"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Antidote to Gloom


My 14 year-old son and I spent today at Gettysburg National Park, touring the museum, seeing the Cyclorama, and taking a 4.5 hour auto tour of the battlefield.   The museum was very high quality, but not over-wrought -- it was about an hour to get through it.   There was a very good 20 minute or so movie about the battle, and then we spent about 30 minutes viewing the cyclorama, which has been recently restored, and is remarkable -- a 377 foot in circumference, 44 foot tall panoramic, realistic and nearly three-dimensional painting of the third day of the battle.  But nothing can beat the battlefield.  It was a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky, and about 45 degrees.   The battlefield wasn't crowded; at most of the stops we were one of only a handful of people.   The highlights were our hikes to the top of Big Round Top and Little Round Top; climbing the boulders in the Devil's Den; and viewing the full scale of the distance of Pickett's Charge from the "high water mark" at the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.   It's astonishing to think men walked across the mile or so of that field under cannon and rifle fire on a hot July afternoon carrying their rifles and muskets and packs, and wearing wool uniforms.   What made them do it?  What kind of men were they?   And what kind of men were the Union soldiers who stood strong at that wall, watching a mile long line of Confederate infantry emerge from the woods on Seminary Ridge and start their inexorable walk toward them?   Both sides knew what it must mean... kill or be killed.   The level of courage on both sides was almost inconceivable.   Yet they were all Americans.  

National parks and, in particular, Civil War battlefields, are among the things that our federal government does very very well, indeed.   Seeing Gettysburg for the first time, after years of being an amateur Civil War buff, and seeing it with my son, reminded me today of all my many blessings, with both my family and my country.   It's an antidote for gloom.   To borrow another Winston Churchill phrase:  this was their finest hour. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Gathering Storm

In his magisterial six-volume history of World War II, Winston Churchill wrote of the building crisis that would lead to war in his first volume, The Gathering Storm.   For today's England and the West in general, there are two storms building.  The first, obviously, is the war that appears to be coming -- and won't end in our lifetimes -- between the West and Islam writ large.  If Egypt ends up radicalized; if Iran nuclearizes; if Pakistan goes rogue; if Afghanistan goes South; if Libya now goes from stable dictatorship (the Devil we know); if, if, if.... the storm that is gathering will break in thunder and gale-force winds.  

The second storm gathering is the civil wars that could happen between irate public employee unions, upset that their gravy train is grinding, has to grind to a halt; and the rest of us.   We saw the possibility of violence in Madison, Wisconsin last month, but America's left is still in the play-acting phase -- the young people chanting in Madison seemed like they were doing it, in part, for fun, because pretending to be revolutionary felt romantic, felt like they were doing something "meaningful" and "transgressive."   In England, where 500,000 marched and rioted yesterday, the reality of anarchy may be here. 



People think that Western society can't fall apart.   They're wrong.  It's fragile, and it can all go away.  We've had Dark Ages before; we can have them again.

Sorry for being so doom and gloom.   But this sort of thing makes me fear the future.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Birthdays Today

Somewhat interesting birthdays today.   First, it's Harry Houdini's birthday.   Born in 1874 -- in Appleton, Wisconsin of all places -- Houdini became famous at a time when live performances without "special effects" or "computer generated images" were unknown.   You had to make magic the old-fashioned way, and Houdini was the greatest of all time.   




It's also Malcolm Muggeridge's birthday.  Born in 1903, Muggeridge was an English journalist, soldier, spy and all-around cultural raconteur.  He is noteworthy for being one of the main popularizers of Mother Theresa, having become a Catholic convert late in his own life.   He also wrote one of the great examples of what I would call "The God That Failed"-genre -- memoirs in which former 1930s communists repented their youthful idealism after seeing the horrors of Stalinism.   His memoir was called Chronicles of Wasted Time.

















***

Finally, Steve McQueen was born in 1930.   McQueen is one of the great film actors.   "Film actors," because McQueen was one of the few who could command the screen without saying anything.   None of his best movies are dialogue-driven; instead, they are driven by the sheer presence of McQueen physically on the screen.   The best in my mind is the great cop movie, Bullitt.   Here's a scene:

Books on the Warrior Culture

Speaking of men who take risks as opposed to "men" who crave certainty and find the loss of their pensions "scary" (see below), my friend Frank suggested to me the book Horse Soldiers, which is a really cool book about the Special Forces soldiers who entered Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11 and, riding horses into battle like latter-day John Waynes, directed American air power using GPS devices (interestingly, not Army issue -- they left so soon after 9/11 that they had to buy their hand-held GPS units at an outdoor store near Fort Campbell, KY), joined up with the "armies" of tribal leaders Atta and Dostum collectively known as the Northern Alliance, and took down the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies at the stronghold city of Mazar-i Sharif, leading to the collapse of the Taliban government.   It's a remarkable story -- but how exactly is it that Hollywood hasn't made a movie of this yet, but finds time to put out Rendition and Lambs for Lions?   Politics in Hollywood apparently trumps good business, because there's no way a movie about Horse Soldiers wouldn't be a hit.  

On a roll reading about American servicemen, I also picked up in the airport yesterday a book about the surge in Iraq told through the eyes of a single American battalion, the 2-16, posted to Baghdad's toughest section during the surge.   It's called The Good Soldiers, and it's a harrowing story so far, told by a very good writer, David Finkel.

Both highly recommended.  

Talking to Martians

The great philosopher/historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin, used the term "incommensurable" to describe collisions between world-views in which, at the most fundamental level, communication is impossible and conflict is inevitable, because the deepest goals of each world-view simply cannot be reconciled with each other.   To put it in simplest terms, it is like earthlings talking to Martians.

We are in the throes of two of these collisions of incommensurable world-views today, one foreign and one domestic.   The foreign one we know:  it is the collision between an essentially secular West governed by science and the rule of law in democracies (at least theoretically); and a theocratic Islamist world-view in which the only truth flows from the Koran.   The West, in short, applies methods (science, the law, elections) to discover truth and create new truths; while the Islamic world simply receives truth that is always already a given (the primacy of the Koran, sharia, Allah, Mohammed).   We are the earthlings, they are the Martians.

The domestic one that interests me is the collision between an essentially entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture of capitalism and a bureaucratic, risk-averse culture of government workers.   Consider this passage from an article about the $40 billion shortfall in the Illinois state teachers' pension fund:
At 28, social studies teacher Patrick Sheridan is only in his fourth year of teaching, but he's already on edge about retirement, wondering if he'll ever get the pension checks he was promised.

"It's very scary and very frustrating being a younger teacher, and not having any certainty," said Sheridan, who teaches and coaches at Cook County's Elmwood Park High School.
Scary?   A twenty-eight year old teacher in a nice, close-in suburb of Chicago (median family income approx. $52,000, median price for house $299,000) is "scared" and "frustrated" about not having any "certainty"?   What kind of world-view does this guy have?   Does he imagine himself always being a teacher until he retires?   Does he imagine never having to change careers?  Does he imagine ever starting a company?   Meanwhile, where exactly does he think the $40 billion needed to fund his pension and the pensions of other Illinois teachers is going to come from?   There are about 13 million people in Illinois.   Each person in Illinois is $3,000 in debt to fund teachers' pensions right now.   Do you think if he stood up in front of his classroom of thirty kids and said, "oh, by the way, you all owe about $90,000 so that I can retire at age 55, and it's only going to go up" what do you think they would say? 

