Until Midterm Elections...

Scott versus Scott

Welcome to our blog. Here we will debate the days most serious topics and allow users the chance to discuss the topics as well. The range of topics will vary, but one thing will remain certain, the debate will rage on. Scott Lesinski is a proud conservative and Scott Jones is a proud liberal. However, the roles will switch on some topics. Stay tuned.

Scott Lesinski is currently an actuarial associate for a large human resources and insurance consulting firm in Saint Louis. He is also an avid student of US history and enjoys following current events, with an eye to their contextual relationship to the past. He is also, in fact, a former student of Mr. Scott Jones. Scott is working toward his FSA credentials, which is akin to earning a PHD in Actuarial Science.

Scott Jones is currently a high school social studies teacher at a high school in suburban St. Louis, MO. He teaches World History, AP American Government and Senior American Foreign Policy. He has a BS. Ed. (Secondary Social Studies) from the University of Missouri - Columbia and a M.A. (History) from Southeast Missouri State University. He is currently working on a dissertation in character education to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Random Ramblings as the Holidays Approach

As the holidays are upon us, and I probably won’t be writing again until after the new year, here are some random ramblings…

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I am again reminded of the constant battle between tradition and the Constitution as the Religious Right again hammers down on the fact that government institutions are not allowed to display manger scenes. Of course, these same people got all upset about the use of the Koran to swear in a member of Congress a few years ago. I guess Establishment is okay, so long as it yours.

By the way, I write this as I play Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song” for my students as they enter the classroom today.

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For all the Republicans that spent so much political capital opposing Justice Sotomayor, she just authored a unanimous opinion for the Court. Her questioning is aligned with Justice Breyer, whom she replaced. The battle between Originalism and Living Constitution interpretations is still alive on the Court, as it should be. After all, we’ve been debating it since Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton squared off at cabinet meetings.

However, this is still Justice Kennedy’s Court.

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They say we study history for learning about the past so that we don’t repeat past mistakes.

They say that history repeats itself.

Hmmmm…

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The St. Louis Rams might be embarking on the worst season in professional sports history. Sorry to the 1962 Mets and every Cubs team since 1908.

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Is it a problem that more Americans can name the Seven Dwarves than the nine justices on the United States Supreme Court?

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Funny how the conservatives in Congress are all about fiscal responsibility now. Seems it wasn’t too long ago they passed tax cuts then refused to adjust the cuts as they took the United States to war. I guess a deficit is okay when you are the one creating it.

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It seems as if we are always so focused on what is wrong in America. There is a lot still going right in the country. It is, after all, a wonderful place to live. Flaws and all.

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This is the only thing I will say on the blog about Tiger Woods – He is still the best golfer ever. Maybe not the best husband, but I never watched him for that.

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Okay, one more thing about Woods – Sean Hannity claimed that the Tiger Woods scandal is the greatest fall from grace ever in sports history. Seriously? Two names. Kobe Bryant and Mark McGwire. Bryant proves you can rehabilitate an image. McGwire proves you can be stupid and never accomplish that.

However, the list of athletes and their fall from grace is infinitely long. See Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, A-Rod, and many others.

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Have we entered an age where it is impossible for a President to be successful? Clinton, Bush and Obama have all tried to be successful Presidents during the first wave of the 24/7 news cycle. If any other President had been subject to the level of scrutiny the last three President have been subjected to, could they have been able to be successful? I am thinking mainly of Lincoln.

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They say we study history for learning about the past so that we don’t repeat past mistakes.

They say that history repeats itself.

Hmmmm…

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Many watchers of the Supreme Court wonder whether it is such a good idea for one man, Justice Kennedy, to carry so much weight with decisions. He has voted in the majority on every 5-4 case in the last three years. On a side note, it seems as if this Congress can be called Joe Lieberman’s Congress.

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The St. Louis Cardinals have named Mark McGwire their hitting coach. However, that was in the past and we must not talk about the past when we speak of Mr. McGwire.

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George Will wrote a recent column about a scientific study that showed the amount of money wasted during the Holiday season on gifts that have no value to the recipient. I have two words…Gift Cards!!! They have equal value for the recipient and the purchaser. An economic win-win.

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I can’t remember who said it, but a conservative commentator on Fox News was recently extolling the virtues of the various Christmas stories. One that he mentioned was “A Christmas Carol.” I guess they forgot Dickens was an anti-capitalist.

