This blog features information about the political campaign nationally and in the state of Pennsylvania. it will discuss congressional races western PA, but it won't restrict comments to those jurisdictions. On many occasions, it will feature humor, but its main purpose is to "cut the legs off" political jihad. This is a site for political grown-ups of all ages.

Location: Ambridge, Pennsylvania, United States

I have a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (English and American Literature). I taught for 10 years at various educational institutions (Univ. of Rochester, my alma mater, College of William and Mary, and University of Georgia, where I was also Asst. Ed. of the Georgia Review. Later, I worked as a speechwriter and "thinker" at various large companies, including Phillips Petroleum, Gulf Oil, Aetna, Merck (consultant), and Eli Lilly (consultant), among many others. I'm a full-time writer and political commentator/analyst. Favorite company: AudioTech Business Books. Favorite female: my wife, Patricia Ann Maloney. Favorite politcal candidate: Diana Lynn Irey (PA's 12th congressional district)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Joe Biden, Meet Dr. House: The Iraq War as the Dems' Best Friend

Last night on "House," the show's main character was examining a fussy young man who was critical of the doctor's normal "homeless" look. House paused and asked the fellow if he chopped off his nose hairs with a toenail clipper. The young man observed that, well, yes he did and how did the doctor know?

House replied, "Well, your nose has a case of Athlete's Foot."

He should see Joe Biden's mouth. Today, the Delaware Senator was attempting to criticize Barack Obama. Unfortunately, it came out as if he were praising the Illinois Senator for not being Stepin Fetchitt.

I sent the following to various people at the Post-Gazette, including the editor. I send such letters not because they generally get answers or change minds, but rather because the newspaper so obviously deserves an occasional good beating.

To Whom it May Concern:

After 9/11, my wife and I saw Joe Biden, the Delware senator who travels regularly through Philadelphia on his way to Washington, on TV.

Then, the anthrax scare came up and there was Biden on MSNBC. He was being critical of the Bush Administration's handling of something (perhaps the presence of poison substances in the world). Finally, he put on his furrowed brow look and said, "In a few days I'll find a venue, and I plan to give a MAJOR SPEECH on anthrax." He may also have said -- although I don't think he did -- that he would first find someone who knew something about anthrax to fill him in.

When my wife, a nice Catholic woman who bears no ill to any living being (exception, bin Laden types) and is very quiet, heard the words "deliver a major speech," she began to laugh, and I joined in. She laughed because she knows Joe Biden is a windbag, who looks the part but has no business being a U.S. Senator. She also knew that he would not be delivering a "major speech on anthrax" in our lifetime, which so far has been true.

I ask you to "Google" Biden + Alito to see what Brainless Joe had to see in the hearings for one of the country's most highly regarded judges. He was incoherent, almost in need of treatment for unintentional glossolalia. Biden questioning Alito was quite an event, the dumb questioning the brilliant.

As for Biden's comment that Obama differs from other African-American candidates in being "clean" and "articulate," I ask you to consider what the Post-Gazette's response would have been if, say, Rick Santorum had said something similar last autumn.

If it had been Santorum, I can imagine African-American Assistant Editor Tony Norman (simulating) self-immolation on the Boulevard of the Allies. I can imagtine (heck, I know) Tony will give Joe Biden a free pass on this one, probably restraining himself to a headshake.

In the last campaign, Virginia's George Allen, a fine man, said an unfortunate, but basically harmless, word: macaca. He was beaten over the head for that one word, said in jest, for three months. He probably lost the election because of the Washington Post's frenzied effort to portray him as a racist.

Months after the election, Chris Matthews is still using "macaca" on MSNBC.

My point is not the usual conservative whine. It's rather this: is the media a profession that attracts and retains decent people, individuals who don't wear their political views on their sleeves at every opportunity? I fear I know the answer to that question.

Should I look on page A-9 for the Biden story? Or should I not even bother?

The Iraq War: The Democrats's Best Friend?

Let me add a few points: Do I believe Joe Biden is a racist. Yes, I do believe it -- in that, like Tony Norman -- he sees reality largely through the prism of race. However, as Nathaniel Hawthorne told us, no one can really plumb the depths of the human heart. Yet I think that Biden, like many Democrats, regards Blacks as lesser breeds who need large, continuing streams of assistance from governments in the hands of liberals. In short, Biden helps when he can to redistribute income in the direction of Blacks, and they reward him with their votes.

My problem with many Democrats holding federal office is that they scare me. In "supporting the troops but opposing the War," they're making what the (Democratic) governor of Wyoming called "a distinction without a difference." In fact, I think most American soldiers are frightening figures to many Democrats. The soldiers have a strong commitment to their mission and demonstrate a great degree of personal courage.

Such "personal courage" is NOT something you're going to hear highlighted in a major speech (or a minor speech) by Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, or John Murtha, and let's not leave out Barack Obama or John Edwards.

Last night on CNN, Anderson Cooper, the newsman as wimp, was speaking to Hillary Clinton at the Fisher House Center, a privately-funded ($50 million) rehabilitation facility for severely wounded soldiers. Anderson cited the remarks of Chuck Schumer, Hillary's fellow Senator from New York, that the government should have paid for the facility.

Hillary summoned up her usual angry look and indicated that it was "disgraceful" that the government didn't pay for it.

What tough questions did Anderson ask her at that point? Guess.

Later, Cooper did talk to one of the executives of the Fisher Foundation, and he noted that the center was clearly a gift of love from the American people. He added that it took only two years to raise the money and build the facility -- not adding that it would take the government about that long to finance and build a latrine.
The executive also added that the federal government had some great facilities for the wounded at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center.

I imagine if the feds had paid for the Fisher Center, all the wounded veterans could then be eternally grateful to St. Hillary. It's quite sickening.

The reason so many soldiers vote for people like George Bush is that they don't trust people like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. The soldiers know -- as so many of us know -- that the War in Iraq is the Democrats' friend. THAT is the lesson of the last election. As long as the war goes badly -- and as long as Bush remains a total whipping boy -- the Democrats continue to win elections.

As Walter Cronkite used to say, "And that's the way it is."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Harvard & Yale: Places to Avoid, Buckley's Folly

When I taught literataure at the College of William and Mary (1967-1970), the head of the Department of English was an unctuous creature named Fraser Neiman, Ph.D., Harvard University. He had one good moment when he told a story about the (Harvard) man who had hired him.

Someone asked that individual, "Why do you only hire Ph.D.s from Harvard, Professor? You know there are some other good graduate schools."

The response, "Yes, I know that . . . but why take a chance?"

I mentioned in my last "Old Conservatism" piece that I'm less than enamored of Harvard and Yale, not to mention the rest of the group. I know there are some fine people who are graduates of Ivy League institutions, and I'm sure they swear by some of the professors at those schools.

Of the Ivies, I like Princeton best. The magnificent Bernard Lewis, perhaps the world's leading expert on the Middle East, taught there for many years. So did John Nash, the "wonderful mind" mathematician and business theorist, who won the Nobel Prize. The religion school has been a model of excellence and originality, as well as the main source of the New Standard Version of the Bible.

A graduate of Princeton's Middle East program who's just come out with a new book on America's role in the MidEast is Michael B. Oren, perhaps my favorite historian. He's a paratrooper veteran of the first Lebanese War and still serves as reserve major in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). His greatest achievement is Six Days of War, about Israel's battle in 1967 against many Arab nations.

If there's an exception to my generalizations about the Ivies, Princeton probably is it.

In the past year, Oren served as a visiting professor at BOTH Harvard and Yale. At those institutions he truly was one-of-kind. A warrior-scholar, a type rare at any institution, but especially so at the two "elite" universities. In many ways, Harvard and Yale have come to stand for smugness, self-absorption, and smarmy pacificism.

Frankly, when I heard the two New England insititutions had invited Oren to lecture, my thought was: "How dare they?" I see no signs that Harvard and Yale have any comprehension of -- or respect for -- the character of a man like Michael Oren. The only location where he would be more out-of-place would be a university in Teheran.

My view of Harvard's and Yale's place in the Warrior Nation is this they're exiles. Apparently, there's no principle so sacred that it's worthy of anything more than a white flag waving in the wind. If one ultimately believes in nothing, then one will never have to shed blood for one's views. Perhaps they might adopt that as their motto?

