society understands that and, as is necessary, holds them responsible for their choices. Lessons are only learned when one has to live with the consequences of one’s choices. But what a just society doesn’t do is penalize those which have made the right or proper choices in their lives. It doesn’t require such people to prop up or rescue those who have made poor choices. Such a society would see that as “unjust” and work against the concept of individual choice and individual responsibility.
A just society is where everyone is afforded the same opportunities and held to the same standards of behavior and the law. Success, however, is left up to individual effort and ability. In a just society you are free to do, within reason, whatever you desire to do, but you’re expected to live with the consequences.
With that preface, let’s look at Brooks’ next couple of paragraphs:
Over the last few months, we’ve made a hash of all that. The Bush and Obama administrations have compensated foolishness and irresponsibility. The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground.
The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.
While Brooks properly chastises the banks, automakers and state governments, he leaves out one of the most irresponsible of entities which played as large a role as any other contributor to this current financial debacle – the federal government. If ever there was an enabler for all of this, it is Washington DC. Much of what happened can be laid directly at the feet of the Fed. The financial implosion didn’t start on Wall Street but with the insolvency of the quasi-governmental entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Yet they’ve not been in the spotlight of Congressional hearings or had the millions paid their top execs complained about and capped. Where’s the justice in that?
So to get back on topic after that brief aside to assail writers like Brooks for excusing the Federal government from their condemnations (and you’ll see why he did so in a moment), the reason that Brooks seems so angry in this part of his op-ed is he is giving lip service to some foundational American ideals and pretending to be outraged that they’re being violated just before he pulls the rug out from under them. It is obvious to Brooks and anyone with the IQ of a melon that those who are running the show in DC have absolutely no desire for a “just” society based on individual responsibility anymore but he wants to break it to you gently. That’s the old America. The new America is one based in “fairness” and collective responsibility. At this point, Brooks wants you believing he’s an “old America” kind of guy.
So he relates the fact that many in America are still mired in their old fashioned belief in justice and are, consequently, a little ticked about this payoff to the irresponsible among us. People are complaining about it. And after a reasonably good, but disingenuous start, it is here where Brooks pulls the mask off completely:
These injustices are stoking anger across the country, lustily expressed by Rick Santelli on CNBC Thursday morning. “The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli cried as Chicago traders cheered him on. “The president … should put up a Web site … to have people vote … to see if they want to subsidize losers’ mortgages!”
Well, in some cases we probably do. That’s because government isn’t fundamentally in the Last Judgment business, making sure everybody serves penance for their sins. In times like these, government is fundamentally in the business of stabilizing the economic system as a whole.
Irresponsibility is not really penalized in New America. New America is driven by the belief that it is our collective responsiblity to those in need, regardless of how they got there or what it entails, to satisfy that need. So when the life vest of your money (via taxes and debt you will be taxed to repay) is offered to someone drowning as a result of their own irresponsible choices, you are expected to accept that as your duty and not complain about it.
You see, per Brooks, government isn’t in the justice business, it’s in the “economic stabilization” business.
Really? Since when?
And since when did the economic stabilization business involve rewarding incompetence and irresponsibility while punishing their opposites? Isn’t such a policy of rewarding incompetence and irresponsibility a huge moral hazard, not to mention self-defeating? Why would someone change their behavior if there is no real punishment for their present behavior? Isn’t government picking “winners” and “losers” even while Brooks claims government isn’t in the “Last Judgment” business?
In fact it is and has been in the “Last Judgment” business for a while. And in the case here, the judgment made by government is that it is only fair to pick up those who’ve fallen short at the expense of those who haven’t. It has made the judgment that their need is far greater than the need of those who have played by the rules and done their part – after all those who have done the right thing are relatively better off than those who haven’t aren’t they? If, as Obama claimed at the Greek Temple, “we are our brother’s keepers” (well except in a real, Obama-family sense), then the “last judgment” was made then and is now merely being implemented.
We are, apparently, no longer a nation which seeks justice and equal opportunity. That’s Old America. New America seeks fairness as its highest goal. And in the New America, that means an equality of outcome where new “rights” are invented which entitle us to our desires, even at the expense of others.
Brooks goes on to apologize and attempts to minimize the horrific damage being done to America as we used to know it. He serves his purpose and spins the utter destruction of Old America and the emergence of New America as something which just had to be done by our new leader and his benevolent band of brothers, all of whom have your best interest at heart.
It’s enough to make you sick.
Remember the organization that refused to pay its own workers a “living wage” even while it agitated for higher minimums for other businesses? The same organization that has been the subject of several voting fraud investigations? And the same one to receive $2 Billion from the stimulus bill? Well, its now in the process of “peacefully” occupying homes that are in the process of foreclosure. That organization, of course, is ACORN:
A community organization breaks into a foreclosed home in what they are calling an act of civil disobedience.
The group wants to train homeowners facing eviction on peaceful ways they can remain in their homes.
“The mortgage went up $300 in one month,” said Hanks, former homeowner.
She says the bank refused to modify her loan and foreclosed, kicking her out of the house in September.
The community group ACORN calls Hanks a victim of predatory lending.
“This is our house now,” said Louis Beverly, ACORN.
And on Thursday afternoon, they literally broke the foreclosure padlock right off the front door and then broke into the house, letting Hanks back in for the first time in months.
“We are actually trespassing, and so this is a way of civil disobedience to try to stay into our house,” said Beverly. “Legally it’s wrong, but homesteading is the only means that she has left to stay into her house. And we feel as though this is the right thing to do at this particular time to save this family.”
So even though they know it’s “legally wrong” ACORN is going to go ahead and do it anyway? Maybe they could take some of the $2 Billion they received and help Ms. Hanks pay her mortgage or even renegotiate it. Presumably ACORN received the stimulus money to do something other than commit criminal acts. Didn’t it?
[HT: Rick Moore]
Apparently signs equal threats to some of our police:
An Oklahoma City police officer wrongly pulled over a man last week and confiscated an anti-President Barack Obama sign the man had on his vehicle.
The officer misinterpreted the sign as threatening, said Capt. Steve McCool, of the Oklahoma City Police Department, and took the sign, which read “Abort Obama, not the unborn.”
Chip Harrison said he was driving to work when a police car followed him for several miles and then signaled for him to pull over.
”I pulled over, knowing I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Harrison said in a recent phone interview.
When the officer asked Harrison if he knew why he had been pulled over, Harrison said he did not.
”They said, ‘It’s because of the sign in your window,’” Harrison said.
When did cops start pulling people over for political bumper stickers or signs?
Anyway, Harrison tried to explain what the sign meant, they disagreed and he was issued a a slip of paper that said he was a part of some sort of investigation. They took his sign. Later, he’s contacted by the police saying the policeman misunderstood and asking him if he wanted his sign back. They had contacted the Secret Service about the sign, and they had told the police it wasn’t a threat. Except apparently they were blowing smoke:
”The Secret Service called and said they were at my house,” Harrison said.
”When I was on my way there, the Secret Service called me and said they weren’t going to ransack my house or anything … they just wanted to (walk through the house) and make sure I wasn’t a part of any hate groups.”
Harrison said he invited the Secret Service agents into the house and they were “very cordial.”
”We walked through the house and my wife and 2-year-old were in the house,” Harrison said.
He said they interviewed him for about 30 minutes and then left, not finding any evidence Harrison was a threat to the president.
Walk through my house? Uh, get a warrant.
Hate groups? They knew what the sign was about, what was the rest of this about?
Which segues nicely into the next portion of the post – hate speech.
Eugene Volokh has a very interesting post up about a UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center study titled Hate Speech on Commercial Talk Radio.
It’s a fascinating post which demonstrates how hard certain groups are working another angle aimed at talk-radio (and read the comments, where commenters take the study’s assertions aparat). Hate-speech is a lever that various groups on the left have been trying to enable for years. From the study, here’s their definition of hate speech:
Types of Hate Speech
We identified four types of speech that, through negative statements, create a climate of hate and prejudice: (1) false facts [including “simple falsehoods, exaggerated statements, or decontextualized facts [that] rendered the statements misleading”], (2) flawed argumentation, (3) divisive language, and (4) dehumanizing metaphors (table 1).
Then the examples:
Table 1. Analysis of Hate Speech from The John & Ken Show
“And this is all under the Gavin Newsom administration and the Gavin Newsom policy in San Francisco of letting underage illegal alien criminals loose” (from the July 21, 2008, broadcast).
Vulnerable group: foreign nationals (undocumented people).
Social institutions: policy and political organizations (city policy and mayor’s office).
The sanctuary policy preceded Gavin Newsom’s tenure as San Francisco’s mayor, and neither Newsom nor the sanctuary policy supports “letting underage illegal alien criminals loose.”
Guilt by association is used to make the hosts’ point. Undocumented youth and those who are perceived as their endorsers at the institutional level are stigmatized by being associated with criminality.
Criminalized undocumented youth and their perceived validators (Gavin Newsom and the sanctuary policy) are depicted as a threat to San Francisco citizens, setting up an “us versus them” opposition.
ANALYSIS The language depicts the hosts’ targets (undocumented people, city policy, and Mayor Gavin Newsom) as dangerous, criminal, and collusive. In addition, the focus of that policy (undocumented people) becomes reduced to “underage illegal alien criminals.”
Talk about over-analysis. The bottom line is this matrix of assessment is based in pure biased opinion disguised as objectivity. Hate speech, in this case, is nothing more than saying “letting underage illegal alien criminals loose” is wrong.
As Volokh says:
The vagueness and potential breadth of the phrase “hate speech” is a pretty substantial reason — though just one among many — to resist the calls for a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. And the vagueness and potential breadth is also a reason to be skeptical of uses of the phrase even outside the law: It’s very easy to define “hate speech” as you like (or leave it undefined, as some arguments do), and use it to condemn people who express a wide range of views that you disapprove of.
One of the most defining phrases in the history of America free speech is “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
It has never been “I don’t like what you say and it sounds like “hate speech” to me so you should be silenced”.
As you recall, the following is partially blamed for getting us into the current housing crisis:
Ever since the credit crisis began, a lot of blame has been heaped on adjustable-rate mortgages, home loans that recalibrate according to market fluctuations. One brand of these innovative mortgages that have come under special criticism has been so-called “exploding A.R.M.’s” that lured borrowers with unusually low teaser rates that then reset skyward a few years later. These have often been derided as predatory, and lenders who offered them accused of luring homeowners into buying homes they couldn’t afford for the long-term.
So is the Obama administration, with its $75 billion mortgage bailout, any better than those previous lenders who were described as “predatory”? Well not according to the plan he’s put forward:
Critics of these might want to check out the Homeowner Stabilization Plan put forward by the Obama administration today. The plan would reduce mortgage payments and interest rates for homeowners who have seen their payments rise to more than 38% of their monthly income. But those reductions last just five years, after which they begin to reset to higher rates. In short, Obama is just drawing out the teaser rates a bit longer.
During the next five years, the Stabilization Plan will encourage lenders to lower loan payment below 38% of the owners’ income and provide subsidies for banks that lower the payments to 31%. The actual rate of payment will be even lower, since the government will also pay homeowners with the reduced rates $1000 a year to stay current on their payments.
After five years however, those government sponsored adjustable-rate mortgages will reset. The Obama adminstration promises they will reset at a moderate phased in level. But the loss of both the subsidy and the $1000 payment will automatically make the monthly payments much more expensive. What’s more, many market watchers expect interest rates will be much higher five years from now, putting additional pressure on mortgage rates. We could, in short, simply be prolonging the housing crisis.
Nothing like kicking the can down the road 5 years is there? The hope, obviously, is that Obama is safely in his second term when this new crisis hits, and, of course, by then he can safely denounce those who default on their mortgages again as people who were given a chance but didn’t take advantage of it.
Now obviously the people who get this “help” can sell their homes in that 5 years (and, of course, that was the idea when many of these people took out the low adjustable rate loans previously – a quick flip. But the market tanked.). However, it will be a buyer’s market in the coming years. So there’s a very good chance that in 5 years we’re going to see the very same problem we have now resurface.
So what are we doing with this 75 billion?
More pain avoidance which, it appears, will simply prolong the problem.
To be blunt about it, this just pisses me off:
GM said it might need as much as $100 billion in financing from the government if it were to go through the traditional bankruptcy process. Rick Wagoner, GM’s chairman and chief executive, said the bankruptcy scenarios are “risky” and “costly” and would only be pursued as a last resort.
Really? Well guess what – it’s even more “risky” and “costly” for the taxpayer to give GM another 100 billion bucks (and further on in the article it is acknowledged that a pre-packaged bankruptcy would cost about 30 billion).
GM claims its going to pare down its working force and model line. But what isn’t clear is how it plans on eliminating the legacy costs which still make it uncompetitive. Anyone know what would require them to confront that issue? That’s right – bankruptcy.
As for Chrysler:
Chrysler’s plan said the company would likely have to file for Chapter 11 protection if it doesn’t get additional loans from the government and concessions from unions, creditors and dealers. It said it would need $24 billion in financing if the company were to file for bankruptcy. But company officials said in a conference call that they believe a Chapter 11 filing is “not necessary” for Chrysler’s survival.
Uh no. Want more money? See Cereberus, the company you belong too and which is sitting on about 150 billion in assests. Let them pick up the tab. If not, see you in bankruptcy court.
This is ridiculous.
In particular, new opposition to further aid for Chrysler seemed to be building on Capitol Hill. In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) said no more taxpayer money should be given to Chrysler until its majority owner, private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, agrees to inject more funds into it.
Good. It’s about time this demand was made. What in the world is government doing throwing money at Chrysler when it has an owner with plenty of money? And Cerberus’ answer?
Cerberus said in a statement that it can’t put additional investments into Chrysler because agreements with its investors limit how much it can commit to any single investment. It added Cerberus has agreed to forgo any Chrysler profits before the government loans are repaid.
Tough beans. In that case, Cerberus had better find a way to sell off some of its investments to raise the necessary cash or be prepared to watch Chrysler hit bankruptcy court. Whichever choice it makes, it is not the job of the taxpayer to keep a marginal company afloat. And that’s even more true when that company has private assets upon which it can draw.
But when politicians are in the pain avoidance business, the Constitution is just a piece of paper and whatever they think they need to do to protect their positions of power will be done, regardless of law, principle or morality.