Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The fact that our schools are not doing very well in educating our students is abundantly clear. A recent international assessment of students showed that as China's economic power has risen, so has its educational progress. The survey, which rated the aptitude for 15-year-olds in 65 countries, shows teens in Shanghai far outscoring international peers in reading, math, and science. The U.S. lags far behind countries such as Finland and South Korea. When it comes to math, Chinese students scored 600 while American students scored 497. In science, the Chinese scored 575 and Americans 501.
A study released in November by McKinsey, the international consulting firm, showed that throwing money at education does not seem to do much good, at least in those countries that already send all their young people to school. The U.S., for example, increased its spending on schools by 21 percent between 2000 and 2007, while Britain pumped in 37 percent more funds. Yet, during this period, standards in both countries slipped.
Many school systems that did not receive extra funds did much better. Schools in the state of Saxony, in Germany, in Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Poland have all raised their achievement scores. Even poor countries such as Chile and Ghana have made progress.
In an important new book, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools (Transaction), Robert Weissberg, who taught political science at the University of Illinois for decades, argues that the reason for educational decline "is the students, stupid, not the facilities or the curriculum."
It is his view that this "obvious truth" is one which none dares to speak. He reports that millions of lazy, incurious, disruptive, and nearly illiterate youngsters flood classrooms every day, and none of the popular and expensive initiatives and ideas that are being promoted by well-meaning foundations and professors of education will change them. In his view, the middling students far outnumber the motivated ones, and the most difficult ones - troublemakers and vandals, immigrants struggling with English, kids who hate homework (an Indiana survey counts 50 percent who complete one hour or less of studying per week) - effectively turn classrooms into chaotic free-for-alls.
Year after year, Weissberg shows, a new initiative is presented - laptops for every eighth grader, bills to equalize school funding, after-school day care for single mothers - founded on the assumption that a better environment will invigorate lagging ones, close the racial gap, and prepare every student for college.
Weissberg notes that bright students with a good work ethic excel whether they study with new laptops or much used textbooks. His example is the children of the Vietnamese boat people - from close-knit families who place a high priority on educational achievement. Students who come from families who pay little attention to their children's education, children who have never been read to and learned to appreciate books, whose parents - often a single mother - are usually otherwise occupied - are not coming to school prepared to learn. It should be no surprise, Weissberg argues, that they do so poorly.
The kinds of reforms advocated to improve our schools tend, Weissberg believes, to completely miss the point of the real challenge we face:
In sports, this would be as if a basketball franchise with inept, lackadaisical players tried to reverse its fortunes by constructing a spectacular new arena, adding high-tech training facilities, inventing clever new plays, and hiring a Hall of Fame coach.
To resolve these problems, Weissberg advocates a radical approach, one unlikely to find much support. He explicitly advocates a policy "to eliminate the bottom quarter of those past 8th grade" or, "altering the mix of smart and not so smart students." In this formulation, unintelligent and idle students exact a lot of time and labor, holding up gifted students. Once the bad-student pool reaches a certain proportion, the teacher, principal, and school board end up devoting all of their attention to it.
One can find this prescription too harsh and perhaps counterproductive while recognizing that Weissberg has identified the problem with current efforts at educational reform which do not identify the real problems we face. He devotes the bulk of his book to various elements of the reform effort, documenting the way each one rationalizes away the bored and unruly students. Judges force municipalities to integrate schools, foundations write multi-million-dollar checks to enhance "learning opportunities" in urban schools, conservative leaders push charter-school expansion. No one addresses the fact that we do not turn out the same kind of students we used to because we do not get the same kind in.
Professor Mark Bauerlein of Emory University, writing in Commentary, notes that:
An entire industry has prospered on malfunction. If public schools produced skilled, knowledgeable graduates, if at-risk kids turned into low-risk kids, if students in crumbling buildings achieved as well as others, an army of professors, advocates and activists and lawyers, foundation personnel, contractors, and construction workers, security officers, after-school and summer-school tutors, and school administrations, counselors, and professional developers, would have to find other employment. The more schools fail, the more money pours in. Los Angeles has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country, and in September it opened the $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex, the most expensive school in U.S. history.
The 2008 documentary "Hard Times at Douglass High," features a Baltimore student named Audie. "This is what we do," Audie said, talking about himself and other students who roamed the halls all day, learning nothing:
Just walking the halls all day, baby. (Bleep) class. That (bleep's) for clowns, man. Don't nobody go to class here, man. Man, (bleep) academics.
Discussing the Weissberg book, columnist Gregory Kane, who is black, declares: "Want to really reform American education? Get guys like Audie out of our schools."
No problem can be resolved unless it is properly understood. Whatever one thinks of Professor Weissberg's proposed solutions, his analysis is worthy of serious attention.
The debate in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states over collective bargaining on the part of public employees has focused long-overdue attention upon the role of public sector unions in moving our cities and states toward fiscal crisis and, in many instances, insolvency.
The idea of collective bargaining for public employees is a rather new concept. Wisconsin was the first state to provide those rights in 1959. Other states followed and California became the biggest convert in 1978 under Jerry Brown in his first term as governor. President Kennedy permitted some federal workers to organize, although not bargain collectively, for the first time in 1962.
Few Americans today remember how, until recent years, even our most liberal political leaders resisted collective bargaining for public unions. President Franklin Roosevelt opposed collective bargaining for public unions as did legendary New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Even George Meany, the long-time AFL-CIO president, opposed the right to bargain collectively with the government.
The Wall Street Journal explained the basis for such opposition:
. . . unlike in the private economy, a public union has a natural monopoly over government services. An industrial union will fight for a greater share of corporate profits, but it also knows that a business must make profits or it will move or shut down. The union chief for teachers, transit workers, or firemen knows that the city is not going to close the schools, buses, or firehouses. This monopoly power, in turn, gives public unions inordinate sway over elected officials. The money they collect from member dues helps elect politicians who are then supposed to represent the taxpayers during collective bargaining. . . . Public unions depend entirely on tax revenues to fund their pay and benefits. They thus have every incentive to elect politicians who favor higher taxes and more government spending. The great expansion of state and local spending followed the rise of public unions.
Concern about public sector unions is hardly new. When three-fourths of the Boston police department went on strike in 1919, leading to an escalation of crime, then-Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the state militia and broke the strike. Coolidge declared: "There is no right to strike against the pubic safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."
In August, 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization called a strike over better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour work week. In doing so, the union violated a law that banned strikes by government unions. President Reagan declared the strike "a peril to national safety" and ordered the members back to work under terms of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work. President Reagan demanded those remaining on strike to resume work within 48 hours or forfeit their jobs. In the end, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers and banned them from federal service for life.
Collective bargaining rights are only one part of the problem we face. Consider the state of Virginia, which bans collective bargaining. Like pension systems in states friendlier to unions, Virginia's public employee retirement system is underfunded by $17.6 billion. At the same time, teachers in Virginia have slightly higher average salaries than the unionized teachers in Wisconsin, and over the past decade, Virginia teacher pay grew faster than teacher pay in Wisconsin.
The fact is that, regardless of the question of collective bargaining, states and local governments across the country are faced with chronic fiscal problems rooted in unsustainable employee compensation systems. This is an issue beyond traditional liberal and conservative divisions. Editorially, The Washington Post notes that:
Much of the issue is rooted in healthcare costs, especially benefits for public-sector retirees. States face a combined $555 billion in unfunded retiree health coverage liabilities. Yet in 14 states, taxpayers pick up 100 percent of the premium tab for retirees, who often collect benefits for a decade or more before going on Medicare. This is not only unfair to taxpayers, for whom free healthcare is usually a remote dream. It also encourages overconsumption of medical goods and services, thus raising the cost for everyone.
More than a third of the nation's $9.3 trillion in pension assets belong to state and local government employees, even though they make up only 15 percent of the U.S. work force, according to a study by the Spectrum investment group. Even with $3.4 trillion set aside to pay public pensions, dozens of state and local governments are struggling to make payments. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida are calling on state employees for the first time to contribute to their retirement plans the way workers do in the private sector. The $3.4 trillion set aside for public pensions understates the burden for states and taxpayers since the plans are collectively underfunded by as much as $2.5 trillion, said Milton Ezrati, senior economist at Lord Abbott & Company.
"The undeniable fact is that most states and municipalities offer more generous pensions that they can afford," he said, noting that the plans typically allow employees full retirement benefits after 20 or 30 years of employment and include generous cost-of-living increases, healthcare benefits, and other perks that are not common in the private sector.
The Spectrum study found that the nation's 19.7 million state and local employees constituted 15 percent of the 128-million American work force in 2009. Yet they laid claim to more than $3 in retirement assets for every $1 set aside for the retirement of the nation's 108 million workers in the private sector.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, the total compensation costs of state and local government workers were 44 percent higher than private industry; pay was only 33 percent higher, but benefits cost 70 percent more.
"The cost," says Daniel DiSalvo of the City College of New York,
. . . of public-sector pay and benefits (which in many cases far exceed what comparable workers earn in the private sector), combined with hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities for retired government workers, are weighing down state and city budgets. And staggering as these burdens seem now, they are actually poised to grow exponentially in the years ahead.
At long last, public attention is being focused upon the role of public sector unions. It could not come a moment too soon.
When it comes to dictators in Africa clinging to power, the list, unfortunately, is a long one. This year, popular uprisings in North Africa have led to the removal of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year regime in Tunisia, and Hosni Mubarak's 30-year control of Egypt. At the present time, Libya's Moammar Gaddafi is fighting popular resistance - as well as Western air strikes - to maintain his 41-year-old grip on power.
Sadly, many other dictators remain in place. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has always been clear about his own ambition. "No matter what force you may have," he declared in 2001, "this is my territory and that which is mine I cling to until death."
In April 2008, voters in Zimbabwe flocked to the polls, and, by an overwhelming margin, repudiated Mugabe's rule. Then 84 and in failing health, Mugabe seemed ready to concede defeat to the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Instead, Mugabe and his supporters launched a counterattack. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, controlled by the ruling party, falsified the vote count, forcing Tsvangirai into a second round. Foreign journalists were detained and removed from the country. Mugabe loyalists hunted down, beat, and killed supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.). Mugabe's generals called it "Operation Who Did You Vote For?"
In a new book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, Peter Godwin, himself a native of Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia, recalls that he was then one of the few Western journalists remaining in the country. He traveled from Harare to rural Zimbabwe, documenting the bloodshed. He visited hospitals overflowing with maimed and burned victims. "Think of deep, bone-deep lacerations, of buttocks with no skin left on them, think of being flayed alive."
He writes of a torture method called falanga: "Think of swollen, broken feet, of people unable to stand, unable to sit, unable to lie on their backs because of the blinding pain."
At one point, Godwin joins with James McGee, the American ambassador, on a fact-finding trip outside Harare. They repeatedly confront policemen, militia members, and intelligence agents, but McGee manages to move forward as he and his team gather evidence of torture and murder. Godwin wanders into a farmhouse used as a torture center by Mugabe's hit teams and discovers a notebook that documents interrogations and names people "who are to be beaten." Finally, Godwin is advised to leave the country for his own safety and he watched from New York as Tsvangirai withdraws from the runoff, saying he cannot participate in a "violent, illegitimate sham."
A few months later, Tsvangirai and Mugabe sign the so-called Global Political Agreement. Negotiated under international pressure by South African president Thabo Mbeki - who remained silent as the murder count rose - the deal kept Mugabe entrenched in power but forced him to install Tsvangirai as prime minister and turn over half the cabinet seats to members of the Movement for Democratic Change.
Peter Godwin returned to Zimbabwe to witness the inauguration of the new government. He quickly realized that the ruling party has no intention of upholding the agreement. Godwin's friend Roy Bennett, a white, Shona-speaking ex-farmer and M.D.C. leader popular with his black constituents, returns from exile in South Africa to assume a junior cabinet post and is almost immediately placed in jail, held for weeks in very poor conditions. Tendai Biti, a courageous attorney and M.D.C. secretary general, survives his own incarceration on treason charges and reluctantly signs on as finance minister, "Here is Tendai," Godwin writes, "trying to scrounge the money to pay for the bullets that were used against his own supporters in the last election."
Godwin portrays Mugabe as an "African Robespierre" - highly educated and completely ruthless. He cautions against viewing him as a case of a good leader gone bad. "His reaction to opposition has invariably been a violent one," writes Godwin.
Using violence to win elections has long been Mugabe's method of remaining in power. He first set out his views on electoral democracy in 1976, during the guerrilla war against the government of Rhodesia - in which he was widely embraced in the West, including in Washington - in a radio broadcast. "Our votes must go together with our guns." He even boasted of having "a degree in violence." Since coming to power in 1980, he has regularly resorted to the gun to deal with whatever challenge his regime has faced.
Peter Godwin details the manner in which, after the 2008 elections, Mugabe unleashed the army, police, security agencies, and party militias to beat the electorate into submission in time for the second round of elections. Among the electorate this campaign was known simply as "chidudu" - the fear. Villagers were beaten and told to "vote Mugabe next time or you will die." Scores of opposition organizers were murdered by death squads. Rape, arson, and false arrests were widespread.
Mugabe was open about his intentions and his contempt for democracy. "We are not going to give up our country because of a mere 'X,'" he told supporters at an election rally. "How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?"
What stands out in Godwin's reporting is not just the scale of destruction that Mugabe has inflicted on his country but the courage of Zimbabweans who defy his tyranny, knowing the consequences of doing so. Godwin describes the "insane bravery" of an opposition candidate who continued to taunt his attackers even while they were beating him and later, defying doctors' orders, appeared in plaster cast to take his place at the swearing-in ceremony at a local council.
The African Union, formerly the Organization of African Unity, says that it is determined to be more rigorous than its predecessor, which turned a blind eye to dictatorship and tyranny. According to The Economist:
. . . The AU still exudes a lot of hot air. . . . The AU's instinct is still to wring hands . . . rather than resolve issues. Its credibility was hurt when Moammar Gaddafi was elected chairman for 2009. This year, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang, one of Africa's more venal leaders, looks likely to get the job.
And the people of Zimbabwe continue to suffer as the world, including our own country, which bears some responsibility for installing Mugabe in power, looks away. The brave men and women who have shown their willingness to put their lives on the line for freedom deserve better.
There is growing evidence that our colleges and universities are failing to transmit our history and culture.
Recently, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) gave a 60-question civic literacy test to more than 28,000 college students:
Less than half knew about federalism, judicial review, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and NATO. And this was a multiple choice test, with the answers staring them right in the face. . . .
said political scientist Richard Brake, co-chairman of ISI's Civic Literacy Board. Brake said:
Ten percent thought that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ." came from the Communist manifesto.
In another study, a large number of U.S. university students were shown to have failed to develop critical thinking, reasoning, and writing skills because of easy classes and too little time spent studying.
The study of 3,000 students at 29 four-year universities found that 45 percent "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during their first two years in college as measured by a standardized test. After the full four years, 36 percent had shown no development in critical thinking, reasoning, and writing, according to the study, which forms the basis of the new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. The study attributed much of the problem to easy courses and lax study habits.
Real requirements at most colleges and universities have all but disappeared. John Hopkins University, for example, is America's premier research institution. Yet a student could complete a bachelor's degree without ever taking a course in science, math, history, or English. Students at John Hopkins - and many other colleges - notes Washington Post writer Daniel DeVise:
. . . choose classes the way a diner patron assembles a meal, selecting items from a vast menu. Broad distribution requirements ensure that students explore the academic universe outside their majors. But no one is required to study any particular field, let alone take a specific course. Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid - all are on the menu: none is required.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington-based advocacy group, recently handed out F grades to Hopkins and many of its peers, inviting debate on a basic question: What, if anything, should America's college students be required to learn?
The group faulted the schools, including Yale, Brown, Cornell, Amherst, and the University of California, Berkeley, for failing to require students to take courses in more than one of seven core academic subjects: math, science, history, economics, foreign language, literature, and composition.
"At Stanford, you can fulfill the American cultures requirement by taking a course on a Japanese drum," said Anne Neil, president of the trustees group.
"We're certainly not saying that Harvard or Hopkins or Yale are not good schools, or that their graduates are not smart kids," said Neal, who attended Harvard and Harvard Law. "What we're saying is that those schools don't do a good job at providing their students with a coherent core."
Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges in Washington, states: "I think the criticism that students may not be learning enough in general education resonates with most colleges."
Neal says that the group's examination of more than 700 college catalogs proves that:
It is quite possible to avoid American history, or Plato, or science. Many colleges don't even require their English majors to take a course on Shakespeare.
The study of history is in the process of dramatic change. In 1975, three quarters of college history departments employed at least one diplomatic historian; in 2005, fewer than half did. The number of departments with an economic historian fell to 32.7 percent from 54.7 percent. By contrast, the biggest gains were in women's history, which now has a representative in four out of five history departments.
The shift in focus began in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a generation of academics began looking into the roles of people generally missing from history books - women, minorities, immigrants, workers. Social and cultural history, then referred to as bottom-up history, offered fresh subjects.
At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, out of the 45 history faculty members listed, one includes diplomatic history as a specialty, one other lists American foreign policy; 13 name gender, race, or ethnicity. Of the 12 American history professors at Brown University, the single specialist in U.S. foreign policy also lists political and cultural history as areas of interest. The professor of international studies focuses on victims of genocide.
"The boomer generation made a decision in the 1960s that history was starting over," said David Kaiser, a history professor at the Naval War College. "It was an overreaction to a terrible mistake that was the Vietnam War." The result is that "history is no longer focused on government, politics, or institutions."
There are no reliable statistics of course offerings, but Mr. Kaiser and others argue that there has been an obvious decline. "European diplomacy is just about completely dead," Kaiser said, "and it's very hard to find a course on the origins of the First World War."
At Ohio University in Athens, when a military historian recently retired, there was a vigorous debate about how to advertise for a replacement. Some faculty members had the view that "military history is evil," said Alonzo L. Hamby, a history professor. The department finally agreed to post a listing for a specialist in "U.S. and the world," the sort of "mushy description that could allow for a lot of possibilities."
Our unity as a nation is threatened, argued Donald Kagan, Professor of History and Classics and Dean of Yale College in his address to Yale's freshman class in September, 1990, by those who would replace the teaching of our history and culture with something else. He declared:
. . . American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western Civilization, and especially from England, whose language and institutions are the most copious springs from which it draws its life. I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania. . . . Our students will be handicapped in their lives after college if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and roots from which they come . . . . As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group . . . increases and with it the danger to the national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many peoples to this country.