Academically, Yale and Harvard seem to be places where superior high school students go to learn how to be average. As one of my nephews (an Ivy grad) put it, "They assume if you get in you're an 'A' student, so it's easy to get "As."

In my recent piece on the Old Conservatism, Harvard and Yale played a minor role. The column dealt more with William F. Buckley, Jr. and the early days of The National Review.

After finishing that effort, I turned on Katie Couric -- well, SOMEBODY has to watch her -- and she was chatting on adoringly about one Duvall Patrick, whom I'd never heard of before. It turns out he's the new African-American governor of Massachusetts. Katie added, "And he's a graduate of Harvard no less!" Here, I knew almost nothing about Duvall Patrick and was already prepared to dislike him.

I turned off Katie in her mid-adoration of Duvall and began reading (for the first time) Buckley's Blackford Oakes novel titled Saving the Queen. Blackford, like Buckley went to Yale, and both joined the CIA.

One of Buckley's weaknesses is his continuing admiration for his alma mater. He's perhaps the most famous critic of Yale, but, paradoxically, he's one of its strongest promoters. Call it the triumph of sentimentality over sensibility.

In the first pages of Saving the Queen , Yale looms large. One of Blackford's fellows in the CIA, Anthony Trust, is talking about his days at good old Yale. The discussion deals with various ways to avoid paying bills in college.

Trust says, "'When I ran out of money at Yale' -- Trust had graduated a year earlier --'I bought a stamp: DECEASED. RETURN TO SENDER. It obviously didn't work at places like Mory's, where they would see me night after night -- for them it was just a post office error. But it did work with lots of odd-lot accounts. Yet, you see, Black[ford], that was a major deception, and that's all right. And besides,' he said, 'when I get money' -- this euphemism was standard for 'when my mother dies' -- 'I'll pay everyone back through a lawyer who will announce that young Trust, who died, while a student at Yale, is the posthumous beneficiary of a legacy, part of which has been reserved for paying bills outstanding at the time of his death."

Blackford's bills are all paid by his stepfather (should I add "of course").

At this point, I might ask: "Anyone for paying his own way through college, as I did, along with so many of my friends?" Also, "Anyone for actually paying his other bills?"

In general, Buckley LOVED Yale. However, if it was as anti-Christian and anti-capitalist as he indicated in "God and Man at Yale," then WHY did he love it? Why didn't he see it as a high-class sham and delusion, one harmful to all those young Blackford Oakes and Anthony Trusts drinking their way through college at someone else's expense?

Let me interject that I know Yale is the early 1950s was a different place from the Yale of 2007. For one thing, an education there now costs nearly $200,000, which seems at least $100,000 in excess for the education provided. Also, there's a kind of ethnic-diversity (e.g., many more Black students than the half-dozen or so probably present in 1950), along with less intellectual diversity than that of two generations ago.

I fear Bill Buckley in his earlier days saw Yale as place where the students stiffing the holders of all those holders of odd-lot accounts wait around for their inheritances, which Buckley himself got from his oilman dad.

Anthony Trust? Aha, Trust Fund! Every night at the predictable Mory's? Hey, it sure it beats having to study. Go to class? Why do something so tedious, when one is on his way to a Yale degree, which will itself translate into big bucks.

"And what private school did you go to, Steve?"

"You didn't? You went to public school? You poor fellow!"

"And the University of Rochester? What city is that in?"

In the prologue to Saving the Queen, three men are sitting around in the 1970s talking about a Senate investigation of the CIA. One is Anthony Trust ("Don't ever call me Tony!"), while the others are King Harman and Singer Callaway.

I fear that Buckley knew a lot of people at Yale with names like Anthony, King, and Singer. I also fear that all of them went to New England prep schools I never heard of until I was myself in college.

I recall my father once meeting someone named Heming Sehmsdorf, III. My father said, "Pleased to meet you, Henry." My dad didn't live in a world where people seriously had names like "Heming." Neither did I.

Buckley's sentimentalization of Yale is a weakness, and the Ivy League mentality was a deficiency, although not a major one, in "The Old Conservatism." For WFB, Jr., Yale and Harvard were America's Oxford and Cambridge, a dubious assumption.

I know Buckley isn't the snob he can seem whenever the subject of Yale arises. In fact, he demonstrates his basic decency throughout his life and writings. As an example, look at the compassion he demonstrates to crippled and disfigured people in his long piece on Lourdes, contained in Nearer, My God.

Harvard and Yale have endowments well up in the billions of dollars. I've always wondered who the captains of industry were that contributed millions of dollars to universities that, by and large, despised everything the donors stood for. Was it benevolence as a form of masochism? Which capitalist in his right mind -- a category that excludes George Soros -- would contribute a dime to such places?

Within recent weeks, an alumnus of Grove City College gave his alma mater a gift of $5 million. It was part an effort to raise $90 million for GCC, a figure that's little more than chump change for Harvard and Yale.

GCC loves America, its private enterprise system and its religious and intellectual diversity. Does "Harvard Hate America," as one author observed? Is man -- and not God -- the measure of all things at Yale, as WFB famously observed?

Contributors to universities need to ask such questions before they dole out money to institutions that are worthy neither of their interest nor their money. My advice is to send your loose dollars to GCC and other institutions like it. In short, contibute to institutions that not only invite people like Michael Oren, but also produce them.

"The Old Conservatism" and Its Flaws: A Critique

In Agatha Christie's "A Mediteranean Mystery" (published about 1952), she talks about Dr. Graham, whom she describes as "an elderly gentleman of about 65." Since I'm 66 and don't regard myself as an "elderly gentleman," I'd write an angry e-mail to Agatha if she weren't dead. I seem to remember Emily Dickinson speaking about death itself as "an elderly gentleman," and because I'm not dead, I must not be elderly in ED's terms -- yet. My wife disagrees with me on most of these points, but she's a youngster, not even 60 yet, so who is she to talk?

However, I am old enough to talk about the "Old Conservatism," the kind that traces back to William F. Buckley's publication of "God and Man at Yale," his book with L. Brent Bozell (his Yale roommate), and his founding of The National Review in 1955. In a political sense, the Old Conservatism, as I define it derivies mainly from the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964 and his publication of "The Conscience of a Conservative."

I defer to no one in my overall praise for Bill Buckley and his associates. Without Buckley's example, there probably would have been no "The Alternative" (later "The American Spectator"), nor would there have been other forums used by early conservatives like John Coyne, David Brudnoy, D. Keith Mano, Richard Brookhiser (another of those conservatives from Rochester, NY, like Mary Grabar and yours truly), Ernest van den Haag, William Rusher, and many others.

At the same time, the Old Conservatism had certain flaws, some of which continue. The movement was militantly anti-Communist (all to the good), strongly Roman Catholic (a mixed blessing -- something I say even though I'm Roman Catholic), primarily male (not so good a thing), and often enamored of Ivy League schools (a very bad thing).

There's no one more anti-Communist than a disaffected former Communist. One of Buckley's early associates was Whittaker Chambers, author of "Witness," and exposer of pre-Beltway Washington favorite Alger Hiss as a Communist spy. Other former Communists who worked for National Review in the early days were Willi Schlamm, who later went back to Germany and was one of the prickliest personalities in the history of journalism, and unwavering libertarian Frank Meyer.

One striking thing about Buckley's associates was how many of them either were Roman Catholics or, especially, converted to that faith. I don't believe von den Haag (a wonderful man, by the way) ever converted, but he talked almost ceaselessly about the possibility of doing so.

However, Wilmoore Kendall, Buckley's controversial teacher of Political Science at Yale, did convert -- and managed to get TWO of his former marriages annulled. Russell Kirk converted to Catholicism late in his life. Almost incredibly, Frank Meyer, once an atheist, then an agnostic, converted on his deathbed.

Frankly, a person's religious belief is a matter that concerns him or her and God. On the other hand, Buckley -- although not Professor Kirk -- sometimes seemed to regard non-Catholic Christians as something of a lesser-breed without the Magesterium. Buckley's arrogance was part of his charm (and not really a reflection of the "inner Bill"), but when he spoke on matters religious he sometimes seemed to be making uterances ex cathedra.

