Skip to content

A Stand Athwart Update

August 23, 2011

Dearest Readers (Mom, Dad, old people confused about search engines…) –

Stand Athwart will be going on a brief hiatus. With the summer drawing to a close, I simply won’t have much time to freelance write once at school. But, have no fear! I’ll be writing regularly for Ricochet’s CollegeFeed as well as I encourage you strongly to check out both (especially LTO – newly launched!).

Thanks so much for reading.


Reflections on the Revolution in Libya

August 17, 2011

Having finally read Reflections on the Revolution in France this summer, coupled with consistently seeing stories of a prolonged and ill-defined war in Libya, got me thinking – perhaps the former can provide some guidance to the latter. Thucydides told us history repeats itself, right?

To start, this isn’t to say that there is a direct historical parallel between France’s revolution, inspired and founded on the abstract goals of the enlightenment, and that of today’s Libya.

But, the larger purpose of Burke’s treatise was an expose on human nature – a work to shepherd future generations, with principle and prejudice, through unknown tribulations. In this regard, Burke is quite apposite.

To Burke’s dismay, supporters of the French Revolution held liberty as a justifiable end in itself – boundaries to freedom were a secondary concern. It seems that a similar rationale has compelled the Obama administration: “For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant – Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, and murdered opponents at home and abroad.”

Surely there was a humanitarian crisis in Libya. People were on the verge of being slaughtered and the western world understood the moral qualms of standing idly by. But, the war’s supporters blurred, if not ignored, the line between safety and freedom. Burke showed they were two different, independent concepts: “But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.”

The aspirations of immediate liberty that have motivated the United States and NATO’s diplomatic recognition of the Benghazi-based government are the very sentiments Burke fought against. It’s not that these are not ultimately valuable ends, but we are employing dangerous and self-destructive means. Burke continually asked the question that exposes the shortsighted thinking of this brand of brash change – what comes next?

Burke was not an a priori opponent to change. He understood that a society must alter its patterns in order to preserve itself. However, it was vital to assess by what medium such evolution took place. Looking back on England’s own history of political change, Burke underscored the necessity of restraint and conditioning in societal change: “At both those periods [the Restoration and Revolution] … They acted by the ancient organized states in the shape of their old organization, and not by the organic moleculae of a disbanded people.”

However, within such rapid and sudden opportunity for self-determination, these parameters don’t exist – the Libyan identity does not possess the social norms for its own preservation. From the land’s time under the Ottoman Empire (beginning in 1551) to today, the Libyans have not had any democratic characteristics in their system of governance.

Libya will be without the pillars that cultivate a lasting attachment, as Burke noted, between the people and the state: “We procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on account of their age; on account of those from they are descended.”

Libya’s new social institutions will be abstract, ungrounded and perilously novel (not to mention be organized by dubious characters). Whatever emerges from their leadership will be a construct susceptible to manipulation and divergent interest, for the reasons Burke explains discussing ephemeral loyalty of a people with a lost connection to tradition: “Their attachment to their country itself, is only so far as it agrees with some of their fleeting projects; it begins and ends with that scheme of polity which falls in with their momentary opinion.”

If the transitory period of progress is not allowed and guided by the West, Libya will fall victim to the radical potentials of the human conscience. We are a war-weary nation. But we have accepted a newfound responsibility. It will require time. But, we must now heed the cautious advice of Burke and remember: “Our patience will achieve more than our force.”

“Reflections on the Revolution in Libya” – Ricochet

Perry and the HPV Vaccine

August 15, 2011

At this week’s Iowa debate Brett Baier asked the Republican field a playful, yet crucially important question: “Is Rick Perry outsmarting you all?” The candidates chuckled, but these feigned smiles and tongue-in-cheek quips covered up a clear genuine concern – Rick Perry may quickly grab hold and control the Republican primaries.

Perry already had a powerful impact before even entering the race. He polled consistently in second place only a few points behind front-runner Mitt Romney. He was readily embraced by conservative media personalities and intellectuals. He was seen as the conservative that a disaffected and uninspired base has been waiting for.

