Sunday, May 31, 2009

Paybacks Are A Barack

Chicago is famous for deep dish pizza and vindictive politics. When you win an election, you are expected to use all of the powers of your office (and then some) to reward your friends on the government nickel and to punish your enemies.

This week saw some interesting examples of Barack O. Capone bringing Chicago style politics to Washington.

First, as you may recall, Barack punishes journalists who cross him by refusing to allow them to ask questions at press conferences, a.k.a. Fox News. We were reminded of that again this week when, Obama Sockpuppet Gibbs made it clear that journalists who question race-baiting nominee Judge Sotomayor do so at their own risk. Said Gibbs,

I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation.

On May 11, Team Obama inexplicably dismissed Gen. David McKiernan as commander in Afghanistan. According to The Economist, the only “reason” given by long term defense secretary Robert Gates, was the desire to get “fresh eyes” on the situation. You may recall Gen. McKiernan as the General who countered candidate Obama’s claims during the campaign that an Iraq-type surge would not work. McKiernan will be replaced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was instrumental in the Iraq surge. Replacing a commander in this manner is unusual, and when asked whether this would end McKiernan’s career, Gates said, “Probably.”

This week, evidence also started to emerge that Chrysler has targeted Republican dealerships for closure, even though many of these dealerships are some of the most profitable Chrysler has. Interestingly, the list of closures also includes multiple dealerships owned by a financial supported of Hillary Clinton.

This brings us to the most interesting discovery of the week. In an article that I highly recommend that everyone read, former Clinton advisor Dick Morris outlines what Obama has done to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In a series of interesting moves, Obama has completely marginalized Hillary by dividing up the traditional duties of secretary of state among a group of special envoys who have been charged with handling all of the complex, high-profile duties of her job. In effect, Obama has done to Hillary what the government often does to people it wants to get rid of, but who it can’t fire: Obama has given her a desk but no duties. Said Morris:

It may appear odd to describe a secretary of State as marginalized, but Obama has surrounded Hillary with his people and carved up her jurisdiction geographically. Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) is in charge of Arab-Israeli relations. Dennis Ross has Iran. Former U.N. Ambassador Dick Holbrooke has Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Hillary has to share her foreign policy role on the National Security Council (NSC) with Vice President Biden, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, CIA chief Leon Panetta, and NSC staffer Samantha Powers (who once called Hillary a “monster”).

With peers who are competitors and subordinates who can deal directly with the president, Hillary is reduced to announcing foreign aid packages for Pakistan while Holbrooke does the heavy lifting.

Moreover, Obama has deprived Hillary of her power base and her income. He has then added insult to injury by making Bill Clinton a special envoy to Haiti, a significantly smaller, more irrelevant role than even the evil George Bush gave to Clinton (coordinating the relief effort for the Asian tsunami and later for Katrina).

Thus, contrary to popular belief, Obama is an over-achiever in something. In five short months, he has put himself in the running for the title of Most Abusive and Corrupt Politician of American History (MACPAH?). Let us hope that when his tyranny ends, someone comes along to teach him and his friends that paybacks are indeed a b. . .
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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Open Up That Golden Gate--And Let Me Out

California, there you go. San Franciscans just celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the completion of the landmark Golden Gate Bridge. It remains to be seen if it will still be there a year from now. With California's ongoing fiscal crisis, and the selling-off of public landmarks to raise money, by this time next year the Golden Gate Bridge might end up in Abu Dhabi or spanning the Dubai port. After all, Arizona got London Bridge a few years back.

Or maybe the feds can buy it with some newly printed funny money and rename it The Golden Obama Bridge. Ladies and gentlemen, California is a mess. Remember what Mao used to call America? A pitiful, helpless giant. He could just as easily been talking about our land of giant redwoods, vast deserts, majestic mountains, great metropolises, sandy beaches, and unique huge rivers of red ink. No longer satisfied with declaring that California needs to make draconian cuts in spending, the Governator has announced that the state has to make "beyond draconian cuts," whatever that means. But what is truly amazing is that it took the "leaders" in Sacramento this long to figure out that California has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

While there is a national discussion about Obama moving the United States into full socialist mode in the near future, California arrived there a couple of years ago when its people began to realize that we have a whole lot of social welfare programs, a huge army of public employees, and no way to pay for it. Well, of course, there's always taxes. Keep raising them. Although California already had the highest sales tax rate in the nation, the state raised it again by 1% on April 1 of this year, and with local and county sales tax added in, we San Franciscans now pay 9.5% tax on all our non-food purchases. Can the food tax be far behind? We also claim the highest income tax rates of any state in the union. But spending has still continued to run away from revenue by a country mile.

Add to the problem the influx of a huge illegal population of immigrants, mostly from Mexico and you have a budget crisis of unparalleled proportions. Despite all the propaganda about illegals paying their own way, the simple fact is that services provided by the state to illegals cost far, far more than any income the state may receive from them in whatever taxes they choose to pay. And with unemployment in the state rapidly exceeding 11% of the work force, can anyone truly argue that the illegals are just coming here for the jobs? I guess they just want to do the jobs that nobody else wants to do, because there are no such jobs available in the first place.

Governor Schwarzenegger has announced that out of the clear blue sky, with no advance warning and unfathomable economics, the state must eliminate welfare, cut billions to schools, close state parks, eliminate multiple state projects, and (God forbid!) drastically cut back government employment. No kidding!

It would be "beyond draconian" if it weren't that California's drunken sailor spending spree has been so "beyond belief" to start with. Companies doing business in California have been cutting back on expenses and overhead, cutting work forces and even closing locations in logical reaction to the downturn in the economy. Why is this concept such a revelation to the geniuses in Sacramento? The mainstream media, largely liberal, have been in lockstep with the profligate spenders in Sacramento for years, so their shocked reaction would be maddening if it weren't so ironically funny. A sample of statewide headlines (courtesy of Scott Sabatini, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner): "Shock, awe greet Schwarzenegger's proposal to end welfare." The San Jose Mercury News. "Governor's plan could force some out of college." The Contra Costa Times. "Healthcare cuts would mean higher costs and possibly death, officials say." The Los Angeles Times. "Governor's budget beyond draconian." Capitol Weekly. "State budget puts Hearst Castle at risk." The Fresno Bee. "25 Bay Area parks may close from budget crisis." The San Francisco Chronicle.

We were shocked, shocked to discover that we were out of money. How is that possible? We still have plenty of checks left. Of course, you can understand part of the problem. A state Assemblyman, Jim Nielsen of Redding stated that "changes to welfare need to be scaled back rather than chopped off completely." The problem? Nielsen is a Republican. By California standards, he's even considered conservative (I hasten to add, I don't consider him any such thing). So you can imagine what the Democrats have been saying.

There's plenty of blame to go around. The state government was providing bread and circuses at a rate that would have shamed ancient Rome. But there were a whole lot of citizens who took those "gifts" who should have known better. They could have asked "who's paying for this?" Nevertheless, nothing gets in the way of legislators blaming the taxpayers. The 1% sales tax increase I mentioned above would have expired on July 1, 20011 if voters had approved the spending bills put before the voters this month. Several Sacramento politicians have now pointed the finger at the citizens for rejecting those state propositions by saying they have only themselves to blame for the sales tax now going well beyond 2011. As usual, it's a lie. The truth is that the only reason the 1% increase would have ended in 2011 is that the bills the people rejected would have replaced the 1% tax with new and even higher taxes on things other than direct sales taxation. Robbing from Peter to pay for Paul and Mary and their entire family.

Not counting illegal immigrants, California for the first time in its history has suffered a net loss in population. Businesses and individuals are fleeing in droves. Anybody want to guess why?

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Do you want fries with that?

Okay, so how much is THIS costing me? I don't know about you, but I am a little annoyed that we pay all of this money for a full time White House kitchen staff, yet Obama has to pick up lunch himself. This has to be the most expensive burger run in the country seeing how it involves dragging along all those pesky Secret Service agents and the entire White House press corps, but, gee, who’s counting?

Is there no one to do this for him? If not, maybe he can appoint a Burger Czar, or better yet, I bet Five Guys can deliver right to the door. I mean, he is the President after all. It has got to be cheaper than going himself.

And in other news, Our Dear First Couple have a date in New York City tonight to take in dinner and a play.

