Sanity Injection will be on vacation for the rest of this week and will be back with more new content after Labor Day.
Archive for August, 2009
Posted by sanityinjection on August 31, 2009
Posted by sanityinjection on August 28, 2009
The WashPost is up today with an op/ed criticizing President Obama (and rightly so) for killing the school vouchers program in Washington, D.C.:
As I’ve written previously, here is a program that specifically benefits poor minority kids in the city and has been proven to work. You would think that President Obama and the Democrats would be all over something like that. The Post ends by asking, “Why would a Democratic administration and Congress want to cut such an experiment short?”
Of course, the question is disingenuously cute: The WashPost knows the answer to its own question, and it bets its readers do too. The only reason Democrats oppose school voucher programs like Washington’s is that they are bought and paid for by the teachers’ unions. And the teachers’ unions oppose voucher programs for the simple reason that they don’t put any money into the pockets of the teachers’ unions.
One of the arguments the unions make is that voucher programs that allow children to attend private schools shift resources away from the public schools (true) and make it more difficult to fix the problems of the public schools (arguable.) However, this argument is akin to saying that children should not be allowed to evacuate from a sinking boat because it will decrease the urgency of trying to salvage the boat. I am all for improving our public schools, but the education of children is too important to hold them hostage in crumbling crime-ridden environments while the people who are supposed to be their advocates play political games. If you ask any parent, they will tell you that if they could afford it they would send their kids to the school where they can get the best education possible, whether it be public or private, urban or suburban, parochial or located on the planet Melnak. (Witness the many non-Catholic families that continue to send their kids to Catholic schools knowing they will receive instruction in a faith that is not their own. How’s that for religious freedom?)
Most teachers care deeply about giving students the best possible education. However, the teachers’ unions would happily throw children under the bus (pun intended!) in order to obtain more money and benefits for their dues-paying members. It is a mystery to me why teachers – many of whom are troubled by the union positions – continue to support a bloated union leadership that does not always reflect their own views.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 27, 2009
“Obama didn’t have a father. Maybe that’s why he sees the government as Daddy.” – Actress/comedienne and Saturday Night Live alumna Victoria Jackson
Jackson isn’t being snide here, she’s being serious. The question of whether President Obama’s unsettled childhood and single-parent upbringing affected his views on the role of government as caretaker is an interesting one and will no doubt be addressed in detail in some 750-page biography written after he leaves office. Jackson’s point is that if we as a society did more to try to encourage two-parent families, maybe we wouldn’t have so many people in need of government assistance.
In saying that, I am acknowledging how difficult it is for a single parent to raise a child. There are of course people who do so successfully, and they are amazing and admirable. But we should not, based on a minority of remarkable individuals, have come to the point where we now view single parenthood simply as a “lifestyle choice” that is no better or worse than anything else. A single parent family may be the best (or only) option when one parent is deceased, has abandoned the family, is abusive or has deleterious issues such as drug or alcohol abuse. That’s in sharp contrast to the young women who believe that they can have a child, career, and active single life all at once. Experience suggests that when you try to do too many things at once you end up doing some of them badly.
If you think I am exaggerating the prevalence of this view among women, you haven’t been to the movies or watched TV lately. And let’s not forget last year’s “Gloucester dozen.”
We are told that preventive medicine can reduce the need for emergency medicine. and economic opportunity can reduce the prevalence of crime. We are encouraged to shift resources to such preventive measures. Why then, is it incomprehensible that shifting resources to the encouragement of stable, two-parent child rearing can decrease the need for government social services later on? Is there not a similar savings to be had?
You may well ask how we are supposed to go out about this. After all, we believe that people have the right to make their own choices about partnership and reproduction. But a good start would be to stop treating those areas of life as simple vehicles for self-discovery that are devoid of consequences. Maybe sex education classes could include the idea that you should only have as many children as you can financially support. Maybe our television and movies could revive the idea of parent characters as models to look up to (in the vein of June Cleaver, Mike Brady, and Bill and Claire Huxtable) rather than bumbling buffoons to be sneered at.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 26, 2009
Many Americans have probably never heard of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). It is an “independent” federal agency established in 1965 that gives out grants to support various arts projects. The money for these grants and the administration of the agency comes from your tax dollars, to the tune of about $150 million per year. Admittedly, this is small change in the federal budgetary world.
