Saturday, February 25, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Deep State"

I am enshrining this excellent post here as a backup copy for future reference. Experience has taught me how quickly content can vanish from the web. Ansel Sigmar is the screen name for an American living in Thailand. 

Considered without partisan hysteria, the existence of a "Deep State" is natural to any enterprise as complicated as a modern superpower. At present, the United States is the largest and most powerful state in the world, and likely contains the most advanced Deep State on the planet. I've watched US politics evolve for nearly sixty years. Claiming only that qualification, I'd like to make some personal observations about this hot "new" concept making its way through both left and right-wing media, but with the caveat that neither I nor anyone else knows enough to claim a comprehensive understanding. We're all tempted by the charms of reductionism, which accounts for our never-ending fascination with conspiracy theories, but it's clear to me that, in spite of my fondness for a good story, simplification isn't an appropriate way to describe complexity.

The idea that some sort of continuing institutional management exists beyond the political arena is hardly new, and those now loudly decrying the Deep State aren't exactly original thinkers, but it's easy to understand their confusion. The only way to begin understand the apparent contradictions that govern American life is to accept that there is no such thing as an omniscient and omnipotent Other that runs things behind the scenes. We also must understand that there is no secret set of agreements among the people and institutions that are the alleged Deep State. There are always a variety of goals and ambitions among the participants in any game with stakes this high, but the goal of farsighted players has always been stability above all else. Breaking the state means breaking everything, and the cost to a society is beyond calculation. Only vultures profit from mass destruction, as we saw in the case of post-Soviet Russia.

The sometimes chaotic arena of electoral politics has the highest visibility in public discourse, but it's not the only place political decisions are made, and not without reason. As I first understood the Deep State, it was simply a collective noun referring to the entrenched bureaucracy that gave long-term continuity to government. As partisan parties won and lost control through elections, they could temporarily dominate the public conversation about policy, but could not interrupt the necessary functions that make it possible to have a coherent state delivering services and executing laws, without regard
to the prevailing political ideology.

Steve Bannon, our revolutionary du jour, understands this very well, and is leading a blitzkrieg insurgency whose first targets are fundamental to what he calls the "administrative government." As long as there are independent institutions carrying forward the long term objectives of the state, there can be no revolution that will effect structural change in the US. Unfortunately, Mr. Bannon and company have arrived on the scene at the moment in history when political parties are in tatters, when there is no coherent debate emerging from anywhere on the political spectrum, and when disinformation has become as easily transmitted as fact. He has a great thirst for deconstruction, a fondness for violent conflict, and a very great secret. He's never told us exactly what he wants beyond the "deconstruction of the administrative state."

In this environment, some interest group is going to take charge. That's inevitable. Whether it's the so-called Deep State or the nihilist oligarchs running the show around Bannon, we're going to be living with the result for a long time to come. When you next hear someone fretting over the Deep State posing a threat to an elected president, consider the option. There's only one, and it's exactly what the US has been carefully structured to avoid for more than 200 years. As far too many citizens appear to have forgotten the long-term commitments made from the Declaration of Independence to the present, the most powerful memory we can rely upon to preserve the rule of law, and to ensure the orderly dispatch of governmental duties, is institutional. I might not have said this forty years ago, but I've decided it's much better to opt for institutional stability than to jump off the cliff we're being led toward.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Public & Private Education -- a Facebook Colloquy

This exchange is lifted verbatim from my Facebook post and comments February 6, 2017.

DeVos will likely get confirmed, unfortunately, but my concerns have not changed. I'm a firm supporter of public schools. Federal, state, local, whatever -- pubic education is as much a tax-supported project as fire protection and safe roads. However when private sector PROFITS derive from education it's a diversion of tax dollars.

America has a long tradition of private academies, both parochial and endowed by foundations, where tax money sometimes benefits students but with marginal institutional benefit. Even now there is a rising crop of private-sector schools -- call them charter, private, target, magnet or whatever -- many of which do a good job at educating their respective student bodies. Outfits are now getting in the game that are organized, clean, with cutting-edge resources, even well-compensated faculty and/or operating as non-profits. What could be more attractive?

The problem is two-fold:

1) By further enabling "in loco parentis" they are collectively eroding the importance of family (even community) input to the growth and development of upcoming generations, and

2) most of them are cherry-picking the most promising students from the "public" population, thereby giving their respective institutions a differential advantage in the education goal, while leaving the public sector teachers the task of educating a more challenging population -- not to mention removing from that group the very peers who would otherwise have become role models for others as well as surrogate teaching assistants ("teacher's pets" at whom we have been taught to sneer).

(Also, damn few, if any of these private school alternatives accept kids with mental or behavior problems or those who don't speak English as their mother tongue.)