“President Obama makes his first trip to New York Saturday to enjoy a date night on Broadway with First Lady Michelle Obama...The Obamas plan to take in "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" at the Belasco Theater, the Daily News has learned…Obama spokesman Josh Earnest would only say, "The President and First Lady will make a personal visit to New York City...The First Couple will be traveling on one of the smaller planes in the Air Force VIP fleet instead of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet..."
-New York Daily News 5/30/2009

I’m guessing that they don’t have theatres in D.C. anymore since the Bush Administration probably closed them all down. And, in show of real fiscal responsibility, I am thrilled to report that the Obamas chose one of the "smaller planes" in their VIP fleet for their night out. It is good to know that being Leader of the Free World isn’t cramping their social life.
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Up Yours Pravda

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been served. That’s right, Pravda got all up in our faces and stuff and just slapped us around like some cheap Czechoslovakian-era whore. Surely we don’t deserve this, right? Pravda (not be confused with Prada) means “truth” in Russian. Could it be that they speaking truth to us for the first time their miserable history? Heck no! Let’s tear this sucker apart!

Thus spoke Pravda:

It must be said, that like the breaking of a great dam, the American decent into Marxism is happening with breath taking speed, against the back drop of a passive, hapless sheeple, excuse me dear reader, I meant people.

Bahhh! The friggin’ Ruskies are going to call us out for flirting with Marxism? That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever. . . well. . . ok, they might be right on that. In fact, I have to reluctantly concede that we probably went beyond flirting. We seem to have taken Marx to Vegas, gotten hitched and handed him the check book. But it wasn’t us, really. . . it was the Kool-Aid goggles.

True, the situation has been well prepared on and off for the past century, especially the past twenty years. . . .

The population was dumbed down through a politicized and substandard education system based on pop culture, rather then the classics. Americans know more about their favorite TV dramas then the drama in DC that directly affects their lives. They care more for their "right" to choke down a McDonalds burger or a BurgerKing burger than for their constitutional rights. Then they turn around and lecture us about our rights and about our "democracy". Pride blind the foolish.

How dare you! Nobody eats at Burger King. You got me on McD’s though, boy is my face red. . . and my butt enlarged. What? There’s more? You’re not done de-pantsing us yet?
The final collapse has come with the election of Barack Obama. His speed in the past three months has been truly impressive. His spending and money printing has been a record setting, not just in America's short history but in the world. If this keeps up for more then another year, and there is no sign that it will not, America at best will resemble the Weimar Republic and at worst Zimbabwe.

I’m not even sure where those places are, but I know when I’m being insulted. And let me tell you. . . oh, who am I kidding, it’s all true. Damn you bright light of truth. But please noble Pravda, aren’t we still better than you capitalist Russian pigs in anything?

These past two weeks have been the most breath taking of all. First came the announcement of a planned redesign of the American Byzantine tax system, by the very thieves who used it to bankroll their thefts, loses and swindles of hundreds of billions of dollars. These make our Russian oligarchs look little more then ordinary street thugs, in comparison. Yes, the Americans have beat our own thieves in the shear volumes. Should we congratulate them?

I’ll take that as a “no.”

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Black Panthers Are Safe at Polls in Philadelphia

Over the past few hours, CNN, Fox News, The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Washington Times have all reported that the cases against the New Black Panther Party members who showed up as "poll watchers" at a Philadelphia precinct last November have been dismissed or reduced to near-nothingness by the Obama/Holder Justice Department. The Panthers had shown up at the precinct with the usual poll watcher tools--a police nightstick, some chains, and paramilitary uniforms.

The federal action against the Panthers charged "coercion, threats and intimidation, racial threats and insults, menacing and intimidating gestures, and movements directed at voters and potential voters, and deploying uniformed and armed members at the entrance to a polling location." All of this had been caught on film and audio, and played on TV and in print media nationwide. Even Obama expressed outrage. Among the defendants was Jerry Jackson, an elected member of Philadelphia's 14th ward Democratic Committee and a credentialed poll watcher. The defendants refused to appear before the court, and a default judgment was taken against them. All that was left to be done was for the Justice Department lawyers to file the proposed judgment, including penalties and sanctions for the defendants' failure to appear.

Incredibly, by May 5 of this year Justice Department superiors ordered that the professional career lawyers on the case who had been pursuing the matter through two administrations now back off. They ordered the lawyers not to include in the final papers the affidavit of Bartle Bull. Bull was a civil rights activist in the South and later a member of Robert Kennedy's presidential election committee. He was also on the scene in Philadelphia as a certified poll watcher. He said in the affidavit "In my opinion, the men created an intimidating presence at the entrance to a poll. In all my experience in politics, in civil rights litigation and in my efforts in the 1960s to secure the right to vote in Mississippi, I have never encountered or heard of another instance in the United States where armed and uniformed men blocked the entrance to a polling location."

Nevertheless, on May 15, the Department reversed its earlier position while the judgment was still pending before the U. S. District Judge and filed a notice of voluntary dismissal against Malik Zulu Shabazz and Mr. Jackson.

For those of you not familiar with Mr. Shabazz, he was mentored by Khalid Abdul Muhammad of The Nation of Islam ("Black Muslims"). Muhammad's rhetoric was so vile that even Louis Farrakhan couldn't take it anymore. On Jews, Shabazz has this to say: "Kill every goddamn Zionist in Israel! Goddamn little babies, goddamn old ladies! Blow up Zionist supermarkets!" In response to an olive branch extended to him by a gay rights activist, Shabazz had this to say (I have left it in its original all capitals form so you can get a feel for this gentle poll-watcher): "LEAVE ME ALONE SICK LITTLE FAGGOT. THAT'S WHY WE HAD A STANDING ROOM ONLY 800 PLUS CROWD AT THE MASONIC TEMPLE LAST THURSDAY, MEETING ON HOW TO RUN DEVILS LIKE YOU OUTTA HERE . . . WE ARE BUILDING A BLACK POWER ARMY RIGHT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, SINCE YOU LIKE PANTHER GEAR, (IN A FREAKY SICKO SADO MASOCHIST-SATANIC WAY), I WILL SPARE YOU A PAIR OF BLACK STEEL TOE BOOTS UP YOUR ASS. I FEAR YOU WILL ENJOY THAT. YOU WILL GET CRUSHED, LITTLE DEVIL, IN SELF-DEFENSE." Nice, huh? I guess Shabazz felt he needed to bring his civility to Philadelphia on election day. Side note: Shabazz is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

After Holder's new people dismissed against Shabazz and Jackson, he allowed the proceedings to go forward as to defendant King Samir Shabazz, but limited the penalty to requiring only that he not "display a weapon within 100 feet of any open polling location on any election day in the city of Philadelphia until November 15, 2012." That'll teach him! He won't be free to scare people away from the polling precincts until nearly Christmas of 2012.

All of the hard work, proof and witness statements made literally at great risk to themselves have gone down the drain. The new day of Obama Justice has dawned. Eric Holder has proven that he will guide his department down the primrose path of racial preferences and tolerance for thuggish unlawful behavior as long as it is performed by those oppressed minorities of which he has so often spoken. Your exam question for the day is: "What would Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor have to say about the decision of the Justice Department?" DISCUSS.

Note: Thanks to John Keats for getting my blood stirred up, again, by pointing out the Washington Times article to me.

Additional note: I suffered some sort of major computer glitch which made my original post badly garbled. I know several of you posted responses which were deleted after I removed the original post. Please post again, I want to hear from all of you.
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Film Friday: The Ninth Gate (1999)

Hollywood loves evil. . . cartoon evil. From sulking cannibalistic serial killers to Al Pacino’s devil screaming about being a lawyer, all of Hollywood’s evil characters display uncontrollable sadism and megalomania. They yell and scream and prance around shooting their underlings or kicking puppies so the audience knows they are evil. And every once in a while, a truly sinister one whispers ominously. . . and then prances around shooting his underlings and kicking puppies. The Ninth Gate rejects that. The Ninth Gate is an indictment of Hollywood’s version of evil. It is a warning that we have been so blinded by the glitz of Hollywood evil, that we can no longer recognize the real thing.

** heavy spoiler alert **
The Plot
Directed by Roman Polanski, The Ninth Gate is the story of Dean Corso (played perfectly by Johnny Depp). Corso is an odious little man who acquires rare books for well paying clients. We first meet Corso as he tricks a young couple out of a rare copy of "Don Quixote." Soon Corso is summoned by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a collector of books about the devil. Balkan has acquired a copy of the “Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows” by Aristide Torchia. This rare book (only three exist) supposedly will allow the reader to summon the devil. Balkan suspects his version is a forgery and pays Corso to inspect the other two copies. Corso is told to obtain an original, non-forgery by any means possible. Thus begins Corso’s journey.

When Corso begins comparing the books, he discovers that Torchia hid a secret in all three books as a kind of puzzle. Each book contains nine supposedly-identical engravings. But Corso realizes that three of the engravings in each book contain subtle differences and that the engravings with those differences are signed “LCF” (meaning Lucifer).

