30 May 2009

Washington Post Posts 10 Steps for Schools – Not Buying It

Today, the Washington Post published an article by three folks from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The article suggests ten steps which are supposed to turn failing schools in America into “world-class schools.” The authors claim that their recommendations are “radical”. I was underwhelmed by the steps. Below, I will cover a few of them; text taken from the story is presented within quotes and in italics:

“Get outstanding students to go into teaching and treat them like professionals, not blue-collar workers in dead-end jobs. That means putting teachers in charge of their schools.” That sounds all fine and good, but there are roadblocks that the authors refuse to acknowledge. It would be a stretch to put teachers in the profession at this moment are in charge of their own classrooms – with regard to curriculum – let alone their schools. More often than not, curricula are dictated at the state level, either in the form of overly-complicated lists of learning objectives, mandated tests, or both. These factors end up in lowering the education bar just enough to get some number of students to pass standardized tests. For more on this, please check Booher-Jennings piece called “Below the Bubble”. The idea that individual teachers would be in charge of federally administered schools as opposed to those whose curricula are essentially dictated by the state defies current reality and the imagination.

“Hold faculty accountable for student achievement. Take over every school that, after three years, is unable to get at least 90 percent of all major groups of students on track to leave high school ready to enter college without the need to take any remedial courses.” After claiming a desire to empower teachers, to treat them like professionals, and to put them in charge of schools, the authors then flip the table on these newly empowered teachers. Not only would the authors see these newly empowered teachers make sure students graduate, but have 90% of them ready to walk into college without remediation. Do they not realize that, even after years of testing in big states like Texas, getting 90% of students to pass their exit-level tests (which are not college entrance tests) the first time is a pipe dream. There is another force in the classroom besides the teacher which is at work, yet the authors refuse to even acknowledge it.

Additionally, the authors obviously feel that not only is education through high school graduation a right (which has turned into an entitlement), but that college is a right as well. And whose job is it to push students – 90% of them, anyway – to be ready for college? The authors would say that teachers are. Perhaps they don’t understand that the verb “to learn” is an active-only verb. There is no passive tense for “learn”; no student is “learned by” their teacher. Indeed, student accountability is wholly left off the table in the authors’ bold, “radical” ten steps.

“Replace the current accountability tests with high-quality, course-based exams.” So much for treating teachers like professionals and putting them in charge of schools. I recall a time not too long ago when the teacher had the say as to whether or not a student achieved a level of understanding sufficient to pass a class, when student grades in a class mattered. Sure, teachers ought to be given a level of proficiency to which students must achieve (as a minimum), but the measurement of individual students in individual classrooms ought to be left up to each professional teacher. The teacher, as the authors suggest, ought to be in charge of his or her school and, one might assume, classroom. “high-quality exams” are already out there and in use: the SAT, ACT, et cetera; these are used to indicate a student’s aptitude to move on to college.

“Make a range of social services available to children from low-income families and coordinate those services with those students' school programs.” Here, we hit the core of the “radical” proposals. The authors realize that there are serious “social” issues within some low-income families. Perhaps their attempt is to use the framework of public schools to “fix” these family issues. If that is the case, then I suggest that federal boarding schools be opened for students who are deemed to have “social” issues too egregious for regular school settings.

Of course, this last comment is a leap in a direction I would not recommend. A government which can pull students preemptively into boarding schools – even for their own good – is a government which has far too much power. I’m not saying that the authors want to see this happen, but I do say that it is a logical conclusion to the steps they recommend. It would not surprise me to see it happen within my lifetime.

Somehow, there appears to be a growing feeling that government intrusion into private life is fine and dandy as long as it’s for “good reasons”, like protecting someone or something. We see this in America through government intervention into the economy, into banking, into industry, and soon into health care and energy production. It stands to reason that, like AIG and GM, the federal government may come to see urban school districts as “too big to fail.” When that happens, look out – cradle to grave direct federal intervention into individual lives will be here.