I'm sorry, but I still regard this government-can't-do-anything-right attitude and doctrinaire libertarian-privatization-free-market worship to be lies from the pit of Hell.

Philip Eismann  But what to do,if in your neighborhood,the school aren't functioning,your child can't wait till we fix the public school system,ideals and all. At the moment we test schools and students,to determine who gets funds,who goes on to higher education. A student who needs to work,in order to feed his siblings,isn't going to have his homework done but in truth works harder then most but is lucky to get a C or D plus,but no higher education . Those struggling students,with broken homes,those are the teachers pets ,both teacher and student are lost in our current system.

John Ballard You make excellent points. Sadly the circumstances you describe are widespread across the country in many public education systems, and I have no problem with private options in those cases. I'm very impressed, for example, with KIPP Academies and any number of similar alternative systems. I'm not painting all private alternatives with a broad brush. But I am keenly aware of a proliferation of doctrinaire efforts often driven by politics, ROIs and/or religious motives more than the admittedly more challenging task of improving schools in the public sector.

Atlanta's Westminster and Lovett schools are truly excellent, and one of my children went to Howard School for two years because the public school teacher she encountered "didn't believe in" LD -- said she was "just lazy and needs to study harder." We knew better thanks to a private opinion by a clinical psychologists advised otherwise. I was fortunate to have a friend in public education to guide us, but all that was decades ago and since then much has changed.

I wish I had better answers. But from all I have read an avalanche of private schools has more to do with private sector mining of taxes for profits ahead of education. The trend has been more pronounced in the post-secondary sector than primary and high schools, but that segment also has a growing share of the problems from which my objections derive. It is a pernicious trend that over time will only make public education worse for the students you describe so well.

John Ballard My opinions derive in part from when I was a GI in Korea all of 1966 and half of 1967. Most of my off-duty time was learning about the country and teaching English conversation to advanced students at the local high school. Korea was so poor at that time that it could not afford universal free public education, so private alternatives in that case were available for those young people who couldn't pass the entrance exams to attend public school. It was exactly the opposite of what I knew from America where "private" meant "exclusive top-grade" settings. By the time one of those Korean high school kids got into my after-school, weekend classes they had already passed two entrance exams to remain in public schools. And those who were academically strong enough to go on would have to pass more tests to advance to college -- again, most of which was publicly funded. I did have a chance to tour Ewha University once, founded by Methodists in the nineteenth century, but as with today's American alternatives the places with truly good standards were few and far between.

Philip Eismann  Yes,I agree. Education has never been a one size fits all. Some children learn by route ,that may work for you as a teacher but others need something else. Here in Germany, the Rudolf Steiner,and Waldorf education, also known as anthroposophy, pay a big role. Its pedagogy emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development . All of it ,pretty ideals,if you happen to believe.

I leaned about the ideals of a public education,I went to NYPS,PS32 and when I came up ,we were sure this was the best answer,with standardized teaching and testing,that was the ideal behind the Iowa tests. Now that public schools are rated by they're students test results and teachers worried about the schools ratings,only prep,for those tests,SAT's,college enrollment,those troubled neighborhoods ,zones,students are the big losers.
In a world where kids grow up wanting to be famous.

John Ballard  I forgot about rote learning. It's no longer highly regarded by most professionals, but I'm also a believer in memory discipline, having come from a time when memorizing the multiplication tables and committing poems and segments from literature was pushed hard in school. My Korean students often carried with them homemade strings of flash cards, about the size of postage stamps on a string, to help them memorize the many Chinese characters in widespread use all over Asia. Pronunciations change from country to country but the meanings of Chinese pictographs doesn't change. I learned the phonetic Korean alphabet quickly (it's phonetic, like the Western alphabet, so I could "read" without knowing what it meant -- rather like "reading" any Western foreign language -- but those characters remained a mystery to me).
And who can forget that the Scripps national spelling bee is always won by Indian kids who come from an education tradition heavily invested in rote learning?

Philip Eismann  If only one size fit all. I liked memorizing. I was no good at it but it taught me nonetheless.To do what,what was hard. That my material,took on many shadings,that a text wasn't a fixed thing, that words had colors, that an idea was only fascinating as long as it was in movement.( which is why I at times I write ,out to lunch posts,keep it moving,what did you say?)Like looking out over the same view but from a slightly different shift in position, that you can never enter the river in the same spot idea,(whether life is a river,that's an amusing discussion. Are we shipwrecked,for the moment, is there such a thing as progress? )Memorizing text may hold a key.

