27 May 2011

The Sunstein-Obama Regulatory Review and the Continued Congressional Decline

I was pleasantly surprised to read Cass Sunstein’s piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, outlining the preliminary results of his effort to streamline the federal government.  President Obama has been praised for calling for an effort that is being hailed as a nod to a skeptical business community and the political center.  While the effort is noble and worthwhile, praise is undeserved and merely underlines further our modern disconnect in understanding the presidency.
Too often we view the president as a sort of super Prime Minister, setting the national political agenda.  Trhough his bully pulpit, he most certainly does have a major impact on the legislative and the national debate, but his most important job is running the executive branch.  We inherently understand the president’s role as Commander in Chief, but too often forget he is also the federal government’s chief executive.  He doesn’t deserve special credit for insisting that HHS regulations allow for digital x-rays; insisting that regulations are current is one of the most basic functions of his job!  If regulating milk as an oil imposes unnecessary costs upon business, stop regulating it as such.  Sending one of the brightest members of your administration to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to announce such brilliance seems akin to having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs brag on television that we’ve started training soldiers and performing maintenance on our ships.  If it’s news that we’ve just started, what must it tell you about what we have been doing in the past?
The retort to this thinking will be that the Bush administration worked in this outdated fashion for eight years, and Obama is changing the culture.  To that I say, “Shame on President Bush,” but let’s not plan a parade for his successor.  Regulating sweetener as HAZMAT is wildly stupid, and I demand more from my president than to be excited when he simply stops moronic practices.
That Sunstein’s effort is the subject of news and praise is further evidence to political scientists of the continued ascendency of the presidency in the legislative and policy-making process; we have become so dependent on the president to do the work assigned in the Constitution to the Congress that we’ve forgotten to ensure he does his own.

25 May 2011

Danish Sensibilities

Just so we're clear about where Denmark stands:

Prostitution?  Legal.
Vegimite? Banned.

H/T Marginal Revolution

20 May 2011

Catholics Praying for Osama


I was captured by the news that a Catholic church in Florida will be dedicating a mass this Sunday for the soul of Osama bin Laden.

Some of the commentary has obviously been skeptical, saying that the church is merely seeking publicity.  Others are praising a genuinely compassionate gesture.  My view, as a Catholic, is that the mass is absolutely consistent with the true beauty of the church, and a naked bid for news coverage.

Given our recent experiences with Westboro Baptist protesting military funerals and the nutcase burning copies of the Koran, criticism of any religious news with a whiff of exhibitionism is not without merit.  In this case though, we can't lose sight of the fact that, at least in the public sphere, Catholic churches are as disciplined as a junior marine.  There is ONE leader of the Catholic church, and his microphone in Rome is plenty loud, should he need to generate headlines.  Individual Catholic churches are quickly put back into place when they stray from the heard, especially in order to generate news for a particular parish.  (Remember that officially, there is no theological debate within the Catholic church, only universal truth.)  In that vein, dedicating mass to Osama bin Laden isn't an attempt to grow the following of the church.

It is, also, a nice, if overblown, statement of one of Catholicism's more positive aspects: God's universal love and forgiveness.  In praying for Osama bin Laden, these parishoners inherently recognize that He alone may judge, and as fellow men, we can only hope that at some point, bin Laden sought reconciliation for his deeds.  This compassion is the prettier side to the emotional coin I carried with me to the White House when he was killed.  Were it a simple expression of human solidarity, I would salute the parish.

In the end, though, I simply can't condone this action or approve of it in its current form.  Though in line with the principle of forgiveness, it flies directly in the face of humility and the recognition of our own frailty and sin.  Catholics recognize, that, since only God may judge and no man is without sin, it is up to each person to live as best they can, recognize their own faults, and seek God's forgiveness.  This church, instead of turning inward, is behaving like the tax collector in Luke 18 (10-14):

Jesus: "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.  The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 

'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' 

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
I'm sure that the next Sunday after bin Laden's death, hundreds of priests, ministers, and  rabbis spoke touchingly about bin Laden, our fellow man, and the need to separate our hatred of the sin while loving the sinner.  As someone who joined the military in response to 9/11, such humility is particularly hard for me.  I'm also equally certain secular leaders, to say nothing of mothers and fathers, spoke the same ideas.  The message is beautiful, and one to be spread: no man is beyond forgiveness, and all are connected, whether by God or simply shared humanity.  Had we found out later that the mass was dedicated to bin Laden, I may have been able to stomach their actions.  Instead, by ensuring the story made national headlines before the mass, these Pharisees are placing themselves above their church, their faith, and the ideals they purport to profess.

13 May 2011

On Celebrating Death


After some consideration, I left late last Sunday night to celebrate Osama bin Laden's killing at the White House.  For no reason other than to organize my own thoughts on the matter, I'm sending you this email.

As you know, one of my favorite movies in high school was A Few Good Men.  Most people remember the exchange that ends with Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessup screaming, "You can't handle the truth," but his explication actually forms the moral argument of the movie:
Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns.  Who's gonna do it? You? You, LT Weinberg?  I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom.  You weep for Santiago, and curse the Marines.  You have that luxury.  You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives, and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You dont want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall; you need me on that wall"
During my formative years, I grew to see the movie as dated.  After seeing what I perceived to be unassailable victories in Desert Storm, Kosovo, and other TOMAHWAK strikes the globe over, my feeling was that the world no longer had Col. Jessup's walls.  Or, if it did, they could be guarded by men with cruise missiles and aircraft carriers.  The world in which we lived then, I thought, had no need for "men with guns," and his existence as a commander of ground troops, while not necessarily grotesque, certainly didn't seem to actually save lives.

Shortly after my 19th birthday, we arrived for our freshman year of college.  The next Tuesday crystallized, searingly, the images of walls and men with guns.  Neither Osama bin Laden nor his attacks on 9/11 created the need for those walls, as some very smart people have suggested;  they were always there and we simply let our guard down.  Just because I grew up in a world where I never felt threatened, didn't mean there was an absence of threats.  Osama bin Laden pulled down that veil of innocence, and awoke me (and a portion of my generation) to the reality that America is not invincible, but he didn't change the fundamental reality of our nation or the world.

Though I am a committed and passionate opponent of the death penalty, last Sunday I celebrated, with glee, in front of the White House upon hearing the news of OBL's death.  I was not, as many have suggested, morbidly reveling in the loss of a fellow human being, however despicable he may have been, and even said a short prayer on my ten block walk asking God to understand my feelings of joy.  I was, rather, celebrating a brief return to my childhood, where (in my mind) America meant what she said, and backed up her words with an unambiguous show of force.

To be sure, there were those, mostly college students, who were using the occasion as an excuse for a party; chants of "CAN-CEL FIN-ALS" were perfect evidence of that.  But interspersed throughout the crowd were fellow soldiers and sailors, who, like me I'm sure, joined the military because of the experience of 9/11.  There were middle aged mothers and fathers, doubtless some who lost their children to the fight, somberly acknowledging that now, far beyond the neo-conservative abstract of spreading democracy, they had concrete reason to believe their child had not died in vein.  I even saw a beautiful young Muslim woman;  though I didn't ask, I assumed she was celebrating the beginning of the end to a movement that has so perverted her beautiful faith.  We all may have had different reasons for getting out of bed and celebrating the death of a human being, but in my experience, very little of the revelry was based in morbid patriotism.

I take the criticism of the gathering and the celebrations seriously.  Tony Kornheiser, Megan McArdle, and The Economist all gave smart words that made me pause and reflect upon what I had done.  This email is the result of that reflection.  Again though, even after reflection I feel nothing but manifest pride that the US Navy, under the direction of President Obama, invaded a sovereign nation and killed Osama bin Laden, and that I was there to celebrate it.  There are walls, and those walls do need to be guarded by men with guns; I'm even more proud to have done so.