He might counter that his first religion editor at NR was Will Herberg, a prominent Jewish theologian and social critic, and he'd be right. Yet NR was largely a Catholic publication. I never noticed any evangelical Protestants playing a prominent role at the magazine, although such people are a major factor in conservatism.

In America, Roman Catholics are large in number, if we're counting all those who get baptized, some of whom never spend another moment in a Catholic church. But Catholics who share Buckley's specific convictions (militantly orthodox Catholicism) are a relatvely small percentage of American voters.

For various reasons, most Catholics in America don't agree with the Vatican (or Buckley) on many Church teachings, including those related to abortion (most favor some forms of it), the death penalty (most favor it), military conflicts (most favor it, at least in the beginning stages), or a celibate clergy (most favor marriage as an option).

Rudy Giuliani is a modern -- and moderately conservative -- individual who grew up as a Catholic and went to St. John's University. He favors abortion and enhanced gay rights; he's against "gun rights." I disagree with him on all these points, but there's a decent chance I might vote for him if he's the Republican candidate for President. It's a little like Andrew Greeley's remark about finding a "perfect church." He added that, after you find it, the church almost immediately becomes "imperfect." I've never, aside from Ronald Regan and Diana Irey, found a perfect candidate.

It was fine for the editor-in-chief of NR and much of the staff to be faithful Catholics. It wasn't all right for them to not seek out other Christians (and Jews) to play a more important role on the magazine and in the movement. As a Catholic, I do not regard Protestants as my "separated brethern." I regard them as fellow Christians who are equal to me -- and to Wm. F. Buckley, Jr. -- in the eyes of Almighty God.

The "Old Conservatives," including yours truly, didn't make the case on social issues to Roman Catholics. In the Protestant communities, especially the evangelical segment, social issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research have been much-discussed. In the Catholic community, they threatened to beome almost invisible.

My liberal friend Maria M. gladly admits she's a "cafeteria Catholic." Among her co-religionists, she may now be in the majority.

NR was also deficient in seeking out non-whites, especially Blacks and Hispanics. Politically, the opportunity was there, remembering that -- in the 1960 election -- Kennedy got 68% of the Black vote and Nixon got 32%. If a McCain or Guiliani could get anything like one-third of the Black vote, a Hillary or a Barack wouldn't even be forming "exploratory committees."

In Pennsylvania in 2004, George Bush lost PA to Kerry by 51% to 49%. If Bush had gotten one Black vote out of four in the Keystone State, he'd had won by roughly 60% to 40%. My right-wing nephew monitored two Black precincts in Philadelphia, and the combined vote, which he believed was accurate, was 617 for Kerry, 8 for Bush.

Another problem for contemporary conservatives is the female vote, especially that of single women, that goes decisively to (liberal) Democratic candidates. As I've suggested, the "Old Conservatism" was almost exclusively male (and white). .

When it came to women, The Old Conservatives were much better at marrying them than at nurturning them politically. As an "old reader" of NR, I remember the name of Suzanne LaFollette appearing year-after-year on the magazine's masthead. I'm not exactly sure who Ms. LaFollette was, and I she apparently never wrote anything for NR. At meetings sponsored by the Philadelphia Society or the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, it sometimes looking like a gathering of an all-male club.

Most of the people who vote in presidential elections are women -- 52% to 48% the last time I looked. Most women tend to vote Democratic. With the same being true of Blacks and Hispanics, the Republican candidate has to win a huge majority of white votes to have a chance. In states with large Black populations, including New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, prospects for Republicans range between iffy and nil.

To a large degree, I blame the Old Conservatives for this situation, particulary with women. I also blame Old Conservatives who are still around, especially people like the wildly over-rated and narcissistic George Will. He's always come across as something of a garrulous version of Calvin Coolidge and, on balance, he has done nothing to advance the conservative cause.

The way to overcome liberal ideas, and this is something Bob Tryrrell of "The American Spectator" never really learned, is not to express contempt for liberals, or to invent slogans (e.g., "Boy Clinton" for President Bill). Instead, it's to come up with ideas and policies that American voters find compelling. In this regard, think Ronald Reagan.

Right now, the best conservative female writers in the U.S. are: Ann Coulter, Debra Saunders (of The San Francisco Chronicle and, and Mary Grabar (also of Coulter is the lightning rod, much-publicized, and much-vilified. Saunders has something of a national audience, especially through her appearance on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

As for Mary Grabar, most conservatives, aside from readers of her wonderful columns on, have never heard of her. Frankly, people like Mary are the future of conservatism in America. We need to read their articles and buy their books, or otherwise we will see fewer of them in the future.

Another things I wish "Old Conservatives" had done was to ditch their fascination with Ivy League Schools, especially Yale (Buckley's alma mater) and Harvard. I wish Buckley had strongly urged conservatives to send their children elsewhere, an approach he dipped his toe into in "God and Man at Yale."

When I taught at the University of Georgia in the 70s, I believed it had a lot more intellectual firepower than either Harvard or Yale, especially in the humanities and social sciences. It had great conservative thinkers like Calvin Smith Brown (Comp. Lit professor and Rhodes Scholar), Rodney Baine (18th Century Literature and another Rhodes Scholar), Marion Montgomery (novelist and social theorist), Albert Seay (constitutional law scholar), Ed Krickel (editor of The Georgia Review), Frederick Boney (Southern history), Bob West (Milton scholar), and many others. I'm sure in the eyes of Harvard and Yale, UGA was an intellectual backwater, the opposite of the truth.

In the 1970s, there was much more intellectual diversity at UGA, the University of Dallas (home then to Mel Bradford, Tom Landess, Caroline Gordon, and others) than at Brown or the University of Pennsylvania. Dartmouth at the time did have intellectual vibrancy, but it was being snuffed out so the university could look exactly like every other Ivy League School.

In short, I think the Old Conservatives, many of whom graduated from or taught at the Ivies, gave excessive reverence to those schools. They didn't seem to understand in any depth the vibrancy of institutions like Grove City College, Hillsdale, the University of Dallas, and other institutions that placed high value on ideas.

The Old Conservatism had its flaws. Yet it did help keep alive many ideas, especially those related to national defense and economics, that were crucial to sustaining the American republic. One hopes the emerging "New Conservatism" will retain the virtues of the older version and remove some of the deficiencies.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Revolutionary Idea: Bringing Private Enterprise to Medicine

Isn't medicine part of the private enterprise system? Short answer: NO.

During World War, an American woman pediatrician served in the U.S. Navy. She met an Admiral, and the two fell in love and married. After the War, he went into business, where he was extremely successful. The woman had children and served as a stay-at-home mom. However, she did keep her medical license, updating her skills.

Her children began to grow up, and she decided she'd like to practice medicine part-time. So, she started serving children, mainly those in her own relatively isolated neighborhood. Because her husband was engaged in getting very rich, she didn't need more money, so she didn't charge for office visits. Basically, she invented truly free care.

The local medical association was appalled. What did the pediatrician have in mind with charging nothing for her services? How dare she do such a thing? She wasn't really stealing customers -- well, at least not many -- from other doctors, but her price structure -- that is, no price -- received a great deal of criticism from her peers. The critics didn't demand that she charge a "going rate," but they did strongly request that she charge something.

Finally, she gave in. For the rest of her medical career, she charged a fee of one dollar. Frankly, her husband was rich enough, powerful enough, and supportive enough that she could get away with something few doctors would even attempt.

What does a doctor's visit -- just a normal visit to have some basic tests (blood pressure, pulse rate, chest activity, etc.) cost? Although there are a few exceptions, in the Pittsburgh area it costs right around $75. Isn't there some significant variation in that price? Not really -- if you're paying cash.

If you have insurance, private or through Medicare or Medicaid, the rates will be somewhat lower.

If you don't have insurance, can you shop around for a lower price? Possibly you can, but apparently few people do. As you may never have noticed, physicians don't advertise their prices. Oh, and they don't really advertise their services.

In other words, you probably pay a set price for an uncertain amount of care.

But aren't there some young and hungry -- or even old and hungry -- doctors charging, say, $60.00, or even $50.00? If so, I've never heard of them. At the same time, many physicians are "not taking any more Medicaid or Medicare patients," because they don't want to settle for lower fees.