28 May 2009

Hearty Thanks for a Great Blackhawk Hockey Season

In a break from my normal subject matter, I want to say thank you to the Chicago Blackhawk hockey organization for a memorable season. As one who has been a Blackhawks fan for as long as I can remember, it has been a long time coming. Since taking over the club, Mr. Rocky Wirtz has put the right people in the right positions in order to propel the team forward. Just as importantly, he put the team on television in the Chicagoland area, something anathema to the late Mr. Bill Wirtz. The effect, I understand, has been a resurgence of Blackhawks fans coming to the United Center. Playoff games this season were standing room only affairs and stuffed to the rafters.

And they came to see a team which is just as exciting as those of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when names like Roenick, Graham, Larmer, Sutter, Smith, Savard, Secord, and Belfour. One day, names like Towes, Kane, Seabrook, Keith, Byfuglien, and Versteeg may join the group in Blackhawks lore. Some players, like Khabibulin, Ladd, Havlat, and Sharp may eventually be remembered more as Blackhawks than as members of their previous teams. And hard-nosed, hard-workers like Burish, Brouwer, Barker, and Bolland may well join the rolls of Blackhawks greats as they move forward with the club

And while I realize that I’m missing some names here, my goal is not to be all inclusive; rather, it is to show just how deep, how full of talent that the Blackhawk hockey club is. And that’s a refreshing thing to say. I hope that Mr. Wirtz and Mr. Tallon are able to keep the momentum going over the summer, through the draft, and into training camp.

So to the entire Blackhawks hockey organization, I give a heartfelt thank you. Die hard Blackhawks fans are eternally grateful for this fantastic season, and we hope for success to build on success next season. And next playoffs, I hope to grow my own playoff beard…and shave it off sometime in June.

VAT is a Bad Idea for Americans

There was some discussion on the edges of the news yesterday regarding the possible implementation of what is called a Value Added Tax, or VAT. It is essentially a sales tax, and it would be paid by individuals and businesses. But the VAT would not be quite like your state or city’s sales tax rate; we’re talking double-digit sales taxes, all going to feed the federal coffers (which are empty and getting more and more so).

The push for VAT, it seems, stems from trying to find a way to pay for government-run, single-payer, universal health care. What a great reason to impose an additional tax burden!

An article from the Washington Post gives a hint as to what the VAT might look like in the US:

What would it cost? [Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel] argues in his book that a 10 percent VAT would pay for every American not entitled to Medicare or Medicaid to enroll in a health plan with no deductibles and minimal copayments. In his 2008 book, "100 Million Unnecessary Returns," Yale law professor Michael J. Graetz estimates that a VAT of 10 to 14 percent would raise enough money to exempt families earning less than $100,000 -- about 90 percent of households -- from the income tax and would lower rates for everyone else.
Please note in this portion of the article, there would seem to be a link between the 10 to 14 percent VAT and paying for Medicare-like health care, but that link is not explicit. More likely, this level of VAT would only replace the income tax of households earning less than $100,000 a year, and there’s no mention of lowering or eliminating corporate taxes. So, while this might look like some sort of tax reduction or simplification, it really is a tax expansion into a new realm, one where “tax creep” would be all too easy. Will we notice an extra quarter of a percent here and there as time goes by?

The article continues:

And in a paper published last month in the Virginia Tax Review, Burman suggests that a 25 percent VAT could do it all: Pay for health-care reform, balance the federal budget and exempt millions of families from the income tax while slashing the top rate to 25 percent. A gallon of milk would jump from $3.69 to $4.61, and a $5,000 bathroom renovation would suddenly cost $6,250, but the nation's debt would stabilize and everybody could see a doctor.
So just 25 percent on everything we buy, every service we enlist would “do it all”. But note again that the income tax and corporate taxes would not be eliminated. That many would be “exempted” from income taxes is just a verbal band-aid; when the new universal health care program starts bleeding money, expect both to go up and up.

Also, the claim that a 25 percent VAT would mean that “everybody could see a doctor” is disingenuous. Everybody – or virtually everybody – can see a doctor now. Paying for that doctor’s visit is another story, but won’t you be happy to know that the 25 percent extra you pay for your whatevers will go toward paying someone else’s doctor bill? Won’t this kind of noble consumerism make us all feel just a little bit better about ourselves?

