"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The View at the Bottom of the Cliff

Cliffs do not loom

As the old carol goes, "fast away the old year passes." In our frantic and impatient modern world there are never enough hours in the day, but with the shortness of the days in this bleak midwinter the sense of time passing far too quickly is only heightened. Paradoxically, these last fleeting and precious moments of the year are also a time to pause and take stock of where we have been and where we are going. At the end of the two-thousand twelfth year of our Lord, there is much to consider.

The Age of Obama has been extended for another four years and the so-called "fiscal cliff" is no longer merely "looming" [N.B., this should be a top contender for the cliche of the year], but is now a rumbling avalanche sliding down the mountain of debt and red tape to crush and bury us all. At the same time as we stare with horror into this thundering torrent of such immense and unimaginably massive doom it is also a time to consider how much less we have as well.

The liberals tell us that we are too fat, so we must have less food, less salt, less sugar, less trans-fats (whatever those are), and less carbohydrates. We must also have less alcohol, less smoking, and less of anything fun. This dread scourge does not only afflict us as adults though. Our children are too fat as well and there are too many of them. We need smaller children in smaller classrooms. In this respect, the liberals may get their wish, because we already have fewer children in smaller families. There are now fewer families with both parents present than there are children with single mothers or born out of wedlock.

The liberals tell us that the earth is getting warmer (or colder depending on who you ask and when), so we need to use less gasoline and have smaller cars (or no cars at all) and drive slower and not travel as far. We must use less coal, so that means less electricity, less warmth, less energy, and less light. We are told to spend more time outdoors, but there is less of that too. There is less solitude and less wilderness and the little that is left is farther away and harder to get to. There is less quality entertainment. There are fewer movies about heroic men. Perhaps there are fewer heroic men to make movies about, or perhaps it is because the liberals have demonized and deconstructed all the heroes of our past and turned them into villains.

The liberals tell us that we must not offend, so there is less prayer, less faith, less Christmas, less God. There are fewer practicing Christians. Perhaps it falls under entertainment, but there is less Tebow too. Hollywood celebrities with broken lives tell us how to live so it should not astonish us that there is less virtue, less fidelity, and less modesty. Dishonest politicians tell us they have all the answers and yet there are fewer principles, less integrity, less responsibility, less humility, less cooperation, and less trust in our public institutions. Despite having less freedom (or maybe because of it) there is less security and less peace. There is less pride in America, less dreaming, less exploration, and less hope for the future.

The liberal solution always seems to be less of something. There is too much violence, so we need fewer guns. There is too much inequality, so we need less prosperity. There is too much suffering, so we need less comfort. There is too much death, so we need less life. In the end, that last point encapsulates the rest. There seems to just be less for us to give and less of anything at all. People are tired and worn and holding on desperately for something to change, but they are less and less sure what that something even is. People are yearning for more. We want more freedom. We want more hope. We want more heroes. We want more LIFE. Let us pray that in the new year we may find some.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The United States of Jim

What's in a name?

While strolling the boardwalk (which, sadly, has since been obliterated by Hurricane Sandy) in Seaside Heights, New Jersey this past August, the Prolix Patriot was discussing an interesting question with his brother-in-law. Namely, what is the most popular given name in each state? Our theory was that in New Jersey, with such a strong Italian population, names like Joseph and Paul might be more popular. However, as the infographic above clearly shows, this is incorrect. In fact, like the rest of the Northeast--and indeed in the country overall--the most common name in New Jersey is John.

Across the Old South--with the exception of Florida--and into some of the Midwestern states, the most popular name is James. It turns out that the popular stereotype of backwoods good ol’ boys named Jim Bob is not without some basis in fact. Also, it may suggest that Jim Beam ought to be the true Southerner’s whiskey of choice, as a preference for Jack Daniels might implicate the drinker as some damn Yankee scalawag. At the very least this confirms the Prolix Patriot’s preference for the former.

Turning to the upper Midwest and the West Coast, the popularity of Michael as a first name is clustered in two regions which oddly, have very little in common from a cultural standpoint. The prevalence of Michael in Wisconsin and Minnesota makes some sense as the Archangel Michael is the patron saint of sailors and the Scandinavians are famous for their maritime heritage. It is less clear how this rationale would apply to the thoroughly land-locked states of Colorado and Nevada however.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Robert is centered in areas typically associated with rugged individualism and self-sufficiency such as the high deserts of the Southwest, the bucolic isolation of Idaho and Wyoming, and the granite mountains and dense forests of New Hampshire and Maine. Suffice it to say, if you’re in a fight, you probably want Bob to have your back. Finally, there is the outlier of the bunch. Although David is only the fifth most popular name nationally, it is the most popular name in Utah and North Dakota. These two states are ironically like the proverbial David against the Goliath of the rest of the country.

The Prolix Patriot does not present a similar map for female names because the result would be trivial. In every one of the 50 states, the most popular female name is either Mary or Maria. However, it is clear that there are regional trends in first names for men. Although in recent years there have been many fads with non-traditional names for both boys and girls, the names we see here are of timeless and enduring popularity so it will be interesting to see whether the map has changed at all several decades from now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The 51st State

While most of the country was focused on the results of the presidential election, the citizens of Puerto Rico voted in a referendum on the question of becoming a state. Although critics and opponents of statehood point out that many people left the statehood ballot blank and that, absent a clear majority, there is no guarantee that Puerto Rico will become a state, it is nevertheless true that more and more Puerto Ricans vote for statehood every time this kind of referendum is held, so it is really only a matter of time before Puerto Rico joins the Union. Therefore, the Prolix Patriot presents some ideas for a 51-star flag as a public service, inspired by designs from American history.