In his book The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk pointed out that these roots go back to the ancient world - to the Jews and their understanding of a purposeful universe and under God's dominion; to the Greeks, with their high regard for the use of reason, to the stern virtues of the Romans such as Cicero; to Christianity, which taught the duties and limitations of Man, and the importance of the Transcendent in our lives. These roots, in addition, include the traditions and universities of the medieval world, the Reformation and the response to it, the development of English Common Law, the debates of the 18th century, and the written words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
American colleges and universities do our students - and our country - a disservice by not transmitting our history and culture to the next generation. Unless those who understand the very fragile nature of our civilization and the uniqueness of the tradition upon which free institutions are based, rise in defense of that culture may well be swept away. If this takes place, all of us will be the losers, not least the various groups in whose name such a cultural assault has been launched. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The state of Illinois is trying to pay billions in bills that it got from schools and social service providers last year. Arizona recently stopped paying for certain organ transplants for people in its Medicaid program. States are releasing prisoners early, largely to cut expenses. In December, the city of Newark, New Jersey, laid off 13 percent of its police officers.
"It seems to me that crying wolf is probably a good thing to do at this point," said Felix Rohatyn, the financier who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.
One of the important contributing factors in the current economic decline in the fortunes of our states and cities is the role being played by public employee unions.
While union membership has collapsed in the private sector over the past 30 years, from 33 percent of the workforce to 15 percent, it has remained buoyant in the public sector. Today, more than 35 percent of public employees are unionized, compared with only 11 percent in 1960.
The role of public employee unions in our political life has been growing. "We just won an election," labor boss Andy Stern declared two years ago, at about the time Barack Obama was taking the oath of office and the union movement was giving itself much of the credit for his victory. After spending some $450 million to elect Obama and other Democrats, labor was indeed riding high. Teachers alone accounted for a tenth of the delegates to the Democratic convention in 2008.
All too often, states The Economist:
Politicians have repeatedly given in, usually sneakily - by swelling pensions, adding yet more holidays or dropping reforms, rather than by increasing pay. Too many state workers can retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay. America's states have as much as $5 trillion in unfunded pensions liabilities. . . . Sixty-five should be a minimum age for retirement for people who spend their lives in classrooms and offices; and new civil servants should be switched to defined contribution pensions.
Another Battleground, reports The Economist, will be
. . . the unions' legal privileges. It is not that long since politicians of all persuasions were uncomfortable with the idea of government workers joining unions. (Franklin Roosevelt opposed this on the grounds that public servants have "special relations" and "special obligations" to the government and the rest of the public.) It would be perverse to ban public sector unions outright at a time when governments are trying to make public services more like private ones. But their right to strike should be more tightly limited; and the rules governing political donations and even unionization itself should be changed to "opt-in" ones, in which a member decides whether to give or join.
There are now more American workers in unions in the public sector (7.6 million) than in the private sector (7 million), although the private sector employs five times as many people. In fact, union density is now higher in the public sector than it was in the private sector in the 1950s.
Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was the most frequent guest at the White House in the first six months of the Obama administration. Public-sector unions, as providers of vital monopoly services, can close down entire cities. As powerful political machines, they can help pick the people who are on the other side of the bargaining table. David DiSalvo, writing in National Affairs, points out that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was the biggest contributor to the political campaigns in 1989-2004. He also notes that such influence is more decisive in local campaigns, where turnout is low, than in national ones.
Evidence from the American Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that public-sector unions have used their power to extract a wage premium: public-sector workers earn, on average, a third more than their private-sector counterparts. At the same time, governments give their workers generous pensions, which do not have to come out of current budgets. Many public employees also game the system. Eighty-two percent of senior California Highway Patrol officers, for example, discover a disabling injury about a year before they retire.
Unions have also made it almost impossible to remove incompetent workers. Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer, says that "getting rid of a problem teacher can make the O. J. Simpson trial look like a cake-walk." In 2000-10 the Los Angeles school district spent $3.5 million trying to get rid of seven of its 33,000 teachers, and succeeded with only five.
Newly elected governors - both Republicans and Democrats - are focusing their attention on public-sector unions. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, is promising to use "every legal means" to weaken the bargaining power of state workers - including decertification of the public employees' union. Ohio's new governor, Republican John Kasich, wants to end the rule that requires nonunion contractors to pay union wages, and is targeting the right of public employees to strike.
Even in states where Democrats remain in power, unions are under the gun. New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo intends to freeze the salaries of the state's 190,000 government workers, and has promised to tighten the budget belt when public union contracts are renegotiated this year. In California, Governor Jerry Brown, who gave public employees the right to unionize when he was governor in the 1970s, now speaks about the unsustainable drain that union pensions and health benefits are on the state's budget.
Things in the states are so bad that, in the case of Arizona, it has sold several state buildings - including the tower in which the governor has her office - for a $735 million upfront payment. But leasing back the building over the next 20 years will ultimately cost taxpayers an extra $400 million in interest. Many states are delaying payments to their pension funds, which eventually need to be made. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie deferred paying the $3.1 billion that was due to the pension funds in 2010.
The role of our public employee unions in leading our states and cities to insolvency has not been properly examined. It is high time that it was.
Walter Williams has had a distinguished career - as an economist, author, columnist, teacher, and sometime radio and television personality. As a black advocate of the free market and a genuinely color-blind society, he has often come under bitter attack. Now 74, he has decided to tell the story of his life.
"What I've done, said, and written, and the positions I have taken challenging conventional wisdom," he writes
. . . have angered and threatened the agendas of many people. I've always given little thought to the possibility of offending critics and contravening political correctness and have called things as I have seen them. With so many "revisionist historians" around, it's worthwhile for me to set the record straight about my past and, in the process, discuss some of the general past, particularly as it relates to ordinary black people.
He recalls an angry response that former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Patricia Roberts Harris, wrote in response to a two-part series, "Blacker Than Thou," by another black conservative economist and good friend, Thomas Sowell, in The Washington Post in 1981. Assessing his criticism of black civil rights leaders, Harris said, "People like Sowell and Williams are middle class. They don't know what it is to be poor."
This assessment, however, is completely false. Williams notes that:
Both Sowell and I were born into poor families, as were most blacks who are now as old as we are. . . . While starting out poor, my life, like that of so many other Americans, both black and white, illustrates one of the many great things about our country: just because you know where a person ended up in life doesn't mean you know with any certainty where he began. . . . Unlike so many other societies around the world, in this country, one needn't start out at, or anywhere near, the top to eventually reach it. That's the kind of economic mobility that is the envy of the world. It helps explain why the number one destination of people around the world, if they could have their way, would be America.
Williams describes his humble beginnings, growing up in a lower middle-class, predominantly black neighborhood in West Philadelphia in the 1940s, raised by a strong and demanding single mother with high academic aspirations for her children. He recalls the teachers in middle school and high school who influenced him - teachers who gave him an honest assessment of his learning and accepted no excuses. In discussing his army experience, he recounts incidents of racial discrimination but stresses that his time in the army was a valuable part of his maturation process.
Growing up in the Richard Allen housing project, he remembers that:
Grocery, drug, and clothing stores lined Poplar between 10th and 13th streets. . . . Most of the grocery stores had unattended stands set up outside for fruits and vegetables - with little concern about theft. Often customers would select their fruits and vegetables and take them into the store to be weighed and paid for. . . . There was nothing particularly notable about a thriving business community in black neighborhoods, except that it would one day virtually disappear due to high crime and the 1960s riots. Such a disappearance had at least several results: in order to shop, today's poor residents must travel longer distances . . . and bear that expense; high crime costs reduce incentives for either a black or white business to locate in these neighborhoods. . . .
The absence of shops and other businesses, writes Williams:
. . . also reduces work opportunities for residents. One of my after-school and weekend jobs was to work at Sam Raboy's grocery store. . . . I waited on customers, delivered orders, stocked shelves and cleaned up. Other stores hired other young people to do the same kind of work.
After high school Williams joined his father in Los Angeles and enrolled at Los Angeles City College. Following Army service, including time in Korea, and his marriage to Connie - a major force in his life - in February 1962 he enrolled as a full-time student at California State College in Los Angeles, originally majoring in sociology. In the summer of 1965, after shifting to economics, Williams graduated from California State and was encouraged by professors to consider graduate school. He was admitted to UCLA, worked at night for the county probation department, and decided to pursue his Ph.D.
Initially, Williams failed in economic theory. He notes that:
I later realized this did have a benefit. It convinced me that UCLA professors didn't care anything about my race; they'd flunk me just as they'd flunk anyone else who didn't make the grade. The treatment reassured me in terms of my credentials.
After completing his Ph.D. examinations, he was offered a full-time tenure-track assistant professorship at Cal State. "Sometimes," Williams writes:
I sarcastically, perhaps cynically, say that I'm glad that I received virtually all of my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people. By that I mean that I encountered back then a more honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Professors didn't hesitate to criticize me - sometimes even to the point of saying, "That's nonsense, Williams."
In those years, Williams' political views were liberal. In 1964, he voted for Lyndon Johnson. He believed that higher minimum wages were the way to help poor people. "That political attitude," he writes:
. . . endured until I had a conversation with a UCLA professor (it might have been Armen Alchian) who asked me whether I most cared about the intentions behind a higher minimum wage or its effects. If I was concerned about the effects, he said, I should read studies by Chicago University Professor Yal Brozen and others about the devastating effects of the minimum wage on employment opportunities for minimally skilled workers. I probably became a libertarian through exposure to tough-minded professors who encouraged me to think with my brain instead of my heart.
It was Williams' desire
. . . to share my conviction that personal liberty, along with free markets, is morally superior to other forms of human organization. The most effective means of getting them to share it is to give them the tools to be rigorous, tough-minded thinkers.
Being a black professor, he reports:
. . . led to calls to become involved with the campus concerns of black students. They invited me to attend meetings of the Black Student Union. I tried to provide guidance with regard to some of the BSU's demands, such as black studies programs and an increase in the number of black faculty. As I was to do later at Temple University, I offered tutorial services for students having trouble in math. One of my efforts that fell mostly on deaf ears was an attempt to persuade black students that the most appropriate use of their time as students was to learn their subject as opposed to pursuing a political agenda.
Walter Williams' academic career began with teaching one class a week at Los Angeles City College to eventually holding the department chairmanship at George Mason University. He tells of his long friendship with economist Thomas Sowell and with J. A. Parker, president of the Lincoln Institute, with which Williams has been associated for many years. He reports of his time at the Urban Institute and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, as well as his frequent testimony before Congress on issues ranging from the minimum wage to the negative effects of the Davis-Bacon Act. He was a member of the Reagan administration's transition team at the Department of Labor, but following the advice of economist Milton Friedman declined a position in the administration so that he could remain in his academic position where he could speak his mind freely.
The attacks upon black conservatives, which he cites, were often bitter. NAACP General Counsel Thomas Atkins, upon hearing that President Reagan was considering appointing Thomas Sowell as head of the Council of Economic Advisers, declared that Sowell "would play the same kind of role which historically house niggers played for the plantation owners." Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan said "If you give Thomas (Sowell) a little flour on his face, you'd think you had (former Ku Klux Klan leader) David Duke." NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks called black conservatives "a new breed of Uncle Tom and some of the biggest liars the world ever saw."
Williams has much to say about what he calls "prevailing racial dogma." One element of that dogma asserts that "black role models in teaching are necessary to raise black achievement, instill pride, and offset the effects of our legacy of slavery and subsequent discrimination." But, Williams argues, his own life is a refutation of that notion:
Attending predominantly black junior high and high schools, and graduating from the latter in 1954, I recall having no more than two, possibly three, black teachers. . . . Nonetheless, many of my classmates, who grew up in the Richard Allen housing project and with whom I've kept up over the years, managed to become middle-class adults; and one, Bill Cosby, became a multi-millionaire. Our role models were primarily our parents and family; any teachers who also served in that role were white, not black.
Every few years, former Richard Allen residents hold a reunion. "I've asked some of my friends," Williams writes:
. . . and ex-schoolmates whether they recall any of our peers who couldn't read or write well enough to fill out a job application or who spoke the poor language that's often heard today among black youngsters, The answer is they don't remember anyone doing either. Yet in 2005, at my high school alma mater, Benjamin Franklin, only 4 percent of eleventh grade students scored "proficient" and above in reading, 12 percent in writing, and 1 percent in math. Today's Philadelphia school system includes a high percentage of black teachers and black administrators, but academic achievement is a shadow of what it was yesteryear. If the dogma about role models had any substance, the opposite should be the case.
Throughout this book, Williams refers to the immeasurable contribution of his wife of 48 years, who shared his vision through hard work and love. He leaves the reader with a bit of advice passed on by his stepfather: A lot of life is luck and chance and you never know when the opportunity train is going to come along. Be packed and ready to hop on board.
Walther Williams has lived a singular American life. This book deserves widespread recognition as a record of that life. And he is still teaching economics and, hopefully, will be doing so for many years to come,
When we look to the earliest days of the American society and seek to discover the beliefs and worldview which animated the Founders, we must carefully consider the role of religion.
In a thoughtful new book, Christianity: Lifeblood of America's Free Society (1620-1945) , Dr. John Howard argues that it was Christianity that was the dominant influence in the development of the American nation and the American society.
John Howard has had a distinguished career. After service in the First Infantry in World War II, he returned with two silver stars, two purple hearts, and a commitment to use his career to sustain and strengthen America's religious ideals. In the Eisenhower Administration, he headed the first program using government contracts to open jobs for qualified minority applicants. Dr. Howard served as president of Rockford College for seventeen years and as the national president of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities for three years. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow at the Howard Center on Family, Religion, and Society. In the 2007 national contest for speechwriters sponsored by Vital Speeches and The Executive Speaker, John Howard's "Liberty Revisited" received the Grand Award as the best speech submitted in any of the 27 categories.
Sadly, at the present time, America's religious history is largely unknown. The review provided by Dr. Howard is instructive.
After the Plymouth colony was established, the number of settlers coming from England increased rapidly. In 1630, five ships with 900 passengers arrived to start the Massachusetts Bay colony with John Winthrop as governor. During a two-month voyage, Winthrop preached a long sermon entitled "A Model of Christian Charity." He set forth the tenets of Jesus' teaching that should be applied in the daily living of the new colonies.
His concluding instructions included the following:
The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord. . . . We are entered into a covenant with Him to do this work. . . . We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. . . . We must delight in each other, make others' condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor together and suffer together . . . so shall we keep the unity of spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us. . . . We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.
In ten years, the population of the Massachusetts Bay colony swelled to 16,000. Dr. Howard notes that:
It was recognized that schools as well as churches were essential to the Christian well-being of the society. In 1636, the Massachusetts legislature authorized the establishment of a college, and two years later Harvard College enrolled students. The purpose was "to train a literate clergy." . . . For many years, most of the Congregational Ministers in New England were Harvard graduates. . . . It is not surprising that the first English language book published in North America was religious. The Whole Book of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Meter appeared in 1640. It was so much in demand that there were twenty editions of it and seventy printings.
During the 18th century, a number of powerful preachers influenced the American society - among them Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and George Whitfield. Whitfield, an Englishman, is acknowledged as the most powerful influence in spreading the Great Awakening of that time. He had a great dramatic flare that brought people from long distances to hear him. The crowds grew until he was preaching to over 30,000 people at once, with no amplification. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography "he was able to hear his voice nearly a mile away." The two men became close friends and Franklin built a huge auditorium in Philadelphia to accommodate his revival meetings. The edifice later became the first building of the University of Pennsylvania.
"During the three-quarters of a century leading up to the Revolutionary War," writes Howard:
. . . the church services, revival meetings, and religious encampments were the primary social events in the lives of the colonists. . . . Many of the foremost clergy were instrumental in convincing the colonists that the revolution was necessary and just.
The people of a self-governing republic or democracy must, said Montesquieu, be virtuous, or that form of government cannot operate. In his inaugural address on April 30, 1789, George Washington stressed the need for honorable and conscientious citizens. "Like the other Founding Fathers," writes Howard:
Washington knew . . . that the people of a self-governing republic must be virtuous for that form of government to operate successfully and was keenly committed to do everything he could to help Americans measure up to the standards of virtue required for a self-governing republic. Rectitude and patriotism, he declared, keep the acts of government fair and just and free of the damage caused by party politics. Rectitude and patriotism will also assure that "national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality. . . . There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid reward of prosperity and felicity. . . ."
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the U.S. in 1831, he was amazed by the religious character of the people and impact Christianity had on the systems and institutions of the society. In Democracy in America he writes that:
By their practice Americans show that they feel the urgent necessity to instill morality into democracy by means of religion. What they think of themselves in this respect enshrines a truth that should penetrate into the consciousness of every democratic nation.
De Tocqueville marveled that the different denominations were in comfortable agreement about teaching morality:
There is an innumerable multitude of sects in the United States. They are all different in the worship they offer to the Creator, but all agree concerning the duties of men to one another . . . all preach the same morality in the name of God. . . .
The historian Paul Johnson observes that this denominational unity about teaching morality was even broader. It was
. . . a consensus which even non-Christians, deists, and rationalists could share. Non-Christianity, preeminently including Judaism, could thus be accommodated within the framework of Christianity. Both Catholicism and Judaism became heavily influenced by the moral assumptions of American Protestantism because both accepted its premise that religion (meaning morality) was essential to democratic institutions.
In the post-World War II years, Dr. Howard shows, the influence of religion upon the American society has been in decline. In 1988, after a number of highly placed graduates of Harvard and other elite universities engaged in a variety of less than honorable behavior, Harvard president Derek Bok published a long essay in Harvard Magazine. He provided a summary of Harvard's transition from being an instrument of the Christian church to a modern intellectual and research center, free of any coordinated effort to teach Christian or any other morality to the student body.
Until this century, education throughout history not only sought to build the character of their students, they made this task their central responsibility. . . . These tendencies continued strongly into the 19th century.
During the 20th century, he notes:
First artists and intellectuals, then broader segments of society, challenged every convention, every prohibition, every regulation that cramped the human spirit and blocked its appetites and ambitions.
In 1954, Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, noted that:
The pedagogical problem is how to use the educational system to form the kind of man that the country wants to produce. But in the absence of a clear ideal, and one that is attainable through education, the pedagogical problem is unsolvable; it cannot even be stated. The loss of an intelligible ideal lies at the root of the troubles of American education.
John Howard concludes his book with a quote from James Russell Lowell, author, poet, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and U.S. ambassador to Spain from 1877 to 1880, and then to Great Britain. The French historian Francois Guizot once asked Lowell, "How long will the American Republic endure?" Lowell replied, "As long as the ideas of the men who founded it remain dominant."
