James Pethokoukis on Conservative Fears of Inflation

James Pethokoukis, writing for “The Week,” has a column taking note of the fear of inflation among certain conservative lawmakers and thinkers which is seemingly resistant to data.

As Ron Paul, the libertarian former GOP congressman and presidential candidate, said back in 2009: “More inflation is absolutely the wrong way to go. We’re taking a recession and trying to turn it into a depression. We’re going to see a real calamity.”

Many GOP politicians have since echoed Paul’s prediction. But the Next Great Inflation never happened. The Consumer Price Index, including food and energy, has risen by an annual average of just 1.6 percent since 2008, below the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target. During the Great Inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, by contrast, prices rose five times faster.

Instead of being relieved that inflation hasn’t materialized, some folks are apparently insisting that inflation really is high, the government statistics are wrong.

He speculates on the reasons for the impulse to see inflation around every corner:

Why this GOP inflation obsession? Maybe it’s a legacy of how rapidly rising prices in the 1970s swept conservatives into power in both America and Great Britain. Maybe it’s how many conservative talk radio shows are sponsored by gold companies who stand to benefit from inflation hysteria. Maybe it’s a belief that every single economic metric must be a nightmare under President Obama.

I’m not convinced those reasons are really on the mark. There might be some of that, but probably the deeper reasons are elsewhere; particularly in the case of someone like Ron Paul.

Ron Paul sees little use for government outside of preserving property rights. Inflation tends to hurt creditors more than debtors. So, in that sense, inflation tends to impair property rights. Furthermore, the spending policies they see as leading to inflation tend to tax the wealthy in order to provide services to the poor (or at least less wealthy). That sort of policy impairs property rights as well. My guess, then, is that if you see someone who worries about inflation more than the data would seem to justify, you’ll find someone with a very deep concern for property rights almost to the exclusion of other sorts of rights.

Rise Above the Mark: Kokomo – July 17

Back in December, I posted about attending the premiere of “Rise Above the Mark,” a documentary aimed at starting a discussion about the merits of privatization/voucher/charter movement on public schools:

It is an effort spearheaded by the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation — an organization associated with West Lafayette School Corporation but funded separately. WLCS superintendent, Rocky Killion has been instrumental in its development. The documentary, I think, has two primary goals: start a discussion that is focused on finding the best way to develop the children who will be our citizens in the future; and to give a voice to the public schools and public school teachers who feel that they have been largely voiceless in the debates that have gone on in recent years. The pro-voucher side is well-funded, well organized, and seems to have the ear of most of the decision makers.

Relentless standardized testing is panned by this film. We spend a lot of money paying testing companies to waste a good bit of our kids’ educational time in order to provide information that the teachers and principals already knew. (The implication (not mentioned in the film) is that those advocating standardized testing don’t particularly trust public school teachers and administrators.) It also distorts the educational process; tending to produce students who lack creativity and the ability to self-direct their studies. Our democracy depends on creative, self-directed citizens far more than it relies on citizens with superior Scantron bubble filling skills.

Another primary point is that we have had 20+ years to experiment with public funding of alternative schools and, turns out, they don’t produce results that are notably better than traditional public schools. Often enough, they perform worse.

The Rise Above the Mark efforts have continued, the latest in Kokomo according to an article by Lauren Fitch in the Kokomo Tribune (who (mistakenly I believe) credits the effort to the West Lafayette School Corporation instead of the Education Foundation). The article indicates that a screening of the documentary and a discussion will take place, starting “at 4:30 p.m. Thursday (July 17) at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library South Branch, 1755 E. Center Road. The first hour will be a social hour, with the film starting promptly at 5:30 p.m.”

My sense of the privatization movement, as I concluded in my IBJ column in January:

I’m not saying any of the people involved in this debate are nihilistic opportunists, mining the educational system for power and profit. I’m just saying that if such people designed an educational system, it would probably look a lot like the one we’ve been developing over the last 20 years.