The Diamond:

This design was popular in the middle of the 19th century, and is often depicted in artwork from the Civil War. Both the 29-star (pictured below) and 33-star flag are known to have used a diamond, after the admission of Iowa and Oregon respectively to the Union.

The Great Star:

Poetically symbolizing the national slogan, “E pluribus unum,” the great star design was popular at the same time as the diamond. Examples are known to exist for 20 stars after Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818, 26 stars after the admission of Michigan, and 33 stars, again for Oregon (pictured below).

Concentric Circles:

Ever since the original Betsy Ross flag, circles have been popular. Indeed, the design used by proponents of Puerto Rican statehood is based on a circle. However, the Prolix Patriot offers a more traditional design based on the very popular concentric circle designs of the late 1800’s with 36 stars after the admission of Nevada, 37 stars after the admission of Nebraska, and perhaps the grandest of all, 38 stars after the admission of Colorado (pictured below). There was also an unofficial 39-star design with concentric circles which was never used.

The standard square pattern of stars has been around from the beginning, but why not jazz it up a little bit? When the 51st state finally joins the Union, let's think outside the box.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Appeal to Heaven

The Pine Tree Flag

The day of the election is at hand. The Prolix Patriot has written before in these pages of the attacks on religious freedom by the Obama Administration. If the President is re-elected tomorrow, these attacks will doubtlessly continue with renewed hostility and vigor. Furthermore, regardless of which candidate wins tomorrow (or in the following weeks if it's very close) people of all religions will still have great difficulty living according to their faith in our decadent society.

Whether in the abuses heaped upon celebrities like Tim Tebow or a formerly anonymous elderly bus monitor in New York, we live in a culture that despises virtue. In the 22nd Psalm, we find a description of the persecutions that have always faced people of faith and conviction. Whether in the jeers of unruly schoolyard bullies or the hectoring of the liberal media, people of faith seem to always be on the defensive, but as the scripture tells us, this is all to be expected for those who seek the path of righteousness.

Religion tolerates unbelief because we have faith that with time and love we can convert the hard of heart to a fuller understanding. All we ask is to be allowed to practice our faith in the meanwhile. When the government joins in that attack however, the situation becomes more desperate. There are many policies which a religious person might find offensive, but President Obama has crossed an unprecedented line by requiring people of faith to violate their own consciences in the service of those policies.

It is altogether fitting then that an early motto in the fight for independence of this country was "An Appeal to Heaven." The phrase alludes to the works of John Locke, the philosophical forefather of American self-government.

What is my Remedy against a Robber, that so broke into my House? Appeal to the Law for Justice. But perhaps Justice is denied, or I am crippled and cannot stir, robbed and have not the means to do it. If God has taken away all means of seeking remedy, there is nothing left but patience. But my Son, when able, may seek the Relief of the Law, which I am denied: He or his Son may renew his Appeal, till he recover his Right. But the Conquered, or their Children, have no Court, no Arbitrator on Earth to appeal to. Then they may Appeal, as Jephtha did, to Heaven, and repeat their Appeal, till they have recovered the native Right of their Ancestors, which was to have such a Legislative over them, as the Majority should approve, and freely acquiesce in.

When the fate of freedom is at its most perilous, we may find our hopes dashed and our faith tested. However, we would all do well to remember the words of the 146th Psalm, "Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation." The Prolix Patriot hopes that this will be the last word he ever needs to write about President Obama, but even if Obama is able to continue his attacks on religious liberty in a second term, there is a saying that God always settles out of court. Our faith may be attacked and even criminalized, but in the end, we shall prevail.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weather that Changed American History

Hurricane Sandy

As the monster hurricane that has been dubbed "Frankenstorm" makes landfall on the eastern seaboard, it already seems clear this will be a historic weather event. In that spirit, the Prolix Patriot has compiled a list of ten major events in which weather affected the course of American History, presented in chronological order.

1. The Mayflower

In October of 1620, the Pilgrims encountered fierce winter gales in the North Atlantic. At several points during the voyage, the Mayflower's master, Christopher Jones, even considered returning to England and only continued on after realizing that the deteriorating weather might be even worse if he turned back. After making landfall at Cape Cod the Pilgrims attempted to sail south to their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River, but continued stormy weather made this impossible and after spending the winter aboard the ship they ultimately ended up settling what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the spring of the following year.

2. Cornwallis' Surrender at Yorktown

As the combined Continental and French forces under the command of General Washington and Comte de Rochambeau overran the last ring of British defenses during the Siege of Yorktown in October of 1781, Lord Cornwallis attempted a desperate evacuation of his army across the James River at Gloucester Point, but was blocked by a sudden freak squall after only getting one group of boats across. The following morning he met with his officers and all agreed that their situation was now hopeless and they began to draw up the articles of capitulation which would bring the Revolutionary War to an end.

3. The Burning of Washington

In August of 1812, British Royal Marines under the command of Admiral George Cockburn landed in Maryland for an assault on the young nation's capital. After routing the American defenders at Bladensburg, the British sacked Washington and began setting public buildings on fire. Fortunately, a hurricane arrived the very next day and the heavy rains extinguished the conflagration which preserved the exterior structure of the Capitol and the White House, prevented the fire from spreading to civilian structures, and also forced the British to return to their ships and depart from the city.

4. Burnside's "Mud March"

Despite his own incompetence and his inability to control the insubordination of his officers, President Lincoln decided to give General Ambrose Burnside one more chance to prove himself with an ill-fated winter offensive in January of 1863. However, the muddy conditions caused by unseasonably mild weather slowed his progress to a standstill and forced him to abort the mission. In the end, this probably saved the Army of the Potomac from complete destruction or capture at the hands of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, because the early snowmelt was causing the Rappahannock River to rapidly flood, which would have cut off Burnside's only line of retreat. As a result of the fiasco, the bungling General Burnside was finally relieved of command which probably saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of his men.

