Commentary Magazine


Topic: California

McCarthy Learning from Cantor’s Mistakes?

After Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to Dave Brat, it appeared as though we wouldn’t really understand what happened for some time. But it turned out that one of the earliest pieces on the upset was so on-target as to eventually become the conventional wisdom. Robert Tracinski’s reaction piece at the Federalist had an advantage over many others seeking to weigh in: Tracinski lives in Cantor’s district, and so had a front-row seat.

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After Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to Dave Brat, it appeared as though we wouldn’t really understand what happened for some time. But it turned out that one of the earliest pieces on the upset was so on-target as to eventually become the conventional wisdom. Robert Tracinski’s reaction piece at the Federalist had an advantage over many others seeking to weigh in: Tracinski lives in Cantor’s district, and so had a front-row seat.

As Tracinski explained at the time:

For almost as long as I’ve lived here, which is coming up on 20 years now, the purpose of the seventh district has been to re-elect Eric Cantor every two years. It’s a strongly Republican district that spans across a very conservative stretch of rural Central Virginia, from the Richmond suburbs to Culpeper. So what were we going to do, vote for a Democrat? No, we were going to vote for Cantor.

And Cantor knew it. Because he didn’t have to worry too much about getting re-elected every two years, his political ambition was channeled into rising through the hierarchy of the House leadership. Rise he did, all the way up to the #2 spot, and he was waiting in the wings to become Speaker of the House.

The result was that Cantor’s real constituency wasn’t the folks back home.

Cantor was replaced in that leadership slot by California Republican Kevin McCarthy, who seemed to follow the old adage about learning from the mistakes of others–though he doesn’t need much of a reminder. The Wall Street Journal reports that McCarthy is intent on staying close to his constituents. A congressman should represent his district in Washington, not represent Washington to his district. If that’s one lesson to come out of the grassroots’ insurgent campaigns against establishment candidates, the Tea Party and other conservative groups will have brought back a measure of accountability sorely needed in the nation’s capital.

Yet to be fair to McCarthy, he was aware of this before Cantor’s defeat. As the Journal notes, McCarthy was instrumental in helping the GOP gain its House majority by strategically targeting Democrats he considered vulnerable–not because they were poor candidates or beset by scandals, but because they had been in office long enough to drift from their home district:

Anyone in search of Mr. McCarthy on weekends needs to look no further than Luigi’s, one of this city’s oldest family-run businesses. As the man who orchestrated a 2010 Republican takeover of Congress by targeting Democrats who, in his estimation, were out of touch with their districts, Mr. McCarthy is keenly aware that forsaking home for power in Washington can spell defeat.

“In your fifth term, I felt you were most vulnerable,” Mr. McCarthy said, after ordering a round of Butterfinger pies for the table. “So I would target those to go after.”

McCarthy’s district is, however, in many ways a cross-section of the competing interest groups that follow the congressman to Washington and back. The Journal explains that McCarthy is under pressure from the United Farm Workers, which is based in his district, over immigration.

McCarthy also hears from the Bakersfield Tea Party, which aims to push McCarthy to the right by showing him “some tough love,” in the words of one of its leaders. And he must add “oil and agricultural industries” to the mix as well. But even if McCarthy has been no stranger around his district, he still seems to be consciously employing the lessons of Cantor’s defeat:

Mr. McCarthy is doing what he can to ensure he doesn’t suffer the fate of the man he replaces as majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, whose Virginia primary loss last month came at the hands of a virtually unknown tea-party candidate who successfully attacked Mr. Cantor as having become too much part of the Washington establishment.

Despite facing only a write-in opponent this fall, Mr. McCarthy already has aired a campaign commercial here. “Being elected majority leader was an honor,” Mr. McCarthy said in the spot. “But the highest honor is serving our community and you.”

During a recent visit home, Mr. McCarthy served his constituents—literally.

Donning a Sequoia Sandwich Company T-shirt, Mr. McCarthy hustled through lunchtime crowds, sweating and bellowing out order numbers. The sandwich shop marked the day by offering “The McCarthy” special: cracked-pepper turkey on a ciabatta roll with cream cheese.

Some of this is cosmetic, and some of it is nearly universal to members of the House who must run for reelection every two years and, even in a safe district, at least make a show of it. But that show is reassuring: as American politics has become increasingly nationalized, the public stands to lose a great deal at the steady erosion of local governance. The Tea Party often talks about getting back to first principles, and this is a good way to do so.

The Tea Party has put up some poor candidates, but on balance it has been a net positive for the conservative movement. Cantor’s loss may have been surprising, and it also may not really change anything. But if it serves to remind members of Congress who their constituents are, it’ll have another, even if modest, benefit.

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A Turning Point in the Battle to Rescue Public Education?