John Howard hopes that we can recapture those ideas. He has performed a notable service with his important review of the role religion has played in the development of our country - and can play once again. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
There is now a $1 trillion gap as of fiscal 2008 between what states had promised to public employees in retiree pensions, health care, and other benefits and the money they currently have to pay for it, according to a Pew Center on the States study. Some economists say that Pew is too conservative and that the problem is two or three times as large.
Roger Lowenstein, an outside director of the Sequoia Fund and author of While America Aged, points out that:
For years, localities and states have been skimping on what they owe. Public pension funds are now massively short of the money to pay future claims -- depending on how their liabilities are valued, the deficit ranges from $1 trillion to $3 trillion. Pension funds subsist on three revenue streams: contributions from the employer; contributions from the employees; and investment earnings. But public employees have often contributed less than the actuarially determined share, in effect borrowing against retirement plans to avoid having to cut budgets or raise taxes.
Pension funds, Lowenstein notes, also assumed that they could count on high annual returns, typically 8 percent, on their investments.
In the past, many funds did earn that much, but not lately. Thanks to high assumed returns, governments projected that they could afford to both ratchet up benefits and minimize contributions. Except, of course, returns were not guaranteed. Optimistic benchmarks, actually heightened the risk because they forced fund managers to overreach.
Consider the case of Massachusetts. The target of its pension board was 8.25 percent. "That was the starting point for all of our investment decisions," says Michael Travaglini, until recently its executive director. "There was no way a conservative strategy is going to meet that."
Travaglini put a third of the state's money into hedge funds, private equity, real estate, and timber. In 2008, assets fell 29 percent. New York State's fund, which is run by the comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, a former state assemblyman with no previous investment experience, lost $40 billion in 2008.
In October, a report issued by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a research organization that studies fiscal policy, reports that the cities, counties, and authorities of New York have promised more than $200 billion worth of health benefits to their retirees while setting aside almost nothing, putting the pubic work force on a collision course with the taxpayers who are expected to foot the bill.
The Teacher's Retirement System of Illinois lost 22 percent in the 2009 fiscal year. Alexandra Harris, a graduate journalism student at Northwestern University who investigated the pension fund, reported that it invested in credit-default swaps on A.I.G., the State of California, Germany, Brazil, and "a ton" of subprime mortgage securities.
According to Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, assuming states make contributions at recent rates and assuming they do earn 8 percent, 20 state funds will run out of cash by 2025. Illinois, the first, will run dry by 2018.
In a new report issued by Professor Rauh and Robert Novy-Marx, a University of Rochester professor, five major cities -- Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and St. Paul -- are said to have pension assets that can pay for promised benefits only through 2020. Philadelphia, according to the report, has assets on hand that can only pay for promised benefits through 2015.
Professor Rauh declares that:
We need fundamental reform of the ways employees in the public sector are compensated. It is not feasible to make promises of risk-free pensions when in the private sector (nearly) everyone has to share some of the risk.
In Roger Lowenstein's view, states need to cut pension benefits:
About half have made modest trims, but only for future workers. Reforming pensions is painfully slow, because pensions of existing workers are legally protected. But public employees benefit from a unique notion that, once they have worked a single day, their pension arrangement going forward can never be altered. No other American enjoy such protections. Private companies often negotiate (or force upon their workers) pension adjustments. But in the world of public employment, even discussion of cuts is taboo.
The market forced private employers like General Motors to restructure retirement plans or suffer bankruptcy. Government's greater ability to borrow enables it to defer hard choices but, as Greece discovered, not even governments can borrow forever. The days when state officials may shield their workers while subjecting all other constituents to hardship are fast at an end.
Recently, some states have begun to test the legal boundary. Minnesota and Colorado cut cost-of-living adjustments for existing workers' pensions. Each now faces a lawsuit.
In Colorado, in what many have called an act of political courage, a bipartisan coalition of state legislators passed a pension overhaul bill. Among other things, the bill reduced the raise that people who are already retired get in their pension checks each year. "We have to take this on, if there is any way of bringing fiscal sanity to our children," said former Governor Richard Lamm, a Democrat. "The New Deal is demographically obsolete. You can't fund the dream of the 1960s on the economy of 2010."
In Colorado, the average public retiree stops working at 58 and receives a check of $2,883 each month. Many of them also got a 3.5 percent annual raise, no matter what inflation was, until the rules changed this year.
Discussing the Colorado case in The New York Times, Ron Lieber notes that:
Private sector retirees who want their own monthly $2,883 check for life, complete with inflation adjustments, would need an immediate fixed annuity if they don't have a pension. A 58-year-old male shopping for one from an A-rated insurance company would have to hand over a minimum of $860,000, according of Craig Hemke of Buyapension.com. A woman would need at least $928,000 because of her longer life expectancy. Who among aspiring retirees has a nest egg that size, let alone people with the same moderate earning history as many state employees? And who wants to pay to top off someone else's pile of money via increased income taxes or a radical decline in state services?
"We have to do what unions call givebacks," said Mr. Lamm, the former Colorado governor. "That's the only way to sanity. Any other alternative, therein lie dragons."
Americans were quite properly shocked when it was revealed that the Los Angeles blue-collar suburb of Bell, California, was paying its city manager Robert Rizzo $787,637 a year -- with 12 percent annual pay increases. In July, Rizzo, along with Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia resigned. The combined annual salary of these employees was $1,620,925 in a city where one of every six residents lives in poverty. The city's debt quadrupled between 2004 and 2009.
The Washington Examiner states that:
The likely reason why Rizzo, Adams, and Spaccia resigned so readily is that they are eligible for public pensions. Under current formulations, Adams will make $411,000 annually in retirement and Spaccia could make as much as $250,000, when she's eligible for retirement in four years at age 55. . . . California is but one of many states on the brink of fiscal ruin largely due to outrageous public employee benefits.
While the Bell, California, example may be extreme, the crisis in public employee pension funds across the country is very real -- and must be confronted to avoid massive bankruptcies in the future.
An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented. But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is bleaker than generally known.
Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eight-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences. Poor white boys do just as well as black boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.
This data comes from national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eight grades, most recently in 2009. The report, "A Call for Change," was released in November by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.
"What this clearly shows is that black males who are not eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are doing no better than white males who are poor," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the council.
The report shows that black boys on average fall behind from the earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, black boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower. In college, black men represented just 5 percent of students in 2008.
The search for explanations is looking at causes besides poverty. "There's accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten," said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. He said:
They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.
Those include "conversations about early childhood parenting practices," Dr. Ferguson said.
The activities that parents conduct with their 2, 3, and 4 year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.
The New York Times reports that:
For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named. The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration introduced the idea of a "culture of poverty" to the public in a startling 1965 report. . . . His description of the black family as caught in an inescapable "tangle of pathology" of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.
Now, after decades of silence, even liberal scholars who were harshly critical of Moynihan's thesis are conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.
"We've finally reached the state where people aren't afraid of being politically incorrect," said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.
In September, Princeton and the Brookings Institution released a collection of papers on unmarried parents, a subject, it noted, that became off limits after the Moynihan report. At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on culture.
In recent years, prominent black Americans have begun to speak out on the subject. In 2004 the comedian Bill Cosby made headlines when he criticized poor blacks for "not parenting" and dropping out of school. President Obama, who was abandoned by his father, has repeatedly talked about "responsible fatherhood."
None of this is new. Repeated studies have shown that the decline of the black family and the decline in graduation rates, student achievement, and employment is clear. A 2002 report from the Institute for American Values, a non-partisan group that studies families, concluded that "marriage is an issue of paramount importance if we wish to help the most vulnerable members of our society: the poor, minorities, and children."
The statistical evidence for that claim is strong. Research shows that most black children, 68 percent, were born to unwed mothers. Those numbers have real consequences. For example, 35 percent of black women who had a child out of wedlock live in poverty. Only 17 percent of married black women overall are in poverty. In a 2005 report, the institute concluded:
Economically, marriage for black Americans is a wealth-creating and poverty-reducing institution. The marital status of African American parents is one of the most powerful determinants of the economic status of African-American families.
Over the past fifty years, the percentage of black families headed by married couples declined from 78 percent to 34 percent. In the thirty years from 1950 to 1980, households headed by black women who never married jumped from 3.8 per thousand to 69.7 per thousand. In 1940, 75 percent of black children lived with parents. By 1990 only 33 percent of black children lived with a mother and father.
"For policymakers who care about black America, marriage matters," wrote the authors of the report, a group of black scholars. They called marriage in black America an important strategy for "improving the well-being of African Americans and for strengthening civil society."
The latest study of the achievement gap separating black and white students should focus attention on the real causes for this problem. Unless a problem is diagnosed properly, it will never be solved. For too long, all discussions of the "culture of poverty" have been silenced with the false charge of "blaming the victim."
In America today, any individual, regardless of race or background, can go as far as his or her abilities will allow. But when doors are opened to all, it still requires hard work and determination to take advantage of these opportunities. Without strong and intact families, these qualities seem to be in short supply. How to rebuild such families should be the focus of increasing attention.
Juan Williams, a respected journalist and ten-year veteran of National Public Radio (NPR) was fired in October as a top news analyst for remarks he made about Muslims during an appearance on Fox News.
In a segment with Fox News talk-show host Bill O'Reilly, Williams acknowledged feeling "nervous" in the wake of the September 11 attacks when he sees Muslims board a plane on which he is traveling.
Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
Later, in the same segment, Williams challenged O'Reilly's suggestion that "the Muslims attacked us on 9/11," saying it was wrong to generalize about Muslims in this way just as it was to generalize about Christians, such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who have committed acts of terrorism. "There are good Muslims," Williams said later, making a distinction from "extremists."
A former Washington Post reporter and columnist, Williams began his tenure with Fox News in 1997, predating his hiring by NPR three years later. While at NPR, he has hosted the daily program "Talk of the Nation," and commented on its news program, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."
In an interview shortly after being fired, Williams declared:
As a journalist, it's unsupportable that your employer would fire you for stating your honest feelings in an appropriate setting. . . . I think that I am open to being misinterpreted only if you snip one line out of what I said. But I would never guess that people who are professional journalists would just take one line and make me look bigoted so they can use it as an excuse to get rid of me.
Williams was not only fired by NPR, but his mental stability was also questioned. NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller told an audience at the Atlanta Press Club that Williams should have kept his feelings about Muslims between himself and "his psychiatrist or his publicist."
The outcry against Williams' firing has been widespread. Conservatives, of course, were particularly vocal. Leading Republicans, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, political strategist Karl Rove, and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, released statements attacking the move and questioning why taxpayers should help fund NPR's budget. This, of course, was to be expected.
Many others have also criticized NPR's action. The Washington Post reported that, "Even NPR's own staff expressed exasperation at the decision during a meeting . . . with NPR president Vivian Schiller." Editorially, The Post declared that, "In firing Juan Williams, NPR discourages honest conversation."
In The Post's view:
In a democracy, the media must foster a free and robust political debate, even if such debate may, at times, offend some people. . . . What was Mr. William's sin? He admitted, with apparent chagrin, that he has engaged in a kind of racial profiling in the years since the September 11 attacks. . . . In making this confession, Mr. Williams undoubtedly spoke for many Americans who are wrestling with similar feelings. His words could be offensive to some, if construed as an endorsement of negative stereotyping. But the full broadcast makes clear that Mr. Williams intended the opposite. To be sure, he struggled to get his point across, because host Bill O'Reilly kept interrupting him. But Mr. Williams did manage to observe that "We don't want in America people to have their rights violated, to be attacked on the street because they hear rhetoric from Bill O'Reilly and they act crazy."
The Post concludes:
In short, Mr. Williams was attempting to do exactly what a responsible commentator should do: speak honestly without being inflammatory. His reward was to lose his job, just as Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod lost hers over purportedly racist remarks that turned out to be anything but. NPR management appears to have learned nothing from that rush to judgment. "Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality," Mr. Williams told Mr. O'Reilly. NPR, alas, has proved his point.
T.V. political satirist Jon Stewart criticized the firing of Juan Williams as well as the extremes to which "political correctness" frames what is permissible speech. When CNN commentator Rick Sanchez, complained of Stewart's mocking him on "The Daily Show" he complained of his treatment as a member of a minority group, being a Cuban-American. He was then told by his interviewer that Stewart, being Jewish, was also a member of a minority. Sanchez responded by pointing out that most of those in leadership positions at CNN and other networks were "just like Stewart." He was then fired. Jon Stewart also spoke out against the firing of Sanchez as an example of the extremes to which political correctness have taken us.
Interestingly, there are examples of editing free speech coming from liberals as well. The recipient of this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was Tina Fey. In its broadcast from the Kennedy Center's award ceremony, PBS edited Fey's acceptance speech, in which she mock-praised "conservative women" like Sarah Palin, whom Fey has impersonated on "Saturday Night Live." Fey said that the rise of conservative women in politics is good for all women "unless you don't want to pay for your own rape kit. . . . Unless you're a lesbian who wants to get married to your partner of 20 years. . . Unless you believe in evolution."
That, however, was not what viewers heard when PBS broadcast an edited version of Fey's speech. The part about the rape kits and evolution was gone, leaving only Fey's more harmonious and blander comments about Palin and politics. Was PBS shielding its viewers from Fey's more pointed remarks?
It is unfortunate that our society has fewer and fewer newspapers. It is unfortunate that cable news provides less news and more overheated opinion, both on the right and left. What a free society desperately needs is free and open discussion -- with a variety of viewpoints being heard. Juan Williams has always provided a thoughtful voice, whether or not one agrees with his views. To fire him as NPR has done sends a chilling message to the nation about free speech. Juan Williams, of course, has a new contract with Fox and is doing very well indeed. It is the rest of us who are the losers. *
"No taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant." --George Washington
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
James J. Kilpatrick, a prominent conservative voice for half a century as a newspaper editor and columnist, author, and television personality, died in August at the age of 89.
He was a prolific writer and a sharp debater and is perhaps best remembered for his intellectual combat with liberal journalist Shana Alexander on "60 Minutes."
He was also a highly controversial figure because of his promotion of racial segregation as editor of The Richmond News Leader in the 1950s.
Kilpatrick gave new life to the idea of interposition championed by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina in the years before the Civil War. It was Calhoun's view that states could protect their citizens from the authority of the federal government. A number of southern states began to pass pro-segregation laws that adopted the interposition language promoted by Kilpatrick.
In their Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Race Beat (2005), about journalism in the civil rights era, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff wrote that:
Kilpatrick, by propagating a whole vernacular to serve the culture of massive resistance -- interposition, nullification, states' rights, state sovereignty -- provided an intellectual shield for nearly every racist action and reaction in the coming years.
Later on, Kilpatrick regretted the role he had played in defending segregation. He told a Roanoke newspaper in 1993 that he had intended merely to delay court-mandated integration because
. . . violence was right under the city waiting to break loose. Probably, looking back, I should have had better consciousness of the immorality, the absolute evil of segregation.
Virginia in the 1950s is hard for young Americans of the 21st century to imagine. At that time, this writer was a student at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. These were the years of segregation. Blacks could not eat in public places frequented by whites. Each public place had four restrooms, "Black Men," "Black Women," "White Men," "White Women." Williamsburg's small movie theater did not have a balcony, so a segregated section was created by roping off several aisles for the use of black patrons. Blacks did not only not attend the college as students, but were not welcome as speakers.
In my junior year, as an officer of a club called the Political Science Club, I and several of my fellow members decided that it was time for a change. We invited the distinguished president of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) -- the black college down the road -- to address our group. Dr. Alonzo Moron came to Williamsburg and we managed to take him to dinner at the Williamsburg Inn (his light complexion helped). His address was academic and non-controversial. The result: our group was thrown off campus and I was called to the president's office.
At this time, I had already been writing a column in The Flat Hat, the college newspaper, each week and was recognized as something of a conservative. The president said: "I am surprised at you. I thought you were a conservative." I replied that racism was not one of the things I wanted to conserve. We had our next meeting at the Methodist Church. I told the president that our next speaker would be a defender of segregation.
That speaker was Richmond News Leader editor James J. Kilpatrick. We had dinner with him, and accompanied him to the Methodist Church. He presented a legal defense of segregation. During the question period, he was asked, "Isn't it immoral in a free society for men and women, because they are black, not be able to have dinner or go to a movie or use a rest room?" His reply was something to the effect that it was simply a legal question and nothing more.
But Jack Kilpatrick could not be so easily categorized. An energetic newsman, he became a favorite of Douglas Southall Freeman, the News Leader's long-time editor, and was named its chief editorial writer in 1949. Mr. Freeman retired and Kilpatrick was appointed the paper's editor in 1951.
One of Kilpatrick's first actions at the News Leader was to champion the case of Silas Rogers, a young black shoeshine man who had been convicted of fatally shooting a Virginia police officer in 1943. Poring over the court transcripts, Kilpatrick found inconsistencies in the testimony. He retraced the steps of the accused killer and tracked down witnesses the police had never contacted. His reporting over two years led the governor to pardon Rogers. A black newspaper in Richmond inducted Kilpatrick into its honor roll for courage and justice in 1953.
Jack Kilpatrick showed us that there are indeed second acts in American life. He ultimately acknowledged that segregation was wrong and re-examined his earlier defense of it.
"I was brought up a white boy in Oklahoma City in the 1920s and 1930s," he told Time Magazine in 1970.
I accepted segregation as a way of life. Very few of us, I suspect, would like to have our passions and profundities at age 28 thrust in our faces at 50."
In his widely syndicated national column, Kilpatrick shunned racial politics. His signature issues became self-reliance, patriotism, a free market-place and skepticism of federal power. He regularly exposed overbearing local laws and judicial rulings. This campaign got under way in 1959 when a pedestrian who climbed across the hood of a car that blocked a downtown Richmond intersection was hauled into court by the driver, an off-duty policeman, and fined $25 for malicious mischief. That inspired Kilpatrick to create the Beadle Bumble Fund, named for the Dickens character in Oliver Twist who proclaimed "the law is an ass."
The fund, Kilpatrick said, was devoted to "poking fun and spoofing the hell out of despots on the bench." It paid the fines of victims of legal travesties in the Richmond area with contributions from readers.
Kilpatrick also railed against turgid prose in his book The Writer's Art (1984). In his "On Language" column in The New York Times, William Safire wrote that Kilpatrick's essays on "the vagaries of style are classic."
After leaving the News Leader, in 1966 he embarked on a column for The Washington Star syndicate. "A Conservative View," which was carried by newspapers throughout the country. This column continued until 1993 when he began a weekly column, "Covering the Courts." In the 1970s, he sparred on television with Nicholas von Hoffman and later Shana Alexander on the "Point-Counterpoint" segment of "60 Minutes." The Kilpatrick-Alexander clashes on issues like the Vietnam War and the women's movement were parodied on "Saturday Night Live" by Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin.