Government employee union members somehow think it is their birthright to never have uncertainty about their employment (tenure cures this) or their retirement (pensions solve this, or at least they did), even when they've only worked four years.  (Noteworthy:  young Patrick Sheridan has already had in four years one whole year off for summer vacations!  That's fifty-two weeks!   I haven't taken even two weeks of vacation in a single year since I started at my law firm.)   The rest of us schlubs learn to cope with uncertainty and, in the case of entrepreneurs, to embrace it.  They are fundamentally different world-views, and they are going to be increasingly in collision as the bills for the impossible promised pensions for public employees come due.  

The public employee unions have been living on Mars for a long time.   They need to come back down to earth where the rest of us live.

Girl of the Day (and probably the last century) - Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor has died.   It's hard to overestimate her fame, or her beauty as a young woman in the 1950s, but I have always thought from afar that she must have led a sad life -- eight marriages, eight divorces, and the oddity of her later years (her friendship with Michael Jackson in his full freak mode, for instance).   She had four children, though, and ten grandchildren.   Taylor as a grandma isn't probably a role she imagined for herself, but I'd bet it was her favorite.   RIP.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thoughts on Libya

The dithering of Obama on Libya has now evolved.   American planes are flying over Libyan airspace, helping set up a "no-fly" zone over the country, and American cruise missiles are targeting key Libyan anti-aircraft sites.   Is it too late to help the rebels overthrow Gadaffi?   Maybe.  Do we even want to overthrow Gadaffi?   Do we want "regime change" in Libya?  If so, who are the rebels that we're helping?  Are they freedom fighters?  Are they Islamofascists?   Do we know?  Do we care?   Or is the goal simply to whack Gadaffi around for a few weeks to make ourselves feel better? 

If we really want to overthrow Gadaffi (Qadaffi?  Kadaffi?... it's so hard to keep these things straight), what exactly are we willing to do?  Commit ground troops?  Nation-building?   I don't think so.   But, then, what exactly is it that we're doing?  I don't think Obama has thought through this at all.

And, finally, what is it about this "war" that makes it appropriate that wasn't also the case for Iraq, which Obama famously opposed?   A Middle Eastern dictator?  Check.  Killing his own people?  Check.  Sitting on oil that matters for the West?  Check.   A history of sponsoring terrorism against Americans?  Check.  A history of flaunting the UN?  Check.   A history of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction?  Check.  So, why exactly is Obama for doing this, but was against the Iraq War?   What's the distinguishing principle?  I haven't heard one, and I haven't really heard anyone in the mainstream media ask Obama this question.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shoah in Jerusalem

The massacre of the five members of the Fogel family in Israel -- including three small children -- has gotten some attention, but not enough.   It seems as if terrorism against Israelis by Palestinians has become so commonplace that we almost don't notice anymore.   But an interview in National Review today with the Italian journalist, Giulio Meotti, calls this spade a spade:  he calls it a "new Shoah," or slow-motion genocide, and directly equates the ideology of the Arab anti-semites with Nazism.   It's an extraordinarily powerful interview, and this passage in particular should bring tears to anyone who has eyes to cry with:
Rabbi Mordechai Elon once referred to one area of the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem as the burial area for the nation’s unborn victims (as opposed to the section for the nation’s great leaders). Eyal and Yael Shorek are buried there; Yael was nine months pregnant when she was killed. Next to them lie Gadi and Tzippi Shemesh, who were killed in downtown Jerusalem immediately after having a scan of their unborn twins. Four members of the Gavish family are buried next to one another in Elon Moreh, a settlement in the biblical West Bank. In Gaza, a terrorist squad opened fire on the car of Jewish settler Tali Hatuel, who died on the spot. Then her four daughters were murdered, each with a shot to the head at point-blank range. It was an execution. The attacks on the Park Hotel in Netanya and in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood in Jerusalem wiped out entire families. Ruti Peled and her granddaughter Sinai Keinan were murdered in Petah Tikva. Noa Alon and her granddaughter Gal Eizenman were killed at the French Hill intersection in Jerusalem. Five members of the Schijveschuurder family were killed in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. Boaz Shabo lost his wife, Rachel, and their three children in a terrorist attack in Itamar, and he feels as if this is “a mini-holocaust.”
We of the West must support the threatened democracy of Israel and its beleaguered people, so many of whom descend from the survivors of the Nazi death camps and the charnel house of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.   If we do not do so, if we side with those who would choose the expedient path of least resistance and appease the Arab fascists, or those who, in perversions of their own liberalism, choose to see the Palestinians who terrorize the Jews of Israel as victims, then we truly will have lost our souls.

Meotti's book, A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism, might be a painful read, but it seems like a story that needs to be told, and remembered, lest we forget.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Girl of the Day - Maureen O'Hara

Hard to beat Maureen O'Hara on St. Patrick's Day.... from The Quiet Man.   

St. Patrick's Day Flashmob

A "flashmob" refers to the use of Twitter or Facebook or other social media to assemble a large group of people at a particular place at a particular time to do something all at once... sort of like riot-planning.   Here is a flashmob for St. Patricks' Day in Sydney, Australia, that does something really quite cool:



It's everywhere!

Walker Seizes the Moment

With the Republican majority in the House of Representatives dithering on continuing resolutions that shave $6 billion off the budget every two weeks (laudable in isolation, ludicrous when considering the magnitude of our debt), the task of seizing the moment on government spending has fallen to Republican governors, primarily Chris Christie for a time, and now Scott Walker.   As someone who lives in Wauwatosa, Walker's hometown, and in Milwaukee County, where Walker was County Supervisor for eight years -- and as a lawyer who was adverse to the County in major pension litigation -- I have to admit that I did not see this coming.   I thought of Walker as a typical career politician.   And maybe he is.  But maybe he sees this moment as a way to make his career, to make himself a national figure.   Even if that's true, he's doing a remarkably good job of it.  

Today Walker pens an op-ed in the Washington Post that basically is a direct challenge to President Obama.   Who would have thought that a minor political figure on a county-scale in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could overnight turn into a national political heavyweight willing and able to challenge the President?   But, then again, who would have thought that a minor state legislator from Illinois could, within four years, be the President?  

Here are the key paragraphs from Walker's piece:
Contrary to what the Obama administration would lead you to believe, most employees of the federal government do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. That means the budget reform plan we signed into law in Wisconsin on Friday is more generous than what President Obama offers federal employees.

Our reform plan calls for a 5.8 percent pension contribution from government workers, including myself, and a 12.6 percent health insurance premium payment. Both are well below what middle-class, private-sector workers pay. Federal workers, however, pay an average of 28 percent of health insurance costs.

It’s enough to make you wonder why there are no protesters circling the White House.
 
My brother is a banquet manager and occasional bartender at a hotel. He pays nearly $800 a month for his family’s health insurance and can put away only a little bit toward his 401(k). He would love the plan I’m offering to public employees.
Walker here make, in a very economical way, the main two points that need to be understood in considering the issue of public employee unions and their collective bargaining:  (1) that collective bargaining by public employees is not a "right," or else the federal work force would have similar "rights"; and (2) the public employees who are fighting for their pensions and Cadillac health benefits have it very good indeed compared to the vast majority of private sector workers -- they are not "oppressed" under any reasonable meaning of the word.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bracketer-in-Chief

Not really sure what I think about President Obama participating in the hype surrounding his NCAA basketball tournament picks.   On the one hand, it's OK for the President to take an interest in something that is a national obsession every year; it's fun; it shows him to be human (which is good); and it has a certain small-d democratizing tone, which I like in America.   He's not bigger than us, he's not better than us, he's one of us.  So far so good.