As Corso examines the books, people around him start dying. He is also chased by a sadistic woman named Liana Telfer who wants Balkan’s copy of the book (Balkan took it from her husband). Telfer belongs to a cult and intends to use the book as part of a Satanic ritual. Corso also meets the Baroness Kessler, who claims to have seen the devil in her youth, and who has since dedicated her life to writing about the devil. Telfer eventually steals the book from Corso, and Balkan kills her to reclaim it. He then uses the book himself to attempt to conjure the devil. But the final engraving is a forgery. Thus, when Balkan sets himself on fire, much to his surprise, he burns. As he burns, Corso shoots him. Corso then retrieves the real engraving, which reveals the location of the ninth gate. As the story ends, we see Corso walking through the ninth gate.
The Message
The Ninth Gate is about real evil, and that evil is Corso. Corso systematically abandons God by engaging in each of the seven deadly sins and ultimately declares allegiance to the devil and voluntarily pass through the ninth gate. But can the audience see this?

To test the audience, Polanski does more than just tell us the story of Dean Corso. Indeed, he attempts to distract us with the over-the-top, pro-forma Hollywood evil of Balkan and Telfer. Polanski knows that we are so accustomed to Hollywood evil and Hollywood formula that we will see these two as “the” evil and we will dismiss Corso’s own evil. Indeed, like Pavlov’s dogs, we’ve come to expect that all evil is larger-than-life and that where there is an evil character there must be an opposing good character. Thus, we are conditioned to see Corso as “the good guy” and we cheer him on, no matter how evil he becomes. And evil he does become.

Throughout the movie, Corso’s evil continues to ratchet up notch after notch and Polanski turns each of these notches into a test for the audience. In each instance, as Corso undertakes his relentless, remorseless journey of evil, we are offered a justification for his conduct. But we are also shown why that justification is not valid. Can we recognize the truth? For example, Corso drinks and smokes to excess. Sure, it’s gluttony, but we all do it. He pushes away two beggars, but they didn’t seem very likeable. He steals from a dead man, but we’re told “he’s dead, why worry about him.” When Corso defrauds the couple of the "Don Quixote," we don’t mind because they are shown to be greedy people hoping to profit off their father’s stroke. Yet, we’re also shown that the father suffers when he see Corso’s actions but is powerless to stop him. Thus, our excuse that only bad people will suffer from his conduct is shown to be false.

Corso accepts Balkan’s assignment to do “whatever it takes,” which we know to be wrong, but we understand his motivation because Balkan offers him a tremendous amount of money. Indeed, our greed blinds us to the truth. When his best friend is killed because of this assignment, we nevertheless want him to continue -- after all, he’s dead, why worry about him. Corso sleeps with Liana Telfer under false pretenses, but we don’t mind because she’s evil and she was trying to use him. Later on, he even kills Telfer’s henchman, but it’s all in self-defense, right? Actually no. Corso kills the henchman after he knocks him unconscious. Corso could have simply escaped, but he was angry so he chose to kill the man. Anger, by the way, was once considered the worst of all sins.

And let’s not forget that Corso also kills a second time. He kills Balkan after Balkan sets himself on fire. But that was a mercy killing, right? He didn’t want Balkan to suffer in the fire, right? Actually, look again. Corso watches Balkan burn with more than a hint of satisfaction on his face. It is only near the end, as Balkan is about to die from his burns that Corso shoots him, to satisfy his own vengeance.

Further, consider the young woman with no name. She is the devil. How do we know this? We are never told who she is, but we are given clues -- like the rest of the film, her identity is a puzzle to be solved. Of all the characters, she is the only one with supernatural powers (she floats on air in one scene and changes her form in an airport in another). Also, her’s is the face of the woman riding the beast in the final engraving, and when she and Corso finally have sex, her eyes glow as the flames build behind them, making her physically appear as the devil might.

As the devil, Hollywood tells us she would be interested in Balkan or Telfer, but she’s not. She wants Corso because unlike the fake evil of Balkan or Telfer, Corso offers real evil. Indeed, interestingly, despite obsessing over the devil their entire lives, neither Balkan or Telfer ever realize that she is the devil -- even though she is standing right before their eyes. She is simply not what they expect, she’s not grandiose. Continuing this theme, Balkan even has a painting of the location of the ninth gate in his library at the beginning of the film, but never grasps its meaning. Polanski’s point in this, is that evil stands before us all the time, but we don’t see it because we are looking for something too grandiose.

With regard to Corso, the young woman renders her verdict when Corso kills the henchmen. She watches the murder with glee and then says with admiration, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” He has passed the test.

Finally, Polanski gives us huge hints from Corso’s own mouth. When he first deals with Balkan, Corso says to Balkan “my god” and refers to him on the phone as “his master’s voice.” While these could be viewed as nothing more than expressions or clever turns-of-phrase, they are instead meant to alert the reader that Corso worships the man who pays him. He has no other allegiance. When Corso discovers the puzzle within the three books, he says, “I’ll be damned,” as indeed he will. And when he finally decides he no longer cares about Balkan’s money, but instead wants to solve the puzzle and conjure the devil himself, he says to the young woman, “my god” -- effectively declaring a new allegiance to the devil. These are clues into the nature of Corso’s soul.

Each of these clues combine to show us that Corso is the true evil in this movie. He is the one the devil considers most compelling. That we lose sight of Corso’s evil because it is not over-the-top like Balkan is Polanski’s point. We the viewers cheer Corso along in his journey. We fail to see the evil in his acts, we justify what evil we do see, and we happily share his fate. That is the message of this film. It is no coincidence that the only two people to see the devil for who he/she really is are Corso and us.
Irony Gone Wild: The Critics
Let me finish with a bit of irony regarding film critics. As you know, film critics like to think of themselves as a nuanced and insightful group. They routinely claim to see a hundred shades of meaning in every hamburger and they love to complain that Hollywood never produces intelligent films. So what did they say about the very thoughtful and nuanced The Ninth Gate?

According to Roger Ebert, Johnny Depp played Corso “too odiously” to be the hero. Hmmm, sounds like someone didn’t understand that Corso’s surrender to evil was the point of the movie. The NYT said the movie wasn’t sufficiently scary. Of course, I hear that’s a common complaint about Socrates as well. Entertainment Weekly didn’t think the ending was spectacular enough. . . maybe Depp should have kicked a puppy?

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Is Honesty Still Policy?

A few years ago I had the pleasure to serve on a New York County Criminal Grand Jury. When I say pleasure, I really mean that. I am probably one of the few people who actually enjoy doing jury service, but I digress. One of the pleasures of jury duty is meeting a wide array of people from different walks of life with a diversity of life experiences including enlightening experiences right in the jury room.

Grand Jury service, for those who have never done it, can be a lot of waiting around between cases. And just so you can get a mental picture of the room, it was what you might see on Law & Order –the jurors were seating on five ascending rows of cushy leather armchairs, enough for twenty-six jurors. A long wooden rail divided the jurors from the prosecutors who performed at the lowest point (no pun intended for those there for indictment). During a lull on this particular day, one of the jurors related a recent event at the hospital where he worked. An elderly woman had passed away while in their care. The hospital housekeeper assigned to clean the room, found a sack of money under the recently removed woman’s pillow – a sack containing $12,000 to be exact. She immediately took to the sack to her supervisor who in turn, through whatever channels, returned the money to the deceased woman’s grateful family. I do not recall if she was rewarded, but people at the hospital certainly took notice of her actions.

I tell you this not to point out the actions of the housekeeper, but to relate what happened in the jury room. After the juror finished his story, there was a rousing discussion. From listening to that discussion, I realized that there was an uncomfortable majority of people in that room who felt that the housekeeper should have just kept the money. Who would have known? Obviously the family did not know she had this money, so who would have been the wiser? Let just say I was surprised. So it brings me to this question. In this world of increasing moral and ethical ambiguity, is honesty still the best policy?
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Natural Law and Slavery

In the fantastic comments that followed yesterday’s post about judicial activism, Freedom21 asked a question that deserves its own post. She wanted to know if we believed that slavery would have ended earlier in the United States if our earliest Supreme Court Justices applied natural law, rather than merely interpreting the Constitution. I think the answer is “no.” Here’s why. . .

Natural law is the idea that certain rights are so fundamental to human beings, that they exist whether or not they are written into the government’s charter. In other words, these rights are so well understood to be “human rights” that they should be granted by courts even if the Constitution fails to include them. This is an enticing theory, but I see it as flawed because there is no consensus on what constitutes a natural right.

If there is no consensus, how can the court agree (after all, the Supreme Court works on the basis of majority rule). Additionally, if there is no consensus, are these really natural rights or are the judges just imposing their own utopian views upon an unwilling public?