Perry is seen as the sole potential unifier – the perfect candidate to bring these three key groups of the Republican base together: social conservatives, conventional Republicans, and fiscal conservatives/libertarians. Romney, Bachmann, and others all have troubles with one or more of these groups.

But the Perry honeymoon will pass as he is subjected to the vetting processes of an actual candidate. Although proven conservative and tested leader, there still lies a legislative skeleton in his closet that may potentially serve as a divisive wedge between those three very factions – a mandated HPV vaccine.

On February 2nd, 2007, Perry signed an executive order requiring all Texas girls to receive an HPV vaccine (Gardasil) in hopes of preventing a strain of the virus that can cause cervical cancer. Perry wrote, explaining his decision: “Some are focused on the cause of this cancer, but I remain focused on the cure… This is a rare opportunity to act, and as a pro-life governor, I will always take the side of protecting life.” Nevertheless, Perry’s order sparked the ire of many Texans.

Libertarian-minded individuals and small-government conservatives lambasted the Governor’s intrusion into a private healthcare matter. They saw an over-expansive state power, making decisions that should be done by parents in a government-free medical marketplace. Perry’s decision for the state to fund the shots also drew concern, due to their high per-shot cost. Moreover, Perry signed an executive order despite strong opposition by the state legislature, which was seen as a disturbing executive power grab.

Social conservatives painted Perry’s decision as a pragmatic surrender to immoral cultural trends. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and the vaccine was seen as implicitly condoning teenage, pre-marital sex. Even Democrats joined social conservatives in critiquing the grounding for this decision: “Now, imagine a governor who wanted to take a needle, fill it with a controversial drug for sexually-transmitted diseases, and inject it in every 11 and 12-year-old girl in Texas.” (A statewide Democratic TV spot).

Perry tried to defend his decision, citing the opt-out clause in the mandate and the faulty-logic behind the sex-incentive concern (“If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it, claiming it would encourage smoking?”). But, he was thoroughly defeated. The Texas legislature quickly passed a bill that overturned Perry’s order by a veto-proof majority (Perry wouldn’t have vetoed it though, anyway).

This is far from a parallel of the Romneycare albatross for the Perry campaign. He undoubtedly, and for good reason, still possesses the credentials to win the GOP nomination. Perry still maintains a strong relationship with social conservatives and has an economic record with job creation that no other candidate comes close to.

However, conservatives should certainly worry about the impact this could have on the general election – not on the base, but more importantly on the framework of the national debate. Due to the debt crisis and Tea Party movement, conservatives have positioned the national discourse in their favor: what must be cut from government? This must be the underlying question to the 2012 election.

But, as the Obama re-election team seeks to combat this advantage, the HPV vaccine provides an unfortunate opportunity. Under the guise of center-left moderation, Obama can fundamentally turn the tide: “Hey, we know government needs to slim down. But let’s be clear here and remember that there are a lot of good, necessary things it can do. Right, Rick?” Republicans must be cognizant of this danger and prepare for it in the primaries.

Rick Perry’s squabbles with Texas Republicans will be re-aired on the national stage. But in the face of these controversies, conservatives ought to weigh his principles over certain particulars. Force Perry to explain himself, but don’t linger on this single issue. An image lasts a long time, and he very well might have a general election to win.

“Perry’s Vaccine Problem” – RedState

Getting a Beer in Iowa

August 12, 2011

As the Ames Straw Poll approaches, GOP presidential hopefuls are rolling up the sleeves of their brand new flannel shirts and scrambling to be “the guy you want to have a beer with.” But thanks to outdated regulations and onerous taxes, it’s tougher to get a beer in Iowa than you might think—no matter whom you’re drinking with.

Some of Iowa’s regulations are entertainingly anachronistic. Bartenders are prohibited from pouring water down the drain while serving an officer of the law. Don’t try asking your local bartender to put something on a tab—those are illegal, too. And if a tavern keeper is exhausted after a long day of following archaic laws? Well, he can’t open up a cold one; it’s unlawful for an owner to drink in his own establishment after closing. Candidates traveling with their families should be particularly careful in Ames—it’s against the law to have three sips of beer while in bed with your wife.

