The Locker Room

April 12, 2010

Supreme Hillary a no-go

Posted by David N. Bass at 2:56 PM

Politico has shot down the rumor that Obama administration insiders are floating the idea of Hillary Clinton as a replacement for John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. The scuttlebutt started when Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch praised Hillary on The Today Show and said she’s a possibility for the high court. The White House is now denying that Hill’s name is on the short list.

And no wonder. Trying to push a Clinton nominee through the Senate vetting process — even though Dems enjoy comfortable majorities on the Judiciary Committee and in the Senate proper — would entail a gory fight. The fact that Hillary has a such a long (and sordid) political track record makes her nomination all but prohibitive. After the health-care overhaul fight, Obama doesn’t want a drawn-out confirmation process, particularly leading into the midterms. Look for a less political, though no less radical, nominee.

Still, it would have been fun to see her demeanor from the bench, given her quintessential short fuse.

Cross-posted on AmSpecBlog.

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Don't knock the profit motive in addressing environmental issues

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 2:36 PM

We all know that greedy businessmen think only of profits, throwing all environmental concerns aside. Environmental improvements since at least the 1960s are due primarily to the work of government regulation.

If you believe the previous paragraph, please take the time to review Pierre Desrochers' presentation today to the John Locke Foundation's Shaftesbury Society. Desrochers, associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto, offers almost the exact opposite argument. Desrochers says the profit motive forces businesses to find ways to do their work more efficiently and with less harmful environmental impact.

In the video clip below, Desrochers explains why businesses want to reduce waste:

3:05 p.m. update: Watch the entire 49:35 presentation by clicking play below.

You'll find other John Locke Foundation video presentations here.

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Busting the myths about FDR and the Depression

Posted by George Leef at 11:38 AM

Hillsdale College history professor Burt Folsom (along with his wife, Anita) have an excellent article in today's Wall Street Journal, taking issue with the myth that FDR succeeded in ending the Great Depression. The New Deal, a witch's brew of federal activism made things worse. The Folsoms don't go into detail on that point, although Burt's recent book New Deal or Raw Deal? does. The key point is that federal programs obstructed the natural tendency of actors in the market to put resources to their best uses. Instead, FDR's policies kept down business investment while diverting resources to political grandstanding.

What about World War II? It's often said that the war jolted the nation of the Depression, but all it really did was to take people's minds off it. Of course unemployment went down, but the standard of living for most Americans, in and out of the military, went down. Fortunately, Congress said "no" when President Truman tried to put into effect the kind of heavy socialism that FDR thought would be necessary to deal with the post-war economy. Prosperity began to return after Congress repealed many war-time government measures, especially price control, that got in the way of economic efficiency.

FDR's lofty (and completely undeserved) reputation should take a beating when people realize that if he had gotten his way, the American economy would have been shackled with much the same sort of socialism as the British economy was following the Labour Party victory in 1945.

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Truth in Literature

Posted by Amanda Vuke at 09:59 AM

When most people read, one of the last thing they expect is to find commentary on the nature of the federal government. Thus, it was with great surprise that I read the following paragraph in "The Common House," the introductory piece to The Scarlet Letter.

Over the entrance [of Salem's Custom House] hovers an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her breast, and, if I recall aright, a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive community; and especially to warn all citizens, careful of their safety, against intruding on the premises which she overshadows with her wings. Nevertheless, vixenly she looks, many people are seeking, at this very moment, to shelter themselves under the wing of the federal eagle; imagining, I presume, that her bosom has all the softness and snugness of an eiderdown pillow. But she has no great tenderness, even in her best of moods, and, sooner or later ... is apt to fling off her nestling, with a scratch of her claw, a dab of her beak, or a rankling wound from her barbed arrows.

This was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne over one hundred years ago, and we'd probably be doing well to bear this truth in mind today.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (New York: Pocket Books, Inc., NKD), 3, emphasis mine.)

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Grassy knolls and the Wake County Schools

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 07:51 AM

The News & Observer pulled out all of the stops in today's article, "Role of public schools questioned" by Thomas Goldsmith and Keung Hui.

The name "Luddy," as in businessman Bob Luddy, is used 11 times in a 1,032 word article! Anyway, if Mr. Luddy wanted to draw families to his private schools, he would have supported the forced busing status quo.

Indeed, Mr. Luddy would have sought to increase parental dissatisfaction, rather than help to elect a school board majority focused on increasing it by implementing neighborhood schools, modifying year-round calendars, and giving parents more choices.

The notion that the school board can create its own voucher program to send kids to private schools is nonsense. A board created program would not hold up under the uniformity clause of the NC Constitution (Article IX, Section 2). Moreover, voucher-type programs created by school boards in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maine have been struck down courts in those states. There is no reason to expect a different outcome in North Carolina, a state that had much more centralized control of public schools than states in the North do.

So, the theory that there is some scheme afoot is nothing more than paranoia, propaganda, or a little of both.

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An interesting note on education research

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:55 AM

Among the more interesting items in a new TIME feature on education reforms involving cash incentives is the following aside:

But all this time, there has been only one real question, particularly in America's lowest-performing schools: Does it work?

To find out, a Harvard economist named Roland Fryer Jr. did something education researchers almost never do: he ran a randomized experiment in hundreds of classrooms in multiple cities. [Emphasis added.]

Imagine that: testing an education theory. What a concept. Terry Stoops explains below that backers of Wake County schools’ recently scrapped forced busing policy seem not to have thought of that idea.