The battle over public education was never quite the same after the New Yorker published a deep dive into New York’s “rubber rooms” in 2009. These were rooms in which hundreds of teachers accused of misconduct–which could mean physically abusing or molesting students–spent their days, instead of working, while still reaping their salaries and benefits. They couldn’t be let near kids. But they still couldn’t be fired. Here was a key paragraph early on:

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

There have been other milestones in education reform and specifically with regard to the unions, but if you want to know just why Republicans in blue states like Chris Christie and Scott Walker had success reining in the unions, the unjust and expensive unaccountability captured in situations like the “rubber rooms” generally sits atop the list. Reforms have tackled the pay and benefits structure, however. Now there may be another turning point, in a milestone court ruling out in California. The Wall Street Journal reports:

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The battle over public education was never quite the same after the New Yorker published a deep dive into New York’s “rubber rooms” in 2009. These were rooms in which hundreds of teachers accused of misconduct–which could mean physically abusing or molesting students–spent their days, instead of working, while still reaping their salaries and benefits. They couldn’t be let near kids. But they still couldn’t be fired. Here was a key paragraph early on:

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

There have been other milestones in education reform and specifically with regard to the unions, but if you want to know just why Republicans in blue states like Chris Christie and Scott Walker had success reining in the unions, the unjust and expensive unaccountability captured in situations like the “rubber rooms” generally sits atop the list. Reforms have tackled the pay and benefits structure, however. Now there may be another turning point, in a milestone court ruling out in California. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a closely watched court case that challenged California’s strong teacher employment protections, a group of nine students have prevailed against the state and its two largest teachers’ unions.

A California Superior Court on Tuesday found that all the state laws challenged in the case were unconstitutional. The verdict that could fuel similar lawsuits in other states where legislative efforts have failed to ease rules for the dismissal of teachers considered ineffective.

The student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argued that the statutes protecting teachers’ jobs serve more often to keep poor instructors in the schools—hurting students’ chances to succeed. The teachers’ unions said state laws didn’t preclude school districts from making their own hiring and firing decisions.

Among the laws challenged in the case was California’s “Last-In, First-Out” layoff statute, which requires layoffs based on seniority rather than classroom performance. Also challenged were complex dismissal statutes for ineffective teachers that plaintiffs described as costly, burdensome and involving “a borderline infinite number of steps.”

If the California case were unique, this would be a local victory. As the “rubber rooms” illustrate, it isn’t. In New Jersey, for instance, the process for firing a teacher is essentially rigged against the district, with time delays and the costs of attorney’s fees and the teacher’s salary on top of a replacement instructor for the duration of the process, with no guarantee the teacher can be fired at the end of it. As a result, even attempting to fire a teacher becomes an arduous, and usually avoided, course of action. In Wisconsin, union privileges meant teachers were indeed fired–good teachers, and young teachers, so that those with seniority could keep their generous benefits and job security.

New Jersey and Wisconsin are not alone either, but they illustrate why there was public support for getting union privileges under some control even in liberal states: the policies are so clearly rigged against the students. In California, the students bringing the court challenge argued–correctly–that the policies were exceedingly harmful to the students. The purpose of education is to benefit the students, and government schools were failing miserably.

I’ve written about this before: the students suffer because bad teachers can’t be fired and budget cuts can’t touch what’s been granted the unions in their collective bargaining agreements, so the students lose out on books, educational technology, tutoring, library facilities, after-school activities, and anything else the unions can pick clean off the carcass of public education.

The problem was that the process by which those contracts were won was in essence corrupt. Politicians seeking union backing (usually liberal Democrats) promise taxpayer money for it, some of which is then spent on getting such politicians reelected. It’s a cycle that leaves the taxpayers–you know, those footing the bill–and the students without an advocate.

Yet the system is not so easy to reform. After all, contracts are contracts. And the same politicians in thrall to the unions obviously cannot be relied on to legislate some relief. The California case may provide a way out of this conundrum: the courts. As the Journal notes:

Research has pointed to teacher quality as the biggest in-school determinant for student performance. In recent years, many states have moved to simplify dismissal procedures for ineffective teachers and to encourage districts to consider teacher performance in layoff decisions rather than relying solely on seniority.

Efforts in California failed in the legislature, so students and their advocates took the case to court—a novel way to test the long-standing state policies.

A novel way, perhaps, but one that provides a glimmer of hope for students. It shouldn’t have been necessary to come to this point, but now that it has American public education may take another step toward once again fulfilling its mission.

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Environmentalists to the Peasants: Drop Dead

California is going through a terrible drought and 2013 was the driest on record in the state. So who is suffering, financially and otherwise, from its effects?

Hint: it is not the coastal elite. The water still flows to the upscale neighborhoods of La Jolla, Malibu, and Marin County. Their lawns are watered, their BMW’s washed and polished, their swimming pools full.

No, it’s the farmers in the Central Valley and the agricultural workers who are idled as 500,000 acres of the best farmland on the planet lies fallow. Where is their water going? To save the environment. It’s better, according to the coastal elite, that Juan and José should wonder how they are going to feed their families, since there are no strawberries to pick, than that the delta smelt should be inconvenienced in a drought.

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California is going through a terrible drought and 2013 was the driest on record in the state. So who is suffering, financially and otherwise, from its effects?

Hint: it is not the coastal elite. The water still flows to the upscale neighborhoods of La Jolla, Malibu, and Marin County. Their lawns are watered, their BMW’s washed and polished, their swimming pools full.

No, it’s the farmers in the Central Valley and the agricultural workers who are idled as 500,000 acres of the best farmland on the planet lies fallow. Where is their water going? To save the environment. It’s better, according to the coastal elite, that Juan and José should wonder how they are going to feed their families, since there are no strawberries to pick, than that the delta smelt should be inconvenienced in a drought.

