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Category Archives: Politics

A Closer Look at the NBC Drone Memo

Commentary and analysis concerning the Justice Department “white paper” is just pouring in.

All those links are good reading, and more thorough analysis than I will do at this time, when there’s not yet much new to say. But for the link-averse, here are a few of the highlights:

Killing an American can happen if the citizen is “a senior operation leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force.” While not amorphous, that’s pretty vague. What is an associated force, exactly? That’s not defined, so I guess it’s whatever the government wants it to be.

This killing will be hunky-dory when:

  1. An informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States
  2. capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and
  3. the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

Let’s talk about (1):

Who is making the decision as to whether a given American citizen is a terrorist? Oh, you know… somebody. They’ll be “informed” and “high-level.” Don’t worry about it, they know what they’re doing. Is there any oversight or review to this decision? Doesn’t seem to be, so I guess we’ll just have to trust whomever makes the call to not make any mistakes, because there’s no clear recourse available should that happen.

But hey, at least we know that should it come to this, at least we’ll know there was an imminent threat against our nation. Well… you know how sometimes you have to interpret a word liberally to make it work in context?

“Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. [. . .] [A]n ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack [. . .] does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

That’s certainly a non-traditional definition of the word.

Also, this totally wouldn’t be an assassination in violation of Executive Order 12333, because it’s an act of “national self defense” against an imminent threat. By which they mean a threat that lacks any clear evidence of its existence, any known target, or any particular time that it might occur. Also, let’s not box ourselves in… the Terrorist might not even be plotting anything at the moment, but if he’s “recently been involved in activities posing an imminent threat”, and there’s no evidence he’s turned in his membership card and gone home, we can infer that he’s still hard at it. That assumption is probably generally accurate, but when coupled with the Justice Department’s new-and-improved definition of “imminent,” it appears to open the time-frame up to such a degree as to render it basically meaningless.

(2):

“[C]apture would not be feasible if it could not be physically effectuated during the relevant window of opportunity or if the relevant country were to decline to consent to a capture operation. Other factors such as undue risk to U.S. personnel conducting a potential capture operation also could be relevant. Feasibility would be a highly fact-specific and potentially time-sensitive inquiry.”

Part of that sounds pretty reasonable. You can’t capture someone who cannot be reached during a given period of time. That’s just physics, and such. The country in which they reside might not want U.S. forces running around looking for the target (but naturally they’ll be fine with drones dropping bombs within their territory). And whether or not this is feasible would be fact-specific and time-sensitive, which looks a lot like a roundabout way of saying it’s just a judgment call, and one with little in the way of definite criteria. “If you can capture ’em, maybe do that, as long as it’s not too much trouble.”

And what, if anything, does it really mean that “the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible”? The three-point criteria dictate when it’s legal to bomb an American citizen, so I suppose the U.S. will continue to monitor whether capture is becomes feasible, right up until our “person of interest” is exploded?

(3):

The paper asserts that all of this is definitely legal, at one point analogizing the action of bombing a declared terrorist to a police officer shooting a dangerous suspect who’s attempting to flee the scene. For reasons illustrated on Lowering the Bar’s commentary, I don’t really think this analogy works. Another argument states, basically, that since this declared terrorist would be an American, it might be argued that killing them would be murder or manslaughter, but those terms only apply to “unlawful killings,” and since the government would be exerting “public authority” then it can’t be unlawful. In short, it would sure be illegal if we weren’t the one’s defining what illegal means. This section is long on assertions, and short on clear analysis.

The whole paper buries the reader in arguments that depend on you acceptance of either questionable propositions or the very conclusions they  purport to reach.

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The Individual Mandate: My 2¢

Firstly, this isn’t a legal analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision. For that, please direct yourself to The Volokh Conspiracy. Go on, go. You can come back here after you’re done.

.   .   .   .

And you’re back. Now don’t you feel smarter?

Good.

So, as you know by now, the Supreme Court upheld almost everything in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in a 5-4 decision. I’ve yet to read the Court’s opinions myself, as they’re quite long, but it seems as though things could probably have gone much worse. Yes, the individual mandate was upheld, but it was construed as a tax. This means that Congress’ power to do whatever the hell it feels like hasn’t been expanded to nearly the degree it would have been had the act been upheld on the basis of the ‘Necessary and Proper’ clause, or God forbid, the Interstate Commerce clause.

So, what then?

This isn’t the End of Democracy™, the Death of the Republic™, or any other such fiery polemics espoused by well-paid pundits. It is unfortunate, but by no means the most unfortunate thing that’s happened in recent memory.

*clears throat, and proceeds in a booming voice*

And ye, the assembled politicians stirred from their Scotch-soaked napping, and they didst see: Health care was eye-watteringly expensive, and insurance companies didn’t want to take on customers who were likely to be a net loss. They were a little concerned with the human suffering, and a lot concerned that said humans would find them somehow accountable. What was to be done, they asked, while dramatically wringing their hands and photogenically weeping for the plight. Discovering the reasons for the expense, and correcting the system would be an enormous task, and more importantly won’t be done before the next election. So that’s out. They could, in their magnanimity, provide public health insurance, but no… that’s some commie horseshit. Well, what if they just forced everyone to buy private health insurance? That was some corporatist horseshit, and that’s exactly the kind of horseshit they loved.

And so it was. Instead of attempting to fix the system, there was simply a demand for all and sundry to buy into it. A band-aid for a gunshot wound.

*becomes less dramatic*

Right then…

I don’t think the ACA is going to fix what its creators and supporters hope it will fix. Simply forcing people to buy insurance, and forcing companies to insure those with preexisting conditions is not going to magically make the American health care system not a huge disaster. A system of socialized medicine, perhaps even one built only for those who were unable to get private insurance, may indeed be some “commie horseshit,” but it would be a fair sight more honest than the end run around of compelling everyone to buy insurance, thereby “taxing” the healthy for the benefit of the sick, and for the even greater benefit of the insurance companies. Health care needs fixed, but this isn’t the way to do it. And now that the law has passed through SCOTUS essentially unscathed, we’ve created interest groups who will fight tooth and nail against any efforts to change or repeal it. We’ve done nothing but made things more complicated.

Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Kansas Embarrassing Itself Yet Again…

It appears that I may soon have to start adding “Yes, that Kansas” when I tell people where I’m from.

My fine(ish) state has managed to avoid embarrassing spotlighting for a while (well, sort of, anyway…), but it seems this situation may soon change, as the state science standards are coming up for review. You may recall how this went last time, and it’s likely as not that we’ll have a similar kerfuffle this time ’round.

Ken Willard, who would like to assure you that he’s definitely not a “crackpot,” views the standards currently being proposed as flawed, because they “ignore evidence against evolution, don’t respect religious diversity and promote secular humanism, which precludes God or another supreme being in considering how the universe works,” which seems like a roundabout way of saying the standards don’t give the desired prominance to his views that “a wizard did it.”

Sadly, I’ve yet to track down the full text of Mr. Willard’s letter. I’d very much like to read it, though in all likelihood it will just make me mumble to myself in frustration, as I really don’t see the alleged impasse between evolutionary theory and faith. Probably because I’m not a Biblical literalist.

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on this and commenting further. With any luck at all, the Great State of Kansas will come off looking just as silly as we did five years ago.

Information concerning Kansas’ science standards can be found here: http://www.ksde.org/Default.aspx?tabid=4972

And the Worst is Yet to Come…

America’s quadrennial horror continues unabated. The lack of enthusiasm coupled with mild amusement which characterized my early reaction to the Republican nomination race has been entirely replaced by resignation and loathing. I still like Ron Paul, but I’m a realist, and it’s clear that he’s playing this game for platform exposure and bargaining chips. I dislike everyone else to varying degrees.

Romney wouldn’t be substantially different from Obama, he just plays for a different club. Newt “King of the Moon” Gingrich is a horrifying megalomaniac. And Santorum is, well, Santorum

I talked with a coworker of mine who also attended the local caucus. He told me I lost pretty much everyone with my first sentence, right as I belittled their firm adherence to the idea that abortion, gay marriage, immigration, et al were The Most Important Issues Ever. Another caucus ally said that eyes everywhere glazed over after I brought up budget figures. Last election one local gentleman affirmed that abortion caused illegal immigration, so this is probably about what I should have expected.

Anyway, Santorum won my county with 47% of the vote, and took the whole state with 51%. He won a couple more states shortly thereafter. He’s transitioned from an amusing back-marker into something approaching a legitimate contender for the nomination. I would still put my dollars on Romney clinching it, but Santorum’s recent victories could make the rest of the race much more interesting tedious. I do not understand the appeal, but to hear my fellow caucus-goers talk, there may be a widespread belief that if we just keep the gays from getting married and the women from having abortions, then the Good Lord will balance our federal budget and scrub the rust off all our abandoned factories.

The election can’t get here soon enough. The sooner we sort out the issue of either replacing or retaining our current Fearless Leader, the sooner we can all get back to driving the country into the ground.

Here are Kansas caucus results by county.

Here is a fancy-pants pie chart of the overall Kansas results (‘uncommitted’ votes, and those who voted for someone no longer in the race omitted.)

A Few Words for the Republican Caucus

I attended my local Republican caucus this morning. That was… something.

I don’t really consider this a speech, but it probably fits the definition. I tried to tailor it somewhat to the expected audience without compromising the intended message. I suspect my words made little difference to anyone present.

More on the Kansas primary in the semi-near future.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Despite what the various conservative pundits may have said, the single most pressing issue of this election is not abortion, illegal immigration, or gay marriage. There is, naturally, still room to discuss these issues, however the single most pressing issue facing our country is financial. Our current economic situation can be characterized as anything from “unimpressive” to “grim,” depending on how you want to count things, and whether you want to compare it to several European nations, or look at it in absolute terms. Current U.S. debt is between nine and fifteen trillion dollars, depending on how one counts. That is between about sixty, and about one-hundred percent of America’s gross domestic product. For perspective, if you had been born at the same time as Jesus, and had spent a million dollars every single day between then and now, you’d still not have spent one trillion dollars. The government expects to add at least this amount in the coming year. And I’m not even going to get into unfunded liabilities, which is the money the federal government has promised to pay out in the future, but does not yet have funds to do so. That figure somewhere north of sixty trillion.

What are we doing that is so expensive? For the 2011 fiscal year, the federal government spent about $3.5 trillion dollars, and took in about $2.3 trillion, a $1.2 trillion dollar shortfall. 23%, about $835 billion, was spent on medicare/medicaid. 20%, or $725 billion, was spent on social security. Together these two programs amount to about $1.5 trillion dollars. 19% of the budget, or $700 billion, was spent by the Defense Department. These are the three main expense items on the federal budget, and all together account for $2.2 trillion dollars, which is 62% of the budget. It does not matter what your opinion is of social entitlement programs, and it does not matter what your opinion is concerning defense spending. The numbers are quite clear; we cannot afford to pay for all of it. We already know what our future holds, should we continue down our current path. We only need to look at Europe, and at Greece in particular. Our current future is one of a debt crisis, riots and disorder, and the very possible collapse of the dollar.

So how does this relate to the election? I have hopefully shown that we can’t afford another President who ignores economic reality. There are two ways to successfully address our financial situation: The government can massively increase its revenues, a burden which would almost certainly fall on the middle class, as they have enough money to be worth taking, but not enough to afford lobbyists. Alternately, the government can massively cut spending. This means that at least some of your sacred cows will be going to the slaughter.

To whom shall we look for salvation? Our current President? I think I can safely assume that no one here favors another four years of President Obama. What about the current front-runner, Mr. Romney? Evidence suggests that he would use a bit of both options. There will be some cuts, and taxes or fees will also go up. Evidence also suggests he won’t do enough of either to matter, in the long run. Mr. Santorum? Santorum is a moral crusader, and a “Big Government Conservative.” He needs his government big enough to help the groups he favors and suppress those he doesn’t. He is unlikely to make government any cheaper, or any less intrusive. And Mr. Gingrich, that relic of the 90s, has claimed on occasion that he wants a Moon base. Now, I think a Moon base sounds amazing, but it also sounds extremely expensive. We cannot afford a President who is this out of touch with our present reality. And what of Dr. Paul? I don’t agree with absolutely everything Ron Paul proposes, and I suspect many of you agree with even less than I do, but he does stand head and shoulders above all the other candidates when it comes to understanding the economy. The reality is that our economy is the single most important issue facing our country at this time, and it should be your most important issue when voting. We can’t afford to delay fixing the economic mess we’re in, and for this reason I would urge you to support the one candidate who seems to have a clue how to make the necessary repairs to it, Dr. Ron Paul.

Conclusions on ‘It Takes a Family’

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading Rick Santorum’s book ‘It Takes a Family.’ I’ve let it simmer in my mind, perhaps a bit longer than I really had intended. In the meantime he’s managed to emerge as a somewhat legitimate contender in the race for the GOP Presidential nomination. I still don’t think he has any real chance of winning the Presidency, but he could seal the deal for Obama even more effectively than Romney would be able to.

Ultimately, I found ‘It Takes a Family’ to be an inconsistent treatise, espousing a worldview far more distrustful of the “common man” than Santorum would like us to believe. He opposed countless times the liberal elites, the “Village Elders” as he termed them, attempting to reshape American society into the form they desire. Yet his own ambitions differ only in the end-product, not in the desire to use government as a tool to mold people. He accuses the liberals of employing government as a hammer to break apart the traditional family and subvert traditional values, yet he would employ government as an enforcer of traditional values. As for the family, Santorum has settled upon a model he likes, and sees no reason anyone else should have much of a choice in the matter.

There are parts of the book I like. I like it when he talks about getting the government out of the economy (though I think he needs to polish up on his economic theory. I could give him a reading list). I like many parts of his education ideas. I agree with him that basic decency and respect towards others, and especially respect towards one’s parents are important. Not coincidentally, most of the areas of his book that I found myself nodding in agreement were areas which contained no policy ideas.

Yet every proclamation he makes that government has no business in a certain area ring a bit hollow when you consider all the areas that he does think government has business. Mr. Santorum, even if I agreed with you in those areas where you want to implement law and public policy (which I do not), how could any of us possibly trust you to refrain from meddling in other areas when you’ve addressed the issues you have with such zeal? If law and far-reaching policy are good for one facet of our lives, why should we expect you not to employ them in others at the first moment you decide that “something must be done”? To the hammer of government, does not everything become a nail?

The particulars of Santorum’s ideology are of great importance mainly to the groups he targets, and voters with similar prejudices. He is, for instance, unlikely to garner many votes from the LGBT bloc, even among fiscally conservative, Republican gays (they do exist, or so I hear). Feminists will have little nice to say about him. The teachers’ unions may not take kindly to his thoughts on public education. Ultimately though, these are just the peculiarities of his viewpoint. The reason his candidacy should be opposed is not because of the specific oppressions he would introduce, though they certainly warrant consideration, but because he is a statist. He decries the elitism of the liberals, but his own approach to governance seems different only in specific intention, not in the general ambition to impose a worldview. As a President he would attempt to rearrange government and set it to different tasks, but I see no reason to suspect we’d end up with any less of it overall. And even if you happened to agree with him completely, would you be comfortable leaving those tools of oppression to someone else?