5. The Great Johnstown Flood

In May of 1889, a massive rainstorm passed over the steep river valleys of southwestern Pennsylvania dumping an estimated 6-10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. The extremely heavy rainfall caused the Conemaugh River to flood and crest the South Fork Dam, which soon collapsed, releasing a torrent of 20 million tons of water over the course of 40 minutes--an amount equal to the flow rate of the mighty Mississippi River. The aftermath of the flood was the first time the American Red Cross responded to a natural disaster and the unsuccessful attempts by the victims to obtain compensation from the dam's owners had lasting consequences in tort law.

6. The Dust Bowl

Throughout the 1930's, severe droughts killed off the fragile crops that were never meant for the semi-arid conditions of the Great Plains. Without plant roots to hold the fine soil together, strong winds tore up the dry soil and blew millions of tons of dust clouds across the empty prairie. With the economy already in ruins from the Great Crash of 1929, the persistent agricultural failure and ecological devastation of the Dust Bowl caused untold hardships, illness, starvation, and displacement for prairie farmers and worsened the economic calamity of the Great Depression.

7. The Battle of the Bulge

During the winter of 1944, Allied forces under the supreme command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower had slowed their advance through the thick forests of the Ardennes. Under heavy cloud cover, the Germans launched a last-ditch winter offensive on December 16 which might have succeeded if the weather had not cleared just in time for Allied air power to finally relieve battered ground forces tenaciously holding out at key crossroads blocking the Germans' access to crucial resupply. Also, due to the extremely cold temperatures tanks and trucks had to keep their engines running to prevent the diesel fuel from gelling which may have contributed to the German defeat by forcing them to expend their limited fuel reserves more quickly.

8. Typhoon Cobra

On the same day the Germans launched their attack, but on the other side of the world, Admiral Halsey was trying to resupply his forces that were launching attacks against Japanese airfields in the Philippines. On December 17, as the weather rapidly worsened, Halsey received incorrect weather reports and unwittingly sailed his entire fleet directly into a massive typhoon instead of away from it. The violent winds in excess of 100 m.p.h. caused damage and losses comparable to a defeat in a major fleet engagement. The disaster likely delayed the American recapture of the Philippines and caused Halsey to be temporarily relieved of command although he was later reinstated.

9. The Challenger Disaster

The Space Shuttle Challenger was originally scheduled to launch on January 22, 1986, but delays eventually pushed the launch back to January 28. During that time, south Florida experienced unusually cold temperatures which plummeted well below freezing on launch day itself. This combined with a design flaw in the infamous O-ring seals to cause a catastrophic failure of the Challenger and the death of all aboard--including the first civilian astronaut, Christa McAuliffe. The disaster was a major setback to the space program and delayed the next attempt to send a civilian into space by many years.

10. Hurricane Katrina

After causing destruction across the Bahamas and south Florida, Hurricane Katrina made its third landfall on August 29, 2005 near Biloxi, Mississippi. As the storm flattened towns on the Gulf Coast, tidal surge and heavy rains combined to overflow the levee system around New Orleans causing more than 1,800 deaths and more than $100 billion in damage. The perceived inability of the George W. Bush Administration to respond effectively in aftermath of Katrina was greatly exaggerated at the time, but nevertheless caused a shift in public opinion from which he never recovered and resulted in huge losses for his party in the 2006 election.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

As Goes Ohio...

As we enter the final two weeks of this election cycle, let us consider the question of whether President Obama or Governor Romney can win without Ohio. Currently, the only two bellwether states with any kind of reputation are Ohio and Nevada. These two states have only voted against the winner three times between them in the last hundred years: Nevada once in 1972 and Ohio twice in 1944 and 1960, and that last was one of the closest elections in history. Ohio especially, which has a population of 11.5 million to Nevada's 2.7 million, has become THE essential state to win for anyone who seeks the Presidency. Thus we have the saying, "As goes Ohio, so goes the Union."

You may be asking yourself, what is a bellwether anyway? The bell is obvious enough, but the wether has nothing to do with meteorology, but rather derives from the German widar or ram and is most often encountered in animal husbandry. The story goes that shepherds would place a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (the wether) to keep track of the whole flock, the thinking being that the ram would stay with his ewes wherever they roamed. This is not the most flattering comparison, but nevertheless, residents of bellwether states typically consider it a point of pride because of the unique role they play as an indicator of broader trends in electoral politics.

Following the etymology then, the chart above classifies states into sheep and bellwethers based on comprehensive election results from Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. The sheep (shaded in yellow) are states which have voted with the winner three or more election cycles in a row. Aside from Franklin D. Roosevelt, no president has served more than two full terms--and indeed this is now constitutionally prohibited--so three in a row is more than just happenstance. The bellwethers (shaded in green) are states that have voted with the winner for three decades or more and have begun to acquire a more exceptional historical status.

Returning to our original question then, let us assume that Romney will win Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Virginia. It is possible then that Romney could win Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire and go on to win the Presidency without Ohio. Meanwhile, Obama could theoretically win those same four states while losing Ohio to Romney and still win the election. However, both scenarios are quite unlikely. According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Colorado and New Hampshire are to the right of Ohio while Iowa and Nevada are to the left. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that whoever wins Ohio will win the election.

It is worth noting that bellwethers are fundamentally a backwards-looking indicator of broader trends. As the old adage goes, "Every streak is good until it isn't." For example, as recently as 2004, Missouri and Tennessee were considered reliable bellwethers of the electorate, but both went to McCain in 2008 by a large margin. However, as the graph below illustrates, it is also true that if either Ohio or Nevada loses its bellwether status, there would be fewer such states than at any time since the end of Reconstruction--and that was with fewer states in the Union overall. Therefore, we can still make a few predictions about this election in the larger context of history.

