Archive for December, 2010

For national security and economic reasons I generally vote Republican, but I’m quite liberal on social issues.  For example, my support for same-sex marriage equality puts me to the left of Barack “marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman” Obama.

This occasionally leads to cognitive dissonance, when people I otherwise admire take positions I find offensive.  I voted for Jon Corzine against the man I now think of as Governor Awesome, solely on the basis of Christie’s declaration that he would veto any legislation providing for same-sex marriage. Now the man I proudly backed for President has substituted tantrums for argumentation in leading the opposition to repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  The repeal was approved yesterday — the Web Goddess considers it a birthday present — and I take some solace in the fact that enough Republican Senators crossed the aisle to make the vote a landslide, 65-31.

I agree with Nick at GayPatriot that this legislative outcome is hugely preferable to the judicial ruling that no doubt was just a matter of time.

I cannot express how grateful I am that this didn’t happen at the rap of a judge’s gavel. Nothing could have been more destructive than had our military been forced to make this change not because our commanders had been directed to do so by our elected civilian leaders, but by judicial fiat. Simply put, the judicial branch is not (despite this Administration’s obsession with trying our enemies in civilian courts) charged with, nor does it have the temperament for, taking on the responsibility of national security. While all would agree that the policy is discriminatory, that in and of itself is a very very poor reason to make such a huge change to policy. For example, the ADA doesn’t quite apply to the military, now, does it? On the other hand, give me a truly national-defense reason for considering applying it so, and I (and all military commanders) will be all ears.

Some Senators argued that a change of this sort should not be made in time of war.  Two Republican Senators, Richard Burr of North Carolina and John Ensign of Nevada, voted to support a filibuster attempt that failed… and then later in the same day voted in favor of repeal. “Despite my concerns over timing, my conclusion is that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the right thing to do,” Burr said in a statement after the vote.

I agree that the timing is not ideal — it should have been done years ago. I have every confidence that the men and women of the armed forces are equal to the challenge posed by colleagues who no longer have to lie about who they are.

Meanwhile, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network offers a grim warning: “The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is NOT safe to come out.”

Even after the successful votes in Congress and even after the President signs the bill, the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must certify that the Defense Department is prepared to implement repeal. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will still be the law until 60 days after the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify repeal can happen.

It’s tempting to think this is excessive caution — the President, SecDef and Chairman all are on record supporting repeal.  The 60-day waiting period was a fig leaf provided to those concerned about moving too quickly.  But when the Bush tax cuts were originally passed in his first term, I don’t think many people expected the ridiculous sunset provisions to be triggered — and they almost were.

I’ll give the final words to Nick at GayPatriot, himself a veteran:

I thank God for the gay men and women who have been serving during (and even before) DADT in spite of it. While many gay activists have been on the sidelines carping about “rights” and “integrity” and “honor”, these brave men and women put their Nation before themselves and sacrificed as their colleagues never had to. They were called by service and answered in a way that speaks volumes about their dedication to the mission of the military. They chose to serve even as doing so meant keeping such a big part of themselves under wraps.

The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is NOT safe to come out.

There’s a BP station on the route between my home and my work, and that’s where I always get my gas.  I’m not a fan of boycotts, especially ones that primarily victimize local business owners with no say in corporate affairs.  Besides, the station charges the same price for cash or credit.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been only five months since BP’s gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was capped. It’s just six months since the sad spectacle of President Obama declaring he wanted to know “whose ass to kick,” while his press secretary asserted “I’ve seen rage” from the President.  The so-called “worst oil spill in history” has disappeared.

In “Oil Spill Hysteria,” Professor Robert Nelson explains in the Weekly Standard why the Gulf incident, despite spewing more than 20 times the volume of oil as the Exxon Valdez, caused so much less damage.

Start with the fact that the Gulf spill occurred in 5,000 feet of water, while most spills come from tankers at the surface. It took time for the oil to get to the surface, giving the oil-eating “bugs” of the Gulf opportunity to do their work.A second important factor was that the spill occurred 50 miles from the coast. This left more time for responders to apply chemical dispersants and for wave action and other natural forces to decompose large amounts of oil. What oil did reach the beaches often took the form of tar balls that were less environmentally harmful than actual slicks. Cleanup workers could simply pick them up.

By contrast, the Exxon Valdez spill immediately spread over the surface of the ocean, where many birds and other creatures came into contact with it. Prince William Sound, where the spill began, is an enclosed body of water, and the spilled oil—some of it in the most toxic forms—quickly reached the shore. In addition, the sound has no significant natural oil seepage and so lacks the associated oil-eating organisms. The water is much colder and less conducive to such natural activity. The mammal populations in Prince William Sound and the other affected areas were larger, too.

And yet, the hysteria continues to drive policy.  The Obama Administration this month announced a seven-year moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf, thereby making it likely that the response to the oil spill will cause more economic damage to the region than the oil spill itself.  Between the Gulf overreaction and Climategate, it’s been a tough year for environmental alarmism.

One should always be wary of highly partisan people who make sweeping post-election predictions about future elections (cf. Carville, James, 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation, copyright 2009.) But while John Podhoretz’s essay “The Liberal Crisis” has a whiff of wishful thinking to it, his predictions are far more limited, and grounded in analysis of election results in the past half century.

Does Barack Obama now look like a loser? It would be foolish to write Obama’s political epitaph, though it would be even more foolish to assume that his 2008 performance before the national electorate offers much in the way of guidance about how he will fare a second time. A recent president whose election results most closely compare with his is George H. W. Bush, who won 53.4 percent in 1988 (slightly better, in fact, than Obama’s 2008 tally) and had, moreover, a 91 percent approval rating in March 1991. Twenty months later, in November 1992, Bush went on to secure a shockingly low 38 percent of the vote.

Obama is certainly in political peril. In 2008 he won independent voters by 17 points in 2008; on November 2, independents preferred Republicans by eight points, an unprecedented 25-point shift. The percentage of the electorate that called itself Democratic shrank by 9 percent (from 39 percent in 2008 to 36 percent this year). Republicans’ participation grew from 32 percent to 36 percent—proportionately, a 12 percent gain. Let us assume that Obama succeeds in changing the trend line in 2012 by bringing back half the independents his party lost in 2010 and increasing Democratic participation by a percentage point or two over Republicans. If he does so, he will not suffer the kind of defeat his party did in November. But he will still lose.

My “wishful thinking” reference above is based on the fact that much of Podhoretz’s essay focuses on the possibility that Obama will face a significant challenger from his left in 2012.  (Russ Feingold? C’mon…) But I think Podhoretz is correct in arguing that Obama’s need to protect his left flank may keep from tacking toward the center as deftly as Clinton did after the Republican midterm tsunami during Clinton’s first term.

Ever since Obama took office, leftists have issued complaints against him that, to the non-leftist ear, sound insane.They claim he has been too moderate, too compromising, too much of a technocrat. They say the $863 billion stimulus was too small by half—an assertion impossible to prove, and pointless in any case, since the stimulus that did become law was as large as the political system in Washington controlled entirely by Democrats could stomach. Liberals were and are angry that Obama gave up the so-called public option on health care, when he had no choice but to do so to win Democratic support to get the bill through the Senate.

In point of fact, Obama has done everything in his power to advance the most unshakably leftist agenda since Johnson’s time, and possibly since the days of Franklin Roosevelt—with remarkable results. He should be celebrated by liberals and the left, not criticized by them, and certainly not abandoned by them.

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Life is unpredictable, but businesses crave certainty. Higher, predictable costs are preferable to lower, volatile costs.  The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement will cost the U.S. tobacco industry $206 billion over 25 years, but it shielded the companies from litigation.  As a result, in the years after the agreement, “returns to investments in the tobacco industry exceeded returns from investments in securities of other companies.”  (I’m not endorsing the tobacco industry, I’m just making a point about certainty.)

Fast-forward to December 2010:  How’s that whole quest-for-certainty thing working out for American businesses?  Here’s a clue:  The new year begins four weeks from today, and nobody knows what the tax rates will be for 2011.

Little wonder, then, that the unemployment rate ticked up again this week.  Businesses are reluctant to create new jobs in the face of cost-uncertainty.