And, of course, the heart and soul of the environmental movement in California is the coastal elite, insulated from its consequences by their six- and seven-figure incomes. As Victor Davis Hanson points out in a devastating “j’accuse,” there seems to be few limits to the amount of suffering the California aristocracy is willing to impose on the peasants so that they can pat themselves on the back for their environmental stewardship.

As Hanson explains, while California’s population grew from 23 million in 1976 to 40 million today, the water projects needed to supply that 79 percent increase, such as the state California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, were cancelled in the name of the environment:

At some fateful moment in the 1970s, the other California on the coast, drunk with the globalized wealth that poured into Napa Valley, the Silicon Valley, the great coastal university nexuses at Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and Caltech, the entertainment industry, the defense industry, and the financial industry decided that they had transcended the old warnings of more Californians needing far more water to survive more droughts. When you are rich, you can afford for the first time in your life to favor a newt with spots on his toes over someone else that lacks your money, clout, and sensitivities.

They are equally indifferent to the effects that rising fuel and electricity costs have on people of limited incomes. If the price of a year’s worth of gasoline were to rise from $3,000 to $6,000 (i.e. from $4 to $8 a gallon), it wouldn’t affect the lifestyle of someone earning $1 million one bit, a mere 3/10ths of one percent. For someone living on $50,000, it’s a devastating six percent hit.

But, as Marie Antoinette never actually said, they can always eat cake.

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Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional, Rules 9th Circuit

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s argument wasn’t a defense of gay marriage, per se, but it did find the gay marriage ban passed by California voters was unconstitutional. Law Professor William Jacobson explains the Court’s decision was based on the prior right to same-sex marriage in the state, and its opinion that there wasn’t a compelling state interest in outlawing it:

The Court essentially used a bootstrap argument — that since there was a prior right to same-sex marriage (based on a California Supreme Court decision which gave rise to Prop. 8 ) — the taking away of that right without justification violated the 14th Amendment. Judge N.R. Smith filed a 39-page dissent from this finding.

The Court also held that (i) the supporters of Prop. 8 did have standing to defend the law, deferring to the Certified Opinion of the California Supreme Court, and (ii) trial court Judge Walker did not have to recuse himself based on his own longterm same-sex relationship. These two findings were unanimous.

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s argument wasn’t a defense of gay marriage, per se, but it did find the gay marriage ban passed by California voters was unconstitutional. Law Professor William Jacobson explains the Court’s decision was based on the prior right to same-sex marriage in the state, and its opinion that there wasn’t a compelling state interest in outlawing it:

The Court essentially used a bootstrap argument — that since there was a prior right to same-sex marriage (based on a California Supreme Court decision which gave rise to Prop. 8 ) — the taking away of that right without justification violated the 14th Amendment. Judge N.R. Smith filed a 39-page dissent from this finding.

The Court also held that (i) the supporters of Prop. 8 did have standing to defend the law, deferring to the Certified Opinion of the California Supreme Court, and (ii) trial court Judge Walker did not have to recuse himself based on his own longterm same-sex relationship. These two findings were unanimous.

In other words, the ruling only applies in California, and has little impact on the rest of the country – though it’s likely an appeal could have national implications. Opponents of gay marriage can decide whether to appeal the ruling at an en banc hearing (a panel of 9th Circuit judges) or try to take it up with the Supreme Court. The Proposition 8-supporting National Organization of Marriage vowed to appeal the decision today, and the group’s president said he was eager to take the gay marriage fight to the Supreme Court:

“As sweeping and wrong-headed as this decision is, it nonetheless was as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition game,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president. “We have anticipated this outcome since the moment San Francisco Judge Vaughn Walker’s first hearing in the case. Now we have the field cleared to take this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we have every confidence we will prevail.”

Incidentally, the ruling doesn’t mean gay marriages will start up again in California right away. The verdict won’t take effect for at least 14 days, and could be delayed further by the appeal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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What Jerry Brown Does Not Propose to Cut, Realign, or Reform

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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Leftists Bring Swastikas to Koch Protest

So the left’s newfound respect for “civil discourse” lasted about as long as it took to link Sarah Palin to a completely unrelated murderous rampage, as it now looks like things are back to business as usual. At a protest against Koch Industries over the weekend, activists carried signs emblazoned with swastikas and 9/11 “truth” slogans, chanted “no justice, no peace,” and shut down a busy street in Rancho Mirage, California.

The demonstration, organized by Common Cause, was meant to protest the Citizens United ruling. Why the group’s ire was directed at Koch Industries — which had no involvement whatsoever in the Supreme Court case — is an excellent question.

According to Common Cause, Koch benefited from the ruling and supported groups that filed amicus briefs on behalf of Citizens United during the case. Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain why Common Cause invited labor unions to the rally, which have profited from the Supreme Court’s ruling as well.

Not to mention the ACLU, which also filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United, arguing that it was a free-speech issue. Will Common Cause bus in protesters to scream eliminationist rhetoric outside the ACLU’s offices next?