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They say we study history for learning about the past so that we don’t repeat past mistakes.

They say that history repeats itself.

Hmmmm…

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However, Americans are notorious for their lack of historical knowledge. The American Revolution Center just published a study where 83% of Americans who took a test about our Founding flunked. Of those who took the test, 89% believed they’d pass the test.

While I am often a critic of the sky-is-falling reports, this one speaks to the problems of America. We don’t care about the past. At times, it is a great strength. However, it is our greatest weakness as well.

Go to http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/120919.html for a full discussion of the study and how poorly Americans’ knowledge of our Founding actually is.

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By the way, watching the History Channel does not make you a critically-attuned expert on history. Reading about history does. A very important difference.

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To further beat up on American and their lack of historical knowledge. Last year, I was listening to a football (soccer) podcast out of the UK. One of the commentators referred to someone working behind the scenes at a club as a “Cardinal Richelieu.” Obviously, he was able to say this because he knew who the man was and he knew his audience understood the reference. How many Americans would? Granted, Richelieu was the First Minister to Louis XIV and knowledge of French History is necessary, which the British could have more reason that Americans to know it. However, if you were to call the St. Louis Rams the Henry Clay of American football, how many Americans would understand the reference?

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Does it make me a bad liberal because I am using a Visa gift card (an economic win-win) from Christmas to buy a pair of Oakley sunglasses that I will use when I play golf at a country club? Wait! I will also use them when I ride my bicycle. An activity dominated by liberals. Whew!!!

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Found out just in time for Christmas that I am now a National Board Certified Teacher. Of the 6.8 million K-12 teachers in public and private school, only 83,000 teachers (1.25%) have attained this certification. If it sounds like I am bragging, it is because I am.

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I would like to extend thanks to the regular readers of our blog.

Have a great Holiday Season and see you again in the new year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama’s Model: Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Paragon or Pariah?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is revered by the liberals of today as the paragon of Democrat leadership and legislative prowess. Indeed, when Nancy Pelosi announced her 2,000+ page healthcare debacle had passed the House of Representatives, she invoked FDR along with LBJ as part of that historic example of the best Democrats had to offer.

Many liberals credit FDR with the recovery from the Great Depression of the 1930s. They point to such programs as the Works Progress Administration, the NLRA, the NIRA and others.

Many in the media and the pundit-class have likened Barack Obama’s presidency to that of FDR. Both replaced unpopular outgoing presidents and both entered the oval office amidst dark economic times. Granted, in FDR’s case, the Depression had been quite some time going, whereas with Obama, the recession was just gearing up, but I’ll agree, there certainly were similarities.

However, there are many flaws with this sort of hopeful thinking that Obama could bring about a second “New Deal”, not the least of which is that the first New Deal screwed this nation over for an additional 7-8 years. I’ve made mention before of the study done by Harold Cole and Lee Ohanian out of UCLA that shows that the Great Depression lasted 7-8 years longer than it should have otherwise because of FDR’s New Deal policies. I intend to explore that paper and analyze why what FDR did then, and what Obama is doing now, is the exact opposite of what we should be doing as a nation if we truly have as our goal economic recovery and job growth.

What was the New Deal?

The main tenants of FDR’s policies were two central acts: The National Industrial Recovery Act and the National Labor Relations Act. FDR thought that recovery was being stifled due to low wages and too much competition among industry. So, under the NIRA (1933 – 1935) antitrust laws were waived so long as industry increased their wages and allowed collective bargaining. Predictably, this resulted in stalled employment figures and high costs goods and services. A cartelization took hold of the country that affected nearly 80% of industry. Finally, in 1935, the Supreme Court ruled the NIRA unconstitutional, mainly having to due with this dismissal of antitrust law.

So, FDR decided to stack the court with liberal judges. He then passed the 1935 National Labor Relations Act which gave much more power to labor unions. Sit-down strikes became rampant. High wages and low employment continued. And despite the antitrust laws being in effect again, the FDR Department of Justice conspicuously failed to prosecute hardly any companies for restraint of trade procedures. It appears a certain union-cronyism had taken over the FDR administration.

Following this analysis of the cartelization, stagnant employment market, high wages and prices, and union cronyism, Cole and Ohanian determined that FDR prolonged the Great Depression up until the country got fully engaged in the war in 1941.

I need to stop here and explain the economics behind why this New Deal failed at bringing about true recovery.

In a naturally occurring economic recession, if left alone, things happen along these lines:

1. Consumers lose confidence and stop spending as much money.
2. Businesses have less revenue as a result and are forced to begin salary freezes/layoffs
3. Things spiral downward for a while, but as they go down, with fewer dollars in circulation and less demand for goods and services, businesses are forced to start lowering prices to encourage buying.
4. With a growing surplus of available labor due to rising unemployment, wages begin to decrease as there is a large supply of workers but little demand for their services. Employers can pick and choose and offer lower salaries and less benefits.
5. Since some work is better than no work, folks accept jobs at lower wages so that they can begin to earn an income again, no matter how meager.
6. As people get back to work, incomes rise, spending increases, and businesses experience higher demand for goods and services. They begin to expand their businesses, hire more workers, and invest in new projects/buildings, etc.
7. Economic growth returns to the strength it was previously and whatever bubble caused the original recession is ironed out by experience.

Essentially, there is no government action necessary. The problem with the New Deal cartelization and union cronyism is that forced high prices and high wages prevented the economic “bottoming out” from ever happening, so everything stagnated. Employers feared to expand or hire since the rules being issued from Washington were constantly changing. Fortunately (for FDR) a world war broke out, which flooded the market with labor opportunities in the Armed Services and in factories producing war goods. As Ohanian and Lee point out, much of FDR’s New Deal NLRA agenda was discarded, as it was deemed oppressive. Sit down strikes were determined to be unconstitutional. Essentially, the government stepped out of the market in a regulatory way and only remained as chief buyer of the goods and services being produced by that market.

This is the kind of “economic stimulus” government can provide from time to time that can actually have a beneficial effect, unlike Obama’s “stimulus”, which I will discuss more later on.

So was there any redeeming quality to the New Deal? Well, FDR spent a whopping $11 billion on stimulus programs. One was the Works Progress Administration. This program did put some people back to work, and did accomplish some good things. Many roads and schools were built. Some folks benefited from that employment. Another very good expenditure by FDR was on a vast build-up of the Navy. Building ships for the primary purpose of employing lots of people ended up proving very advantageous when we used our newly minted fleet against the Japanese in WWII.

However, as a whole, the proposal that government spending would save the economy and bring back a strong economic recovery proved false. FDR entered office in March of 1933. The Stock Market Crash happened in October, 1929. By all accounts, the Depression should have already been over. So what happened? Well, Herbert Hoover passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, which crushed our export capabilities and caused Americans to have to pay higher prices for domestic goods. This tax increase directly led to a further stifling of the American economy and threw the nation into the worst Depression we’ve ever experienced.

So what can we learn from this history and apply today?

After Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were many people on both sides of the political spectrum that likened his new presidency to FDR for many of the reasons I listed earlier. This scared the crap out of me, because I already knew the failure of FDR and the doomed history it seemed we were bound to repeat. Alas, it appears we are doing so.

Amazingly, there are some on the liberal aisle who want Obama to go even further than FDR. Liberal economist Paul Krugman claimed that FDR’s policies were “too cautious”. He claimed in a piece that “there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse.” Apparently, the University of California – Los Angeles is part of this group of “right wing think tanks”. After that statement, by the way, Krugman offers zero evidence for his claim. I think I’ll stick with the UCLA economists, thanks much.

Unfortunately, Obama delivered what Krugman longed to see…a trillion dollar “stimulus” package that was designed, so they say, to stimulate job growth, free up credit, and get the economy rolling again. Also, and quite unfortunately, Obama is developing a pro-union cronyism much like the one in FDR’s administration. Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union…a group that raised millions to get Obama elected, has been to the White House 22 times…far outpacing anybody else. We know Obama supports “Card Check”, a pro-union bit of tripe that is part of the “Employee Free Choice Act” (otherwise known as the “Employee No-Choice Act”), under which voting to unionize would not be done by secret ballot but by open voting, thus allowing the unions to know and identify who is opposing their takeover.

We saw that Obama took over as much of the auto industry as he could (thank God Ford played it straight and denied him access) and then promptly gave control of it to the United Auto Workers. GM recently fired Fritz Henderson as CEO because he wasn’t working fast enough…but I thought this was Obama’s guy for the job?