Memorizing poems,formed a national identity. Every child could recite,Paul Revers Night Ride, even the weekly hit parade,built a national memory,stuck in traffic on the way home from the beach,every car with its windows rolled down,played basically from the same hit list,in the dinner the jukebox played the same songs,now we have climate control. For some this was stifling,the constrictive Eisenhower's Years.( it's funny to find hippies,posting Eisenhower quotes)And we rebelled,rebellion is patricide. This urge for destruction,this instinct, to blame the system, this idea that out of a vacuum something new and better will emerge, is probably a terrible notion(my argument with Buddhism ).Trump as Cultural Revolution.
I like Chinese poems,simply cause ,you have to learn in read a different way,both vertical and horizontal.

Cicadas' voices gather in the old monastery
Birds' shadows fly over the cold pond

"cicadas' voices ,"echo the "birds shadows', ""cold "prolongs "old "and "monastery "is reflected in the "pond."
We just can't be exposed to enough trivial stuff that leads nowhere ,in a pragmatic world. Crime and Punishment,is reason with a sledgehammer,but it's no longer on the school curriculum.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Backlash to Donald Trump's Twitter Messages

A Woman Just Stood Up To Trump’s Latest Outburst On Twitter – And America Is Cheering Her On

Donald Trump didn’t like Saturday Night Live last night very much.

During the show he tweeted out the following response, saying that the show was completely “unwatchable” and “not funny.”

When, in fact, it was actually very funny – and got a lot of fanfare for making fun of Donald Trump’s tweets, no less! Pretty ironic that he angrily tweeted about a show making fun of his tweets!

Well – with that said – one woman by the name of Danielle Muscato ended up going off on Donald Trump in his twitter feed in response to this latest outburst of his.

It was such a glorious beat down – that we had to write about it and share with you.

Her message was instantly received by thousands and rose to the top of the Twitter feed for all to see. No doubt, by the time this article is received – hundreds of thousands of people will be receiving her message – and they should. It’s worth every bit of your time to read.

Danielle Muscato just said what half of America has been thinking for months now.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Trump Is the New Reagan

That's right, Trump is another Ronald Reagan, someone whose aura of greatness has nothing to do with political leadership or statesmanship, but whose reputation and image is bigger than life. Television is the new "motion pictures" (that's the old term for movies) and his carefully crafted public persona has the pliability of an actor. Take it from there.

Combing through some old links I came across something Juan Cole wrote when Gerald Ford died ten years ago at the age of 93. Remembering back to the turmoil of the Nixon years -- followed, of course by Ford and Carter who faced the challenges and aftermath of that tawdry mess -- it seems in retrospect that they were little more than deck hands, mopping up the mess between two larger-than-life egotists whose appeals had more to do with vision than content. Their visions were great, but they were surrounded by subordinates who resorted to, shall we say, less than good principles.

Read this and let your imagination compare Reagan (and to some degree Nixon) with Donald Trump. The sad part is that if my analogy holds, Obama's two terms become "mopping up" intervals between world-class messes. 
All presidents make errors, and some abuses occurred on Ford’s watch, though they often were initiated by Kissinger. But Ford faced with no illusions the challenges of his era, of detente with the Soviet Union, continued attempts to cultivate China, the collapse of Indochina, the fall-out of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the beginnings of the Lebanese Civil War. Ford was right about detente, right about China, right about Arab-Israeli peace, right about avoiding a big entanglement in Angola, right to worry about nuclear proliferation (one of his worries was the increasing evidence that the Middle East had a nuclear power, Israel, and India was moving in that direction). 
Ford’s challengers on the Reagan Right were wrong about everything. They vastly over-estimated the military and economic strength of the Soviet Union (yes, that’s Paul Wolfowitz). They wanted confrontation with China. They dismissed the Arab world as Soviet occupied territory (even though the vast majority of Arab states was US allies at that time) and urged that it be punished till it accepted Israel’s territorial gains in 1967. They insisted that the Vietnam War could have been won. 
But despite its illusions and Orwellian falsehoods, the Reagan Right prevailed. Ford only momentarily lost to Carter. Both of them were to lose to Reagan, who resorted to Cold War brinkmanship, private militias, death squads, offshore accounts, unconstitutional criminality, and under the table deals with Khomeini, and who created a transition out of the Cold War that left the private militias (one of them al-Qaeda) empowered to wreak destruction in the aftermath. The blowback from that Reaganesque era of private armies of the Right helped push the US after 2001 toward an incipient fascism at which Ford, the All-American, the lawyerly gentleman, the great Wolverine, must have wept daily in his twilight years.

In the larger than life images of Nixon and Reagan it's easy to overlook the truly decent accomplishments of Ford and Carter. The sad and foolish current conventional wisdom is that Jimmy Carter was one of our worst presidents but that notion says more about "conventional wisdom" than about Jimmy Carter. Need I mention that conventional wisdom just allowed Donald Trump to be president? That stupidity speaks for itself. 

And Barack Obama, whose intelligence and deportment are unmatched in our lifetime, now steps out of the spotlight as another president who is more form than substance, a bigger than life persona with a gift for self-aggrandizement, takes his place in the Oval Office. 