Probably not — getting arrested while protesting the ACLU just doesn’t have the same charm to it as getting arrested while protesting an “evil” corporate titan. Though a bit more consistency would at least help make Common Cause look a tad less clownish.

Grasping irony, however, is clearly not the group’s strong point. This was apparent from the list of speakers at the “progressive” political conference that was held in conjunction with the anti-Koch demonstration. When protesters grew tired of yelling about the political influence of corporate fat cats, they could take a break and listen to panel discussions featuring an array of representatives from George Soros–funded organizations.

So the left’s newfound respect for “civil discourse” lasted about as long as it took to link Sarah Palin to a completely unrelated murderous rampage, as it now looks like things are back to business as usual. At a protest against Koch Industries over the weekend, activists carried signs emblazoned with swastikas and 9/11 “truth” slogans, chanted “no justice, no peace,” and shut down a busy street in Rancho Mirage, California.

The demonstration, organized by Common Cause, was meant to protest the Citizens United ruling. Why the group’s ire was directed at Koch Industries — which had no involvement whatsoever in the Supreme Court case — is an excellent question.

According to Common Cause, Koch benefited from the ruling and supported groups that filed amicus briefs on behalf of Citizens United during the case. Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain why Common Cause invited labor unions to the rally, which have profited from the Supreme Court’s ruling as well.

Not to mention the ACLU, which also filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United, arguing that it was a free-speech issue. Will Common Cause bus in protesters to scream eliminationist rhetoric outside the ACLU’s offices next?

Probably not — getting arrested while protesting the ACLU just doesn’t have the same charm to it as getting arrested while protesting an “evil” corporate titan. Though a bit more consistency would at least help make Common Cause look a tad less clownish.

Grasping irony, however, is clearly not the group’s strong point. This was apparent from the list of speakers at the “progressive” political conference that was held in conjunction with the anti-Koch demonstration. When protesters grew tired of yelling about the political influence of corporate fat cats, they could take a break and listen to panel discussions featuring an array of representatives from George Soros–funded organizations.

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ObamaCare Continues to Unravel

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

According to the AP, two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress today.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. (Foster’s office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.)

Mr. Foster was asked by Republican Tom McClintock for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and it will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded. As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Foster also sided with those who argue that moving toward a defined contribution model is much more likely to keep health-care costs down than the kind of centralized, top-down price controls that are in ObamaCare.

Finally, in an exchange with Representative John Campbell of California, Foster blew up the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicare provisions could both reduce the deficit and extend the solvency of Medicare, as President Obama has claimed. Mr. Foster pointed out the obvious: this isn’t possible unless you double-count the savings.

“Is it legitimate to say,” Campbell asked, “that you can add a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare or that you can reduce the deficit, but it is not correct to say both simultaneously?”

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster said. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen. It happens directly for the budget deficit, from the Medicare savings, and then when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note — it’s an IOU, not a worthless IOU, but it is an IOU — and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Unraveling the false claims of ObamaCare continues apace.

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Group that Recruits Pro-Palestinian ‘Martyrs’ Gets Okay from Bard

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

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CAIR Urges Muslims to ‘Resist’ FBI Terror Probes

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is still treated as a mainstream civil-liberties group by much of the media. Indeed, last summer, as the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque heated up, representatives of the group were regularly trotted out as the moderate and reasonable representatives of a supposedly aggrieved community. But recent activities by some of its chapters around the country are making clear that its main agenda remains rooted in its origins as a political front for an illegal group whose purpose was to raise funds for the Hamas terrorist organization. Though spokesmen for the group have been at pains to present it as opposing terrorism (though when pressed, they will never admit that, for example, attacks on Israelis should be considered acts of terror) and promoting cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, the truth is that its goal is quite the opposite.

Terror expert Steven Emerson’s the Investigative Project on Terrorism reports that CAIR’s California chapter is sponsoring an event on Feb. 9 in Oakland whose purpose is to counsel noncompliance with federal investigations of terrorism. Indeed, the group’s website shows a poster for the gathering that features the headline: “Build a Wall of Resistance.” The artwork shows a sinister FBI agent being faced with slammed doors. The tagline reads: “Don’t Talk to the F.B.I.”

According to Emerson, this attempt to obstruct a government probe is in response to FBI efforts to uncover a network of supporters of two terror groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC). The FBI raided the homes of “activists” in Minneapolis and Chicago who may be tied to these two known terror groups in September. The PFLP is a radical leftist Palestinian group that is opposed to peace with Israel and that has, over the years, murdered many Israelis and Americans. FARC is the quintessential narco-terrorist organization and has sought the overthrow of the democratic government of Colombia and has specialized in kidnapping with the aid of the leftist government of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.

You would think that if CAIR were the upstanding group of ordinary Arab- and Muslim-Americans who just wanted fair treatment under the law, as it claims to be, the last thing it should be doing is counseling its members to refuse to talk to the authorities investigating lethal criminal enterprises such as the PFLP or FARC. Nor should it be setting up a meeting whose purpose is to generate support for the 23 “activists” who are refusing to comply with subpoenas that require them to testify before grand juries about these terror groups.