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 6)

Part 6: Educational Excellence

Santorum is surprisingly knowledgeable concerning the roots of compulsory public education, citing the European forerunners of public schooling (the Prussians) and the anti-Catholic roots of the American public education system. Realizing the origins and original motivations for public schooling goes a long way towards explaining why they seem to be failing their assigned task, which one might assume is educating our youth. The fact is they’re doing an admirable job of creating the “good citizens” the state wants: Politically apathetic consumers, workers, and soldiers. He argues in support of school choice, in the form of grants, vouchers, the right to home school, etc. This would certainly be a step in the right direction. If you recognize that public schools are delivering an inferior product, it is appropriate to allow people the choice to use a superior product if they so desire.

Next on the docket is the topic of manners. Here too I have no real disagreements (and he has no policy points, which helps me not find anything to disagree with). Showing other people respect and courtesy is indeed important, and is a civilizing force. We don’t need any laws for this, nor does he suggest we do. What we do need is greater parental action in instilling these social codes.

Santorum home schools his own children (His wife does, anyway. Also, very impressive being trained both as a nurse and a lawyer, Mrs. Santorum), and while he feels its the best option for his own family, he concedes that this isn’t really practicable for everyone. He notes a variety of educational options. While I don’t have children, I have thought about the “local cooperative” model of education myself, and find the idea appealing.

He discusses, at some length, the teaching of sciences. He lends support to efforts to teach both classical evolutionary theory, as well as intelligent design, and authored a bill with the intention of fostering thought and debate in schools over these theories. There is of course room for this debate, as there is always room to think about the implications of any descriptive theory. Or, to put it different, answering how ‘x’ works within a given system says nothing about why (or if there is indeed a “why”) it works within that system. That said, I’m not sold that intelligent design has any place in science curriculum, as “why” questions seem more properly understood with philosophy or theology.

Santorum attacks the liberal bias of universities, which they do indeed have. Try finding a school with more than a bare handful of libertarian professors, or one that teaches Austrian economics… the pickings are slim. He doesn’t have much in the way of policy ideas to change this, nor should he (a fact he acknowledges). He devotes most of this final section to admonishing parents, and society at large, to demand change.

I come from a family of teachers. Both of my parents taught at the local public school. I have friends who teach, and friends who intend to become teachers. With that said, I don’t think Santorum goes far enough. If you understand the historical basis for compulsory public education, acknowledge that it is doing the job of education poorly (though it does the job of indoctrination quite well), and believe there are much better alternatives, then the logically consistent thing to demand is the dissolution of this institution. Compulsory public education is a house built on a poor foundation. We keep pouring money into repairs, but none of these efforts correct the fundamental underlying fault. But my own ideas on how to address education are at best tangentially related to Santorum’s book, and therefore won’t be discussed at this time.

This is the final section of the book, so the only other post I’ll be doing on it is some conclusions and afterthoughts, after I let it settle in my mind for a few days.

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 5)

Part 5: Culture Matters

A generally predictable discussion of the various evils of popular culture. Santorum touches on technology when he rails against P2P networks, and advocates for stronger measures to fence in the internet. He also comes out in favor of anti-piracy measures. Apart from those, and his assertion that governing bodies such as the FCC and FTC are in the right to regulate media, there’s really nothing to see here concerning public policy. Move along.

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 4)

Part 4: Moral Ecology

“The truth, as I have been trying to show, is that it is the conservatives who truly embrace American liberty— while the liberals’ No-Fault Freedom is a recipe for breaking down the moral and social bonds of our nation, which creates, in turn, the need for more government power. And with that comes less freedom.”
(pg.  201)

“How often do we hear acerbic, condescending, sarcastic lampoons by the Hollywood/Harvard crowd about “old fashioned” manners, customs, and moral duties? It is that kind of sarcasm–which is sometimes called, self-importantly, “irony”–that gnaws away at America’s moral capital. The duty of securing America’s  liberty from the external threat of Islamic fascism has fallen to the courageous young servicemen and women on patrol in the Middle East. But the duty of maintaining our American liberty from the threat of depleting moral capital and the artillery of time is up to us all.”
(pg. 207)

Reading this, Santorum appears to believe that moral decline necessitates government intervention, and that rebuilding the ethics of the public, a task that is apparently to be spearheaded by the state, will allow the government to then “disarm” and allow the people more freedom again. There are problems with this. For the sake of argument, let us accept that moral decline indeed does require government intervention. Allowing for that still leaves me wondering why we should suppose that government is the appropriate tool. What has the state done that would lead me to believe it is some kind of moral beacon? There is no need for me to enumerate the various crimes of the state, but dwell on them momentarily and decide whether you think that government is the best teacher of ethics. Of course “government” is only an abstraction coupled with a collection of people. And what of these people? Are they the most virtuous among us? Are the halls of Congress filled with the very best of our nation? Once again, I needn’t dwell on this point for it to be made. Finally, power does not work that way. Power begets power, and a state bent on remaking a people in accordance with their own vision will not cease in this task, and will not relinquish this power when the task is done. To ask the state to control us only until the job is done is to ask the state to control us forever.

“But if you listen to ordinary Americans at backyard barbecues or sitting around kitchen tables across our land you will hear troubled parents worrying about what their children are learning in school, on the Internet, and on television; worrying about whatever happened to the common decencies of yesteryear and worrying about how to raise children the right way when everything seems set against them.”
(pg. 208)

Obviously Western civilization is on the express train to Hell. Just ask Socrates: “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Moral panic over how the younger generations are behaving, and what they’re getting themselves into, has been a feature of public discourse for thousands of years.

Santorum employs populist verbiage, appeals to the thoughts and wants of Hard-working Families™, Concerned Parents™, etc. to cast the current social climate as a deeply-cleaved conflict between the atheistic, elitist liberals who would restructure our nation into a godless socialist utopia, and the honest, religious, and decent conservatives who just want to raise a family and go to work.

“I am not advocating a replenishment of our moral capital because I want everybody to be alike. I don’t want a government snooping through people’s private lives, either.”
(pg. 215)

I don’t know that I believe you, Mr. Santorum. You have stated in an interview the following:

“Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles. And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home, this “right to privacy,” then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? […] The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”
[source]

It would certainly appear that you do want government snooping through our private lives, because in order for the state to limit individuals’ “wants and passions” they will be required to snoop.

Santorum dedicates his next chapter to attacking the judicial branch of government, blaming them for sodomy, abortion, and “court-mandated same-sex marriage” (pg. 223). Mandated? I’m sure he means that the courts will be “mandating” that we recognize same-sex marriage, but it makes me chuckle to interpret it as courts compelling us to pair up with our favorite same-sex buddies. He continues his assault on the Supreme Court, regarding Griswold v. Connecticut, with the following:

[…] “it is in this case that the Court “discovered” a “right to privacy” in the U.S. Constitution. Of course, such a right does not appear anywhere in the text of the Constitution. Rather the Court’s majority discovered–or invented– such a right from the “emanations” and “penumbras” of rights found in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”
(pg. 224)

[…] “it was marital privacy that was discussed, So, an aspect of the traditional moral view was a motivation for the Court’s majority decision: but the jurisprudential novelty it established– the right to privacy– would quickly become a constitutional wrecking ball.”
(pg. 224-225)

Yes, Santorum asserts boldly that there is no right to be free of government intrusion. The state may, and indeed perhaps should, be the equivalent of a parent. Poking into your private affairs, judging their appropriateness, and compelling your towards restraint or action. His conception of the Constitution, made explicit during his brief discussion of pornography, is one where a person is free only so long as they’re doing the Right Thing. He rejects any notion that the Constitution is meant to protect forms of expression that may not be decidedly for the “public good.” He is inconsistent on common law, as well, lauding it on one hand for its freedom from “abstractions,” yet condemning it on the other for the ability of “activist” judges to lead the law down a road he disapproves of.

“Privacy. Neutrality. Free Expression. These three abstractions together make fora  perfect storm, a jurisprudential hurricane for wrecking havoc on a moral ecosystem. Together they make of our Constitution not a document for democratic self-governance, but instead describes a pure liberal society of isolated individuals each doing their own thing within the politically correct boundaries carefully crafted and enforced by the village elders.”
(pg. 235)

“Democratic self-governance.” What is this, if not the ability to do as one pleases so long as one does not infringe on another’s rights? Santorum is somehow defining “self-governance” as a group activity, in which the whims and habits of the individual must be subordinate to those of the greater society. This may certainly be democratic, but it’s hardly self-governance. Though if Santorum rejects the whole idea of individual sovereignty, then perhaps it’s “self-governance” in the sense that we’re free from outside oppression And where has his previous optimism concerning humanity gone? Where is that “can-do spirit” which claimed government should leave our economic decisions (mostly) alone? Is rational self-interest good enough for the building of our houses, but not for the bedrooms inside them?

This section of the book is closed by several chapters dealing with the issue of abortion. As you are almost certainly already aware (and could easily guess, if not), Santorum is very much against the practice, and many of his examples are thoughtful and moving. The issue of where one draws a line for the legal protection of the unborn is incredibly clear to some, and quite vague to others. I find it interesting that Santorum offers much the same argument concerning abortion that I have used;  that it ends up as an argument over property rights. Are unborn children people, or biological tissue that amounts to chattel property? Is there a middle ground which would imply some leeway in how they’re dealt with? The issue simmers and stews in a broth of ethics and legal definitions, and it periodically boils over. And it’s an issue much too large to shoehorn into my notes on this book.

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 3)

Part 3: The Roots of Prosperity

By the second page of part three, Santorum has quoted both Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith. He cites Franklin’s opinion that marriages in the United States were at the time both entered into earlier, and more generally, than in Europe. Also that the greater number of American children was due to the vast land, and opportunities to leave said children with plenty. Quoting from Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations,’ he agrees with Smith that the mark of a nation’s prosperity is its numbers of people.

Santorum believes that a strong economy promotes healthy families. I would agree to the truth of this. As I mentioned in my notes on part two, a strong economy provides employment, which is turn gives a measure of security for both a person’s present, and future well-being. This security, and the hope for a better future, are boons to a family. It makes more sense to get married and have children if you believe that everyone can be provided for. Santorum states his belief that he considers the reverse true, as well. That strong families are the basis for a strong economy. I’m not completely sure I know what he’s driving at here, and it’s the kind of statement that might look coherent if you squint.

His economic ideas will appeal to the majority of fiscal conservatives. Low taxes, few regulations, a stable currency, etc. There’s nothing in the broad strokes that appears intolerable. However he seems to take at face value the claim that the Federal Reserve is an independent banking body which the government merely watches over. Of course this is hardly the case. He also appears to accept fiat currency as simply the way things are. He mentions the need for a stable currency, but apparently believes this is achievable with the dollar, so long as it’s managed properly. There is no mention of truly stable alternatives, such as commodity currency (or at least commoditybacked currency).

[…]“we must instill in the disadvantaged an entrepreneurial spirit through economic and financial literacy.”
(pg. 126)

I would assume, and I believe Santorum has said as much while on the campaign trail, that there should be economics and money-management classes in schools. The obvious question concerning economics classes would be: “Whose economics?” Shall we teach Chicago School? Keynesian? Austrian? Something else entirely? Most Americans don’t read about economics, either for business or as a hobby (which is why teaching them about economics would be necessary to begin with), but saying “We’ll be teaching you economics” is a bit like saying “We’ll be teaching you religion.” There’s a great variation of ideas, and many of those ideas don’t play nice with one another. The end result would of course be that the economics the state would teach reflect the schools and theories which support its wider ideology. You don’t, after all, teach a person those things that would reflect poorly on you. Realistically, this is most likely neither here nor there. I imagine that by “economic literacy” he actually envisions a program to teach general money management, and retirement planning.