So ends the era of self-deprecating wit in the presidency. It was a privilege to have been alive to enjoy it. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Newt Notes + One More

Newt Gingrich is once again in the news,
Here from my old blog are three posts and one other link for future reference. 

Newt on Healthcare

John Hawkins interviewed Newt Gingrich.
Transcript is online. [For some reason the link is now dated February 2012, but I copied the following excerpt in 2005. Hmm...]

John Hawkins: ... Health Care in this country is certainly expensive and a lot of people are uncovered. Briefly, what do you think we need to do to fix it?

Newt Gingrich: Well, I’m giving a speech today at the National Press Club on transforming the Medicaid system and I’m going to say that my goal should be for every American to have health insurance coverage. We should start by vouchering Medicaid money so that people who are the healthy poor can go out and buy insurance and be part of the insurance pool. We should then provide tax credits for the working poor and small businesses and then the current tax deductibility for everybody above that.
We should apply the same tax deductibility whether you personally want to buy your own insurance or whether you buy it through a company. Right now as you know the bias is against those who want to buy their own insurance and in favor of those who go to work for somebody else and I think everybody should have the same tax advantage in buying health insurance.
I also think that if you focus on health savings accounts where people have an incentive to save, an incentive to manage their own health, that you can dramatically bring down the cost of health care by giving people engaged in better health behaviors and better health activities. I think in that process that you have the right to know price and quality before you make a decision. Also you get to be an informed purchaser of health just as you are any other part of American life.

John Hawkins: What do you think about the idea that the Wall Street Journal recently brought up [link no longer this reference] about having health care companies from all around the country able to compete for the business of anybody in a single state?

Newt Gingrich: I think we should create a national health care market. You know, all the big companies exist under what’s called a (inaudible) in a national market and I think that you ought to have the same right to buy into that kind of market if you want to. I mean, if you want to stay in your state’s mandated requirements, that’s fine, but that ought to be a choice for you, (instead of being a) captive of your state legislature.

Ziiinng! Right over their heads! And Gingrich has been saying stuff like this for years. I am amazed that he keeps getting away with it. I suppose nobody thinks it has a chance so he can dance as much as he wants in an ivory tower. I can hear it now...Oh, that's just Newt, waxing poetic again.

National health care market...bigger incentives for the working poor...vouchers, already...federal authority over states' rights....If this is conservatism, then color me red!

An Interview With Newt Gingrich
08 Feb, 2012 [??? As noted above, my excerpt above was captured in 2005.]
by John Hawkins

John Hawkins:
You’ve criticized how the Bush administration has explained the war effort to the American people. If you were in the White House instead of George Bush today, what would you be telling the American people about what’s going on in Iraq and the War on terrorism?

Newt Gingrich: …Let me just say that I think it would be helpful for the country if the President were consistently reminding people that we have real enemies, that these enemies are the irreconcilable wing of Islam, that they’ve said publicly and clearly they want to kill us, and that anyone who thinks we should withdraw from Iraq without having won needs to be forced to answer the question, “What do you think Zarqawi would do?” Do you think he’s going to go home and declare victory and be happy the rest of his life or do you think he’s going to go to the next fight and at the next opportunity, kill Americans and try to destroy the Western world? We have to force the debate at the right historic level.

John Hawkins: Let me change gears here a bit. Health Care in this country is certainly expensive and a lot of people are uncovered. Briefly, what do you think we need to do to fix it?

Newt Gingrich: Well, I’m giving a speech today at the National Press Club on transforming the Medicaid system and I’m going to say that my goal should be for every American to have health insurance coverage. We should start by vouchering Medicaid money so that people who are the healthy poor can go out and buy insurance and be part of the insurance pool. We should then provide tax credits for the working poor and small businesses and then the current tax deductibility for everybody above that.

We should apply the same tax deductibility whether you personally want to buy your own insurance or whether you buy it through a company. Right now as you know the bias is against those who want to buy their own insurance and in favor of those who go to work for somebody else and I think everybody should have the same tax advantage in buying health insurance.

I also think that if you focus on health savings accounts where people have an incentive to save, an incentive to manage their own health, that you can dramatically bring down the cost of health care by giving people engaged in better health behaviors and better health activities. I think in that process that you have the right to know price and quality before you make a decision. Also you get to be an informed purchaser of health just as you are any other part of American life.

John Hawkins: What do you think about the idea that the Wall Street Journal recently brought up about having health care companies from all around the country able to compete for the business of anybody in a single state?

Newt Gingrich: I think we should create a national health care market. You know, all the big companies exist under what’s called a (inaudible) in a national market and I think that you ought to have the same right to buy into that kind of market if you want to. I mean, if you want to stay in your state’s mandated requirements, that’s fine, but that ought to be a choice for you, (instead of being a) captive of your state legislature.