In some places, especially those with few physicians, it's hard to get an appointment with a doctor. If you ask for an appointment in August, you might get one before Thanksgiving. In such areas, when people get sick -- or think they might be -- the tendency is to go to a hospital emergency room.

In economics, there's something called "the price elasticity of demand." It means that price brings supply into balance with demand. We saw that happen in recent years with gasoline.

However, in medicine, the supply of doctors is controlled by the AMA, medical schools, and state regulatory boards. They really aren't making more medical schools, even where universities like Robert Morris (Pittsburgh area) would like to, because the start-up costs are so high.

In western PA, there are several dozen college and universities. But there's only one medical school, at the University of Pittsburgh. It gets many good applicants, but it accepts only a tiny fraction. We have less chance of getting another medical school than we do of grabbing a Super Bowl game.

The U.S. population is growing rapidly, especially when one considers the influx of immigrants. At the same time, the supply of doctors is growing hardly at all. In some specialties, such as OB/GYN, many sections of the country confront a shortage. Other factors, such as the high cost of medical malpractice insurance, are inclining many doctors to "elect early retirement."

It's a situation where the cost of a visit to the doctor is going to continue rising. You can reduce the number of people seeking to visit the doctor by raising his or her prices.

Are doctors underpaid, as some of them assert? Also, what does a patient get for the $75.00?

The doctors are not underpaid in any rational sense of that term. As Jaynie C. Smith notes in Creating Competitive Advantage, "The average primary-care doctor [what we used to call a family physician] makes $153,000 [2005 figures] a year."

What about the time you get from the average doctor on the average visit? For your $75.00, you get 10.6 minutes of The Great Man's (or Great Woman's) time. That computes to almost $425.00 an hour, not bad money if you can get it.

Yes, doctors aren't always going to have 5 1/2 patients every hour of an 8-hour day. And yes, they do have expenses, such as office rent, receptionists, and nurses. But a doctor that's not netting $250-$350 an hour isn't trying very hard. How many of their patients make those kind of numnbers? Two percent? Five percent in Beverly Hills or Fox Chapel?

Some doctors -- primary-care people -- are making a lot more than $153,000 a year. Jaynie Smith talks about a new franchise approach called MDVIP, with the emphasis perhaps on V-I-P.

Doctors in MDVIP have fewer patients, and see them for longer periods -- approximately 30 minutes per visit. They offer some bells and whistles, including same-day or next-day appointments, an annual comprehensive physicial, and physician availability 24X7.

For these augmented services, a patient pays an additional $1500.00 annually. As Smith explains, "Insurance or Medicare typically covers additional medical bills, other than the annual wellness exam."

To my skeptical eye, it's a case of paying a lot for a little extra service. However, it's a wonderful deal for doctors lucky enough to get access to the MDVIP money-machine.

The average doctor in it see fewer than the half the patients treated by a non-MDVIP physician. The average income for a doctor in this program? $400,000-plus annually. Lamborghini, anyone?

MDVIP does something that would once have seemed impossible: to raise significantly the already Brobdinagian costs of American health care. (Note: Of course it shouldn't be outlawed -- just made fun of as I've done.)

At its worst, this effort is an exercise in back-to-the-future. It may mark the return of a phrase that has alsmost disappeared from the lexicon: "bedside manner.' Most of the extra 18.4 minutes patients get per vist for their additional $1500.00 seems to consist of hand-holding ("wellness planning" and the like)

The U.S. needs more doctors, a lot more. It needs to lower -- not raise to stratospheric levels -- the average compensation of physicians. For basic care, it needs to make much more use of Physician Assistants, people with more training than nurses, but less than doctors.

In other words, it's necessary to introduce America's physicians to the private enterprise system, the one that governs the behavior and the prices of those of us who don't have M.D. licenses.

Very few professionals in America make as much money as the average family doctor. But that's largely because, unlike the situation with doctors, there aren't major restrictions on entry into their professions.
If, say, a college professor has a MDVIP-level income of $400,000 a year, he or she is not "average." In fact, such a person is probably in line for a Nobel Prize.

The U.S. will never control health care costs -- and never be able to provide care to many of those who need it most -- if we don't face these issues.

There are wonderful family doctors in America. I've mentioned two of them in Bridgeville, PA (MacFarland and Chiesa) and three in Ambridge, PA (Osten, Craig, and Karp), and they deserve to be very well paid. (Although since they're in Bridgeville and Ambridge, I have a sense money is not their primary concern.)

Yet the fact remains: the average doctor is, well, average. They shouldn't be paid in the top 1%-2% or so of American wage-earners. After all, with few exceptions, it isn't brain surgery.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

John Ryan of CVS: Please Resign or Stop Engaging in Reverse-Robin-Hoodism

My wife and I traveled out to the Wal-Mart Pharmacy in Chippewa Falls, PA (near Beaver Falls, home of Joe Namath) to buy pharmaceuticals. We no longer purchase prescription drugs at our old haunt, the CVS Pharmacy at the corner of 8th and Merchant in Ambridge, PA.

We don't go there anymore because we're tired of wildly overpaying. In fact, if we keep avoiding the local CVS and going to Wal-Mart, we'll eventually save enough money for an extended trip to Hawaii.

First, though, you might ask who this John Ryan is, the man whom I'm asking either to resign or stop ripping off customers. He's the head of CVS, a company headquartered in Rhode Island. Ryan operates a highly profitable enterprise, one that may be too profitable now for the company's long-term good. He has a reputation as a far-sighted leader in the pharmacy business, once having called for the American FDA to allow for the legal importation of cheaper Canadian drugs. (The head of Walgreen's made similar noises, although he wasn't as decisive as Ryan.)

Now, however, CVS is continuing, along with most other chains, to control drug prices at artificially high levels. It's refusing to follow the examples of Wal-Mart, Target, and Giant Eagle (a PA/Ohio chain) in lowering the prices of many generic drugs. In standing pat, it's (1) keeping overall health care costs higher than they should be; (2) ripping off people, mainly the poor, elderly, and disabled, who can't travel to Wal-Mart, Target, or Giant Eagle -- and in many cases are unaware of the lower prices at those stores.

For my family, the local CVS is convenient, a three-minute walk from home. The people there are amiable, which is unusual in my experience with other CVS outlets. But their drug prices are too high, and that interferes with their supposed mission of providing patient care. If such are is more costly than it should be, people tend to forgo it.

Example: my step-daughter Beth lives with us. She's a hard worker but a slow learner (the result of a traumatic birth) and her employer is McDonald's, which offers her no health care insurance. Thus, she pays retail prices for her prescription medications. Actually, my wife and I usually pay for them, and we aren't exactly in the class of Jay Rockefeller or Nancy Pelosi.

My stepdaughter's income before taxes (actually, before her Social Security and Medicare costs, since she doesn't make enough money to pay federal income taxes) is about $7,600.00 per year. She applied for Medicaid and she got rejected for reasons known only to God and Medicaid (but presumably because she makes "too much money"). She also got turned down for the free drug program supposedly offered by the pharmaceutical industry, the one touted endlessly on TV by Montel Williams.

Last month, I bought for Beth at CVS 30-day supplies of Lovastatin (generic version of Mevacor, an anti-cholesterol drug) and Paroxetine (generic version of Paxil, an anti-depressant). The retail price of the Lovastatin (20 mg.) was $28.29, nearly one dollar per pill, and the retail price of the Paroxetine (40 mg.) was $58.59, nearly two dollars per pill.

Today, at Wal-Mart the cost for a THREE-month supply of Beth's 20 mg. Lovastatin was $27.00, or $9.00 per month -- 30 cents per pill -- the lowest price allowed in this state. The price of a THREE month's supply of 40 mg. Paroxetine was $94.32, roughly half as much as the 40 mg cost at CVS.

If she could get by with a 20 mg. dosage of Paroxetine, the cost would have been $27.00 for a 90-day supply. (As I've suggested before, there's little rhyme or reason to drug prices. In fact, making a double-dose of Paroxetine should cost, at most, a few pennies more. It shouldn't cost three times as much.

In the future, we will find a way --I won't tell exactly how -- to get Beth the 20 mg. Paroxetine price, meaning that both her drugs combined will cost her roughly $27.00 a month. That will beat the heck out of the $87.87 we paid for a month's supply of the two drugs at CVS.