What interest in the VAT shows is the common knowledge that the US is rapidly running out of money. Even President Obama admits that “we are out of money now,” and that even before anything is “done” about health care. The last four months – the first four months of the Obama administration – has amounted to a spend and tax scheme to provide “stimulus” for our flagging economy, bailouts to companies which are “too big to fail”, and services which Democrats think everyone is entitled to. The next benefit is a universal, government-run health insurance scheme (not health care – that’s a different beast). But with projects deficits running into the multi-trillions – a number hardly imaginable in its enormity – the statist Democrat-run federal government must find some means to pay for it all. This is the only reason that the VAT has come up from the Democrat side. There is no intention of lowering the tax burden on anyone, there is only the hope that this additional tax will somehow stop the bleeding which 100+ days of Democrat spending has induced (on top of the bleeding already occurring because of the recession).

Therefore, unless and until the income tax and corporate taxes are abolished, the VAT should sit on a bookshelf in the Emanuel’s respective homes and collect dust. If implemented in addition to other taxes, in particular income and corporate taxes, the VAT would provide an easily adjustable, insidious tax on everything we buy. And eventually, sooner probably rather than later, folks earning under $100,000 a year would be paying income taxes again.

26 May 2009

North Korean Tests and Resolutions

Over the long, holiday weekend, the North Koreans tested a nuclear weapon and test fired some missiles. Various agencies suggest that the nuclear test was on par with the bombs used to end World War II. The UN Security Council will most likely issue some sort of “resolution” or other condemning the act – as if a voiced, group condemnation will reverberate more with the Dear Leader than singular ones.

The uncomfortable thing about North Korea, from my point of view, is that negotiations and rational discussions are precious little good, and indeed may be counter-productive to those who would contain the totalitarian state, because the North Koreans are not your typical, rational actors. The UN cannot negotiate its way around the North Korean problem. This means, I fear, that the UN will ultimately be reduced to doing nothing meaningful.

The way to deal with North Korea, I believe, is to isolate it as completely as possible; what goes into and what comes out of the country must be closely guarded. This would be a very difficult task, to be sure. Where this gets even more difficult is that, eventually, naked aggression would emerge from North Korea, the totalitarian reaction from being forced into a box. Therefore, responsible and affected countries would have to be fully prepared to preempt or absorb a North Korean military push. Also, the US would have to (and should) aggressively pursue missile defense systems, especially those which are nimble enough to handle emerging threats regardless of region.

Not that these will happen; I do not think that they will. What will most likely emerge from the UN this week is a “resolution” condemning past actions of the North Koreans, strong wording urging them to come back to the negotiation table, assurances of aid and such if this is accomplished, and the ball will roll on down the line. We’ve been here before; wash, rinse, repeat.

24 May 2009

Green Day – American Idiots

I was not surprised at all to learn that the band Green Day was upset with retailer WalMart for not selling the band’s latest album. I suppose the boys in the band feel that they are now big enough that they should be exempt from the chain’s policy to not sell albums which carry parental advisory labels. The AP story even claims that this and their previous offering dealt with “weighty topics”. Weighty indeed; I’m sure it’s a cerebral, musical tome concerning themes such as, as the AP puts it, “the loss of innocence and confusion in today's society”. Apparently there is enough of both to land a parental advisory label on the compact disc. Who would think that obscenities – which I’m guessing is why the disc has the PA label – would properly punctuate commentary on “the loss of innocence”?

It seems to me that Green Day has a bit of confusion about the marketplace. What Mr. Armstrong and his band mates don’t seem to understand is that no store, no matter how big it is, is legally or morally bound to sell their album or any album regardless of the reason. If WalMart doesn’t want to sell music by bands whose names begin with the letter “g”, they are free to do that, with the understanding that they cannot complain about the potential loss of revenue.

Mr. Dirnt, Mr. Armstrong’s band mate, claims that WalMart “should probably have an obligation to sell people the correct art.” Another idiotic statement. Neither WalMart nor any other retailer is or should be required to sell anything – certainly not the “correct” version thereof. Mr. Dirnt and Mr. Armstrong are free to open their own stores in which they can choose to sell the “correct” versions of all of the “art” they choose to stock. I’m sure they won’t choose to censor anyone who, say, differs significantly with the Green Day’s political views. On the other hand, the band mates might just see fit to deem those views as “incorrect” or “not artful”.