Seventh Circuit Orders Indiana to Recognize Marriages Solemnized by Secular Humanist Celebrants

Back in December 2012, I posted on a District Court decision that denied a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s marriage solemnization law (IC 31-11-6-1) brought by the Center for Inquiry seeking to require Indiana to recognize marriages solemnized by humanist secular celebrants. IC 31-11-6-1 provides that marriages may be solemnized by members of the clergy of a religious organization, judges, mayors, county and city clerks and clerk treasurers, the Friends Church, the German Baptists, the Bahai faith, the Mormons, and imams.

At the time of the District Court decision, I wrote:

I think the District Court was probably correct, particularly under existing precedent, that this statute does not violate the establishment or free exercise clauses. It is maybe slightly more burdensome for an atheist to get married than a religious adherent. But, the fact is, the secular celebrant can still preside at your ceremony. You just might have to do a little extra paperwork at the Clerk’s office to have your marriage recognized by the State whereas the Muslim can just have the imam solemnize the marriage.

Today, the Seventh Circuit says (pdf) that the District Court and I are wrong.

The State suggested, among other things, that if the Humanists would just call themselves a religion, that would be good enough for the State and they could solemnize marriages. However, the Seventh Circuit observed that “humanists groups that reject the label “religion” are excluded from Indiana’s list of permissible celebrants.”

The Seventh Circuit says that favorable accommodations of religious groups over secular groups aren’t permissible where secular groups are identical with respect to the attribute selected for that accommodation. Such accommodations have to be neutral, particularly when dealing with religious and secular beliefs that hold the same place in adherents’ lives. The Seventh Circuit had previously held that, when making accommodations in prisons, states must treat atheism as favorably as theistic religion. By extension, this applies to humanists as much as it does to atheists.

The Circuit court agreed that humanists could get married by having a celebrant perform the ceremony which has no legal effect, but then could go to the Clerk to get the marriage solemnized. The fact of having to go that extra step was, the court reasoned, impermissible discrimination by the State.

Lutherans can solemnize their marriage in public ceremonies conducted by people who share their fundamental beliefs; humanists can’t. Humanists’ ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in a back office, does not address the injury of which plaintiffs complain.

And with that wind up, the Court closes in a fairly scathing manner:

These examples, and the state’s willingness to recognize marriages performed by hypocrites, show that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the First Amendment. It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a “religion.” It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the “values” of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.

(Emphasis added).

Abortions are down, but what about the unapproved sex?

Mark Small at Civil Discourse Now has a post that discusses Colorado and its falling rates of teen pregnancy and abortion.

The numbers and rates of unplanned teen pregnancies and teen abortions have dropped over the past several years. Colorado’s numbers and rates have fallen at a quicker pace than other States. In 2008, Colorado was ranked as having the 29th lowest teen birth rate. By 2012, Colorado was 19th.

Part of Colorado’s success has been provision of free birth control, without necessity of parental consent, to teenagers. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative “has provided more than 30,000 intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants at low or no cost to low-income women at 68 family planning clinics across Colorado since 2009. The decline in births among young women served by these agencies accounted for three-quarters of the overall decline in the Colorado teen birth rate.” That is a summary from the official website portal of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. At the same time, the “teen abortion rate dropped 35 percent from 2009 to 2012 in those counties served by the initiative.” Id.

The problem, so far as some apparently nontrivial number of abortion opponents are concerned (and Mark alludes to this), is that opposition to abortion is in some measure also a proxy for opposition to unapproved sex. “Consequence free sex” seems to be the phrase du jour. Children are a blessing, but they are also righteous punishment for failing to resist one’s sinful, base animal urges. Which is why abortion opponents will not find common ground with sex education advocates no matter how many studies show that better sex education and better access to birth control reduce abortions.

I haven’t quite decided – and I’m sure it varies from person to person – whether the resistance to birth control & sex education among abortion opponents is more of a “cut off your nose to spite your face” situation or more of a situation where penalizing sex is the underlying point of the pro-life exercise.

Rash of violence follows the Fourth of July

There was a mass shooting in Broad Ripple when, as I understand it, a couple of patrons bumped into each other and decided to resolve their differences with lead; a police officer was killed in Indianapolis by a guy toting a high powered rifle; a Gary officer was shot in his patrol car; and two men were shot in Lafayette while sitting on their porch in what has been described as a “walk by” shooting. Prior to the Fourth, an individual was arrested in Lafayette after he posted threats to kill a West Lafayette police officer, the Tippecanoe county Sheriff, and two judges as well as a threat related to blowing up the Tippecanoe County Court House. A search of the man’s home revealed aluminum powder and black iron oxide – both substances used to make thermite.

In response to some of these incidents, Sen. Jim Merritt has indicated that he intends to push for legislation next session that would dramatically increase penalty enhancements for criminals that use a gun.

Rep. Jud McMillin is skeptical of an approach that just enhances penalties:

Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, sponsored last session’s gun crime enhancement bill and is one of the architects of the state’s criminal code overhaul. He says the legislature can’t only focus on punishing crimes after the fact.

“It’s not as simple as just throwing the book at somebody after it happens,” McMillin says. “And even if it is, you’re still handling it after it happens…and we want to prevent these things from happening in the first place.”

McMillin says lawmakers need to focus on helping treat mental health issues and addiction, which he says are often at the root of these crimes.

Despite the apparent surge in newsworthy violence, I think the overall trend is that crime is down. So, it’s entirely possible that we are safer these days even as the world feels less safe. So, some caution is perhaps in order when we devise policy responses. On the other hand, the U.S. has troubles with gun violence that no other developed country seems to have. As the Onion put it, “‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens.’” Sure, there are bad actors everywhere. But the ready availability of firearms enhances the force available to these people and the availability of similar force to good actors doesn’t seem to mitigate the damage all that much. Regardless of how the cost/benefit shakes out, the Second Amendment puts an additional wrinkle in the calculation. Even if we decide that the wide availability of firearms is a net harm to our society, short of Constitutional amendment, what remedies are available to us?

Fourth of July #238

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave his speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro,” which contained this passage:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Twelve years later, and 150 years ago this Fourth of July, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was rectifying some of that harsh criticism by forcing back the armies of those in the South who committed treason in defense of slavery. On the Fourth of July in 1864, Joe Johnston was retreating back behind the Chattahoochee River, the last major defensive obstacle before Sherman would reach Atlanta.

We, as a nation, have certainly had some growing pains when it has come to realizing the ideals our Founders called self-evident and have struggled mightily at times to secure rights for our citizens, an ironic thing when those rights are described as “inalienable.” But, I hope, our efforts in this regard have been more forward than back. And the Fourth is a time to reflect on the remarkable amount of good our country has achieved over the last two hundred and thirty-eight years.

Defendant Threatens Tippecanoe County Law Enforcement & Judiciary; Calls It “Satire”

Eric Lach, writing for TPM Muckraker, reports that Samuel Bradbury of Pine Village, Indiana has posted threats to kill West Lafayette, Ind. police officer Troy Greene, Tippecanoe County Sheriff Tracy Brown, Tippecanoe County Judge Les Meade, and Indiana Supreme Court Loretta Rush on Facebook on June 19. He said he was part of a group that intended to blow up the Tippecanoe County courthouse with thermite.

Police in West Lafayette got a tip about the post on June 21, and, that night, they executed a search warrant at Bradbury’s house. According to the affidavit, officers searching Bradbury’s room found three 115 gram bags of aluminum powder and three 345 gram bags of black iron oxide — both substances used to make thermite.

The post was bracketed by “disclaimers” – at the top and bottom of the posts, he claims that the threats were a free speech exercise. Bradbury claimed ties to the Las Vegas cop killers, Jerad and Amanda Miller. He now faces both state and federal charges related to the threats.

If that was meant to be “satire,” he’s doing it wrong.

100 Years Ago Today: Gavril Princip Precipitated World War I

On June 28, 1914, Gavril Princip had participated in a failed attempt to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. A co-conspirator had thrown a bomb at the Archduke’s motorcade but failed to hit his target. The motorcade got away from the planned route. However, not long thereafter, the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn and, as he was backing up, the car stalled. As it happened, the car stalled in front of where Princip was standing. Taking his chance, Princip pulled out his pistol and shot the Archduke and his wife.

Princip was part of a Serbian separatist group that wanted parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire to split off and become part of a new Yugoslavia. The archduke was the heir apparent to the throne of the empire, so the Austro-Hungarian Empire was enraged and issued an ultimatum to Serbia – with a number of demands that Serbia simply couldn’t be expected to accept. After partially rejecting the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Serbia turned to Russia which regarded itself as “protector of the Slavs.” Austria-Hungary turned to Germany with which it had an alliance against Russia. Russia, in turn, had an alliance with France against Germany.

Germany’s plans for war with Russia (Schlieffen Plan) was premised on the notion that it would have to fight France in any conflict with Russia. Being situated between Russia and France, and believing it would take Russia some time to mobilize, the war plan for such a conflict required Germany to move swiftly into France, neutralize the forces there, and then swing back east to deal with Russia. The longer it entertained diplomatic solutions, the less likely the plan was to work. Additionally, the German plan took it through neutral Belgium to get to France more quickly. England was allied with Belgium against violations of its neutrality and was drawn into the war when Germany invaded.

There are a lot more details and nuances involved in the beginnings of World War I, but that’s the thumbnail sketch. The details get hopelessly complicated pretty quickly. But, at that point, Europe was like a forest full of dry dead wood and undergrowth. The relatively small spark of Princip’s assassination of Franz Ferdinand was all it took to set the whole thing off. The Great War was really a bridge into modern times. The early parts of the war feature guys on horses with plumed uniforms and whatnot facing off against industrial weaponry. The conflagration would turn into an absolute meat grinder, particularly after it settled into the trench warfare for which it became famous. It was a war of attrition on a scale not previously seen. And, for the most part, it seems that the combatants were fighting out of a combination of pride and accident.

It tends to be a forgotten war – overshadowed locally by the “good” wars like World War II, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War, where the United States can be discussed in heroic terms and the narrative of the war and what it accomplished can be stated more simply. But, I think we ignore the lessons of World War I at our peril: that pride and lack of foresight can cause enormous losses; that there is nothing inherently noble about war; that individual bravery can be meaningless.

I suspect I’ll have more to say about the Great War in the near future. Among other things, I was a history major in undergrad and Great Britain’s involvement in World War I was the subject of my senior seminar. I don’t pretend to be any kind of an expert, but it’s an area of interest for me.

World War I: Easy to Forget

Coming up on the centennial of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, triggering The Great War, Christopher Doyle has a good column entitled, “World War I: A war too easy to forget.”

In contrast to America’s favorite wars (Revolutionary, Civil, and World War II), it’s a war that lends itself to hard questions:

From a Socratic perspective, World War I offers perfect material for asking hard questions. How, for instance, could a relatively inconsequential act of terrorism committed by a teenage extremist from the margins of Europe drag the great powers into conflict? Why did trenches and a pointless war of attrition develop and persist for more than four years on the Western front? How did the bombing of cities, mass conscription, modern propaganda techniques, poison gas and the starvation of civilians by blockade come to be seen as acceptable, even essential, behavior? Were troop mutinies and pacifist activities justified? Were peace advocates heroes? How about official measures to stop them: Were they ethical? Were any higher principles at stake? Did good prevail? And, of course, how did the botched peace result in the rise of the Nazis?

I’ve mentioned it before, but Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History has some good podcasts up on World War I in his “Blueprint for Armageddon.”

The ambiguity of World War I is, in my mind, more representative of the nature of war than are America’s greatest hits – particularly the mythologized versions of those wars.

What’s on Your Mind?

Since I’m obviously doing a slacker’s job of keeping up with this blog so far this summer, anything of note on your mind? I just got a charcoal chimney that has been making me pretty happy during this grilling season. I guess it’s hard for me to focus on law and politics outside of work when there is beer, cooked meats, and the great out doors to enjoy.

Open thread.