Thursday, June 30, 2011

Strangling Justice

I'll bet you thought that today's Wisconsin was all about high-tension politics and politicians, unions, and Democrats running to other states. But you would be wrong. The inner sanctum of the state's Supreme Court rivals the union occupation of the capitol. And the election fight over who would be the new or re-elected Justice was only the first round. There's a really fun donnybrook going on inside those hallowed chambers.

Wisconsin Justice Ann Walsh Bradley says that Justice David Prosser choked her in the court's back rooms. Prosser denies he did anything of the kind, and further that Bradley launched a physical attack on him that resulted in him having to push her away. I'm not quite sure where the phrase "judicial temperament" fits in here, so I'll leave the conclusion to you. If you'll remember correctly, conservative Justice Prosser was the jurist who was supposed to have been defeated by JoAnne Kloppenberg only to be re-elected handily when it was revealed that an entire voting district had not been counted.

The hot issue of the time was (and is) the public sector union collective bargaining agreements. The legislature and the governor finally passed legislation removing all public employee bargaining privileges except for wages, and those are tied to the cost-of-living. Rather than wait for the legislature to re-pass the legislation after legal challenges over the procedures used in the original vote, three of the four conservative justices were ready to issue a ruling upholding the procedure used. Prosser held out, wanting to withhold the opinion so there was no appearance of a "rush to judgment." He convinced the other three to wait.

Prosser thought he and his fellow conservatives had an agreement with the liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, but could not get her to commit formally. She was being pushed by the other liberal justices, including Bradley, to issue the ruling right away. Seeking a firm determination, Prosser and the other three justices literally went searching for the chief justice. They found her, in Bradley's chambers. Prosser told the chief justice that he was quickly losing faith in her ability to make a decision and lead the court.

That did it. Bradley, who has a reputation for leading the chief justice around by the nose, got up from her chair, rounded the desk, and charged Prosser. Several witnesses describe Bradley as "getting right up to Prosser, then shaking her fist within inches of his nose." In such a situation, a man who didn't wish to accelerate the situation might push the other man away by pushing him on the chest. Needless to say, that wouldn't work with a woman. So Prosser pushed her away at the shoulders. Whether he even touched her neck or not remains to be seen.

Let the drama begin! Bradley was shouting "I was choked." Those in the room describe her as at least semi-hysterical. One justice pulled Bradley away, and said "Stop it, Ann, this isn't like you." Another justice said "Aw, c'mon, you weren't choked." But Bradley kept insisting "he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold." Bradley may not be familiar with chokeholds, but if it were true, she would have been unlikely to make any such charges for at least a few minutes. The chokehold was long ago banned for use by the Los Angeles police because it can not only cause unconsciousness, but in certain sensitive people, it can even bring about death. But nothing's going to stop an hysteric.

And the drama continues. That Monday night, Bradley called Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs to report the incident. The next Wednesday, Tubbs conducted a closed-door lecture on "issues relating to workplace violence." Ah, nothing calms the waters like a good anger management, violence in the workplace seminar. Bradley was probably not a very good lawyer, because during the seminar she accidentally admitted that Prosser had not used excessive force.

The justice who had separated the two stated categorically that Prosser had applied no pressure whatsoever, let alone to her neck. She retorted: "That's only because you broke us apart." So, he might have choked her, given the chance, but didn't? It's beginning to sound like the Al Sharpton defense: "So it's not true--but it could have been."

But Bradley wasn't going to let logic get in the way of her anger. She demanded that the justices force Prosser into anger management counseling. I guess she was really, really angry when she made that outrageous demand. She made a very clear threat. If they didn't do what she wanted, she would take the next step and file a restraining order against Prosser. And what would that order say? "Justice Prosser is hereby restrained from defending himself with minimal force against an approaching harpy?" Or "Justice Prosser shall not choke Justice Bradley, even if he never has in the past and there is no credible evidence that he would in the future?"

The justices decided not to cave in to the threat, and as of this writing, no restraining order has been requested by Bradley. Chief Justice Abrahamson takes no stand on what occurred, Prosser and the other justices deny there was any choking or even anything like choking. That leaves only two witnesses who claim there was a choking--Bradley herself, and her law clerk who was not present in the room but only heard Bradley saying "I was choked."

At this point, it may seem like a tempest in a teapot, but it ain't over 'til it's over. The Capitol Police did a cursory investigation, then tossed the matter to the County Sheriff's office like a hot potato. This could stir the pot again. The sheriff is one David Mahoney. Mahoney is politically-active for Democrats and liberal candidates, and appeared in a TV ad supporting the reelection of Chief Justice Abrahamson. And guess who else was in that ad. Maryann Sumi, the judge who ruled that the legislature and the governor had acted improperly in the collective bargaining legislation. That is the ruling that Prosser and the conservative justices overruled. And finally, Mahoney supported Kloppenberg against Prosser in the recent election. Enough intrigue for you for the Independence Day weekend?
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Guest Review: Gettysburg (1993)

By Tennessee Jed

Whatever else I may think of Ted Turner, I owe him a debt of gratitude for spending a fortune producing historical films like Gettysburg. Adapted from Michael Shaaraʼs 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Killer Angels,” Gettysburg effectively conveys the horror of combat, while still laying out the strategies, tactics and motivations of the commanders by following several key participants in the battle. While not perfect, this remains the best depiction of civil war era military action to date.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms [+]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not All Publicity Is Good Publicity

Advertisers are a strange group. For supposedly being so deeply in touch with people, they really don’t know us at all. Ads in general are hit and miss and more often miss than hit. Most are entirely pointless, i.e. wasted money. And some are actually harmful. Indeed, advertisers subscribe to an axiom that couldn’t be more wrong: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. This is something I’ve literally heard from dozens of advertisers -- in classes, in person and in interviews, and it's just delusional.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms [+]

Obama Plan To Spy On Doctors Cancelled. . . For Now

Sometimes, legitimate ideas die as a result of guilt by association. For example, you can bet that Pop Tarts would not be as popular today if Ted Bundy or Hitler gave them a rousing endorsement. And sometimes, good ideas get twisted by bad people. That’s the case with Obama’s latest attack on doctors, it was good idea perverted. Fortunately, they are abandoning it. . . for now.