If Ohio and Nevada lose their bellwether status and the election is decided on the barest of margins, it would signal that we have entered a new era of extreme hyper-partisanship similar to the antebellum period. In this scenario, Obama would certainly have lived up to his apparent goal of emulating the last President to come from Illinois, although not in a very good way. It would be a tragedy if after everything we have suffered through in the last four years that Obama's greatest similarity to Abraham Lincoln ends up being a legacy of bitter division and distrust.

There is also the possibility that Obama wins re-election with a broad mandate. In this case, Obama would be able to consolidate the disastrously extreme liberal policies of his first term and it seems likely that the Democrats' dream of a permanent majority would finally come true. Fortunately for conservatives, this seems more and more unlikely with each new poll. If Obama does win, it will almost certainly be by the narrowest of margins.

Finally, if Romney wins a solid victory it would signal a continuing realignment in American politics that started during the 1990's with the elderly and socially-conservative minorities continuing to assert ever greater importance in the electorate. The sheep today could become bellwethers of tomorrow. In the continuing realignment scenario, states like Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and especially Florida--all of which are leaning towards Romney in the most recent polls--may eventually overtake Ohio in electoral importance in future years. However, in this election, it’s still up to Ohio.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Check the Transcript"

On the record is forever

When Obama said, "Check the transcript," during last night’s presidential debate, it could have been the big line of the evening, but that will depend on whether Romney or his surrogates use it to advantage. The consensus is that Obama got the better of Romney last night, if only because he actually showed up this time, which was viewed as an infinite improvement over his previous performance. Nevertheless, Obama's imperative to "check the transcript" viz. the Libya 9/11 attack and subsequent cover-up is a potential opening that may make Obama's victory last night a Pyrrhic one.

When you check old transcripts, sometimes you come up with inconvenient quotes. For example, the Weekly Standard notes that Hillary Clinton once said, "The buck stops in the Oval Office" which conflicts with her statement yesterday that responsibility for the security lapses in Benghazi is hers alone. Another example, in the VP debate there was this exchange:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that's exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

If Biden was being truthful, then Obama didn't know on September 12 that the Libya attack was an act of terrorism and yet Obama claimed last night that he did know and that in his Rose Garden remarks, he said as much. Well, Mr. President, let's follow your advice to check the transcript on that (emphasis added):

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers. These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity. They should give every American great pride in the country that they served, and the hope that our flag represents to people around the globe who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity.

The only mention of terror was a banal generality in his closing statement. Worse still, the statement is false. In the very same speech he criticized an American citizen for exercising his freedom and the right to free speech which is one of the "values that we stand for." That citizen is now in jail on trumped-up charges of violating probation for an entirely unrelated matter. So in fact, an act of terror did alter the character of this great nation. We now put citizens in jail for purely political reasons. That's something they do in Venezuela or Cuba or Iran before an "election." Not in America.

Furthermore, the quote that was reported at the time was when the President said, "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others." That was the storyline that the Obama Administration was pushing with their liberal media allies, not the terror angle.

Ironically, Candy Crowley speaking to the CNN post-debate panel said that the moderator was incorrect when she supported the President's "check the transcript" line. Unfortunately the moderator happened to be herself. More puzzlingly still, Crowley also made statements on the record that directly rebut Obama's and her own assertion that the administration immediately recognized that Libya was a terror attack. At the time she said, “There's a back and forth now about why didn't this administration -- why did it take them until Friday after a [Tuesday] September 11th attack in Libya to come to the conclusion that it was premeditated and that there was terrorists involved."

Even then, Crowley was being very generous. Even on September 25th, terrorism in reference to Libya was still that-which-must-not-be-named for the President. The Prolix Patriot wrote in these pages several weeks ago about the President’s UN speech:

Just as with the Tucson massacre, the motives of the killers in Libya are very clear. This was not a "protest" against an amateur video. This was an act of pure slaughter in violation of every precept of international law and diplomacy. Despite this, and even though leaders in the intelligence community, the Secretary of State, and his own Press Secretary have all admitted that it was a premeditated and overt act of terror aimed directly at the United States, the President only mentioned the word "terrorism" once in his address—and not even in reference to the violence in Libya.

The most memorable line from that speech was, "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." Even weeks after the attack, the President was still hanging--nay clinging--to the video protest story, even when it was thoroughly discredited by everyone around him.

There are also other clips out there, for example the President equivocating about the nature of the Libya attack while being interviewed on "The View." [N.B., it's a sad state of affairs in journalism today when the pack of liberal harpies on "The View" are tougher on the President than the moderator of a nationally-televised debate.]

Out of all of this, we have two potential explanations. Either the President knew it was a terrorist attack and deliberately mislead the American people for weeks until the lie started to unravel, or he genuinely did not know even when everyone around him had already admitted it. Both are disturbing prospects. Worse still, given Obama's aloofness from foreign affairs, both are entirely plausible.

Unfortunately, most people in this country are not following the Libya story--which is a shame, because it has very real consequences for the security of our country. Nevertheless, the economy is still the number one issue of this election, and in that area, Romney completely dominated the President last night.

Regardless of whether Romney made an unforced error or cleverly flushed Obama out into the open, it may not even matter. The real question is whether Romney sees this as a potential opening and decides to capitalize on it, or decides to just stay focused on the economy and jobs and let the Libya story fester inside the beltway until it starts to really stink.

That said, foreign policy really should be more of an issue in this election. As a friend observed during the debate, the President has many powers, but he is not able to repeal the laws of supply and demand. Even though the economy stinks, the President can only do so much about it, whereas on foreign policy, the President literally has a sworn obligation to protect the American people.