Instead, CAIR’s California chapter is treating the Obama administration’s Justice Department probes into terror groups as an effort to “repress our movements for social justice and divide our communities.” CAIR’s Chicago and Michigan chapters have also blasted the federal investigation. The statement from the Chicago chapter made it clear that its opposition to the investigation was not based on alleged questions of civil liberties but rather the group’s sympathy for both the PFLP and FARC, and termed the probe an effort to repress dissent about U.S. foreign policy, leading one to conclude that CAIR’s members believe the administration is too supportive of democratic governments trying to defend themselves against violent terror groups.

This attempt to obstruct justice once again shows that CAIR’s true purpose is not to defend ordinary Americans who happen to be Muslim but instead the defense of anti-American terror organizations.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is still treated as a mainstream civil-liberties group by much of the media. Indeed, last summer, as the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque heated up, representatives of the group were regularly trotted out as the moderate and reasonable representatives of a supposedly aggrieved community. But recent activities by some of its chapters around the country are making clear that its main agenda remains rooted in its origins as a political front for an illegal group whose purpose was to raise funds for the Hamas terrorist organization. Though spokesmen for the group have been at pains to present it as opposing terrorism (though when pressed, they will never admit that, for example, attacks on Israelis should be considered acts of terror) and promoting cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, the truth is that its goal is quite the opposite.

Terror expert Steven Emerson’s the Investigative Project on Terrorism reports that CAIR’s California chapter is sponsoring an event on Feb. 9 in Oakland whose purpose is to counsel noncompliance with federal investigations of terrorism. Indeed, the group’s website shows a poster for the gathering that features the headline: “Build a Wall of Resistance.” The artwork shows a sinister FBI agent being faced with slammed doors. The tagline reads: “Don’t Talk to the F.B.I.”

According to Emerson, this attempt to obstruct a government probe is in response to FBI efforts to uncover a network of supporters of two terror groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC). The FBI raided the homes of “activists” in Minneapolis and Chicago who may be tied to these two known terror groups in September. The PFLP is a radical leftist Palestinian group that is opposed to peace with Israel and that has, over the years, murdered many Israelis and Americans. FARC is the quintessential narco-terrorist organization and has sought the overthrow of the democratic government of Colombia and has specialized in kidnapping with the aid of the leftist government of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.

You would think that if CAIR were the upstanding group of ordinary Arab- and Muslim-Americans who just wanted fair treatment under the law, as it claims to be, the last thing it should be doing is counseling its members to refuse to talk to the authorities investigating lethal criminal enterprises such as the PFLP or FARC. Nor should it be setting up a meeting whose purpose is to generate support for the 23 “activists” who are refusing to comply with subpoenas that require them to testify before grand juries about these terror groups.

Instead, CAIR’s California chapter is treating the Obama administration’s Justice Department probes into terror groups as an effort to “repress our movements for social justice and divide our communities.” CAIR’s Chicago and Michigan chapters have also blasted the federal investigation. The statement from the Chicago chapter made it clear that its opposition to the investigation was not based on alleged questions of civil liberties but rather the group’s sympathy for both the PFLP and FARC, and termed the probe an effort to repress dissent about U.S. foreign policy, leading one to conclude that CAIR’s members believe the administration is too supportive of democratic governments trying to defend themselves against violent terror groups.

This attempt to obstruct justice once again shows that CAIR’s true purpose is not to defend ordinary Americans who happen to be Muslim but instead the defense of anti-American terror organizations.

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CALGreen: Regulatory Nirvana

Now and then, circumstances come along that put in perspective the level of regulatory autonomy currently enjoyed by our governments. A prominent example is the implementation in California of “CALGreen” building standards, which entered effect on January 1. Shepherded through the legislature in 2008 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, CALGreen proposes to reduce the greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions attributable to California’s newly constructed buildings — residential and nonresidential — by 3 million metric tons per year in 2020.

Much has been written by conservatives about the poor economic timing of the CALGreen implementation. But two of its other features are worth particular note. The first is that 3 million metric tons of GHG is vanishingly small compared with the globe’s total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Those global emissions were calculated at 31.3 billion metric tons in 2009. A reduction of 3 million metric tons represents .0096 percent of that global total (the actual fraction is .000096). Considering the number of state-government agencies involved in administering CALGreen, and the building industry’s estimate that it will increase construction costs 3 to 12 percent depending on the project, the cost of CALGreen is a questionable commitment in light of its projected benefits.

The other feature of note is CALGreen’s promise to relieve builders of $30,000 to $50,000 per project — by CALGreen’s estimate — in design and private inspection costs. Builders who wish to “build green” have, until now, sought the services of firms that specialize in complying with the industry standards promulgated through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program. With some state and local governments making LEED compliance mandatory, contractors have been driven to pay private consultants for their expertise. By setting very specific state requirements, however, CALGreen’s documentation implies that it will eliminate the leeway in design and execution that creates a demand for such expert judgment. And as the CALGreen publicity material points out, state inspectors — unlike private consultants — will not represent an additional cost to the builder.

Not in the builder’s capacity as a builder, at any rate. In his capacity as a taxpayer, he will naturally be paying every bit of the cost of CALGreen regulation. And the difference between privately contracted experts and publicly funded regulators is that the latter get paid regardless of the market’s demand for their services. That reality will be a highly visible one in California’s foreseeable future: as observed by the developer interviewed by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link above), “There is really no one building anything right now.”