In an earlier column, I estimated that making a small bottle-full of generic drugs probably costs roughly as much as making a bottle-full of M&Ms. A gentleman at Wal-Mart told me they were making money on the $4.00 and $9.00 generics, although he admitted some of them were loss leaders to get people into the stores. In general, pharmacies make a higher margin on generics than they do on branded drugs.

With some drugs, a "double dose" (twice the number of milligrams) costs the same as a single dose -- or less. If you want to check that, look up Simvastatin (generic Zocor) on The 80 mg. size of that anti-cholesterol med costs LESS than the 40 mg. version. If you can explain that, you're wiser than I, and I used to work for the company (Merck) that developed Zocor.

My suggestion: if you're on Simvastatin and your physician is a sane person and understands anything about the vicissitudes of drug pricing, get him or her to write you a script for the 80 mg. pill. Then, if your prescribed dosage is 40 mg., cut the 80's in half. If your daily dosage should be 20 mg., cut it in four EQUAL pieces. Your local CVS (or, better, Wal-Mart) will sell you a pill guillotine that will be great for tablet splitting.

The guillotine will cost you about three bucks. Your savings on the costs of the drug will add up to many hundreds of dollars per year, thousands of dollars (remember Hawaii?) over a normal lifetime. Say what!!??? You can do the math yourself.

My stepdaughter can't afford to buy Lovastatin at Godiva Chocolate prices. On one occasion, her response was to stop taking the drug, because she didn't like spending 3-4 days pay for four weeks of medicine. But if she doesn't take the Lovastatin, her trigylcerides raise to a very high level. Over time, that could damage her pancreas, which is not something her body needs.

Why does CVS charge so much for Lovastatin and Paroxetine when Wal-Mart charges so little? Only Mr. Ryan knows the full answer, and apparently he's not telling.

My local CVS pharmacist told me his company did a study, and it found out their "average" customer was paying roughly $5.50 (out-of-pocket) for generic drugs. Thus, the company saw no reason to lower prices.

When I used to get several generic drugs at CVS, my out-of-pocket cost was $6.00 per bottle, and my insurance company (through Medicare Plan D) paid the rest, so I understand something about from whence the $5.50 number cometh.

In fact, everyone with decent insurance either pays a low co-pay for generics -- or, in the case of gold standard health plans, pays "nothing." (Actually, they pay in indirect ways, such as through lower paychecks or pensions or reduced employment security.) Some poor people stop taking their meds. Others, the very poor, may throw themselves on the mercy of the welfare system.

Does my stepdaughter, who is learning disabled and poor, pay $5.50 for generics at CVS? Obviously, she doesn't. In fact, she makes minimum wage but pays top dollar for CVS drugs. In effect, she's subsidizing the people (you may be one) who have "excellent drug plans." That doesn't make any sense. It's reverse-Robin- Hoodism, robbing the poor and giving to the rich.

CVS head Ryan might be a good man for all I know. But in the words of Ricky Ricardo, he "has a heap of 'splaining to do."

My "congressperson" (his trendy term), Jason Altmire, claims to be "an expert on health care." I fear that most of what I've been saying in recent weeks will come as news to him. Of course, Jason has the best health insurance the taxpayers can buy, so it may be all a moot point with him.

Note: As always, media outlets are free to re-print this article, as long as they cite me as the author and Campaign2008 as the source. Someone said: "But Steve, what if you get sued?" Me: "I don't believe it's yet illegal to tell the truth."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Physician Rip-Offs and A Quick Solution to the Health Care Crisis

Next week I'll finish up the current phase of my columns on "The Old Conservatism." I've been reading Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.'s spiritual autobiography, "Nearer, My God," and I find it almost incredibly moving and beautifully written. Today, I'll have a short piece on my old favorite, health care.

You will hear a great deal about health care in the current Congress and during the next presidential campaign. Some of the proposals, such as President Bush's tax deductions to subsidize payments for individual insurance, have promise, but most of what you hear will be the same old government control nonsense.

As I've suggested, there are some good signs, especially in the area of prescription drugs. People with "good insurance" (for now) tend to think of prescription medications as free, or nearly so. That's because they pay either nothing or a small amount for life-saving drugs.

In this life, nothing is really free. Someone always pays for it, and much more often than not, that "someone" is you. For example, if your employer is paying $10,000 or so each year to provide health insurance for you and your family, I assure you that $10,000 will never show up in your paycheck. Also, if the employer finds they can't afford such costs, one of two things eventually will disappear: either the health insurance or your job.

For the government, the combined yearly costs of Medicare (for the old, like me, and the disabled, like my wife) and Medicaid (for the poor, like my brother) have passed three-quarters-of-a-trillion dollars. At current rates, those costs will pass the trillion-dollar-mark midway through the first term of President Hillary Clinton.

To keep health care from bankrupting the country, two related things are necessary: (1) more information, what now gets called "transparency," about what health care really costs; (2) true competition in medicine, where doctors and hospitals and hospitals reveal exactly what kind of treatment they supply and how much it costs, at which point customers will make choices, and prices generally will go down.

Gee, if such things happened, could the nation stop the usual double-digit annual increases in health care costs? Yep. Could it even begin driving down the costs -- adjusted for inflation -- as we see in many other industries? Yep. I'd guess the savings soon would be in the hundreds of billions yearly.

If you doubt that, read some of my previous columns about pharmaceutical savings. Our nation is spending tens of billions on drugs that have much cheaper, and equally effective, alternatives. That's more than a dirty little secret. It's a dirty BIG secret.

In the critical area of information, I've mentioned Consumer Reports "Best Buys" in drugs and how the information provided can produce major savings. In terms of hospital costs, there's an early-stage web site called "Health Grades" that compares costs at hospitals for various procedures.

In one hospital uterine surgery cost $4800.00. In another facility, it cost $3200.00. Which surgical unit is better? Actually, hospitals work hard to keep such things secret, but we shouldn't assume that it's the more expensive facility.

At some point, I intend to work with others to start a Web Site that will provide information about doctors -- information that will be critical to your medical and financial health. Such information is NOT available now, except by word-of-mouth.

For example, my family and I had a physician just outside the city of Pittsburgh. He provided prescriptions but would only give two or three refills. That meant the three of us -- four, when my brother was with us -- had to return quarterly, at a cost of at least $75 per visit per person, to get our scripts refilled.

When we switched to a two-physician group in Bridgeville in Pittsburgh's South Hills, the refills were for five months. The same is true of our wonderful physician in Ambridge. (Our doctors in Bridgeville were Don McFarland and Nicollette Chiesa, both superb; the doctor in Ambridge is Kathleen Osten, maybe the best physician we've ever encountered. Her top-notch partners in Ambridge are Donna Craig and Michael Karp.)

For almost all medications, the two- or three-refill approach is a red flag that a scam is underway. It forces people to come into the doctor's office more often than they need. It raises the significantly of the patients' (and/or their insurers') costs.

It's unnecessary and even immoral. When doctors manipulate something like the number of refills, they can dramatically increase their revenue, making them richer and the patients poorer. Doctors who see themselves as human cash registers don't excel at providing care.

With hospitals, some of the smaller ones provide outstanding service -- at relatively reasonable prices. One of them is the Springfield Hospital in Springfield, Vermont. It's tiny, but the care is superb, as my wife learned when she had a stroke and went originally to that facility.

The health situation I'm describing in these columns should outrage you, as a consumer and taxpayer. Are my "allegations" true? You can check them out quickly by asking a few good questions of your pharmacy and physician. .

In the Pittsburgh area, your congressman (all men, currently) will be one of the following: Jason Altmire, Mike Doyle, Tim Murphy, or John Murtha. I encourage you to send these columns to your representative and ask him when he's going to carry out the proposals I make.

Alas, prepare for a very long pause before you get a response. Keep their feet to the fire.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Overpriced Drugs: How You Can (Painlessly) Save Lots of Money

I'd like to welcome as readers -- occasional, or often, it's their choice -- Lynn and Jim Lipchak, two of the finest people in Allegheny County. Lynn was my wife's childhood friend, along with her twin sister, Sandy, and Jim is just basically an American-as-apple-pie guy. I told Lynn today that she and her husband are both members of the "Warrior Nation," a concept based on former Seantor Moynihan's comment in 1990 that, "You must remember, America is a warrior nation." Unforunately, about half the country doesn't qualify for "warrior" status, but we're working on them.