John Hawkins: Back in 1994, when you led the GOP takeover of the House, one of the key issues was deficit reduction and the party was very serious about it back then. Today, there seem to be few people in Washington who are serious about fiscal restraint. Why have the Republicans in Washington lost their way on this and what do we need to do to get the country back on track towards fiscal responsibility?

Newt Gingrich: Well, let me say first of all that one of the most important achievements we had with the Contract With America was four consecutive years of a balanced federal budget. We paid off 405 billion dollars in national debt. We did that while cutting taxes, increasing economic growth, reforming Medicare, and reforming welfare. And we for only the second time since the Second World War, the other being 1981 under Ronald Reagan, we actually cut domestic discretionary spending in the Appropriations Committee which was a major achievement.

So, I very much believe in peace time you ought to have a balanced budget. I very much believe that means you’ve got to control spending, you’ve got to set priorities, and that means you have to transform the health system which is 26 percent of all federal spending. The federal government is the largest purchaser of health care in the world.

One of the reasons I founded the Center for Health Transformation is that you cannot possibly fix the health system and balance the federal budget unless you profoundly re-think it and transform it. So I would like to see the government make a commitment to get back to a balanced budget. I think that gives you lower interest rates, it gives you a lower burden on yourself and your children, it allows you to have more economic growth and I think that’s very important.

John Hawkins: There’s a battle going on in the Republican Party between people who are adamantly opposed to rewarding illegal aliens in any way, shape, or form and there are others who want to keep them here for cheap labor. How do you think we should be handling the illegal alien issue?

Newt Gingrich: Well, I think there are a number of absolute historic principles and that this deserves to be discussed among the country at the highest level of seriousness. The first principle is we have to have control of our borders and our coasts for national security reasons.

The Director of Central Intelligence warned publicly in congressional testimony that he fully believes a nuclear weapon could be driven across our border. Now after all the talk about 9/11 and learning the lessons of 9/11, how much clearer a warning could you get than to have the Director of Central Intelligence say publicly he’s worried that the border is so open that you could literally drive a nuclear weapon into the United States. Part One is — get control of the border; that means increasing the border control, it means establishing whatever technological and other systems you need to control the border…

John Hawkins: Newt, real quick, one thing – everybody seems to agree that we need to control the border, you would think. I mean, we hear that every time…

Newt Gingrich:
You don’t see a budget designed to do it, you don’t see a plan designed to do it, you don’t see a public commitment to do it…

John Hawkins: That’s what I was going to ask. Why aren’t we seeing it because theoretically everybody – Democrat, Republican – keeps saying we need to control the border…

Newt Gingrich:
I don’t understand it. I mean, you ought to call the White House press office and ask them. I don’t understand it. It seems to me, as a national security matter, we’re going to spend 9 billion dollars a year on a missile defense; we ought to spend some money on making sure they don’t drive the nuclear weapon in instead of flying it in a rocket.

John Hawkins: I agree 100%.

Newt Gingrich: So, Part Two of that is, I think, to have border control truly work, you have to have what I would call a Blue Card Guest Worker Program where they have to give you an iris scan, a thumb print, agree to obey the law, and sign a contract that says if they break the law, we can remove them from the U.S. in 48 hours.

Then I would say to everybody who’s come illegally in the U.S.: you have to go home to apply for the blue card. It’s not that we’re not going to be willing to give you a blue card, but we’re not going to allow you to start your career in the U.S. breaking the law for two reasons. First of all, it’s really sick for the person who’s broken the law (to gain an advantage) and second, it means that everybody who stayed at home in Guatemala City obeying the law and waiting for a visa was a fool. So I would make everybody go home to apply for a blue card for temporary workers and I would say — both to the businesses and anybody that thinks they’re going to stay as an illegal – once you create an honest, legal, temporary worker program – any business which hires a person who’s not an American citizen and doesn’t have a work permit – I would hammer, first, economically, and second, with criminal penalties.

At the same time I would say to anybody who’s in the U.S. illegally — once we’ve created this program – we’re going to take your iris scan, take your thumb print, kick you out of the U.S. and you will be on a computerized database and we won’t let you back in for a minimum of 10 years. So you really create a carrot and a stick pattern and then the last stage I would have is — I would have very open availability to learn English, special programs in English, something Chris Cox sponsored when he was in the Congress. I would have as a rule that you could apply to become an American citizen but you have to be able to pass a test in American history, in English, in order to become a citizen because I do think we want to say to people, “We’re very interested in having citizens who decide they want to become American, but we are not confused about the identity of being American.”

John Hawkins: You think the Supreme Court is misinterpreting the 1st Amendment with regard to religion?