If you have eight minutes, check out the Wall Street Journal video at the top of this post.  The Journal’s opinion podcasts, which are available outside the pay wall, frequently do an effective job of explaining the ramifications of the news.  There’s no transcript, but here are some excerpts:

The economy may be OK but the job market is terrible — longest stretch above 9% since World War II…. So the way to create new jobs for those structurally unemployed, it sounds like you need to allow new businesses to be created, new opportunities to be created for these people to seize, and to do that you’ve got to have a tax regime that encourages growth and encourages new business.  …

I heard the White House’s statement today, which was basically, our solution for the unemployment problem is to expand unemployment insurance.  Well look, you don’t put more people back to work by paying people not to work.

I’m not opposed to the very idea of unemployment benefits.  After paying unemployment insurance tax for two decades, I gladly cashed the unemployment checks when I got laid off by Citigroup after 9/11.  The benefits lasted for 26 weeks, and just as they were running out I was able to get a good job that replaced about two-thirds of my prior income.

I’m not even opposed to the concept of extending unemployment benefits during a dreadful economy.  I think there was a good case for extending them once.  But they’ve been extended multiple times, to 99 weeks, and you can’t keep extending them forever.  Politico has a good roundup of opinions on all sides of the unemployment insurance debate.  Here’s a statement by Columbia professor Charles Calomiris that works for me:

There is no question that extending unemployment benefits for such a long time period increases unemployment. Unemployed workers searching for work often refuse offers, hoping to get better offers in the future. Unemployment insurance makes such refusals happen much more.

On the other hand, for many workers, long-term structural unemployment requires them to acquire new skills, and that can take time… But no matter what people decide to do vis-a-vis re-training, unemployment insurance should not be provided indefinitely. Two years of unemployment insurance, even for those seeking re-training, is too much.

There are jobs out there for people who are willing to lower their expectations.  I found two jobs last year: a part-time gig slicing deli food at a grocery store, then a full-time job at a church.  My title is Parish Administrator, and I can legitimately describe my job as “running a busy church office.” But if you call during business hours and ask to speak to the church secretary, you’ll be transferred to me — in the unlikely event that I didn’t answer the phone in the first place.  I’m making about what I made in 1985 as a copy editor at a small daily newspaper.

None of this is what I had in mind 30 years ago when I graduated from Princeton.  But it’s honest labor, it’s mission-critical work for an admirable organization, and I’m very grateful to have it.

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Jennifer Rubin Decamps from De Contentions

Jennifer Rubin

One of the two hardest-working, conservative, female bloggers (how’s that for a micro-niche?) packed up her pixels and migrated to a new cyber-home this week, where she’ll have a chance to build a much bigger audience.

There are two group blogs that I visit every every day:  “Contentions” at Commentary Magazine’s website, and “The Corner” at National Review Online.  Each site has a handful of steady conservative bloggers who, collectively, can be counted on to serve up something topical and thought-provoking on a daily basis.  Each has been dominated by a prolific female blogger: Jennifer Rubin at Contentions and Kathryn Lopez (“K-Lo”) at The Corner.  Their writing is informed and shaped in part by their religious backgrounds (Jewish and Catholic, respectively).

Rubin in particular amazes me with her output.  I struggle to post on my blog more than once or twice a week, and every post seems to turn into a three hour project.  Yes, I have a full-time job, whereas blogging is her full-time job.  But Rubin can write faster than I can type — she posts substantial, well-researched essays several times a day. I’ve quoted her at length several times, including here and here.

K-Lo

On the Washington Post homepage today I noticed a link reading “New blog: Right Turn by Jennifer Rubin.”  How about that, I thought — there’s another blogger named Jennifer Rubin, and it looks like she may be a righty.  But of  course it’s the same person… somehow I had missed her farewell post at Contentions on Tuesday.  She now joins George Will and Charles Krauthammer as another good reason to check in on the WaPo regularly.  The difference is, those guys produce one (Krauthammer) or two (Will) columns a week.  Rubin has posted 20 times since her inaugural missive on Tuesday.

I’ll always have a fond spot in my heart for K-Lo as well.  This blog’s first significant traffic spike came at her expense. If she noticed me at the time, I hope she’s not still upset.