Lynn asked me what this blog is all about. Darn good question, Lynn. I believe it's about helping preserve America as we've known it -- America at its freest, best, and most optimistic -- and especially about sustaining the warrior segment.

Yes, America has a lot of problems. However, most of them are not new, and they are solvable. The American system has built in principles that, when applied, tend to minimize problems if not eliminate them.

One thing I write about a great deal is health care, one of those "problems" that's largely self-inflicted by politicians who want to improve the system by poisoning it. In recent columns, I've demonstrated how we as a society could cut tens-of-billions of dollars from health care expenditures by giving people more information. We also have to explain to people why it makes sense for people, rich and poor, to spend their health care dollars wisely.

Last night, on CBS Evening News (January 23, 2007), there was a segment on an older man who was saving himself $600 a year on medicines. In recent columns, I've pointed out how my wife and I have saved thousands of dollars on drugs (every year) out of our own pockets and out of the government's pocket -- which of course is also the taxpayers' pocket(s).

How had this man accomplished his savings? He'd done so by working with his doctor -- can't leave that out, can we? -- to (1) swtich his anti-cholesterol medication from Pravachol to generic Lovastatin; (2) switch his indigestion medication from branded Nexium, "the purple pill," to over-the-counter Prilosec.

Before the makers of Pravachol sue me, let me note what CBS didn't: Pravachol is also available in lower-cost generic form now, in the form of Pravastatin. But let that pass.

How was the man's cholesterol level doing with the "cheap" Lovastatin? It was lower than when he was on the higher-priced Pravachol.

But how was he doing with the OTC, but cheap, Prilosec compared to the much-touted Nexium? Well, since they're basically the same drug, created by the same manufacturer, he was doing quite well.

In an earlier column, I cited health expert Dr. David Gratzer who -- in his book, The Cure -- cited Nexium as one of the great scams of modern health care. For the vast majority (really vast!) of people, Prilosec will work just as well as Nexium. In fact, before Nexium became the widely advertisted "Purple Pill, guess what the previous "Purple Pill" was? Yep, Prilosec.

Previously, I suggested how the U.S. could save about $10 billion -- not an insignificant amount -- by getting a lot of people off Avandia (for diabetes) and onto Metformin (which costs roughly one-twentieth as much at retail) and by moving many people away from high-priced, branded Lipitor, an anti-cholesterol "statin."

In this column, I've just saved the nation maybe another $10 billion. How? By taking the CBS News guy who saved $600 on his medications and multiplying him by 15 million or so Americans who are in the same boat. Twenty billion in savings isn't exactly chump change, and it may just establish me as a leading candidate for President!

How did the man himself find out how to save so much money? He did so by reading the Consumer Reports "Best Buy Guide" online. If he'd read my column regularly, he'd be saving so much more money he could move to Bridgeville, PA, and buy a house next door to the Lipchaks!

When I'm giving my drug advice, I always ad the caveat that you should consult your doctor, the one who makes the medical evaluations and hands out the prescriptions. In some cases -- and they're relatively rare -- you may need the higher-priced drug. In a few cases, there's absolutely no alternative to a costly drug.

As you're well aware from the hair-raising pharmaceutical ads on TV, all drugs have side-effects. ("If you have an erection lastin more than four hours !!!!!!!!!), for goodness sake dial 9-1-1!) Aspirin has side effects, and so does Tylenol.

However, as I've said, the doctors don't pay (out of their own pockets) for drugs. They get them either free from the pharmaceutical representatives or get them through their top-drawer health plans. So, they may find your concern about drug prices to be slightly mysterious.

Yet the point remains: any dollar over-spent on health care comes back to bite everyone, even people with "great insurance." Overspending raises health care premiums, makes insurance less affordable, and increases taxes.

So, don't overspend on health care! That's an order from the doctor (Ph.D. variety, me).

Steve Maloney has worked over the years for various pharmaceutical companies, who are probably ready to declear him "Public Enemy Number 1," and for a number of health insurers, including Aetna. Welcome, Lynn, and welcome, Jim. By the way, what's true of prescription drugs is also true of other elements of health care, which tend to be much more expensive than they should. I pledge to help bring health care -- kicking, screaming, and litigating -- into the world of private enterprise.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Health Care Proposals: More Recipes for Disaster

At the state (PA) and national level we are hearing more proposals to "reform" health care, with particular emphasis on reducing the number of uninsured. Most of the solutions offered will exacerbate the problem. They will sharply increase overall health care costs -- and significantly reduce the availability and quality of care. I wrote the following to the former editor of the "Forum" (Sunday) section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It continues to publish columns that are monuments to bad ideas about health care.

John (Allison): I read the arhticles on health care in the "Forum" Sunday -- and am sure you did also. I just kept shaking my head.

What the "Forum" badly needs is a health care economics article by Dr. David Gratzer, author of The Cure. He practices medicine in Canada and the U.S.

The problem with the (Gov.) Rendell Plan and nearly every other "progressive" approach to reducing the number of uninsured is this: when you pour more money and patients into what's essentially a closed system (one with a fixed number of medical people and hospitals, basically an oligopoly), you do two things: (1) raise the costs; (2) increase the length of the lines of people waiting for treatment.

It's a version of what happens in South America when governments "solve" their economic probllems by printing more money. People are happy for a week or so, and then the cost of everything goes through the roof.

So, you print still more money. Then, as prices syrocket, you insitute price controls, which mean that everybody has a lot of "funny money," but the supply of goods -- from health care to toilet paper -- dries up.

In American health care, therer are signs of hope, one of them surprisingly being Medicare Plan D. So that I would avoid hitting the coverage limit (the "doughnut hole") I experimented with shifting from a drug that cost $160.00 a month (Avandia, for adult diabetes) to a drug that costs $4.00 a month (at Wal-Mart) -- Metformin. Guess what, the Metformin does the trick.

Aha, I just solved a big chunk of the health care problem. It's called capitalism!

Hillary Clinton is planning "Rendell-Care" on a national scale. If she's "lucky," she won't bankrupt the nation until shortly before the end of her second term.

The answer is to give people information and allow them to make intelligent choices about health care. Government support should go only to those who truly need it, and they should get a maximum amount of freedom in making their own decisions about treatment. Those steps would reduce costs and improve the overall quality of the products (health care) people receive, something that occurs in every other segment of our economy.

Yes, it's all that simple. No, I don't want a Pulitzer Prize for my insights.

But I do wish you'd pass this along to your successor at the "Forum," and I hope he'll engage the writing and thinking skills of Dr. Gratzer. In lieu of Gratzer, if he's unavailable, choose me.

steve maloney
ambridge, pa

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll have another piece on "The Old Conservatism"

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Catholic School Interlude: The Old Conservatism Part IV

"The attempted assassination of Sukarno last week had all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Everyone in the room was killed . . . except Sukarno." (From a long ago lead in the National Review)

After this "Catholic School Interlude," I'll write one more piece ("Part V") on the Old Conservatism -- and will return, from time to time, to that subject. As I've been toddling along, it strikes me that a major influence on my life -- and of many other conservatives, including William F. Buckley, Jr. -- was the influence of early religious teachers.

As a child, I went to St. Salome's School, on the edge of Sea Breeze (near Lake Ontario) in the suburbs of Rochester, New York. The teachers were all members of the Sisters of Mercy, and they dressed in what was traditional nun garb. They ranged in age from their late 20s to their early 70s, with most of them being in their 30s or 40s. Some of the younger ones, including Sister Gonzaga, played softball with us in the parking lot.

The student body was mostly from middle-income backgrounds, with a significant percentage of the children being from large families with low incomes. Certain students were the third person in their family to wear a pair of shoes. The nuns strictly forbid any status-bullying.

On a memorable (now) occasion, Sister Charlotte, fifth grade teacher, told her group of 42 students that the class smelled bad. From the perspective of age, I assume she was right. Her advice was to change our underwear and to ensure that our mothers washed our socks at least every two or three days.