We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others are up to no good. Al Qaeda is rebuilding across the Muslim world. Piracy is still a threat to our shipping off the Horn of Africa and in the Straits of Malacca. The Drug Wars in Mexico continue to spill over into border towns and even deep into the country to places as far north as Denver and Detroit.

The President's handling of the Libya attack can best be described as a fiasco. Instead of just admitting that we were unprepared, this whole cover-up demonstrates that politics no longer stops at the water’s edge, especially when foreign events are inconvenient to the President's political fortunes and aspirations. The last four years under this President have been dark and perilous times. We should recoil in sheer horror when we even begin to imagine what another four years would look like.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Liberal Chameleon

If You Don't Like My Principles, I Have Others

Last night's vice-presidential debate was the first time in our nation's history when two Catholics shared that stage, but this was not the only historic first of the evening. It was also the first time that a nationally televised debate constantly seemed on the edge of becoming a drunken bar brawl. Throughout the evening, Biden was playing to his far-left base, and like a chameleon, displayed all the left's most unattractive qualities. He was by turns haughty, surly, and morose. Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, Ryan was calm and consistent. Both men played to type in a way that was deeply revealing of their political philosophies.

In the opening phase, mainly in the area of foreign policy, the Vice President laughed and sneered with derision at every word that Congressman Ryan spoke, drawing unflattering comparisons to the Joker from the Batman comics. The left's unserious mockery of opposing views is all too common in public discourse today, such as when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi snorted at the suggestion that the ObamaCare individual mandate might be unconstitutional. In the end, the joke was on her when the Supreme Court held that the commerce clause does have limits, and that the individual mandate could only be constitutional if construed as a tax.

Then, the topic shifted to the economy to entitlements in the second phase, and as Chris Wallace observed with evident dismay, "I don't believe that I've ever seen a debate in which one participant was as openly disrespectful of the other as Biden was to Paul Ryan tonight." Vice President Biden and so-called moderator Martha Raddatz noticeably combined forces, at one point almost constantly interrupting Congressman Ryan and cutting him off without letting him respond to Biden's increasingly vicious verbal attacks. It is telling that in the area where Ryan is strongest--on economic and fiscal issues--there seemed to be a deliberate effort to block him from speaking.

On this point, many conservatives might complain of media bias, but during his debate preparations, Paul Ryan probably knew it was going to happen and decided to take the high road anyway. In the aftermath of Obama's humiliating defeat in the previous debate, many liberals criticized Jim Lehrer for not being assertive enough and Martha Raddatz obviously got the message. Both were terrible moderators for different reasons, but whereas Jim Lehrer's legacy as a well-respected veteran news anchor from an earlier and more civilized age remains intact, Martha Raddatz's fifteen minutes of fame are over, and she will now return to the comfortable obscurity she deserves as a correspondent for a network news program that hardly anybody watches anymore.

As the debate entered its mercifully brief final phase, Biden's tone changed dramatically when questioned about his views on abortion in the context of his professed Catholic faith. Shifting from his earlier jocosity and bravado, he suddenly seemed to bow his head and assumed a very serious and reverent tone of voice--almost as if seeking absolution for his many sins--as he tried to explain his own warped personal vision of Catholicism which somehow permits murder of the unborn under one of the most grotesque abortion policies in the entire world. Even atheist liberal European countries have some limits on when and how abortions can be performed, but not in Joe Biden's America.

Through it all, Paul Ryan maintained his composure and, like an accountant, stuck to the numbers and the hard facts throughout the debate. His performance was entirely consistent with his whole worldview, as a man of faith who is guided by principles over political considerations. Conversely, Biden constantly changed his mode of attack, just as he has changed his positions on the issues many times throughout his long career in the Senate. In the end, the liberal chameleon finally showed his true colors, and we were offered the clearest picture so far in this entire election of how extreme and how unhinged the political left has become.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What Goes Around Comes Around

Fighting Fire With Gasoline Doesn't Work.

President Obama claims to stand on the side of police, firefighters, paramedics, teachers, librarians, and other public-sector employees. This is perhaps true insofar as he has committed the federal government, and thus the American taxpayer, to spend inconceivable amounts of money to win the affections of these groups. However, the new contract that will be voted on today by the Chicago Teachers Union and an internet video being circulated by the International Association of Fire Fighters both make clear that in the long run, Obama's policies will do more harm than good for public-sector employees.

While most private sector employers and even the federal government have transitioned to defined-contribution plans like the 401(k), most municipal governments continue to use defined-benefit pension plans. Unfortunately, defined-benefit plans are going bankrupt because the money that was supposed to be set aside for future pension payments was spent frivolously by local governments during the boom times under the flawed assumption that the economy would always be good. Unlike the federal government, state and local governments can't just print money to pay their pensioners when expenses exceed revenues. They have to issue new debt which usually has to be approved by voters in a referendum.

The biggest reason for funding shortfalls in the great recession is the decline in home prices and thus property tax revenues on which local governments depend. The crisis is real. Because of their profligacy, cities like Stockton, California and Camden, New Jersey are now unable to pay for even basic services like police. Eventually home prices and tax revenues will recover, but consider that sometime in the next 20-30 years there will be another major recession and tax revenues will collapse again, except that if we don't have pension and entitlement reform, next time the burden of payments on state and local governments will be many times worse than what we have seen in the last few years.

Of course, senior employees who have dedicated their whole lives to serving public health, safety, and education are right to be upset that their retirement is now in jeopardy. Any plan to address the public sector pension crisis must ensure that people do not lose the retirement that they have worked for. However, opposition to reform from public-sector unions like the IAFF and the CTU will ultimately result in less money to fund salaries, benefits, training, and equipment for their current and future employees as state and local governments are forced to spend more and more on pension payments. Moreover, just throwing more money at the problem now is like fighting fire with gasoline.