On the other hand.... Japan, Libya, the budget, the deficit, the economy.   Not sure it sends the right message to be spending much of the President's precious time on NCAA picks when the world is going to Hell in a handbasket.

For what it's worth then, here's Obama putting us some Presidential knowledge on the NCAA tournament:


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Miracles

I happened to have a business meeting in Baltimore today, which entailed waking at 4 am, showering, dressing, driving to the airport, getting through security, flying to Baltimore, catching a cab from the airport downtown; meet; and repeat, in reverse.   I was home by 6:30 pm.  

Now, that's nothing special, of course, and lots of people have a lot more business travel than I do, but the "nothing special" is precisely my point.  We entirely take for granted our ability to fly at 500 mph across country for a meeting and fly home, safely, all the while keeping in constant contact with our families and work places through cell phones, email, text messaging, etc.  

We live in an age of miracles.   And yet we complain.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Birthdays Today

It's David Byrne's birthday.   The founder, songwriter and lead singer of the Talking Heads, Byrne turns 59, which once again makes me feel old.   My son, before turning to Bruce Springsteen, first liked Byrne and the Talking Heads after I showed him the great concert movie, Stop Making Sense.  Here's one of the famous clips from the movie, with Byrne in the "Big Suit":


Girl Monday - Kristen Wiig

Kristen Wiig is one of the most talented comedians on Saturday Night Live, and also in my mind the most attractive gal whose ever been a regular on the show.  


She's also ridiculously funny, as in this sketch:





Tsunami Relief

Here is some scary footage from the tsunami that hit Japan on Friday:




The news media is fixated on the potential for meltdowns at three Japanese nuclear reactors.   Even if that were to occur, the result would have only a modest impact on public health, due to the better containment technology nowadays, and the precautions that have been taken so far to move people away from the sites.  It is not, repeat NOT a reason to stop developing (and accelerating the development of) nuclear power in America.  We need to be doing that, and faster.  

Meanwhile, the most "low-tech" of horrors... water... has likely drowned tens of thousands in northeastern Japan.   This is typical of how we think nowadays:  we worry about marginal, hypothetical, far-fetched harms (global warming, pollution), and we neglect the real horrors that are always around us (drought, starvation, war, natural disaster). 

For now, prayer for the Japanese victims and survivors is necessary, as always, but the best place to send donations for the relief effort in my opinion is Catholic Relief Services.   To donate by phone: 1-877-HELP-CRS. To make a donation on line, go to www.crs.org.  To write and mail a check:

Catholic Relief Services
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, Maryland 21203-7090

The Rich Are Just Like You And Me... They Just Earn More Money

Fitzgerald is famously (and apocryphally) supposed to have told Hemingway that "the rich are different than you and I."   "Yes, Scott," Hemingway supposedly retorted.   "They have more money."

Democrats nowadays apparently believe the rich are ontologically different than us.... meaning that their income or wealth somehow make them less than human, and thus it becomes somehow moral for the rest of us to exploit them, steal from them, confiscate the fruits of their labor.   Thus, their response to any attempts to cut spending by federal, state or local governments is to demand that we "tax the rich."  

A couple of articles up on National Review today put the lie to the notion that the federal budget deficit could be cured by simply taxing the very wealthy.   First, Kevin Williamson argues that there are "not enough millionaires" to do the job:
When it comes to the Scrooge McDuck set, the problem isn’t that they’re not rich enough, it’s that there aren’t enough rich — not enough to do what liberals want to do, anyway, which is to balance the budget by increasing taxes on them. Let’s deploy some always-suspect English-major math:

There are lots of liberal definitions of “rich.” When Pres. Barack Obama talks about the rich, he’s talking about people living in households with income of more than $250,000 or more.... Club 250K isn’t all that exclusive, and most of its members aren’t the yachts-and-expensive-mistresses types.

Nonetheless, there aren’t that many of them. In fact, in 2006, the Census Bureau found only 2.2 million households earning more than $250,000. And most of those are closer to the Lubbock city manager than to Carlos Slim, income-wise....

[S]ay we wanted to balance the budget by jacking up taxes on Club 250K. That’s a problem: The 2012 deficit is forecast to hit $1.1 trillion under Obama’s budget. (Thanks, Mr. President!) Spread that deficit over all the households in Club 250K and you have to jack up their taxes by an average of $500,000. Which you simply can’t do, since a lot of them don’t have $500,000 in income to seize: Most of them are making $250,000 to $450,000 and paying about half in taxes already. You can squeeze that goose all day, but that’s not going to make it push out a golden egg.
Meanwhile, Robert Verbruggen, following up on Williamson's point, asks "How Much Money Do the Rich Have?":
The best numbers I could find came from IRS returns in 2008 (Excel spreadsheet). Unfortunately, the cutoff the IRS uses is $200,000 rather than $250,000, which is the level at which Obama promised no tax hikes.   But if anything, counting more taxpayers as “rich” — and thus making more money available for government plundering — will bias the results against Kevin’s argument.

The first question is: How much do these folks make in total? The answer is about $2.5 trillion.

If we wanted, we could stop here: You’d need to grab almost half that to finance the deficits Obama’s talking about, and for many of these taxpayers, the other half is already taken in federal and local taxes. No one works for free.
Noting these analyses, Ace of Spades argues that Republicans need to be pushing this idea:
The Republicans need to read every word of this and memorize every single figure, and then memorize additional figures that illustrate the problem, and repeat them endlessly on every Sunday talk show they appear on and every speech they make.

I keep saying this: There simply are not enough rich such that taxing them at even high rates can do more than dent the enormous deficits.
I feel very strongly that this is the wrong argument to make, and will backfire.   The point is not that, even if we confiscated all of the wealth of the Top 10%, we couldn't balance the budget.   The point that Republicans need to stress is that, even if we could, it would be wrong!    The "wealthy" typically become wealthy because they have worked harder, saved more, risked more, created more, and in the process have already done huge services for their society.   A person who earns a high income in a free society does so because other free individuals have chosen to pay him or her for some good or service they believe to be valuable.   To confiscate their wealth is simple theft, and dressing it up in the language of progressivism, as we have for a hundred or more years, doesn't make it anything more noble.  

Until we get to the point where we are not making public policy based on envy, we are going to be stuck in these same rhetorical games.   Republicans ought not play on the playing field of taxing or not taxing "the rich."   They should challenge the entire premise of a tax policy that differentiates between a dollar earned by Citizen A and a dollar earned by Citizen B as a violation of equal protection.   The "rich" aren't different; they're human beings just like the rest of us.  What we wouldn't do to a random person -- steal from them -- we ought not do to a person just because we've identified them as wealthy.

