Sunday, June 16, 2013

To My Father--and fathers everywhere

Happy Fathers' Day!
Today brings two significant occasions: Fathers’ Day and the first anniversary of this blog’s creation. While both occasions deserve celebration, more celebrate the former, so let us focus on it.

Since 1942, the National Fathers’ Day Council has annually named several men as “Father of the Year.” The recipients are supposed to be “contemporary lifestyle leaders of our culture whose lives are dedicated to family, citizenship, charity, civility, responsibility and reverence,” according to the council’s website. Past winners include Douglas MacArthur, Andy Griffith, Billy Graham, and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. This year, another esteemed name joins their ranks: former President William Jefferson Clinton.

About this decision, and the man himself, more later. For now, it is enough to say that Bill Clinton’s presidency generated some of my earliest political memories. And the most salient of those was, unsurprisingly, a disapproval of our nation’s 42nd president that I could hardly explain at the time. All I really remember about its cause was that my dad, the Elder Son, did not like him. Indeed, he had a sign of some kind in his work office that said something to the effect of “Bill Clinton-criminal.”

All of this is to say that my father undoubtedly was a profound factor in the development of my political views growing up—what political scientists call “political socialization.” Much has changed in the years since Clinton occupied the Oval Office: My father and I have both aged, and now another Democrat holds the White House. But one thing remains constant: My father and I continue to discuss politics regularly. Thanks to the views he imbued in me and the environment in which he raised me, my views closely mirror his own, but (I like to think) with a degree of thoughtfulness and subtlety that suggests genuine independence. Still, I would not hold the beliefs I do today about politics today without his influence, and for that I owe him many thanks.

 But that is hardly the only thing for which I owe him. My father also instilled in me an appreciation for history—that is, how certain trends and people emerged, what influence they had, what cause generated which effect, and vice versa. From his influence, I became conscious of the fact that, no, history did not begin the day I was born; rather, thousands of years of human interactions preceded my own birth. Our mutual fascination with “what if” scenarios, of which all of the past is replete, relates to this. 

In addition to sharing a love of all of history, my father gave me a particularly acute taste for the history and the culture of our own lifetimes. We like many of the same movies—Apocalypse Now, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Braveheart, The Matrix—and much of the same music—The Beatles, The Who, Emerson, Lake & Palmer—and for many of the same reasons. Without my father’s influence, much, possibly all, of this cultural heritage would be foreign to me; I would never have enjoyed “Silly Love Songs” on drives to and from Dayton, nor would I have found it weird that, for three of the past four years, 92.5 “the FOX” has played this song on the day after the OHSAA cross country meet between 4 and 4:30 p.m. 

Though we share a love of music without either of us having much talent in it (though he could tell you an interesting story of how he almost learned how to play guitar), we do both possess another gift: running. In his day, my father was an excellent runner: 15:15 5k, 25:00 5-miler, and what should have been a marathon time in the low 2:30s or high 2:20s (if not for an overly fast first half). I have both his genes to thank for my own running talents, and his constant encouragement, coaching, and advice over the years to thank for any successes I have had or will have in the future. In all my races, workouts, and runs, he is the man I'm ultimately chasing. Someday, I hope to catch him.

Supposedly, we're related.
Many other specific reasons exist for why I am thankful for my father; I would never finish this post if I were to list them all. But, generally speaking, I am simply glad that I have him. Our relationship has not been completely perfect—what human son’s relation to his father is?—but I have benefited indisputably from his stable presence in my life.

Sadly, more and more children grow up today without such a presence. As W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, explains at National Review Online:
In our public conversation about how best to accommodate today’s family diversity, what usually goes unsaid is that fewer marriages also means fewer fathers in our nation’s homes.

That is because marriage is the institution that binds men to their children. There is no substitute. Cohabiting couples with children are much more likely to end up on the rocks than their married peers (even in Sweden). Divorced and never-married fathers often have difficulty getting or making the time to stay in regular contact with their children once the relationship with the mother of their child is over. By contrast, fathers who are married to the mother of their children are much more likely to enjoy the day-in-day-out relationships with their children that enable them to give their kids the attention, discipline, and affection they need to thrive.
Recent trends away from fatherhood’s importance suggest, even if only slightly, a regression toward the state of nature. For as Daphne Fairbairn notes in the Wall Street Journal this weekend:
…human dads are unusual in their devotion to family, especially when compared with the rest of the animal kingdom. Though most bird fathers help care for their offspring, absentee dads are the rule in 90% of mammal species. Fatherly care is even less common in other animal groups…
Fairbairn goes on to say that most males in nature are smaller than females, and dedicate themselves almost entirely to mating, with many males of species other than human either castrated, dead, or both after reproduction. She concludes that
…human dads aren't required to sacrifice body parts, freedom or life itself to become fathers. Their extraordinary efforts come in the form of devotion to family. This makes them exceptional in the animal kingdom—and it is surely one of the keys to our unique success as a species.
Which brings us back to Bill Clinton. Whatever his virtues as president—and we think he had more than the Oval Office’s current occupant—Clinton’s private character hews closer to the primal than the civilizational. For this reason alone, naming him a “Father of the Year” becomes a dubious award. But Clinton, famous and rich as he is, can easily endure the strain of impropriety; his daughter does not seem to have suffered from it.

But the rest of the country does not earn $17 million in speeches a year. Rather, for the great mass of people, marriage has provided a wealth of social capital that has fostered social stability and economic prosperity. The growing commonality of Clinton-style behavior among social classes lacking his wealth or prestige threatens that unprecedented degree of societal cohesion—as does any sanctioning of such behavior, such as that provided by the award Clinton received this year (a far worthier recipient would have been President Obama, who by all appearances has a great marriage and is raising too beautiful daughters in difficult circumstances). Women know that men are not perfect, but that’s no excuse for letting them indulge their baser instincts.

On this Fathers’ Day, then, thank your father for everything he has done for you. But also hold fathers, and would-be fathers (for most men still claim to aspire to it), across the country to the higher standard that has made not only society as we know it possible, but also perhaps civilization itself. To lose that would truly be a shame.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Borg-ocracy

Your legislature will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

On May 24, Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University (i.e., an intelligent, mainstream legal mind) caused a bit of a stir in the Washington Post by writing that
[t]he growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.
Turley spends the rest of the piece detailing the rise of the administrative state over the past century or so, and fleshing out the dangers this entails for Constitutional governance. Steven Hayward reacted to Turley's piece as many conservatives did: in a word, “duh.” Conservatives have long questioned the coexistence of the administrative state with legitimate self-representation—where does one go to vote out a bureaucrat? But two recent pieces of legislation surpass this basic critique and strongly suggest that the administrative state under President Obama is now actively undermining our constitutional framework.

The first of these laws passed was the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the final text of which runs 849 pages (an affront unto itself; who could ever possibly know what's inside?). The Act contains a whole host of provisions that no one will ever read (by design), which nameless, faceless bureaucrats will instead interpret and implement. One such provision details how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency (of sorts) established by the act, will receive its funding:
.—Each year (or quarter of such year), beginning on the designated transfer date, and each quarter thereafter, the Board of Governors shall transfer to the Bureau from the combined earnings of the Federal Reserve System, the amount determined by the Director to be reasonably necessary to carry out the authorities of the Bureau under Federal consumer financial law, taking into account such other sums  made available to the Bureau from the preceding year (or quarter of such year).
.—Notwithstanding paragraph (1), and
in accordance with this paragraph, the amount that shall be transferred to the Bureau in each fiscal year shall not exceed a fixed percentage of the total operating expenses of the Federal Reserve System, as reported in the Annual Report, 2009, of the Board of Governors, equal to— (i) 10 percent of such expenses in fiscal year 2011;
(ii) 11 percent of such expenses in fiscal year 2012; and (iii) 12 percent of such expenses in fiscal year 2013, and in each year thereafter. (B) ADJUSTMENT OF AMOUNT
.—The dollar amount referred to in subparagraph (A)(iii) shall be adjusted annually, using the percent increase, if any, in the employment cost index for total compensation for State and local government workers published by the Federal Government, or the successor index thereto, for the 12-month period ending on September 30 of the year preceding the transfer. (C) REVIEWABILITY
.—Notwithstanding any other provision in this title, the funds derived from the Federal Reserve System pursuant to this subsection shall not be subject to review by the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate. [emphasis added]
To summarize: the CFPB receives its funding from the Federal Reserve, and Congress cannot scrutinize its operations. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s what the Constitution says about “bills of revenue”—i.e., funding for government operations:
All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
What part of “all” did the authors of Dodd-Frank not understand? Actually, that question may be too narrow. Perhaps one should ask: what parts of the Constitution did they understand?

Would that these defilements of the Constitution by the administrative state end with Dodd-Frank. But buried within the 906 pages of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, one finds a similar provision, creating a similar agency: the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). George Will of the Washington Post explained what this agency does:
The PPACA repeatedly refers to any IPAB proposal as a “legislative proposal” and speaks of “the legislation introduced” by the IPAB. Each proposal automatically becomes law unless Congress passes — with a three-fifths supermajority required in the Senate — a measure cutting medical spending as much as the IPAB proposal would.
This is a travesty of constitutional lawmaking: An executive branch agency makes laws unless Congress enacts legislation to achieve the executive agency’s aim.
And it gets worse. Any resolution to abolish the IPAB must pass both houses of Congress. And no such resolution can be introduced before 2017 or after Feb. 1, 2017, and must be enacted by Aug. 15 of that year. And if passed, it cannot take effect until 2020. Defenders of all this audaciously call it a “fast track” process for considering termination of IPAB. It is, however, transparently designed to permanently entrench IPAB — never mind the principle that one Congress cannot by statute bind another Congress from altering that statute.
 Don't believe Will? Here is one of the passages to which he refers:
.—There is established an independent board to be known as the ‘Independent Medicare Advisory Board’.
.—It is the purpose of this section to, in accordance with the following provisions of this section, reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending—
‘‘(1) by requiring the Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to determine in each year to which this section applies (in this section referred to as ‘a determination year’) the projected per capita growth rate under Medicare for the second year following the determination year (in this section referred to as ‘an implementation year’);
‘‘(2) if the projection for the implementation year exceeds the target growth rate for that year, by requiring the Board to develop and submit during the first year following the determination year (in this section referred to as ‘a proposal year’) a proposal containing recommendations to reduce the Medicare per capita growth rate to the extent required by this section; and ‘‘(3) by requiring the Secretary to implement such proposals unless Congress enacts legislation pursuant to this section [emphasis added].
Got that? “…unless Congress enacts legislation pursuant to this section.” In that one clause, you have a bureaucratic body elevated to and supplanting the status of our elected legislature. How did this happen? How did we arrive at a place where the unelected parts of our government now bear the weight of governance? Merely regulating finance and healthcare is one thing—proponents of the acts can point, however weakly, to the power of Congress in Article 1, Section 8 to “regulate Commerce.” But these are legislative usurpations of a higher order. Again, the question remains: how?

In part, we can blame our representatives, who did not bother to fight the disappearance of their actual power; in fact, they enjoy being able simply to write legislation that stipulates the outcomes they desire, and letting bureaucrats figure out how it’s going to work: legislative laziness and ignorance, in other words. Examples below:


But our representatives are supposed to represent us—at least, theoretically. Thus, any egregious actions they undertake without consequence signal our own negligence, our own failure to hold them accountable. Only a restored understanding and appreciation of the Constitution among citizens can wrest control of the government back to where it belongs: the places--local, state, and federal--where one can approve or disapprove of its actions, and prevent the Borg-ocracy from assimilating America's unique self-governance.

Thanks to a another D.C. area law professor, who wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution” we know that the ultimate aim of the Constitution’s enemies is either to discard it or render it meaningless. Its supporters must fight this mindset.

Are they up to the challenge?

Beneath the Headlines

A "white Hispanic"
Every morning, I try to read the two free dailies offered on weekdays in Washington, D.C.: the Washington Post Express and the Washington Examiner. I usually start with the Express, as it contains far less substance, which allows me to lament the substance-free, short attention-span style of news today. It also includes a lot of AP wire stories, some of which betray a revealing spin to those who can see it. Here are some examples from today:

From “Trayvon Martin Murder Trial Starts,” an AP story by Mike Schneider:
George Zimmerman’s lead attorney will be walking a fine line as he tries to convince jurors that his client didn’t murder Trayvon Martin: He needs to show why Zimmerman felt threatened by the African-American teenager while avoiding the appearance that either he or his client is racist.
This presents a rather novel view of justice in the United States: racist until proven innocent. And speaking of race, here’s a selection from the same story:
If convicted, Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic [my emphasis], could get a life sentence.
What was that? “Identifies himself as Hispanic?” How postmodern! The facts of the Trayvon Martin ordeal largely escape me, but the insistence among media outlets to avoid identifying George Zimmerman by his ethnicity certainly has not (see picture above). Here, for example, is how the New York Times described him a few months ago:
Mr. Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic [my emphasis], told the police that he shot Trayvon in self-defense after an altercation.
“White Hispanic,” eh? (Is that something like Morgan Freeman's "Irish" Red in The Shawshank Redemption?) Let’s recall what Mark Steyn has to say about this curious term:
There’s no real white guy involved in this. They want you to think it’s like a Klansman, this white racist. For starters, this guy is a registered Democrat. He’s half Hispanic, which is why the New York Times has had to invent the term “white-Hispanic” hitherto unknown to American journalism. “White-hispanic” was a phrase constructed so that this guy could still be white enough to fit the narrative of the Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton super-annuated race huskers.
In other words, readers are being misled. But most of them are likely not aware--much as they are in this AP news brief out of London, headlined “Police Investigating Fire At Muslim School in U.K.”:
A suspicious fire at an Islamic boarding school in suburban London is under investigation, police said Sunday. The blaze, which broke out Saturday night at the Darul Uloom Islamic School in Chislehurst, comes at a time of increased anti-Muslim attacks in Britain [my emphasis].
Let’s side aside the fire for now, as details remain uncertain. Instead, note well here the lazy connection made on the attention-short reader’s behalf: i.e., people in Britain are anti-Muslim, there was a fire at a Muslim school, therefore, British people are responsible. Only one of those holds true at the moment--the other two represent exaggeration and speculation, respectively . But if it’s context the AP seeks, then how about the recent hacking to death of a soldier in London by a UK Muslim of Nigerian ancestry? Here’s his on-air confession:  

I don’t supply this context to suggest the whole “eye-for-an-eye” worldview justifies the “suspicious fire.” Rather, I’m just trying to give a fuller picture of the problems the UK faces in assimilating its immigrant population. It’s a much more complicated story than a simple tit-for-tat; even so, the AP fails its readers when it leaves out the “tit” (the hacking) and focuses in on a dubious, unconfirmed “tat” (British anti-Muslim sentiment rising).

Finally, here’s “Worker Surrenders in Philly Building Collapse”:
A heavy equipment operator accused of being on marijuana when a building collapsed in Philadelphia, killing six people, is in custody after surrendering, police said Saturday. Sean Benschop faces an array of charges, including six counts of involuntary manslaughter.
In addition to echoing one of “Breaking Bad”’s best scenes, this story brings me to wonder about marijuana legalization. The conservative and libertarian in me have warred over legalizing marijuana for some time; I still couldn’t quite tell you what I believe. But I can say this: if marijuana becomes legal in a regime similar to that which currently governs alcohol, then I hope its users and advocates adhere to similar guidelines--such as “do not operate heavy machinery under the influence.”

And that's today's peek into the world beneath the headlines. It's a very complicated place, but it's one we're better off discussing honestly and in full. Unfortunately, both the spin of news providers and the attention spans of news consumers continue to complicate such efforts.