Kilpatrick said that liberal critics thought of him as extremely right-wing -- "10 miles to the right of Ivan the Terrible" -- but he befriended many who were his ideological opposites. In 1998, he married Marianne Means, a liberal columnist for Hearst Newspapers. His acquaintances included the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), an anti-Vietnam War presidential candidate who was his neighbor in rural Virginia. McCarthy said he found Kilpatrick charming and well-versed on 17th and 18th century literature and philosophy. "The man is not locked into a mold. He's not just the curmudgeon you see on TV," he said in 1973, adding that Kilpatrick had "kind of a country manor style."
In today's journalistic arena, commentators are likely to identify themselves clearly as liberals or conservatives, Republicans or Democrats, and toe what they believe to be the proper party line. They end up often defending the indefensible and stirring controversy where real issues and principles are hardly involved. They seem always angry, and the decibel level is higher than ever. That was not the style of Jack Kilpatrick. He viewed himself as a "fiercely individualistic" writer and spoke only for himself -- not any political faction. He said he was once on television to take the side of "The Conservative's View of Watergate." He asked himself, "Just what is a conservative's view of burglary?"
Jack Kilpatrick thought for himself. Sometimes he was right, and sometimes wrong. Our national discourse is weaker and less vibrant without voices such as his.
Fifty years ago a small group of conservative students and young adults gathered at the family home of Bill and Jim Buckley in Sharon, Connecticut. When they left that weekend they had formed a new organization, called Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and agreed on a basic statement of principles they called the Sharon Statement. In many respects, this event marks the real beginning of the modern American conservative movement.
In September, that event was celebrated in Washington, D.C. as many long-time political activists, who started their involvement in YAF, gathered to commemorate that meeting in Connecticut on September 9-11, 1960.
In part the Sharon Statement, largely composed by M. Stanton Evans, then the 26-year-old editor of The Indianapolis News, declared:
We as young conservatives believe . . . the foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force. That liberty is indivisible and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom. That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense and the administration of justice. That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty. That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power.
An important new book has been written about the history of YAF, A Generation Awakes: Young Americans for Freedom and the Creation of the Conservative Movement (Jameson Books). Its author, Wayne Thorburn, joined YAF in 1961 and over the next 14 years held nearly every position in the organization, including serving as executive director from 1971-73. Formerly a faculty member at three universities, Thorburn held appointments in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administration.
Since that meeting in Connecticut in 1960, writes Thorburn:
Literally thousands of young conservatives have passed through YAF and developed into leaders of the conservative and libertarian movement. . . . They were the initial force for the Goldwater campaign and the opposition to New Left violence on American campuses. They provided an intellectual challenge to the liberalism that has dominated American intellectual life. They were the grassroots force and the strategic leadership for the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and constituted a major part of the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Today they lead the major organizations of the 21st century Conservative movement."
While much has been written on the various liberal trends and groups that emerged in the 1960s, the history of YAF and its contributions to contemporary American society have not received the attention they deserve. Out of this organization came a Vice President of the United States, 27 members of Congress, 8 U.S. Circuit Court judges, numerous media personalities and journalists, college presidents, professors, and authors.
Lee Edwards, an early YAF leader, editor of the group's magazine The New Guard (this writer also edited The New Guard in the late 1960s) and a respected author, maintains that Senator Barry Goldwater, Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr. were the three critical pillars of the developing movement:
First came the man of ideas, the intellectual, the philosopher; then the man of interpretation, the journalist, the popularizer; and finally the man of action, the politician, the presidential candidate.
With the contributions of these men and others, the stage was set for the creation of a national political movement.
Historian Matthew Dalek notes that:
Anti-statism, economic laissez-faire, and militant anti-Communism -- three of the ideological pillars that would support a resurgence of conservatism in American life -- had been articulated by YAF on September 11, 1960.
John A. Andrew in The Other Side of the Sixties, writes:
Historians of the sixties have focused chiefly on the Left as an advocate for change, but in the early sixties, the Right was actually more active in challenging the status quo.
YAF was coming into being as a national conservative youth organization at a time when there was no "conservative movement" as it is known today. Two early conservative student leaders were David Franke, who attended George Washington University, and Doug Caddy, who was at Georgetown. As Franke was about to move to New York City to start work at National Review in the summer of 1960, Caddy organized a tribute dinner in his honor. The speakers at the event were Bill Buckley and Bill Rusher, from the magazine, Reed Larson of the National Right to Work Committee, and James J. Wick, publisher of Human Events, while telegrams were read from Senator Goldwater and Governor Charles Edison of New Jersey. As Caddy noted:
About 25 persons were present. In 1960, this was the size of the Conservative movement's leadership -- 25 persons could easily fit into a small hotel dining room.
Those who joined YAF were dedicated to bringing about change in society. Their enemy was what they perceived as the Establishment -- and it was a liberal establishment that they saw in power on campus and in the Nation's Capital. Historian Matthew Dallek noted that:
YAF was the first national youth movement to shatter the silent conformity that had reigned on campuses since World War II . . . before anyone ever heard of the counter-culture.
When YAF came into existence, partisan politics were quite different than they have become at the present time. YAF identified itself as a "conservative" organization, not a "Republican" one, "emphasizing the non-partisan conservatism of the organization," Thorburn points out:
. . . the featured speaker at an early meeting of the Greater New York Council was Connecticut Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd, an ardent anti-Communist opponent of the admission of Communist China to the United Nations. . . . The composition of congressional letter writers to The New Guard was a vivid commentary on mid-20th century American politics as letters of praise and congratulations came from several Democrats, including Sen. Frank Lusche of Ohio, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Spessard Holland of Florida along with a number of Republican elected officials . . . . Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was a featured speaker at the 1971 YAF National Convention.
YAF worked eagrly for the nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater, helped to start the Conservative Party of New York in 1961, worked in the New York City mayoralty campaign of William F. Buckley, Jr., launched campaigns against East-West trade, engaged the New Left in vigorous debate over the war in Vietnam, and constituted the foot soldiers in Ronald Reagan's campaigns for the presidency.
From the very beginning, YAF rejected all forms of racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination. At the YAF National Convention of 1963, held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel initially refused to allow Don Parker, a leader in the Kings County (Brooklyn) YAF who was black, to register. The Brooklyn delegation and then Bob Schuchman, the former National YAF Chairman, threatened to walk out and cancel the event, the hotel withdrew its objection and Don Parker integrated the hotel.
At the YAF 1965 national convention of 1965, J. A. Parker, who was to become a leader of black conservatives and President of the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, was named to the National Board of Directors. He eventually became president of both the Philadelphia YAF chapter and Chairman of Pennsylvania YAF. He recalls his commitment to the Goldwater campaign, asking:
Did you know he was a lifetime member of the NAACP? . . . When he was a member of the City Council, he was the guy who led the effort to desegregate downtown Phoenix. When he took over his family's department store, Goldwater's, he was the first to hire black junior executives and start a training program for them. All this had nothing to do with the law.
Within YAF, of course, there many disagreements and divisions, often pitting conservative traditionalists against libertarians. One successful crusade YAF entered into, with libertarians in the lead, was opposition to the military draft. David Franke, a YAF founder and editor of The New Guard, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. After reading the YAF Board's resolution, Franke outlined the reasons for a voluntary military, a system that would remove the elements of compulsion as well as the inequities of the selection process then in effect, provide the military and individuals properly motivated and trained to serve, and force changes in military pay and procedures. This testimony was printed in the May 1967 issue of The New Guard, an issue almost totally devoted to the case for a volunteer military. Included were supportive quotes from a number of political leaders, academics, business and military leaders, as well as feature articles by Barry Goldwater ("End the Draft"), Russell Kirk ("Our Archaic Draft"), and Milton Friedman ("The Case for a Voluntary Army"). An opening editorial proclaimed:
With this issue begins a long-range educational and action program by YAF promoting voluntarism not only in the military, but in other areas of society as well.
Principle was YAF's motivation, not partisan political gain. In recent years, many of those who call themselves "conservative" seem to have other motivations. After all, the growth of government power, of deficits, and of governmental involvement in almost all aspects of society have come about as a result of actions taken by Republicans, as well as Democrats.
Summing up YAF's legacy, Wayne Thorburn writes:
During the latter half of the 20th century, YAF was a major contributor to the development of a conservative movement in the U.S. The efforts of those who met in Sharon, Connecticut, resulted in the creation of grassroots cadres of dedicated supporters on campuses and in communities around the nation.
Among those speaking at the anniversary celebration in Washington were many old YAF leaders: former Rep. Robert Bauman (R-MD), Don Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, former Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr. (R-CA), and Richard Viguerie, who transformed American politics in the 1960s and 1970s by pioneering the use of direct mail fundraising. J. A. Parker recited the pledge of allegiance and former Senator James L. Buckley (C-NY), addressed the group. It was an historic occasion. Fortunately for the country, YAF's influence continues into the 21st century. *
"Measures which serve to abridge . . . free competition . . . have a tendency to occasion an enhancement of prices." --Alexander Hamilton
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
There can be little doubt that the American society is now in trouble. We have huge budget deficits, two questionable wars, an ever-expanding federal government, and a battered economy.
While some blame all of these developments on the current Obama administration, the fact is that the previous Republican administration, that of George W. Bush, set all of these trends in motion. Many traditional conservatives have been critical of the departures from the Goldwater-Reagan tradition upon which President Bush embarked, with the embrace of those who called themselves "compassionate" or "big government" conservatives. Now, in an important new book, Bringing America Home: How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back, an early conservative leader, Tom Pauken, examines the question of how America went from having the strongest economy in the world to facing our most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. He asks, "What became of an American culture that once was guided by the principles of Christianity."
Tom Pauken was elected national chairman of the College Republicans during the rise of the anti-Vietnam protest movement. Enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1967, Tom served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam and served on President Ronald Reagan's White House staff. Named director of the Action agency by President Reagan, he eliminated the use of federal tax dollars to fund Saul Alinsky-style leftist organizers. For his service at Action, Pauken was awarded the Ronald Reagan Medal of Honor. In 1994 he was elected Texas Republican State Chairman, and helped build a Republican majority in Texas from the grassroots. He currently serves as chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission. (This writer has known Tom Pauken since our college days.)
How did the Bush administration squander the political capital that Goldwater-Reagan conservatives took more than three decades to build? In one sense, success has led to our downfall. When conservatives made the Republican Party the majority party in America, the opportunists, pragmatists, and phony conservatives moved in and took control of the Republican Party, and of the conservative movement itself -- all in the name of "conservatism."
What passes for conservatism in the post-Reagan era of Republican politics, writes Pauken:
. . . is barely recognizable to many of us who were grassroots activists in the early days of the conservative movement -- especially after eight years of a Republican administration headed by George W. Bush who claimed to be a conservative. The results were not pretty. . . . On the domestic scene, the Bush administration failed to act in time to stem the credit and spending excesses of the "bubble economy." While these excesses stem from bad decisions made during the Clinton years by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Bush administration did nothing to reverse those flawed policies. Now we are paying a heavy economic price for postponing action to deal with what turned out to be a slow-moving train wreck.
These developments are particularly troubling to those who, like Pauken, invested so much in developing and applying the conservative philosophy of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a prudent foreign policy, beginning in the early 1960s.
"The Bush administration," he writes:
. . . squandered the political capital built up over three decades of hard work by the Goldwater-Reagan movement. In the process, great damage has been done to the conservative movement, the Republican Party, and our country. That capital is depleted and we conservatives have to start all over in putting together a set of principled policies to address the enormous economic, foreign policy, and cultural challenges our nation faces. . . . We should not support Republican candidates for president just because they happen to be the lesser of two evils. That has not worked out well for conservatives in the post-Reagan era of Republican politics.
Pauken is particularly critical of the emergence of neo-conservatives as a driving force in taking the U.S. into what he believes was an unnecessary "preemptive" war in Iraq. He notes that:
These former liberal Democrats turned Republicans remind me of Robert McNamara's civilian whiz kids who planned and oversaw our flawed strategy during the Vietnam War. Those intellectuals thought they were a lot smarter and knew a lot more about how to fight the war than our soldiers in Vietnam did. Indeed, the McNamara whiz kids had high IQs, but they were brilliantly wrong. I saw that firsthand as a young military intelligence officer in Vietnam. Similarly, the neo-conservatives, architects of George W. Bush's strategy to defeat militant Islam, were a group of arrogant intellectuals with very little, if any, military experience. They made things worse, not better, for the soldiers who had to carry out their plans.
The first goal for traditional conservatives, in Pauken's view:
. . . must be to recapture a Republican Party that has been taken over by Machiavellian pragmatists and neo-conservative ideologues. . . . That will not happen with slick political slogans or 30-second sound bites but with a serious assessment of how our leaders have failed us and what is required to make things right. And that assessment can be made only on the basis of principles. . . . The conservative movement has been gravely wounded by wrongheaded decisions made during the presidency of George W. Bush. The economic- and social-conservative majority, which was so much in evidence when I left the Reagan administration at the end of the President's first term, is history.
Any real progress in reversing course, Pauken argues, must address the problems of our twin deficits -- our huge budget deficits and our trade deficits. It requires, he believes, slowing the growth of government and taxation, while providing incentives to encourage savings and investment in American businesses and creating jobs at home. Beyond this, he declares, it requires policies that will return us to the "constitutional morality" of our Founding Fathers with their emphasis on checks and balances, separation of powers, and support for the principles of federalism. And it urgently requires the restoration of a culture guided by the principles of Christianity, rather than one shaped by what Pope Benedict XVI has called the "dictatorship of relativism."
Under George W. Bush, there was a surge of federal spending. A Cato Institute study refers to Bush as "the biggest spending president in 30 years." Beyond this, notes Pauken:
President Bush completely failed to exercise his veto power during his first term in office. The President even teamed up with Teddy Kennedy to ensure the passage of his "No Child Left Behind" legislation, which expanded the federal role in education beyond the wildest dreams of diehard liberals. Moreover, President Bush sought and received from Congress, the first extension of entitlements (in this case, Medicare entitlements) since the Johnson administration. . . . The budget of the Department of Education more than doubled during George W. Bush's tenure.
There are ways to provide an economic "stimulus," Pauken writes:
. . . without deficit spending. We need to rekindle the American work ethic in which individuals take pride in their work and in using the talents God gave them. The early Obama policies are doing just the opposite, creating the expectation of handouts. Give a man a fish, the proverb goes, and you'll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime. That was the message of Booker T. Washington to the students at the Tuskegee Institute, which he founded in 1881 to educate freed slaves. . . . Compare that with the socialist economic philosophy of Washington's rival for leadership of the black community at that time. W. E. B. Du Bois favored government solutions to the economic problems of the black community. President Obama seems to be listening more to the advice of W. E. B. Du Bois than that of Booker T. Washington.
Of particular concern to Pauken is the coarsening of the American society and the embrace of the imperial presidency by Republicans, who once decried excessive executive power. He has issued a clarion call to conservatives to recapture the Republican Party and move America back onto the path of limited government, fiscal integrity, and a prudent -- rather than messianic -- foreign policy. Hopefully, his eloquent voice will be heard.
The co-chairmen of President Obama's debt and deficit commission called current budgetary trends a cancer "that will destroy the country from within" unless checked by strong action in Washington.
The two leaders -- former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Clinton -- sought to build support for the work of the commission, whose recommendations are due later this year.
Bowles said that unlike the current economic crisis, which was largely unforeseen before it hit in fall 2008, the coming fiscal problems are staring the country in the face. "This debt is like a cancer."
The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Simpson said:
The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans -- the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries.
Addressing the National Governors Association in July, Bowles declared:
We can't grow our way out of this. We could have decades of double-digit growth and not grow our way out of this enormous debt problem. We can't tax our way out. . . . The reality is we've got to do exactly what you all do every day as governors. We've got to cut spending or increase revenues or do some combination of that.
Michael J. Boskin, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of economics at Stanford University, declares that:
President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2011 lays out a stunningly expensive big-government spending agenda, mostly to be paid for years down the road. In addition to the proposed increase from today's levels in capital gains, dividend, payroll, income, and energy taxes, the enormous deficits and endless accumulation of debt will eventually force growth-inhibiting income tax hikes, a national value-added tax similar to those in Europe, or severe inflation.
In the first three years of President Obama's term, federal spending rose by an average of 4.4 percent of GDP. That is far more than during President Johnson's Great Society and Vietnam War buildup and President Reagan's defense buildup combined. Spending will reach the highest level in American history (25.l percent of GDP) except for the peak of World War II. The deficit of $l.4 trillion (9.6 percent of GDP) is more than three times the previous record in 2008.
Professor Boskin points out that:
Remarkably, Obama will add more red ink in his first two years than President George W. Bush -- berated by conservatives for his failure to control domestic spending and by liberals for the explosion of military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan -- added in eight. In his first fifteen months, Obama will raise the debt burden -- the ratio of the national debt to GDP -- by more than President Reagan did in eight years.
It must be remembered, argues Boskin, that:
Obama inherited a recession and a fiscal mess. Much of the deficit is the natural and desirable result of the deep recession. As tax revenues fall much more rapidly than income, those so-called automatic stabilizers cushioned the decline in after-tax income and helped natural business-cycle dynamics and monetary policy stabilize the economy. But Obama and Congress added hundreds of billions of dollars a year of ineffective "stimulus" spending more accurately characterized as social engineering and pork, when far more effective, less expensive options were available.
President Obama said in his budget message that "we cannot continue to borrow against our children's future." Yet, his budget proposal appears to do exactly that. He projects a cumulative deficit of $11.5 trillion, bringing the publicly held debt (excluding debt held inside the government, for example Social Security) to 77 percent of GDP and the gross debt to over 100 percent. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush each ended their terms at about 40 percent.
Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard and Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland have studied the impact of high levels of national debt on economic growth in the U.S. and around the world. In a study presented earlier this year to the American Economic Association, they concluded that as long as the gross debt/GDP ratio is relatively modest, 30-39 percent of GDP, the negative growth impact of higher debt is likely to be modest as well. But as it rises to 90 percent of GDP, there is a dramatic slowing of economic growth by at least 1 percentage point a year. The Obama budget takes the gross debt over this line, rising to 103 percent of GDP by 2015. Such a huge debt implies immense future tax increases. Balancing the 2015 budget would require a 43 percent increase in everyone's economic tax.
Two other factors greatly compound the risk from the Obama budget plan, according to Dr. Boskin:
First, he is running up this debt and current and future taxes just as the baby boomers are retiring and the entitlement cost problems are growing. . . . Second, the president's programs increase the fraction of people getting more money back from the government than they pay in taxes to almost 50 percent. Demography will drive it up further. That's an unhealthy political dynamic.