The NEA briefly appeared on radar screens in the mid-90s due to objections from conservatives over its funding of controversial (sexually explicit and often offensive) works by artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. After losing a court case when it subsequently tried to refuse funding to four artists over content concerns, the NEA at Congress’ direction subsequently stopped directly funding individual artists, in favor of supporting group projects and collaboratives, arts education and leadership initiatives.
In addition to concerns over offensive content, conservatives often ask why the federal government needs to be funding the arts at all rather than leaving it to the states. But again, at such small dollars the average American probably could care less.
Now, however, there is a new wrinkle. As of this month, the NEA is now using your tax dollars to organize and promote art projects specifically designed to advocate for President Obama’s political initiatives, including health care reform and climate action. Filmmaker Patrick Courrielche reveals the details on the Big Hollywood blog:
Now let me be clear. Most of the artistic community probably needs little urging to support left-wing causes. If they want to make left-wing political art, they have a right to do so. The problem comes when tax dollars are being spent to deliberately promote and encourage left-wing political art specifically. Courrielche describes the content of a conference call for artists held by NEA and the White House together (despite NEA being supposedly an “independent” agency!):
“We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election….We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so.“
“…the “nation’s largest annual funder of the arts” is attempting to direct imagery, songs, films, and literature that could create the illusion of a national consensus. This is what Noam Chomsky calls “manufacturing consent….I’m not a “right-wing nut job.” It just goes against my core beliefs to sit quietly while the art community is used by the NEA and the administration to push an agenda other than the one for which it was created….Artists shouldn’t be used as tools of the state to help create a climate amenable to their positions, which is what appears to be happening in this instance. If the art community wants to tackle those issues on its own then fine. But tackling them shouldn’t come as an encouragement from the NEA to those they potentially fund at this coincidental time.
And if you think that my fear regarding the arts becoming a tool of the state is still unfounded, I leave you with a few statements made by the NEA to the art community participants on the conference call. “This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. What that looks like legally?…bare with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely… “
Is the hair on your arms standing up yet?”
Let me reiterate that the purpose of the NEA has always been to fund what artists already want to do. It is not to “suggest” what those artists should be doing, or to use them for political purposes. That’s called propaganda. What if the NEA under the Bush Administration had sought to encourage art projects in support of the Iraq War? Not that they would have had much luck, but can you imagine the liberal outrage? Why do I always have to flip it so the right wingers are the bad guy in order for people to understand when something is inappropriate?
Unfortunately, the passing of Senator Kennedy will suck up all the political oxygen for at least the next two weeks. Any legislator attempting to bring attention to the NEA’s abuse of taxpayer funds will be greeted with this headline: “With Kennedy Not Yet Buried, Knives Already Out For His Favorite Programs.” So as usual, they’re going to get away with it, at least for the time being.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 26, 2009
For those whose Latin is rusty (or nonexistent), the title of this column means, “About the dead speak nothing but good.” It is in that spirit that I, a long-time and confirmed opponent of the Kennedys, will try to make a few remarks on the passing of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
In that light, I am not going to drag up the scandals, the wealth, the ultraliberal voting record or the obvious privileges of being a Kennedy in Massachusetts. You know all that stuff anyway.
Instead I will try to find some positives. One thing I can say about Ted Kennedy is that he was not a crook. In the sense that, I never heard of him involved in any shady financial dealings or selling his influence to the highest bidder. Kennedy was beloved by left-wing special interests, to be sure, but he was not their tool, rather, their hero. He genuinely believed in the causes he espoused, and that allowed him to lead on those issues. Also, from what I hear, he was trustworthy. Republicans who worked with him say that if you made a deal with Kennedy, he stuck to it, and that sense of personal trust also helped him to succeed legislatively where others could not.
Finally, it is common knowledge among the politically savvy in Massachusetts that if you wanted something from a Senator, you called Kennedy, rather than his junior colleague, John Kerry. While the policy differences between the two were insignificant, Kennedy’s office had a reputation for getting back to people and getting things done while Kerry’s office is disinterested and ineffective. That may reflect Kerry’s preference for foreign policy issues, or Kennedy’s ability to attract top-quality staffers. But however it came about, Kennedy was effective, plugged in, engaged in a way his colleague is not. Despite his wealth and famous family, Kennedy was never accused of being aloof like Kerry. He always retained that common touch that is so critical to political success in America.