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The important role of prices

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:53 AM

It’s nice to be able to write something positive about TIME’s “Curious Capitalist” column. Perhaps the replacement of Justin Fox with Barbara Kiviat plays a role in my about-face.

Kiviat displays an awareness of the valuable role prices play in health care, as in most transactions:

Congress has overhauled the industry, but the revolution has largely been about increasing access to health care, not simplifying it. We are left with the same opaque system of perverse incentives--paying providers for more tests and procedures, not necessarily effective ones. And we lack even the most basic element of the free market: price information. I recently went to a doctor and asked how much my office visit and X-ray would cost. Staffers told me that they didn't know and, since I have insurance, I shouldn't care.

I should care, though. In fact, I do. There are many reasons health care costs are spiraling out of control, but the simplest one to understand is this: nobody knows what anything costs. Providers get paid through a tangle of insurance-company agreements and billing schedules that change from patient to patient. No wonder a hospital can sneak a $100 box of Kleenex onto your bill and the price of an MRI can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you don't know what something costs, you can't know if it costs too much.

How should we address the challenges Kiviat describes? By increasing government involvement in the health-care sector? No. The answer lies in consumer-driven health care, as Joe Coletti discusses below.

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Blaming the market again

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:52 AM

The latest Business Week also includes more market bashing, this time in the form of a book excerpt from Roger Lowenstein’s The End of Wall Street:

The Fed greatly abetted speculation in mortgages by keeping interest rates too low. Meanwhile, the willingness of government to abide teaser mortgages, "liar loans," and home mortgages with zero down payments, amounted to a staggering case of regulatory neglect.

The government's backstopping of Fannie and Freddie, along with the federal agenda of promoting homeownership, was yet another cause of the bust. Yet for all of Washington's miscues, the direct agents of the bubble were private ones. It was the market that financed unsound mortgages and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that spread their contagion globally; the Fed permitted, but the market acted. The banks that failed were private; the investors who financed them were doing the glorious work of Adam Smith.

In addition to reading Thomas Woods’ Meltdown, a perusal of Thomas Sowell’s book on the housing boom and bust should help disabuse you of the notion that the market — left on its own — would have created the problems toward which government steered us:

The current economic crisis itself grew out of politicians intervening in businesses and markets, making decisions for which they have neither experience nor expertise, much less a stake. To extend the same principle to other sectors of the economy is to invite a wider disaster, rather than an end to the current crisis. Asserting a right to do is completely beside the point — which is whether the country will be better off or worse off if politicians continue the pattern of interventions that brought on the current economic problems in the first place.

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Why an improving economy means bad news (if your goal is bigger government)

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:51 AM

Any incumbent politician dependent on voter support wants a strong economy. It’s helpful for re-election.

But as Peter Coy suggests in the new Business Week, economic improvement has its drawbacks for those who want fundamental change of the American economy:

Obama's team knows that the employment growth in March (a quarter of which was driven by the hiring of federal Census workers) actually makes its mission over the next year or two more difficult.

Here's why: The positive jobs report reduces the political urgency for fixing the U.S. economy. If voters and lawmakers decide the economy is healing on its own, it becomes harder to justify more infrastructure spending, aid to stressed states, extended unemployment insurance, and the like.

The quotation brings to mind Thomas Woods’ recent admonition about the dangers of a government driven continually to “do something” about our economic woes.

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Treating enemies as enemies

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:50 AM

Andrew McCarthy’s recent contribution to Hillsdale College’s Imprimis publication takes aim at the Obama administration’s efforts to treat terrorists as criminal defendants rather than war-time enemies:

The Framers of the Constitution understood that the rights we cherish would be little more than parchment promises unless we could defend ourselves and defeat our enemies. Moreover, they understood that—given human nature—we would always have enemies. Unlike opponents of the war against Islamist terror today, they did not believe that we would be able to define our enemies out of existence by not uttering their names—or rationalize them out of existence by insisting that their hostility is somehow our own fault. Nor did the Framers believe that we would be able to indict our enemies into submission in our civilian courts. They believed that we would have to defeat them, which means being able to enforce the protocols necessary to wage war successfully.

These protocols are the laws of war, and they are older than the U.S. itself. They include requiring combatants to wear uniforms, to carry their weapons openly, to be part of a regular armed force, and, most importantly, to refrain from intentionally targeting civilians. They also define wartime powers and privileges. Enemy combatants, for example, may be captured and detained until the conclusion of hostilities. Fighters who adhere to the laws of war are entitled to various protections upon capture. By contrast, fighters who flout the laws of war—such as non-uniformed terrorists who target civilians—are unlawful combatants and may be prosecuted by a military commission for war crimes.

This is not a judicial system, and it is not intended to be. But it is every bit a legal system. And throughout our history—at least until recently—this has been well understood. Since 9/11, however, anti-war lawyers have challenged the idea of a separate legal status for unlawful combatants. Here they are up against not only common sense but history.

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:39 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features David Bass' report on the N.C. House District 41 race. 

John Hood's Daily Journal explains that Tea Party activists are correct when they believe their taxes are too high for the government services they get.

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Latest dispatches from the campaign trail

Posted by David N. Bass at 06:30 AM

  • In Dems' U.S. Senate primary, Cal Cunningham wins union endorsement despite stance.

  • Civitas poll: Voters think all politicians are corrupt, regardless of party.

  • State employees union trying to field third party candidates to take on Dems who voted against health care reform.

  • The Davidson County Dispatch profiles the House-81 Republican primary.

  • Congressman Howard Coble and his primary opponents address voters in Rowan County.

  • The N&O reports on House-34 Republican candidate’s financial snafus.

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