But the big laugh occurs at the end of the AP piece. Mr. Armstrong questions “I mean, what does [WalMart’s censorship rule] say to a young kid who's trying to speak his mind making a record for the first time?” It says that perhaps upholding some modicum of decency is important, at least in some public situations. And while I may think that WalMart’s willingness to carry “clean” versions of compact discs is a bit cheesy – I mean, filling in the blanks on a “cleaned” version is a very easy exercise – it is at least a step toward non-governmental enforcement of basic decency. What it might suggest, however quietly, to the kid recording his first music is to think before he “speak[s] his mind”. A novel idea, that; nothing idiotic about it.

16 May 2009

Thoughts on The Oresteia and Our Constitution

While reading Aeschylus’ drama The Eumenides (which is the third part of The Oresteia), I was struck by the following lines:

Never pollute
our law with innovations. No, my citizens,
foul a clear well and you will suffer thirst.

Neither anarchy nor tyranny, my people.
Worship the Mean, I urge you,
shore it up with reverence and never
banish terror from the gates, not outright.
Where is the righteous man who knows no fear?
The stronger your fear, your reverence for the just,
the stronger your country’s wall and city’s safety…
They are spoken by the goddess Athena as she stands as judge presiding over a jury of Athenians. Their chore is to judge Orestes for his crime, matricide, which he has committed because his mother willfully committed mariticide. Apollo stands with Orestes; he set Orestes on his task. These crimes stand at the end of a long line of acts committed in service of what is called justice throughout The Oresteia, but which truly amount to revenge.

Standing before an objective judge and jury, the cycle of revenge is broken, though not without risk to Orestes. Only Athena saves him through casting the tie-breaking vote. Athena breaks the cycle of revenge by setting Orestes free and justifying Apollo’s command to him. She does this not necessarily because she feels that Orestes or Apollo is blameless. Athena, in her divine state, uses the opportunity to make the Furies – those spirits as old as time who drive revenge ever onward – to serve not as the loose cannons of revenge but wather as the sword of objective justice. They are the “fear” and “terror” which stand as a warning on man’s moral map, they caution, “Do not pass this point.” They inflict pain and suffering on those who choose to ignore the warning. They are the severe negative consequences for choosing to disregard the highest law. They are the other side of mercy, because justice without the possibility of the Furies is nothing of the sort. It is the folly of blind kindness and can only lead to anarchy or tyranny.

Would that we had earthly justices as wise as the fictional Athena proves to be in this instance. Her advice to “Never pollute our law with innovations” seems particularly appropriate for our time. We should have reverence for our highest legal document, the Constitution. It is what keeps our country on the mean, away from tyranny and anarchy. It is not living; it does not breathe. We need not become innovative with it. And it does have roots in that of a higher power, something which man cannot touch, yet which sets our inalienable rights before us, those being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Work Cited: Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1984.

14 May 2009

More Obama Doublethink

It seems a simple thing; one cannot spend and spend and spend and then complain about one’s debt. Yet that appears to be just what President Obama has done. After presiding over the most extravagant spending spree in US history, he now claims that “current deficit spending [is] ‘unsustainable.’” He also “warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries” according to Bloomberg.com.

There is some serious doublethink going on here. For those not familiar with the term, it comes from Orwell’s 1984, and it is the act of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and believing that they are both true. These contradictory ideas can be flipped and molded as need be at any given moment, depending on what the moment calls for. For example: the government must spend untold volumes of dollars to “stimulate” the economy so that it “recovers”; the government cannot go on spending and borrowing money, or the whole show will fall apart. Mr. Obama certainly must operate under doublethink on some level because his actions and words demonstrate it.

Another example: the government must cut its budget and get rid of agencies which are ineffective; the government must add huge bureaucracies to administer trillions of dollars of benefits. Or another, which I covered in my last post: government administered health care (Medicare) will go bankrupt in 2017; the government must install universal health care for all citizens, and this will save money.

Doublethink, in my opinion, performs two functions for the doublethinker. First, it allows for an ever malleable arguing strategy with which to keep opponents off balance. This is especially effective in our current sound-byte culture. Second, it becomes a very comfortable way of thinking for those who practice it. There need be no hard choices because the truth – one’s impression of the truth, that is – is whatever it needs to be in the moment.

