Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Enfant Terrible, or Why are American Parents Inferior?

Article originally posted at American Thinker, February 18, 2012



When it comes to parenting, I find myself siding with the French. Quelle surprise!

Allow me to turn your attention to an article in last Saturday's Wall Street Journal: "Why French Parents are Superior." It's a catchy title, but a more accurate one would be "Why American Parents are Inferior," because it appears that the French are simply doing what one might expect of anyone in the role.

We join author Pamela Druckerman after a harrowing vacation weekend in a French coastal city with her husband and toddler, where we immediately get a hint at the nature of the problem.

[W]ithin a few minutes she was spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then she demanded to be sprung from her high chair so she could dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks.

When ineffectual parents cave in to a toddler's unreasonable and dangerous "demands," you've already lost the war, ma chouette. Let the record reflect, however, that the parental units did the best they could:

Our strategy was to finish the meal quickly. We ordered while being seated, then begged the server to rush out some bread and bring us our appetizers and main courses at the same time. While my husband took a few bites of fish, I made sure that Bean didn't get kicked by a waiter or lost at sea. Then we switched. We left enormous, apologetic tips to compensate for the arc of torn napkins and calamari around our table.

Unfortunately, no compensation was left for the other patrons of the brasserie, who were no doubt as entertained as the staff were by these hapless parents' offspring's performance art.

Then, a glint of light in the darkness:

... I started noticing that the French families around us didn't look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. ... French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.

I myself have observed this apparently now-unusual family dinnertime dynamic with Japanese families in restaurants around Detroit.  I've also seen it in other flyover outposts -- Iowa, Nebraska, Utah. Think of it: whole families of bitter clingers acting civilized.

It gets better (or worse):

I realized it wasn't just mealtime that was different. ... Why was it, for example, that in the hundreds of hours I'd clocked at French playgrounds, I'd never seen a child (except my own) throw a temper tantrum? Why didn't my French friends ever need to rush off the phone because their kids were demanding something? Why hadn't their living rooms been taken over by teepees and toy kitchens, the way ours had?

Let's try to noodle this out on our own, as it's a little early in the game to buy a clue.

When American families visited our home, the parents usually spent much of the visit refereeing their kids' spats, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build Lego villages. When French friends visited, by contrast, the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves.

Nope; still no clue. Unable to crack this perplexing mystery, Druckerman dedicated five years of research to get to the bottom of this conundrum and write a book. Here's what she discovered:

Middle-class French parents ... have values that look familiar to me. They are zealous about talking to their kids, showing them nature and reading them lots of books. They take them to tennis lessons, painting classes and interactive science museums.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive.

Sooo...children are not the center of the entire universe? Both they and you might benefit from a more balanced approach?  Who knew? Apparently almost everybody:

This problem has been painstakingly diagnosed, critiqued and named: overparenting, hyperparenting, helicopter parenting, and my personal favorite, the kindergarchy. Nobody seems to like the relentless, unhappy pace of American parenting, least of all parents themselves.

They say recognizing the problem is the first step. Here's a bit of unsolicited advice that may advance the beleaguered author to step two: "If it hurts your head to hit it against the wall, maybe you should stop doing that."

Our intrepid parent soldiers on. Recognizing that French children seem to be better-behaved than her own brats, she conducts some investigative reporting and asks French parents how they discipline their children. It turns out that they don't "discipline" them, as the author understands the term, in the sense of imposing punishment.  Rather, they "educate" their children on how to behave. We "old ones" might call that "training," which implicitly involves some form of "discipline" if the "training" doesn't result in the desired behavior. But I understand that that conjures up uncomfortable comparisons to housebreaking a puppy. Developing a properly socialized human being is much more complicated, so "educate" it is.

Here are some of the French tricks of proper "education" that Druckerman uncovered:

One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep.

Ah yes, the age-old dilemma: to Dr. Spock or not to Dr. Spock.

[Learning to wait] is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.)

Three meals and an after-school snack? What a concept! Maybe if more American parents adopted that pattern, Michelle Obama wouldn't have to be carping constantly about our kids' fat behinds.

It turns out that a proper French childhood "education" includes learning the fine discipline -- if I may use that word -- of delayed gratification. Additionally, French children are also "educated" in the equally fine art of amusing themselves sans constant parental interaction. Imagine that! Independence! That sounds very...well, American. Or at least it used to.

Ms. Druckerman discovered that researchers have determined that children who learn how to control their urges by delaying gratification also develop other helpful coping skills:

[T]he good delayers were better at concentrating and reasoning, and didn't "tend to go to pieces under stress[.]"

Could properly "educating" children to be patient, as it used to be known, actually have other beneficial effects? she wonders incredulously:

Could it be that teaching children how to delay gratification -- as middle-class French parents do -- actually makes them calmer and more resilient? Might this partly explain why middle-class American kids, who are in general more used to getting what they want right away, so often fall apart under stress?