Kennedy’s legacy will only be enhanced by comparison to the ghastly collection of nonentities that will soon be clamoring to replace him if his nephew Joe decides not to run. Look for Congressman Michael Capuano to be the favorite with his sizable campaign war chest, facing a strong challenge from state Attorney General Martha Coakley and possibly former Congressman Marty Meehan as well.
Say what you want about Kennedy (and I’ve said a lot of unflattering things, none of which I regret): He loved his job, tried hard to be good at it, and the general consensus of historians will be that he succeeded. Many politicians fail because their hubris causes them to aim too high. Kennedy had such a setback in 1980 when he challenged sitting President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic primary. Not only Kennedy but the Democratic Party as a whole suffered as a result. To his credit, Kennedy learned from that mistake and in the next 30 years never sought anything more than to keep getting re-elected to the Senate. If his legacy were to be nothing more than that lesson, it would be one worth studying.
OK, I think I’m about done. I will now grit my teeth and try to endure the next two weeks of cloying, insufferable media sycophancy. Please, let’s move on and talk about something else. Health care reform, anyone? 😉
Posted by sanityinjection on August 19, 2009
Hardly a week goes by these days without a news story about someone in a Muslim country – usually a woman – being punished for an Islamic religious offense under what is called “sharia” law. Sharia is supposed to be the incarnation of the rules found in the Koran in a system of law. In some countries, sharia only applies to Muslim citizens, while in others no separate civil law code exists and sharia applies to everybody. Punishments under sharia can often be harsh including canings, amputations and death by stoning.
For example I recently wrote about a Sudanese woman who is facing 40 lashes for the offense of wearing trousers. In that case, there is a compelling argument that wearing trousers may not, in fact, be a violation of Koranic law.
But consider something a bit more concrete: the case of Malaysian model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who has been sentenced to caning for drinking alcohol. It’s pretty hard to argue that consuming alcohol is not a violation of Islamic law. But the question is, is this a reasonable punishment? And further, why is it necessary to enforce such a violation at all?
Islam is certainly not the only faith to have dietary restrictions. Mormons are not supposed to consume alcohol or caffeine. Devout Jews, like Muslims, abstain from pork and observe other dietary restrictions. Other faiths abjure the eating of meat.
And yet, somehow none of these other creeds feel the need to have civil courts set up to punish people who disobey these religious laws. Why then, does Islam? And only in some countries – Muslims in the US are no less observant because they do not cane people for drinking.
If a Muslim drinks alcohol, is that an offense against the community or an offense against God? If the latter, then surely God is perfectly capable of imposing consequences on the offender. You could argue that public drinking has a negative impact on the morals of others who are exposed to it, but then why does Malaysia allow alcohol to be sold at all? Who ultimately was harmed by Ms. Shukarno drinking a beer, other than Ms. Shukarno herself?
The only rationale I can think of for making drinking a crime against the community is the old tribal notion that the Muslim community as a whole will be punished by God for the sins of the individual. In other words, the community has a vested interest in enforcing individual spiritual morality because the community will suffer the consequences if it doesn’t.
But even if we accept this notion, why then are there not canings for Muslims who fail to pray five times a day, or who fail to give to the poor? These requirements are far more fundamental in Islam than the prohibition against alcohol.
The inevitable answer is that sharia law codes are at least as representative of medieval cultural traditions as they are of Islamic law. That also explains why the details of sharia law – especially with regard to women – differ greatly from one country to the next. This is significant because freedom of religion is considered a basic civil right, and anything that can be brought under that umbrella is hard for Westerners to combat. But last time I checked, medieval cultural traditions are not a basic civil right that should trump other rights such as freedom of expression. We in the West are so concerned to avoid attacking the Islamic faith that we have allowed this masquerade to go on too long.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 18, 2009
There’s a song titled, “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?” American football fans must be tempted to wonder if that song was written about legendary NFL quarterback, Brett Favre, who appears poised to unretire for the billionth time and play for the Minnesota Vikings.