Newt Gingrich: Totally. The Supreme Court study in 1963 with the school prayer decision has been imposing a cultural pattern which has nothing to do with the United States. The U.S. was founded by a group of political leaders who signed a document which says, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” That means that all of your political rights come from God and you then loan some of your power to the State which is why the Constitution begins, “We, the People of the United States.”

Now if that’s the system, how can you possibly drive the source of our political liberty out of public life? I think this is a very, very profound mistake and I’ve said so quite publicly. In my book, Winning the Future, and also at my website, we have a walking tour to God in the national capital. I urge anybody who comes to Washington to get this and you can download it for free from my site. If you get really generous, you can buy the book.

The purpose of it is to start you at the National Archive with the Declaration of Independence, take you through the Washington Monument, on to the Jefferson Memorial – where you have 4 quotes referring to God – then taking you past the Lincoln Memorial where you have, “In God We Trust,” as part of the Gettysburg Address. You have in the Second Inaugural which is engraved on the memorial – in 732 words, you have 14 references to God and 2 quotes from the Bible and we walk you through this all the way up through Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Second World War memorial. When you get done with this walking tour you can’t conclude anything except that the Supreme Court is just wrong.

John Hawkins: Do you think we need a Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage?

Newt Gingrich:
Well, I think that the question is whether or not the Congress could pass a law which protected marriage or whether because of states’ rights Congress does not have the ability to then enforce that without a Constitutional Amendment. I certainly think that we have every right to defend traditional marriage…whether it’s by passing a law or a constitutional amendment. Given what the judges in Massachusetts did, they in effect single handedly by judicial fiat began to change what had been several thousand years of tradition and history. I think it’s a profound mistake for judges to engage in social engineering.

John Hawkins: Do you think DOMA would pass Constitutional muster and that’s even setting aside judges making gay marriage legal in states over the…

Newt Gingrich: I’m told that it might not. I’m not a lawyer so I would defer to sound conservative constitutional scholars on this. I favor something like DOMA if it can be done at the statute level, but if it is literally impossible to enforce except by amendment, then I would favor an amendment. John Hawkins: Let me ask you two quick questions: #1) John Roberts — you think he was a good selection? #2) Terri Schiavo: You think Bush and the Congress handled that the right way?

Newt Gingrich: Those are great questions. Let me say, first of all, that Chris DeMuth, the president of the American Enterprise Institute is one of the people I lean on for legal advice because he’s a great lawyer and a great scholar and he believes that John Roberts is one of the two best appeals court judges that were available to be on the Supreme Court and he thinks that on balance conservatives are going to be very, very confident that this was a good pick. So I rely on his judgment. He knows Roberts, he’s studied his work, and he believes that we’re going to be very pleased and I would take Chris’ judgment because I’m not an expert in that area.

The challenge with the Schiavo case wasn’t what they did; it was how they did it. If we had a 6 or 8 week build-up and the country had understood that if you’re a convicted murderer, you get to appeal from the state court to make sure that your rights as an American have been protected — and all that they were trying to do was insure that families in conflict situations on behalf of an innocent person would have the same right to have a review of their situation that a convicted murderer has — I think the country would have shrugged and said, “Well, that makes sense,” and not worried about it.

The way it happened was so startling, it looked like such an over-reaction on behalf of one case, that I think people thought they had lost their sense of perspective. So I think the way they did it was actually more controversial than what they were doing, if, in fact, they had explained what they were doing.

John Hawkins: So basically it was a good idea, but they just didn’t explain…..

Newt Gingrich: I mean, if you’re asking me – in situations where there’s a conflict, over the life of a human being and where the state is, in effect, being asked to eliminate that person’s chances of living, should it be possible to have judicial review beyond a local judge who may or may not be prejudiced, it seems to me that’s pretty self-evident. Because you’re talking about a very peculiar set of circumstances and in situations where the whole family agrees this would never come up, but here you had an allegation by the parents that the husband was systematically trying to block her recovery by putting her at risk. Does that make sense?

John Hawkins:

Newt Gingrich:
You need to recognize that we’re now entering a time of medical knowledge where the state in the form of the law is in effect making life and death decisions and having a bias in favor of life and in favor of caution strikes me as very reasonable because you know historically that there have been cases where people have manipulated the thing to kill somebody for insurance or to kill somebody for property. I think you have to establish a balance there.

John Hawkins: In your opinion, the 1994 Revolution you lead there in the House with the GOP, you know, we had huge wins that went very well — if you had to boil the success we had in 1994 down to its most crucial elements, what would they be? Why were we able to do that in 1994?

Newt Gingrich: Well, we had spent 16 years laying the ground work through GOPAC and through the congressional campaign committee and through hard work on the House floor so we had a very wide number of people who knew what we were trying to do. We had a country which was very unhappy with the way the Democrats were running Washington and we had a set of ideas which Ronald Reagan had popularized but not succeeded in passing.