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, regulation has its reasons which reason does not know. Average Californians want a thriving economy, accountable schools, reliable police and fire services, a functioning penal system, and fiscal responsibility from the state. Sacramento is giving them instead a new set of regulations — for a dormant industry — which will employ hundreds of public servants to keep the CALGreen promise of reducing global GHG emissions .0096 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the public is invited to rejoice that more of the cost of green regulation will be borne by the taxpayer. I’m not sure the art of regulation for regulation’s sake can be perfected much more than this.

Now and then, circumstances come along that put in perspective the level of regulatory autonomy currently enjoyed by our governments. A prominent example is the implementation in California of “CALGreen” building standards, which entered effect on January 1. Shepherded through the legislature in 2008 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, CALGreen proposes to reduce the greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions attributable to California’s newly constructed buildings — residential and nonresidential — by 3 million metric tons per year in 2020.

Much has been written by conservatives about the poor economic timing of the CALGreen implementation. But two of its other features are worth particular note. The first is that 3 million metric tons of GHG is vanishingly small compared with the globe’s total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Those global emissions were calculated at 31.3 billion metric tons in 2009. A reduction of 3 million metric tons represents .0096 percent of that global total (the actual fraction is .000096). Considering the number of state-government agencies involved in administering CALGreen, and the building industry’s estimate that it will increase construction costs 3 to 12 percent depending on the project, the cost of CALGreen is a questionable commitment in light of its projected benefits.

The other feature of note is CALGreen’s promise to relieve builders of $30,000 to $50,000 per project — by CALGreen’s estimate — in design and private inspection costs. Builders who wish to “build green” have, until now, sought the services of firms that specialize in complying with the industry standards promulgated through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program. With some state and local governments making LEED compliance mandatory, contractors have been driven to pay private consultants for their expertise. By setting very specific state requirements, however, CALGreen’s documentation implies that it will eliminate the leeway in design and execution that creates a demand for such expert judgment. And as the CALGreen publicity material points out, state inspectors — unlike private consultants — will not represent an additional cost to the builder.

Not in the builder’s capacity as a builder, at any rate. In his capacity as a taxpayer, he will naturally be paying every bit of the cost of CALGreen regulation. And the difference between privately contracted experts and publicly funded regulators is that the latter get paid regardless of the market’s demand for their services. That reality will be a highly visible one in California’s foreseeable future: as observed by the developer interviewed by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link above), “There is really no one building anything right now.”

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, regulation has its reasons which reason does not know. Average Californians want a thriving economy, accountable schools, reliable police and fire services, a functioning penal system, and fiscal responsibility from the state. Sacramento is giving them instead a new set of regulations — for a dormant industry — which will employ hundreds of public servants to keep the CALGreen promise of reducing global GHG emissions .0096 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the public is invited to rejoice that more of the cost of green regulation will be borne by the taxpayer. I’m not sure the art of regulation for regulation’s sake can be perfected much more than this.

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The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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RE: Palin’s Counterproductive Complaint

I agree with Pete that Sarah Palin is dead wrong on this one. Encouraging parents to monitor their children’s weight and to give them a healthy diet is one thing, mandating it is quite another.

That’s the difference between Michelle Obama and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which would like nothing better than to require that parents provide a prescribed diet, devoid of anything that tastes good. This group, which could with more accuracy be called the Center for the Suppression of All Pleasure in Life, is currently suing McDonald’s in California over the toys it puts in children’s “happy meals.” As detailed by my friend Walter Olson, their argument is that the toys make the meals too appealing to kids, who then bully their parents into buying the fattening meals, the parents giving in rather than face life with pouting children. They are seeking class-action status so that other parents, helpless before their children’s demands, can join in. San Francisco and Marin County (across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco) have already outlawed happy meals. They certainly have a low opinion of their citizens’ parenting skills. (Personally, I can remember all too well how my mother could bring my brother and me to heel with a single glance.)

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and such organizations, it seems to me, are staffed and supported by the philosophical descendants of New England Puritans. They wanted to build a shining city on a hill and, to do so, were only too happy to run everyone’s life for them.

I agree with Pete that Sarah Palin is dead wrong on this one. Encouraging parents to monitor their children’s weight and to give them a healthy diet is one thing, mandating it is quite another.

That’s the difference between Michelle Obama and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which would like nothing better than to require that parents provide a prescribed diet, devoid of anything that tastes good. This group, which could with more accuracy be called the Center for the Suppression of All Pleasure in Life, is currently suing McDonald’s in California over the toys it puts in children’s “happy meals.” As detailed by my friend Walter Olson, their argument is that the toys make the meals too appealing to kids, who then bully their parents into buying the fattening meals, the parents giving in rather than face life with pouting children. They are seeking class-action status so that other parents, helpless before their children’s demands, can join in. San Francisco and Marin County (across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco) have already outlawed happy meals. They certainly have a low opinion of their citizens’ parenting skills. (Personally, I can remember all too well how my mother could bring my brother and me to heel with a single glance.)

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and such organizations, it seems to me, are staffed and supported by the philosophical descendants of New England Puritans. They wanted to build a shining city on a hill and, to do so, were only too happy to run everyone’s life for them.