They Don't Even Bother Hiding Their Double Standards Anymore

Newsbusters has an article up demonstrating how the mainstream media -- ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and NPR -- have all completely embargoed any news coverage of the multiple, verified death threats made in Wisconsin against Republican legislators by Democrat union thugs and their scruffy Madison leftist/socialist/communist grad student Che Guevera-poster tie-dye wearing supporters.   Here's the key passage:

A radio station obtained this email, quote: "Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your families will be killed due to your actions I the last 8 weeks. Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families then it will save the rights of 300,000 people and also be able to close the deficit that you have created. I hope you have a good time in hell," unquote. Wisconsin authorities are taking this stuff seriously. They have a suspect, has not been charged as far as we know.

Not taking this seriously were ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NBC, and NPR. LexisNexis and closed-caption dump searches of "Wisconsin and 'death threat'" produced zero results for these so-called news outlets throughout the month of March.

Zero.

When you compare this to the hysterical coverage of last year's Tea Party rallies and town hall protests, where conservatives were regularly depicted as either hostile or fomenting violence, one has to wonder how actual death threats against sitting politicians would not be considered newsworthy.
Shameful. 


NCAA Bracket Monday

Today is the day when American productivity crashes, as people all over the country are closing their doors and filling out their NCAA brackets.  

My pick, as always, is the Duke Blue Devils.   The defending National Champions blew out a very good North Carolina team in the ACC Championship Game on Sunday and have a legitimate shot at repeating.   Sure, they lost Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas to graduation since last year's championship.   But Scheyer frankly isn't as athletic as the players that have replaced him -- Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins; and Zoubek and Thomas, while serviceable big men and tougher defensively than what we have now, weren't as good offensively as Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.   And, of course, we returned our best two players, senior stars Nolan Smith (the ACC Player of the Year) and Kyle Singler (last year's Final Four MVP).  

If freshman sensation Kyrie Irving can come back from being hurt in time to make a contribution in the tournament, Duke will be a very difficult team to beat.   And Irving supposedly was practicing on court at the ACC tournament.  So it's a distinct possibility that he could see some time this weekend, and be ready to go full bore by the regionals.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Birthdays Today


It's Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's birthday.   He's 74.   Scalia has been the bulwark of the conservative wing of the Court since his appointment in 1986, which means he's now been on the Court for 25 years, an extremely long tenure.   Scalia's basic judicial philosophy, "originalism," strives to read the actual words of the Constitution as they would have been meant by the Framers, as opposed to how proponents of a "Living Constitution" would read them now, imbuing them with the progressive wishes of "modern" society.   He is also easily the best writer on the Court, although recently-appointed Justices Alito and Roberts are pretty good too.   I always read his dissents first in cases where he writes one, because I know it will cut through the B.S. to the important point.   For instance, Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey,
The States may, if they wish, permit abortion on demand, but the Constitution does not require them to do so. The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.
And, in the 2000 case of Stenberg v. Carhart, in which the Court invalidated a Nebraska statute outlawing partial-birth abortion, Scalia wrote "I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court's jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. The method of killing a human child ... proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion."

He can also be pretty funny.   Here he is in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, involving racial preferences in the University of Michigan's law school, mocking the Court's conclusion that the school was entitled to continue using race as a factor in admissions so as to increase "cross-racial understanding":
This is not, of course, an "educational benefit" on which students will be graded on their Law School transcript (Works and Plays Well with Others: B+) or tested by the bar examiners (Q: Describe in 500 words or less your cross-racial understanding). For it is a lesson of life rather than law—essentially the same lesson taught to (or rather learned by, for it cannot be "taught" in the usual sense) people three feet shorter and twenty years younger than the full-grown adults at the University of Michigan Law School, in institutions ranging from Boy Scout troops to public-school kindergartens.
A great man.  Here's wishing him continued health, as we need him on the Court, and it would be a tragedy if such a great Justice were to be replaced by a liberal picked by Obama.  

Girl Friday - Anna Gunn

Anna Gunn plays the prudish wife of the sheriff Seth Bullock in the HBO series Deadwood.  She's also the put-upon wife in the AMC series that's currently on called Breaking Bad, which looks like something I ought to watch.  



Here she is in her civvies:



Sore Losers


Governor Scott Walker signed the budget repair bill that was passed yesterday by the State Assembly, after Wednesday's sudden move by the State Senate to strip out budget-related items and pass non-fiscal items (especially the limitations on public employee collective bargaining).  

It's a big win for Walker, but the Democrats are already planning a protest rally for tomorrow in Madison, recall elections for 8 of the 19 Republican State Senators, and lawsuits challenging the legality of the process that led to the passage of the bill.   We had a name for such tactics when we were kids -- we called it being a "sore loser."   But I guess accusing Democrats -- whose platform nows to be "I want my cake and I want someone else to pay for it!" -- of being infantile is pretty old hat by now.  

In this light, a remarkable statement by a Democrat State Senator in today's newspaper bears some comment.   State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) is quoted as saying "This is just the beginning.  This is the civil rights issue of this century."  

Really?   The civil rights issue of this century?  Maintaining the benefits gravy train for the mostly white, well-compensated government workers in Wisconsin is the civil rights issue of this century?   Really?    Right up there with Martin Luther King, huh?  

Have they lost all adult perspective?

Power and Powerlessness


We tend to forget the fragility of our civilizations, to take for granted the affluence and relative ease we live in, to dismiss the possibility that it could all fall apart, and quickly.  

Sometimes it's a matter of our man-made social structures suddenly collapsing -- the technology bubble bursting in 2000; the housing market in 2008; sovereign debt in 2010 (and continuing).  We believed the stock market would always go up, our houses would always appreciate, our nation-states could continue financing current consumption (welfare and social security and health care) with borrowed funds.   

Other times it's a sudden lurch into violence and war -- the shock of a European ca. 1914 being suddenly thrust into a World War; or an American waking up to the news on December 7, 1941; or, again an American waking up to scenes of towers burning on September 11th.  

But all of these things are, as it says in the old book, a "vanity" compared to the power and suddenness of natural disasters.   Today's earthquake and tsunami in Japan reminds us how powerless we really are.   (To give a minor sense of the magnitude of the earthquake, the Hiroshima bomb was approximately 12 kilotons, which would be .012 megatons of energy.   The largest hydrogen bombs in America's current nuclear arsenal are a little over 1,000 kilotons, or one megaton, although historically America did produce some bombs that approached 10 megatons in size that are no longer in active use.   But an earthquake that hits 8.9 on the Richter scale, like the one today in Japan, generates 336 megatons of energy.)  

At such points, prayer for the people affected and thankfulness for our own families' safety (however temporary) seem the only appropriate responses.   Tomorrow, and the next day, and possibly weeks and months to come, are for massive charity and assistance, which once again will likely mostly come from America and the American military, especially our Navy.     

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Anti-Christian Violence in Egypt


After 9/11 we were repeatedly lectured about the fear of a backlash against American Muslims.   No such backlash ever occurred, and the expectation of a backlash by some in the mainstream media showed a distinct lack of understanding of American Christianity and Americans generally.  We just don't do those kinds of things. 

Not so in Egypt, apparently, where sectarian violence (the nice way of saying "Muslims killing Christians") is on the increase:
Idealism might be waning as Egyptians confront the worst outbreak of religious violence since Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power Feb. 11. The deaths of 13 people in clashes in Cairo between Muslims and Christians late Tuesday have prompted calls for religious tolerance and raised the prospect of a deepening sectarian divide after a post-revolution honeymoon period.