The idea in question stems from the problem that more and more doctors are refusing to take Medicare/Medicaid patients. This has become such a problem that there is an acute doctor shortage developing for these patients. I’ve discussed the main reason for this before (LINK): doctors lose money on Medicare patients because the government doesn’t fully reimburse them.

In any event, whether the reason is simple economics or the crushing imposition of paperwork and other requirements/limitations imposed when doctors accept Medicare/Medicaid patients, fear of being ensnared in a Medicare/ Medicaid fraud through some paper work error, or just prejudice, it is a solid and good idea to determine the reason doctors won’t see these patients. Why? Because the government has promised to provide Medicare/Medicaid patients with medical care and it can’t do that if doctors won’t see them. Therefore, the government must get to the root of the problem and fix it. Thus, investigating this is a good idea.

Also, the mere fact that such an investigation is done secretly does not make it evil. Sometimes these things are best conducted secretly. Perhaps the only way to get at the truth is to conduct a secret investigation. Maybe doctors will be more honest in “blind” interviews than they would be on surveys. It’s the same thing with secret shoppers, where the only way to truly judge service is to keep the store from knowing which customers are rating them.

So far, so good. But here’s the catch. . . trust.

If Obama had been a trustworthy fellow, then I might say that conservatives are making too big of a deal about his plan to secretly call 4,185 doctors’ offices in nine states. But Obama is not a trustworthy fellow, and I doubt very much this study was planned to actually investigate the problem. Instead, I think it was intended to generate data for another ObamaCare anti-doctor campaign, e.g. “look how bad these evil doctors are, one even called Medicaid patients ‘filthy.’”

And let me give you the main reason for my suspicion other than Obama’s history and the fact that generating such data would be in his political interests: I can see no value in the type of information this study would be likely to collect. Indeed, the only way this study method works is if doctors are some form of James Bond villain, who would lie on official surveys but couldn't stop themselves from blurting out the truth to random people on the phone: “well, I would never say this on a survey, but you seem trustworthy Mr. John Smith, so let me tell you what’s really going on before I turn you away mwhooo ha ha!!” This is why the whole premise of this study is laughable -- unless you realize its real goal is to goad doctors' receptionists into make unflattering comments about Medicare/Medicaid.

And thus, a good idea is perverted.

Fortunately, HHS has canceled the program after doctors complained. But if history is any judge, they will try again. In the meantime, we should remain vigilant for more attempts by Team Obama to generate politically helpful data. In fact, coming on the heels of the “gun walking” scandal, this is starting to look like a trend.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Train To Nowhere Endangers Birds?

The California High Speed Rail Authority, which is in charge of the train to nowhere, is now proposing a new route for the train because it could potentially affect a bird sanctuary. Human sanctuaries are of little concern to the Authority, as I discussed in an earlier article about the high-handedness of the train zealots here.

The earlier brouhaha swirling around the effects on human habitation was centered largely in the San Francisco Peninsula where the trains will roar through highly-populated areas including Silicon Valley on their way from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But the Authority largely ignored the pleas of the residents because the human misery index for those near the tracks is insignificant compared to the fabulous benefits of high-speed rail. The complaints were lodged in areas currently covered by Cal Train slow speed trains which seem to have a deadly accident at least a couple times a month.

The bird misery index is of course far more important than any concern for humans. So a couple hundred miles south of San Francisco, the Authority has found to its horror that both previously-proposed alternate routes would pass through the Tulare Lake Bed where there is one of those troublesome "wetlands" in which birds dwell. "Thousands" of birds, according to the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District and the US Fish and Wildlife Services. Put down those picks and shovels, this "disaster" must be averted at all costs (read: "human costs").

An all-new environmental review is underway, but those living in the path of the train in the Central Valley have not been invited to participate in the hearings. The Authority has the usual excuse: "We have a thorough environmental review process in which we must follow strict state and federal requirements." When all else fails, always defer to the rules and regulations of other agencies so that arcane and incomprehensible environmental factors can be used to keep those pesky humans most impacted out of the debate. After all, they just live there, but the birds have "experts."

Besides, most of the people questioning the proposed new route are just dumb farmers, and what do they know about environmentalism? For instance, Mike Monteiro has a 1,000 acre farm with 7,000 cattle which abuts the bird sanctuary. Instead of going through the sanctuary, the new route will go right through the farm, essentially cutting his farm in half. How selfish of him to worry about his own health and livelihood, not to mention the lives of all those silly cows--thousands of cows.

The Authority has already decided it favors the new route, and its bureaucratic review of its effects on "the environment" will be published in July. But never fear, the Authority also promises that it will do everything in its power to "mitigate the impacts on human habitation." Why am I now remembering a song I learned as a kid? "Oh, the railroad runs through the middle of the house, the middle of the house, the middle of the house. The railroad runs through the middle of the house, and the trains are all on time. They let us live in the front of the house, they let us live in the back. But there ain't no livin' in the middle of the house, 'cause that's the railroad track."

The Authority generously allowed the residents of Kings County and Kern County a 45 day window to lodge complaints. But they scheduled no actual hearings with the residents, and the report sans their input is already several thousand pages long. Can you say "loaded dice?" Even with what little input from the residents has been taken, the Authority has not been keeping the residents informed of the "progress" of the environmental document.

Anne Gaspar, an impacted resident of Hanford in Kings County pleaded: "We need to be informed because this is going to displace, not just our homes, but our business, how we make a living, everything. And it would be very good if they would come out to talk to us and answer the questions, and we would explain our situation here." Gaspar's husband added that it would have been nice if the Authority had notified them that a new route was in the works and reached out to the community at a much earlier date.

What the local residents don't understand is proportionality. There are thousands of birds, humans and farm animals under threat. But there is only one human species and a small number of farm animal species under the same threat. BUT, there are hundreds of bird species affected, according to the ecoweenies. I'm quite certain that logic is compelling to unthinking green zealots, but it confuses me. Thousand of birds, hundreds of species, most of which would simply ignore the trains as they barrel through on that narrow line. Or maybe they would just fly away for the couple of minutes it takes for the trains to pass.

This sounds an awful lot like the arguments against the Alaska pipeline which was going to destroy the environment and kill off all the caribou. Needless to say, it did quite the opposite. The California report seems to be bereft of any discussion of any endangered bird species living exclusively in the area. But "wetlands" and "wildlife sanctuaries" have become holy icons among the ecoweenies, and those seem to be the only issues the report has addressed so far. There could very well be a few hundred endangered California double-breasted slug-suckers nesting in the sanctuary, but thousands of them nesting a few dozen miles down the road. The report doesn't tell us.

It matters to the humans and cows that their feeding and living areas are bisected by a 200 mph train, but most birds have the good sense to get out of the way--fast. The bird sanctuary is about 1300 acres. How much of that 1300 acres would the train right-of-way take up? And for that matter, why isn't the proposed route simply moved to the border between the farmlands and the adjacent farms, thereby eliminating the necessity of cutting either in half?

Oh, wait, I just got the answer. Most of the hundreds of species must depend on the existence of the Delta smelt, so while we're busy denying water to those damned farms, we are also protecting the feeding rights of smelt-loving birds. Never mind.

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Video Game Violence: What About The Parents?!

Being a huge proponent of freedom of speech AND a believer that videogames, television, advertising and films can negatively distort people’s perceptions of reality, you would think I would be torn about yesterday’s 7-2 decision by the Supreme Court striking down a law that prevents minors from buying violent videogames. But I’m not. The court got it wrong, pure and simple.

The issue before the Supreme Court was a California law that makes it illegal for retailers to sell violent videogames to minors. The law defines “violent” as games that depict the “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” It carried fines up to a $1,000.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia struck down the law, saying that the First Amendment applies to “entertainment,” and thus, videogames are afforded the same degree of protection as books and movies. He conceded that states do have a legitimate interested in protecting children, but he held that “does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.” And since “disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression,” the law had to be struck down. Indeed, by way of comparison, he noted that television and children’s books throughout history have depicted violence:
“Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore. Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed.”
If we were talking about adults, then I would agree with the court. Free speech is one of our most vital freedoms. It is the way we determine which ideas have value and which don’t. It is how we test our beliefs. And our society is more than strong enough to allow idiots to present stupid, disgusting or wrong ideas without fear that our country will collapse.

But we’re not talking about adults, and that’s where the court went wrong.

The court should have upheld the law for one simple reason: children do not have freedom of speech rights. If they did, then public education would be virtually impossible as children would have a right to decide which ideas they wanted to be exposed to and which they didn’t. Similarly, parenting would become impossible whenever the state got involved, for example at a child custody hearing, as children would have all the rights of adults.

Justice Thomas made this point in his dissent where he noted that the First Amendment does not “include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.” In other words, children's rights get exercised through their guardians, and the state is well within its rights to say that children may not engage in free speech, or commerce, or gun ownership or anything else without the approval of those guardians.

Putting this another way, the court’s question of whether disgust is a significant enough basis to restrict the child’s freedom of speech rights is a false premise because the child has no such rights in the first place. Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer (the other dissenter) backed this point when he noted that the state was not trying to bar the minor having such material, it only required the approval of a guardian:
“The statute prevents no one from playing a video game, it prevents no adult from buying a video game, and it prevents no child or adolescent from obtaining a game provided a parent is willing to help.”
Breyer also made the less principled, but quite logical point that since the court still forbids children from buying pornography, the court has created an incredible hypocrisy here:
“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”
The dissent is correct. This was a mistake.

And let me be clear, I’m not siding with the “what about the children” crowd. That’s sophist nonsense used to hide true motivations and is usually advanced by busybodies who want to rule over others lives. What I’m talking about here is respecting the right of parents/guardians to make decisions regarding their children. If this law had tried to ban children from being given such material, then I would have supported the court’s decision. But it didn’t. All it did instead was try to prevent retailers from circumventing the rights of guardians/parents to make decisions for their children. That is well within the constitution and no rights are violated by such a statute.

How can we legitimately tell parents that raising kids is their responsibility when we take away the state’s power to help parents enforce those decisions.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Time To Change Gay Marriage Strategy?

This is clearly my week for endearing myself to religious conservatives, so let's go for the unhappy trifecta! I think the fight against gay marriage is lost. Don't get me wrong, I'm still opposed to it, but I also think it's time to consider a change of strategy.

I’ve explained before why I oppose gay marriage. To summarize my position, the government cannot grant rights in a vacuum. If gays are given the rights of married couples, then those rights must come at the expense of other people’s rights. In this case, the rights the government would take away are (1) the rights of employers, who would become legally obligated to extend partnership benefits to gay couples, (2) churches, which could no longer refuse to recognize such marriages, and (3) taxpayers, who would be forced to bear the burden of subsidizing these new marriages through the government benefits that become available to married couples.

Thus, to extend marriage rights to gays, the government will take the property rights of businesses, the right to freedom of religious belief from churches, and will impose more burdens on the over-stretched taxpayers. I can see no justification for doing this based on a group that defines itself by its conduct rather than some innate characteristic. In other words, gays aren’t gay unless they act upon those impulses -- unlike blacks who are black no matter what they do. Thus, being gay is by definition a choice. And while gays may claim being gay is an impulse they cannot control, so is bestiality and serial killing, yet gays would not suggest extending rights to those groups. Thus, their argument is not principled and cannot support their claim.

Consequently, I oppose gay marriage.

And indeed, my fears are already being played out in England, where the government is forcing churches to provide equal services to gay couples and to hire gay employees, no matter what the church’s view on the morality of homosexuality might be. Consider this bit of incredible double-speak by The Economist explaining why this does not violate the freedom of religious belief:
“[The government] was not questioning the right of religious bodies to follow their own beliefs when hiring priests or imams; it merely wanted to clarify that, in recruiting for non-religious jobs (accountants, for example), churches must obey the law and refrain from discrimination against gays.”
I wonder if they would feel the same about the NAACP being forced to hire white racists, so long as they weren’t forced to hire them for their most senior positions?

In any event, on to the issue at hand. I think the writing is on the wall. Each liberal state, like New York, will slowly adopt gay marriage provisions. The conservative states are unlikely to at this time. However, even the conservative states will eventually cave in. For one thing, libertarians have wrongly fallen for the one-sided “we just want freedom” argument and have not considered the rights being taken. Moderates do not find homosexuality immoral and thus see no reason to oppose it -- a flawed bit of logic in American society, i.e. that having no reason to oppose something means a right thereto should exist. Thus, combining liberals, moderates and a chunk of the conservative ranks will be more than enough to eventually get gay rights passed.

What’s more, the pressure will increase when the world doesn't end. Little will change as a result of gay marriage laws. Cities won’t erupt into panic or fall into Sodom-like levels of debauchery and God’s not going to turn everyone in Boston into salt. . . though he should for several reasons. A small number of gays will marry, giving further proof they are only 1-2% of the population and not 10% as Kinsey claimed, and few people will even notice the difference unless they work in their firm’s HR department. If the world doesn’t end, then even conservative states will begin to wonder what the big deal is. And I suspect it will only be a matter of time before they follow suit.

So the thing to do now is to reconsider the strategy. And to do that, we need to consider what the goals are. If the goal is to change public perceptions about homosexuality, then a massive public relations campaign will be in order to explain why it should bother average Americans that there might be gays lurking in neighboring homes. This will be very difficult unless places like New York implode. Thus, a better strategy might be to figure out whose rights will be infringed upon and work to pass laws protecting those rights. For example, I would suggest legislation that:
(1) Prevents employers, businesses or landlords from being forced to recognize any marital arrangement they consider outside their moral beliefs and specifically granting these employers, businesses or landlords the right to discriminate against those types of marriages. Unfortunately, this would probably require a Constitutional change.

(2) Prevents churches from having to recognize any relationship, hire any person, or extend any right, privilege or benefit to any person where such an act would violate the church's religious doctrine. This would be consistent with the First Amendment and would probably work.
A better approach, however, might be to get the government out of the marriage business entirely. Let me ask this, has it helped or hurt the institution of marriage that the government has been recognizing and affirming marriages? I would say marriage is in much worse shape now that the government is involved -- as with everything else the government seeks to help. By making the government blind to marriage and returning this institution to churches, it would be entirely up to the churches and private employers, businesses, landlords and individuals if they choose to recognize and/or favor marriage.

This may sound radical, as indeed I thought it was when I first heard it, but it might be a good solution. It gets the government out of deciding what is moral and what isn't and away from social engineering. It also returns the role of the regulation of marriage to the churches, and thereby makes both stronger institutions again. Churches could require things like pre-marriage counseling, a waiting period, and consideration of numerous things the government doesn't ask anyone to think about. Indeed, this last point could be critical as removing the government from marriage would force people to take more care in arranging their affairs (e.g. inheritance, care of children in the event of death or divorce, etc.), things people now assume the government will do for them automatically. This should certainly force people to go into marriage with their eyes open.

Maybe a little bit of independence would be a good thing for all concerned?


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Gender Equality Comes To The Taliban

Obama and the Surrendercrats are right after all. In fact, we don't even have to wait for a year or two for a near-complete drawdown in Afghanistan. At last, the Taliban have joined the 21st Century and have indicated their readiness to join the world of civilized nations. Taliban women are no longer property or second-class citizens. They're fully mainstream now--officially.

The Taliban announced publicly for the very first time that on two separate occasions in the past week, females were used in attacks on police and military officials in Pakistan near the Afghan border. Now what could be more equal and more enabling than to be able to join the men in blowing themselves to bits in the name of the Prophet? There has been speculation and some evidence that they have used women in the past for suicide bombings, but now it's proudly official.

In one instance, a husband and wife team dressed themselves in burqas in Kolachi, entered a police station, started firing, and after a five-hour standoff, blew themselves up. That resulted in ten deaths, not including the male-female team. It should be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. The duo was able to get into the police station largely because until now, two burqa-clad figures theoretically meant two women, and the Taliban would never use evil, degenerate women to please Allah. The locals are more likely now to take a quick peek under those outfits capable of concealing Fat Man and Little Boy both. You've come a long way, baby.

The other incident has gotten a bit more Taliban propaganda publicity, because the bomber in this case was an eight-year old girl. A child, you say? Don't forget that among the Taliban and other cave-dwelling primitives, the age of consent is somewhere around six, so this girl was nearly middle-aged. This sacrifice for the love of Allah took place in the Char Chino district of the Pakistani province of Uruzgan.

The Taliban are so anxious to get out the good news about gender equality that they didn't actually stage this second attack too well. It remains unclear if the girl actually had any idea what she was about to do. The elders handed her a bag with an improvised explosive device in it and told her to take it to police forces. She did, and blew herself up, but did little damage to the police station and there are no reported deaths other than the gender-equality one.

There is also the problem of the Taliban previously denying the use of willing gender-equal female bombers and attackers. About a year ago, a female suicide bomber wearing a chic burqa blew up a United Nations food distribution center in Pakistan, killing forty-five people. But the Taliban first denied involvement, then simply refused to take credit for the bombing. Today, they are making great progress in bringing women into the forefront of "liberation" as an official policy.

The Taliban didn't want anyone to confuse the current girl-bomber with the one who failed a week earlier. It would ruin the official version of her body parts being sent to the four winds. The earlier incident involved an attack that failed. In that case, a nine-year old girl told a harrowing tale of being kidnapped in Peshawar then sent off to blow up a Pakistani checkpoint. She was told by her handlers that she should walk calmly toward the checkpoint while reciting verses from the Koran until it was time to push the button. And therein lay the failure. It never occurred to the cave boys that a nine-year old kidnap victim might not be in the mood to spread herself over a half-acre of territory guarded by people she didn't know and had no quarrel with. Religious zealotry can go only just so far.

Interestingly, though proudly taking credit for the voluntary self-immolation of an eight-year old girl in Pakistan, the Taliban strongly deny using children at all for attacks inside Afghanistan. Despite the gracious protection given to the Taliban in Pakistan by sympathetic Pakistanis, they don't seem to have the same sensitivities toward child suicide bombing victims there as they do at home.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

2012 Contender: Michele Bachmann

On social issues, Michele Bachmann is solidly on the Religious Right. On economic issues, it’s not clear what she believes. She excels at political theater and inflammatory rhetoric, using words like “Marxist,” “socialist” and “gangster” liberally against all her opponents -- left and right. But I see little substance, and what I see is decidedly pro-Big Business.

1. Personal Background. Bachmann grew up as a Democrat, but switched parties in college when she didn’t like Gore Vidal “mock[ing] the Founding Fathers” in his 1973 novel Burr. She became political praying at abortion clinics. Between 1988-1993, she worked for the IRS as a tax collection attorney. She served in the Minnesota State Senate before becoming the third woman to represent Minnesota in Congress. She has five children and was a foster mother to 23 teenagers.

2. Social Conservatism. Social conservatism appears to be Bachmann’s primary motivating concern:
Abortion. Bachmann got her start in politics praying outside abortion clinics. As a Minnesota state senator, she introduced a constitutional amendment to ban the use of state funds for abortion. In Congress, she co-sponsored bills (1) to ban Planned Parenthood’s funding, (2) to make it a crime to take minors across state lines to have an abortion, (3) to ban federal funding for abortion, (4) to declare that life begins at conception, and (5) to give fetuses equal rights under the 14th Amendment. She supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortion except in the cases of rape or incest.

Gays. In 2003, Bachmann proposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. In 2004, she tried to get a same-sex marriage ban on the referendum ballot. In 2005, she tried again with the proposed constitutional amendment. Each effort failed. She supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. She has voted against extending employment discrimination laws to gays. Also, related to this issue, her husband owns a Christian counseling clinic which apparently seeks to convert gays to heterosexuality.

Creationism. Bachmann supports teaching intelligent design.
3. Economics. Bachmann’s economic policies lack substance. She doesn’t have a website yet (a red flag considering she’s been running for President for years), which means we have no economic plan to consider. Aside from such a plan, her legislative record is scant, contradictory, and filled with meaningless votes and gestures. It’s rare that she drafted legislation to get her views made into law, she was never a deciding vote on any issue, and there's no evidence she can build coalitions to get legislation moving:
● As a state senator, she proposed amending Minnesota's constitution to add a taxpayer’s bill of rights, based on Colorado’s TABOR. This went nowhere.

● In 2005, she blasted Tom Pawlenty’s proposed 75 cent per pack surcharge on cigarettes, but she ultimately voted for it.

● She opposed the Wall Street bailout bills (TARP and TALP) in the form they passed. Instead, she advocated suspending the accounting rules that require banks to value mortgages at their fair market value -- this would have artificially made banks appear solvent. I found no evidence she introduced legislation to back her proposal.

● She advocated breaking up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and barring its executives from receiving excessive compensation or golden parachutes, but I found no evidence she introduced legislation to back this up.

● Bachmann opposed the auto bailout bill in the form it passed. She instead proposed an alternative bailout with additional conditions that set benchmarks for reducing debt and renegotiating labor deals. Again, I found no legislation.

● Bachmann voted against the first $825 billion stimulus (Jan 2009) and the third $60 billion stimulus (Sept. 2009). But, she voted for the second $192 billion stimulus (July 2009).

● Bachmann voted against expanding the student loan program. It passed.

● Bachmann opposed increasing the minimum wage, which passed.

● In March 2010, Bachmann proposed legislation to bar the government from replacing the dollar. This is already illegal, and her bill went nowhere.
4. Big Business v. Main Street. Bachmann joined the Tea Party movement, but much of her legislative effort has been decidedly pro-Big Business. Note that she didn’t actually oppose the auto or Wall Street bailouts, she just wanted them done differently. Her Wall Street plan was the one advocated by most of the big Wall Street investment firms. She also voted against regulating the subprime market in 2007. Moreover:
● In 2008, Bachmann coauthored a bill with Democrat Tim Mahoney to remove statutory damages against credit card companies for abusive debt collection practices.

● In 2011, she joined other Republicans in advocating the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law on the basis that “Dodd-Frank grossly expanded the federal government beyond its jurisdictional boundaries. It gave Washington bureaucrats the power to interpret and enforce the legislation with little oversight.” But that’s simply wrong. Dodd-Frank was written by Wall Street insiders to give the appearance of creating a financial regulatory scheme without actually changing anything, and the Democrats/Republicans are playing their constituents for chumps on this. A Tea Party person should have recognized this.
5. ObamaCare. Bachmann introduced a bill with Rep. Steve King to repeal ObamaCare. She later criticized Republican leadership for not shutting down the government until Obama agreed to the repeal (and defunding Planned Parenthood) -- after originally supporting the deal to avert the shutdown. That’s grandstanding.

Her own version of healthcare reform is standard Big Business Republican rhetoric: let insurers compete across state lines, increase health savings accounts and tort reform.

6. Social Security/Medicare. Bachmann has called for phasing out Social Security and Medicare, except for people already “in the system.” But then she opposed the part of Paul Ryan’s budget that does that for Medicare, stating that she puts an undefined “asterisk” next to her vote for the budget on that issue.

7. Global Warming. Bachmann considers global warming a hoax and opposes cap and trade because carbon dioxide “is not a harmful gas.” In 2008, she and 24 co-sponsors introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. The bill wasn't considered by the committee or brought to a vote. In 2008, she became an advocate for increasing oil and natural gas exploration in ANWR and offshore. She also supports wind, solar and nuclear.

8. Immigration. Bachmann’s position on immigration is to secure the borders and enforce existing laws. I found nothing more. She supports making English the official language.

9. Guns. Bachmann supports gun rights and in 2007 co-sponsored a bill to bar Washington, D.C. from requiring gun registration or trigger locks. In 2009, she co-sponsored a bill to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry their guns in other states.

10. Census. In June 2010, Bachmann said she would boycott the census. She backtracked on this and eventually introduced the American Community Survey Act, which sought to limit the amount of personal information collected by the Census. The bill went nowhere.

I like Bachmann a lot, but I'm concerned. Her preference for political theater over coalition building makes her ineffective. She’s had numerous squabbles in Minnesota and Congress, which resulted in her being kept out of or kicked out of leadership positions, and she has yet to show she can get things done. In this regard, she's much like Ron Paul, casting meaningless protest votes. But I'm most concerned that she appears disinterested in economic issues and that her default position seems to be “do what Big Business wants.” I'll reassess her economic plan when she finishes her website, but based just on what we know now, I have serious doubts she would make a good President or a good conservative President. Right now, she comes across ideologically as George Bush Jr. plus a penchant for indiscriminate bomb throwing.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

The World Trade Center - A Progress Report

After nearly ten years of arguing and kvetching about what should and should not be built at Ground Zero, World Trade Center Four has finally reached the 35th floor after years of nothing. Soon I will lose my view of the Hudson River which I gained only through a major tragedy, but I realized something very valuable this week...

As I have watched for years as the World Trade Center has risen slowly and painfully from the ashes, I learned that construction workers have a wonderful sense of humor and a flair for whimsy...

Thanks to the steel workers, for the first time in almost 10 years I looked out of my office window overlooking "Ground Zero" and felt joy...

Oh, and its head moves too!
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Why I Have Multiple Personality Disorder

I have been pondering why it took me nearly six decades to figure out that my birth city, Chicago, and my adoptive city, San Francisco, are ever so slightly nuts. Well, I've given up on that, but after seeing two recent takes on one subject, I'm beginning to see why I have so many arguments with myself. Take gun control, please (apologies to Henny Youngman).

Chicago's Police Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, recently made a speech at St. Sabina's Church that concluded that lax federal gun sales and distribution laws are "government-sponsored racism." He explained as follows: "I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of African-American history in this country, and tell me if I'm crazy. Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country, that are killing black and brown children." As a good liberal, he didn't hesitate to blame the rich sellers and manufacturers. "There has to be a recognition of who's paying the price for gun manufacturers being rich and living in gated communities." Gated communities like the one Rev. Jeremiah Wright lives in? With his armed bodyguards? That kind?

And to clinch the argument, he told the riveted parishioners a tale of when he was police chief in Newark, New Jersey. "When I got home after policing a brutal night of killings, I turned on the TV to relax, and tuned in to Sarah Palin's Alaska. She was caribou hunting and talking about the right to bear arms. Why wasn't she at the crime scene with me?" Uh, because she was in Alaska hunting caribou, you idiot! That's where she's from, and there's a noticeable dearth of caribou in both Newark and Chicago. So, yes, in answer to your question, you're crazy. Was she only shooting black and brown caribou? Is that what you're getting at? Or is it that white people who hunt caribou also like going to Newark to shoot black and brown people. I don't get it.

In San Francisco, racism and gun control is also an issue. The same liberal sponsors who tried to pass a handgun ban a couple years back are at it again. That time, the majority "minority" population joined the whites in defeating the measure, fairly soundly. A similar law in another city had already been declared invalid by the California Supreme Court which decided that California's constitution provided that state law preempts the field as to firearms. But that doesn't stop zealots. And despite rejection by the voters and a clear opinion by the state Supreme Court, they're going to give it another try.

OK, now follow this closely. Several prominent black leaders have denounced the gun-grab movement as being--get ready--racist. Their contention is that the law would take away the only protection most black families have from the violence all around them. According to this line of thought, police would be constantly raiding black homes looking for illegal weapons while leaving those murderous white folks alone in their mansions. The murder rate by guns in the largely black Bay View and Hunters Point section rivals that of Harlem and South Chicago. So 180 degrees from the Chicago viewpoint, the racism in San Francisco is about laws that would be too strict, not too lenient.

It is unlikely that the new gun-grab will even make it onto the ballot this time, but frankly I can't blame anyone--black, white, or otherwise--who feels that there is little enough safety in the high-crime areas without leaving them completely unarmed for self-defense.

So which liberals are right? Is gun control racist because it takes guns away or is gun law racist because it makes gun ownership too easy? Fortunately, I have been away from both cities for over a year now. My head is clearing, and I haven't been a liberal in decades. I decided a long time ago that gun laws, tough or loose, have absolutely nothing to do with racism and everything to do with deciding that the Second Amendment doesn't mean what it says, and its clear intent is not its clear intent. And now I have the United States Supreme Court on my side. Best of all, if I ask a resident here in Caliente what he or she thinks about gun-control laws, the answer will be "what gun-control laws?" Oh, and incidentally, our murder rate by gun is among the lowest in the state.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Film Friday: The Rite (2011)

Exorcism has become big business since The Exorcist scared audiences to their immortal souls. In fact, these days, you can’t swing a demonic cat without hitting a would-be exorcist. Hollywood has dutifully exploited this craze by turning out about two exorcism-related films a year. Unfortunately, Hollywood fears diverging from formula, so it keeps. . . remaking. . . the. . . same. . . film. And no exorcism film shows this more than The Rite. Is it the exact plot of The Exorcist? Not quite, but it might as well be.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms [+]

Run For Your Life! Mom Dropped A Bulb.

At Commentarama, we bring good things to light. And we aren't even beholden to General Electric. If this report pans out, you may find yourself not having to buy incandescent bulbs from hinky-looking characters in back alleys. You might even be able to drop a bulb and not have to call a hazmat team to come to your rescue. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

On the other hand, this may be bad news for all those GE workers in China who are busily manufacturing mercury-filled compact fluorescent bulbs. We have moved from Khrushchev threatening to bury us to China threatening to poison us.

Republican House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan is telling insiders that he is close to an agreement with other House members which would repeal the 2007 ban on incandescent bulbs. They were set to be banned and placed on the black market in 2012. All but 40 watt or lower bulbs would be prohibited (and how long would they be allowed afterwards?) unless Rep. Upton is successful.

The ban may not be a hot-button issue like unemployment or the debt ceiling, but it could end up becoming one if the Senate rejects the House move and/or Obama vetoes the bill. Unlike unemployment and the debt ceiling, having dangerous, ugly and ill-fitting light bulbs shoved down our throats directly affects every American's ability to choose for himself. It's nanny-statism and phony environmentalism gone mad. It would also demonstrate Obama's commitment to the special interests of his megacorporation buddies like Jeffrey Immelt, CEO and Chairman of General Electric.

The original ban was entitled "The Energy Independence and Security Act," which proves just how devious power-grabbing Democrat eco-weenies and global warming hoax-supporters can be. How secure does it make us when General Electric is becoming one of China's largest employers? How independent does it make us to rely on foreign workers to produce a product nobody wants? "Energy independence" to the Obamists means eliminating the major sources of power (fossil fuels and coal) that will light up those hideous bulbs.

Who says intelligent people can't make mistakes, then do the right thing and try to correct them? Rep. Upton originally supported the 2007 legislation, but at least on grounds of economy and efficiency rather than global warming nonsense. But support it he did, and now he is actively attempting to fix that mistake. The mercury-poisoning danger posed by the bulbs alone should be enough to cause a change of heart and mind. But Upton also sees the damage it is doing to the American worker and American industry, and the cozy relationship between the environuts, the administration, and humongous corporate wheeler-dealers.

The bill, if it does actually make it through the House will only be the opening salvo in a prolonged eco-war. The energy produced just by Al Gore exploding could power traditional bulbs for every American for six months. But every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and this would be a big step. As for me, you can pry my 75 watt incandescent bulb from my cold, dead hands. Best of all, if you accidentally break it, you won't drop dead or produce two-headed children.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Commentarama Reading List (Part 1)

Today we unveil part one of the Commentarama Reading List. These are the top conservative/liberal fiction books you should know. Next time, I’ll do nonfiction books. Then we’ll finish with books you should know to be well-versed in our culture. Today’s list contains thirteen conservative and eight liberal fiction books that best represent the ideologies. These are well-known/influential books with strong messages about liberal and conservative principles -- even if that wasn’t the author’s intent. A couple will surprise you.

Interestingly, finding books that genuinely belong on the list was difficult. Lots of books include political messages on particular issues, but few truly represent the ideology. Also, breaking these down as liberal or conservative proved difficult, particularly as many authors intended something other than the message they ended up creating. So feel free to disagree with my selections and let me know what you think should be added or subtracted.... maybe we can get the list to 25? FYI, check (HERE) to see my criteria for separating them.
The Conservative Books
1. 1984, George Orwell (1948): Number one has to be 1984. Although Orwell was a socialist with communist sympathies, 1984 became the seminal anti-collectivist, anti-big government book. No other book so clearly expresses the nightmare of all-powerful government crushing the individual. 1984 also was ahead of its time, foreshadowing everything from political correctness to doublespeak to thoughtcrime to the surveillance society. . . Big Brother is watching. This is a must read for conservatives.

2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1957): A capitalist opus, Rand’s Shrugged graphically portrays the destruction of society by a government that takes from those who can to prop up those who can’t. If economic equations can be expressed as plot points, this novel does that. Singing the virtues of capitalism, competition and self-interest, this book proved prophetic as leftists have systematically tried to repeat the acts of her villains, always with the consequences she predicted. Shrugged is also unapologetic about the fact that socialism is not noble, it is theft and oppression.

3. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1931): Huxley is a bit of a contradiction. An extreme critic of the utopian visions of the 1930s, he was also an LSD user who fell for every whacko and mystical idea. Nevertheless, Brave New World is an essential companion to 1984. BNW replaces Big Brother’s government with a corporate “The World State,” but the effects are just as onerous as individuality is crushed to serve the collective good. Yet, unlike Orwell’s 1984, this crushing isn’t done by the government stick, it’s done by an endless supply of government carrots that placate and sedate the public. As Huxley explained, the civil libertarians who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

4. Animal Farm, George Orwell (1945): Animal Farm is an attack on Stalinism (which Orwell described as “ceaseless arrests, censored newspapers, prowling hordes of armed police”), but inadvertently tells us why no collectivist society will ever work. Without the possibility of personal profit, the animals become indifferent free riders who don’t work but expect to receive the benefit of everyone else’s labor. And the collectivist leaders quickly set themselves above the law, keeping the spoils of society for themselves and using cold-blooded murder to eliminate their opponents and suppress the population. All animals are equal, but some animals are indeed more equal than others.

5. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (1943): Rand’s Fountainhead brought the concept of objectivism to life. This book teaches that the only way for mankind to achieve its potential is to free individuals from the sabotaging/protectionist efforts of others. This is brought home brilliantly as a bevy of lesser architects struggle to prevent genius Howard Roark from achieving his potential and thereby exposing their own lack of talent. In essence, Rand argues that society should let people exercise their talents without restraint and let them succeed or fail on their own merits.

6. Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1955) and The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis (1950): I’ve lumped these together because they’re on the list for the same reasons. Both LOTR and Narnia are favorites of religious conservatives, though some groups complain about “pagan imagery.” But they make our list because they are more than just religious allegories: they advocate classic heroic/ethical values, i.e. the stuff the Greeks described as the noblest parts of humanity -- belief in honor and duty, self-sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, and staunch opposition to evil without trying to justify it as shades of gray. These books define the “personal responsibility” portion of conservative thinking.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960): Listing this as a conservative book may seem counter-intuitive as the Civil Rights Movement has been defined by the left as a liberal idea. But the values taught by Lee outline the conservative view of civil rights -- equality under the law for all individuals combined with moral persuasion to end discrimination. . . not the group rights of liberal thinking. Thus, this book's philosophy does not fit with liberal thinking. Indeed, if this book were published for the first time today, I suspect liberals would attack it as Uncle-Tom-like because of its passive acceptance of the world as it is, i.e. its failure to advocate a government solution.