Favre, the long-time successful and Super Bowl champion QB of the Green Bay Packers, first disgraced this blog over a year ago, when I called him a “football terrorist” for his terminal case of indecision as to whether he was going to retire. For those of you who prefer the short version of events, Favre jerked his team, the Packers, around, repeatedly changing his mind. After publicly retiring, he then asked to be released so he could play for another team – reputedly the Vikings. Rather than have to play against Favre twice a year, they suggested he return to Green Bay as the backup QB. Eventually the stalemate was resolved when Favre was traded to the New York Jets and was their starting QB last season.
After the trade, I wrote:
“Favre will make the Jets better this year – they might even make the playoffs – but he adds nothing in the long term. So again, the big winner here is the Green Bay Packers. Now they just have to hope that their young QB, Aaron Rodgers, performs well enough that the fans are not constantly second-guessing their decision.”
My comments proved to be prophetic. With Favre, the Jets improved from 4-12 to 9-7, but his play tailed off in the last half of the season as the physical stress took its toll on his aging body. The Jets did not make the playoffs. The Packers didn’t either, but Favre’s replacement, Aaron Rodgers, had a solid season. When it was over, it was clear even to Favre that he didn’t have enough left in the tank to be a starter anymore. So he retired again.
As the offseason moved on, though, Favre obtained his release from the Jets and the Minneosta Vikings tried hard to convince Favre to play for them. After putting them through the same ringer he did with Green Bay, Minnesota finally told him to fish or cut bait. He told them he was going to stay retired – and yet now various sources are reporting his signing with the Vikings is imminent. How lovely for the two quarterbacks actually in Vikings training camp working hard to earn the #1 spot. How lovely for Favre’s wife and children to never know from one minute to the next whether Daddy will be an absentee for four months again this year.
Ultimately, the words to describe Favre’s behavior are “childish” and “selfish”. Once beloved around the league, he has destroyed his legacy and made himself into a buffoon. It’s questionable whether he can last a full season with the Vikings. Favre genuinely loves to play football, but there comes a time when you have to assess yourself realistically and realize that you can’t play at that level anymore. For Favre, that time has clearly passed.
Ironically, the best thing that could happen to Favre would be to fail the team physical and be spared what lies ahead of him – widespread antipathy and further obvious degradation of his football skills. In Green Bay, where mothers used to name their children after him, Favre will be deservedly booed when he shows up in a Vikings uniform. Much like those who will root against the Philadelphia Eagles for signing convicted animal torturer Michael Vick, millions of football fans will wish failure upon the Minnesota Vikings for aiding and abetting this man-child’s enormous ego. And I will be one of them.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 17, 2009
“Among its other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack. Now, let me tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack.” – President Barack Obama, referring to upgraded “Marine One” Presidential helicopters included in the House version of the defense budget but not requested by the Pentagon
This is one issue area where President Obama, his former opponent Senator McCain, and I are in complete agreement. It is long past time for legislators to stop inserting pork projects in the defense budget that the Pentagon does not want, whose sole purpose is to keep government jobs and dollars flowing to their district. Congress needs to wake up and realize that those dollars are coming from taxpayers’ pockets and cheating our soldiers and veterans out of the equipment and medical care they need and deserve. Any legislator who inserts something like this in the defense budget should be named and shamed. The President has threatened to veto the defense budget if it comes to him with this sort of nonsense in it. While that may or may not be an empty threat (there is too much in the budget bill that is badly needed), I applaud the sentiment. Now if President Obama would insist on the same fiscal restraint with regard to domestic policy, rather than letting his fellow Democrats spend trillions of dollars without oversight, I’d think much more highly of him.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 17, 2009
I wasn’t going to write another post about health care, as I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is tired of the endless back-and-forth on the subject. But then I happened to read this amazing article in The Atlantic by David Goldhill. I am declaring it required reading for anyone who wants to really understand the issue of health care reform.
Goldhill is that rarest of breeds, a Democrat with an industry-based understanding of economics. Thus, he succeeds in doing what most Congressman and Senators who will vote on health care reform will never do – understand exactly what is wrong with our current health care system. Don’t be fooled by the misleading title of the piece. I initially feared it was going to be a polemic fueld by anger and grief over the death of a loved one. In fact, the death of Goldhill’s father serves only as introduction and context to explain how and why Goldhill got to spending so much time thinking about health care reform.