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Has the Politically Impossible Become Possible?

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

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Private Sector Voicing Outrage at Bankrolling Public-Employee Benefits

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

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RE: A Change, Literally, in the Meaning of the Word “Life”

I certainly agree with John that this is a very significant development, but I’m not sure it is quite so epic-making. For one thing, this was life created (or rather evolved) in a Petri dish. It was the ancestors of these bacteria who came from the ghastly waters of Mono Lake and had evolved there to be arsenic-tolerant. See this report in the Wall Street Journal:

The bacteria were dredged from the briny sludge of California’s Mono Lake, where the water is richly laced with arsenic and with bacteria that can survive in it. In the lab, the researchers grew the bacteria in Petri dishes in which phosphate salt normally essential for life was gradually replaced by arsenic, until the bacteria could grow without needing phosphate.

We have been finding life in places no one thought it could exist — such as hot springs in Yellowstone that sometimes exceed the boiling point of water, the tar in Pitch lake in Trinidad, and near “black smokers” many thousands of feet beneath the sea — for decades. These last organisms are completely independent of what was long thought to be another sine qua non of life: the energy of the sun, either directly, as in plants, or indirectly, as in animals. These “extremophiles” testify to the enormous power of evolution to create organisms that can exploit almost any environment. Read More

I certainly agree with John that this is a very significant development, but I’m not sure it is quite so epic-making. For one thing, this was life created (or rather evolved) in a Petri dish. It was the ancestors of these bacteria who came from the ghastly waters of Mono Lake and had evolved there to be arsenic-tolerant. See this report in the Wall Street Journal:

The bacteria were dredged from the briny sludge of California’s Mono Lake, where the water is richly laced with arsenic and with bacteria that can survive in it. In the lab, the researchers grew the bacteria in Petri dishes in which phosphate salt normally essential for life was gradually replaced by arsenic, until the bacteria could grow without needing phosphate.

We have been finding life in places no one thought it could exist — such as hot springs in Yellowstone that sometimes exceed the boiling point of water, the tar in Pitch lake in Trinidad, and near “black smokers” many thousands of feet beneath the sea — for decades. These last organisms are completely independent of what was long thought to be another sine qua non of life: the energy of the sun, either directly, as in plants, or indirectly, as in animals. These “extremophiles” testify to the enormous power of evolution to create organisms that can exploit almost any environment.

The environmental movement has been the propaganda engine behind the ludicrous idea that life is delicate, a bunch of butterflies that can only thrive in a benign — and preferably human-free — environment. In enviro-speak, every ecosystem is a fragile one, every species threatened. In fact, of course, life is tenacious in the extreme and both can and will evolve as necessary and rebound from abuse with surprising speed.

I think the true eureka moment will come when we find an exoplanet (one that orbits a star other than the sun) that has a large percentage of molecular oxygen in its atmosphere. That moment might come soon. Before 1995, we knew of no exoplanets and could only speculate as to how many, if any, existed. Today we know of more than 500 and the number is growing rapidly. It will soon explode, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, designed specifically to find them. We are not yet able to analyze their atmospheres, but we will, at least in some cases, be able to soon.

And when we find one with lots of free oxygen, it will be headlines around the world. Why? Because oxygen is chemically very reactive, forming molecules with abandon. So it doesn’t hang around in the free state very long. Earth is the only place we know where there is lots of free oxygen (about 20 percent of the atmosphere). And the reason is that earth teems with plant life that absorbs carbon dioxide, uses sunlight to crack it, builds more plants with the carbon, and spits out the oxygen. We animals then exploit the oxygen (and the plants). Such a find won’t prove the existence of non-earth life, but it would be a powerful piece of evidence for the proposition, one that would cause a surge of scientific investigation such as we haven’t seen since the Manhattan Project.

And of course, finding Earth-like life won’t rule out in any way planets with utterly alien biologies, built on molecular structures we cannot even dream of. Since we don’t know their signatures (such as free oxygen), however, finding them will be a long time coming (assuming they don’t land in Central Park and ask — politely one hopes — to be taken to our leader).

My guess is that life, Earth-like or otherwise, exists wherever conditions allow it to. After all, it arose here on Earth almost as soon as things settled down enough to make it possible.

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A Change, Literally, in the Meaning of the Word “Life”

And so, as we go on in our daily lives and politicians wrangle in Washington, NASA announces what may be the most important news not only of the year, but of the young century:

NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth….They have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible.

A thousand years from now, this may be the only thing people will know about the year 2010.

And so, as we go on in our daily lives and politicians wrangle in Washington, NASA announces what may be the most important news not only of the year, but of the young century:

NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth….They have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible.

A thousand years from now, this may be the only thing people will know about the year 2010.