So we could stand on Reagan’s shoulders, outline things like welfare reform, tax cuts, balanced budget, do so in a way that people could nod, “Yes,” and say, “That’s the right general direction,” and have enough candidates running with enough resources simultaneously to pull off what turned out to be the largest one-party increase in voting in the off-year in American history. We got 9 million additional votes, the Democrats dropped by a million, it was literally the biggest swing in an off-year in American history.

John Hawkins: So, in your opinion, it was just…

Newt Gingrich:
You had to have a positive message that the American people instinctively believed in as well as having the other team fail badly enough that people were eager for something. It’s a combination of the two of them and what I see with the Democrats is, you know, they know how to be anti-Bush and they know how to be anti-Republican, but I don’t sense that they have any substantial positive message yet, partly because they haven’t found (their) Ronald Reagan.

John Hawkins:
Just to get an idea of your priorities, let’s say you could get any three pieces of legislation you wanted passed – any three. Give us a quick run-down of what they’d be.

Newt Gingrich: That’s a very good question. I think there would be a 
  • comprehensive border control and immigration policy. There would be 
  • a position limiting the court’s ability to drive God out of the American public life and there would be 
  • a very dramatic overhaul of math and science education so that we could compete with China and India.  [format added]
Those would probably be my first three, but that’s a great question. Nobody’s asked me that and there are 5 or 6 other ideas floating around in the back of my head, clamoring for attention. …If you go to, you can see the beginning of a real outline of a legislative agenda that we think would make a huge difference.

John Hawkins: Are there any bloggers that you read at least semi-regularly?

Newt Gingrich: No, I flip around but I don’t read any one blog in particular.

John Hawkins:
Tell us a little bit about your new book, Winning the Future.

Newt Gingrich:
Well, Winning The Future is designed to say: what would a 21st century Contract with America be like. What are the great challenges? I have 2 grandchildren — Maggie who is 6, will be 6 in October, and Robert who is now 4 — and what kind of country are they going to inherit? What do you and I need to do to make sure they inherit a country that is as safe, as free, and as prosperous as the country that our parents and grandparents worked and fought to give us?

So we outline in there what we call the 5 great challenges of our generation and then I outline a series of steps toward solving and meeting those challenges — and it’s really an effort to outline how we might think if we wanted to write a 21st century Contract With America.

John Hawkins:
Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish?

Newt Gingrich:
No, but I’ve been delighted. This is a very intelligent, very interesting interview. John Hawkins: Well, thank you. I appreciate that.


Gingrich on North Korea

Newt Gingrich is one of my favorite conservatives. I have always thought of him as a progressive worm in a retrograde apple because of his cleverly-worded but well informed comments about a number of issues. He has a vision for the future that is larger than most. Here he shamelessly invokes the name of Ronald Reagan to advance what I would call a divide and conquer approach to North Korea that would pit its people against its leadership. This essentially non-violent approach would push the diplomatic envelope without sacrificing America's public image in the international community.
Our goal in North Korea should be peaceful regime change. Our model for leadership should be Ronald Reagan. 
President Reagan entered office in 1981 with a clear vision of allying with Prime Minister Thatcher of Great Britain and Pope John Paul II to defeat the Soviet Empire. Without firing a shot they worked to strengthen the Solidarity trade union in Poland, to increase the resources available to the Polish people, and to undermine the effectiveness of the Communist dictatorship. Within eleven years of Reagan’s inauguration the Soviet Union disappeared. The Cold War was over. We had won. 
North Korea is a vicious dictatorship in the middle of a famine. Its policies have shrunk the height of the average North Korean by over three inches over the last generation through malnutrition. There are over 200,000 North Koreans imprisoned in concentration camps. It is an evil regime grinding down the lives of its people. 
A Reaganite strategy would funnel every penny of help and every bit of food aid through a system of private activity consciously designed to undermine the dictatorship. A Reaganite strategy would isolate the government while helping the people. It would seek every angle to get humanitarian help to the people. Food might be parachuted into the country, delivered from submarines and small boats by clandestine services, shipped in from China and Russia through anti-regime middlemen and delivered in every way possible to divert energy and authority away from the government and toward an alternative organizing system of individuals dedicated to a better more prosperous life. Just as in Eastern Europe, we would rapidly discover a lot of people willing to subvert the regime for better lives for their families and we would find the regime beginning to splinter and fragment in the face of opportunities for food, goods, and prosperity.  [This is a serious leap of faith, but I like the hopefulness. JB]
And a Reaganite strategy toward North Korea would mean what it says, and say what it means. Last July, the entire civilized world said it would be “unacceptable” for North Korea to fire missiles. In response North Korea chose our Independence Day to fire seven missiles. They tested the “unacceptable”. It turned out to be acceptable. Is it any wonder that North Korea has now tested a nuclear weapon? 
Reagan would have found a variety of steps to make it extremely expensive for the North Koreans to display contempt for the entire civilized world.
For President Reagan “unacceptable” would have meant “unacceptable.”
This is not saber-rattling. This is rattling loose pocket change. The price would be a bargain compared with military alternatives. And compared with the loss of American lives in other places, the cost in human lives could be virtually nothing. And the rewards would be vast in public relations terms.