Take the idea of slavery. Was there a large enough consensus in the legal community in the early 1800s that a majority of the Supreme Court would have considered freedom from slavery to be a natural right? The answer is “probably not.”

Since judges come from the population at large, there is no reason to think that their views would have been significantly different than the views held by the rest of the public.

With that in mind, consider that as a political issue, the idea of freeing the slaves really didn't take hold in the public until the middle of the Civil War -- and even then it was by no means an overwhelming majority belief. The right of equal treatment for all races was not achieved legally until the 1950s or later. The rights of women were not secured until well into the 1900s. Indeed, many of the things that we would consider natural rights today, would have been dismissed as fringe positions in the 1800s.

In fact, even today, many of the rights that you and I would consider “natural rights” are not recognized around the world. In Mexico, you are guilty until proven innocent. Germany will throw you in jail for flipping a Hitler or denying the Holocaust (this will soon be EU-wide law). Don’t offend a religion in France. Germany bans religions that it considers cults, and requires you to tithe (through your withholdings) to any religion you do join. Spain bans political parties that it considers terrorists. Sweden limits the names you can give your children. Want to be an imam in France? The government has to approve you. And be careful what laws you break (e.g. bribery), or they will strip you of your citizenship, shut down any corporations you own, and banish you from French territory.

So while many in the 1880s certainly felt slavery to be evil, it is not at all clear that there was a consensus at that time that being free from slavery was a natural right or that non-whites were entitled to natural rights. Thus, it is difficult to see how a majority of the Supreme Court would have chosen to declare freedom from slavery to be a natural right.

Moreover, even if the had, there would have been two political hurdles that would have prevented such a decision from taking effect. First, believe it not, the Constitution does not actually make the Supreme Court the arbiter of constitutionality. Until the Court’s “power grab” in Marbury v. Madison, many thought that each branch would monitor the constitutionality of its own actions. This power grab, however, changed that, and gave us the Court that we know today.

The other branches accepted this power grab in large part because the Court’s early rulings tread very lightly. If the Court instead had chosen to take such a strident position (banning slavery) against the political interests of the rest of the government, it is likely that the Executive and Legislative Branches would have smothered the Judicial Branch and stripped it of its powers. Thus, its ruling would have been discarded and slavery would have endured.

But even if the other branches accepted the Court’s ruling, that still would not have ended slavery. Indeed, the South had little choice but to accept slavery because its entire economy depended on slave labor. Abolition would have meant economic ruin to the South. Thus, if the federal government banned slavery, the South would have left the union at that point and we would have split into multiple countries -- a civil war would have been unthinkable right after the country was formed, especially with memories of the Articles of Confederation still fresh.

If the South broke away, the Northern states could no longer have applied political pressure to the South and there would have been no civil war. Therefore, not only would slavery have endured despite the Court’s ruling, but it likely would have lasted much longer in the new USA South.

Thus, I suspect that applying natural law would not have solved the slavery problem, and could, instead, have made it much worse.
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I Was Wrong--Prop 8 Federal Lawsuit Filed

Despite my having said two days ago that "litigation is finished for the foreseeable future," Proposition 8 has already been challenged in federal court. In a short note I wrote later to one of our commenters, I had said I was reevaluating my position because I could envision some lawyer going to the federal court on the basis of 14th Amendment equal protection. My second guess was right.

Two same-sex couples who wanted to be married but missed the magical legal period between the California Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage and the passage of Proposition 8 have hired attorneys and filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco (where else?). And they didn't hire any run-of-the-mill ambulance chasers. The two attorneys representing the litigants are Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, both highly respected and brilliant attorneys. You may remember their names from the Supreme Court cases involving the Bush-Gore election. Olson and Boies were on opposite sides of those cases.

As the words from Alice in Wonderland go, this whole thing gets curiouser and curiouser. The suit alleges that basic liberties and equal protection of the laws have been denied in California to gay couples in violation of federal constitutional provisions in the 14th Amendment. Although the ultimate ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would be binding on the western states if it agrees with Olson and the federal trial judge, a Supreme Court ruling upholding the Ninth Circuit would be binding on all the states. But (there's always a "but" isn't there?), the Ninth Circuit Court is the undisputed champion of Supreme Court reversals.

Olson has requested a preliminary injunction against Proposition 8 which would prevent its implementation pending the final ruling of whatever court ends up being the final court to rule (the International Court at the Hague, maybe?). If the injunction is granted it is as clear as legal mud what that would mean for gay couples who want to get married, right now. Olson claims that his clients not only want the right to marry, but that they are acting on behalf of all gay couples everywhere.

Not confused enough yet? Let me take care of that. You would think that the first loud negative reaction to the suit would come from the proponents of Proposition 8. You would be wrong. The pro-Prop 8 people have not commented yet, either on the suit or their strategy. But prominent gay rights advocates, gay marriage groups and the Lambda Legal national gay rights organization have expressed views ranging from disagreement to outright anger at Olson and Boies for taking this legal action. Some gay rights advocates have called the action premature and poorly-advised. Others have expressed genuine fear that the action could backfire and ruin their attempt at convincing people, one state at a time, to pass legislation approving gay marriage. Those gay rights advocates have no argument with the intentions of the appellants, but say that the method chosen to advance those intentions is badly misguided and dangerous.

Here's the basic concept of what could happen if the case gets to the U. S. Supreme Court, and why gay rights advocates are fearful of the suit. One of the federal rules that the Supreme Court applies is that it will not rule on a federal right if the case was decided on "adequate independent state grounds." Marriage has always been considered as a state matter in which the United States Supreme Court is loath to intervene. Since it is unlikely that this (or an even more liberal) Supreme Court is likely to stick its neck out on the matter, it would mean that the California Supreme Court would be upheld, and the Ninth Circuit (as usual) reversed. That could be a devastating loss for the gay marriage movement that has been growing incrementally every day. Recognizing this reluctance on the part of the United States Supreme Court to rule on marriage, Lambda Legal had recently issued a three-page political strategy memo titled "Why the ballot box and not the courts should be the next step on marriage in California." I guess Olson and Boies didn't get the memo.

Curiouser and curiouser.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rebuilding the Republican Party: Judicial Activism

Today we skip ahead a bit in our series on Rebuilding the Republican Party and talk about judicial activism. You’ll be hearing that phrase and its associated concepts (i.e. “compassion”) a lot over the next month, so this is a good time to make sure that our leaders understand what they’re talking about.

As you saw in the re-worked pledge that started this series, Republicans fundamentally oppose judicial activism. But what is judicial activism, why is it intellectually and morally wrong, and how is it dangerous to you?

Judicial Activism Defined

Judicial activism, simply put, occurs when a judge steps beyond the powers given to them by the Constitution, and substitutes their own opinion in place of the law. This can take two forms, and the left loves them both.

In the first form, the judge creates new law by either finding new rights under existing law or by striking down valid laws of which the judge disapproves, so called “legislating from the bench.” The left loves this because they know that the public will never accept their political views, thus they appoint judges who will impose that worldview on the public.

The second form arises when a judge chooses to misapply or ignore a law so as to favor one litigant. This discrimination is usually disguised as appeals to “exercise compassion” or as calls for “fairness” or “justice.” Leftists love the sense of moral superiority they get from discriminating in favor of the “good guy.”

Why Judicial Activism Is Wrong

Both of these forms are morally and intellectually bankrupt. Our government derives its power (and its very existence) from the consent of the people. We the people created that government through the Constitution, in which we ceded certain rights to the government so that it could work toward the public good, but, in so doing, we put clear limitations on those rights. (We will discuss Constitutional interpretation another day.)

One of those limitations is that we clearly defined the roles each branch of government would play in administering the government. The role of the courts under the Constitution is to apply the law in a fair and unbiased manner. The courts are not empowered to create law. That power rests solely within the legislature. If a law must change, it is up the people to demand that change from the legislature, not for a judge to impose it upon the rest of us.

When a judge legislates from the bench, they are tossing aside the limits placed upon them by the Constitution, so that they can substitute their own personal view of what the law should be. They are stealing powers that belong to the legislature, they are frustrating the will of the people, and they are breaking the very agreement under which we gave them a right to exist. That’s arrogant, that’s illegal, that’s tyranny.

The left likes to counter that this is all for the good. But that’s garbage. If this change is so “good” then convince the voters and have the law changed by the legislatures. Even the Constitution itself can be changed if needed, as it has been twenty-seven times.

Moreover, if it is acceptable for judges to exceed their powers “to do the right thing,” then why not let others in on the act? Why not let the Post Master General withhold mail service from businesses that he or she thinks should be banned (e.g. strip clubs, gun shops, abortion clinics)? How about letting the FBI Director decide what constitutes illegal surveillance? The public might not approve, but who cares, right? It’s all for the public good. . .

How Judicial Activism Hurts You

Judicial activism is dangerous and destructive on a personal level as well. As noted above, the left loves to demand fairness and justice and compassion. And that sounds great. Except that these concepts are in the eye of the beholder. When you set judges free to impose their own prejudices rather than following the law, you open a can of worms that will destroy the judicial system.

Leftists like to think that allowing judges to act compassionately will mean that the good guys always benefit. But I’ve actually practiced. I know the reality. I’ve seen the judges who used to work for insurance companies and who see all plaintiffs as malingerers. I’ve see the judges who always favor the husband, or always favor the wife. I’ve seen the judges who always favor the poor criminal suspect, or the judges who always favor their friends the prosecutors.

If you open this flood gate, law will vanish and it will be replaced by personal prejudice. The winner will be the person who hires the attorney with the best relationship with the judge -- and that ain’t you, that’s the guy with the money. Welcome to the banana republic.

Moreover, even if you could take the bias out of it, the problem with basing rulings on compassion rather than law, is that it’s erratic. Whereas the law looks at the facts as they occurred and applies a ruling that all can anticipate (so you can arrange your affairs accordingly), rulings based on compassion become manipulator’s court. Sure, your ex-husband was the world’s biggest ass, and you did everything right under the law, but he’s one heck of a great actor in court. You lose.

You didn’t commit that crime? But the victim’s cries for justice strike our compassionate cords. Hope you like orange jumpsuits. Or maybe you’re the victim, but the judge feels such compassion for the poor criminal, who had such a rough life, and, after all, he killed your mother so long ago. . .

Compassion works fine if every single judge shares your views. But they don’t. If the law lacks compassion, then change the law. Don’t make a mockery of the legal process.

Think Strategically My Republican Friends

So what does the party do? For the reasons outlined herein, Republicans should oppose judicial activism. That’s a no brainer. But, that being said, there is a problem with simply opposing judicial activism.

If the democrats keep moving the ball ten feet left every time they are in power, and the Republicans respond by simply stopping the ball from moving, the democrats will slowly, but surely, get everything they want.

The only way to stop this inevitable march is to get the democrats to abandon the weapon of judicial activism. It’s time to fight fire with fire: appoint reactionary Republican judges. Don’t be obvious about it, but do it. History has shown that when the Republicans adopt a democratic tactic, the democrats scream bloody murder and quickly try to stuff that genie back into the bottle. That will be a victory for us all.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California Supreme Court Upholds Proposition 8

Today the California Supreme Court, sitting in San Francisco, upheld the ballot measure (a "referendum") which declared that marriage in California is restricted to one man and one woman. The justices voted in a surprisingly strong six to one decision. There has been an ongoing and acrimonious see-saw battle over gay marriage in California since 2000, at which time the first ballot measure defining gay marriage as unlawful was passed. Subsequent challenges were rejected, until one challenge was upheld in 2008, resulting in Proposition 8 appearing on the November 2008 ballot.

First, a little background. This is not a political decision. This is a very technical legal decision which does not decide gay marriage directly, but rather whether Proposition 8 is sufficient under the California constitution to determine the definition of marriage. The result of today's ruling defines marriage in California, but only because the court upheld Proposition 8, not because the court itself is currently writing that definition.

Two diametrically opposite arguments determined the scope of the decision. Neither directly addressed gay marriage. Proposition 8 already did that, so all that was left was to decide if Proposition 8 would stand or fall.

The anti-Proposition 8 lawyers argued that Proposition 8 illegally "revised" the California constitution. The reason they argued this fine point of law is that regardless of express provisions of Proposition 8, it was passed on the vote of the people by only 52.5 percent. Under California's somewhat arcane rules, a revision to the state constitution requires a supermajority of two-thirds in the legislature. In 2008 the court had decided in joint cases named "In re Marriage Cases" that since the California constitution did not clearly define marriage, then it would do so and declare marriage itself a "basic right" against which the law could not discriminate on the basis of the sex of the partners. Simply put, anti-Proposition 8 lawyers argued that the ballot measure took away a basic right as defined by the court's earlier decision.

Proposition 8 proponents argued that the ballot measure filled a gap in the California constitution by defining marriage, thus mooting the court's earlier decision by defining marriage in an "amendment" to the state constitution rather than revising the basic rights laid out in the constitution. Again, simply put, the Proposition 8 lawyers were arguing that when the court earlier found marriage in general to be a previously undefined basic right, it was doing so only because of the gap in the constitution which Proposition 8 filled with the express will of the people.

The whole matter had been a nasty brawl for years. There were many twists. Chief Justice Ron George and Associate Justice Joyce Kennard, considered conservative judges, were among the majority in the 2008 case which held that the gay marriage issue was a matter of refusing a basic right to a minority protected in the California constitution. But when the oral arguments took place in March of this year, both asked questions of the gay marriage proponents about why they thought this was a revision of the constitution and not simply an amendment as well as why they thought the will of the people in filling in the "gap" discussed above should be overturned. The state's attorney general is usually expected, but not required, to argue in favor of the existing legislation (i.e. Proposition 8), but California's former governor and current attorney general, Jerry Brown, chose to argue against Proposition 8. And during the campaign to pass the ballot measure, opponents regularly referred to it as "Prop H8," attempting to define the measure not as a reinstatement of the classic definition of marriage but rather a hate campaign aimed at gays and lesbians.

The culture war surrounding this decision is likely not over. Both sides had indicated they were prepared to act immediately after the decision was handed down. The decision also produced a rather odd result. Those marriages performed between the 2008 court ruling and the passage of Proposition 8 were ruled to be valid.

The Proposition 8 opponents (the gay marriage proponents) had already declared that they will take the matter to the people again. An amendment passed by a majority can be overturned by a counter-amendment with a minimally larger majority. And the court declared clearly that it had found the measure to be an amendment, not a revision. The opponents say that turnabout is fair play. The armistice is now in place. The war will start up again in very short order.

Nobody will ever accuse California politics and law of being dull.
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Turning The Judge Sotomayor Trap

As Obama introduces Judge Sonia Sotomayor today (Red Sonia to her friends), the Republicans are faced with an interesting dilemma. Obama has set a trap for the Republicans, and their natural instincts will be to jump right into that trap. Please don’t. Instead, follow my plan below and you can actually turn his trap against him.

In choosing a nominee who is both female and Hispanic, Obama seemly is attempting to endear himself with both groups. Even the media sees this, though they call it brilliant rather than racist/sexist pandering. But in any event, they miss the real Machiavellian aspect of this selection. Obama is less concerned with pandering than he is with baiting the Republicans.

Obama clearly is hoping that the Republicans will attempt to make race or gender an issue, or that they will make statements that can be characterized as making race or gender an issue. Indeed, the media is giddy with anticipation of such a response. And, as if on cue, John Kyl this weekend stated that the Republicans would oppose any nominee who based their decision on emotions. Nice work Senator, the chicks will dig that.

More interestingly, it is unlikely that Obama would shed too many tears if a handful of conservative democrats joined with the Republicans to blocked Sotomayor. Consider that Obama has now satisfied female and Hispanic pressure groups by making the pick. If she is blocked, he can pick any replacement nominee he wants without offending either group. Moreover, he can accuse the Republicans of being obstructionist, racist and sexist. AND if conservative democrats do join the Republicans, he will have given his left flank ammunition (if you’ll pardon the pun) to use in upcoming primaries against these same conservative democrats who are blocking him on guns and taxes and cap/trade.

So how do the Republicans avoid this trap? Two steps:

First, forget the idea of threatening a filibuster. Republicans will never get the necessary votes, so threatening a filibuster only makes the party look impotent. It will also antagonize the RINOs who like nothing more than standing up to their party. Let them sleep.

Instead, Republicans need to go directly to the people. Highlight the tyrannical nature of her judicial philosophy. Judicial activism is all about a judge willfully ignoring the limits placed on their powers by the Constitution so that they can impose their own will upon the people (more tomorrow). That’s tyranny. Point out her ideas about legislating from the bench. Explain why that is so wrong , and ask what other laws she would be willing to impose upon us in her infinite wisdom? Let the American people hear what this nominee believes?

If this is done right, the public should begin to flood the Senate with angry phone calls and letters. Soon enough, the democrats themselves will (embarrassingly) call for her withdrawal.

Secondly, turn Obama’s trap against him. Go into the Hispanic and female “communities” and let them know how cynical Obama’s pick was:

“Obama didn’t pick her because he wanted an Hispanic female. No, there are many more fine Hispanic/female candidates he could have chosen. He picked Judge Sotomayor because he knew she was unacceptable, because he wanted us to shoot her down. He is using her as bait to gin up anger in your community. That’s what he thinks of you. He is the great manipulator.”

Now go forth and do this thing right.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Rebuilding The Republican Party: Introduction

The Republican Party has floundered. It was capsized by a leadership, bereft of ideas and which neither knows what the party stands for nor understands its most fundamental principles. This same leadership now seems content to tread water in the hopes that Obama will so anger the voters that their wave of discontent will magically right the vessel. Good grief.

Over the next couple months, I intend to lay out in simple, but detailed postings (1) what the Republican Party needs to do to right itself, (2) why Republican principles work, and (3) I intend to provide workable, conservative solutions to numerous problems that neither party seems capable of solving, i.e. healthcare, education, immigration, etc.

It is my firm hope that our candidates will read these posts so that they can breath life back into the party, so that they can solve the nations problems, and so that they will stop sounding like idiots when they try to explain conservative principles in debates. Call your Congressman, tell them to read along!

* * *
Today we start with something many of you may have seen already. During the last election, the Republican website was appalling. It could not have been worse if they had let democrats designed it for them. Among the parade of horribles, I found a statement purporting to tell us what it means to be a Republican. . . grrrrr. Needless to say, I was not amused. Nor did I care for the 92 page platform that read like a stream of consciousness textbook trying to justified the Bush years. Stupid, incoherent, and defeatist does not a successful philosophy make.

In my pique, I re-wrote this “pledge” and I sent it to the party. Here it is to start my series on “Rebuilding the Republican Party”:

I am a Republican because...

I believe in limited and accountable government. I believe in the Constitutional separation of powers between the branches of the government, between the federal government and the states, and between the government and its citizens. I believe in state’s rights. I believe in the protection of civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. I reject judicial activism and the shift of power from the legislature to the executive. Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.

I believe in fiscally responsible government. I reject deficit spending, unfair and excessive taxation, and unnecessary and irrational regulation.

I believe in free market economics and the protection of property rights. I reject government ownership of private business and the confiscation of private property. I believe in free and fair trade.

I believe in a strong national defense, and in promoting the values of democracy, freedom, and human rights around the world. I reject isolationism, but I also reject adventurism. Walk softly, but carry a big stick.

I am the Republican Party. I believe in freedom, liberty, and responsibility.

These are the principles that almost every Republican agrees upon. These are the principles that 60% of the American public shares. These are the principles that should be the focal point of our party. When someone asks, what it means to be a Republican -- this is the statement that should greet them on the party’s website.

I will address each of these points in detail over the coming weeks. In the meantime, tell me what you think?
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"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but then I read this in the NY Post this morning. I always forget about this scene and brilliant speech by William Shakespeare written over 400 years ago. It rings as true today as it did when he wrote it:

Act 4, Scene 3 – The English camp the night before the Battle of Agincourt

O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

My sovereign lord, bestow yourself with speed:
The French are bravely in their battles set,
And will with all expedience charge on us.


All things are ready, if our minds be so.

Perish the man whose mind is backward now!

Thou dost not wish more help from England, coz?

God's will! my liege, would you and I alone,
Without more help, could fight this royal battle!

Why, now thou hast unwish'd five thousand men;
Which likes me better than to wish us one.
You know your places: God be with you all!

Now go to the library and read the rest...
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Barack Obama Speaks at Notre Dame

Mr. Obama was invited by the Catholic institution to make the commencement address at the university ceremonies. Above the ceremonies hung the specter of one of the core issues which divide mainstream Catholics from Obama's strongly-held views. Abortion.

This is not a minor issue over which there is some petty argument. It is closer to the concept of the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem inviting Iran's Ahmadinejad to the Temple to clarify his views on the extermination of Israel.

It is difficult to fathom what the commencement committee could possibly have been thinking when inviting Obama to speak at this occasion. Yes, he's the elected President of the United States. So what? He is also the former Senator whose views on abortion are arguably the most extreme of any member of that body, as they were when he was an Illinois legislator. Unless Obama had indicated to the committee that he was announcing a major shift to the orthodox view of abortion, there was simply no excuse for this travesty. That of course was not, and is not, the case.

This is not a free speech or a censorship issue. Notre Dame is at the very least a nominal Catholic institution. It is a private university, and Obama didn't volunteer to speak, the university invited him. It is not even a debate on abortion. It was an invitation to an abortion extremist to speak unopposed at a Catholic school, when the Pope and the leading Catholic clerics hold not just a different view, but an entirely oppositional view. Is Notre Dame such an insignificant institution that it needed to get some publicity by inviting the President regardless of his entirely anti-Catholic views on the sanctity of human life in the womb?

The topics Obama spoke on were not specifically related to abortion, and I would have no objection to him speaking at my alma mater, the University of California. But that is a public university with no ties to any church. How about, say, the University of Southern California or Stanford? These are private universities, but again not affiliated with any church, let alone the Catholic church. No harm, no foul.

In his speech Obama, in his usual smooth dance, quickly addressed the abortion issue by telling a touching little story about how one of his staff had written a post on Obama's website which stated that pro-life advocates were zealous ideologues who wished to impose their will on helpless women. After receiving a letter, so Obama says, from a pro-life Christian doctor, Obama had the post removed. What a gentleman. Of course it completely ignores the fact that Obama's extremist abortion views didn't change one iota. He even managed to con Jim Kearney, a normally sane contributor to into praising Obama for his reasonableness, civility and story-telling skills. Aw, phooey. I'm sure Jim Jones had many of the same skills, just before he passed the Kool Aid around. Sincerity of belief is not sufficient reason to be tolerant of that belief. Hitler sincerely believed that Jews were inferior and should be exterminated. No, I am not saying that Obama is Hitler, or even Hitler-like. I am saying this his view on the taking of the life of a baby is both extreme and sincerely held.

I hesitate to use a word which is over-used by liberals, but there are many "nuanced" views on abortion which genuinely seek to respect the life of the unborn while allowing for some very early-term abortion exceptions. Obama isn't even close, and Notre Dame will be a long time in removing this stain from its reputation. To mis-quote Benjamin Franklin, "a religious institution which will abandon major tenets of its Faith for some fleeting publicity deserves neither."
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In Memoriam

As Memorial Day weekend gets into full swing, I would like to take a moment to remember and thank all of those who have served and died for this nation and, to thank one in particular - my uncle, Earl G. Thurman. He passed away a few years ago after living a long and fruitful life, but he almost did not get the chance to live that life. At the age of only 19 years old, he answered his country’s call to service during WWII and went as an Army soldier to the Pacific theatre. Shortly thereafter he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He spent 4 hellish years in torture, slavery, and starvation. There was no “Geneva Convention” in a Japanese prison camp. He witnessed unspeakable horrors at an age that most kids his age today can only imagine in video games and horror movies and he was well into his 70’s before he would talk in any detail about his experiences.

He was quite simply my hero. He survived. He survived because of his faith in God. I did not know until he died, and I read the news articles posted at his funeral, that none of the prisoners knew what was going on outside their prison camp. My uncle had no idea that we were winning the war, but he had faith that God would not forsake him. One day his prayers were answered, and his guards and torturers left, just walked away. Shortly after that, the American airplanes began to fly over. God had not forsaken him. He returned to his small town in Texas at the age of 23 years, 6’3” and 110 lbs. My grandmother spent a long time fattening him up on her good Southern cooking. He got medals and his picture in the local paper. He went on to marry and have a daughter, to graduate from college, and to spend the next 60 years honoring his family, his country, and his God.

I was 30 years old before it occurred to me how young he was when he was taken prisoner. It was a revelation to me and it made me ashamed of my rather selfish and carefree life. Bless you, Uncle Earl. I miss you, but I know that you are at the right hand of God and I hope you are getting to play lots of golf!
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41,891,368. . . 1,190,109

With Memorial Day upon us, we are reminded of those who answered the call to defend America. These brave men and women stood guard over this great country in times of peace, fought to defend her in times of war, and, through their efforts and their sacrifices, made possible the rights that we cherish on a daily basis.

According to the Department of Defense, 41,891,368 of our fellow citizens have served our country, 1,190,109 of those died in that service.

Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. [+] Read More...

Decoration Day

In case you don't recognize the title, Decoration Day is what we now call Memorial Day. Like so many truly historical and important observances, the holiday has become "the weekend," and far too many of us concern ourselves with family picnics, hot dogs and hamburgers, and get-togethers while forgetting what the day itself actually means. For many, Memorial Day is indeed a "holy day."