Obama’s stimulus package was supposed to bring about job growth…indeed he set up the success mark as “creating or saving 4 million jobs”. Sheesh, and Bush senior complained that Reagan had “voodoo economics”. WTF is a “saved” job? I still have my job, does that count? The problem with this stimulus package is that it has not spent money in the way FDR did, that is, on goods and services that actually produced value in a time of war. Rather, Obama has bailed out state governments, and the small percent of the stimulus has actually gone out for “shovel ready projects” has been haphazardly thrown at local governments to spend on whatever.

Mark Belling (sitting in for Rush Limbaugh on Friday’s show) told a story of his hometown in Michigan. A small town receives $1M of stimulus. They have nothing to spend it on, so they decide to widen the main thoroughfare of town. So they call in the ditch diggers and concrete and asphalt layers, the line-painters, etc. They put a few people to work for a few months. Afterwards, what have they got? Nothing but a road that’s wider now than it was before. No net jobs created. But there’s more to the story…a restaurant/bar and caterer in town who is located along this road that’s being widened has no parking lot for his customers…they park along the road. But as a result of that road being widened; now there’s no shoulder and no parking for several blocks! So this caterer is going out of business! So the net result of $1M of stimulus is an unnecessarily wide road and fewer jobs than before! How’s that hope and change working for you?

This previous story is about something that actually happened, but have you not heard of the millions of dollars spent and hundreds of jobs saved all across this country in congressional districts that do not exist?
(http://biggovernment.com/2009/11/18/surprise-recovery-gov-has-a-credibility-problem/)

Now Obama is out toting 1.6 million jobs “created or saved” since his stimulus was passed. Uh, excuse me, but we’re still LOSING jobs each month! We’ve lost over 3.3 million jobs since the damn thing was passed in February.

I expect Obama will report he’s saved or created another 3-4 million jobs by Christmas, and maybe as many as 10-12 million by the 2010 elections.

I’m being glib because I just demonstrated that the policies of this president are antithetical to economic recovery: We know they won’t work and as evidence, I submit the 7-8 years of unnecessary Great-freaking-Depression that we lived through as a country because of the same kinds of policies. But we also know what WILL work…as demonstrated first by JFK and later by Ronald Reagan and George W Bush…cut individual taxes, deregulate business, cut corporate taxes, slash government spending on entitlements and make all of these policies permanent. Were these things to happen on a national scale, we might actually be able to report 10-12 million new jobs by the elections of 2010. What’s such a shame is that our president does not want such a thing to happen; if he did, he’d be listening to folks on my side of the aisle, and acting on what we say.

http://hlcole.bol.ucla.edu/NewDealucla.pdf
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/opinion/10krugman.html?_r=1
http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/02/is_obama_another_fdr.html

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Death of John Allen Muhammad and other Inconsistencies

They killed a killer a few weeks ago.

I kept waiting to feel something when news came that John Allen Muhammad had been executed in Virginia. As a staunch opponent of capital punishment, I wanted some nugget of remorse at the knowledge that the government had taken his life.

After all, a government that has the power to kill its own people is not consistent with the ideas of limited government power. The power to kill is absolute power.

But Muhammad's 2002 sniper attacks hit close to home. He terrorized millions of people in the greater Washington, D.C., area, where a friend of mine lives. His son was scared to go trick-or-treating. A friend of his son had his father shot at during the rampage.

My friend, his wife, and his two sons were scared to leave the house. Scared to go to work. Scared to go to school. Scared to go to a friend’s house after school. Recess was cancelled.

Muhammad was – and is – an example of the worst in humanity. Those of us who cannot live among us.

Therefore, I could not manage remorse.

Indeed, what I felt was an unsettling, appalling satisfaction that Muhammad is no longer in the world. I still remember the last time an execution caused my emotions to so thoroughly misalign with my convictions: it was in 2001, when Timothy McVeigh was put to death.

I am sure the same thing will occur in me when one of the engineers of September 11 will be put to death.

When I argue against the death penalty, I tend to lean on a few salient points: it is far costlier than life imprisonment; it is biased by class, race and gender; it is irreversible in the event of error. I use those arguments because there is ample statistical evidence to back them up, and because they are irrefutable.