Winston Churchill probably never said that, "Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal has no heart; and any man who is over 30 and is not a conservative has no brains," which is just as well, because it is false. As the slow-motion train wreck of the pension and entitlement crisis makes clear, people under 30 years of age have the most at stake in this election. If Obama is re-elected, his liberal policies of pandering and procrastination will continue and we will see more bailouts, more "stimulus" plans to pay for bankrupt public sector pension plans, and ever higher deficits and taxes to fund it all.

Who will pay these taxes? Obama has been traveling the country promising adoring college students that if he is elected they will not have to worry about the cost of federally-subsidized student loans going up. What he isn't telling them is that his own ObamaCare law eliminated subsidies for student loans issued by private banks, and that because of his policies, when their parents retire, current students will inherit a debt so shockingly enormous that a 3.4% increase in student loan interest will seem like a very small price to pay indeed. The old saying that "what goes around comes around" has never been more true.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

From Tucson to Turtle Bay

Don't Shoot the Messenger

On January 12, 2011, President Obama delivered perhaps the finest speech of his presidency eulogizing the death of six innocent Americans at the hands of a deranged gunman in Tucson, Arizona just a few days earlier. Now, in the year of an election, four Americans--including an ambassador--were murdered in a barbaric and savage attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi. For all the differences between these two events, they both have one thing in common: neither had anything to do with the exercise of free speech.

In his moving oratory at the campus of the University of Arizona, the President silenced a raucous crowd of students and sternly rebuked the politicians and commentators on the left who in the preceding days had tried to lay the blame for the massacre on the vibrancy of political expression and debate in this country. Earlier this week at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, the President once again spoke about the death of innocent Americans, this time at the hands of terrorists, but the emphasis of his speech was very different.

After the rampage in Tucson in which Jared Loughner ended the life of a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl and severely wounded a congresswoman among his victims, liberal commentators pushed a narrative of violent rhetoric and incivility to explain the tragedy. However, as immediately became clear, the perpetrator had no political motives, but was and is very mentally ill. Moreover, despite the calls for more restrained and civil discourse, political debate and the coverage of it in the media quickly resumed the same incendiary and vitriolic tone as before the murders.

Just as with the Tucson massacre, the motives of the killers in Libya are very clear. This was not a "protest" against an amateur video. This was an act of pure slaughter in violation of every precept of international law and diplomacy. Despite this, and even though leaders in the intelligence community, the Secretary of State, and his own Press Secretary have all admitted that it was a premeditated and overt act of terror aimed directly at the United States, the President only mentioned the word "terrorism" once in his address—and not even in reference to the violence in Libya.

Some commentators on the right have observed that instead of unambiguously defending the sacred American right to free speech as he did in Tucson, the President's remarks were more calibrated for an international audience that is openly hostile to American values. Instead of speaking with determination and resolve, it seemed that the President was searching for common ground with people who wish to destroy us. Unsurprisingly, there was not much in common to be found. This is a valid criticism.

However, the focus on free speech misses the point. In Tucson, the murders were the work of a madman. In Benghazi, the amateur video that probably got more views after the attack than before was merely a pretext for a long-planned act of terror by religious fanatics who despise the United States. In both cases, we make the mistake of trying to explain and rationalize evil on our own terms, when in truth, the innocent and the virtuous are always the first casualty when we pretend that pure and incomprehensible evil does not exist in the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The World Trade Center

Today we remember that September 11th was an attack on America, but it is easy to forget that it was also a barbaric attack on all of human civilization. There were 372 citizens of more than 90 foreign countries among the casualties. A Christian church and a Muslim prayer room were obliterated in the carnage. America suffered the most, but everyone in the world lost something on that day.

In the years since then, much has changed in the world. After years of searching, Osama bin Laden is dead. The Arab Spring has transformed a long-troubled part of the world in ways that will not be fully known for decades--and continues to be felt in the Syrian Civil War. Iraq is now a sovereign nation free from the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein--who is also dead.

However, many threats to civilization remain. Somalian pirates continue to wreak havoc on the high seas off the Horn of Africa. Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons and interfere with the internal politics of several Arab nations. The mission to prevent Afghanistan from reverting to Taliban rule continues. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, China is building up its military and aggressively pursuing a program of territorial expansion in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

As the most powerful nation in the history of the world, America has a responsibility to lead the community of nations and to preserve peace and international stability. If we fail to do so, September 11th will likely be surpassed as the darkest day in American history by something even more terrible. As we remember the attacks eleven years ago today, we must also remember that much work remains to ensure that the horror and destruction of that day is never repeated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Joe "Sixpack" Biden?

They built it.

This past Labor Day weekend, one of the panelists on the "Chris Matthews Show" said something so preposterous that it defies belief, even for the shameless liberal pundits that are the staple of MSNBC’s political coverage. According to Joe Klein, Congressman Paul Ryan is upper-middle class while, "Biden is a working class guy," (around 16:30)--not a symbol of the working class or born of a working class family, mind you, but actually working class in the here and now in his capacity as Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.

The irony of this howler is even more bitter when we consider that Labor Day was once more than just the last day the pool is open and actually a real celebration of the working man, like those glorified in the mural by Diego Rivera above. Conversely, how can a man who has served in the Senate for nearly 40 years now ever be described as "working class" by any definition whatsoever? The U.S. Senate is modeled after the original Roman Senate for which membership was open only to the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of the Republic. As a practical matter, the same is true in America today.