Of course, our world is not yet what Orwell imagined in 1984. There is no Ministry of Truth which retroactively corrects history to coincide with the current version of fact. We still have records and hard history, a fact which Speaker Pelosi is squirming under at the moment. The thinking mind can detect doublethink if it pays enough attention, if it coolly weighs words and actions. Defeating doublethink, though, is becoming more and more difficult because one side, one vision within doublethink instances is a nice, tasty carrot for the masses, a utopian idea. But that’s a topic for another post.

13 May 2009

2017 Versus Universality – Too Much to Swallow

Earlier this month, the Financial Times and other news agencies reported that Medicare will run out of money – a term which is difficult to understand – earlier than previously predicted. Medicare is now projected to go broke in 2017. Medicare is a government run, taxpayer funded health care system. That it will go broke in the relatively near future should tell the average taxpayer something.

What the Obama administration would like for the electorate to believe is that the looming bankruptcy of Medicare is really a strong message that the healthcare system needs to be reformed and costs need to be lowered. Directly coupled with that argument is universal, single-payer, government administered health care (by some other name, certainly, so as not to scare folks before the ink is dry). If we, the Obama folks claim, only trust in our government, then everyone will be covered under wonderfully administered and egalitarian universal health care. The price tag, according to a post on the Miami Herald’s website, goes something like this: “The current guess is somewhere around $1.2 trillion over 10 years.”

Given the current administration’s panache for spending “somewhere around” amounts in the trillions, one might expect that the $1.2 trillion is a serious low-ball. But the real question is this: how quickly will government administered, universal health care go bankrupt? Could we, the tax-paying American electorate, expect a longer life for universal health care than we already expect for Medicare? Will more people in government health care programs somehow extend the life of all government health care programs?

The answer is, I think, perhaps, but only in that more money will keep the monster alive a bit longer. Also, some folks will become quite wealthy by providing infrastructure to the government. But the people who are supposed to be helped – those who are supposed to get fantastic, world-class, government administered health care will actually see their medical options reduced and their pain (figuratively and literally) increased. In the end, the whole thing will go bankrupt; Medicare is the predictor of this. How many trillions of dollars and how many lives will be spent proving that the result of Medicare (a bankrupt government medical program) will have the same effect once it is grafted onto the whole of the American people?

11 May 2009

The Obstacle of Definitions

Quite recently, I’ve engaged in a conversation concerning torture. The discussion group in which this has occurred bills itself as a place where people “who appreciate thinking, discussing and debating using reason, logic and wit” should converse. Apparently, reason and logic get chucked out the window when it comes to opening discussions on subjects like torture.

I put forward what I think is a great first step for any contentious debate: define important terms. I invited others (though not explicitly) to define the very term that was up for debate. I was immediately met with the response, “Word-chopping is the first step towards casuistry.” Who would guess that defining a term would result in an accusation of deceptive practice?

I responded that definitions are essential to argumentation; without at least a roughly agreed upon definition of terms, the parties in a discussion may waste all of their time arguing about very different things. Definitions of important terms set the boundaries of debate, in a manner of speaking. Definitions allow all participants in a debate to debate the same thing.

I also put forward my own definition, which is based on actual denotation (dictionary definition) with a slight but important modification – permanence of effect. This, too, was to no avail.

I was informed that my attempt at defining the term was actually “playing with words and invent[ing] euphemisms”. Never mind that agreeing on a denotative meaning for a word already in common use is something very different from inventing a term specifically to avoid denotative and (more importantly) connotative meanings. I’m happy to use a word like “torture” in a debate, but the meaning must be set, not squishy or endlessly mutable.

And that, I believe, is the very thing that dissuades those battlers against definition. If we actually define, in hard terms, what an idea like “torture” actually is, then that term can no longer fit any and all situations in which one might find it useful. Additionally, things that one might consider “torture” may not, upon further investigation, really be “torture”. In these ways, definition becomes an obstacle to echo-chamber thinking.