To Indiana's Governor Mitch Daniels (R), the federal debt represents as much a threat to the American way of life as terrorism. He suggests placing other, partisan issues aside to concentrate on debt reduction:
If you don't accept the premise that the American experience is mortally threatened by a couple of problems, this one (dealing with the budget) -- and I would add the problem of terrorism . . . then my suggestion may not make sense to anyone. But I personally feel that there's urgency around dealing with those problems, both as a matter of priority but also as a matter of getting a broader consensus of Americans together.
Recently, Daniels told The Weekly Standard that the next president "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues until the country's fiscal house was in order." Speaking to a Washington summit organized by Americans for Generational Equity and the American Benefits Institute, he said:
I don't think we can solve that problem (on the debt) . . . in a sharply divided America. We're going to need to trust each other, and accept the good will, accept the sincerity of other parties to do some fundamental things.
Mitchell noted that skeptics of the United States and of democracy have questioned whether U.S. leaders are good at dealing with big problems -- such as our skyrocketing budget deficits. The challenge before us is now clear -- as deficits skyrocket and entitlement spending promises to grow dramatically. Fortunately, a number of thoughtful observers are beginning to confront it. Whether our political process is able to move us forward, however, remains to be seen. *
"[T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves, in their own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." --Thomas Jefferson
More and more, the concept of ethics in Congress, in business, in government, and in other areas of our society seems to be an oxymoron.
There has been a succession of headline stories underscoring our moral "pay-to-play" lapses. The alleged pay-to-play scheme laid out by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder -- is, sadly, not much different from the usual political enterprise observed in Washington and throughout the country. "In some ways, the only thing Blagojevich did wrong was he was stupid enough to say it out loud," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center. "For other people, it's a wink and a nod. Verbalizing it crosses the line." Northwestern University law Professor Albert Altschuler says that if Blagojevich
. . . made a quid pro quo offer for campaign funds, then he's guilty of breaking the law. There's a thin line. It's different if he said, "If I was in the Senate, I'd be in a position to raise money for you."
It may be legal for those who contribute large amounts to presidential campaigns to be named to ambassadorships and other important posts, but what exactly is the ethical difference between this and what the Illinois Governor is accused of doing?
Or consider the Ponzi scheme of Wall Street insider Bernard Madoff, formerly the head of the NASDAQ stock market. Len Fisher, author of Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, writes that:
There seems to be little doubt that Bernard Madoff is a cheat. . . . But was it all Madoff's fault? I contend that the losses would have been less severe, and might not have occurred at all, if many of Madoff's investors had not been cast from the same mold that Madoff was. The facts should have been enough to make anyone suspicious. Madoff's accounts were only perfunctorily audited. . . . Above all his business returns were consistently good -- too good -- and he never reported a down month, let alone a down quarter or year . . . such oddities had to have set off alarm bells. So why did so many professionals continue to invest with him? Only one answer makes sense. Some of these investors must have suspected that he was a cheat but continued to invest because they thought they were benefiting from that cheating. In other words, they took him for a different kind of cheat from who he was -- one who was using information gained from his market-making operation to earn illegal profits rather than one who was operating a breathtakingly audacious Ponzi scheme.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman asks: "How different, really, is Mr. Madoff's tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole." He declares:
The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation's income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it's not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people's money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.
Young people, observing the behavior of their elders, are exhibiting precisely the same sort of indifference to traditional moral and ethical standards.
In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new large-scale survey.
The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at l00 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls -- 30 percent overall -- acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative.
"What is the social cost of that -- not to mention the implication for the next generation of mortgage brokers?" Mr. Josephson said: "In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say 'Why shouldn't we? Everyone else does it.'"
Among the findings:
* Cheating in schools is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year, and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.
* Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.
* Despite such responses, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."
Iris Murdoch, in Metaphysics As a Guide to Morals, said:
The child . . . who is led by his observation to conclude that "Do not lie" is part of an espionage system directed against himself, since the prohibition obviously means nothing to his elders, is being misled concerning the crucial position of truth in human life.
This flexibility toward the truth shows later in life. According to a recent study conducted by Who's Who Among High School Students, 78 percent of the high school students polled say they have cheated. Paul Krouse, the publisher, said, "There certainly has to be a breakdown in the ethics and integrity of young people which probably mirrors the society they are living in."
To deal with the ethics breakdown, the U.S. Marine Corps has added a "value training" course to its boot camp curriculum. One senior Marine officer summed up the situation:
The communities (new recruits) are coming from have put less emphasis on ethical standards and these kinds of core values we want to see. . . . They're not teaching values in schools. They're not learning it from church members to the extent. . . . they used to. So there is a need that must be stressed in values-based education.
A decade ago, when Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) was sentenced to 17 months
in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding Congress of $636,000 in an illegal payroll scam, U.S. Attorney Thomas Motley called it a "scheme to defraud the U.S. that stretched over more than 20 years." The judge in the case, Norma Holloway Johnson, said that, "When I think of your case . . . the one phrase that comes to mind is betrayal of trust." Yet, when Rostenkowski responded, he said: "Having pled guilty, I do not believe that I am different from the vast majority of members of Congress." Recent examples of congressional corruption indicate that Rostenkowski may have had a point.
One important reason -- perhaps the important reason -- for the breakdown in our society which is evident all around us is the fact that we have entered an era of moral relativism in which we hesitate to declare any action wrong and immoral, or to confront the existence of evil. Will Herberg, theologian and author of the well-known volume Protestant, Catholic, Jew stated:
. . . the really serious threat to morality in our time consists not in the multiplying violations of an accepted moral code, but in the fact that the very notion of morality or a moral code seems to be itself losing its meaning. . . . It is here that we find a breakdown of morality in a radical sense, in a sense almost without precedent in our Western society.
The decline of religion in our society has been recorded by Professor Stephen Prothero, chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University, in his book Religious Literacy. In spite of the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God, only a tiny portion of them knows a thing about religion. When he began college teaching 17 years ago, Prothero writes, he discovered that few of his of students could name the authors of the Christian Gospels. Fewer could name a single Hindu Scripture. Almost no one could name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
"During the 1930s," writes Prothero:
The neo-orthodox theologian H. Richard Niebuhr skewered liberal Protestants for preaching "a God without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." But my students' "dogma aversion" (as one put it) goes liberal Protestantism one further. These young people aren't just allergic to dogma. They are allergic to divinity and even heaven. In the religions of their imagining, God is an afterthought at best. And the afterlife is, as one of my students told me, "on the back burner." What my students long for is not salvation after they die but happiness . . . here and now. They want less stress and more sleep.
The disconnect between young Americans and their religious tradition is, in Prothero's view, a subject about which all of us should be concerned. He hopes that Americans will have enough religious knowledge to debate ethics positions using holy texts, to understand Biblical references in political speeches, to question their own beliefs about God -- and to encourage others to question theirs. He faults priests, rabbis, imams, and ministers for not engaging the younger generation. "Far too often," he declares, "religious services in the U.S. are of the adults, by the adults, and for the adults. And don't think young people aren't noticing."
The connection between our ethical decline and the growing ignorance of our religious traditions is a subject to which our religious leaders -- and not only our religious leaders -- should turn their attention.
Poverty in Africa is widespread, but its causes are largely misunderstood. Indeed, because of such a misunderstanding men and women of good will in the Western world, seeking to alleviate such poverty, have pursued programs of massive foreign aid that, in most instances, have done little good.
Professor James Robinson of Harvard University, in an article "Property Rights and African Poverty," in Defining Ideas, 2010, declares that:
The real reason Africa has been poor historically and is poor today have to do with property rights. In short, African countries do not have the type of property rights that are connected with economic progress in Western Europe or North America.
The evidence of widespread poverty is stark. The World Bank measures poverty levels by the number of people who live on less than $1 a day; the majority of those people, around 350 million of them, live in sub-Sahara Africa. This is the only part of the world in which the absolute number of poor people is increasing. By 2015, the number of poor people in Africa is forecast to be more than 400 million.
Before the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain about 230 years ago, Professor Robinson points out:
Differences in the level of prosperity among countries were much smaller than they are now. Whereas today, the average income of a citizen of the United States is about 40 times that of a citizen of a country such as Ethiopia or Sierra Leone, in 1750 that difference was probably only two or three times. Between 1750 and 2009, the U.S. experienced rapid economic growth, but African countries did not.
The insecurity of property rights in Africa, Professor Robinson notes:
. . . was exacerbated by the slave trade, which distorted paths of political development and led to the emergence of states, such as the Kongo, based not on investing but on slavery. Africa's increasing backwardness made it vulnerable to colonialism, which replaced one form of absolutism with another. Later, independence did the same, with predictable consequences for property rights.
Sierra Leone was taken over by Siski Stevens, who pulled up the railway line to the south of the country, and sold off all the track and rolling stock to isolate the Mendeland region, where support for his opposition was strongest. The roads fell to pieces and schools disintegrated. National television broadcasts stopped in 1987. The Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board expropriated farms. When the governor of the national bank complained about fiscal profligacy in 1980, he was thrown to his death from the roof of the central bank offices. In 1991, the regime collapsed into civil war. Today most of Sierra Leone is controlled by 149 chiefs. Sadly, this is all too typical.
In a recent report, "The State of Liberal Democracy In Africa," the Cato Institute states that:
Africa's transition to liberal democracy is unlikely to happen without far-reaching economic reforms; in fact, all liberal democracies are also market-oriented economies. Regrettably, many African countries are not only politically repressive but also economically dirigiste. Increased economic freedom and the emergence of a vibrant private sector can bring about direct economic benefits, such as higher incomes, and indirect benefits, such as decentralization of power.
All too often, foreign aid can be siphoned off by corrupt politicians. In the opinion of Professor Robinson:
Three things would help sub-Saharan African societies get on the right track economically. First, give Africans more economic opportunities, which doesn't mean throwing money at them. What it does mean is opening markets to African exports and trade. . . . Second, economics must play a bigger role in foreign policy. Foreign policy toward Africa has been driven too much by short-term politics without focusing on economic development, but promoting prosperity in Africa is good long-run foreign policy. Supporting dictators who are "pro-Western" risks creating an anti-Western society. Finally, development assistance must help change the political trajectories of societies. . . . Good political and economic institutions emerge from a balance of power in society. To achieve this, we should help civil society and the media promote de facto checks and balances on rulers.
There are some dim signs of hope. Sixteen years ago, the world watched in horror as 800,000 Rwandans were systematically murdered by their neighbors. In just l00 days, over 10 percent of the country's population, mostly Tutsis, the country's minority group, were slaughtered. Paul Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the guerrilla army made up largely of Tutsi refugees, that ultimately overthrew the government and ended the bloodshed. Now he's president.
The Wall Street Journal reports that:
You might suppose that the leader of a country synonymous with genocide would be far more interested in seeking foreign aid than in talking supply-side economics. But then you probably haven't met Mr. Kagame. His agenda for improving the state of his country boils down to one goal: "spurring private investment."
According to the Wall Street Journal's Anne Jolis, Kagame told her that:
We believe in private enterprise, free markets, and competition . . . So we have to make sure there is a conducive environment for people to be creative and innovative.
Jolis writes that:
Unlike many of his peers in the Third World, his focus is not on how to beg for charity. During our entire conversation, Mr. Kagame doesn't once utter the word poverty. "We can only have ourselves to blame for our failures," he says. "We don't expect anyone to hand us any success or progress we hope to be making." That attitude makes Mr. Kagame a skeptic when it comes to foreign aid, which he faults for many of the world's ills. "It has created dependency, it has distorted the markets, it has detached people from their leaders and their values, it has created conflicts in some cases."
Rwanda has cut its dependence on aid by half in the past 15 years, and has become self-sufficient in food for the first time in its history. Gradual improvements to property rights, along with government money for fertilizer to farmers, which the farmers have since repaid with the revenue from their produce, have even allowed Rwanda to begin exporting some of its crops.
To help Africa move from poverty to prosperity, it is essential that we understand the reasons for its current dilemma -- and the proper path forward. Property rights and free and open markets represent that path. *
"Equal and exact justice to all men . . ." --Thomas Jefferson
By any standard, skepticism of government is growing -- perhaps reaching an all-time high. Three out of four Americans are either "frustrated" or "angry" with the federal government -- and nearly a third of the public views government as a "threat to their personal freedom," according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
The survey shows an increasing number of Americans are distrustful of both Washington and their elected officials. Only 22 percent of those polled said they can trust the federal government "almost always" or "most of the time," which Pew says is "among the lowest measures in more than half a century." Sixty-five percent hold an unfavorable view of Congress -- the worst congressional approval rating Pew has seen in a quarter century. The past year has seen public approval of Congress plummet from 50 percent in April 2009 to 25 percent in April 2010.
This does not mean, of course, that Americans oppose a role for government in areas which they believe to be its legitimate concern. "While the public is wary of too much government involvement with the economy," the study says:
. . . its suspends that concern when it comes to stricter regulation of major financial companies. A clear majority (61 percent) says it is a good idea for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business. . .
Pew Center Director Andrew Kohut argues that the negative numbers result from
. . . a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government -- a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.
There are, of course, those who have made a partisan argument that dismay with the Obama administration had led to these attitudes. That many policies of this administration are viewed critically is, of course, clear. The public is properly dismayed with government bailouts of failed banks and industries. The fact is, however, that our huge budget deficits and government intervention in the economy are really a continuation -- and escalation -- of policies embraced by the previous Bush administration.
Discussing the Tea Party movement -- which opposed expansion of government, deficits, and the Obama administration's health care bill -- Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes that one disturbing revelation in a recent New York Times/CBS poll found that while 58 percent of Americans disapprove of former President George W. Bush, 57 percent of Tea Partiers view the last president favorably.
What's going on here? Tea Partiers claim they're a group with a principled opposition to big government in all its forms. How can anyone take that claim seriously when the membership embraces a president who personifies everything they're supposed to hate? Aren't the Tea Partiers opposed to profligate spending? Then why do they look favorably on 43, who led the largest debt expansion in American history, and spent more than his six predecessors, doubling the federal budget during his tenure? Don't the Tea Partiers hate bailouts? Have they forgotten which president rammed through the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, bailed out Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and gave $17 billion to General Motors after Congress refused to authorize tax dollars for failing automakers?
In Healy's view:
Of course, the Tea Partiers are well justified in their disgust with Obama, who's just engineered a takeover of one-sixth of the U.S. economy. . . . And maybe it's poor form to beat up on Bush, an ex-president who's at least had the decency to hang his head, keep quiet, and cut brush. . . . But no right-minded supporter of limited government could possibly "miss" a Republican president who, in Medicare Part D . . . engineered the biggest expansion of entitlements between President Johnson's Medicare and Obamacare. . . . If the Tea Partiers are serious, they can't afford to look partisan: as if they are OK with Big Government when someone who passes for a good old boy is at the helm, but cry "socialism" when an arugula aficionado makes his own power grab. Both Parties got us into this mess. Partisanship won't get us out.
The fact is that the nation is headed for a financial crisis -- brought about by the actions of both Republicans and Democrats. This fiscal year, the country's federal deficit is expected to top $1.6 trillion, an extraordinary 10.7 percent of gross domestic product -- double the 5 percent incurred during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal from 1933 to 1936. The deficits through 2015 alone are projected to exceed $6 trillion. And in contrast to the 1930s, today's deficit is not going to be financed by Americans. About half of it is financed abroad, mostly by China and Japan.
Reasons for dismay with government escalate each day. In the wake of a Securities and Exchange Commission which ignored repeated warnings about Bernard Madoff -- and other financial wrongdoing on Wall Street -- we learned in April that dozens of SEC staff members used government computers in the past five years to access and download pornographic images. The computer of one senior SEC attorney ran out of space for downloaded images, so he started burning them onto CDs and DVDs he stored in his office. The attorney says he sometimes spent as much as eight hours a day viewing pornography on his office computer, according to a report by SEC Inspector General H. David Kotz.
What would the Founding Fathers think of the disrepute in which government is now held? There is every reason to believe that they would be pleased. They designed a system which they understood to involve fear of government power as the essential ingredient for the perpetuation of freedom.
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Edward Carrington, observed that:
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. . . . One of the most profound preferences in human nature is for satisfying one's needs and desires with the least possible exertion; for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one's own labor . . . in other words, the stronger the government, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him. A deep instinct of human nature being for these reasons in favor of strong government, nothing could be a more natural progress of things than for liberty to yield and government to gain control.
It was because of their fear of governmental power that the Framers of the Constitution limited government through the Bill of Rights and divided its authority through our federal system. By establishing the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- and by dividing authority between the state and national governments -- the hope was that no branch of government would ever obtain so much power that it would be a threat to freedom.
In recent years, whether those in power called themselves Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, the power of government has increased, as has the percentage of the gross national product disposed of by the state. Those out of power often speak of cutting spending. Once in office, however, they do precisely the opposite. Both of our political parties are far removed from the fear and suspicion of power which the Founding Fathers shared.
Political corruption, appeasement of special interest groups, and lack of competence would be no surprise to the Founding Fathers. They expected it. The only thing that might surprise them is the faith that some Americans still place in governmental power. Now that skepticism is growing, the Framers would feel that freedom may be a bit more secure.
Despite our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the dangers we face from terrorism do not seem to be receding.
Early in February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that even a nuclear-armed North Korea or Iran isn't as great a threat to the U.S. as al Qaeda and allied groups. Also in February, CIA Director Leon Panetta and other top intelligence officials testified before Congress that a future terrorist attack against the U.S. in the coming year is almost "certain."
The deadly November shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, and the failed Christmas Day attempt to bomb an airliner -- both examples of a low-tech approach by terrorists -- have raised the fear level in Washington and across the country. Some terrorism experts say that the worst could still be to come as a wounded jihadist movement thrashes about in search of a victory.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair testified that the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit is emblematic of an evolving threat that relies on "small numbers of terrorists, recently recruited and trained, and short-term plots." The new tactics may be less spectacular than 9/11, but also much harder to detect and disrupt, he said.
Our approach to terrorism remains confusing. The Obama administration's original plan to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the so-called 9/11 mastermind, in New York City has been abandoned. Until Mayor Bloomberg publicly opposed the plan, it did not seem to occur to the Justice Department that placing a security perimeter around a large segment of Lower Manhattan would not only cost something like $200 million a year, but would also destroy the economy of the area. In the case of the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah, not only was the warning his father gave to U.S. officials ignored, but he was Mirandized after just 50 minutes of interrogation. At Fort Hood, the alleged mass killer, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, gave many indications of his philosophy and state of mind -- such as his contacts with radical imams in Yemen -- yet these were completely ignored.
