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Big surprise: Parents like being subsidized

Jennifer Senior’s very interesting piece for New York on parenting — on how having children tends to make people less happy — is getting lots of attention. Some of that attention, coming from the usual suspects, is for all of the wrong reasons. The key paragraph setting astir the hearts of those who see us all as milking cows for the sustenance of their favorite social policies is below:

One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects. The researcher, Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says he originally studied this question because he was intrigued by the declining fertility rates in Europe. One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children–and happier parents.

This isn’t that surprising a finding, of course, for anybody who has ever been stuck with the check for dinner. More than a few of our friends and neighbors take great pleasure in ducking the tab for their indulgences (and yes, children are an indulgence — “economically worthless but emotionally priceless” as a sociologist pithily describes them in the article). Along those lines, were I of a more-parasitic mindset, I’m sure I would take much greater joy in a new truck if I could send you the tab instead of shouldering monthly payments.

But sending somebody else the bill doesn’t change the fact that there’s a bill. And the bill for subsidizing basic activities like child-rearing might well prove pretty hefty — especially if times turn tough and belts need tightening.

As it turns out, Denmark, the land of those happy, subsidized parents, is broke. Well, broke-ish, in European terms, since the continent is a financial mess (like the dear old U.S.A., but with fewer credit cards hidden in the desk drawer). In fact, Denmark has instituted fairly serious budget cuts in an effort to reduce the government’s growing deficit. And yes, those parenting subsidies are included — with cuts amounting to 5% across the board. (Ireland is among the countries making similar cuts.)

And if Danish parents have been pleased to have somebody else foot the bill, the subsidies haven’t necessarily made them more fecund, even though in-vitro treatments have also been subsidized (and, now, cut). The fertility rate hovers somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9, raising questions about the article’s claim that “countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children.” With the replacement rate at 2.1, Danish parents are happier, but fewer with every passing year. (Americans are breeding at just about exactly the replacement rate, mournful though they may be over the burdens of parenthood.)

Basically, the payoff to subsidizing parents doesn’t seem to extend beyond the fact that many parents like being subsidized.

Never mind the Nazi pickpocket, look at the brown guy over there!

This morning I received a very courteous email from a fairly prominent political writer with conservative-to-libertarian sentiments. He wanted a little clarity on the madness that is the Arizona immigration kerfuffle. Basically, is there really a problem, or are politicians doing an ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain to cover their own misdeeds, and in the process creating a national frenzy? Because I loathe doing work without getting some kind of mileage out of it, below is my response:

Mr. XXX:

I think the best insight into Arizona’s immigration politics is the fact that anti-immigrant fervor is concentrated in the Phoenix area, where you have the largest numbers of new arrivals in the state, and that Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who has responsibility for Phoenix), the nationally visible nativist militant, was supportive or at least agnostic on immigrants and dismissive of the close-the-border fanatics until five or six years ago (you’ll find a mention of that here). At that time his popularity was fading even as nativist sentiment was rising, and he switched horses.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much when I say the worst excesses of the anti-immigrant frenzy seem to come from lily-white snowbirds who recently settled in Arizona to escape the Minnesota winters, only to discover that the place is a bit too brown and spicy for their tastes.

Arizona has the same economic mess as many other states — worse than most — and our politicians have been more than eager to find scapegoats to divert attention from their spending spree (PDF) and looting of the coffers. Several years ago, I worked on an effort to pass a taxpayer bill of rights to cap spending growth — we were soundly defeated and the money continued to fly out the door. The tab has now come due.

Almost in unison, politicians blamed hard-working Mexican immigrants (who, yes, often ignore government red tape in search of opportunity) for the electorate’s economic distress. This provided an easy opening for Sen. Russell Pearce, who is just barely coy about his white-supremacist sentiments, to push through the recent anti-immigration bill. Yes, really. SB1070 was authored by a state senator who is pretty open about his anti-semitism and racism and who hangs out with Nazis.