While over time the discussion has become more diverse, I think that it is instructive to pay attention more so to how it opened, which is why I have described that here. When words lose their meanings, people find it more and more difficult to communicate effectively. Another effect is that groups become more and more polarized; they fracture into groups using different definitions for important ideas. Currently in the US, we are somewhat embroiled in a difference about “torture,” though I doubt there is any attention paid to definition of the term. It may not be long until we find ourselves talking past each other, fracturing into groups with different definitions of “liberty” and “freedom”. Should that happen, we will be truly in crisis.

09 May 2009

What’s in a Name – The GWCCCC Edition

The New York Times reports that a group called ecoAmerica has conducted “focus group sessions” in order to find terms which the public might find more palatable. The Times reports that the term global warming “turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes.” Of course, it might have something to do with the recent cooling temperatures over the past ten years, as reported by Fox News’ Special Report this past week.

So here’s a short list taken from both sources of the old and new terms that ecoAmerica would want us to use. Remember, it’s all for the planet – my comments in italics.

Instead of “global warming”, use “climate crisis” – I don’t think that this one will work. At the moment, everything is a crisis. Banks, autos, mortgages, swine flu, unemployment, and on. In fact, I think climate crisis is worse than the uber-ambiguous term climate change. If there really is a crisis, then we’d better do something big, some many things big, and quickly. Surely no one is going to buy that.

Instead of “carbon”, use “pollution” – Just because the SCOTUS says that carbon dioxide is a pollutant does not make it so. Anyone who honestly believes that it is should consider cessation of his own personal pollution factory – his lungs.

Instead of “cap and trade”, use “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund” – No matter how its phrased, it’s a horrible idea. The idea, though, is to sell the scam by claiming that the “less fortunate” will somehow not be affected by higher prices. Just the creation of the bureaucracy to administer any “cap and trade” program will suck money out of consumer pockets. The only “refund” that will be given will be well after the fact, and a fraction of the cost to the consumer at that. The lovely thing for the statist is that “cap and trade” will put the state in touch with every aspect of production and consumption in the nation.
Global warming / climate change / climate crisis (GWCCCC) advocates do not, I think, believe in conservation, really. If they did, they would do more to press for individual power reduction. But all of our technology, travel methods, and consumer goods require lots and lots of energy. Conservation means making individual choices to use less. The GWCCCC crowd’s desire to create more bureaucracy and government intervention in order to “save the planet” should be a dead giveaway to just how serious they are about doing that. No government agency in the world, or of the world, will “save” the world from its supposedly human-induced “climate crisis”. However, if the GWCCCC crowd has its way, we’ll all spend untold billions of dollars to find that out.

If and after “cap and trade” – I mean the “pollution reduction refund” – is put in place, it will be instructive to follow that money. At that point, ecoAmerica and groups like it will have to come up with another lexicon to euphemize us into submission.

08 May 2009

Going Into Overtime

The great thing about rooting for a team that is (even after eons of not being) competitive is that there is always a chance that the team will pull out a win. Going into the third period of last night’s Canucks-Blackhawks game, I thought that perhaps my beloved Blackhawks might be able to solve Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo at least once, if for no other reason than to make it interesting. But as the final frame wore on, it seemed there was nothing the ‘Hawks players could do to get one past him. Then at 17:16, Martin Havlat put one past Luongo and the UC erupted.

The second thought that occurred to me after the goal was, “This might be a long one.” But no worries; my Friday promised to not be too taxing. And anyway, when it comes to one’s favorite team and a run at the Stanley Cup, certain sacrifices are to be made. As it turned out, the Blackhawks made it an early night, a short overtime tilt, ending the game just 2:52 into the extra frame. I was happy to hit the hay so unexpectedly early. I would have been just as happy with the same outcome much later in the evening (or earlier in the morning) if need; playoff hockey demands sacrifice.

When I read earlier this week that 5-on-5 playoff hockey might be in jeopardy, it made me cringe. After the triple-overtime game, which was carried live on NBC, I thought there might be some backlash from those who just don’t get overtime playoff hockey. I had no idea that the push the change had come from within the ranks of the NHL. Changing to a 4-on-4 format after the first overtime would be like removing three football players after the final whistle. It would be like taking away the shortstop and center fielder at the beginning of the 11th inning. It would be…unnatural.