Well, it's not as if Americans don't want their children to be patient:

But patience isn't a skill that we hone quite as assiduously as French parents do. We tend to view whether kids are good at waiting as a matter of temperament. In our view, parents either luck out and get a child who waits well or they don't.

Right.  Just like with those puppies. You either luck out and get a good one who knows he's supposed to pee only outdoors, or you get a bad one who needs a more thorough "education."

While American parents in general and our author in particular seem to struggle with getting their children to behave, the French have deftly identified for these poor people the (obvious) source of the problem: allowing the children to be in charge. The consequences of this unnatural order of things elude the French's American counterparts.

After a while, it struck me that most French descriptions of American kids include this phrase "n'importe quoi," meaning "whatever" or "anything they like." It suggests that the American kids don't have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It's the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things -- that's the frame -- and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.

Wow!  This is almost like rocket science or something! Maybe the French really are better than we are! Wait, there's more.

Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting -- and perhaps the toughest one to master. Many French parents I meet have an easy, calm authority with their children that I can only envy.

Ah, there’s the rub: authority. For a large segment of American parents, authority is anathema: associated with mental rigidity and the exertion of illegitimate power and control. Why this distorted view? Thank our twelve to eighteen year public liberal emersion education system. Those who fall sway to this indoctrination program emerge as liberal adults fully invested in liberalism’s first principles: equality, fairness and non-judgmentalism.

Liberal parents attempt to raise their offspring according to these guiding principles. (Unlike their conservative peers who managed to escape with their critical thinking skills intact and raise their kids, well, more like the French.) For liberals, the highest moral standard is fairness and there is no sin greater than being judgmental.

As parents they find themselves in constant conflict with their key values. Exercising parental authority to exert control over their child requires inequality of treatment on occasion and near constant judmentalism. No wonder liberal parents are always stressed. And no wonder the author envies the French who, au contraire, are genetically judgmental and have no problem whatsoever with authority.

Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren't constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations.

So what exactly is it about French parenting that is superior? This is what I gather: they are not uncomfortable treating their children like untrained puppies until such time as the children have learned to stop peeing in the house. Which is to say: French parents assume the role of alpha dog with their children rather than the other way around.

Seriously, how hard is this? If you feel you need coaching but can’t afford to live in France for a year, get in touch with one of your conservative friends with kids and spend a few weekends observing them.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Through a Portal Darkly

Gates_of_Hell_Rodin"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here"

When a constitutional republic enacts a law that provides a portal to tyranny, the citizens ought not be surprised when someone throws the door wide open and strolls through.

I speak of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA); the tyrant, of course, is President Obama.

The APA was enacted in 1946 after nearly 10 years of fierce debate over how to manage and control all the new federal agencies created as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s  legislative plan (New Deal) to deliver the country from the grasp of social and economic hardships stemming from the Great Depression. (sound familiar?) FDR was the first Democratic President to not let a good crisis go to waste.

As Congress became increasingly concerned with the expanding powers that these federal agencies possessed they moved to enact the APA. It’s purpose was to regulate and control agencies by imposing administrative procedures on rule making.  It’s passage was contentious, as its opponents had serious concerns with the entire framework of federal agencies – fearing they could grow too large, too powerful and end up as de facto legislative entities.

They argued that unelected, unaccountable agencies making administrative law presented grave threats to our republic. Some were even had concerns over the constitutionality of agencies with such broad powers: arguing that they violated the intent of  separation of powers. We really should  pay more attention to the naysayers and Cassandras in our midst. 

The major issue the APA’s opponents (mostly Republicans and southern Democrats) had with the bill was that it codified a system that provided a blueprint for creating an ever expanding federal government. But in the end a compromise bill was struck that ostensibly expressed "the nation's decision to permit extensive government, but to avoid dictatorship and central planning." (1)

Well, that was the theory. We definitely got the extensive government. Thus far we’ve avoided dictatorship but with the latest intrusions by the Obama Administration into the State’s business, it appears we have embraced a federal form of central planning and may even have one step on the ladder of dictatorship.

There were 425 federal agencies created between 1946 and 1996, some that started out small and grew large, and some that started out large and grew huge. That was 16 years ago. The number for all three branches of the federal government  has now grown to about 1300. If you have time you can count them yourself , but it’s clearly well north of 425.

Does this begin to suggest the nature and scope of the problem? 1300 fiefdoms with the power to adjudicate, legislate, and enforce laws within their specific areas of delegated power. They "legislate" through  the power of rulemaking bestowed under the auspices of the APA.