But some policies aren’t nearly as funny. Until last year, Iowa imposed a limit of 6 percent alcohol by volume on beer production, drastically circumscribing local breweries’ ability to compete in the growing craft beer market. The limit has been lifted to 15 percent, but Iowa remains in the minority of states that have a limit at all.

Small scale craft breweries are on the rise nationally as beer drinkers grow weary of big label beers. Many of these craft brewers have settled in Iowa for its excellent water sources. But even with the new rules on alcohol content, Iowa is unlikely to become a beer mecca. The Tax Foundation ranks the state’s business tax climate 45th. A combination of high local and federal taxes—including tariffs on everything from the hops to barrels—makes taxes the single most expensive component in beer, according to a Standard & Poor’s study. All in all, taxes constitute 44 percent of a beer’s average retail price, a larger share than ingredients and labor combined.

Iowa is one of 19 states that retain a monopoly on distribution of alcoholic beverages within their borders, which means anyone who wants to drink or serve booze becomes a cog in a massive regulatory apparatus. (Iowa does have privatized retail operations, though.)

In addition to the regulatory environment, Iowa places a very heavy tax burden on its sellers of alcoholic beverages. Iowa not only places large excise taxes on wine (3rd highest in the nation) and beer (the highest in region, with the exception of two states). It marks up all distilled spirits by 50 percent.

Tonight, as Republican hopefuls crack open cold ones and toast to their future ambitions, they should count themselves lucky. By this time on Sunday, most of them will have hightailed it to other early primary states with booze-friendlier laws where the beer is cheaper, more plentiful, and easier to come by.

“Getting a Beer in Iowa is Tougher Than You Think” – Reason

Leave the Postal Service Alone! Right?

August 10, 2011

This morning I was watching Morning Joe and this advertisement from the American Postal Workers Union popped up:

(Click Here)

Amid attempts by Congress to cut the Postal Service (including closing up to 3,700 post offices) the APWU has waged a campaign to frantically preserve the status quo, adhering to the old motto: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… And if it’s terribly bankrupt and broken? Well, that sounds like Wall Street fat cat talk to me!”

The ad claims that the USPS costs taxpayers “not a single cent.” Instead, the service is “funded solely by the sale of stamps and postage.”

To start, this is a very, very loose understanding of the word “funded.” The USPS lost $8.5 billion last year and has billions more in unfunded pensions. That’s a lot of Homer Simpson stamps to get back in the black.

What the APWU doesn’t mention is that the USPS survives on cheap, government loans that it fails to pay back. The Treasury has given almost $13 billion to the Postal Service at virtually no interest. The political spin is simple: we aren’t spending money on the Postal Service… it’s an investment!

And why is the Postal Service so broke? Coupled with poor management and a rise in better, cheaper private services, the Postal Service pays its union workers 15-20% higher than the average private sector worker (along with huge pensions).

The APWU campaign is a call for a continued policy of zero-cost debt. We’ve seen this story before – this is the same “fuzzy math” bookkeeping that has culminated in our current fiscal calamity.

All in all, the Postal Service is another powerful testament to government inefficiency and incompetence. Only to be rivaled by the video-producers staffed by the APWU.

 “Leave the Postal Service Alone! Right?” – Ricochet

Mitt Romney: Job Creator?

August 1, 2011

Democratic talkers are already testing a line of attack on Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.

Romney, they say, was not much of a job creator as governor of Massachusetts. In fact, during the Romney years 2003-2007, Massachusetts ranked 47th of the 50 states new jobs created. While the Massachusetts unemployment rate did decline during Romney’s tenure, that decline was more due (according to Northeastern University) to a consistent out-migration of working-age residents. Massachusetts’ manufacturing employment declined by more than fourteen-percent, the third worst in the nation. The Boston Globe scathingly summarized the Romney record: “On all key labor market measures, the state not only lagged behind the country as a whole, but often ranked at or near the bottom of the state distribution.”