Street battles broke out after Coptic Christians set up roadblocks in major arteries to protest the destruction of one of their churches. Security is scant in this metropolis of 18 million, where the military-controlled government is still groping to find a way to tamp down crime with no functioning police force.

Although clashes between Muslims and Christians are not new in Egypt, they often take place far from the capital. That the overnight violence continued for hours near the heart of Cairo is bound to add to concerns among Christians that weeks of tumult in Egypt have left them particularly vulnerable in a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim.

The prospect that political Islamists might gain strength in Egypt is seen among Copts as particularly worrying, after three decades in which many had come to regard Mubarak's secular regime as a kind of protector.
When will President Obama speak out forcefully on behalf of persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East?  I'm not holding my breath.

Civility Update (and the Inevitable Double Standard Alert)

Since the pundits in the MSM were so concerned about civility in January when Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot by an apolitical lunatic in Arizona -- where there was no connection whatsoever between political rhetoric and the insanity of the shooter -- I wonder if they'll be commenting on incivility where political positions are actually connected to violence and threats of violence:
Senate Republicans were harried by swarming crowds. “We tried to get out of the building after the vote, because they were rushing the chamber, and we were escorted by security through a tunnel system to another building. But, after being tipped off by a Democrat, they mobbed the exit at that building, and were literally trying to break the windows of the cars we were in as we were driving away,” Republican senator Randy Hopper tells NRO. Such tactics, he sighs, were hardly unexpected. “I got a phone call yesterday saying that we should be executed. I’ve had messages saying that they want to beat me with a billy club.”

UPDATE:

Here's the text of an email sent to Republican legislators last night:
Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your familes will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks. Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families then it will save the rights of 300,000 people and also be able to close the deficit that you have created. I hope you have a good time in hell. Read below for more information on possible scenarios in which you will die.

It goes on, describing how they will come to the legislators' houses and put a "nice little bullet in your head," and how they've "also built several bombs that we have placed in various locations around the areas in which we know that you frequent.  This includes, your house, your car, the state capitol, and well I won't
tell you all of them because that's just no fun." 

These are sick, deluded people.  They need to be investigated by law enforcement, prosecuted, and jailed.

UPDATE 2:

The threat received by Republican State Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, WI said the following:
"We will hunt you down. We will slit your throats. We will drink your blood. I will have your decapitated head on a pike in the Madison town square. This is your last warning."
Again, these are sick, deluded people.  When will the Democrat Party start toning down the rhetoric?  Stop talking about how "this is war," how Republicans are taking away "civil rights" (public employee collective bargaining is not a civil right... federal employees can't bargain for wages or benefits, for instance, nor can state employees in almost half of the 50 states)?   Stop talking about how Republicans are "killing" the middle class?   Stop talking about how Scott Walker is like Hitler?   Somebody is going to get hurt, and the Democrat Party is going to be responsible.    


UPDATE 3:

Here's a note that was slipped under the office door of a Wisconsin Republican State legislator:


Nice, people, huh?   Civil discourse at its finest.  

Birthdays Today

It's Osama bin Laden's 54th birthday today.  It's my belief that he's been dead for many years, somewhere in the Hindu Kush under a mountain of rubble.   I could be wrong.  I hope not.  In any event, if he's living, I hope he's so far underground that he can't hurt anymore innocent Americans.

Meanwhile, Armageddon Nears...

Madison is a skirmish in what will be a long and bloody campaign to bring our federal, state and local government's spending back into balance.   Here are two articles that should give anyone a mini-stroke who's thinking about America's fiscal health in the long-term.

First, Kevin Williamson of National Review writes in his Exchequer blog about the move by the world's biggest bond fund, PIMCO, to dump U.S. federal debt:
As things stand, interest on the debt (at about 6 percent of all federal spending) is equal to about one-third of all discretionary spending combined (about 19 percent of the budget). Current forecasts have debt-service costs alone amounting to nearly $1 trillion by 2020, consuming 20 percent of all federal tax revenues. That’s a vicious circle: Bigger deficits add to the total debt, which drives up the cost of debt service, which creates bigger deficits, shampoo, rinse, repeat, and wake up in Argentina circa 1999–2002.

Which gets us back, as usual, toward the one inevitable, undeniable fact of American life at this moment: The major entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — other “mandatory” spending, national defense, and interest on the debt make up more than 80 percent of federal spending. Everything else put together accounts for less than $1 in $5 of government outlays. Assuming we don’t default on our national debt, interest on the debt is the one spending item that is truly off the table. Even if we cut national-defense spending to zero, that would only get us just over halfway toward eliminating the trillion-dollar deficit headed our way in 2012. (We aren’t cutting national-defense spending to zero.) Meaning that major reform of the entitlement programs is not optional. It is do or die.
And Veronique de Rugy, also from National Review:
The bottom line: We can argue endlessly over when the pension plans will run out of cash, or what the value of their unfunded liabilities is. We can even debate the true meaning of being broke. But there is one issue where there is no room for debate: Once the pension plans run out of money, the payments will have to come out of general funds, meaning taxpayers’ pockets. That will happen very soon: The number of retirees is going up, the promises made have gotten more and more generous over time, and pension plans aren’t underfunded just because of the recession. States are already broke, so if they want to avert a pension crisis, they need to push through reforms as soon as possible.

Girl Thursday - Bernadette Peters

Bernadette Peters has been one of the great Broadway musical performers for four decades, with seven Tony nominations and two Tony Awards, the best of which were starring roles in Stephen Sondheim musicals, which for my money are the great operas of the latter part of the Twentieth Century.  Here she is, singing in concert one of the greatest Sondheim songs: 




As I always tell my children, all of whom are budding performers one way or another, the secret to singing a song is to believe the words and sing them with passion.   Peters is one of the true artists of Broadway because she always gives 100% to every song.  

Madison Update - Somewhat Idiosyncratic Notes from the Right Curmudgeon

Apparently the camp-out in the Capitol has returned, with protestors spending the night in the rotunda.   Three items of interest to me that suggest how nuts the Left is on this issue.  

First, apparently driving back from Illinois, a Democrat State Senator, Chris Larson said Wednesday night regarding the limitations on public employee collective bargaining, "If they decide to kill the middle class, it's on them."   How exactly does limiting the rights of public employees to collectively bargain for health and pension benefits "kill" the middle class?   I know a lot of middle-class people (I am one), and nearly all of them can't collectively bargain for health and pension benefits at their jobs, and most will still be paying substantially more for health and pension benefits than Wisconsin public employees will under Walker's bill.   (In my case, I pay 100% of each; I don't feel like I'm being "killed" by this.)   Do they really think this kind of transparent hyperbole helps their case?  

Second, another Democrat State Senator, Mark Miller, the Minority Leader, talking about the possibility of recalling Republican legislators, stated ""The people I don't think knew what they were getting when they voted last November, so there will be a do-over."    Wow.... I don't remember President Obama running on a platform of nationalizing health care.   Do we get a "do-over"?   No, and you haven't heard any Republicans talking about a "do-over."   "Do-overs" are for children.

Third, there was this picture of protestors last night.



As they say in academia, let's deconstruct this picture.   Do any of these protestors look like union members?  Like public school teachers?   Not to me.... to me, they look like college students or graduate students or some of the assorted lefty hangers-on that live around college campuses, the types that work at pizza parlors or Kinko's or have a gig as a research assistant for some sociology professor.   And look at the guy on the left.   He's holding a sign saying "Stop the Attack on Wisconsin's Families."   But he's also got a girl lying in his lap.    It's a fair bet, unless these layabouts are paying a babysitter, that they don't have any children, and I'd bet 1000 to 1 they aren't married.   (As I've noted before, left-wing demonstrations from the Sixties onward have often been about meeting girls, and this one has been no exception.)  

So whose "family" are they saying is being attacked?   Not theirs.   And it's a fair bet that they don't give a damn about my family with my three children, for whom I'm saving desperately to send them to college, having to pay higher taxes so that public employees can keep their pensions and free health care and retire at 55.    They literally don't even consider the question of who pays for all the things that they want, because, quite obviously, they don't.  

Wouldn't you be surprised, looking at this motley crew, whether any of them are paying an income tax at all?  

UPDATE:

Protestors were finally forcibly removed from the Capitol this morning.   Here is a photo of some of them: 


Again, do any of these kids look like they're members of a public employees' union?  Do they look like they have jobs?   Nope.  Didn't think so.  

Andrew Klavan Puts You Some Truth

Andrew Klavan puts you some truth about public sector unions. Funny stuff:



P.S. This is the sort of thing that is rapidly making CNN and the rest of the MSM obsolete... an independent pundit who can throw up a funny, insightful think piece on Youtube. It's fundamental economics: as barriers to entry (the cost of getting into a particular line of business) come down, monopoly power gets harder and harder to exercise.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Push Comes to Shove

Tonight the Wisconsin State Senate went to the nuclear option, passing the portion of Scott Walker's budget repair bill that does not require a quorum of 20 (which would have to include 1 Democrat Senator) -- the section that limits collective bargaining by public employees.   (Under Wisconsin's Constitution, any bill that is "fiscal" -- that spends money or raises taxes -- has to have a quorum of 60%.  For non-fiscal bills, a simple majority sufficies.   So the Wisconsin GOP simply split off the part they could pass and passed it.   Good for them. 

The inevitable is occurring as we speak.  The Madison left has gone rabid, storming the Capitol and taking over the building.   Here's a picture:


Two things already noted by others: 

1)  Does anybody remember those supposedly "angry" Tea Partiers storming any public buildings after hours when Obamacare passed?

2) Is it my imagination, or is this crowd almost 100% white?  Would the media notice that fact about a conservative rally?  Yes.   Will they notice it about this mob?  No. 

UPDATE:

Mickey Kaus comments helpfully on the procedural move the Wisconsin GOP Senators used:

One way to think of this is as “reverse reconciliation.” The latter allowed Democrats to pass Obama’s health care bill, despite the Senate’s normal supermajority (60 vote) antifilibuster requirement, because it was deemed a bill that affected the budget. In Wisconsin, Republicans passed their bill despite the normal three-fifths supermajority quorum requirement because it was deemed a bill that didn’t affect the budget. Different rules, same basic trick. Sauce. Goose. Gander.

Thomas Sowell on "Union Myths"

Thomas Sowell had a great article yesterday on myths about unions that bears reading in the current context of the disputes over public employee union benefits in Wisconsin and elsewhere.   His main point is that unions have, in the long term, been a bad deal for workers:
The most famous labor union leader, the legendary John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers from 1920 to 1960, secured rising wages and job benefits for the coal miners, far beyond what they could have gotten out of a free market based on supply and demand.
But there is no free lunch.
An economist at the University of Chicago called John L. Lewis “the world’s greatest oil salesman.”
His strikes that interrupted the supply of coal, as well as the resulting wage increases that raised its price, caused many individuals and businesses to switch from using coal to using oil, leading to reduced employment of coal miners. The higher wage rates also led coal companies to replace many miners with machines.
The net result was a huge decline in employment in the coal-mining industry, leaving many mining areas virtually ghost towns by the 1960s. There is no free lunch.
Similar things happened in the unionized steel industry and in the unionized automobile industry. At one time, U.S. Steel was the largest steel producer in the world and General Motors the largest automobile manufacturer. Not any more. Their unions were riding high in their heyday, but they too discovered that there is no free lunch, as their members lost jobs by the hundreds of thousands.
"There is no free lunch" ought to become the mantra of America going forward, if we are going to survive.  

Girl Wednesday - Linda Fiorentino

A minor star in minor movies, Linda Fiorentino was the love interest in one of my son's favorite movies (and likely the only Hollywood movie that will ever be made centering on high-school wrestling), Vision Quest, an early 1980s flick with Matthew Modine as the young wrestler striving to defeat the unbeaten state champion and grow up at the same time.   It's a movie that's got a lot of cliche moments, but manages to be an appealling little story at the same time.




Oh, it's also her birthday today; she's 53, which, once again, makes me feel old. 

VDH on the Therapeutic Culture of America ca. 2011

Victor Davis Hanson is another of my favorite writers.  A classicist by training (and a farmer by background), Hanson has a philosophical and common sense view of the limitations of human nature based on both his deep reading in the Greeks and his own long practical experience.   Here he is, critiquing contemporary liberalism, which he finds imbued with what he calls the "therapeutic" world-view, and applying his critique to the public employee benefits dispute in Wisconsin:
There are several tenets of the modern therapeutic view. In such a utopian mindset, compensation is and should be based on what the employee considers necessary for the good life. The public employees in Wisconsin reject the three classical requisites for perpetually improved compensation: The employer has plentiful capital; the employee’s productivity creates new wealth or improves the efficiency of services; and the employee has market value and will go elsewhere should the employer be foolish enough to lose him.

Again, in the therapeutic mindset, perceived need is what matters, and all else must adjust accordingly. Teachers in Wisconsin rarely argue that their students’ test scores have increased or graduation rates have improved, or that their school districts are flush with cash, or that they themselves can always move to a parochial school or private academy if their talents are not better appreciated. Instead, in almost every contemporary discussion of budgetary discipline, from pensions and benefits to compensation, the argument is based on what one needs, in the teenage fashion of reminding a now unemployed parent that he once promised to buy the graduating senior a car.

Hitchens Strikes a Cautionary Note on Egypt

Christopher Hitchens is a writer whose work I always read with interest.  A socialist and an atheist, Hitchens has nonetheless been one of the more clear-headed commentators on the War on Terror.   Here is is on the "revolution" in Egypt, sounding a skeptical note about the possibility of a flowering of democracy on the Nile:
Neither in exile nor in the country itself is there anybody who even faintly resembles a genuine opposition leader. With the partial exception of the obsessively cited Muslim Brotherhood, the vestigial political parties are emaciated hulks. The strongest single force in the state and the society—the army—is a bloated institution heavily invested in the status quo. As was once said of Prussia, Egypt is not a country that has an army, but an army that has a country. More depressing still, even if there existed a competent alternative government, it is near impossible to imagine what its program might be. The population of Egypt contains millions of poorly educated graduates who cannot find useful employment, and tens of millions of laborers and peasants whose life is a subsistence one. I shall never forget, on my first visit to Cairo, seeing “the City of the Dead”: that large population of the homeless and indigent which lives among the graves in one of the city’s sprawling cemeteries. For centuries, Egypt’s rulers have been able to depend on the sheer crushing weight of torpor and inertia to maintain “stability.” I am writing this in the first week of February, and I won’t be surprised if the machine—with or without Mubarak—is able to rely again on this dead hand while the exemplary courage and initiative of the citizens of Tahrir Square slowly ebb away.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NPR Self-Immolates

In some prior age, perhaps it made sense to use tax dollars to fund National Public Radio.   Perhaps there were too few alternatives, and too high of barriers to entry for stations that would provide services of high cultural or intellectual merit.   The same argument at some point might have held true for PBS -- once there were only three major television networks, and there perhaps was a need for a publicly-funded, high culture alternative.   Maybe... you would hope that people would still question the morality of taxing working people to pay for rich people's cultural pretensions.   You want "Fresh Air," yuppie, you pay for it!   You want "Masterpiece Theater," Mr. and Mrs. Ivy League Snob, pony up!  But at least there was an argument for it.