The rulemaking and regulatory power of Federal administrative agencies has been abused for decades by bureaucratic despots large and small. It was only a matter of time before a president stepped in to avail himself of this most useful mechanism in advancing his own agenda when faced with a recalcitrant Congress.  That time has arrived. That president is Obama.

When President Obama says “We Can’t Wait” it is not simply campaign rhetoric. He means he won’t wait. He’s lawyered up with the best Chicago-rules style legal beagles money and power can buy.  Squeaking legality out of the dark reaches of the law is their specialty. They are so sharp they make Clinton’s parsing seems parsimonious by comparison.

Exhibit A, from the Presidential mouthpiece last October:

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama will “continue” to act “independently” without congressional authorization to “benefit the American people” as part of the White House’s “We Can’t Wait” campaign.

“He [Obama] fully understands that the kinds of things that are contained within the American Jobs Act require congressional action, require laws being passed, and that’s why he’s pressing for Congress to take action legislatively,” Carney told reporters on Monday at the White House.

“But he can also act independently or, rather, administratively, and exercise his executive authority to benefit the American people in other ways. And he will continue to do that.”

Carney dismissed House Speaker John Boehner’s disapproval of the president acting unilaterally.

“I was asked about this concern, which I would just suggest is misplaced, because the president is acting well within his authority, well within his constitutional authority,” Carney said

So here’s the takeaway: Obama knows his plans require legislative action, but he doesn’t care. He’ll find a workaround.

He’s told us as much before. Before he decided to base his campaign strategy on running against a do-nothing Congress, allowing him to blame Congress for not passing his comprehensive immigration reform, he told a La Raza group that "some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own" -- a prospect Obama said he found "very tempting." before quickly adding "that's not how our system works." Good to know.

He reiterated this sentiment again later last year when speaking to another gathering of Hispanics, saying 'when it comes to the issue of immigration, ‘I'd like to work my way around Congress.'" But noted “The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books I have to enforce.”  Although he did locate  a “loophole” (which he generally dislikes) that allowed him to enforce them  discriminately; he unilaterally changed immigration law enforcement last summer by announcing that the government will no longer initiate deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants unless they have committed serious crimes. No doubt he’ll find other ways to “work around Congress” on immigration as the election grows close. Executive orders are always a good bet.

The President has also found ways to “work around Congress” with respect to his clean energy agenda. Since they failed to pass his Cut and Cap bill he’s used the Department of Energy to provide loans to alternative energy companies like Solyndra, the Department of Transportation to set stringent fuel standards that dictate auto manufacturing standards, and the EPA to implement his green energy policy.

As of last summer the EPA flexed it’s regulatory power by announcing a policy that will close down 20% of the nation’s coal plants in 2012 under their Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (at a cost of $130 billion – there’s a real economic stimulus rabbit hole). And they are off to a good start: 3  plants in West Virginia, 4 in Ohio and 25 elsewhere. Another campaign promise kept: (“If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”).

Together the actions of these administrative agencies – an abuse of regulatory power – are implementing provisions of the Cut and Cap legislation rejected by Congress. In the process, they are making us dangerously more dependent on foreign oil…or on solar panels, windmills and batteries if you’re a  Kool-Aid drinker.

Here are several additional examples of how Obama’s regulatory agencies have advanced his green agenda by “working around” the do-nothing Congress (which, foolishly, continues to fund these out-of-control agencies):

  1. Environmental (EPA) concerns were cited as the reason Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline (the oil will now be going to China, the world’s #1 polluter).
  2.  The administration has turned the Gulf of Mexico into a “no drill” zone, ignoring court orders and using the permit process to halt development.
  3. Shell oil  having spent $4 billion trying to develop tracts, already leased and paid for, north of Alaska, gave up when the EPA denied permits to begin exploratory drilling.

Arguably, all of the above actions are unconstitutional. But they pale in comparison to federal rules being established as law by the three federal departments ( Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services) granted oversight (by Congress) and hence rulemaking authority for the “Affordable Care Act.” Although we needn’t worry because our Constitution provides for a separation of powers that won’t permit them to run amok right?

The mandate that’s raised so many shackles was actually placed into Federal Law as of last Friday. It requires insurers provide  mandatory coverage of contraception, abortifacients and sterilization, despite the providers beliefs, “conscience thing” or wishes. As we discussed earlier, this is precisely what Nancy Pelosi meant in her infamous “ we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it" comment. And what we found out was that every woman has a “right” to “free” contraceptives and abortions. (I hope you feel like a complete idiot now, former Representative Stupak). Now may be a good time to point out that dictators can grant and, more importantly, retract rights at will - as long as they are allowed to go unchecked. But we needn’t worry, because our Constitution provides for checks and balances, right? Right?

Regarding the unconstitutional mandate regarding contraceptive coverage, the “accommodation” announced by Obama last week has done nothing to calm the fury. Not that he really cares. What precisely does it take for the people of this country to wake up and realize their liberties are being washed down the drain one deathly drip, drip, drip at a time?