Sister Charlotte taught all the usual subjects, but what I most remember was studying world history in her class. This was REAL history, from Sumerians up to the present. It wasn't Civics or visits to the Post Office masquerading as Social Studies. It was Pericles and Athens and, wonder of wonders, Sparta, with King Leonidas at Thermopylae saying, "Oh, traveler, tell the Spartans that we lie here obedient to their word." Wow.

I loved it, as what had happened in the past became revealed in all its fascinating detail. In college and beyond, I was still using information I'd learned in Sister Charlotte's history segment.

I'm suggesting that this is the kind of education it's hard to get anymore -- even if you're paying $20,000 per student. By third grade, my reading scores were making their way into the eighth-grade level, and I was not alone. Kathleen Burns, my neighbor, who later wrote the Patricia Hearst articles in Los Angeles, was reading way above expectations, as was my best friend Fred Hale, later owner of a major restaurant.

Two of my classmates, Sandy Petromalo and "Beaver" Becker lie in Arlington Cemetery, casualties of the Viet Nam War. Both were members of the 101st Airborne Division. Sandy was the "Fonzie" of our school. They reflected a warrior ethos prevalent among boys in our neighborhood.

I talked in my previous column about how various conservative figures influenced and supported me. My experience at St. Salome's was similar. The nuns encouraged me to read books well beyond "grade level." They identified me as someone with writing talents.

One nun, Sister Neri (fourth grade) encouraged me to enter an essay contest touting the importance of drinking milk. I finished 10th nationally, out of 30,000 entrants in grades 4-through-6.

Sister Neri told me that one judge wanted to vote my essay first, but another judge said he doubted a 4th-grader could have written it. She told me, "I assured them that you DID write it." In fact, I did.

A second-grade experience with the remarkable Sister Regina, who may have been 4 foot-nine inches in her bare feet -- which feet of course we never saw on this earth. She would ask students to come up to the board to solve difficult math problems.

I always volunteered, but on one occasion I couldn't solve the problem. I tried and tried, becoming more frustrated. Then, I started to cry.

Sister Regina came up to me and said, "Stephen, it's just an old math problem. Don't cry. Here, I'll show you how to solve it." And she did.

By the next year, Sister Regina had gone to some other school. No one ever knew exactly where nuns went. It was, like so many things in the Catholic experience, a "mystery."

When we were in 4th grade, Sister Regina came back for a visit. The students saw her and, if it's possible to mob a nun, we did so with her. It was probably the biggest group hug in the history of St. Salome's.

Clearly, I'm not telling one of those "Catholic horror stories" we've all heard. In general, this was an exceptional group of women, smart, dedicated, and loving. They had dedicated to serving Jesus Christ and teaching children, both activities forever linked in their hearts and souls.

My mother was a Protestant, but if the nuns ever knew that, they forgot it quickly when they learned she had a car and could drive! She took the sisters everywhere. On one occasion, when she was having trouble getting up one of Rochester's snowy hills, they began praying to the Virgin Mary.

My mother said later, "I was on the verge of saying that they might have to stop praying and start pushing."

The nuns taughts us right-and-wrong. They got across the point that there were some things that decent people just did NOT do. We weren't to refrain from such activities because we might get caught or punished. We were to avoid them because they were WRONG in the eyes of God.

I don't remember them saying God wanted us to be perfect. Instead, the message I got was that He expected us to be BETTER. When we did something especially bad it was another wound in the body of the Savior.

In traditional Catholic (and traditional Christian) thought the notion of right-and-wrong is one that's been available to all people at every time throughout history. We were not to do gratuitous harm to other people -- even when it seemed in our interest ot do so. We were to do the right thing because God loved us and it was our obligation to reciprocate His love by keeping his commandments.

Important as the teaching of people like Russell Kirk and Bill Buckley are to conservatism, I think the lessons promulgated -- and the behaviors practiced -- by the nuns of St. Salomes were the most significant.

In terms of my own religious faith, I've had my good periods and my not-so-good, mostly the former. But in my early experience, the presence of God as manifest in Jesus Christ, became a reality that's never really left me.

Many years ago, the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was asked if he believed in God. He said (in paraphrase), "The Russian people believe in God, and I believe in the Russian people, so my answer would be yes."

When certain things happen in the world -- for example, Hurricane Katrina -- most of us are at a loss to determine what God is thinking about. We are imperfect beings, so of course our faith is imperfect. As the KJB puts it, "We see through a glass darkly." At times, however, we might even think that, if we were God for a day, we'd do things differently.

However, if I believed in God for no other reason, I'd do so -- Dostoevsky-like -- because I believe so deeply in those marvelous, godly sisters at St. Salome's. They believed fervently in God and Jesus Christ, and their faith is reason enough to say that what worked for them will work for me.

Before I am a conservative American, I am a Christian American. Whenever something offered as conservatism deviates from the clear teachings of Jesus Christ, my choice is to go with Him.

As Thomas Jefferson said, "We are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That Creator is the foundation of the rights we use and joys we seek.

My novelist-hero, Dostoevsky, once said that, without God "everything is permitted." But since God is always with us, some things are permitted and -- as the nuns of St. Salome's would remind us -- some things are just NOT permitted.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Russell Kirk, Priscilla Buckley, Anthony Harrigan: "The Old Conservatives," Part III

"As the prophet of American conservatism, Russell Kirk has taught, nurtured, and inspired a generation. From . . . Piety Hill [Kirk's residence in Mecosta, Michigan], he reached deep into the roots of American values, writing and editing central works of political philosophy. His intellectual contribution has been a profound act of patriotism. I look forward to the future with anticipation that his work will continue to exert a profound influence in the defense of our values and our cherished civilization." -- President Ronald Reagan

For young conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of right-leaning books and journals was critical. Earlier, I mentioned Bill Buckley's National Review, founded in 1955. There were other publications around, including the chronically under-achieving Human Events, but most of them dealt with economics, often that associated with the "Austrian School," and featuring people who often had Germanic names (e.g., Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and others).

Milton Friedman played a monumental role in the rise of conservative, market-based economics. He and others gave the lie to the remarkable statement made by President Nixon: "We're all Keynesians now." Nowadays, even economists who are social liberally follow the principles of Friedman relating to the importance of money supply and the criticality of free markets.

A lesser-known free market writer was Anthony Harrigan, first executive director the Southern States Industrial Council, an organization later named the United States Industrial Council (USIC). Based in Nashville, TN and later in Washington, DC, and, when he had his druthers, in Charleston, SC, Harrigan's pro-business columns appeared in many newspapers -- including my ncwspaper the Athens, GA Banner-Herald.

How did Tony Harrigan affect me personally? He did so by asking me to write for USIC, including several articles and a booklet on higher education. He brought me to Nashville to speak with him and his associates.

Later, he financed my way to a meeting of top conservatives (traditionalist, libertariansans, anti-Communists, and others) at the Philadelphia Society, which met not in PA but in Chicago. I recall the libertarians (Reason magazine types) debating the traditionalists (including yours truly) far into the evening.

As a last act of kindness, Harrigan recommended me to U. S. Steel, where I served briefly as a speechwriter. (After a year at "Big Steel," I went "across the street" to Gulf Oil, where I was in charge of all written communications.)

Harrigan was a tough-minded individual, but like so many conservatives of the time, he was also a man of great kindness. He spent a lot of time encouraging the next generation of writers and thinkers.

The same was true of Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind (which I read in college) and 20 other books. I met Russell twice, once when I was teaching in the late 60s at William & Mary and later during the mid-70s in San Antonio, when I had begun working for Phillips Petroleum. In San Antonio, we drank port wine, which I'd never tasted before, and talked about life, literature, and libertarians (who were, in his view, mainly malevolent forces).

In one sense, Professor Kirk lived in the past, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He valued the past because history was so real and alive to him. In a place like Williamsburg, Virginia, along with Charleston among his favorite cities, he confronted the sheer magnitude of the American past -- people like Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and George Wythe. Somehow their modern counterparts, individuals like Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, and Richard Nixon, seemed to be shrunken figures.

He told me his favorite walk in America was the one starting at William & Mary's Wren Building and going to the end of Duke of Gloucester St. Compared to that setting, much of contemporary life, especially in the urban jungles, seemed nasty, brutish, and perhaps not short enough.