But I have one other problem with the death penalty: it's morally wrong. It debases us. The power of life and death is too awesome to be left in human hands. We, as humans, do not have the right to act as God. Besides, how can killing a killer make us better than the killer in the first place.

Here, I know, the abortion opponent wonders how I can square that logically with support for abortion rights. The answer is simple: I can't.

Like, I suspect, most pro-choice people, my support for abortion rights hinges upon a visceral rejection of the idea that a limited in power government can compel a woman to bear a child that she, for whatever reason -- rape, incest, deformity, and poverty -- chooses not to have the child.

I suspect I am also like most pro-choice people in being squishy and irresolute about the fact that a human life hangs in the balance of that decision. I suspect we find it easier to think of it as a potential human, not a real one -- an oops without a name.

Furthermore, the constitutional argument for abortion rests on the right to privacy as guaranteed in Griswold v. Connecticut and a strict interpretation of the “equal protection” clause of the Fourtheenth Amendment.

Such an interpretation makes it difficult to also support the use of the “due process clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to run end around of the “equal protection” clause to support affirmative action.

None of this, by the way, is tendered as apology or even justification. Rather, it is simply to observe that where the awesome power of life and death are concerned, most of us are guilty of inconsistency, especially when those views are logically extended to other issues.

The classic liberal position, after all, opposes capital punishment and supports abortion rights, the latter often rationalized along the lines of the fractured logic above.

The classic conservative position, meanwhile, opposes abortion rights and supports the death penalty, glossing over with equally-fractured logic the fact that innocents will be (indeed, have been) executed.

Meanwhile, the conservative position also argues against the entitlements designed to help a woman forced to have a child survive as a parent and give the best possible care to the undesired child.

In order to justify the end of federally protected abortion, conservatives argue against the right to privacy, which in this case deals with medical records, because the Roe v. Wade was based on the constitutional right to privacy in Griswold, which conservatives argue, correctly, is a right not specifically guaranteed in the Constitution.

Yet, conservatives have no such problem invoking a constitutionally protected right to self-defense when it comes to gun rights. When you check your Constitution, you will find the right to self-defense next to the right to privacy.

A similarly fractured logic.

With the exception of the Catholic Church, then, and a few other outposts of religiosity, none of us is consistent on these issues of life and death, all of us ignoring truths that indict our deep convictions, striking bargains with conscience in the name of a good night's sleep.

Into that irresolution and fractured logic falls the execution of John Allen Muhammad.

And what am I to say?

I hate the death penalty, but this man's rampage touched the life of my friend, so I'm OK with it?

What kind of sense does that make?

None, of course. It is, if anything, just proof of my humanity -- and all the contradictions attendant thereto. It is our nature to seek certitude and resolution, but life is messy and untidy, doesn't always fit neatly into the boxes we build for it.

The life lived must deal with the gray areas of our convictions.

When it comes to the sanctity of life, the world becomes so gray. Life is Life. Life is precious. Life should not be wasted.

Yet, humans take each other’s life on a daily basis. This is something that I can’t understand. Never will. To know that you took the life of someone else – how do you live with that? The same can be said when it is the government that does the killing.

Yet, when that person is put to death, how does the family of the person murdered live with that? Actually being part of the end of a life no matter what the circumstance.

Retribution is the answer, but family member after family member reports feeling no satisfaction after the killer of their loved one has also been killed.

Yet, the abortion logical inconsistency.

We want clear answers. Our minds demand that the problems of the world fit so neatly into the boxes of our brains that we have created for each new issue that comes before us.

We hear about event A and we place it into box A so that we can make easy and unemotional judgments about it. Same with event B.

What happens with event C doesn’t fit into one of our boxes? We have a choice.

We can try to cram into one of the already made boxes and force our opinion out of that box.

On the other hand, we create a new box in order to develop our answer to the event. This path, however, might force us to change our views already in box A or B. This is something that most of us feel uncomfortable doing. We fit the contrary event into our already views so as to never have our existing view challenged.

What happens if event X happens, but our boxes only go to the letter M?

From our trenches of fixed opinion, we thunder at one another so readily that it is disconcerting when you are forced to wander the gray places between, to acknowledge complexities our certainties don't always allow us to see. It can give you pause.

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we feel this all the time.

This is not the worst thing in the world.

I still hope that John Allen Muhammad burns in Hell. Maybe he can say hello to McVeigh.