Now, of course, with the endless array of entertainment and cultural fare available for free on the Internet, or else available over cable or through Netflix or by buying a DVD, etc., there is literally no reason for NPR or PBS to be publicly-funded.   We don't have the money, and, even if we did, there would be better things to spend it on.  

But today's story of the NPR Senior Vice-President being caught on camera talking to two men he thought were representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood about how "racist" the Republican Party and the Tea Party are, and how we need to have more "Muslim voices" on the air and more balance about stories about the Middle East may be the last nail in the coffin for federal funding of public broadcasting.   Brought to you by the same guy, James O'Keefe, who brought down ACORN, it's a remarkable piece:


Birthdays Today

Birthdays today are a mishmash, but interesting and fun.  




First, it's Oliver Wendell Holmes' birthday, born in 1841.  Perhaps the greatest American Supreme Court Justice, or at least the most well-known, Holmes was a pragmatist and skeptic who believed that the basis of law was experience.   Thus his most famous rulings smack of a particularly American brand of common sense, filtered through the mind of a patrician:  his pronouncements in Schenck v. United States that the First Amendment would not protect a person "falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic"; and in his opinion in Buck v. Bell, upholding the forced sterilization of a woman who was claimed to be of below average intelligence, that "three generations of imbeciles are enough."  Holmes saw a good deal of combat in the Civil War, suffering wounds at Ball's Bluff, Antietam and Petersburg; perhaps his war experience made him impatient with idealists.

It's also the birthday of  Sam Jaffe, born in 1891.   Jaffe played the title role in my father's favorite movie, Gunga Din.   Here's a clip, in case they have Youtube in Heaven:



It's also the birthday of Cyd Charisse (1921), for my money the classiest and sexiest dancer of the classical period for movie musicals (the 1950s).   Here she is, with Fred Astaire, in a cool movie that I watch whenever it's on TCM, The Band Wagon:



***


It's also the birthday fo the Hall-of-Fame leftfielder for the Boston Red Sox, Jim Rice, who was born in 1953.   Rice's career statistics are good, but they put him on the periphery of the Hall-of-Fame -- 382 HRs, 1451 RBIs, .298 lifetime average, .854 lifetime OPS.   Why did he finally get in?   Probably because playing for the Red Sox during a great period of Red Sox-Yankees rivalries (the 1970s) made him seem greater than he really was.   He never played on a World Series champion.   Meanwhile, Jim Edmonds of the Cardinals was a perennial Gold Glove centerfielder and World Series champion in 2006 whose career numbers -- 393 HRs, 1199 RBIs, .284 lifetime average, and .903 lifetime OPS, are comparable.   I don't think Edmonds will get in though.... if his Achilles tendon had just held out for one more year and he could have gotten to 400 HRs, maybe.  Ah, well.  

***

Finally, and just for fun, it's the birthday of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model from years gone by, Kathy Ireland.   It is very very weird to consider that she's now 48.   Can that be true?   Tempus fugit, again.  

She still looks pretty good, though.


Girl of the Day - Gail Russell


Gail Russell was the ingenue in the great John Wayne western, The Angel and the Badman.  In the picture she played a Quaker girl of angelic innocence and goodness who tames the gunfighter Quirt Evans (Wayne) and turns him from his violent past.  In real life, Russell was so painfully shy she learned to drink to quiet her nerves on the set, and ultimately became a terrible alcoholic.   Her disease ruined her career and, ultimately, took her life, at the age of 36.  

In doing these "Girl of the Day" posts, I've had to look back at a lot of actresses from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.   I'm struck by how many of them, while glamorous on screen, led wrecked and sad little lives off the set.   It's a cautionary tale.  Charlie Sheen may think he's doing something daring and avant-garde, but really he's re-enacting the most tired old act in Hollywood -- the self-destructive drunk/addict bent on ruining his own life and the lives of those who love him.  

In any event, Gail Russell was a beautiful gal.  RIP.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Still Not Serious

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin on Sunday suggested that $6 billion in proposed spending cuts by Senate Democrats is the "limit" that they can go:
“I think we’ve pushed this to the limit. To go any further is to push more kids out of school, to stifle the innovation which small businesses and large alike need to create more jobs, and it stops the investment in infrastructure, which kills good-paying jobs right here in the United States,” Mr. Durbin said.
The federal budget is $3.8 trillion this year.   Ten percent of the federal budget would thus be $380 billion; one percent would be $38 billion.   What this means is that the "limit" that Senate Democrats believe can be cut from this monstrous oozing pustule of a bloated federal budget is about .15%.   The other 99.85% is apparently untouchable.  

To put this in perspective, let's say that your neighbor makes $60,000 a year.  But he's spending $100,000 a year.   You know that he's risking bankruptcy, losing his home, putting his family out on the street with nothing.   So you try to talk to him.   He says he's willing to cut back his spending, but only to $99,850 a year.   If he cuts any more than $150, he says, he won't be able to afford to send his children to expensive private schools or add onto his house or take a vacation this year.   You shake your head and walk away, concluding that you just can't talk sense to the man.

The Democrats are the profligate neighbors.   In your neighborhood you can avoid them, or worry about them behind their backs, but their profligacy doesn't really affect you.   You can live your own life, save money, pay your bills, and stay out of debt.   But in the macro-economic world, the political world, we can't avoid them.   Their debt is our debt, and it's dragging us under.

The Democrat senators, as exemplified by Dick Durbin, are simply not serious adults.

When Innumeracy Meets Hedge Fund Short Sellers

The federal government today reported the largest monthly deficit in America's history, $223 billion, for February 2011.   Significantly, that's more than the annual deficit for 2007 of $161 billion, the last year before the American economy went pffft!    Query:  is our national fiscal insanity the result of bad politics, or simply because Americans can't think logically about numbers this big?   Let's put that $223 billion in perspective.   There are roughly 310 million Americans.   That means the federal government imposed about $750 in additional debt on each person in America just last month.   But there are only about 155 million tax filers in the U.S. as of 2008.   So it's really closer to $1500 per tax filer.   And, of those tax filers, only about 53% pay any income tax at all.   So, for the people who presumably will be asked to pay the federal debt -- the 80 million or so people who actually pay income taxes -- the U.S. government just last month laid close to $3,000 in new debt on them.   But, of course, it's actually worse that even that... because the top 10% of filers pay roughly 70% of income tax, those 15 million people or so will logically be expected to pick up 70% or more of the debt.   So, for those folks, the federal government just last month laid an extra $10,000 in debt on them. 

And, in a related note, hedge funds are "shorting" the dollar, meaning they think it will continue to fall in value against other currencies.   Coincidence?

Double Standard Alert - "Incivility"

With the extraordinary incivility of some of the protestors in Madison (see here), and the unbelievable incivility of Wisconsin Democratic State Representatives (see here), the trope of the Left that all incivility in American political discourse stems from the Tea Party or the right is dead.   It's just not going to fly anymore to claim that right-wingers are the ones who are violent or angry or loud or unwilling to talk reasonably.   (It never should have flown to begin with; anyone who's been on college campuses over the last fifty years knows that it's the left that shouts people down, that refuses to hear opposing viewpoints, that attacks speakers they disagree with.)

But, as double standards go, this is ridiculous.   As reported by the legal blogger, Legal Insurrection, Sarah Palin's father gave an interview with the BBC, detailing death threats against the Palin family:
Palin's father Chuck said a man recently had sent the family photocopies of a receipt for a gun he had bought, together with a photocopy of a one-way ticket to Alaska.

The family had laughed it off, but the man subsequently turned up in the state and was arrested by the FBI, Chuck said.

"We sleep with the guns," Palin's father admitted.
Interesting how the death threats against the Palins are not plastered all over the American media, how there is no outrage, and how the threats are not imputed to the entire Democratic Party and left-wing blogosphere, as was done with the ridiculous claims that Sarah Palin's electoral map had some connection to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.

Girl of the Day - Gina Lollabrigida

Americans once were homebodies, living their lives within 50 or so miles of their birth places, rarely venturing abroad.   For millions of GIs, World War II changed that; now they were thousands of miles from home, across oceans, surrounded by strange peoples speaking strange languages.  For them (at least this is my theory), the French and Italian girls they met overseas in Europe became their ideal of beauty and exoticism, so it wasn't surprising when European actresses of the 1950s and 1960s became sex symbols in America.   Last week we had Sophia Loren as a Girl of the Day, this week we have another Italian sex symbol who, frankly, seems more memorable for her name, which seemed to embody a kind of earthy sensuality... Gina Lollabrigida.  


1,000 Waivers

According to the Hill blog the Obama administration has now granted more than 1,000 waivers to particular companies, permitting them one-year exemptions from complying with the coverage mandates under Obamacare.   Who are some of these lucky entities?   According to this site at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, of the first 100 waivers, 23 were to union health care plans, and another 22 were to public employee entities (cities, counties, school districts).   It becomes more obvious every day that the Obama administration is openly corrupt, willing to enforce laws against its "enemies" (Obama's term), and let them slide for their friends (unions, public employees, school teachers).  

It's almost as if Obamacare's byzantine regulations and centralization of power over the healthcare industry in Washington was specifically designed so that the Democrat Party could assume the role of favor-dispenser to its constituent groups.    In exchange for?   Campaign donations, highly remunerated positions after Obama administration officials leave office?   Of course.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

March 4, 1861



One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President at the most threatening time in our history.   He would lead us through the four subsequent years of Civil War, and die just as victory was in reach.   When you read his inaugural address -- arguably the greatest political speech in the history of America, which argues that it's the greatest in the history of Man -- you sense his foreboding.   Its peroration is almost Shakespearean in its cadences, and in its tragic sense of the history that is about to unfold:
My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and WELL upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to HURRY any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take DELIBERATELY, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied, still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.
 
In YOUR hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in MINE, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail YOU. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. YOU have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."
 
I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
The entirety of the speech is well worth re-reading, if for nothing else than to mourn the decline in logic and sophistication in our political discourse.   Lincoln's speech is an argument to adults; modern speechifying (Obama?) sounds more like the harangues of a cheap demagogue.   Lincoln spoke to our "better angels"; Obama, to our lowest common denominators. 

Observation in a Minor Key

Yesterday I went to a middle school wrestling meet in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.   Across the street from the school is the Wauwatosa City Hall, and outside the City Hall there were about fifty or so demonstrators, protesting the budget plan offered by Governor Scott Walker.   I could hear them shouting as I pulled into the school parking lot, and I could hear the occasional honking of cars, in solidarity, I guess.   Most didn't honk, and undoubtedly more people passed the protest in their cars going home from work (or going off to do something else important to their private lives) in thirty seconds of traffic, than were protesting. 

Anyway, when I came into the gym, I was surprised to see that there were well over a hundred people in the stands, many more than were protesting across the street for supposedly the most pressing political issue of our generation in Wisconsin.   For middle school wrestling.  On a Thursday afternoon.   On a cold, early March afternoon.  

I offer this observation merely to point out the obvious truth that, whenever you read or hear about "protests" or "demonstrations," you have to recall that the protestors and demonstrators are simply people who chose to do protesting and demonstrating, while the vast majority of people have better things to do.  

In my view, and to paraphrase Bill Buckley, I'd rather have a hundred people from a Wauwatosa middle school wrestling crowd decide important issues for my country than the hundred members of the United States Senate.  

Meanwhile, the World Keeps Spinning

While we dither about our own finances and budgets, the world keeps spinning.   There are remarkable events transpiring in the Middle East.   I do not know which way they will go -- "democracy" in the Middle East could end up as "one man, one vote, one time," with the enactment of sharia law and a return to Iranian-style dictatorship of the imams.   In fact, I fear that is the likeliest outcome.  But the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, etc., all at least have a glimmer of hope for real democracy, something that the region has sorely lacked for.... well, forever.  

In that hopeful light, Charles Krauthammer has a must-read article today:

Voices around the world, from Europe to America to Libya, are calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Qaddafi. Yet for bringing down Saddam Hussein, the U.S. has been denounced variously for aggression, deception, arrogance, and imperialism.

A strange moral inversion, considering that Saddam’s evil was an order of magnitude beyond Qaddafi’s. Qaddafi is a capricious killer; Saddam was systematic....


No matter the hypocritical double standard. Now that revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush’s freedom agenda, it’s not just Iraq that has slid into the memory hole. Also forgotten is the once proudly proclaimed “realism” of years one and two of President Obama’s foreign policy — the “smart power” antidote to Bush’s alleged misty-eyed idealism.
It began on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first Asia trip, when she publicly played down human-rights concerns in China. The administration also cut aid for democracy promotion in Egypt by 50 percent. And cut civil-society funds — money for precisely the organizations we now need to help Egyptian democracy — by 70 percent.
This new realism reached its apogee with Obama’s reticence and tardiness in saying anything in support of the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. On the contrary, Obama made clear that nuclear negotiations with the discredited and murderous regime (talks that a child could see would go nowhere) took precedence over the democratic revolutionaries in the street — to the point where demonstrators in Tehran chanted “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them.”
Now that revolution has spread from Tunisia to Oman, however, the administration is rushing to keep up with the new dispensation, repeating the fundamental tenet of the Bush Doctrine that Arabs are no exception to the universal thirst for dignity and freedom.
The rehabilitation of the reputation of George W. Bush proceeds apace.  If the wished-for miracle occurs, and the Middle East moves significantly toward democracy and relative freedom for individuals -- and coupled with the enormous aid to Africa for AIDs care and prevention Bush advanced -- President Bush may yet be seen, ironically, as the most beneficent "liberal" (in the true meaning of the term) President since FDR.