The years leading up to the invasion of Iraq were marked by one of modern history's harshest "sanctions" applications against Iraq. Sanctions are predecated on the really dumb notion that if the population of a country gets starved enough, deprived of material and economic resources enough, they will rise up with some kind of internal volition and throw off an oppressive regime. This may seem reasonable to well-fed Americans who have lived all their lives in comfort and spoon-fed the lofty ideals of the revolutionary fervor of the Eighteenth Century.

The now-famous "oil for food" program was nothing more than an official vehicle leading to corruption. Plenty of wealth was exchanged, certainly. But precious little in the way of food or medicine reached the people who needed it. Any programs aimed at helping oppressed people must be subversive, not official, to the regime doing the oppression.

The political realities of the modern era are plain. If oppressed peoples were willing and able to stage revolutions, then dictatorships would long ago have been replaced by benign and generous representative governments all over the world. The idea is absurd. No plainer example is necessary that that of North Korea, with its twin evils of a closed society and a despotic personality cult which controls every national resource.

When we furnish food to starving people there is no downside. None.


Feedback to Congress -- My Adventure

Inspired by last night's C-SPAN live broadcast of the Senate Finance Committee I wrote to a Congressman this morning for the first time in twenty-five or thirty years. As a Liberal in an overwhelmingly Conservative part of suburban Atlanta I gave up such efforts years ago. Bob Barr, Lester Maddox, the late Congressman Larry McDonald, Newt Gingrich and a rash of less notable local politicians have emerged from Cobb and surrounding counties. My opinions here are not welcome.

More recently Dr. Phil Gingrey, who takes pride that " in 2008 The National Journal ranked me the most conservative Member of the House of Representatives" has been taking care of the people's business in Washington.

I noticed this morning that Dr. Gingrey was mentioned in Politico for what struck me as excellent pushback aimed at Rush Limbaugh and the talk show crowd following Rush's now famous "I hope Obama fails" statement.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., did not take kindly to this assessment in an interview with Politico Tuesday.
“I think that our leadership, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are taking the right approach,” Gingrey said. “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn’t be or wouldn’t be good leaders, they’re not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell."
Wow! I couldn't have said it better. So my next move was to send him an email recognizing what he had said and telling him to keep up the good work.

The "contact" link at his website didn't call up my gmail account so I have no copy of what I sent. The substance of it was clear, however. I specifically recall mentioning that Limbaugh and his crowd are to talk radio what Jerry Springer and that crowd are to TV, appealing to the lowest common denominator of the audience. Here in Atlanta we have our own second-string version of Rush's crowd so I'm sure that Gingrey has no trouble recognizing the flavor of that koolaid.

I wish now that I had kept a copy because a few hours later I received a form letter reply clearly written to respond to the blizzard of complaints he is no doubt receiving from angry constituents.
With respect to my comments regarding commentators who each and every day speak out in defense of these values, I regret and apologize for that fact these comments have offended and upset not only my constituents but also listeners throughout the country. I am sorry to see how my comments have been reported and read much harsher than intended. I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments. 
Now more than ever,there is a need to articulate a clear conservative message for moving our nation forward. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and other conservative giants are the voices of the conservative movement's conscience. Everyday, millions and millions of Americans-myself included - turn on their radios and televisions to listen to what they have to say, and we are inspired by their words and by their determination. At the end of the day, every member of the conservative movement, from political commentators and thinkers to elected officials, share an important and common purpose in advancing the cause of liberty, reigning in a bloated federal government, and defending our traditional family values.
Silly me. I thought my email might have been read, if not by a busy congressman, at least by someone on staff who might recognize immediately that he had won a few points with someone from across the aisle.

Well excuse me. I won't make that mistake again. I sent a reply to his response.
What? "regret and apologize" ?
Please, Dr. Gingrey. I appreciate that you must have a blizzard of complaints from your constituents this morning, but my email was not among them.
I wrote to thank, not reprimand you for what you said.
I suppose you may disregard my other communication.
Wouldn't you know it?
That email came back as undeliverable.
This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification
Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:
Technical details of permanent failure:
Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550 5.7.1 Unable to deliver to <> (state 14).
I give up.
I feel like someone that got a teeshirt that says...