Santorum was part of the welfare reform process in 1996 which would transition the country from the ‘Aid to Families with Dependent Children’ program to the ‘Temporary Assistance for Needy  Families’ program. Santorum argues that the welfare program, as it had previously been structured, had a corrosive effect on families, and created a whole class of dependents. He presents study results, and statistics in support, and does a respectable job making his case. I would add here that social welfare programs are ultimately a self-serving enterprise for the government, as they create an underclass who are at best obligated to support those powers that provide their livelihood, and at worst are made apathetic and uninterested in politics, so long as their checks keep coming (or should I reverse those?). The politicians are not simply providing handouts, they’re buying support.

Of course this goes both ways: To much the same degree which entitlement programs narrow the range of political action which can be undertaken by the group receiving them without harming their own self-interest, the programs also create constituencies which will muster to vote if a politician dares to cut their benefits. This is why social security for the elderly has created such a powerful political lobby. Cut benefits and the Gray Bloc will turn up to oust you from office, next election. Entitlements become entrenched, and neither the giver nor the receiver can stray too far without being punished. When taken to its logical conclusion, acknowledging the deleterious effects of entitlement programs means that we should strive to eliminate those programs and return charity to the churches, NGOs, and community groups. With the federal budget running consistent trillion-dollar deficits, this may well be a foregone conclusion. The fiscal health of the state demands their elimination, but this is politically impossible. Government will take some kind of “third way,” seeking to have its cake and eat it too. The result of this impossible endeavor will be disastrous.

On pg. 152-153 Santorum writes about his idea for a “Kids Investment and Development Savings” (KIDS) account. The idea is that the government would give every child in America $500, placed in an account and invested in mutual funds. This could be doubled to $1000 for children born into families below the median income line. Other people, or organizations would be able to deposit money is this account as well, and the government would match their contributions dollar-for-dollar, up to $500. The money that has built up in this account could be withdrawn after the child turns 18, but $500 must remain, to eventually be “used for postsecondary education, or buying a home, or else rolled over into an IRA and saved for retirement.”

“Upon reaching 18 the child must pay back to the federal government any federal contribution to the fund; the federal contribution is like a no-interest loan for up to 18 years.”
(pg. 153)

If the money the federal government provides must be paid back at the very first moment the money can even be withdrawn, then what is the point of giving it in the first place? It can be used as a base which will be invested in those mutual funds he mentions, but what if those don’t pan out? Ensuring the money goes where it should, and everyone has their forms stamped properly would create new employment opportunities for small-time bureaucrats I suppose. Santorum insists this program would create a sense of ownership, and foster a tendency to save, but if your savings is made up entirely of money that has been given to you by someone else I’m not sure that is the lesson it will teach in practice.

The next topic discussed in the state of Social Security. For the sake of argument, and because I don’t care enough right now to look up the pertinent figures, I will assume that the things he claims were true, or could at least be interpreted as being true, when the book was copyrighted in 2005. The prediction that government debt would continue to increase has indeed come true, but to a far greater degree, and far quicker than he believed would happen. Perhaps the general feeling in ’05 was that Social Security was salvageable, but the writing is on the wall now. Debt has now surpassed 100% GDP, Social Security takes a fifth of the federal budget, and there’s a rapidly declining ratio of payer-to-recipients. I don’t know anyone within my demographic (late 20s) who believes they’ll ever see a payout from Social Security. Santorum argues for the privatization of the system, and that’s fine, but he also insists on keeping the government part of it. Money will still deducted from your paycheck, and managed by the government. A government bond fund is even mentioned. Perhaps this seemed like a good plan in 2005, but seven years, one economic collapse, and trillions of dollars in added public debt later, I’d just as soon put my money under the mattress.

The last couple of chapters of this section are chock-full of anecdotes about private institutions loaning money, or building and hiring in the inner cities where revitalization is desperately needed. In most of these instances, government plays a small role at best. Santorum writes as though he believes this is the best way for things to be done, and he talks about economic freedom. But he stops short of taking this to its logical conclusion by removing the government from the economy entirely.