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To Jennifer Rubin, The Fondest of Farewells

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

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Plan Ahead: How to Stop State Bailouts

This timely and important piece looks at whether it makes sense to set up a bankruptcy procedure for states, a process that currently exists only for cities and other municipalities. Law professor David Skeel makes a compelling case that it would be perfectly constitutional for Congress to set up a bankruptcy system for states. But should we? He argues:

The principal candidates for restructuring in states like California or Illinois are the state’s bonds and its contracts with public employees. Ideally, bondholders would vote to approve a restructuring. But if they dug in their heels and resisted proposals to restructure their debt, a bankruptcy chapter for states should allow (as municipal bankruptcy already does) for a proposal to be “crammed down” over their objections under certain circumstances. This eliminates the hold-out problem—the refusal of a minority of bondholders to agree to the terms of a restructuring—that can foil efforts to restructure outside of bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy law should give debtor states even more power to rewrite union contracts, if the court approves. Interestingly, it is easier to renegotiate a burdensome union contract in municipal bankruptcy than in a corporate bankruptcy. Vallejo has used this power in its bankruptcy case, which was filed in 2008. It is possible that a state could even renegotiate existing pension benefits in bankruptcy, although this is much less clear and less likely than the power to renegotiate an ongoing contract.

But if governors of states like California and Illinois won’t cut spending and renegotiate union contracts, would they really put their states into a bankruptcy proceeding?

The risk that politicians won’t make as much use of their bankruptcy options as they should does not mean that bankruptcy is a bad idea. For all its limitations, it would give a resolute state a new, more effective tool for paring down the state’s debts. And many a governor might find alluring the possibility of shifting blame for a new frugality onto a bankruptcy court that “made him do it” rather than take direct responsibility for tough choices.

The nub of the concern underlying Skeel’s proposal is the fear that California and other states will come to the feds looking for a bailout. Without an alternative like bankruptcy, the administration and the Congress might be tempted to give it to them. As a reader points out, we can imagine, just as happened in the 2008 financial meltdown, state officials pleading that they are on the brink of a meltdown, prisons will close, police will be fired, governments will shut down, etc.

It makes sense, therefore, for Congress to think this through now while the election is fresh in their minds. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of bankruptcy for states, but why shouldn’t Republican House leaders explore this and other alternatives, including a straightforward legislation prohibiting state bailouts? Let the Senate Democrats try to filibuster that one, or Obama promise to veto it. The incident that triggered the Tea Party movement, you will recall, was not ObamaCare or massive spending, although these became part of the agenda. It was the mortgage-bailout scheme — the idea that you’d be paying your neighbor’s mortgage. It is this sense of indignation and the call to personal — and state — responsibility that House and Senate GOP leaders should focus on. If they do it now, before the “emergency!” hollering begins, they stand a much better chance of holding the line and forcing California, Illinois, and the rest to fix their own fiscal messes.

This timely and important piece looks at whether it makes sense to set up a bankruptcy procedure for states, a process that currently exists only for cities and other municipalities. Law professor David Skeel makes a compelling case that it would be perfectly constitutional for Congress to set up a bankruptcy system for states. But should we? He argues:

The principal candidates for restructuring in states like California or Illinois are the state’s bonds and its contracts with public employees. Ideally, bondholders would vote to approve a restructuring. But if they dug in their heels and resisted proposals to restructure their debt, a bankruptcy chapter for states should allow (as municipal bankruptcy already does) for a proposal to be “crammed down” over their objections under certain circumstances. This eliminates the hold-out problem—the refusal of a minority of bondholders to agree to the terms of a restructuring—that can foil efforts to restructure outside of bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy law should give debtor states even more power to rewrite union contracts, if the court approves. Interestingly, it is easier to renegotiate a burdensome union contract in municipal bankruptcy than in a corporate bankruptcy. Vallejo has used this power in its bankruptcy case, which was filed in 2008. It is possible that a state could even renegotiate existing pension benefits in bankruptcy, although this is much less clear and less likely than the power to renegotiate an ongoing contract.

But if governors of states like California and Illinois won’t cut spending and renegotiate union contracts, would they really put their states into a bankruptcy proceeding?

The risk that politicians won’t make as much use of their bankruptcy options as they should does not mean that bankruptcy is a bad idea. For all its limitations, it would give a resolute state a new, more effective tool for paring down the state’s debts. And many a governor might find alluring the possibility of shifting blame for a new frugality onto a bankruptcy court that “made him do it” rather than take direct responsibility for tough choices.

The nub of the concern underlying Skeel’s proposal is the fear that California and other states will come to the feds looking for a bailout. Without an alternative like bankruptcy, the administration and the Congress might be tempted to give it to them. As a reader points out, we can imagine, just as happened in the 2008 financial meltdown, state officials pleading that they are on the brink of a meltdown, prisons will close, police will be fired, governments will shut down, etc.

It makes sense, therefore, for Congress to think this through now while the election is fresh in their minds. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of bankruptcy for states, but why shouldn’t Republican House leaders explore this and other alternatives, including a straightforward legislation prohibiting state bailouts? Let the Senate Democrats try to filibuster that one, or Obama promise to veto it. The incident that triggered the Tea Party movement, you will recall, was not ObamaCare or massive spending, although these became part of the agenda. It was the mortgage-bailout scheme — the idea that you’d be paying your neighbor’s mortgage. It is this sense of indignation and the call to personal — and state — responsibility that House and Senate GOP leaders should focus on. If they do it now, before the “emergency!” hollering begins, they stand a much better chance of holding the line and forcing California, Illinois, and the rest to fix their own fiscal messes.

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