Here is one thing that is wrong with our body politic: you cannot delegate the type of power Congress has relegated to unelected, unaccountable agencies. Our founders knew this. They thought they had provided against it through the enumeration and separation of powers.

Since the 1940’s, Congress has grown increasingly comfortable with basking in the glory of giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to a legal abstraction, and letting the hard work of actually governing to the concepts fall on the backs of  nameless, faceless bureaucrats and functionaries. Federal Agencies are neither elected nor accountable to any constituents. Indeed, as Obama continues to circumvent Congress by making “recess” appointments, they’re not even accountable to Congress. 

So here’s the problem: Obama can trammel all over the Constitution (e.g. non-recess recess appointments, auto bailouts that blatantly circumvented the rule of law, illegal deep-water drilling ban) as long as no one stands up to stop him. It should be Congress’ responsibility to stop this outrage. It should be them launching investigations, holding hearings discussing impeachment. It should be Congress that moves to defund every single agency, department or bureau that continues to write autocratic administrative law that recklessly disregards the provisions of the Constitution. It should be Congress that takes back the responsibility for implementing the bills they write.

But if Congress refuses to hold the Executive branch accountable, take the responsibility back from unaccountable bureaucrats, cut off funds to despotic federal agencies, put us back on a path to Constitutional government than it is up to us: we the people. Do not send any member of Congress back to Washington who is lazy, moronic, corrupt or all of the above. That should pretty much give us a clean slate.

Make WTF 2012 count.


(1)Shepard, George. Fierce Compromise: The Administrative Procedure Act Emerges from New Deal Politics. 90 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1557 (1996)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

If God wanted me to use a computer, he wouldn’t have invented books.

Thanks to   “Guest” over on MOTUS, we have access to rare footage of the world’s first documented tech support guy, performing his nerd magic for another hapless “user.”

Still clueless after all these years.

Drip, drip, drip…the sound of our liberty leaking away

When Nancy Pelosi said “ But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." she didn’t mean because Congress was too lazy to read the thousands of pages carefully crafted by the minions of legislative aides with law degrees hired to incorporate the provisions specified by key lobbyists. Although they are – too lazy, that is.

No, what Pelosi meant was that the real work doesn’t get started until after a bill is passed by our duly elected representatives and signed into law by the President. Then the bill gets handed off to the administrators in a myriad of  agencies, commissions and subcommittees within any one of  15 Executive Departments in the Executive Branch to give it the teeth that make it enforceable. This bureaucratic labyrinth of advocates, functionaries, and mini-despots uses every bit of power vested in them – and it’s quite a lot – to advance the agenda of whoever brought them to the dance. To paraphrase Stalin, “those who legislate decide nothing. Those who regulate decide everything ...”

Obama’s recent constitutional snafu involving mandated contraception in conjunction with the implementation of the  “Affordable Care Act”  illustrates precisely what Nancy Pelosi meant: Congress doesn’t decide how these laws are  going to work in the real world, the people who write the administrative rules do. And this isn’t the first rodeo for those folks. They know how to rope and tie those doggies.

The beauty of this arrangement -  for Congress members - is that  handing off the rule making to some  nameless “agency” to write  “administrative rules”  provides them with wide and deep coverage. If their constituents become upset by the law’s impact, the Senator/Congressman can claim that wasn’t the way it was intended to work. It’s very much like Obama’s  “Don’t blame me, it’s the Do-nothing Congress” gambit, only in reverse.

By off-loading  the rather important detail of actually implementing legislation, Congress is freed up to focus on their other very important job of spreading the wealth around, often ensuring it stops with them. This division of labor is also what allows states the luxury of electing to Congress such luminaries as Maxine Waters, Shirley Jackson Lee, and Frederica Wilson ( Don’t worry about the racial profile: these 3 are truly the worst. There are many non-black, non-female members who are likewise functional morons, but this trio, despite whatever degrees they hold from whatever fine institutions, are an embarrassment to themselves, their constituents and the electoral process.)

To be sure, the job doesn’t demand much brain power anymore. Which explains why so many members of Congress forget to pay their taxes, misappropriate campaign funds and have time to Tweet pictures of their private parts.

Maybe we should consider a return to the time when Congress focused on actually enacting the legislation they passed, instead of figuring out how to maximize their personal wealth by practicing legal (for them) insider trading.  In fact, one might question the constitutionality of  the Legislative Branch delegating key responsibilities back to the Executive Branch. It does rather upset the concept of separation of powers. Come back tomorrow for a more thorough discussion of the unconstitutionality of this decades long abdication of responsibility.

Linked By: Larwyn’s Linx on Doug Ross@Journal, Thanks!