A tough verdict. But not a fair verdict. As governor, Romney had some clear economic successes: he closed a $2 billion budget shortfall in his first year, he cut government spending, housing prices led the nation and he cut large amounts of red tape from Massachusetts’ laws.

As for the poor job record, Romney has an arguably justifiable explanation. Romney inherited a very tough economy critically damaged by the collapse of its the once-vibrant technology sector.

Massachusetts depends crucially on technology industries, which are the second largest sector in the state. The cycles in the industry drive the cycles in the state economy. When the PC replaced the minicomputer in the late 1980s, the Massachusetts economy dipped into recession.  The downturn Romney inherited stemmed from the dotcom bust. The current (relative) upswing in Massachusetts is widely attributed to a pickup in biotechnological industries.

Romney is correct to point out one central point about his record: “The governor before me lost jobs; the governor after me has lost jobs; we actually created jobs.” When Romney took office, Massachusetts had the highest job-loss rate in the nation. During his four years, he was able to at least steer the ship in the right direction. But he did so incredibly slowly.

To better understand Romney’s pace of job creation, I talked to Michael J. Widmer, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. Widmer emphasized first that before evaluating the record of any governor, one ought to understand that, particularly in the short-term, he possesses little actual ability to influence the economy.

But, since Romney is campaigning on a platform of job creation, it’s important to examine his claims. Widmer saw Romney’s record as generally “poor”. The Taxpayer Foundation corroborated other reports stating Massachusetts was 47th in jobcreation – a pace Widmer calls “anemic.”

Moreover, Widmer was “most critical” on the point that Romney had “no blueprint” to deal with the business climate of Massachusetts. Widmer agrees that the state, through high costs, a large regulatory environment, and a negative political culture, has a somewhat hostile environment for business. Although Romney campaigned on fixing this, Widmer argues that Romney didn’t really address it. Granted, this was a very hard promise to keep – it would “take superman” to do it in one term – but Widmer holds this cannot be an accomplishment Romney touts.

There is some silver lining – for example, Romney’s Secretary of Economic Development Ranch Kimball, spearheaded efforts to help expand and keep internal commerce in Massachusetts (rather than hoping to bring business in – a big stumbling block in the state) that had “incremental successes.”

All in all, Widmer portrayed the Romney record as unsatisfactory. Simply put, when asked if Romney at least set the groundwork for policies to later bear fruit, he responded: “Not really.”

These are the concerns Governor Romney will need to address. Although Massachusetts did restart growing and employing people while he was governor, Romney needs to answer two vital questions: 1) Did it happen at an acceptable pace, and 2) Could he have done anything else?

“Mitt Romney: Job Creator?” – FrumForum

Another Aspect to the Bachmann Candidacy

July 27, 2011

Though we’re only partway through primary season, it is already clear that Michele Bachmann’s campaign will leave a lasting impact on future candidates – from how her Tea Party message fares, to reinvigorating conservative women on a national platform.

But there’s another facet to Bachmann’s place in history that is removed from the content of her message or identity. She’s a member of the House of Representatives… and that’s it. This isn’t to say that she’s not qualified. Rather, this is an important historical moment for this is the first time in the modern era of presidential politics that just a congressperson (George HW was also head of the CIA) is a viable and potentially likely nominee of a major party. This isn’t because Representatives haven’t run and made impacts in the past, but they haven’t – from the records I trolled back through – really pierced through to the top two or so genuine possibilities. (The last I found was Cordell Hull in 1928, but he was in office for 22 years before running.).

As American distaste for anything related to the “establishment” grows, it seems that the requisite resume positions of old (Senator or Governor) don’t hold as much water. There were exceptions to the rule in the past – Ross Perot, Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson – but they were just that, exceptions (also none of them were Representatives).

If Bachmann continues to succeed, she will drastically lower the clearing hurdle for future candidates. A resume of governance will take a back seat to charisma, big ideas and inspirational qualities.

I’m torn whether or not this is a good direction. But, I guess that’s something I’ll need to vote on.

“Another Aspect to the Bachmann Candidacy” – Ricochet