The fact is that while the U.S., under both Presidents Bush and now Obama, have embarked upon large-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden remains alive and well and al Qaeda is now operating in a variety of venues -- from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to various sleeper cells in Western Europe and, most likely, within the U.S. as well.
What we have failed to do is to properly identify the motives and ideology of our adversary, and do everything we can to eliminate active terror cells and, perhaps more important, eliminate the causes which lead young men and women to become terrorists in the first place.
President Bush liked to say that terrorists were motivated by their hatred of America because of "who we are," because of our freedom of religion, free speech, and democratic government. In a Republican presidential debate in 2008, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) made the point that al Qaeda targets the U.S. not because of our internal freedoms but because of our role, as they see it, in their part of the world. In response, Rudolph Guiliani accused Rep. Paul of siding with the terrorists. The fact is, of course, that properly understanding the motives of an adversary is a first step toward defeating him.
Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA officer who now teaches security studies at Georgetown University, notes that:
The sum and substance of the U.S. bipartisan political elite's response to recent events has been -- as it has been since 1996 when Osama bin Laden declared war on America -- that the Islamist terrorists hate us for who we are and how we live, not for what we do. This contention is a fantasy. It is fair to say that all the U.S. Marines, soldiers, and CIA officers who have died in Afghanistan since 9/11 and in Iraq since Saddam's removal have died fighting an enemy that does not exist. In numbers now approaching 6,000, these men and women have bravely fought and died in combat against an enemy whose main motivation U.S. political leaders have consistently denied. No U.S. soldier, Marine, or CIA officer has been killed by an Islamist fighter who took the field because America has women in the workplace, beer is available in ample supply, and there are early presidential primaries in Iowa every fourth year.
The young Nigerian in Detroit and the Jordanian bomber in Khost and his wife, Scheuer points out:
. . . have told American Marines, soldiers, and CIA officers what they already surely sense, but what their political leaders deny. Both attackers cited motivations that pivot on U.S. support for Israel against the Palestinians; U.S. occupation of Muslim lands; and U.S. attacks on their fellow Muslims. The three individuals' words echo the components of U.S. foreign policy named by bin Laden in 1996 as the causes for war -- which also include U.S. support for Arab tyrants and exploitation of Muslim energy resources . . .
We are not "fighting a cartoon-like foe described by political leaders for the past 15 years," declares Scheuer. Whether or not U.S. policies in the region which have caused such enemies should be changed (which he thinks should indeed be altered),
. . . is a discussion for another time and broad public debate, perhaps during the 2010 midterm elections. For now, the discussion must focus on our enemies' motivation and the knowing failure of U.S. leaders in both parties to be honest with our fighting forces. If we fail to understand that motivation, America cannot shape a war-fighting strategy [that is likely to succeed.]
The policies we have been pursuing may, in reality, have made things worse. A study by terrorist specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, using government and Rand Corporation data, showed that the "Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks . . ." American terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman believes that, "Al Qaeda is more dangerous than it was on 9/11."
Bruce Reidel, a retired CIA official now at the Brookings Institution, says that, "The U.S. invasion of Iraq took the pressure off al Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands and opened new doors for the group in the Middle East. It also played directly into the hands of al Qaeda leaders by seemingly confirming their claim that the U.S. was an imperialist force, which helped them reinforce various local alliances."
The debate about terrorism in Washington does not address these issues. Instead, we are engaged in a meaningless partisan divide over whether our efforts should be called a "war on terror" or something else. The only victors, as we refuse to face facts, seem to be the terrorists.
While President Obama -- together with members of Congress from both parties -- promised to curb the role of lobbyists in Washington, more than a year after the Obama administration assumed the reins of power, little seems to have changed. If anything, the role of lobbyists has increased.
The National Journal, in its 10th annual survey of pay levels for Washington trade associations, confirmed that for lobbyists it is the Golden Age. Examining 514 tax returns between 2001 and 2009, it was found that no fewer than 89 executives for trade groups earned more than $l million. This is a 30 percent increase from the 2008 survey.
Pamela Kaul, president of the executive recruiting firm Association Strategies, said that the compensation numbers are "hard for the rational mind to justify, given the economy. But it's the mystique of Washington. These are the power brokers that have the access . . ."
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that final lobbying expenditures last year reached $3.47 billion, a 5 percent increase from the $3.3 billion spent in 2008. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $144 million on its lobbying efforts, a 60 percent increase over 2008s expenditure.
White House supporters say that the number of lobbyists has declined, but some public interest groups say that power has shifted to other Washington insiders and business executives who do not have to register their activity.
Exhibit A for many critics is Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, who holds a top position in the lobbying firm Alson & Bird but avoids having to register. Federal rules do not require those who spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying to register.
"To be blunt about it, any percentage that doesn't include Tom Daschle is not the right percentage," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. While restrictions may have been well-intentioned, they have been largely symbolic, says Sloan, and "it tells people you're fixing a problem without actually fixing it."
Particularly objectionable is the role of former members of Congress who often leave their elected positions prematurely in order to reap financial gain from lobbying their former colleagues.
Former Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana -- originally elected as a Democrat but later switching to the Republican Party -- left his post as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee -- to become a lobbyist for the drug industry. Last year, he reportedly earned $4.48 million as the head of the PHRMA drug industry lobby, a huge increase from his congressional salary. Tauzin took a leading role in pushing for and shaping President Obama's health plan. PHRMA spent more than any other single-industry lobby in 2009, winning subsidies, protection, and mandates in the Senate bill.
Former Democratic Senator from Louisiana John Breaux and former Republican Senator from Mississippi Trent Lott have jumped into the financial re-regulation battle. The Breaux-Lott Leadership Group is representing Citigroup. Citi, as the second largest full-service investment bank, is one of the prime stakeholders in the debate over the proposed "Volcker Rule," restricting proprietary trading by depository institutions. Breaux-Lott's other financial clients include Prudential and Edward Jones.
The lobbying firm run by the Republican former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee now represents payday lenders and check-cashing businesses in the debate over financial regulation. According to recent lobbying registration former senator Don Nickles' former chief of staff on the Budget Committee, Hazen Marshall, is the lead lobbyist on the Nickles Group's account with the Financial Services Centers of America, the trade group for the payday-loan and check-cashing industries.
When it comes to auto safety, the role of lobbyists can hardly be discounted. Dozens of former federal officials are playing leading roles in helping carmakers handle federal investigations of auto defects, including those for Toyota's run-away-acceleration problems. A Washington Post analysis shows that as many as 33 former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration employees and Transportation Department appointees left those jobs in recent years and now work for automakers as lawyers, consultants, and lobbyists. Several former Cabinet members have gone to work for automakers. Toyota hired Rodney E. Slater, the transportation secretary under President Clinton, to head its North American Quality Advisory Panel.
At the present time, no law bans these officials from moving straight from government into industry. But critics of the revolving-door practice say that it has contributed to flaws in federal oversight and enforcement, and several members of Congress say legislation is needed to prevent former employees from conducting business with the agency for up to two years after leaving government jobs.
Federal disclosure records show that Toyota with 31 lobbyists in Washington last year has spent nearly $25 million on federal regulatory and legislative lobbying matters in the last five years, far more than any other foreign carmaker. "Toyota has lobbied to a degree that no other foreign automaker has," said David Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics.
They've built up years worth of connections with federal lawmakers, and that counts for something, when you know the people who are waiting for you on the other side of that door in a contentious situation. Now, does that mean they're going to get off easily? That remains to be seen.
The White House web site recently stated that President Obama was "cracking down on special interests and, in particular, lobbying abuses." In fact, things seem very much the same. In March, a top aide to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner left his position and joined a lobbying firm with a client list that includes the nation's largest banks. Damon Munchus is at least the third top Obama official who has left the administration to become a lobbyist.
Or consider how lobbyists are used by the media. On December 4, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge appeared on "Hardball with Chris Matthews," and counseled the administration to "create nuclear power plants." Viewers weren't told that since 2005, Ridge has received $530,659 in compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power company. Moments earlier, "NBC Military Analyst" Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional "three-to-ten year effort, and a lot of money." Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. In 2008, David Barstow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for The New York Times about the Pentagon's use of former military officers -- many lobbying or consulting for military contractors -- to get their talking points on television. In 2009 bloggers uncovered how ex-News Week writer Richard Wolffe had guest-hosted "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" while working at a large PR firm specializing in "strategies for managing corporate reputation."
A recent study found that since 2007 at least 75 registered lobbyists, public relations representatives, and corporate officials -- people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their image and promote their interests -- have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNB, and Fox Business Networks with no disclosure of the corporate interests that have paid them.
Lobbying, it seems, is alive and well in Washington -- despite repeated pledges to bring such practices under control. This distorts much of our public life, reinforcing the idea that what we have, in reality, is the best government money can buy. Both Republicans and Democrats are co-conspirators in these efforts and it will take a bipartisan effort to reverse course. Unfortunately, too many have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. *
"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man." --James Madison
Deficit spending is skyrocketing. In December, a report was issued under the auspices of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Committee for a Federal Budget, declaring that the U.S. is facing "a debt-driven crisis -- something previously viewed as almost unfathomable in the world's largest economy."
This past year, the federal government ran a deficit of $1.4 trillion. In 2009 alone, the public debt grew 31 percent from $5.8 to $7.6 trillion, rising from 41 percent to 53 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The report, prepared by among others, seven former directors of the White House Office of Management and Budget, two former comptroller generals of the United States, and seven former directors of the Congressional Budget Office, as well as former chairman of the Federal Reserve System Paul Volcker, declares that unless strong remedial steps are taken in the years ahead, the debt is projected to rise to 85 percent of GDP by 2018 and 100 percent four years later. By that time, they argue, the U.S. economy could be in ruins.
Alice Rivlin, formerly a director of both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, one of the authors of the report, noted that:
Previously, when we were worried about deficits, we could take comfort in the fact that the debt was not very high relative to the economy. But now the debt has shot up. The cushion is gone. If the same thing (a severe recession) happened again, we wouldn't be able to borrow to deal with it.
In the face of all of this, however, in the Congress -- among both Democrats and Republicans -- it is very much business as usual. In the last presidential campaign, both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed their opposition to congressional earmarks -- the pet projects members of Congress slip into spending bills that have become a symbol of how Washington works and of its worst excesses. Yet such earmarks remain alive and well in the current Congress.
In December, lawmakers set aside more than $4 billion in earmarks in the 2010 defense appropriations bill, and watered down efforts to curb the practice of targeting spending for programs in members' districts.
As usual, many of the top recipients of earmarks in the defense bill were high-ranking appropriators. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), got 37 earmarks, totaling $198.2 million. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) got 45 totaling $167 million. On the House side, defense subcommittee chairman John Murtha (D-PA) sponsored 23 earmarks totaling $76.5 million, while ranking Republican G. W. "Bill" Young got 36 totaling $83.7 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Consider the case of the software firm MobilVox. When MobilVox wanted to break into the lucrative world of defense contracting, it expanded operations from its Northern Virginia base in Rep. James Moran's (D-VA) congressional district to the southwestern Pennsylvania district of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA).
Working with two of the most powerful members of a House subcommittee that controls Pentagon spending, the company also hired lobbying firms that employed former top aides of the Democratic lawmakers and Mr. Murtha's brother. Company executives and their lobbyists donated thousands of dollars to the two congressmen. Soon, funds began to flow in the other direction.
Between 2003 and 2009, Murtha (recently deceased) and Moran helped deliver $12 million to MobilVox in earmarks. The latest House spending bill, introduced and pushed through by Murtha, includes an additional $2 million earmark for MobilVox requested by Moran. The Washington Times notes that:
MobilVox's success fits a pattern of doing business in Washington that ethics watchdogs deride as a "pay-to-play" system -- one that became infamous during Republican years and continues to operate under a Democratic leadership that had promised to change a "culture of corruption" in Washington.
In one case, a $100,000 earmark sponsored by rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic whip, to go to the library in Jamestown, South Carolina, ended up going instead to Jamestown, California -- 2,700 miles away and to a town that doesn't even have a library. "That figures for government, doesn't it?" said Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, South Carolina, and who earlier in 2009 requested $50,000, not the $100,000 that Congress designated, to buy new computers and build shelves to hold the books strewn across the room.
This library is just one of more than 5,000 earmark projects -- totaling $3.9 billion -- tucked away inside the catchall spending bill Congress sent to President Obama in December. Mr. Obama signed the $1.1 trillion bill -- which included such earmarks as $350,000 for the Appalachian Mountain Club to study global warming's effects on New Hampshire's White Mountains, $250,000 to replace bus shelters in Bal Harbour, Florida, $200,000 for outreach to and the study of elderly Irish immigrants in New York, and $180,000 to create a field class to train weather forecasters at San Jose State University in California.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) went to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives 48 times last year to offer amendments to strip pork-barrel spending projects from the annual spending bills. Each time he was defeated. Rep. Flake -- and other earmark opponents such as Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- failed to win a single anti-earmark vote in the House and Senate for the fiscal 2010 spending year.
President Obama persuaded lawmakers not to add funding earmarks to the $787 billion stimulus package that Congress approved early in 2009. Not long after that, however, Congress approved a $410 billion spending bill that was full of earmarks. The President avoided a fight at the time by saying that the legislation was a holdover from the previous session of Congress, when Republicans were in control. At the time, he said, the legislation should "mark an end to the old way of doing business." We will see, as 2010 proceeds, if he is serious about making any real changes.
Recent polls show that the country is evenly divided about President Obama, but state governments are in disrepute and confidence in Congress is at an all-time low. Frank Newport of the Gallup organization noted in his year-end wrap-up, "Americans have less faith in their elected representatives than ever before." One important reason for this lack of faith is wasteful spending -- epitomized by the culture of earmarks.
Late in 2009, two violent acts of murder by repeat offenders who had been released from prison long before their terms were served illustrate the need to carefully review how our criminal justice system conducts its business.
In one case, in Maryland, an 11-year-old girl disappeared, and her body was found on Christmas Day. Sarah Haley Foxwell was abducted from the bedroom of her home in Salisbury and three days later found dead. Thomas J. Leggs, Jr., 30, a registered sex offender who had been acquainted with her family, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and burglary.
The suspect has a lengthy arrest record in Maryland and is listed on both the Maryland and Delaware sex offender registries. The Maryland case dates to 1998, when he was convicted of a third-degree rape for having sex with a teenager who was not yet 18. He served one year in jail and was placed on probation for the remainder of the seven-year sentence. At the time of his arrest in the kidnapping of Sarah, Leggs was awaiting trial on charges of burglary and destruction of property in Ocean City, Maryland.
"What in the hell is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" is the question posed by Jerry Norton of Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland, a group that fights to toughen laws governing sex offenses.
Also late in 2009, four uniformed police officers in Washington state were killed, execution-style, as they sat in a coffee shop near Tacoma, Washington, writing reports. The killer was Maurice Clemmons, who was released from jail in Pierce County, Washington, just six days earlier, even though charges were pending for second-degree rape of a child, and he faced seven other felony charges in Washington for punching a police officer in the face.
Earlier, in Arkansas, he was serving 60-year and 48-year sentences for various violent crimes and faced another 95 years on other charges. However, after he had served just 11 years in prison and over vocal objections from county persecutors, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence in 2000. It was just one of the more than 1,000 clemencies issued by Mr. Huckabee during his term in office. At one point, the Arkansas Leader newspaper documented that Mr. Huckabee had given clemency to more convicts than all of the governors in the six states surrounding Arkansas combined.
Editorially, The Washington Times noted that:
The broader lesson here is that governors and presidents generally should leave clemency decisions for violent offenders to trained parole boards. Sure, there is good reason for giving chief clemency powers to chief executives. We know of cases that cry out for pardons, including people imprisoned by overzealous bureaucrats and prosecutors for such crimes as packing lobster tails in plastic instead of cardboard or of submitting the wrong paperwork for imported orchids. But murderers and rapists are a different matter. A single executive, with hundreds of other responsibilities, is unlikely to be familiar enough with each case and each personality to determine if an individual convict is a threat to strike again. If a judge and jury, upon due consideration, imposed a certain sentence on a violent criminal, and an expert parole board has not seen fit to reduce the sentence, a governor or president treads on thin ice in overruling them. It's an injustice that four officers of the law had to die to teach . . . that lesson.
Beyond the question of parole for violent offenders is the fact that we still have with us groups that continue to promote violence against law enforcement officers.
In the Washington state incident, the perpetrator, Maurice Clemmons, told numerous friends and family members to "watch the TV" before the massacre because he was going to "kill a bunch of cops." These individuals -- several of whom have been arrested for actively aiding and abetting Clemmons with shelter, food, money, and medical care aid -- were not offended by the idea of murdering police officers.
Evidently because Clemmons was black and the police officers were white, a militant online group called the National Black Foot Soldier Network, celebrated Clemmons as a "Crowned BOW (black on white) Martyr" and dubbed the Washington ambush "a preemptive strike on terrorists."
Just three weeks before the massacre of the four police officers, the region saw another police attack. Suspect Christopher Monfort was arrested in the targeted shooting death of Seattle Police officer Timothy Brenton and the wounding of his partner Britt Sweeney. Monfort had written diatribes against law enforcement, particularly white policemen.
The leader of a Seattle hip-hop punk band commemorated the assassination with a T-shirt depicting Monfort's face splattered with blood and overlaid with a Seattle PD badge under the slogan "Deliver Us from Evil." The other side of the shirt read, "Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps."
We have witnessed many years of cop-bashing rap from NWA's "F___ tha Police" and Ice-T's "Cop Killer" to Dave Pre's "Police State" ("I throw a Molotov Cocktail at the precinct") and The Game's "911 Is a Joke" ("I ought to shoot 51 officers for the 51 times that boy was shot in New York"). Clearly, such music has had its effect.
Overall, the past decade has seen a decline in violent crime. In the case of homicide, murders were down 29.8 percent in Los Angeles, 14 percent in Atlanta, 10 percent in Boston. New York, in 2009, may have had the lowest number of murders since comprehensive record keeping began in 1963. A key reason for this decline are policies that put more brave and educated police officers on the street, with better technology and smarter tactics.
Violent criminal acts -- such as the recent murders in Maryland and Washington state -- could have been avoided if the career criminals who were the perpetrators had been serving their jail sentences. It is high time that repeat violent offenders be kept off the streets. Sentences should mean something. This is an important lesson we should have learned long ago.
There is a growing gap in our schools in the achievement rate of students of different races.
As a group, black students in the twelfth grade score lower on reading tests than eighth grade whites.The same is true in math, history, and geography. Overall, more than 40 percent of black high school seniors tested below the basic skill level in reading, according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Nearly 70 percent of black seniors scored below the basic level in math, and nearly 80 percent in science. That is a stark contrast to the 75 percent of whites scoring above the basic level in math and 63 percent of whites above basic level in the sciences.
This year, community groups in St. Louis, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon, issued reports decrying the racial gap in schools. After a recent state report on test scores in California schools, Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of instruction, said the gap is "the biggest civil rights issue of this generation" -- a popular phrase in educational circles.
In Alexandria, Virginia, a majority-minority school system, white students, who represent 25 percent of the total enrollment, are 58 percent of those labeled "gifted." Hispanics and African Americans, 25 and 40 percent of enrollment, respectively, account for about 10 and 20 percent of those in gifted classes. School Superintendent Morton Sherman is bringing attention to what he calls "equity issues." He is looking to expand minority enrollment in gifted programs. In 2006, Alexandria rolled out a nonverbal text to reach children who might encounter language barriers or other cultural biases. Governor Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia announced that the Virginia Education Department will examine the low enrollment of black and Hispanic students in gifted programs throughout the state.
All of this may miss the point of what is really going on. Patrick Welsh, who teaches English at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and writes on education for The Washington Point, declares that:
Focusing on a "racial achievement gap" is too simple: it's a gap in familial support and involvement too. Administrators focused solely on race are stigmatizing black students. At the same time, they are encouraging the easy excuse that the kids who are not excelling are victims, as well as the idea that once schools stop being racist and raise expectations, these low achievers will suddenly blossom.
Last year, Welsh reports:
Two of the finest and most dedicated teachers at my school -- one in science and one in math -- tried to move students who were failing in their classes into more appropriate prerequisite courses, because the kids had none of the background knowledge essential to mastering more advanced material. Both teachers were told by an administrator that the problem was not with the students but with their own low expectations.
Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides pre-school and other services for low-income families, says that:
The real problem is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap.
He says that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income, and class, things superintendents have little control over.
Even with the best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problems. They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close.
The fact is that only 37 percent of black children live with a mother and father in two-parent families. Yvette Jackson, the chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, makes clear that many low-performing students are not going to be helped by programs designed to end the racial gap in performance. She calls these children "school-dependent learners" and notes that:
These are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes.
To her the gap everyone is talking about is not a question "of black and white but of the difference between children's potential and their performance."
In a moment of exasperation, high school teacher Patrick Welsh asked this question of his virtually all-black class of twelfth graders who had performed very poorly on a test: "Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" One student who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- responded: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study." Another student challenged Welsh: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When he did, not one hand went up. "It hit me," he declares, "that these kids understood what I know too well. The lack of a father in their lives had undermined their education."
The racial gap is also to be found between black and white students from middle-class, often intact families. Black researcher John Ogbu was invited by black parents in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to help them understand why their children, black students in the school district's middle-class, integrated suburban schools still lagged behind white students on every measure of academic progress. Black students in Shaker Heights had a 1.9 grade point average as compared with 3.45 for white students.
Ogbu and a research team from the University of California at Berkeley spent nine months looking at test scores and interviewing parents, teachers, and students. One of Oghby's findings is that middle-class black parents spend less time than middle-class white parents in helping their children with homework and staying in touch with teachers. By his measure, middle-class black parents put as little effort into tracking their children's school work as did the poorest white parents. As a result, Ogbu found that from kindergarten to high school, black students put relatively little effort into their school work.
In response, the National Urban League put out a statement charging the professor with blaming "the victims of racism."
In fact, the reasons for the gap in achievement rates for black students are far more complex than "racism," and it is to these reasons that we should turn our attention. Dr. Ogbu said that:
What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents: they don't know how their parents made it. They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models. . . . The parents work two, three jobs to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children.
During World War II, Fascist Italy under Mussolini was allied with Nazi Germany. In Italy, Jews were persecuted first by Fascism and then by Nazism. Yet, next to Denmark, Italy had the highest survival rate for Jews in any Nazi-occupied country -- much less a country allied with Hitler. Eighty percent of Italian Jews survived the war -- as did thousands of foreign Jews who found refuge in Italy. The story of their survival is one that has been largely untold.
"Jews have been a part of Italian history and the history of Rome for over two thousand years," writes Ida Garibaldi in Issues. "Indeed, the first Jews arrived on the Italian peninsula in 586 B.C., and Jews have been living in Rome continuously since the Second Century B.C."
An important new book, It Happened in Italy (publisher Thomas Nelson), tells the story of how many Italians -- from all walks of life -- helped to save Jews. Author Elizabeth Bettina is an Italian-American who, as a child, visited her family's village of Campagna in southern Italy. After she met Holocaust survivors in New York who told her stories of surviving World War II in Campagna and surrounding villages, she began to study the story of the heroism of many Italians as they confronted the Nazi goal of elimination Europe's Jews.
In the early 1930s, Hitler was prepared to let Jews emigrate, but other countries were unwilling to receive them. Only Italy -- with Mussolini in power -- permitted German and Austrian Jews to enter the country without visas. They lived peacefully until, as a result of Italy's alliance with Germany, foreign Jews were to be interred.
Elizabeth Bettina tells the story of Giovanni Palatucci, "the Italian Schindler." An Italian police officer in the early 1940s, he actively defied orders to implement Hitler's Final Solution. For his heroism, Palatucci was killed at Dachau. In 2002, he was recognized for his efforts and was beatified -- a step before sainthood -- by the Vatican.
His role in Fiume was Questore, which can best be described as part police chief, part immigration officer, and part census officer. All foreign residents of Italy were required to register . . . and this give Palaucci access to their documents and personal information, including their religion. . . . Palatucci hid this list from the Nazis, because he knew that . . . it was a map that led directly to almost certain death for the Jews on the lists. He enabled people to leave Italy by supplying false documents, and if they couldn't leave Italy, Palatucci arranged to send them to an official Italian government internment camp in Campagna, the former Convent of San Bartolomeo, where his uncle Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, was the bishop. . . . Once the Nazis figured out what Giovanni Palatucci was doing, they sent him to Dachau, where on February 10, 1945, he died the death from which he saved thousands of Jews (some estimates are as high as 5,000). Just two months later, on April 29, 1945, Dachau was liberated.
In occupied Europe, approximately 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish population was executed. Yet in Italy, approximately 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish population survived.
Bettina interviewed many Jews who survived the war in Italy. One was Walter Wolff, arrested by the Germans and sent to Dachau on November 10, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. His brother Bruno was sent to Buchenwald. Their only crime was being Jewish.
Walter and Bruno found their way to Italy, and in June 1940 Walter was arrested in Genoa. His crime was being Jewish. Walter said more than 65 years later:
Now I was back in the same boat, except the Italian camps were nothing like the German camps. There was no forced labor in the Italian camps. We could do whatever we wanted during the day. . . . to pass time, we played cards, took walks around the little village, read books, or played soccer at a field just outside town. We even had our own orchestra and performed for the local residents.
It Happened in Italy is filled with such stories. An earlier book, The Assisi Underground: The Priest Who Rescued Jews by Alexander Ramati as told by Padre Rufini Niccacci, tells how 300 Jews were sheltered and protected by a peasant turned priest, Father Ruffino Niccacci. He dressed many of them as monks and nuns, taught them Catholic rituals, and hid them in monasteries. The town printing press, which during the day printed posters and greeting cards, at night clandestinely printed false documents for Jews all over Italy.
Addressing the nuns of a cloistered order, Father Niccacci said:
Once more we live in the Dark Ages. The men and women who have come to you today to seek refuge and protection are the lepers of the modern world. They are Jews who are being persecuted by the Germans and the Fascists, sent to concentration camps, then tortured and put to death. We are God's sons and daughters and we, brothers and sisters, have much more to answer for than ordinary people. We must take these lepers in our arms, offer them our protection, and hide them from our oppressors.
Father Nicccacci asked Cardinal della Costa, Archbishop of Florence, why Pope Pius XII had not made a statement condemning the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The Cardinal replied:
Instead of making meaningless declarations that would only antagonize the Germans, and perhaps even make them occupy the Vatican itself, he issued orders to save Jewish lives. The Pontiff could not issue an express order. But we received his message loud and clear. How would Pietro Boetto in Genoa, Niccolini in Assisi, I here, and so many other archbishops and bishops all over Italy, provide a sanctuary for the Jews, if we did not feel that this was what His Holiness would wish us to do? . . . In his own diocese . . . and don't forget the Pope is also Bishop of Rome -- over a hundred convents and over fifty churches and theological seminaries are hiding 4,000 Jews, half of the Jews of Rome.
The role of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican during World War II will continue to be a subject of debate. What cannot be debated, however, are the stories told by Elizabeth Bettina in her book. While some Italians acted badly, participating in the Nazi assault upon Jews, others acted well -- and bravely. It is from these that all of us can learn lessons for the future.
Recently, this writer participated in an event in Boston, "Italy and the Holocaust: the Calabria Connection," hosted by Robert Trifiletti, director of the Italian Center of New York City's Boston office.
This event included the performance of the play Margherita, by playwright Anthony E. Gallo (a classmate of mine at the College of William and Mary), about the relationship between Margherita Sarfatti, who was Jewish, and Benito Mussolini. In the play, the former lovers meet after a three-year separation in 1939, at a time when Italy's anti-Jewish "racial" laws were being implemented.
Following the play was a seminar about the fate of Jews in Italy in which this writer participated together with Dr. Maria Lombardo, a native of Calabria, Italy and former Education Director of the National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Lombardo is the author of an important book, A Camp Without Walls, about her father, Salvatore Lombardo, and the rest of her family's struggle to survive World War II. It is a remarkable story of a former Italian soldier, and tells of his imprisonment by the Nazis, together with 254 other Italians in a labor camp in Yugoslavia in subhuman conditions.
As we move further away from World War II, it is important to remember that in the face of evil, many brave men and women did the right thing, often sheltering Jews at risk of their own lives and those of their families. The Italian Center of New York City and its affiliate in Boston is doing important work in telling this story. *
"Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve." --Benjamin Franklin
During the Cold War, the U.S. faced an adversary that had the ability -- and the intent -- to destroy us. In response, we developed the most sophisticated and powerful military on earth. We engaged in proxy wars to thwart the ambitions of our adversary in Korea and Vietnam. We engaged in skirmishes in areas our adversary sought to control -- such as Grenada and Nicaragua. We challenged its efforts to establish a nuclear base in Cuba and established military bases around the world. We were instrumental in the creation of NATO.
In the end, the Soviet Union collapsed. We won the Cold War without firing a shot against our major adversary. During this period, we engaged in summit meetings, had an embassy in Moscow, as the Soviets did in Washington. Slowly, we saw the Berlin Wall come down, saw the emergence of democratic forces in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Our perseverance ended in victory and many looked forward to a "peace dividend." With the Soviet Union gone, and no potential enemy on the horizon that had the ability to do anything more than harass us, we entered a post-Cold War world with little debate about what our future role should be.
Sadly, there are those who could never give the Cold War up, who found it difficult to live without a looming enemy. Part of it was the "military-industrial-complex" about which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us. After the terrorist attack on September 11, a combination of neo-conservatives and establishment Republicans and Democrats found a new rationale for an almost Cold War-like U.S. posture. We went to war in Iraq on the false notion that it had weapons of mass destruction, and ties to al Qaeda. We went to war in Afghanistan, a legitimate effort to remove al Qaeda, which had attacked us. But, with al Qaeda gone from Afghanistan, we remain -- seeking a rational for our continuing role in that country.
What our role in the world should be at the present time -- and in the future -- is a subject about which all too little discussion and debate has been evident.
A contribution to such a discussion is the recently published book The Next Conservatism (St. Augustine's Press) by Paul M. Weyrich, founding president of the Heritage Foundation and in 1977 founder of the Free Congress Foundation, and his long time colleague William S. Lind. Weyrich died on December 18, 2008 and this book serves as his last political testament.
Weyrich and Lind write that:
Just as the next conservatism must confront the threat of ideology, it must also face up to another mortal danger to any republic, a quest for Empire. Driven with equal force by neo-liberals and neo-conservatives, our country has responded to the fall of Communism not as conservatives long expected, by a return to our traditional policy of avoiding foreign entanglements, but by plunging into foreign wars. Worse, we find ourselves caught up in, and losing, wars of a new type: what military theorists call Fourth Generation wars. While America now spends as much on defense as the rest of the world put together, much of what it buys is for yesterday's wars, wars between formal armies, navies, and air forces of states. Against the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation, most of our high-technology "systems" are proving to be expensive piles of junk.
Until recently, Weyrich and Lind point out, conservatives routinely warned against the danger from Leviathan, the all-powerful state. In recent years, particularly when Republicans were in power, the concern about government power has diminished. "The next conservatism," they write:
. . . needs to revive that warning, and make it stronger. Because of the so-called "war on terrorism" America may be on the verge of becoming a national security state, also known as a "garrison state." The Constitution and the liberties it protects will go out the window as citizens permit the state to do whatever it wants, so long as it justifies its actions in terms of "national security."
We have seen our liberties eroded by a series of steps entered into in the name of "national security" -- from wiretaps without judicial authorization to men and women being arrested without habeas corpus to individuals incarcerated for years without being brought to trial. Both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have largely acquiesced in these dramatic expansions of state power.
In the view of Weyrich and Lind:
Conservatives accept the fact that the state must defend us from terrorism and other acts of war. This has always been one of the state's duties. But the next conservatism does not want "permanent war for permanent peace," as George Orwell put it in 1984. We are not convinced that the best way to defend America from terrorism is by invading and occupying other countries. . . . The Founding Fathers warned us that we could either preserve our Republic and our domestic liberties or play the game of Great Power, but we could not do both. Playing the Great Power game requires a strong central government that can make decisions with little regard for the thoughts or desires of the average citizens. Such a government will run roughshod over our liberties, because it can. Preserving our liberties requires a weak federal government with limited powers, especially in the executive, and strong internal checks and balances. Such a government by its nature is poorly structured to try to run the world.
In 1951, the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, Robert A. Taft of Ohio, wrote a book entitled A Foreign Policy for Americans. He declared that:
There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the U.S. is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the world. . . . The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they really do not want to confine themselves to moral leadership. . . . In their hearts they want to force on these foreign peoples, through the use of American money, and even perhaps, American arms, the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and the force of its persuasion. I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war. . . . I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the U.S. except to defend the liberties of our people.
We are now engaged in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the very people who so enthusiastically took us to Iraq are now urging a preventive strike against Iran. With the Cold War over, we desperately need a serious examination of what America's proper role in the world should be. Paul Weyrich and William Lind have given us much food for thought in their book. One need not agree with all of their analysis to know that our current posture is inconsistent with our long-term best interests.
President Barack Obama has described the war in Afghanistan as a "war of necessity" rather than a "war of choice." This may have been true of our initial effort, but the conflict, as it has evolved, may now be something else. As we consider whether or not to send additional troops, it is appropriate that we have a serious consideration of exactly what our purpose is in Afghanistan -- and whether or not it is achievable at a reasonable cost in a time frame that makes sense.
Our original mission in Afghanistan was to destroy those who had attacked us on September 11, 2001 and deny them a future base of operations. Our goal was to kill as many members of al Qaeda as possible, particularly Osama bin Laden, and force the Taliban, which harbored al Qaeda in Afghanistan, from power.
Slowly, as we achieved the removal of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and the Taliban from power, our mission grew. We decided to "nation build," to try to create a new and stable democracy. As part of our new "counter-insurgency" plan we decided that we had to improve roads, power plants, and bridges, and schools as well as make people feel safer in their villages by stationing U.S. troops near these villages. We also sought to get Afghan farmers to stop growing opium poppies and grow pomegranates instead. Thus far, we have not resolved the basic problem: opium, the basic ingredient of heroin, is far more profitable than pomegranates.
Now, more Americans have been killed in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed on September 11. After eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in September that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, told him that "quite honestly, he found conditions on the ground tougher than he thought." If we do not send more troops, McChrystal says, we risk "an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars. NATO assistance is reluctant, and is being slowly withdrawn. Military historian Max Hastings says that Kabul controls only about a third of the country and The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for "restoration of the warlords, who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot. His vice president is a drug trafficker."
On August 28, The New York Times carried a front-page headline: "Karzai Uses Rift with U.S. to Gain Favor." The article said that U.S. officials were growing disenchanted with the Afghan president, whose supporters allegedly stuffed ballot boxes in the recent elections, while Karzai struck deals with accused drug dealers and warlords, one of whom is his brother, for political gain. The article notes that Karzai "has surprised some in the Obama administration," by turning their anger with him "to an advantage, portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States."
Thus, after eight years, we still do not have a reliable Afghan partner. The strategy that Gen. McChrystal is pursuing calls for additional troops to create something that does not now exist in Afghanistan -- and has never existed -- a reasonably non-corrupt state that will serve its people, and keep Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Military expert Andrew Cordesman, who has advised the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, says that it would require "a significant number" of U.S. reinforcements and time to do what the Kabul government has failed to do, because it remains:
. . . a grossly over-centralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
The fact is that we are not just talking about adding more troops to Afghanistan, we are transforming our mission. We are going from a limited mission in order to prevent an al Qaeda return to a state-building project.
In the meantime, al Qaeda has regrouped along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in other locations, such as Somalia and Yemen.
According to Bruce Riedel, a retired CIA officer called upon by the Obama administration to lead a two-month strategic review of the war, shortly after the inauguration, President Obama went to the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave a slide briefing. Instead of delineating a clear goal in Afghanistan, the briefing listed more than a dozen goals.
Mr. Riedel's review looked at an array of options, including an abandonment of counter-insurgency and a very narrow focus on al Qaeda. This "minimalist" view has been embraced by a divers group of thinkers, including Rory Stewart, the British diplomat and writer who runs a foundation in Kabul, conservative columnist George Will, and Lester Gelb, whose recent book Power Rules, argues for a reduced American commitment in Afghanistan and recommends, among other things, threatening air strikes in order to deter the Taliban from allowing al Qaeda back into the country.
In a much-discussed column, George Will wrote:
. . . the Obama administration should ask itself: "If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen, and other sovereignty vacuums?". . . Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan.
President Obama's target in pursuing the Afghan war was, or at least used to be, al Qaeda. But Osama bin Laden's terrorist group left Afghanistan after the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said:
My view is that the mission has to be very clear. I believe it is not now. I do not believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan. I believe it will remain a tribal entity.
As skepticism grows about our role in Afghanistan on the part of some Democrats, Republicans -- with the rare exception of individuals such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) -- seem to be lining up in support of additional troops. Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes that: "You'd certainly expect conservatives to be the leading skeptics of government's attempts at massive social transformation."
Liberals may have a temperamental affinity for nation-building, together with their neo-conservative allies. Historian and Vietnam veteran Walter McDougall calls Vietnam "the Great Society War" and believes that President Obama would do well to learn from the errors of that period, particularly the failed "pacification" program and the effort to "model" South Vietnamese society via the computer.
The original war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan was indeed "a war of necessity." What we can call our current effort, and the one projected for the future, is something far different.
On September 24, 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death in Chicago as he headed for a bus stop near Christian Fenger Academy High School where a melee broke out between feuding factions. In the beating, captured in a cellphone video, one teenager swung a plank, knocking Albert down. Others hit him as he struggled to get away. Four youths stand charged with murder.
We know of this case because of the video that captured the violence which is all too typical of Chicago, and other urban inner-city schools. More than 125 people 25 and younger have been killed in Chicago this year. Chicago Public School officials say that 298 students enrolled in the nation's third largest school system have been shot since September 2008.
Because of the attention the video produced, Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., joined by Education Secretary Arne Ducan, former head of the Chicago public schools, traveled to Chicago and met with public school students and elected officials.
Mr. Duncan defended is own actions in Chicago which, critics argue, led to his closing dozens of Chicago public schools and reassigning thousands of students to campuses outside of their neighborhoods -- and often across gang lines. This has led to a spike in violence that has turned increasingly deadly, according to many activists, parents, and students.
Before the 2006 school year, an average of 10 to 15 public school students were fatally shot each year. That soared to 24 deadly shootings in the 2006-07 school year, and 34 deaths and 290 shootings last school year.
At the Chicago meeting, Attorney General Holder declared that:
Youth violence is not a Chicago problem any more than it is a black problem, a white problem or a Hispanic problem. It is something that affects communities big and small and people of all races and colors. It is an American problem.
In fact, the situation is more complex. Almost all of the teenage victims in Chicago -- and almost all of the perpetrators -- were African-Americans. The same is true in other urban inner-city school districts. We ignore reality at a high price, for if we do not recognize the real problems we face, we are unlikely to resolve them.
The Washington Post, in its report about the Chicago violence, quotes Miesha Houston, 28, who grew up near the latest murder scene. She declared:
It's going to take a lot more than policies and police. It's poverty, drugs, rap music, the media. There are a lot of single-parent homes and parents on drugs, so kids don't want to be home. And when they go outside, there's trouble.
The dilemma of an enduring underclass in our urban areas has rarely been confronted. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004, 69.2 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. That contrasts with 24.5 percent for white children and approximately 45 percent for Hispanic children.
Within the larger black community, progress has been dramatic. Today, half of all black families are middle-class, earning at least twice as much as the poverty line. Only one percent of black families made that claim in 1940. Rates of college graduation have skyrocketed. In 1940, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks was 19 percent. In fact, at the start of the 20th century black people had higher marriage rates than whites.
Yet, while progress has been dramatic for the black middle class, for an underclass that largely lives in our inner cities, out-of-wedlock birth has become a way of life, as have involvement with drugs and lack of respect for education.
Only 50 percent of black students who enter the ninth grade later graduate with a high school diploma. A 2004 study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Urban Institute found that the black high school graduation rate was even lower than the 53 percent rate of Hispanic students, who are recent immigrants, and who face a language barrier. Within the 50 percent graduate rate for black students is an even lower graduation rate for black males. Only 43 percent of black males graduate from high school with a diploma.
In his book Enough, the respected black author and journalist Juan Williams notes:
Official graduation rates for blacks have not significantly changed since 1982. Something terrible has happened, and school officials have been hiding this festering rot behind flimsy claims that 84 percent of black students get some version of a high school certificate. The fact is that many of these high school degrees are worthless in a competitive global economy. According to federal data, the average black American twelfth grader scores worse on basic skills than 80 percent of white twelfth graders. This is a serious gap. It is a mortal threat to the race.
The gap between black and white students already exists when the children are entering kindergarten. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, half of black children starting kindergarten scored in the bottom quarter on general knowledge.
Juan Williams laments that:
Very few leading black voices in the pulpit or on the political stage are focused on having black people take personal responsibility for the exorbitant amount of crime committed by black people against other black people. Today's black leaders sing like a choir when they raise their voices against police brutality and the increasing number of black people in jail. . . . But any mention of black America's responsibility for committing the crimes, big and small, that lead so many to prison is barely mumbled or mentioned at all.
Charles H. Ramsey, former police chief in Washington, D.C., who is black, declared:
Behavior has to change. Responsibility for your own behavior has to change. We have people who just let T.V. and video games and music raise their kids and instill values . . . and then we wonder why we have a problem.
It is unfortunate that the accidental video of inner-city teenage violence is needed to focus attention on a continuing problem. It is ironic that when Attorney General Holder and Education Secretary Duncan travel to Chicago to address the situation, they tend to generalize the problem rather than focusing attention on the inner-city underclass, and the increasingly intractable problem that is largely ignored. Misdiagnosing a problem is the best way to see it perpetuated. That, it seems, is where we are at the present time. *
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson
Early in August, former Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA) was convicted of corruption charges in a case made famous by the $90,000 in bribe money stuffed into his freezer. Federal jurors found Jefferson guilty of using his congressional office as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself, soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support his business ventures in Africa.
In making his closing argument before the jury, defense attorney Robert Trout attempted to put all of Washington on trial. "We all occupy the gray area -- it's just a part of our human nature," he explained. "We're going to make mistakes. . . . We may do reckless things."
To illustrate his analogy, Trout displayed a graphic for the jurors. On one side of a yellow line, in red letters, was the word "CRIME." On the other side of the yellow line were the words "recklessness," "negligence," and "mistakes" -- and a headless man in jacket and tie raising his hands in a shrug.
"The point here is what members of Congress are expected to do in their jobs," said Trout. "If seeking political help was a crime, you could lock up half of metropolitan Washington, D.C."
Trout compared Jefferson's work to promote companies in which his family members had stakes to constituent casework, "something to be expected of our members of Congress." Trying to persuade foreign governments to do business with these companies, he said, was part "of a congressman's customary use of his office. It is clearly a matter of settled practice of congressmen to pitch products of American companies."
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who attended the trial, noted that:
It was a bit of a stretch to suggest that Jefferson -- caught on tape demanding financial payouts and caught on film taking $100,000 from an FBI informant -- was just doing what other lawmakers do.
While the Jefferson case is admittedly an extreme example of congressional corruption, his attorney's defense that, in effect, "everyone does it" is not as far-fetched as it may appear. Other members of Congress may not have $90,000 in their freezers, but too many are guilty of questionable activities -- making the very term "congressional ethics" something of an oxymoron.
Just as Jefferson's trial began, we learned of Senator John Ensign's (R-NV) affair with an aide and the subsequent payments to her family by his parents. The Senate Ethics Committee has been taking testimony on sweetheart mortgage deals given to Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND).
And consider the case of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He is now the subject of several ethics investigations over matters ranging from his occupying four apartments at below market rents in a Harlem building owned by a prominent real estate developer, and his admission that he had neglected to pay some taxes by failing to report $75,000 in rental income earned from a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic. In June, the House ethics committee launched a probe into trips taken by Rangel and other lawmakers to the Caribbean.
Discussing Rangel's support for raising taxes while hesitating to pay his own, The Wall Street Journal editorially declared:
Ever notice that those who endorse high taxes and those who actually pay them aren't the same people? Consider the curious case of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel who is leading the charge for a new 5.4 percentage point income tax surcharge and recently called it "the moral thing to do." About his own tax liability he seems less, well, fervent. . . . Mr. Rangel promised last fall to amend his tax returns, to pay what is due, and correct the information on his annual financial disclosure form. But the deadline for the 2008 filing was May 15, and as of last week (July 27) he still had not filed. His press spokesman declined to answer questions about anything related to his ethics problems.
It is difficult to catalogue all of the charges against Rangel. The National Legal and Policy Center, for example, says it has confirmed that Rangel owned a home in Washington from 1971-2000 and during that time claimed a "homestead" exemption that allowed him to save on his D.C. property taxes. However, the homestead exemption only applied to a principal residence, and the Washington home could not have qualified as such since Rangel's rent-stabilized apartments in New York gave the same requirement.
During the trial of William Jefferson, defense attorney Trout held the Louisiana congressman up as a better man than many of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. Jefferson "never offered or promised any earmark," he said, reminding jurors of former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and his "Bridge to Nowhere." Neither, he said, did Jefferson propose any legislation to aid his business interests. "That's how Jack Abramoff got himself into trouble -- they're not doing that," he said.
Whether the Congress is able to monitor its own ethical behavior is a question that is being asked more and more. Members of the House ethics committee who are investigating a pattern of lawmakers steering federal funds to generous defense contractors, for example, have just had their own pet military projects approved by the same committee whose activities they are probing.
The 10 committee members sponsored 29 earmarks -- $59 million in federal funding for projects they requested in their districts or states -- under a military spending bill that passed the House late in July. The bill was approved by the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, whose practice of steering earmarks to clients of a well-connected lobbying firm close to the chairman, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), is the subject of the ethics committee's investigation.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chairman of the ethics committee, would receive three earmarks under Murtha's bill. In June, Lofgren's committee announced it was investigating ties between members of Congress and PMA Group, a lobbying firm run by one of Murtha's close friends. Murtha and fellow committee members Peter Visclosky (D-IN) and James Moran (D-VA) have longtime ties to PMA and have orchestrated hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to PMA clients in recent years. The PMA group closed after an FBI raid last year and Visclosky's congressional records were subpoenaed in May by a grand jury investigating defense contracts.
Rep. Jefferson's $90,000 in the freezer may be a bit extreme -- and clearly illegal -- but "earmarks" in return for campaign contributions is simply a different form of bribery, although made legal by the very Congress which participates in the practice.
Congress appears unable to properly enforce any kind of realistic ethical standards. As long as members of Congress have power to influence virtually every aspect of our society, many special interests will continue to have a stake in purchasing favorable decisions. The money in Rep. Jefferson's freezer, in reality, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Free enterprise in under serious attack at the present time. Government bailouts of the auto industry, banks, Wall Street and other sectors of our economy -- as well as the push to involve the federal government further in our healthcare system -- provide ample evidence of this reality.
Many Americans, particularly Republicans who proclaim their belief in capitalism, think that big business -- and Wall Street -- are the primary engines of free enterprise and its natural defenders. This, however, is far from the reality we face.
In April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented its annual "Spirit of Enterprise" awards to those members of Congress who voted with the Chamber 70 percent of the time on its most important legislative initiatives of 2008. The Republican who scored lowest of all -- that is, the Republican lawmaker supposedly least aligned with the nation's business community -- was Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), well-known for his strict adherence to a free enterprise, libertarian philosophy. Other Republicans who did not receive the award were Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC).
What caused these Republican legislators to incur the displeasure of the Chamber of Commerce? They opposed the various federal bailout programs -- and the stimulus package.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) notes that:
In an era of corporate welfare -- which is lately taking on the characteristics of 1930s-style corporatism itself -- the interests of big business are veering away from the interests of economic freedom and toward the interests of big government. . . . For the past eight years, the Republican experiment in big government hollowed out our core identity. . . . Small-government conservatives were attacked by leading Republicans for choosing principle over poll-tested politics. It was in these battles that the . . . marriage between the Republican Party and corporate America was finally consummated.
In DeMint's view:
Even the most socialistic of big-government Democrats can credibly ask why Republicans are suddenly so worried about the dangers of big government. The road back to Republican success is not to reinforce our weakened coalition of corporate interests, but to drop it altogether. Republicans shouldn't be the party of business any more than they should be the party of labor -- we're supposed to be the party of freedom. We should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We should not care who wins in fair fights between Microsoft and Apple, between CitiGroup and community banks. . . . All we should demand is a fair fight. If Goliath beats David, so be it -- just as long as he does it without corporate welfare. . . . In a system of corporate welfare, those who suffer most are Americans who pay higher taxes funneled to well-connected companies.
Big Business is now lining up in support of the Obama administration's various bailout and stimulus programs. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt states that:
The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.
Discussing the administration's proposed health plan, Billy Tauzin, CEO of the Pharmaceutical research and Manufacturers of America, states: "This is a great start. There are things we don't like about it. But there's time to discuss all that." The Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reports:
Big business is lining up to support . . . Obama's plan to stimulate the economy with the biggest spending spree on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects since the Eisenhower administration.
Adam Smith once said that when two businessmen get together the subject of discussion is how to keep the third businessman out of the market. Business has long sought government interference in the free market to protect its own interests. Historian Gabriel Kolko discusses how the railroad magnates of the 1870s and 1880s petitioned the government to protect them from the headaches of "cutthroat competition" and relentless rate wars. It was the railroad lobby that promoted the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which they quickly came to control. In 1907, AT&T faced serious competition from other phone companies. To solve this dilemma, AT&T President Theodore Vail lobbied state governments -- and the federal government -- to let AT&T become a nationwide monopoly.
Big Business, it seems, has always resisted competition and sought to use the power of government to prevent it. In 1909 Andrew Carnegie, irritated with competitors, urged "government control" of the steel industry. In 1911, the chairman of U.S. Steel, Judge Elbert Gary, told Congress: "I believe we must come to enforced publicity (socialization) and government control . . . even as to price." Adam Smith said that:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Then, it was railroads, the steel companies, and AT&T. Now it is Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, AIG, and General Motors. Timothy Carney, in his book The Big Ripoff, recently discussed the ways in which the Obama administration's cap-and-trade plan will enrich General Electric. "Reviewing their lobbying filings, you might think you were looking at Al Gore's agenda," writes Carney. GE spent nearly $20 billion on lobbying on such action items as the "Climate Stewardship Act," "Electric Utility Cap and Trade Act," and the "Global Warming Reduction Act." The reason: GE has set up a business to sell carbon credits.
In his book Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman points out that:
The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.
Now, however, there are many in business and finance who do not want to separate economic and political power but join them together. And both Republicans and Democrats have been eager to assist them in this enterprise. This is nothing new, as even a brief reading of history illustrates very well. It has been naive to believe that business was an advocate of a genuinely free market. Milton Friedman would not be happy with today's developments -- but neither would he be surprised.
There was widespread hope that the election of an African-American president, that indicated that the vast majority of Americans were prepared to judge a candidate on his merits rather than on race, would usher in what many referred to as a "post-racial" society.
In recent days, however, we have seen the issue of race injected into a debate in which it is largely irrelevant, namely the debate over President Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.
Former President Jimmy Carter declared racism to be the subtext of many of the attacks against the president's healthcare plan, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to race as a driving force behind the current level of animosity.
Mr. Carter declared that, "An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."
The fact that some Americans may still harbor racist sentiments is certainly true. And, in some rare instances, racist signs and slogans have appeared at rallies opposing the Obama healthcare plan. There is no evidence, however, that the healthcare debate is, in any way, motivated by race. There are real disagreements about how best to alter the healthcare delivery system. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, should be able to disagree -- even with the use of sometimes heated-rhetoric -- without being accused of racism.
Indeed, President Obama himself says that he does not believe his race was the cause of fierce criticism aimed at his administration in the contentious national debate over healthcare, but rather the cause was a sense of suspicion and distrust many Americans have in their government. "Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Mr. Obama said.
That's not the overriding issue here. . . . Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that that's probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.
For some black politicians, playing the race card has become second nature. Consider New York Governor David A. Patterson. Late in August, he lashed out at critics who say he should not run for re-election and suggested that he was being undermined by an orchestrated, racially-biased effort by the media to force him to step aside.
With Governor Patterson's approval ratings remaining low, some Democrats, including President Obama, have suggested publicly that he should make way for the popular attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, in the governor's race. Even among black voters, his support is declining. A Sienna College poll showed that black voters, by a 46 to 38 percent margin, would prefer someone other than Mr. Patterson as governor.
David Dinkins, New York City's first black mayor, offered some blunt advice to Governor Patterson: Don't accuse your critics of racism. "Definitely, he should get off the racist thing," Mr. Dinkins said.
While political charges of white racism appear to be aimed at phantoms, a real example of black racism in American politics has been largely ignored.
In Memphis, former Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black, is challenging Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who is white, in the Democratic primary. The candidates are battling to represent the Ninth Congressional District, a low-income area that is more than 60 percent black. The district was redrawn and renumbered in 1973, increasing the percentage of minority voters, and for three decades it elected the state's only black members of Congress since Reconstruction.
In 2006, however, Mr. Cohen, who had long represented the district in the Tennessee State Senate, defeated a divided field of black candidates. He easily won re-election last year against a black corporate lawyer.
Mr. Cohen is a liberal Democrat who considered joining the congressional Black Caucus, wrote a national apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws, and received an "A" rating from the NAACP. "I vote like a 45-year-old black woman," he said in an interview.
Mr. Herenton and Rep. Cohen do not disagree upon any major political issues. Indeed, Mr. Herenton's only complain against Rep. Cohen is a racial one: he is white. "This seat was set aside for people who look like me," said Mr. Herenton's campaign manager, Sidney Chism, a black country commissioner. "It was set aside so that blacks could have representation."
In the last election, his opponent ran a much-vilified advertisement that tried to link Rep. Cohen, who is Jewish, to the Ku Klux Klan. It juxtaposed Cohen with an image of a hooded Klansman.
In a radio interview, Herenton declared: "The congressional race, you know what it's going to be about? It's going to be about race, representation and power."
By Mr. Herenton's standard -- that black constituents can only be represented by a black congressman -- how would he justify president Obama, or Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, or New York Governor David Patterson -- black leaders who have largely white constituencies?
Racism should be objectionable to all Americans of good will no matter who expresses such sentiments. But for many years a view has been expressed that only whites can be guilty of racism. Twenty years ago, Rep. Gus Savage (D-IL) declared that:
Racism constitutes actions or thoughts of expression by white Americans against Afro-Americans. . . . Racism is an attempt by powerful people to oppress less powerful people. . . . Blacks don't have the power to oppress white people. Racism is white. There is no black racism.
Racism is hardly a unique phenomenon among whites. Sadly, men and women throughout the world have persecuted others on the basis of race, religion, and ethnic origin. The partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947 was accomplished by a slaughter of more than one million Hindus and Moslems. In Malaysia, the political and economic power of ethnic Chinese has been curbed by law and practice. In Thailand, second generation and even third generation ethnic Vietnamese are denied citizenship rights. Idi Amin of Uganda expelled his country's entire Indian minority. We are all too aware of acts of genocide based on race or religion in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda.
Those who condemn white racism must also condemn black racism -- and racism of every variety. The use of the term "white racism" as an epithet for those who simply disagree with President Obama's agenda cheapens that term. It is like the boy's false cry of "Wolf," which, when a real wolf appears, will be discounted. Americans of all races deserve better than this. *
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth -- and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts." --Patrick Henry