The original observance began some time during the Civil War, but didn't become an official holiday until after the war was concluded. At first, it was rarely celebrated in the South, since it honored the dead of The Grand Army of the Republic (the North), and actually was observed somewhat separately by African-Americans to honor the dead "Negro slaves who won their freedom fighting for the Union."

The original name came from the "decoration" of the graves of the fallen soldiers with flowers and ribbons. It continued to be called Decoration Day for many, although the name Memorial Day was first used officially in 1882. The terms were interchangeable until the day was formally recognized by Congress and the President as Memorial Day in 1967. Sadly, its status as a true observance was damaged, much like "Presidents Day" by changing the date of the holiday to create a long "holiday weekend" the following year, and that became the formal holiday nationwide in 1971.

By the late 1890s, the day no longer had the exclusivity of being only for Union soldiers, and quickly became a national holiday which honored the dead who had fought in all of America's wars and served her in the military during peacetime. And so it has continued. But how many of us, and I include all of us who love America and support our military, have fallen into the laziness of the abstract quick nod to our honored dead so that we can get on with the barbecue? Although I have been negligent from time to time, I try to get myself up on Memorial Day Monday (the actual holiday), and go to a military cemetery to say a prayer for those who gave their lives in war so that I might live in peace.

For me, that is the National Cemetery of San Francisco located in the historical Presidio. There are about thirty Medal of Honor recipients buried there, and I take a bunch of poppies or other flowers with me to place on one or two of those graves. Occasionally, the family of the recipient is there, in which case I nod respectfully and leave them to their private observance and move to another location. I hope that some of you can find it in your hearts and busy schedules to do something similar Monday morning. It is a great opportunity for prayerful contemplation on the price our fighting men and women have paid for our freedom.

One quick note for those of you who fly the American flag on such occasions. Proper etiquette is that the flag be raised briskly to the peak and then slowly back to half-staff until noon local time, and then raised again briskly to the peak.
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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hoped-for Change In The Wind?

This appeared today on page 21 of New York Daily News in the editorial section called “In Other Words” written by Adam Sommers. Of the three local papers - the Post, the Times, and the Daily News - the editorial pages of Daily News officially slant most to the left with nary an untoward word written to criticize Our Dear Leader. You would think it would be the Times, but as we all know, the NYT is only fair and above petty political leanings. Well, anyway, this little article caught my eye as I was drinking my morning coffee:

The story: President Obama says new auto-emission rules will make cars cost a lot more, but they are still ‘a winning proposition [because] over the life of a vehicle, the typical driver would save about $2800 by getting better gas mileage.’

In other words: Eventually we’ll make cars so expensive no one can afford them. However they’ll also be so efficient they would cost you nothing to own if you had the money. You come out ahead because you won’t buy a car you can’t afford, plus you also don’t have to pay for any of the gas, which the car doesn’t use any of.”

Maybe the hoped-for change is in the wind and, if we listen carefully, we can hear the clickety-clack of the keyboards in the distance…Obama can be wrong?...Obama could be wrong!?...Obama is wrong!
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The Big Bong

No, this isn't an article about a Michael Phelps size smoking device. It's not even about San Francisco's famous marijuana clubs. Big Ben, the imperial size bell in the Tower of Parliament, will soon be celebrating its sesquicentennial. The Brits are justifiably proud of the bell that has tolled from the height of empire, through the Blitz, and on to our modern day. For a hundred and fifty years, Big Ben has announced "there will always be an England."

The bell officially first rang out in July of 1859, but it was put up into the rafters (if that's the right term) right around this time in June of the same year. It was not even the first bell. It was such a huge undertaking that nobody had ever cast a bell quite like it. So the first bell, like our American Liberty Bell, cracked while being tested. The first bell was tested in the foundry yard, so it never actually made it into the tower. That was in 1857, and it took another two years of calculating and reworking to get the right formula.

There are parallels with America's Liberty Bell as both became symbols of liberty and western civilization, with a certain Anglo twist. The big difference is that our Liberty Bell was preserved, crack and all, as a national treasure. England's bell rings out from a tower whose visage is known to almost everyone in the civilized world. The architecture and design correspondent for the London Observer, Stephen Bayley, says "that as silhouettes, only the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower rival Big Ben (although the Gherkin, I believe, is coming up fast)." During the darkest days of the London Blitz, the tower stood as a symbol of defiance, and could occasionally be heard in the background as Edward R. Murrow broadcast from the city under bombardment.

The story of the creation of the tower and the bell was pure English eccentrism. The architect who won the competition to design the structure, Charles Barry, hired Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin to do the metalwork, glass and surface decoration. Pugin was going slowly insane from some sort of mercury poisoning, and it was becoming unclear whether he would stay lucid long enough to finish the job. It was all part of the Westminster Palace reconstruction resulting from the London Fire, so they were charged with being traditional, but original. The result was a glorious Gothic, Greek, Tudor, Edward VI school hybrid.

As the Spectator UK hilariously describes it, "Pugin was charged with designing and decorating archivolts, squints and spandrels, lovingly detailed fleurons, spirelets, stoups and mullions, every detail of crockets and crestings, daggers and diapers, not to mention naiheads, mouchettes, escutcheons and dogteeth, all drawn in meticulous, demented detail." Pugin wrote one last insane letter taking credit for both the tower and the bell, calling himself "the whole machinery of the clock," downed a few flagons of brandy, and went off quietly to the Bedlam insane asylum. Barry, on the other hand, was knighted for his efforts.

Big Ben and the Liberty Bell will go on for many, many years to come. Given the current status of the world, let's hope England and America can do the same. Big Ben survived the Nazis. Will it be able to survive the Jihadis? The mosque currently designed to sit next to these architectural treasures would rival, and perhaps overshadow the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Palace and the Bell Tower. Londoners are beginning to show signs of open rebellion over that.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

“That Certain Part Of The Male Anatomy” -- Huh?

I like to think of myself as a keen observer of the modern world. But lately, something has arise that, frankly, has me stumped. According to a, oh how shall I put this. . . b*tch goddess on late night television, my performance may not be what it used to be. It’s not exactly clear what she’s talking about, but in her angry, condescending way, she seems quite certain that something on me is not up to standards anymore.

Apparently, it’s not my fault, but, as I age, a loss of testosterone causes things to shrink. Indeed, a much more pleasant young lady informs me that if I take the pills she is offering, "a certain part" of my anatomy will again become larger.

Here’s the problem though. I’m not entirely sure what part of my anatomy they’re talking about, because they never do tell me. So I got to looking. And sure enough, it turns out they are right. My elbows seem to be smaller than they were when I was younger. . . I’ve got EDS (Elbonic Definitive Shrinkage)!

Now I was always raised to believe that it’s not the size of your elbows that matter, it’s the range of motion. But I will admit to being concerned. This issue seems to be very important to these two ladies, and I wonder how it will affect my social life if I don’t rectify this situation immediately.

So I’ve debated taking these pills. Unfortunately, the FDA has not evaluated their claims. Thus, I am concerned about adverse side-effects. What if my elbows go limp or lock up, or God-forbid I become double jointed? And if they do grow again, will my shirts still fit?

I wish I knew the answers.

Damn you late night television for making me insecure.
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Film Friday: Rollerball (1975)

Today’s film is an unloved gem from 1975 called Rollerball. Before you dash for the exits, let me tell you that Rollerball is not, as liberal film critics like to dismiss it, a meaningless bit of 1970’s schlock about the American penchant for violent sports. To the contrary, Rollerball has a very interesting conservative theme. Believe it or not, Rollerball is a surprisingly nuanced and intelligent film about the threat that individual achievement poses to the brainwashing of collectivism. Seriously.

** spoiler alert **

Let’s start with the plot. The year is 2018. Corporations have replaced the governments of the world. People live in relative luxury. War, suffering and hunger are all things of the past. The most popular sport happens to be a grisly blood sport called rollerball, which involves players moving around a circular track on roller skates or motorcycles as they try to put a heavy metal ball into a small goal. Violence is part of the sport.

The story begins with a match that highlights the skills of Jonathan E (James Caan), the star player for the Houston franchise. Indeed, he is the best player in the sport. For reasons that become clear as the movie unfolds, the corporate elite want Jonathan E to retire. Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman), who manages the Houston franchise (and Energy Corporation, which runs Houston), is tasked with making this happen. The powers that be attempt to persuade Jonathan to retire by co-opting his girlfriend. When that fails, they try to bribe him by letting him see his former wife, who has been taken from him by a corporate executive -- giving you a hint of the true power these executives have. When this fails, they start changing the rules of the game itself. Initially, they eliminate penalties, which leads to Jonathan's best friend and teammate ending up brain dead after he is attacked by the Tokyo team while unconscious. Finally, they remove the game’s time limit. In other words, the final game is to run until one team entirely eliminates the other.

The critics hated Rollerball because they misunderstood the film. Indeed, most reviewers are liberals who can’t look beyond their own biased political beliefs. Thus, they assume Rollerball is making two points: that corporations are evil and that Americans love violence. Since neither point is made all that well, in their opinions, they dismiss the movie as uninteresting. But the movie isn't making those points. It's actually making a very conservative point about the evils of collectivism.

Sure, corporations are the film’s bad guys, but this is not a capitalist, conservative world. It is a liberal, collectivist world. That the government consists of corporations rather than departments is irrelevant. Moreover, Director Norman Jewison's (Jesus Christ Superstar) use of “corporations” is a means of stripping any questions of ideology from the film. By replacing governments with generic, undefined “corporations,” Jewison eliminates all questions about what type of government would act this way. This allows viewers to abandon their preconceived notions of political ideology and instead focus solely on the battle between Jonathan E and the powers that be. That's what this film is about, the struggle between the individual and the collective. This is reinforced several times as the audience is told the form of government is irrelevant and as each of Jonathan’s attempts to understand the nature of the corporations is frustrated and soon forgotten by the film.

Nor are these liberal reviewers correct that this film is an indictment of an American love for violence. This is probably the most commonly expressed view of the film, and it is absolutely backwards. Most critics will tell you that the evil corporations use rollerball to entertain the masses; some will even mention “bread and circuses” to let you know that they are historically savvy, and they assume the audience must represent modern America. But it doesn't. It represents an America where the people have been turned into a collective mass by a corporate government that suppresses individuality by handing out goodies. Violent sport is one of those goodies.

Moreover, while the crowds cheer the violence early on, as the violence ratchets up to the point of becoming pure murder, the audience grows disturbingly quiet. They are shocked and horrified, not thrilled. At that very point, Jonathan is given a chance to kill his last opponent, who is at his mercy. The audience waits in stunned silence as Jonathan prepares the fatal blow. It is only when he chooses not to kill the opponent, and instead puts the ball into the goal, that the audience erupts. They cheer his mercy and his victory over the system, not his violence. Thus, the message is not that Americans love violence. If anything, it is that Americans have limits on what they will accept.

Our liberal reviewers are simply reading their own criticism of America into the movie rather than telling you what the movie is saying.

Rollerball's real target is the evil of collectivism. It is about the struggle of the collective to suppress the individual. That's why the entire movie focuses on the question of why Jonathan E is being forced to retire. Jonathan E must retire because he has excelled too much at the game. He has become a star. He stands out from the crowd and that is unacceptable. As Bartholomew tells him, “no player may become greater than the game.”

Why is this? Because rollerball is not just entertainment. It was specifically designed to be a game at which “man was never meant to excel.” Rollerball is meant to reinforce to the populace, that individuals cannot succeed, only the collective can. Sound familiar? Have you ever heard liberals talk about how children’s soccer teaches the superiority of group effort over individual effort? How about when they bemoan the fact that allowing more capable kids to stand out at school is bad for the self-esteem of the other kids? Same thing. Jonathan E has excelled. He has become greater than the game. His example highlights the lie that individual achievement is not possible. Therefore, he must retire before he endangers the collective.

But he refuses to retire and he prevails against an increasingly stacked deck. Thus, the message of Rollerball (the message liberal reviewers try to ignore) is that the human spirit will always find a way to succeed, and it is evil to attempt to suppress the individual in favor of the collective.

Rollerball also tells us something interesting about the nature of evil. True evil can be banal and it often doesn't even recognize itself as evil. Bartholomew is not maniacal, nor is he power hungry. He is not a particularly bad man, nor is he even uncaring. To the contrary, he genuinely cares for his players and he takes his duties very seriously. Indeed, even though he seeks to crush the human spirit, he genuinely believes he is acting for the good of society and for the good of Jonathan E. In many ways, this makes him a much more chilling villain than anything offered by Hollywood today. Indeed, his obliviousness calls upon the audience to re-examine their own actions for similar blind spots.

Moreover, the movie constantly hints at the abuses that arise when a select few are given the power to control society. As noted, an executive takes Jonathan’s wife, and Jonathan is powerless to stop him. Rules can be changed as needed and lives endangered to enforce the will of the elite. Their parties are decadent and destructive. Knowledge is suppressed. People are bought off or frightened into silence, and behind the scenes power plays are hinted at throughout the film. But even worse, all of this happens out of sight of the viewer. In this world, your life is controlled by people you will never meet. Again, this is much more chilling than typical Hollywood evil because of its believability, its banality, and the creeping sense that we only see the tip of its true extent.

Rollerball is a much more interesting movie than you’ve been led to believe. Give it a chance.

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dunking For Dollars

A Rhode Island Democrat Suggests Bush Should Volunteer To Be Waterboarded For Charity. $100 Per Second.

R.I. state representative Rod Driver sent letters to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice inviting them to participate in a charity event in which they would be waterboarded, gaining $100 for each second they could withstand the interrogation technique. No word yet on whether invitations were also sent to Nancy Pelosi and all the Democrat members of the Congressional committees who approved the technique, despite their lame denials.

I'm going to give this moron the benefit of the doubt, and assume it was just a nasty political joke. But even if it was, is this the way we should be dealing with an issue of extreme national importance? Driver says he thinks that since Bush doesn't consider waterboarding to be torture, he should be willing to submit to it, particularly since this is only for charity. This legislator has trivialized the torture debates, not just for those who believe in the waterboarding technique, but for those who oppose it as well.

Driver clearly thinks the technique works. He doesn't expect Bush to last even a full second before begging them to stop. On the other hand, if Driver considers it torture, then he is saying that torturing your opposition for a laugh is OK, just as long as the person being waterboarded isn't a jihadi terrorist with crucial information about a potential attack. Either way, the humor falls flat. This debate is real, serious and earnest, and there is no clear agreement on the technique even among the contributors on this blog. How does this kind of nonsense serve any legitimate purpose?

Of course there is always the alternative that Driver actually means what he's saying. In which case, his next stop should be a lunatic asylum--or San Francisco.

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Life in NYC - Disaster Averted!

The news broke all over NY last night – the FBI and NY police department had foiled a plot of four home grown man-made disaster-ists to bomb a synagogue and Jewish community center in Riverdale in the Bronx and to shoot down military planes. Apparently the FBI has been following them since last summer [a Bush administration era operation, if you’re keeping track] and the investigation culminated in arrest of these four brainiacs. They were in the act of setting up parked cars wired with fake explosives supplied to an FBI informant when the FBI and NY police swooped in and arrested them. The only injury was a bump on the head for one of the suspects. That’s one for the good guys! Thank you, FBI! Thank you, NYPD! Thank you, Mr. Bush! [+] Read More...

A Word of Advice To The Gay Community: Rethink Your Friends

Before we get into this, let’s be absolutely clear about one thing . . . I am NOT taking a stance on abortion or on homosexuality in this post. I may in the future, but not today. So DO NOT start arguing about whether abortion/homosexuality is right or wrong. Capiche?

Many of you may have missed it, but the other day Sweden became the first country in the world to decide that the government (and doctors) may not stop women from using abortion to select the gender of their children. This practice is already wide-spread in India and China, where the number of males now far exceeds the number of females, even though both governments have made the practice illegal. In Sweden, it is now a right.

As India and China have shown, and as Sweden is now demonstrating, a great many parents are willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to get the “perfect” child. Indeed, many fear that as genetic manipulation becomes more prevalent, parents will begin selecting specific traits for their children. Want an athlete, add the strength and speed gene. Want a scientist, give them the brainiac gene. Want a natural leader. . . Khhaaaaaan!!! Pushed too far, we could even end up with multiple strands of humanity -- the athletic, the intelligent, and the rest of us.

Why should this bother gays? Most gays firmly believe that they are gay because their genes have made them so. The jury is still out on this, but it’s certainly highly possible. And if this is true, then it is only a matter of time before that gene can be found.

Now let’s put two and two together. If parents will abort a normal healthy child because they don’t like its gender, or because it has some genetic disease or an unfavorable genetic trait, how do you think they will act when they discover that their child carries the gay gene?

So does it make any sense for gays to align themselves with the abortion rights crowd? Isn’t that like helping to build the gallows from which you will be hung?

I could understand the position of gay groups if they thought it was going to be illegal to abort children because of their homosexuality, but Sweden tells us that it won’t be. If Sweden won’t protect fetuses based on gender, how can they protect children based on sexual orientation?

Moreover, even if such a law could be put in place, the Indian and Chinese experience tells us that parents will find ways around it.

So as a word of advice, you might want to rethink your allies.
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