That all of this is opportunistic should be apparent from the fact that, according to the latest figures, crime is going down, not up in Arizona despite a few terrible and widely publicized incidents involving violence by drug gangs and coyotes (people smugglers) — the sort of criminals who inevitably move in to capitalize on illegal markets. Illegal immigration is down all across the border. In fact, because of the lousy economy, illegals were fleeing the state well before SB1070 passed [Note: according to the linked report, the number of illegals in the state dropped by one third from 2007-2009, while the number dropped nationally by 14%].

The sheriff of Pima County which, unlike Maricopa, is actually on the border, calls the new law “racist,” “disgusting” and “unnecessary” and is refusing to enforce it. And this is a guy who generally takes a hard line on immigration.

As for a Mexican anschluss … In some ways, we should be so lucky. As mentioned above, though, crime is actually down along the border and people can travel more safely through the border region than in years past. I have no doubt that some radicalized graduate students in Mexico City — and Los Angeles — would like Mexico to reclaim the southwest, and maybe we should let them. Mexico has its fair share of stupid laws, but in some ways it’s more free than the U.S., if only because of a healthy disrespect for the state. But those graduate students are likely to get plenty of opposition — from the Mexican migrants who cheerfully left Mexico and its economy behind.

Honestly, the Mexican gangs are still doing a healthy trade — more in drugs than immigrants these days. But if any piece of Arizona was ceded to them, it was done so by accident, and it’s populated only by rattlesnakes and cholla.

I hope that helps! Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

J.D. Tuccille

Let me elaborate here a bit on my “we should be so lucky” comment. I’m not trying to minimize the problems that Mexico faces, but this is a country in the process of becoming more free, both in terms of civil liberties and economic freedom. The United States, at the same time, has lost ground in terms of both civil liberties and economic freedom. Also, Mexico gets heavily dinged for the easy corruption that pervades the political system; while there is much to criticize about the culture of la mordida, it also has a way of greasing tight official channels so that people  can ease through them. Overregulated regions of the United States tend to develop similar unofficial means of dealing with official obstructionism and ineptitude. That is, official corruption is not entirely bad.

Mexicans, in my experience, do intend to be more skeptical than Americans about the virtues of obedience to the law and compliance with government directives. Perhaps the best result would be for the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico to engage, as they traditionally have, in relatively free and open exchanges of goods, services, people and ideas, allowing the cultures to merge and move toward a happy middle ground.

To get back to that healthy relationship, we need to tell the nativists to get stuffed.

Why not get personal with pushy government officials?

I wonder, really, why we don’t hear about incidents like this more often:

HEMET, Calif. – A man suspected of carrying out a series of booby trap attacks  against police in a small Southern California town was expected to be charged in the case Wednesday, authorities said.

Nicholas Smit was arrested Friday for investigation of making a booby trap and assault on a police officer with intent to commit murder.

Smit is suspected of planting booby traps to hurt a Hemet police officer who arrested him after suspecting that he was growing marijuana, law enforcement officials said.

I no longer have a commercial publisher, so I don’t have to pretend that I disapprove of directly targeting government officials. Yet I’m not specifically advocating putting bear traps on the front seats of cop cars — for one thing, the unwashed masses are likely to get offended that one of the brave “thin blue line” got his steroid-shriveled testicles caught in the trap, and, for another, there’s an unfortunate likelihood of being caught, like the apparently rather dim Nicholas Smit, in Hemet.

But I’m surprised that we don’t hear more about direct, creative targeting of abusive law-enforcement officers and presumptuous officeholders.

Considering how often politicos are caught doing things for which we we mere commoners would be harshly punished, such as neglecting to foot a share of the tab for the politicians’ own spending sprees, or engaging in a little sexual experimentation in public places, wouldn’t it be worth assigning aggressive private investigators to pry into their past indiscretions and monitor their current activities? Of course, not every investigation would pay off, but focusing on especially obnoxious specimens would not only derail the occasional derail-worthy career, it would cast further doubt and disrepute on governing institutions.

Honestly, does anybody really doubt that at least one member of Congress is a serial killer? Or that at least two keep teenagers chained in some dungeon?

Yes, that requires funds, but having worked for a couple of political organizations, I’m impressed by the quantity of money that’s dedicated to low-payoff activities, like lobbying and publicity campaigns.

What about protesting outside the private homes of government officials? It seems unfortunate that when this is most often done, it’s along the lines of Cindy Sheehan’s vigil in Crawford, Texas, which was guaranteed to annoy the neighbors while then-President Bush snored comfortably in the White House.

The goal should be to make the official uncomfortable.

There have been incidents over the years. I seem to remember that a King County, Washington, politician had a load of trash dumped on his front lawn in retaliation for his support for restrictions on property rights. And I believe that a Pennsylvania official who supported a ban on anonymous mail drops was zapped by a local company revealing that he took advantage of just such a service.

And, of course, the Phoenix New Times published Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s home address.

Can you think of any other past examples that might point the way to future tactics?

U.S. officials spy on activists across the political spectrum

If you’re in a mood to feel like a targeted victim of government, you don’t need to be a libertarian, or a lefty, or a righty or a tea-partier, or even a Muslim. Nope, it turns out  that the simple act of speaking out in a way that’s critical of the government, or even just a bit outside the mainstream, is enough to get you monitored, referenced in a file and tagged as an enemy of the state. That’s right — there’s room for everybody to play!

A new report (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union details surveillance by local, state and federal officials — separately and jointly — of peaceful political activists, protesters and organizations over the past decade. A random sampling of surveillance activities, sometimes including interference with lawful protest, includes these examples:

Military Intelligence Spied on Alaskans for Peace. According to an Electronic Frontier Foundation FOIA, military intelligence spied on the anti-war group Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005.

FBI Infiltration of Islamic Center. An FBI agent testified in court in 2009 that an informant had been planted at an Islamic Center in Irvine, California. Surveillance has prompted some Muslims to avoid mosques and cut charitable contributions out of fear of being questioned or branded as ‘extremists.’

Costa County Sheriff’s Homeland Security Unit Officers Infiltrate Union Demonstration. When Southern California Safeway store workers went on strike in 2003–2004, a delegation of religious leaders planned a pilgrimage to the Safeway CEO’s home to deliver postcards supporting the striking workers. Sheriff’s deputies from Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Homeland Security Unit went to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), and staff directed them to a contact number on a flyer. Despite the fact that the sheriff’s department had been in contact with the pilgrimage organizers—union leaders saw the same sheriff’s deputies in plainclothes attending a demonstration at a Safeway store in San Francisco.

FBI JTTF Monitors American Indian Movement, Peace Groups, and Environmental Groups. In August 2005, the ACLU obtained the documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request containing information on the Colorado American Indian Movement and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. The files show that JTTF agents opened “domestic terrorism” investigations after they read notices on web sites announcing an antiwar protest in Colorado Springs in 2003 and a protest against Columbus Day in Denver in 2002.

Fusion Center Profiles Modern Militia Movement. The February 2009 Missouri Fusion Center report on “the modern militia movement” claimed militia members are “usually supporters” of presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr.

The majority of the groups and individuals targeted would likely be considered of the political left — particularly if you categorize anti-war activists in those terms. But that seems to be largely a function of the dominance of the federal government by the Republican Bush administration over most of those years. Surveillance continues under the Democratic Obama administration, with the political right targeted by Fusion Center documents like the one above, and in DHS reports on “right-wing extremism.” Muslims are still a popular target, and environmentalists remain on the government’s radar. (Anti-war activists would probably continue to draw attention if the peace movement hadn’t faded with the change of presidents.)

Vegans have been scrutinized by the fuzz, too, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom.

Basically, this emphasizes the point made time and again that police-state activities aren’t a wholly owned subsidiary of either Democrats or Republicans, and salvation isn’t found in an election that just swaps the politicians of one major party for another. Obama didn’t end Bush’s civil liberties incursions, and returning to office the GOP clowns who authored the PATRIOT Act (largely by rewarming Clinton-era proposals) won’t reverse the current administration’s violations.

The ACLU will monitor illegal domestic spying through its new Spy Files site.

No, the Arizona travel alert isn’t just a stunt

The American Civil Liberties Union is raising eyebrows with the travel alert it has issued for Arizona, even before the state’s infamous SB 1070 (PDF) goes into effect.

American Civil Liberties Union affiliates across the country are issuing travel alerts informing individuals of their rights when stopped by law enforcement when traveling in Arizona. The unconstitutional law, known as SB 1070, requires law enforcement agents to demand “papers” from people they stop who they suspect are not authorized to be in the U.S. If individuals are unable to prove to officers that they are permitted to be in the U.S., they may be subject to warrantless arrest without any probable cause that they have committed a crime.

The ACLU points out that police, especially in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Venezuela-esque Maricopa County fiefdom, “are already beginning to act on provisions of the law” and their efforts are “meant to create a hostile enough environment for Latinos and other people of color that they voluntarily leave the state.”

Let me assure you that the ACLU’s warning, however headline-grabbing, is not over-the-top. Even in Yavapai County, I’ve seen people getting rousted by the side of the road and heard of the door-to-door sweeps. I know of one citizen — of non-Hispanic ancestry — who is leaving the state because she’s married to a Mexican-American and afraid for him and his relations. Maricopa County, where much of the xenophobia is centered, is much worse. My wife’s patients are afraid to drive to Phoenix to see specialists because of the danger of being pulled over and snatched by nativist goons in uniform.

If you are even somewhat browner than the average Norwegian, a trip to or through the Grand Canyon state might be a bit perilous — unless you like being forced to prove your American-ness to armed know-nothings alongside desert roads.

David Weigel and the limits of newspaper political culture

Let me just get this out of the way: David Weigel should have known better. He’s a journalist, for Christ’s sake — a digger-out of that which others intend to be un-dug. As such, he has no right to complain when somebody reveals his “private” correspondence — actually semi-private emails passed among a closed group of liberal-ish scribblers.

And Weigel admits he should have known better, describing the conservative-bashing emails he shared on Journolist while covering the broadly defined political right for the Washington Post as “stupid and arrogant.”

But the real fault lies with the Washington Post, for choosing as its “inside observer” of “the right” a journalist who was, at most, libertarian-leaning (not a recommendation among many conservatives), and never really very ideological at all, to judge by his writing. That choice probably has everything to do with the rather insular culture at many major newspapers — a culture that would be frankly uncomfortable with a committed libertarian or conservative. Because of that culture, the Post probably found the not-so-ideological Weigel a palatable hire, and the young journalist with incompletely formed ideas likely found it easy to get along to go along and adjust to his new home — an accommodation that most of us tend to make when inserted into new surroundings.

I have first-hand, though limited, experience of newsroom culture from my brief tenure as senior editor of the online edition of the New York Daily News. Although my stay there came to an end largely because of a personality clash with one of Mort Zuckerman’s more-obnoxious relations, my politics clearly set me apart. Both in personal discussions and through the exposure provided by a short-lived online column, my views became known and a point of contention among my largely liberal colleagues. To judge by the reaction, I might as well have had horns and a tail — and I’m a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, pro-drug-legalization libertarian; a conservative would probably have been burned in effigy in the lobby.

After that, I was dropped from consideration for a job at the New Century Network — an early effort to aggregate newspapers on the Web. The editor tossed my resume explicitly because of my “scary” politics, which were on display in the Daily News columns as well as in my civil liberties columns for About.com. (I got the heads-up from a sympathetic junior editor who let me in on the behind-the-scenes discussions in an email exchange.)

You can decide for yourself whether I’m “scary,” but this was a revelation to me after welcoming environments at the tech publisher Ziff-Davis, and at a financial consulting outfit.

I’ve been out of circulation, newsroom-wise, for many years now, but I doubt the nice folks at the Washington Post are much more comfortable with libertarians or conservatives than were the people at the New York Daily News. They needed somebody to cover “the right,” but I’m sure they also wanted that person to be … well … not “scary.”

Weigel has worked for Reason and interned at the Center for Individual Rights, so he had credible credentials for the job (at least from a libertarian perspective). But even in his most recent assertions of right-of-center bona fides, he consistently talks about affiliations rather than ideas.

I chose to go to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. It was there that I became editor of the campus’s weekly conservative paper, and became plugged into the campus conservative journalism network.

Was I really that conservative? Yes.

In his writing for Reason, he struck me not as the stealth liberal that some of his critics claim, but as a very conventional thinker — though one with a strong dose of tolerance and respect for civil liberties. I imagine that the combination of credentials and conventionality sat rather well at the Post.

Of course, it’s not necessary to be a member of a group in order to cover that group — but it is unhelpful to be revealed as despising the people, ideas and organizations on whom you report. It’s no secret that people tend to adjust to their environments. A much-discussed book — The Big Sort — discussed how conservatives tend to move to conservative neighborhoods and then become really conservative, and liberals tend to move to liberal neighborhoods where they become really liberal. I would think that a young journalist without a strong ideology, dropped into the prevailing culture of a major newsroom, would find it easy to go with the flow. That’s especially true if he starts associating on Journolist with big-name writers he respects and wants to impress — and who are overtly hostile to the people Weigel has been hired to cover. It would have been — and apparently was — tempting to join in the slamming.

Add in a little poor judgment, and Weigel was set up for a fall.

I don’t think Weigel is toast — and, in fact, he’s landed a new gig at MSNBC where his recent misadventures may actually count in his favor. He’s young and has time to rebuild his career — though straight journalism may be a tough sell in the future. I wish him luck; he hasn’t done anything terrible enough to wish him otherwise and he’s obviously talented and hard-working. It’ll be interesting to see how or if his political ideas eventually gel.

As for the Washington Post … The people there need to take this as an object lesson in their cultural insularity and learn to venture just a little bit beyond their comfort zone.

Second Amendment applied to the states in Supreme Court decision

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my Chicago-area readers! You can take the gats out of hiding and sport them openly. Well, openly around the apartment, anyway. (Oh, c’mon. I know you windy city types are armed to the teeth, no matter what the law says.) The United States Supreme Court knocked down (by implication, anyway) Chicago’s handgun ban while reaffirming that the Second Amendment is “incorporated” by the Fourteenth Amendment, and applies to state governments as much as it does to the federal government.

Writing for the five-member majority in the case of McDonald v. Chicago (PDF), Justice Samuel Alito pointed out:

Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller, we held that individual self-defense is “the central component” of the Second Amendment right.


[I]t is clear that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.

As a result:

In Heller, we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Unless considerations of stare decisis counsel otherwise, a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is fundamental from an American perspective applies equally to the Federal Government and the States. See Duncan, 391 U. S., at 149, and n. 14. We therefore hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amend-ment right recognized in Heller.

That’s a major decision, reaffirming the right to bear arms as an individual right which no government entity in the United States may infringe (precise boundaries of that right to be determined later, of course, so don’t get too excited) — and also continuing the incorporation of constitutionally protected rights so that they apply against state governments. However, as you can see from the above, Alito followed the Supreme Court’s unfortunate track record of torturing the Hell out of the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to make it do the job originally intended for the Privileges or Immunities clause, which is a more logical vehicle for protecting individual rights. He knows this, too, acknowledging that “many legal scholars dispute the correctness of the narrow Slaughter-House interpretation” of the Privileges or Immunities clause.

However, he doesn’t change course.

… For many decades, the question of the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state infringement has been analyzed under the Due Process Clause of that Amendment and not under the Privileges or Immunities Clause. We therefore decline to disturb the Slaughter-House holding. …

Justice Clarence Thomas, while concurring in the case’s result, objects to the court’s ongoing abuse of the Constitution.

Applying what is now a well-settled test, the plurality opinion concludes that the right to keep and bear arms applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause because it is “fundamental” to the American “scheme of ordered liberty,” ante, at 19 (citing Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 149 (1968)), and “‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,’” ante, at 19 (quoting Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997)). I agree with that description of the right. But I cannot agree that it is enforceable against the States through a clause that speaks only to “process.”Instead, the right to keep and bear arms is a privilege of American citizenship that applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause.

Good for Thomas. At least somebody is keeping alive a respect for proper reading of the Constitution. Maybe next time …

But the means matters less to most people than the ends. And in this case, that means yet another decision protecting the individual right to keep and bear arms.

Pass DISCLOSE so Republicans don’t get elected

Admittedly, Rep. Hank Johnson is … ummm … a moron. But it’s not often that you see a politician openly advocating restrictions on political speech as a means of choking off the opposition’s electoral prospects.

My apologies for posting anything from Eric Cantor’s YouTube channel (among other failings, the Republican Whip supports the PATRIOT Act and voted for TARP — twice), but this is priceless.

New piece on self-reliance at When Falls the Coliseum

I’m on a bit of a roll this week, so here’s my latest post for When Falls The Coliseum: “Don’t mind me, I’ll just die here in the dark.”

No, really, communists are adorable!

Compare and contrast:

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby’s still-true observation that unrepentant communists are treated differently than unrepentant nazis, despite a remarkably similar track record on life, liberty and mass graves.

IF JOSÉ Saramago, the Portuguese writer who died on Friday at 87, had been an unrepentant Nazi for the last four decades, he would never have won international acclaim or received the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. Leading publishers would never have brought out his books, his works would not have been translated into more than 20 languages, and the head of Portugal’s government would never have said on his death — as Prime Minister José Sócrates did say last week — that he was “one of our great cultural figures and his disappearance has left our culture poorer.’’

But Saramago wasn’t a Nazi, he was a communist. And not just a nominal communist, as his obituaries pointed out, but an “unabashed’’ (Washington Post), “unflinching’’ (AP), “unfaltering’’ (New York Times) true believer. …

With the Boston-area readers’ furious insistence in the comments that communists really mean well, but seem to have been led astray a few times.

Communism is a textbook example of a concept good at heart corrupted by the sociopaths who put it into practice. Marx would not have imagined leaders such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot murdering millions of their own citizens to achieve a dictatorship of the proletariat. …

None of the regime Jacoby mentions are actually communist, they are perversions of the ideology. Communism is not supposed to have a dictator, it is supposed to be rule by the masses. …

You have based your argument on two demonstrably false propositions: 1) I have known good and decent people who were and are a credit to their communities yet who happened to be Marxists. I only need to have known one, and that countermands your entire thesis. 2) One could argue that religion and empire, each or together, have resulted in more homicides than any other “cause”. I’m not sure it’s much of a sporting contest, and indeed one could weakly argue that Marxism is both a religion and empire. Nevertheless, neither capitalism nor free enterprise have proven to be social panaceas …

I lived in Boston for five years, and the area really is overrun with totalitarian dipshits who think that communism deserves another try, but this time with feeling. Most of them are Cambridge-based, of course, giving me yet another reason to resist ever springing for Harvard tuition for my kid (you, too, can fork over fifty grand a year so your kid can learn to pine for a properly regimented society).

Jacoby’s piece reminds me of a misty-eyed April 12, 1990, New York Times laugh riot, titled, “Political Idealists Trying to Hold Back the Night,” about a failing retirement home populated by aging communists with a lingering nostalgia for Lenin. Oddly, the Times piece, while still appearing as a search engine result, has apparently been scrubbed from the site.

Note: MetaThought points out that the Times piece on a retirement home full of old reds is available here, so my inability to pull it up may have been a temporary glitch (or personal incompetence).