I could write a book about Russell Kirk and hopefully will do so someday. Many years after his death, he's still capable of sparking spirited dialogue among younger conservative. To see that in action, go to the following links, put together by one of Kirk's disciples.
(link to "A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians by Russell Kirk")

& (link to "10 Conservative Principles by Russell Kirk").

Besides being a major source of conservative ideas, Russell Kirk also played the role of "gentle godfather" in my life as an academic and a writer. He asked me to write several reviews -- and a couple of articles -- for his fine quarterly book review.

Also, when I stood for tenure at the University of Georgia, Kirk served as one of the outside evaulators, writing a strong assessment of me as a writer/scholar. My other evaluators were Mel Bradford of the University of Dallas -- once head of the world's smallest political organization, "Academics for George Wallace" -- and Jim Meriwether of the University of South Carolina.

A third conservative influence was the "godmother" for many writers. That was Priscilla Buckley, Bill's sister, who was impressed (I think) by writing I'd done for Harrigan and Kirk. She got me a National Review press pass that allowed me to interview George H. W. Bush in 1974, the result of which was my first national article, published in NR in 1974.

It's critical for writers, especially young ones, to have outlets that will publish their work. One thing Bill Buckley's efforts led to was the rise of many publications devoted to conservative causes (the Intercollegiate Studies Review being one of the best). I'm convinced Buckley inspired R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. and his colleagues to launch The Alternative, later renamed The American Spectator

I did many articles for The Alternative/Spectator, getting what Bob Tyrrell called their "top dollar,"magnificentant six cents per word. That was an inducement to write long articles.

The key turn in my career from someone who was a regular reader of the Spectator, William Bowen, an editor at Fortune. In the late summer of 1976, he asked me to write a book review for the publication, and I did so, learning a lot about writing in the process.

Fortune certainly beat Tyrrell's top dollar. In fact, it paid a dollar per word, which turned out to be quite a sum for an academic then making about $12,000 per year. The reviewer who had preceded me was Louis Banks, distinguished professor at Harvard Business School. The one who followed me was Irving Kristol. Some heady company for an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia.

Without Harrigan, Kirk, (Priscilla) Buckley, and, of course, Tyrrell, there'd have been no Fortune article. There would thus be no "me" as I became. Fortune made me instantly attractive to businesses, and the article was a key reason why Phillips Petroleum hired me as a speechwriter.

I'll continue writing about the "Old Conservatives," but I are coming to realize that my own development also rests on two other factors: one was the influence on me of the Sisters of Mercy in my elementary school, St. Salome's in suburban Rochester. The other the effect of my colleagues at the University of Georgia, especially those influenced by Donald Davidson at Vanderbilt University. Finally, the core of Movement Conservatism is not free market economics alone, important as that is, but rather the Judeo-Christian system of belief and morality. Writing this series has helped to clarify my thinking on this subject. More tomorrow . . .

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mary Grabar to the Rescue

I sent Mary Grabar a copy of my previous post, and she responded with a couple of corrections. Mary is a native of Rochester, New York, and she has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia (where I taught for 6 1/2 years). She's a frequent contributor to Townhall.Com, and I believe she's one of the best "young conservative" writers. Her note is in red, and my response is in blue. I'm looking into the question of which religious designation is appropriate for the Genoveses.

Mary said: Steve, I enjoyed reading this post especially.

Eugene Genovese's wife, Elizabeth, died recently, and I believe they were Roman Catholic. I've heard her referred to as Betsy, but not Kitty. I met her in the 1980s when I was still in my (misguided) feminist phase.

Here's a link.

Also, did you know I worked for Fred Eckert's advertising agency, Eckert-Hogan-Newell, from 1983-1985? That was before I was political but vaguely liberal. I just desperately needed a job. Fred was in Fiji as ambassador most of the time, so I worked with Jim Hogan. We ran the show.

Thanks for this remembrance and analysis of Rochester!


Following is my response to Mary, building somewhat on my comments about the University of Rochester and the University of Georgia:

I corresponded with Eugene Genovese, but sort of tippy-toed around his Marxist years, when he was basically an old-fashioned kind of historian (i.e., interested in history).

U of Rochester had a profound influence on my life because of the incredible value placed on ideas. University of Georgia was something like that in the 1970s, although the "liberals" or whatever the heck they were had begun to show up.

I was assistant editor of The Georgia Review from 1972-74 and was a very controversial (pro-conservative, pro-Southern lit) figure, although not as much as Ed Krickel, the editor, and Marion Hoyt Montgomery. I said the university was being run by people who didn't hate the South but were at best indifferent to it and at worst contemptuous. That was not a way to get ahead, to say the least.

The criticism of Krickel and me was that we were too Southern, too Christian, and too conservative. In general, we pleaded guilty as charged. The university was seeking to achieve something called "national recognition," which according to us meant it was striving to become the Deep South version of Ohio State, often trumpeted in those days as a model.

On Rochester/Monroe County days: I remember Frank Horton's jingle very well -- but not one darn thing he ever did. The Founding Fathers certainly were men of ideas. They saw the problems with the status quo, which in the 18th century meant George III. America must remain a good society that retains the capacity to get better, partly through the restoration of sound ideas that get lost over time.

When I was at the University of Georgia, Bob West, department chairman talked to me about J. Donald Wade, founder of The Georgia Review. He said, "You know, Don Wade only had one or maybe two ideas in his life. But," he added, "they were GOOD ideas." Wade, like Bob West's and Ed Krickel's teacher Donald Davidson, was a member of the Southern Agrarians, who wrote "I'll Take My Stand." I fit right in at The Georgia Review as it had been, but not the eclectic mess it would become under "nationally recognized" types.

On religion: My doctoral dissertation dealt with "Five Modern Spiritual Autobiographies" and was rather militantly pro-Christian. Nobody at the U or R seemed to hold it against me. There were a lot of intellectual grown ups around, and I wish that were true at more academic institutions.

In terms of positive influences on me, I've met Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk (deceased) on several occasions. While at the U of R, I heard Goldwater, Malcolm X, and Herman Kahn (Thinking the Unthinkable and many other books). The university invited controversial thinkers and always drew big crowds.

Herman Kahn spoke about the "stages" involved in nuclear war. He asked the audience what a proper presidential response would be to hearing that a Russian ICBM had just hit Briggs Stadium (the old baseball field) in Detroit.

The general reaction was that the President's response would be describable in two words: "Bombs away."

Kahn's response was: "NO!" He said the President's response SHOULD be: "Where are the OTHER bombs?"

That is, could it have been an accident? Or could it reflect Kruschev being in a snit -- and thus curable by us taking out Leningrad, so we could all be even? Or something else? The President could get the answer by picking up his red phone and dialing up Nikita in Red Square.

Malcolm X brought the "Fruit of Islam" with him and the speech/Q & A "rocked," extremely intriguing to a white boy from Irondequoit. My mother insisted on coming with me to the meeting -- and asked the first question! -- apparently afraid I might ask a hostile question and thus be beaten senseless by either Malcolm or the Fruit, or both.

Imagine that, an atmosphere of real diversity, as opposed to the phony variety that relies on ethnic and gender considerations. Rochester valued the free exchange of ideas, the real essence of diversity. My friend Joel Blatt's view was that he as a liberal would of course have conservative and traditionalist friends. If he didn't, who could he debate issues with? Remarkable guy.

Joel introduced me to R. J. Kaufman, one of the best teachers in the country (and winner of the Danforth Award for College Teaching).The "problem" with Kaufman was that he was so good he unintentionally convinced students that that some second-order literature (such as non-Shakespearean Elizabethans -- Jonson, Ford, Marlowe) were among history's greatest writers. He could have taught the classified ads.

He later went back to his native Southwest and taught at the University of Texas. I regarded him as a god-like figure, and he encouraged a Christian conservative (me) because, well, it was all about ideas, right?

Norman O. Brown, a classicist turned guru, was there, lecturing to a class of 400 students! His books included Hermes the Thief (in his classics period) and, later in the guru phase, Life Against Death: A Psychoanalytic View of History and Love's Body, a study of, well, love and bodies and such.

Those were the days my young friend; I wish they'd never come to an end.

steve maloney