Going 4-on-4 after the first overtime would also remove some (or much) of the built in tension and excitement that exists in 5-on-5, sudden death overtime, especially multiple overtime games. Those games, which stick out in memory even more than great 60-minute games, are special. They are lived through by fans. They are a focal point for experiencing the sport. Hockey fans remember when Brett Hull scored against Dominik Hasek in the third overtime to win the Stanley Cup. I remember it well because it was the one night, while deployed for Operation Allied Force (Serbia), that I did not fly. I was sick, and we had been on a night-flying schedule. So while I rested during my night/day, I listened to the entire game on Armed Forces Radio in a cold-medication induced haze. I wouldn’t have slept for the world; some things are important.

I recall the 1996 series between my beloved Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche. Four of the six games needed to win the series, with the Avalanche emerging the victors. I remember it because I was in pilots training at the time and I spent much more time than I should have watching hockey. (Which, in hindsight, was just fine; I was a horrible pilot). And to prove the naysayers wrong when they claim that series with long or multiple overtime games “suck the life out of” a team, the Colorado Avalanche went on to win the Cup that year. The stuff of memories.

So when folks talk about hockey games being too long, or when I suspect some network program director freaks out that triple-overtime is headed his way, bumping an episode of The Golden Girls, I cringe just a bit. Hockey in the US is not, it seems, for the masses. It is a flowing, crashing, concentration-demanding game. It does not happen in 10-second spurts, like football. You can’t channel surf between events, like one can while watching a baseball game. And in playoff overtime hockey, there are no television time outs. We’re in until it ends. And perhaps that is what is great about playoff overtime hockey: a sense of commitment. Win or lose, staying until the end. I hope that commitment doesn’t drop to 80% (4-on-4) after 20 minutes of overtime.

05 May 2009

Picking Empathy Over the Constitution

When considering his first nominee to the Supreme Court, President Obama made his intentions clear: judicial empathy matters more than fidelity to the Constitution. According to Forbes, Mr. Obama believes that “We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize--the empathy to recognize what it's like…” After that, fill in the blank. With anything and any time. And it need only last a moment. Like a kind thought while passing someone in a hallway. Like a wave from a car window. Like a sentence fragment.

Courts are supposed to interpret and uphold the law of the land, to deal justice based on those laws which are enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the executive. Judges are not supposed to make law themselves. Yet time and time again, from carbon dioxide to changing the definition of marriage, the US has seen individual judges, or groups of them, effectively create law and policy.

Purposely bringing “empathy” into the discussion would take this activism to a whole new level. Under the “empathy” rubric, judges may side with a complainant simply because…well, they feel for the complainant. The convenience – for the judges, that is – would be that their judgments, their empathies, would not necessarily set precedent. Their “empathies” may simply change from case to case, from plaintiff to plaintiff.

Sense a road to corruption here?

The great thing about defending and protecting a piece of paper – the Constitution – is that it does not change just to make someone, or itself, feel better. It simply is; it is the law of the land that we must live up to. “Empathy” in the judicial branch will do nothing but drag the Constitution down into the cultural, political winds, where it will be whipped around like a windsock.

04 May 2009

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Last night I needed some space and air. I took a brisk walk through the neighborhood. Before leaving the house, though, I loaded up a podcast of Mark Levin’s radio show from a while back (March 31st) in which he played a speech given by Ronald Reagan in 1964. Good walking stuff, that.

I had heard this edition of Levin’s radio show – or parts of it – when it was aired. I had, as it were, happened on it by accident while running errands. On that day, I ended up sitting in a parking lot for most of an hour listening to Mr. Reagan’s speech. As I listened then, and as I listened during my walk, I realized that the things that I believe today are the same that Mr. Reagan was advocating in 1964. And while some of the big players were different, some were not. There was then, as there is now, “liberals” who sought peace through “understanding” the adversary, that if we showed enough empathy for them, they would just leave us alone. Mr. Reagan vigorously opposed this idea because it was, and is, weak and na├»ve.

But Mr. Reagan also covered, in an in depth manner with many statistics, anecdotes, and vision, why small government is better than big government, why individual freedom is more important than collectivism, and why we must work towards those ends now. Free markets, low taxes, and limited government are still what conservatives should be working towards. Now is still the time – even more so than in 1964, perhaps.

This morning, I read an article from the Financial Times about Margaret Thatcher. Not to my surprise, many of the same positions taken by Mr. Reagan are echoed in the article about Mrs. Thatcher. In the article, Lord Saatchi writes that if Mrs. Thatcher could see where Britain (and presumably the US) is headed at the moment, “She would block it with every ounce of her body. Because she knows where it is headed.”

Indeed, many people do know where this is headed, and not all of them are against it. Those who push statism know the end toward which they advocate. Those who fight against it fear the power of the state, and rightly so. The counter-punch against statism lies in the application of a few simple principles: limiting government reach and power, increased personal liberty (and through it, individual responsibility and freedom), and protecting and defending the highest law of the land – for the US, its Constitution. All other considerations are offshoots of these principles, and all three must be employed to slow down, stop, and roll back statist advances.

01 May 2009

Ready For a Serious, Two-Way Conversation

During a town hall meeting in Missouri celebrating his 100th day as president, Mr. Obama said:

“Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I'm not very popular -- and you see folks waving tea bags around—Let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we're going to stabilize Social Security.”
On April 15th, I had no idea that my attendance at the Dallas Tea Party would have such beneficial effects for me. Mr. Obama may want to clear his schedule, though, because having a serious conversation requires that he listen as well as talk. And by talk, I mean spout talking points which are read from a teleprompter.

Health care costs are not the government’s to control. Too much government intervention, let alone outright meddling, alters prices and services. Yet I would agree that the status quo is less than optimal. Here’s a market solution: let folks buy health care like they buy car insurance. If this were the case, all Americans would have the opportunity to buy from any number of companies who would be competing for policy holders. What’s more, we would have more choice, or at least a whole lot more choice than the 2-3 “levels” of coverage from a current employer. Health insurance would also be portable; Americans would not have to worry about losing insurance if they lose or leave their jobs, nor pay steeply higher COBRA payments.

The problem, of course, is that individualized, private, market-driven health insurance doesn’t fit Mr. Obama’s bill. Arguments that people would be uninsured because of this or that malady are nothing but a cover, or to use Mr. Obama’s favorite terms, a “distraction”, an “old argument”. Government granted, “universal” health care serves Mr. Obama’s statist drive. It would grow government to new, unseen heights and provide an avenue for government intervention into individual’s personal space like nothing before it. Those on the Left who think that the Patriot Act was intrusive haven’t seen anything yet. Mr. Obama wants a vehicle for larger, more intrusive government, not a conversation about health care. Move along.

Social Security, a deeply rooted weed from FDR’s administration, is unlikely to be “stabilized”. Many citizens around my age – 35-ish – and younger recognize that they will never see the dollars they paid into the Social Security scheme again. The money is simply gone; it was gone the moment that the tax was paid. So stabilizing it doesn’t quite capture the picture. A more appropriate metaphor might be “laying it to rest”, though that may seem insensitive to those getting Social Security checks at the moment. I’d like to argue that younger Americans would be willing – albeit grudgingly – to continue to pay Social Security taxes if three promises were agreed to and kept. First, those of a certain age and beyond would be allowed the Social Security benefits they were promised, perhaps with raised retirement ages and other concessions. Second, that those younger folks would have a portion of their Social Security taxes placed into individual, interest bearing accounts payable to the individual tax payer or his designee. Third, when the first group passes on that Social Security would be abolished in total and all funds in individual, private accounts be paid in full to their beneficiaries.

But this conversation will not happen, either. Abolishing Social Security is a non-starter to the statist. The individual liberty gained by controlling one’s own money, one’s own retirement dollars, takes away from the power of the state. So while Mr. Obama claims he wants to “stabilize Social Security”, he wishes to do so not for the betterment of the individual citizen but rather for the enlargement and entrenchment of the federal government.

I wonder, is that a serious enough conversation starter for the president? Have a I made my points in a direct, succinct, and rational way? Have I bloviated? Or does my attendance at the Dallas Tea Party on April 15th allow my president, our president, to dismiss my thoughts, my concerns? The sad thing is that despite Mr. Obama’s claim to want a “serious conversation”, I will most assuredly never know.