Essentially, Goldhill argues that our current insurance system, heavily regulated and subsidized byt the government through Medicaid and Medicare, is responsible for driving up costs and suppressing the competition that would bring them down. It distorts the normal function of a market economy by making the insurance company, or the government the consumer instead of the patient, thus hiding the true cost of care from the beneficiary and further distorting the patient’s decision making. And the result is shared economic ruin:
“In 1966, Medicare and Medicaid made up 1 percent of total government spending; now that figure is 20 percent, and quickly rising. Already, the federal government spends eight times as much on health care as it does on education, 12 times what it spends on food aid to children and families, 30 times what it spends on law enforcement, 78 times what it spends on land management and conservation, 87 times the spending on water supply, and 830 times the spending on energy conservation. Education, public safety, environment, infrastructure—all other public priorities are being slowly devoured by the health-care beast.
It’s no different for families. From 2000 to 2008, the U.S. economy grew by $4.4 trillion; of that growth, roughly one out of every four dollars was spent on health care. Household expenditures on health care already exceed those on housing. And health care’s share is growing.
By what mechanism does society determine that an extra, say, $100 billion for health care will make us healthier than even $10 billion for cleaner air or water, or $25 billion for better nutrition, or $5 billion for parks, or $10 billion for recreation, or $50 billion in additional vacation time—or all of those alternatives combined?
The answer is, no mechanism at all. Health care simply keeps gobbling up national resources, seemingly without regard to other societal needs; it’s treated as an island that doesn’t touch or affect the rest of the economy.”
The type of reform currently being debated will not solve any of these problems. Instead, Goldhill proposes to do away with comprehensive health insurance completely. All medical care will be funded in one of three ways: 1) Routine medical care will be paid for out-of-pocket by the consumer, in a market where costs are lower because of competition and wages are higher because workers aren’t paying for everyone else’s sniffles through taxes and premiums; 2) Predictable major expenses will be funded by mandatory health savings accounts, with workers allowed to borrow against future contributions; 3) Truly unpredictable, large-scale expenses will be paid for by a uniform, nationwide standard program of catastrophic health insurance, subsidized by the government for the poor.
I am not necessarily happy about the mandatory nature of some of these items or the role of the federal government in administering them. But it is impossible to argue against Goldhill when he says, “It will do a better job than our current system of controlling prices, allocating resources, expanding access, and safeguarding quality. And it will do a better job than a more government-driven approach of harnessing medicine’s dynamism to develop and spread the new knowledge, technologies, and techniques that improve the quality of life. We won’t be perfect consumers, but we’re more likely than large bureaucracies to encourage better medicine over time.”
Whether you agree or disagree with Goldhill, it’s important to understand the nature of his argument. Please read his essay. Read the whole thing, I know it’s long, but there is too much important content that I can’t summarize here. Heck, print it out and take it to the beach with you. It will probably be the most educational and important thing you’ve read in months, including all of my bloviating 🙂 By the time you’re done, you will be better educated on health care than most of the people who will eventually vote on it. In fact, I’m going to e-mail my Congressman and Senator a copy, too.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 14, 2009
In a major development in Iran’s constitutional crisis, a group of former reformist lawmakers has written a letter to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani demanding an investigation of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei:
Although the demand is almost certain to be ignored, such an action is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic. Rafsanjani, a former President of Iran, heads a body called the Assembly of Experts. Under the Iranian Consititution, the Assembly has the power to replace the Supreme Leader, though it has never done so. The reformists argue that the street violence and prison torture of protesters is ultimately the responsibility of the Supreme Leader and calls into question his qualifications and capacity for the office.
It’s important to note that the reformists did not call for the abolishment of the position of Supreme Leader or the weakening of his powers (which would require constitutional change) but only criticized the individual who holds the office. The Assembly is composed mostly of conservatives who are unlikely to sympathize with this demand. But for such a demand even to be publicly made at all breaks a major taboo in Iran against direct criticism of Khamenei, and could inspire others to express their opposition to the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime.