A speech given to the Ethics and Public Policy Center
The glossary of inadmissible words in 21st-century American society has shrunk to what seems, at times, a null set. Deprecations and excretory references that once got kids’ mouths washed out with soap are dropped with aplomb and immunity, and not just in Quentin Tarantino films. On the rare occasions when the Federal Communications Commission chastises a broadcaster for letting an expletive pass uncensored or unbleeped, cries of repression ricochet from sea to shining sea, quickly followed by passionate defenses of the First Amendment.
But the set of inadmissible words is not quite null just yet. For, to paraphrase St. Paul, there still abideth metaphysics. Indeed, 21st-century post-modern culture does not simply shun the word “metaphysics.” It dismisses out of hand the very notion that there is a morally significant givenness to reality: a structure of The Way Things Are that can be discerned by reason and that, being known, discloses certain truths about the way we should live.
In 21st-century America, and throughout the 21st-century West, what the founders would have called “the pursuit of happiness” has become a function of the autonomous will of the individual, and that willfulness can legitimately attach itself to any object so long as no one gets hurt.
Reprinted from The City Journal
While the Boston Police Department responded effectively to last month’s marathon bombing, terrorism experts say that the attack, which killed three and injured more than 200, might well have been prevented had the perpetrators lived in New York.
It’s not just a question of numbers and resources. Yes, the NYPD has a vastly larger force—roughly 35,000 uniformed officers versus Boston’s 2,000—and a far larger budget. The NYPD spent $330 million of its $4.6 billion annual budget in 2011 combating terrorism, a staggering sum that dwarfs Boston’s police budget.
But the 1,000 cops and analysts who work in the NYPD’s intelligence and counterterrorism divisions, terrorism analysts say, would have been far more likely than their Boston counterparts to have flagged Tamerlan Tsarnaev for surveillance, given police commissioner Ray Kelly’s insistence on aggressively monitoring groups and individuals suspected of undergoing radicalization.
New York cops almost surely would have monitored Tsarnaev, for example, if they had known that Russia had warned the FBI in 2011 that he was an Islamic radical, that he was potentially dangerous, and that he had spent six months in Dagestan last year.
Reprinted from National Affairs
In the fall of 1978, the United States Congress finally solved the federal government’s budget problems. While the Senate debated a bill making some technical revisions to the Bretton Woods Agreement, Virginia senator Harry Byrd, Jr., offered an amendment that read, in its entirety: “Beginning with fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the Federal Government shall not exceed its receipts.” The amendment passed, and the bill was eventually signed into law.
The next year, in a bill increasing the debt ceiling, the overwhelmingly Democratic Congress again enacted essentially the same requirement for balanced budgets beginning in 1981. It did so again in 1980, and then in 1982 struck the reference to fiscal year 1981 but reiterated its “commitment” to balanced budgets. To this day, Title 31, Section 1103, of the United States Code reads: “Congress reaffirms its commitment that budget outlays of the United States Government for a fiscal year may be not more than the receipts of the Government for that year.”
Of course, in all but four of the 30 years since, the federal government has indeed spent more than it has taken in—running an average annual deficit of more than $340 billion (adjusted for inflation) and well over a trillion dollars in more recent years.
Reprinted from The American
The Asia-Pacific’s most dangerous crisis may be going overlooked due to North Korean threats. Despite the Obama administration’s ‘pivot’ to the region, Asian allies worry that the United States will not continue to be a steadfast partner.
North Korean bombast has been using up all of the oxygen in the Asia-Pacific, but what may be the region’s most dangerous crisis is raging on a few hundred miles to the south. With front pages focused on Kim Jong-un’s threats and the United States’ shows of force, the ongoing Sino-Japanese impasse has gone overlooked in recent weeks. Even so, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the latter conflict’s long-term implications for peace in Asia.
As tensions in the East China Sea have heated up over the past year, analysts, journalists, and businessmen have been asking two questions: Could Japan and China really come to blows over the Senkaku (or, in Chinese, “Diaoyu”) Islands? Would the United States really allow itself to be drawn into a conflict over a handful of obscure, uninhabited rocks? These questions are based on an errant assumption that the roiling conflict is, at heart, about ownership of the Senkakus. It is not.