Furthermore, if Paul Ryan--who, like Biden, has spent his entire career in public service--is wealthy and a symbol of Republican plutocracy with his comparatively modest income in the House of Representatives--which is modeled after the British House of Commons, incidentally--wouldn't that imply that Biden is also one of the evil wealthy capitalist pigs by virtue of his higher salary and longer tenure in the more august upper chamber?

The only other explanation for Biden’s lower socioeconomic status is that he has foolishly outspent his means (all taxpayer funded, of course) and taken out a second mortgage on his million-dollar home, multiple lines of credit with his life insurance as collateral, and squandered more taxpayer funds on his infamous first-class daily commute on Amtrak while Ryan has carefully and judiciously invested his more modest income to build up a greater fortune for the security of his family and future generations.

Given that our overextended entitlement programs closely resemble Biden's finances, this comparison is particularly instructive. Who should we trust more to manage the public fisc? In these lean times, we should place our trust in the proverbial ants who built up their store of provisions during the days of plenty than with the profligate grasshopper Biden. Like the grasshopper of fable, Biden's song and dance would be entertaining if we were at our ease in the golden days of summer.

We do not have that luxury. In these bleak and desperate times, we need men and women of substance and integrity like Congressman Ryan who understand that reforming entitlements is more than just a political game and is not merely necessary, but will become an existential crisis for our democracy if not solved within this decade. We cannot wait for 2016 to finally give serious thought to the defining issue of our age.

Fortunately for the future of this country, regardless of whether Mitt Romney wins or loses the election, Ryan will be in charge of the budget--either in the White House or in the House of Representatives. Democrats should be careful about mocking the man for his financial success, because they're going to have to work with him to mend the nation's finances whether they like it or not.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is Barack Obama a Tory?

Lord Protector or Protection Racket?

Last week, a correspondent at Britain’s Spectator (not to be confused with the American Spectator) posed this seemingly nonsensical question. If Toryism--or more broadly, conservatism--has any meaning at all, obviously the answer is no. However, on deeper reflection, this question is a good starting point to explore President Obama's governing philosophy. Clearly Obama is no conservative, but what sort of man is he? Using British history as our point of comparison, it is clear that Barack Obama has much more in common with the Roundheads than the Tories.

The argument advanced in the piece is that "the goal of the Obama Administration has been the preservation of the status quo" and "minimally disturbing existing economic and political arrangements" which is falsely given as the core of "small-c" conservatism. This sounds like Burkean pragmatism, and while Edmund Burke is certainly an intellectual father of modern conservative thought on both sides of the Atlantic, he was a Whig and spent his political career opposing the Tories in pursuit of reform, especially religious and economic freedom for Catholics in Ireland.

Moreover, Burke argued that change is "the most powerful law of nature" and since it cannot be avoided, should be guided "by insensible degrees" to the best possible outcomes. Many modern-day conservatives accept this decidedly Whiggish maxim and are willing to make short-term compromises in order to gradually advance a principled agenda that strengthens individual rights, the family, and the role of faith in society. This is not what Obama has done.

Then-candidate Obama campaigned in 2008 on the now-tired slogan of "Hope and Change," which is to say, he did not merely accept change as inevitable, but actively sought to cause it--and by the most radical means possible. Indeed, Obama has been deeply antagonistic towards long-established businesses and civic institutions in a way which would horrify Burke. While being heckled by Occupy Wall Street protesters last year, he even said as much.

Rather than a Tory or even a Whig, the President's philosophy is frighteningly similar to the Puritan revolution lead by Oliver Cromwell. In particular, Obama and his supporters have engaged in an all-out attack on faithful Catholics and religious conservatives. While preaching "tolerance" and "choice," Obama's policies are in fact quite the opposite. Even the liberal wing of the Supreme Court recognized Obama's attack on freedom of religion went too far in the landmark Hosanna-Tabor case.

At the same time, the mob mentality of Obama's most ardent supporters is becoming more evident. Just this past month, we have seen a rash of vandalism against Chick-fil-A franchises due to the religious beliefs of the restaurant chain's founder. Meanwhile, a gunman attempted to murder the employees of a conservative non-profit while toting a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. It is also worth noting that the Occupy Wall Street movement has repeatedly employed anti-Semitic rhetoric. To be sure, these are isolated actions of deranged individuals—-but for how long?

Insofar as Obama is using his power to attack the rights of religious people and to delegitimize freedom of worship and expression in the public square, he bears some of the responsibility for this disturbing trend towards unruly mobs and hateful violence. His radical governing philosophy of intolerance and coercion has been adopted by his supporters with increasingly disconcerting results. America is generally a peaceful and democratic society, but even we are not immune to outbreaks of political violence.

Burke himself bitterly opposed the French Revolution and watched with horror as the chaos quickly devolved into what we now call totalitarianism. As a community organizer from the mean streets of South Chicago, Obama may have fooled himself that he can control the mob to do his bidding, but this is a dangerous course. If he were really a conservative and a student of history, he would know that, as with Cromwell, it's easy to stir up a mob into an agitated frenzy, but it's impossible to stop the mob when heads begin to roll.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are We There Yet?

19th Century Global Positioning System

With the ubiquitous nature of cellphones and global positioning satellites here on earth, we often take it for granted that it is now almost impossible to be truly lost. Short of leaving your cellphone behind and wandering off into an uncharted wilderness, one need only reach into a pocket to gain instant access to incredibly detailed maps and accurate coordinates. However, for the NASA Curiosity rover on Mars, things aren’t so simple:

Curiosity landed facing east-southeast within Gale Crater, with a heading of 112.7 degrees (plus or minus five degrees), and a few degrees of tilt. A Sol 1 overpass by Mars Odyssey will provide additional information on Curiosity's position and additional imagery. A first look at some color images taken just before landing by MSL's Mars Descent Imager also provided additonal [sic] information on the rover's precise location.

