Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Go For the Gold

Bill has been predicting that the price of precious metals is going to continue to rise, perhaps precipitously, making it a very attractive investment. It looks like he knows what he's talking about. The spot price of gold has currently reached $493 an ounce. This time last year it was around $425 an ounce. Investors are buying and pushing the price up, and it will be interesting to see if they regard $500 as a benchmark signalling them to sell and score profits.

If not, it may soar several hundred more dollars. Yikes!

Searching For the Mainstream

Stuart Taylor at National Journal has an excellent analysis of charges by the Democrats that Judge Samuel Alito is outside the "mainstream" of American judicial thought. Among his numerous trenchant comments Taylor quotes from Alito's 1985 job application to the Reagan Justice Department:

"I disagree strenuously with the usurpation by the judiciary of decision-making authority that should be exercised by the branches of government responsible to the electorate.... In college, I [strongly disagreed] with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the establishment clause, and reapportionment.... I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."

Taylor then says this:

These are certainly the words of a Reagan conservative. But are they outside the mainstream? Somebody should tell The New York Times that Reagan won 49 states in 1984. And that in exit polls, many more Americans identify themselves as conservatives (34 percent in 2004) than as liberals (21 percent).

Generalities aside, let's locate Alito, and [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, on the spectrum of public opinion on three of the hottest issues: abortion, racial preferences, and religion.

If Alito is outside the mainstream on abortion, then so are the very large percentage of constitutional scholars -- including many pro-choice liberals -- who agree that Roe was a judicial usurpation of legislative authority with no basis in the Constitution. Even Ginsburg herself wrote (also in 1985) that Roe was "heavy-handed judicial intervention [that] was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict."

Take the now-defunct Pennsylvania law requiring married women to notify their husbands before having abortions, unless they fear a violent response. And indulge, for the sake of argument, critics' cynical assumption that Alito's vote to uphold this provision was driven by his political views -- contrary to the explanation in Alito's 1991 dissent that he was seeking only to follow binding Supreme Court precedents.

Outside the mainstream? Hardly. While The New York Times calls spousal-notice laws "extreme limits on abortion," some 70 percent of poll respondents favor them.

As for racial preferences, Alito's 1985 assertion that "racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed" places him squarely in the middle of public opinion -- unlike Ginsburg, who has voted to uphold wholesale use of quota-like preferences in college admissions, contracting, and other areas.

Polls show overwhelming public opposition to quotas. And neutrally worded polls that avoid the word "quota" show that more than two-thirds of Americans oppose racial preferences.

Some critics fault Alito's 1996 vote to uphold a white teacher's racial-discrimination lawsuit against the Piscataway, N.J., school board, for laying her off ahead of a black teacher, in the name of "diversity."

Alito's response should be: Go ahead. Make my day. Let's discuss the legality of race-based layoffs. This one was so indefensible that racial-preference champions -- facing almost certain defeat in the Supreme Court -- paid the white teacher a large sum to drop her lawsuit before the justices could rule.

Democrats who think the mainstream is to be found on the leftmost shore of every river will be unmoved by Taylor's piece, but if you're interested in the coming battle over Alito's nomination you'll want to read the rest of his argument. It's well worth it.

When Is a Cut Not a Cut?

Amidst the sky-is-falling rhetoric of the media over the vote last Thursday night to cut social programs from the budget there is this scarcely mentioned fact tucked away in an AP report:

The broader budget bill would slice almost $50 billion from the deficit by the end of the decade by curbing rapidly growing benefit programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies. Republicans said reining in such programs whose costs spiral upward each year automatically is the first step to restoring fiscal discipline. "This unchecked spending is growing faster than our economy, faster than inflation, and far beyond our means to sustain it," said Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa. (Italics mine)

In other words, Congress did not make any cuts in benefits, they merely cut the rate at which the amount the government spends on these programs would increase every year. A report on NPR the other morning quoted one congressman as saying that instead of the budget increasing over the next several years at a rate of 7.5% the "cuts" will slow its increase to a rate of 7.3%.

In almost none of the other reports on this vote that I could find was this brought out. Instead the reader was given the strong impression that money was being taken out of poor peoples' wallets and put into the greedy hands of the rich.

In an e-mail from Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine, he makes this completely unsubstantiated and irresponsible allegation:

It is a moral disgrace to take food from the mouths of hungry children to increase the luxuries of those feasting at a table overflowing with plenty. This is not what America is about, not what the season of Thanksgiving is about, not what loving our neighbor is about, and not what family values are about. There is no moral path our legislators can take to defend a reckless, mean-spirited budget reconciliation bill that diminishes our compassion, as Jesus said, "for the least of these." It is morally unconscionable to hide behind arguments for fiscal responsibility and government efficiency. It is dishonest to stake proud claims to deficit reduction when tax cuts for the wealthy that increase the deficit are the next order of business. It is one more example of an absence of morality in our current political leadership.

What's morally unconscionable is to mislead people into thinking that spending on these social programs is actually being reduced. There's no mention in Wallis' message as to what the rationale is for the "cuts", whether current recipients will indeed lose benefits, whether it will be duplicate benefit programs which are to be cut, whether the eligibility for benefits is being tightened -- no context whatsoever. Just pure rhetoric and propaganda.

Evidently Wallis is of the view that we should just throw every penny we have at the problem of poverty because to withhold anything is morally unconscionable. Mr. Wallis needs to be asked exactly how much of our national wealth he thinks we should be transferring to the poor. At what point, exactly, do we say that we have done enough? When we are transferring 100% of our GDP? If not that, why not?

Is it too much to ask that the media and other liberals report these things competently and accurately?