General Motors wants its freedom

Our little experiment in industrial socialism didn’t work quite as well as the Democrats are saying.  General Motors did not pay back the bailout, and the American auto industry is not exactly “roaring back,” as the President said.  The government still owns over a quarter of all GM stock.  The company wants the government to sell out, but if it does, such is the low stock price, taxpayers would lose billions.  From Market Watch:

The Treasury Department is resisting General Motors’ push for the government to sell off its stake in the auto maker, The Wall Street Journal reports. Following a $50 billion bailout in 2009, the U.S. taxpayers now own almost 27% of the company. But the newspaper said GM executives are now chafing at that, saying it hurts the company’s reputation and its ability to attract top talent due to pay restrictions. Earlier this year, GM GM -1.41% presented a plan to repurchase 200 million of the 500 million shares the U.S. holds with the balance being sold via a public offering. But officials at the Treasury Department were not interested as selling now would lead to a multibillion dollar loss for the government, the newspaper noted.

via General Motors pushing U.S. to sell stake: report – MarketWatch.

Hobbes vs. Burke

Catholic author George Weigel says that the current election amounts to a choice between Hobbes and Burke:

This is a contest, to take symbolic reference points, between Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

Both were British subjects. Both had a profound impact on modern political theory. Both knew that religion and politics—Church and state—had been thickly interwoven into the history of the West, although here the deep differences between these two paradigmatic figures begin to sharpen: Hobbes tried to drive religious conviction out of the modern public square, while Burke fashioned a vision of political modernity that drew in part on the rich social pluralism of the Catholic Middle Ages.

In a Hobbesian world, the only actors of consequence are the state and the individual. In a Burkean world, the institutions of civil society—family, religious congregation, voluntary association, business, trade union and so forth—”mediate” between the individual and the state, and the just state takes care to provide an appropriate legal framework in which those civil-society institutions can flourish.

In a Hobbesian world, the state—”Leviathan,” in the title of Hobbes’s most famous and influential work—monopolizes power for the sake of protecting individuals from the vicissitudes of a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In a Burkean world, civil society provides a thick layer of mediation-protection, if you will-that cushions the interactions between individuals and life’s challenges.

A Hobbesian world is a world of contracts and legal relationships, period. A Burkean world is a world in which there are both contracts—the rule of law—and covenants: those more subtly textured human associations (beginning with marriage) by which men and women form bonds of affection, allegiance and mutual responsibility. . . .

Along one path, there is, finally, room for only the individual and the state. Along the other path, the flourishing institutions of civil society empower individuals and contribute to real problem-solving. In the former, the state defines responsibilities and awards benefits (and penalties). In the latter, individuals and free, voluntary associations assume responsibility and thereby thus make their contribution to the common good.Hobbes vs. Burke. It’s an old argument. It’s also the argument we shall have between now and Nov. 6.

via Home > Publications >.

Progressivism and omnipotent government

In line with the “Obama as Messiah” post, here is another example of secularism turning into paganism.  Godless people, trying to fill the void, can also invest the state with divine power and authority.  Drawing on Charles R. Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, George Will shows that progressive politics, from the beginning, has an intrinsic connection to the belief in unlimited government power that can then solve all problems:

Progress, as progressives understand it, means advancing away from, up from, something. But from what?

From the Constitution’s constricting anachronisms. In 1912, Wilson said, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power.” But as Kesler notes, Wilson never said the future of liberty consisted of such limitation.

Instead, he said, “every means . . . by which society may be perfected through the instrumentality of government” should be used so that “individual rights can be fitly adjusted and harmonized with public duties.” Rights “adjusted and harmonized” by government necessarily are defined and apportioned by it. Wilson, the first transformative progressive, called this the “New Freedom.” The old kind was the Founders’ kind — government existing to “secure” natural rights (see the Declaration) that preexist government. Wilson thought this had become an impediment to progress. The pedigree of Obama’s thought runs straight to Wilson.

And through the second transformative progressive, Franklin Roosevelt, who counseled against the Founders’ sober practicality and fear of government power: “We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal” and are making government “an instrument of unimagined power” for social improvement. The only thing we have to fear is fear of a government of unimagined power:

“Government is a relation of give and take.” The “rulers” — FDR’s word — take power from the people, who in turn are given “certain rights.”

This, says Kesler, is “the First Law of Big Government: the more power we give the government, the more rights it will give us.” It also is the ultimate American radicalism, striking at the roots of the American regime, the doctrine of natural rights. . . . [Read more...]

The great soda grants

George Will describes how a stimulus program that became part of Obamacare shelled out millions of dollars worth of grants to lobby lawmakers against soft drinks:

Because nothing is as immortal as a temporary government program, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a creature of the stimulus, was folded into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working through the CPPW, disbursed money to 25 states to fight, among other things, the scourge of soda pop.

In Cook County, Ill., according to an official report, recipients using some of a $16 million CDC grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” According to a Philadelphia city Web site, a $15 million CDC grant funded efforts to “campaign” for a “two-cent per ounce excise tax” on SSBs. In California, an official report says that a $2.2 million CDC grant for obesity prevention funded “training for grantees on media advocacy” against SSBs. A New York report says that a $3 million grant was used to “educate leaders and decision-makers about, and promote the effective implementation of . . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.” The Rhode Island Department of Health used a $3 million grant for “educating key decision-makers to serve as champions of specific . . . pricing and procurement strategies to reduce consumption of” SSBs. In government-speak, “educating” is synonymous with “lobbying.”

Clearly some of the $230 million in CDC/CPPW anti-obesity grants was spent in violation of the law, which prohibits the use of federal funds “to influence in any manner . . . an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.” But leaving legality aside, is such “nutrition activism” effective? . . .

Research indicates that overweight individuals have “reasonably close” to accurate estimates of the increased health risks and decreased life expectancy associated with obesity. Hence the weakness of mandated information as a modifier of behavior. A study conducted after New York City mandated posting calorie counts in restaurant chains concluded that, while 28 percent of patrons said the information influenced their choices, researchers could not detect a change in calories purchased after the law.

Other research findings include: A study of nearly 20,000 students from kindergarten through eighth grade found that among those with easy access to high-calorie snacks in schools, 35.5 percent were overweight — compared with 34.8 percent of children in schools without such snacks. Nutrition policy is replicating a familiar pattern: Increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco mostly decrease consumption by light users, not the heavy users who are the social problem and whose demand is relatively inelastic.

The robust market in diet books, weight-loss centers, exercise equipment, athletic clubs, health foods — between 1987 and 2004, 35,272 new food products were labeled “no fat” or “low fat” — refutes the theory that there is some “market failure” government must correct. But as long as there are bureaucrats who consider themselves completely rational and informed, there will be policies to substitute government supervision of individuals for individuals’ personal responsibility.

As the soft paternalism of incentives fails, there will be increasing resort to the hard paternalism of mandates and proscriptions. Hence the increasing need to supervise our supervisors, the government.

via George Will: Why government needs a diet – The Washington Post.

Another thing, besides it being illegal for the government to fund efforts to lobby the government.  Who is getting these grants, and how are they spending that $15 million?  Educating  policymakers should require some handouts, a PowerPoint set up, and maybe some coffee and doughnuts.  How could that cost $15 million?

Is the President our national pastor?

No, the president is most emphatically NOT a national pastor, such an understanding betraying a deadly confusion of God’s Two Kingdoms and completely distorting the nature of the pastoral office.  But the normally circumspect Christianity Today has two articles that say, yes, the president kind of is a national pastor.

See Owen Strachan,“Our American President: The ‘Almost Pastor’ of an ‘Almost Chosen’ Land” and  Judd Birdsall, “Is the President America’s Pastor in Chief?“.  A sample from the latter:

Ironically, the curious American integration of piety and the presidency largely stems from our separation of church and state. Without an established religion led by an archbishop, ecumenical patriarch, or grand mufti, the President acts, for better or worse, as the nation’s senior religious figure.

Cambridge University professor Andrew Preston makes this point in his massive, 815-page work Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy: “There is no official hierarchy in the American civil religion, but as the nation’s head of state as well as its chief executive … the president has acted as its de facto pope.”

What exactly are the President’s papal duties? Preston explains: “Since George Washington, the president has been the interpreter of rites, symbols, and meanings of the civil religion, with some—particularly Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—significantly recasting it under the pressure of war.”

Obama’s and Romney’s faith-infused interpretations of the Aurora shooting are case in point, and the most recent chapter in the long history of the presidential pastorate. Both politicians denounced the killing as “evil,” and both turned to the Bible for meaning, solace, and hope.

In his public statement after meeting with victims’ families in Aurora, Obama quoted the famous eschatological promise found in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Focusing on the here and now, Romney encouraged his audience to “mourn with those who mourn,” a reference to Romans 12:15. In poignant remarks packed with Christian language, Romney expressed his prayer that “the grieving will know the nearness of God” and “the comfort of a living God.” Citing the apostle Paul by name, Romney quoted from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.”

Many commentators applauded Romney for sounding “presidential.” Especially in times of tribulation, Americans expect their President to be their pastor—not in any formal sense as a leader of a church but in the general sense as a provider of spiritual care and theological perspective for the nation.

The president as our archbishop, since we’re not allowed to have a state church?  Our pope?  A provider of our spiritual care?  These writers, of course, are speaking by way of analogy.  The workings of the “civil religion,” not to be confused (though it often is) with Christianity, though I’m not sure these articles finish that point.  They describe how the presidency functions and how the public responds, not how things should be.  But still. . . .

What is wrong with this picture?

HT:  Paul McCain

Obama is winning

Bad news for Republican in the electoral college:

*** Romney leads in CO, but Obama’s ahead in VA and WI: Last week, President Obama campaigned in Florida and Ohio — just as new Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS polls showed him leading (and above 50%) in those two states. But today, as he begins a two-day swing through Colorado, the same polling outfit shows him trailing Romney among likely by five points in the state, 50%-45%. That said, new Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS surveys also show Obama leading in Virginia (49%-45%) and Wisconsin (51%-45%). So out of the six battleground states that Quinnipiac has polled in the past two weeks — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin — Obama leads in five of them. And speaking of polls, a new national Washington Post/ABC survey finds that Romney’s fav/unfav is still underwater at 40%-49% versus Obama’s 53%-43%. In fact, ABC adds that Romney “is laboring under the lowest personal popularity ratings for a presumptive presidential nominee in midsummer election-year polls back to 1984.”

via First Thoughts: The final three – First Read.

I don’t know about that last point.  I know lots of people who would give Romney an unfavorable rating while still voting for him.  Still, I thought it was the economy, stupid!  Why, despite everything, is Obama still doing so well?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X