There are a handful of man-made satellites in orbit around Mars, but none has the capabilities of the GPS constellation in orbit around earth. Instead, like mariners in the age of sail, NASA scientists must measure the angles between different landmarks in a process known as triangulation to calculate the exact position of the rover.

The next time you’re looking at real-time traffic updates on your phone while searching for an alternate route, consider how lucky you are. Even after a breathtakingly complicated journey between the planets that would not have been possible without the advancements of 21st century rocket science, the incredible machines on the surface of Mars must rely on ancient principles of navigation to get around.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Up In Arms

"The redcoats are coming!"

In the aftermath of the shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado, families and victims must somehow come to grips with the horror and senselessness of this tragedy. The process of healing will be long and difficult. Even as the motives and background of the killer are revealed, each bit of new information will not bring us closer to any answers. Evil is irrational. Nevertheless, liberal commentators in the media could hardly wait until the tear gas had cleared before pointing the blame squarely at the "gun lobby" and conservatives more generally.

Politicians and pundits on the left have had no shame in capitalizing on the massacre to press for stricter gun control laws and otherwise limiting freedom in the name of somehow preventing a similar crime in the future. The favorite liberal prescription is to renew the assault weapon ban that was in force from 1994-2004 even though that same ban did not prevent the two worst acts of terrorism in American history which claimed a combined 3,144 innocent lives. Indeed, neither atrocity involved any firearms at all.

Furthermore, the term "assault weapon" is not rigorously defined and often misused. Under the law in force from 1994-2004, the sale of various semi-automatic firearms was prohibited, but far more destructive fully-automatic firearms were still legal in many cases. At the same time, any law restricting gun ownership—even an outright repeal of the 2nd Amendment—would not stop the use of knives, blunt objects, strangulation, and poisons to commit murders just as gruesome as the terrible slaughter in Aurora, if not more so.

It makes no difference what type of weapon is used to commit murder. Regardless of the laws concerning gun ownership, murder itself remains as illegal as ever. Conversely, criminals are unlikely to care whether or not the weapon they use to commit a crime is illegal. Laws do not prevent crime. By definition, criminals do not abide by the law. Psychopaths will always apply the full energies of their depraved and diabolical minds to devise new and shocking ways to kill and destroy.

Rather, our system of laws is founded on the principle that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. Even in such a heinous crime with hundreds of eyewitnesses, the government must introduce evidence to prove the guilt of the perpetrator. Once guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, no punishment can be too harsh or too severe for the one who committed this crime, but to ban ownership of firearms is to presume that simply possessing a weapon is enough to imply guilt. This stands our system of laws on its head.

As for the supposed influence of the "gun lobby," it is worth pointing out that the National Rifle Association currently has a mere 4.3 million members. There are millions upon millions more law-abiding Americans who own firearms and do not consider the 2nd Amendment as a political issue at all, but rather as an expression of the innate right to defend oneself, one’s family, one’s home, and one’s country. The drafters of the 2nd Amendment did not create this right, but merely recognized a right that had already existed from ancient times.

The Supreme Court affirmed this in the Heller case. The founders’ intent for the 2nd Amendment was to maintain a "well-regulated" (i.e., well-armed and well-trained) citizens’ militia for common defense. As Americans, we are blessed with the most professional, best-trained, and most technologically advanced military in the world. However, the right of every citizen to bear arms remains the last line of defense should the unthinkable happen, and as long as the liberal advocates of curtailing our freedoms do not have their way, America will always be a country worth defending.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Roberts Rules

St. Thomas More practiced civil disobedience before it was cool.

It is altogether fitting that the ruling in the ObamaCare case comes during the Fortnight for Freedom, which started on the Feast of St. Thomas More and ends on Independence Day. More gave his life for his faith in the ultimate act of civil disobedience. In our own time, Chief Justice Roberts quietly points to a fatal flaw of ObamaCare which may yet render the law unenforceable and impractical through sustained and widespread civil disobedience of a less violent nature.

In his discussion of the Congress' taxing power, Roberts was careful to note that the penalty for not purchasing insurance is weak enough that it does not actually amount to compulsion. According to that test, if the tax was severe enough to amount to punishment or was enforceable by criminal penalties, it would run afoul of the Commerce Clause, but in this case the court judges that it does not fail the test. If a subsequent Congress increases the amount of the tax or attaches criminal penalties for failure to pay, ObamaCare could potentially fail that constitutional test and thus become open for re-litigation.

In particular, Roberts notes twice in his opinion that 26 U. S. C. §5000A(g)--which concerns the penalty for not complying with the individual mandate--specifically states that the IRS may not enforce the penalty through criminal prosecution, additional penalties, or any lien or levy on personal property. In the event that the law is not repealed before 2014, the last resort is to simply disobey the law and refuse to pay the penalty. The Prolix Patriot is not a lawyer, but it seems plain enough that a law which cannot be enforced does not have any power.

Thus, in a ruling which superficially appears to uphold the most onerous provisions of ObamaCare, Chief Justice Roberts actually reduces the individual mandate “tax” to a nullity while at the same time drawing a bright line limiting the power of Congress under the commerce clause and the spending power as applied to the several states. Rather than viewing this as a defeat, opponents of ObamaCare should celebrate that Roberts’ ruling has opened many new avenues for subsequent legislation and litigation to eliminate ObamaCare’s abuses and also to restrain Congress’ seemingly limitless ambitions.

Moreover, as Roberts noted in his opinion, "It is not [the court’s] job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices." Instead of blaming Roberts for some imagined betrayal, opponents of ObamaCare should place the full blame for the law’s many shortcomings squarely at the feet of the laws namesake--President Obama himself. As presidential contender Mitt Romney said today, "If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama."