Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
After 40 years of declining college student interest in political matters, political engagement and protests have returned to campus. A so-called “Million Student March” was held on over 100 campuses around the country this week, and other colleges experienced protests in support of the unrest at the University of Missouri. As Bob Dylan, who provided the soundtrack for student protests of an earlier time, put it: “The times they are a-changin’.”
But let’s be clear, these are not your father’s student protests from the 1960s. Today’s students are not protesting wars and American foreign policy, but rather perceived slights and injustices in their college experience. In other words, the students are stirred up about their own lives and campus climates. The “Million Student March” was about demands for free college tuition and the cancellation of student debt. (Thank you Bernie Sanders for creating those pie in the sky expectations.) Colleges bear some responsibility for rising costs, but the increase in student debt is more about families shifting the burden of college forward to their children.
The protests about race are more complex. At one level, the very affirmative action programs designed to address racial imbalance on campuses are failing, with students feeling marginalized and unprepared. One demonstrator at Emory said, “They do not provide any type of resources for black students to thrive and succeed… They lump us in here and just expect us to swim.” Another common complaint is that there are simply not enough faculty and students of color on campus, resulting in a feeling of “alienation” among minority students. Doubtless there is truth in this, although lots of students apparently feel alienated these days. The annual survey of college freshman undertaken for decades by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute indicates that students’ feeling of good emotional health, self-reported at only 50%, is at an all-time low.
It’s a bit underwhelming when students protest their own conditions at luxurious campuses like Emory or Boston College, but the simplistic and selfish nature of their demands is even less impressive. The student protestors’ solution to high cost and debt is to make everything free. Their answer to problems in the campus climate is to fire the president. According to news reports, concern over statements by campus public safety officers and guest speakers at Ithaca made up the case for the president to resign. At Amherst, students merely called for the president to condemn an institutional legacy of racism, including the “inherent racist nature” of school mascot Lord Jeff.
But my biggest concern is that campus administrators are actually giving in to these intolerant and simplistic demands by resigning. The Chancellor of the University of Missouri apparently resigned even before a board meeting called to discuss matters, with the campus president offering his resignation hours later. At Claremont McKenna College, the dean of students resigned over charges of racial insensitivity “to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution.” An administrator resigning to avoid controversy is becoming like famous people with personal problems disappearing into rehabilitation—it’s the fastest and quietest escape route. And giving in to student demands so easily (which were disproportionate to the remedy of resignation in the first place) means nothing is learned, complex problems are not worked through; instead people just walk away.
Both students and administrators need to recall the fundamental premise of civil disobedience and protest. It is that the protestors find some policy or law so unjust that they are willing to violate it in order to challenge its legitimacy, but then also pay the consequences. Today’s students want to protest and disobey, but not pay any consequences—like the students at Missouri that were angry that a professor was actually going to give a scheduled test, rather than cancel it in favor of protesting. Fortunately some wise administrator refused to accept the professor’s tender of resignation over this incident.
Maybe we need some good, old-fashioned “teach-ins” from the ’60s about how to protest and, if you are in authority, how to respond.
To read the column at Forbes.com:
Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
Fortunately, federal courts have been stepping up to challenge President Obama’s overreach of executive powers, whether in recess appointments or immigration policy. Now it’s happening in the environmental field as well.
Recently a federal circuit court issued an injunction against enforcement of the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, which would have placed hundreds of millions of acres of additional land under federal regulation.
If water trickled any time of year anywhere near an ocean, river or creek, the EPA wanted to call those “living waters of the United States”.
This follows a similar case a few months ago in which the Supreme Court struck down a regulatory expansion of the Clean Air Act.
When the history is written, the Obama administration will be known for two things: Obamacare and the abuse of executive power. Frustrated by a gridlocked Congress, the executive branch has tried time and again to press its agenda by expanding executive power.
Fortunately the courts are pushing back.
To listen to the audio:
Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
While Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds up Denmark as a model for the U.S. to emulate, it looks like Hamlet was right: something is rotting in the state of Denmark. Thousands have been in the streets protesting 2% per year budget cuts in education, while a commission says they need to reduce jobless benefits, all this following moves to means test recipients of their welfare largesse.
I could go on. Denmark’s budget deficit is soaring, now expected to be double earlier projections, and its levels of private debt are the highest in the world. With wealthier investors enjoying the growth of some businesses and stocks, income inequality is now on the rise. Want to own a car in Denmark? Taxes on a car purchase are 180% and gasoline is around $6 per gallon. Electricity rates are 3-4 times the average in the United States.
Yet progressives continue their long love affair with Denmark. In the Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders offered that we “should look to countries like Denmark…and learn what they have accomplished for their working people.” Hillary Clinton was quick to pile on, saying she loved Denmark, and that we need to “rein in the excesses of capitalism.” Scholar Francis Fukuyama has long described his goal for stable, prosperous democracies as “getting to Denmark.
The Denmark bandwagon was rolling so fast through the Democratic Party that Danish Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, felt the need to clarify the nature of its utopian system. We are not a planned socialist economy, he said, we are a market economy with “an expanded welfare state.” Of course it is the latter, an expanded welfare state, that progressives and liberals long for, providing free health care, education, long-term jobless benefits, and the like. Now that Obamacare has secured universal healthcare, it’s time to offer a free college education, says Senator Sanders. If progressives have their way, the welfare state behemoth in the U.S. will roll on.
But now there’s trouble in utopia. Denmark can no longer afford a full-on welfare state, even with a 46.8% overall tax rate, nearly double the U.S., and a top income tax rate in the 60% range. Sanders, Clinton and other liberals may shudder to learn that even tax reductions are now part of Denmark’s revised economic planning. When you have a negative .5% economic growth rate, Rasmussen’s “expanded welfare state” apparently does not work.
Of course favorable comparisons between the U.S. and Denmark have never really made sense. With a relatively homogenous population somewhere between the states of Colorado and Wisconsin in size, Denmark’s welfare state was never designed to scale across a diverse nation of 300 million people. And at least historically, the U.S. has been an “equality of opportunity” land, not one seeking to guarantee “equality of outcomes.” As Danish musician Agnes Obel wisely put it: “I love Denmark. But…it is easy to let the state look after everything for you.”
If it was ever right for the U.S. to aspire to be like Denmark, this is obviously not the right time. Denmark has run the economic experiment of progressive policies like those of Bernie Sanders (and to a lesser degree, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) for us and the verdict is coming in: they don’t work. You can’t suspend the laws of economics. You can’t expand a welfare safety net to cover an entire society. In a free society of 300 million people, getting to Denmark, other than for a pleasant visit to see Tivoli Gardens and enjoy some tasty pastry, makes no sense.
To read the column at Forbes.com:
Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
Even utopia has fallen on hard times. While Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders point to Denmark and its vast welfare state as their ideal, that nation is running on empty. A government commission there recently said they need to cut jobless benefits, after already implementing means testing for welfare support.
Denmark has finally hit the wall, with its economic growth at negative .5 percent and its tax rate at 48.6%. Even in utopia, those numbers just don’t work.
Clearly this should be a cautionary tale to today’s Democratic Party in the U.S. Yet Sanders holds up Denmark as a role model for how to help working people, and Hillary Clinton agreed in the Democratic debate that it is an inspiring example.
But what does Denmark really teach us? That you can’t suspend basic rules of economics. That you can’t make a welfare safety net into a support system for an entire population.
Yes, Denmark has run the Democrats’ experiment for us … and it doesn’t work.
I’m David Davenport.
To listen to audio:
Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
Republicans are becoming the party of disruptors. The Freedom Caucus in the House was successful at wearing out Speaker John Boehner and running off his likely successor Kevin McCarthy. Meanwhile, in the presidential campaign, Republican disruptors are winning. The three outsiders—Trump, Carson and Fiorina—have a collective 54 percent in support, with all the rest who have been officeholders at 39 percent.
Silicon Valley companies have made disrupting a popular business model, reinventing entire industries. But they first develop a better idea which in turn disrupts a market. Take Uber as the classic case: by developing more convenient and comfortable ways for people to get around, they disrupted the taxi industry.
Unfortunately Republicans have only half the disruptor DNA. They tend to want to shut down the government and get their hands on the levers of power, but they aren’t presenting new, better ways of doing things. It will take a new House Speaker like policy wonk Paul Ryan, and successful presidential candidates who know how to govern to turn things around.
Audio available here:
Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Politics.
The Republican Party is reinventing itself and so far the results are not pretty. Clearly no longer your father’s Republican Party, it is becoming a party of disruptors. The new conservative young turks in Congress, calling themselves the Freedom Caucus, have finally worn out Speaker John Boehner and have run off his apparent successor Congressman Kevin McCarthy. So far no one of any stature wants the job, and who can blame them, with 36 party disruptors right in your own backyard.
The same vibe continues to dominate the Republican presidential race, with disruptor-in-chief Donald Trump leading the field. Amazingly, the three candidates with zero experience in elected office—Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina—share a cumulative 54% in support against a collective 39% for all the other candidates who have held office. Even Jeb Bush, the ultimate establishment candidate, has been reduced to saying in Iowa that he wants to go to Washington to “disrupt the old order.” Apparently there’s no point in running this year unless you have a disruptor union card.
Unfortunately Republicans only get half the disruptor DNA. Silicon Valley companies have revolutionized one field after another with disruptive technology and business models. But the way they do it is by developing and investing in something new and bold which, as the effect and not the cause, disrupts existing business models. Take Uber as the classic example: Uber invented an entirely new way of transporting people around busy cities, providing greater convenience and comfort at affordable prices. As a consequence, the taxi industry has been entirely disrupted, and Uber has faced protests, demonstrations, lawsuits, and legislation. But Uber did not start the revolution by attacking the taxi industry, rather it built something new and improved that had a disruptive impact.
Here’s where conservatives and Republicans are missing the point: they seem focused first on disrupting government and politics as usual, but they offer nothing new or improved in its place. What has the Freedom Caucus accomplished in its first year? Essentially running off the House Republican leaders and threatening a government shutdown over funding Planned Parenthood. It’s similar to the record of its predecessor, the Tea Party Republicans, who shut down the government in 2013. They have no platform—instead their agenda is disrupting and taking over the levers of power.
But to disrupt an existing way of doing business, you need to offer a better way, and this is has always been a challenge for conservatives. William F. Buckley, one of the founders of modern American conservatism, acknowledged that conservatives “stand athwart history yelling ‘stop.’” By contrast, a Democrat like Bernie Sanders throws out more new ideas in one debate than 15 Republican candidates combined. Of course, I would have loved to have seen a meter at the bottom of the television screen running the tab on Sanders’ proposals—by some estimates he would add $18 trillion to the federal budget—almost precisely the amount of the accumulated federal debt of $18.2 trillion.
To become known as a party of disruptors is basically to admit you prefer being a minority obstructionist party and you are not ready to lead Congress or the country. It will be a failed business model, with Republicans accomplishing nothing in Congress and losing the presidency. What will it take to turn this around? Wiser heads coming to the fore with some real policy ideas. Paul Ryan, who is as close to a policy wonk as Republicans have, needs to step up and become the new Speaker of the House. As the election draws nearer, voters need to appreciate that outsider candidates may sound good, but they don’t have any idea or experience in how to run a government for 300 million people. Already Marco Rubio has edged into the top three candidates in recent polls, with outsiders Trump peaking and Fiorina fading. In six months, the field needs to look entirely different or Republicans will have blown one more great opportunity to lead.
Click here for the original post at Forbes.com:
Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays.
America is moving into uncharted territory as it enters a post-Christian era. This shift has been evident for several years, with reported drops in church attendance and belief in God, but Justice Anthony Kennedy and the US Supreme Court gave it a big push with last summer’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges concerning same-sex marriage. The court decisively shifted marriage away from not only the states but also the church and conservative religious understandings of the institution. While the court gave lip service to the ongoing role of religion in marriage, it spoke only in limited terms of the right to “advocate” or “teach” historic values about marriage, avoiding the broader language of the First Amendment right to “exercise” its religious tenets.
A deeper and more disturbing philosophical argument being advanced is that God and the church must adjust their moral and doctrinal understandings with the times. Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote that Christians should rightly “[bow] to the enlightenments of modernity.” He quoted with approval businessman and gay philanthropist Mitchell Gold, who said church leaders must be made to “take homosexuality off the sin list.” Hillary Clinton, speaking of reproductive care and safe childbirth at the Women in the World Summit, sounded a similar theme, saying “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.” Even the Archbishop of Dublin, after Ireland’s vote on gay marriage, said the church needed to do a “reality check” to see whether it had “drifted completely away from young people.”
The notion that God must keep up with the times is more than a little presumptuous, as well as historically unconstitutional, but that seems to be where the law is heading. An emerging limitation on the First Amendment right to the “free exercise of religion” would apparently require that such religion be in touch with the spirit and understandings of the modern age. Perhaps the Fourteenth Amendment promise that “no state [shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” now trumps the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion, which would be a momentous and stunning conclusion, reached with essentially no debate.
Especially troubling for religion was Kennedy’s invention of a right to “equal dignity” in support of the Obergefell decision. In the closing line of the opinion, the court said those seeking the right to gay marriage “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of law. The Constitution grants them that right.” But read the Constitution from beginning to end and you will find no such right. Kennedy has long searched for a right to equal dignity, mentioning it in his opinions in the Casey abortion case, the Lawrence sodomy decision, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, as well as in this latest opinion. But whatever equal dignity means to Kennedy, such a right would be so vague and broad that it could mean almost anything as a legal standard. Although none of the cases has attempted to define equal dignity under the law, dictionary definitions of dignity talk about respect and esteem. In our crowded, busy, and increasingly impolite society, one regularly encounters indignities everywhere. Apparently some unspecified grouping of those, at least if such affronts involve the state, is now unconstitutional.
In particular, it is easy to foresee a clash between a conservative Christian exercising freedom of religion and a gay couple’s right to equal dignity. A number of religious conservatives or traditionalists, including Muslims, some Jews, and some Christians, believe that gay marriage violates their religious beliefs and principles. Some believe that according to the Bible, homosexuality itself is a sin. Does such a belief constitute a failure to extend dignity and is therefore against the law? How about preaching it from its pulpits? Might that even be a form of hate speech under the law? In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts saw hard questions arising when, “for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex couples.” These are all looming clashes between the growing jurisprudence of equal dignity of the Fourteenth Amendment and the shrinking First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
Indeed, a number of these clashes are already occurring. Immediately after the decision, some county clerks refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of their conscience, in at least two cases with state support, and these questions are now in court. The question has been raised whether churches that do not fully comply with the right to same-sex marriage should lose their tax exemptions. Florists, bakers, and photographers who say that participating in same-sex ceremonies violates their religious beliefs have already been subject to legal action, including a $135,000 fine and gag order imposed on Christian bakers in Oregon. Senator Mike Lee of Utah has introduced the “First Amendment Defense Act” in Congress in an effort to protect religious liberty and tax exemptions in the wake of Obergefell.
Over time, the pendulum of religious liberty has swung left and then right. Efforts to remove God from the public square brought about the religious right. A court decision limiting religious liberties served as a catalyst for religious freedom restoration acts, both federal and state. More recently, the Affordable Care Act provisions about abortion and birth control triggered the Hobby Lobby case affording religious rights even to a privately held company. In the Obergefell case, proponents of gay rights had said that same-sex marriage should have no effect on other people or society as a whole—it was just about letting two people in love get married. But, as Roberts observed in his dissent, “Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights,” and this case will have profound implications, including challenges to religious liberty.
The present times feel less like the temporary swing of a pendulum and more like a new era of more limited religious liberty whenever it clashes with the freedoms or dignity of others. A new secular orthodoxy has trickled down from the elites to the larger society, and has now been codified by the Supreme Court. God has survived countless forms of government throughout the ages and will doubtless find a way through this one as well. But, as Roberts warned, “hard questions” about religious liberty under the Constitution lie ahead, ones that Justice Clarence Thomas warned hold “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.” This is the new normal in post-Christian America.
See the original Essay in the Fall, 2015 Hoover Digest:
Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turned 21 this year, an appropriate time to evaluate its successes and failures and to apply those lessons to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement recently signed and under review by the U.S. Congress. The 12-nation TPP has, after all, been called “NAFTA on steroids.” To do so is to recognize that Mrs. Clinton, who recently flipped from supporting TPP to opposing it, has unfortunately reached her position for political and not sound policy reasons.
NAFTA, implemented in 1994, generated plenty of anxieties and attacks in its day. It was not only the largest free trade agreement at the time, but also the first to tie together developed nations (Canada and the U.S.) with an underdeveloped country (Mexico) in such a treaty. The idea of reducing tariffs and trade barriers among the countries led to fears of widespread job losses. Remember Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” in the 1992 presidential debate? That was supposed to be from the 5.9 million jobs he claimed would go south to Mexico.
In fact, NAFTA at 21 looks pretty good, in some ways really good. Trade among the three countries is up 300% to $1.2 trillion and the three members are now each other’s largest trading partners. Real wages are up in all three countries. Due in large part to NAFTA, North America has become something of an economic power region, now producing one-fourth of global GDP. North America is becoming an energy exporter and the long-needed energy independence from Middle Eastern oil is now a realistic possibility. In order to increase trade and attract foreign direct investment, Mexico has democratized, another significant benefit. Improved political relations among the three countries is, in some ways, the biggest gain of all.
But didn’t America lose manufacturing jobs as a result of NAFTA? The record on this is difficult to read, since there are so many other factors—especially globalization—in the picture. The U.S. has steadily lost manufacturing jobs but the “problem” is not NAFTA but increased productivity, which rose 92% between 1993 and 2013. American jobs have gone not just to Mexico but to China, India and elsewhere because of cheaper labor, not lower import costs. What NAFTA did was shift jobs from lower skills and wages to higher ones. The Congressional Budget Office studied NAFTA and concluded its effects on employment have been small.
Despite speaking in favor of TPP 45 times in recent years—even calling it “the gold standard in trade agreements”—Mrs. Clinton now says she cannot support it, citing concern about jobs and wages, national security, and specific provisions about currency manipulation and drug companies. Objective studies about NAFTA confirm that the jobs and wages argument just doesn’t fly. And let’s face it, you don’t change your position on an entire treaty because of two relatively minor provisions such as the ones she referenced.
Sadly, as was the case with NAFTA, opposing TPP turns out to be about politics and not policy. Having been outflanked on the left by Obama in 2008, Hillary obviously feels a need to cover her left perimeter against Bernie Sanders, who has opposed the TPP. And, running in states like Ohio and Michigan where manufacturing and jobs are key, you want to be able to make a lot of noise about protecting American workers.
If you read the fine print, however, what Mrs. Clinton actually said was: “What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.” So watch for her position to “evolve.” The “gold standard of trade agreements” recently, she cannot support “today,” but if she becomes president, or even the Democratic nominee, look for her to review it and reach yet a different conclusion, just as she and Obama did in 2008, opposing NAFTA as candidates but supporting it later. The sucking sound Clinton fears turns out to be votes going left, not jobs leaving the country.
Read the column at Forbes.com:
Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
The Obama administration’s Department of Justice is full of surprises, the latest being their opinion that city ordinances banning public sleeping constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Constitution. Although this was merely an opinion submitted to the federal court in Idaho about Boise’s ordinance, cities all over America are right to be concerned.
Local regulations about sleeping in public places are among the few tools cities have in managing the huge problem of the homeless taking over public parks and sidewalks at night. While there is legal precedent that you should not punish someone for their status (addiction, for example), here it is conduct the ordinances deal with.
Yes, we need more shelters and additional tools to deal with homelessness. But we don’t need Washington lawyers trying to engage in social engineering by issuing edicts. As Chief Justice Roberts said in his dissenting opinion in the gay marriage case, “Federal courts (and we could add lawyers) are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights.”
Link to audio at Townhall.com:
Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
Big surprise: the Republican debate at the Reagan Library did not produce a clear winner, or even a single compelling narrative. That’s not really the point when you put 11 candidates on a stage for three hours more than a year before the election. But, since I watched for three hours so you would not have to, here are a few winners and important narratives for you to take away from this event.
(1) Thanks to Donald Trump, immigration has become the “elephant” in the room. Trump claimed that, were he not in the race, the media and others would not be asking questions about border walls, birth citizenship, or deporting illegals, all of which were front and center at the Reagan Library. On this issue, and perhaps others, Trump has connected with Richard Nixon’s old “silent majority.” While the politicians on both sides talk about paths to citizenship or legal status, Trump says we should start by enforcing the laws on immigrations in all respects. In today’s politically correct era, people have been afraid to say that, and Trump has spoken for them in ways that have changed the debate. This one is not over yet.
(2) A year away, this campaign is still dominated by the outsider and disruptor candidates, not by the politicians. The big story on the Republican side is that the outsiders—Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina—are leading or, in Fiorina’s case, in the ascendancy. The debate moderator pointed out that those three candidates in total have more than 50% support in the polls. The problem is that debates are mostly questions about how a candidate would govern, not disrupt, so that makes for an awkward, uneven stage. Trump, for example, was forced to admit when some of his answers to questions on international affairs were a little thin, that he is not a sitting senator and will know a lot more about that on Inauguration Day than he does today. Trump, Fiorina and Carson wanted to talk more broadly about leadership, whereas the questions and comments by others were about specific policies. These are strange times, but I still have to believe that the outsiders and disrupters will not be there at the end.
(3) In one of the mini-races within the larger contest, Ohio governor John Kasich made some ground against the other moderate candidate, Jeb Bush. While Bush continues to insist that he is a “conservative reformer,” as Donald Trump was quick to point out, Bush’s ideas of reform are big-government or liberal policies, such as Common Core in education or more welcoming policies toward illegal immigrants. In personal style, Bush is plagued with some of his father’s so-called “wimp factor” with a dash of his brother’s smugness. By contrast, Kasich was surprisingly clear, strong and positive and underscored his extensive federal and state leadership. Kasich entered the race late and has a long way to go, but he made some ground against Bush on stage.
(4) My winners in terms of debate performance were Marco Rubio, who was well-informed and articulate; John Kasich, the only one who seemed able to make governing experience sound favorable; Carly Fiorina, who continues to be strong and clear, acquitting herself well in her first appearance among the top tier candidates; and Donald Trump, who was in the center of the stage and everything else, made no real blunders and was himself, which is one reason voters like him. Ben Carson is plenty smart, but is so soft-spoken that a debate with 11 strong people is not his strong-suit.
So-called great debates rarely turn out to be great and, with 11 people on stage, they are not even truly debates. Some candidates, who are not as well funded, need a home run in the debates to get sufficient traction—it was difficult to see that candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Chris Christie or Scott Walker scored well enough to add much fuel to their tanks.
To view the column at Forbes.com: