HOUSTON -- On the day of the NCAA men's basketball final, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that is likely to produce champions for generations to come.
By a 5-4 vote, the majority upheld an Arizona tax-credit program that, writes David Savage of the L.A. Times, gives taxpayers a "dollar-for-dollar tax credit, up to $500 per person or $1,000 for a couple, for those who donate to organizations that in turn pay tuition for students attending private and parochial schools." The minority contends this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, maintains that since such donations are with pre-tax dollars, the government never has the money, and thus, "there is no such connection between dissenting taxpayer and alleged establishment."
During the 2008 presidential campaign when candidate Barack Obama told "Joe the Plumber" that he wanted to "spread the wealth around," it sounded to a lot of conservatives like socialism: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," in the words of Karl Marx.
There is a kind of wealth spreading, however, that ought to meet the political litmus test of conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and radical Independents. At a time of high unemployment, too many layoffs and too few new jobs in the private sector (230,000 jobs were created last month, according to the Labor Department, but unemployment continues to officially hover at just under 9 percent and Gallup calculates it, without seasonal adjustment, at 10.0 percent), it is disheartening to see so many CEOs having recovered enough from their personal recession to pay themselves salaries and benefits that would have shamed the super-rich in America's Gilded Age.
Norman Braman is not your typical billionaire car dealer. Nor is he your typical establishment Republican, who too often puts party above principle. Norman Braman is the type of person who strikes fear into the hearts of every professional politician who thinks he can say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite once in office.
In case you haven't been paying attention, Braman led a successful drive to recall Republican mayor Carlos Alvarez of Miami-Dade, Fla., and Commissioner Natacha Seijas. Their offenses? In a telephone conversation, Braman tells me there were many, including, he says, "sloppy bookkeeping, fraud, and the mayor's decision to use tax dollars to build a sports stadium for the local baseball team" when fiscal challenges for the city and high unemployment were harming the local economy.
In the 1979 movie "The China Syndrome," reporter Kimberly Wells (played by Jane Fonda) witnesses an accident at a nuclear power plant and then uncovers a plot to keep it a secret in order to protect the power company's billion-dollar investment. The film was a gift to the political left, which at the time opposed the pursuit of nuclear energy to reduce our addiction to foreign oil. In some liberal circles, that opposition remains strong.
The film, along with real-life accidents such as Three Mile Island (also in 1979), in which no one was killed, and Chernobyl (1986), which, according to the World Nuclear Association, "killed two Chernobyl plant workers on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people within a few weeks, as a result of acute radiation poisoning," account for much of our modern thinking about all things nuclear. Other films, like "Dr. Strangelove," "Fail-Safe" and "On the Beach" -- along with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended World War II and launched the Cold War with the Soviet Union in which "mutual assured destruction" (MAD) and civil defense drills became the norm -- make us nervous about what the unrestrained power of the atom can do.
If the resignations at National Public Radio continue at last week's pace, there may be no need for Congress to defund the aging dinosaur, because there will be no one left there to turn the lights on.
The latest is Betsy Liley, NPR's director of institutional giving. Conservative activist James O'Keefe secretly recorded phone conversations between Liley and a man masquerading as a potential donor from a fictitious group called the Muslim Education Action Center, which the man said had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The fake donor said his group was worried about a government audit. Liley told him that a $5 million contribution might not have to be reported to the IRS. Liley has been placed on administrative leave.
One of the pleasures of an earthly transition is that you can write nice things about a person while they are still around to read them.
And so, I rise to praise my friend and favorite newspaper writer, Frank Rich Jr. as he leaves The New York Times for New York magazine.
What, you say? You are a conservative and he is among the most politically liberal people in journalism. Or, as someone asked me one night when they heard I was going to dinner with former Senator George McGovern, "How can you eat with a man like that?" "Easy," I replied. "He's my friend." And so was Ted Kennedy, I am happy to say. After all, Jesus was "a friend to sinners" and if they were good enough for Him, they are certainly good enough for me.
President Obama has said his view of same-sex "marriage" is "evolving." Apparently he thinks that the law should be based on a kind of Darwinian jurisprudence which allows it to "evolve" and become whatever the ruling politicians at a given moment say it is (or isn't).
How else to explain the decision by the president and his attorney general, Eric Holder, not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996? The Senate vote was 85-14; the vote in the House was 342-67, an indication of overwhelming public support to keep marriage for opposite-sex couples.
NOTICE of REVISION: This column has been revised to correctly attribute The New York Times for data and reportage cited in its Feb. 16 story on the statistical value of human life.
Back in the American Wild West, federal and state governments often put a price on the heads of infamous outlaws like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Sam Bass, Belle Star and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Today, our government is not so selective. It's seeking to put a price on the head of every American. Not because they've robbed a train, but for a different reason that could lead to a very bad end.
A recent New York Times story summarizes how various government agencies have come up with formulas for determining how much we are worth. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Times notes, has set the value of a human life at $9.1 million, reaching this determination while proposing tighter restrictions on air pollution. During the Bush administration, EPA calculated our value at $6.8 million. Was the difference in price caused by inflation? The EPA didn't say.
When three-fourths of the Boston police department went on strike in 1919, leading to broken shop windows and looting, then-Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the state militia and broke the strike. Coolidge declared, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."
His courage propelled him to the vice presidency and eventually to the presidency.
On the home page of the Office of Management and Budget website, President Obama is quoted: "Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new."
If only he would, but the president's proposed $3.7 trillion budget is more of the same: taxing and spending for which liberal Democrats are known and "cuts" as in Pell Grants and home heating assistance for the poor he knows congressional Democrats are unlikely to approve. It is also full of assumptions about revenue and a rosy scenario on economic growth that is more than double current growth.
One of liberalism's many problems is that once an idea or program is proved wrong and unworkable, liberals rarely acknowledge their mistake and examine the root cause of their error so they don't repeat it.
Take multiculturalism ... please!
In a speech to a security conference in Munich, British Prime Minister David Cameron declared state multiculturalism a failure. For good measure, Cameron said Britain also must get tougher on Islamic extremists. Predictably, this has angered Islamic extremists.
On the centenary of Ronald Reagan's birth, I pause for another historic event: agreement with President Obama, who says of his predecessor in USA Today, "Ronald Wilson Reagan was a believer ... he recognized that each of us has the power -- as individuals and as a nation -- to shape our own destiny. He had faith in the American promise; in the importance of reaffirming values like hard work and personal responsibility; and in his own unique ability to inspire others to greatness."
I suspect Reagan would be embarrassed by the attempts to elevate him to political sainthood. Even conservatives who now long for another Reagan were sometimes critical of him during his presidency and of those around him they believed were holding him back. "Let Reagan be Reagan" they cried, as if he wasn't who he was.
The turmoil in Egypt must not be seen in isolation from other events in the world. Neither is it an aberration. It is the next scene in a long-running play whose final act is the domination of the world by radical Islamists.
The Obama administration has been delusional in its belief that dictators and religious fanatics can be coddled. It has also been dangerously wrong in thinking exposure to our way of life will make them more like us. In fact, such exposure has confirmed what they have been taught: that America and the West are secularists who mock God, sexualize women and live only for the pleasures of this world.
The history of radical Islamist movements is being repeated in our time. First there is infiltration and when their numbers are large enough, domination. Next comes subjugation, followed by eradication of nonbelievers. To think things will be different this time is folly.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama at times sounded like he was channeling Ronald Reagan: cutting the deficit, hailing private enterprise and individual initiative, talking about the future. But for all his eloquence, the president wrapped his liberal ideology in conservative sheep's clothing.
On the surface, the president said many things with which conservatives might agree, but words can mean something, or they can mask true intentions.
There was no indication the president plans to retreat on his far-left agenda of the last two years. Why should he? That would require denying who he is.
Absent the glamorous rhetoric, let's examine the major subjects on which the president touched.
By now those holiday bills have arrived. Those who have charged too much have cut back on spending until the bills are paid. Some have gone on the spending wagon, cutting their plastic into tiny pieces.
Not the U.S. government. Unlike mere mortals, the government can print and borrow seemingly limitless amounts of money and so has little incentive to stop spending. Some blame China for our predicament, but that's like blaming American Express for your monthly bill. China is merely the banker. Our spending habits are the problem.
The contrast between what Illinois Democrats did last week and what Republicans have done in Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia and New Jersey, could not be clearer.
In Illinois, Democratic legislators and a Democratic governor pushed through a massive 67 percent personal income tax hike (and a 46 percent boost in corporate taxes), claiming an accompanying "cap" would mean no new spending. Sure.
Illinois is caught in a trap of its own making, agreeing with unions (the Democrat base) to pay exorbitant amounts of retirement and health benefits to public employees the state cannot afford. Governors in nearby states are inviting Illinois residents and businesses to move from Illinois. No doubt many will accept those invitations, taking their money and their jobs with them.
In the aftermath of the senseless wounding of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, and the murder of six others, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina Green, there will be many who will use this tragedy to advance their own political agendas.
Explanations will be sought and blame assigned. Necessary questions will be asked: Did the clerk at the Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson violate any laws in selling the Glock 19 9mm gun to the accused, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner? Loughner reportedly cleared an FBI background check. So why didn't that check discover what one Arizona official called Loughner's "mental issues" and should they have disqualified him from purchasing the weapon?
Given the Democrats' track record of investigating Republican administrations, they will lack credibility when they protest Republicans investigating actions by the Obama administration. Oversight is a primary function of any Congress.
The new Republican House majority is expected to conduct several investigations. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has promised to lead six of them, including one that according to Issa's spokesman, Kurt Bardella, will focus on the "institutional culture of waste, fraud and abuse," within the federal bureaucracy. To be credible, these investigations must expose Republicans as well as Democrats because misspending the public's money is one of the few bipartisan activities remaining in Washington.
The new House Republican leadership is smart to inaugurate their return to power by reading aloud the U.S. Constitution on the House floor. Recalling America's founding principles is never a bad idea. To some on the left, though, the Constitution doesn't mean what it says, but is to be interpreted by judges and politicians. To liberals, this means the document is useful only when it advances a "progressive" economic, political and social agenda. Otherwise, it must be considered a relic of a bygone era.
The Constitution, according to liberal thinking, was written at a time when people -- including some of its signers -- owned slaves and so we moderns must interpret and regularly update it, like computer software. These "interpretationists" are like people who appeal to biblical authority when it appears to support their earthly agenda ("turn the other cheek" means unilateral disarmament; numerous verses about helping the poor mandates government welfare), but ignore it when it offends secular pursuits (abortion, homosexuality, income redistribution, capital punishment).
Sarah Palin deserves an apology. When she said that the new health-care law would lead to "death panels" deciding who gets life-saving treatment and who does not, she was roundly denounced and ridiculed.
Now we learn, courtesy of one of the ridiculers -- The New York Times -- that she was right. Under a new policy not included in the law for fear the administration's real end-of-life game would be exposed, a rule issued by the recess-appointed Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, calls for the government to pay doctors to advise patients on options for ending their lives. These could include directives to forgo aggressive treatment that could extend their lives.
You don't have to be a psychic who forecasts future events for supermarket tabloids to accurately predict what awaits the new congressional Republican class of 2011. The writing is already on the computer screens and in the TV teleprompters.
A preview of coming attractions was trotted out during President Obama's last scheduled news conference of 2010. After spending most of the year worrying about the economy and whether the Democrats could fix it, sycophantic reporters gave new meaning to the term "lapdog."
Suppose what some call the "Christmas story" is true -- all of it, from the angels, to the shepherds, to the virgin birth, to God taking on human flesh. By this, I don't mean to suggest it is true only for those who believe it to be true, but what if it is objectively true, no matter what the deniers say? What difference would it make? Should it make any difference?
The narrative and the quotations written by the physician named Luke and by John, the closest disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, are unique and exclusive. The genealogical line of Jesus compiled by Matthew the tax collector is impressive and compelling. The words spoken by Jesus and recorded by these men are phenomenal. They expose the inner darkness of Man, offering a roadmap out, while also revealing the light of God, offering directions into His presence.
The Republican congressional leadership congratulated itself for leading nine "moderate" GOP senators away from a cliff and back to solid footing by persuading them not to vote with Democrats on a 1,924-page, $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill that has more pork in it than a pig farm.
Instead, most Republicans went along with another bill, which President Obama quickly signed last Friday. It preserves the Bush-era tax rates, but also perpetuates the cycle of debt and spending that contributed to America's current economic difficulties.
The "grand bargain" agreed to by the White House to preserve the Bush-era tax rates, extend unemployment insurance for another year and reduce the payroll tax for 2011 doesn't get to the heart of the country's main financial problem: overspending.
The Irish were told this week they are going to have to bite the bullet and sharply reduce their expectations of what government can do for them, as it cuts spending and broadens the tax base. But liberal Democrats in the United States remain on a different track: increasing debt and waging nonstop class warfare. Did they miss the message of last month's election?
This is where the self-indulgence of the '60s and the excesses of the modern Gilded Age have led us.
People who take polls for a living will tell you that depending on the methodology, the sample, how a question is asked and the understanding of the ones being polled, the outcome can pretty much be predetermined.
If you are dependent on a superior for your job and that superior tells you he wants a certain conclusion reached about a policy he wishes to implement, that, too, can affect the outcome.
Which do you think is less expensive, not to mention preferable: a cure for cancer, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, or caring for people with these diseases? Wouldn't it be better medical and public policy to direct more resources toward finding a cure for diseases that cost a lot to treat than to rely on a government insurance program, such as Obamacare, which seeks mainly to help pay the bills for people after they become ill?
Isn't the answer obvious? Apparently not to many politicians trapped in an old paradigm that focuses too much on hospitals, doctors and medicines and too little on medical research and preventive care so that people will not need hospitals, doctors or medicines.
Have I stayed too long at the fair?" -- Barbra Streisand lyric
The finding by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is guilty of financial misconduct and the conviction of former Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay by a jury in Austin, Texas on charges of political money laundering brings a question: Are we getting the Congress we're paying for?
I'm with Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who told Human Events last week, "Make them part time; give them term limits. Don't let them become lobbyists. When they have to live under the same rules and laws they pass for the rest of us, maybe you'd see some more common sense coming out of Washington." Jindal, a former congressman, said once elected, too many lawmakers become entrenched in Washington and are transformed into the very people they campaigned against.
As millions of us gather at tables to offer thanks during this uniquely American holiday (OK, Canada has one, too, but without our Pilgrims), most will express gratitude to God for freedom and material blessings. This year, as in every year since 1989 when she escaped with other "boat people" from communist Vietnam, Kim Vu will offer thanks borne out of a deep gratitude for what America has meant to her since she and so many others risked their lives for something they regarded as even more valuable: freedom.
A generation has grown up since the boat people caught the public's attention. To many in what has become a self-indulgent generation, it may be difficult to fathom how anyone could go to such lengths to achieve something too many of us take for granted.
If the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistake over and over again, then U.S. policymakers over several administrations should be institutionalized and relegated to padded cells.
The latest, but certainly not the last example of this craziness, is the pressure the Obama administration is exerting on Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank. A Nov. 14 New York Times story repeats the fiction accepted over many years by Republican and Democratic administrations. The proposed 90-day freeze, says the newspaper, would "break an impasse in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians."
If MSNBC were consistent, Keith Olbermann would not have been the only on-air personality disciplined for making political contributions.
For those who don't watch his "Countdown" program (which would be most of the country), Olbermann was suspended "indefinitely" after it was learned he donated money without approval from management to three Democratic congressional candidates. The problem for MSNBC was not only Olbermann's failure to get permission, but that he anchored part of the network's Election Night coverage. Apparently at MSNBC, the chair you sit in matters more than the content of your journalistic character.