8. The Trial, Franz Kafka (1925): Kafka is another socialist who gives us a reason to fear the consolidation of power. In particular, The Trial warns us against abandoning the rule of law. In this case, a man is arrested and prosecuted by a government which refuses to show itself to him and which refuses to reveal to him the nature of the crime for which he is being charged. This is more real than you would think.

9. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling (1997): Yep. The Harry Potter series is packed with conservative themes. And while this isn’t a social commentary per se, it does a heck of a job promoting conservative values. For example, as I’ve noted before, the Harry Potter series promotes families, capitalism, individual responsibility, and it shows government to be bureaucratic, corrupt, abusive, manipulative and evil. The series also clearly recognizes the difference between good and evil and doesn’t fall into shades of gray or excusatory psychobabble. These books may not have the gravitas of Lord of the Rings, but their pro-conservative politics are even stronger and more obvious.

10. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1902): A deeply conservative writer, Conrad hated both socialism and direct democracy. Darkness is Conrad’s attack on colonialism and is about good and evil and the dangers to our souls of doing evil deeds. While modern liberals like to lump colonialism in with other supposed “conservative” crimes, its actual roots were liberal -- a utopian belief that government force used benevolently could make natives better people. That’s the same belief that later powered socialism.

11. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1951): The left loves to accuse the right of book burning, primarily because the Nazis burned books and religious groups periodically try to ban one thing or another. But the Nazis were left-wing and the communists were equally guilty, though they were quieter about it. And in terms of modern thinking, it is the left that seeks to ban politically incorrect books, words and ideas from society. Thus, Fahrenheit is a conservative book as it attacks over-bearing governments that control their people by controlling what ideas they can know about.

12. Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961): An anti-war novel about the marginalization of the individual, this book defined the modern view of bureaucracy. Unlike the darker 1984 and The Trial, Catch-22 explores the circular reasoning and absurdity of bureaucracy as the heroes encounter “no win situations” and “double blinds.” This book does have a counter-culture feel however, and could also be seen as liberal, but its theme is conservative.

13. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein (1966): A novel about a lunar colony’s revolt against rule from Earth, with themes of “rational anarchy” and seeing government as non-existent except as the acts of self-responsible individuals, Heinlein’s Moon is considered one of the most influential libertarian novels of the last century. This book is credited with coining the phrase “there’s no free lunch.”
The Liberal Books
1. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair (1906): Jungle defines progressive politics as it exposes the corrupt practices of the American meatpacking industry and complains about the lack of social programs for the poor. Originally published in a socialist newspaper, Sinclair hoped this would encourage a welfare state. Much to his chagrin, the public focused only on his safety complaints about the meat packing industry and ignored his concerns about the poor.

2. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (1928): As mentioned the other day, this book is liberal not because it’s anti-war, but because it’s anti-society. This book is anti-officer, anti-family, anti-church, and anti-traditional “heroic” values like honor, duty, self-sacrifice, courage, and friendship. It is the ultimate expression of selfishness, right down to the indifference to the suffering of their comrades. But this is also an excellent book and it became the prism through which modern society would see war.

3. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922): A retelling of the The Odyssey by avant-garde stream of consciousness writer Joyce, Ulysses dwells on the squalor and monotony of life in 1920s Dublin, Ireland. Originally banned as obscene because a character masturbates, this book was the crown jewel of the modernist movement which revolted against realism, tradition, the Enlightenment, and belief in God.

4. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1939): The story of sharecropping “Okies” from Oklahoma who flee to California after the dust bowl, this story is leftist propaganda about the idealized working poor being exploited by the demonized rich. It advocates unions and the New Deal, though it complains that not enough money was spent by the benevolent government. Still, it’s a good book for understanding the historical context of the New Deal.

5. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003): On the surface, Code seems like nothing more than conspiratorial fiction. But this book highlights the recent style of attacks on traditional values by the left. This book takes a provably wrong theory that insultingly cuts to the core of Christian belief and presents it as fiction “based on” truth, i.e. it pretends it’s true without saying so. This book is the latest form of soft propaganda.

6. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen (1879): Ibsen’s House is not only feminist propaganda, but it heralds the truly selfish thinking that dominates liberal thinking. Ibsen’s heroine not only rejects traditional society, but she walks out on responsibilities she’s undertaken, i.e. her children. Ibsen says he wasn’t trying to create “propaganda” for “the women’s rights movement,” but was instead trying to show the need of every individual to become the person they really are. And apparently that means abandoning your family to find yourself. Welcome to the 1960s. . . one hundred years early.

7. The Stand, Stephen King (1990): The Stand appears on some conservative book lists, but I suggest they look closer. The Stand is anti-capitalist, anti-American-society and deeply anti-military, which it shows to be enthusiastic murders. And while many Christians mistake its message for being pro-Christian, it actually advocates liberalism combined with meekness and mysticism as a substitute for religion.

8. Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1954): Conservatives believe people are good and can be moved to improvement with moral persuasion. Liberals believe people are evil and must be controlled by force. Flies makes the liberal list because it tells us that left on their own, children will become murderous animals for no particular reason, i.e. it views humans as inherently violent and evil.

Thoughts? Additions? Subtractions? Corrections?

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All Right, Students, Compare And Contrast

You are about to read two reports, one each on two public figures. I'll be summarizing recent news coverage on each of them, and commenting as I go along of course. Each of the two is the subject of public discussion of ethics, and possible violations of ethics codes and law. Now pay attention. There will be a short quiz at the end, and a bonus question.

First up: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. After digging around in the garbage, and talking personally with all of Anita Hill's closest friends, reporter Mike McIntire believes that he has found a smoking gun. Now mind you, this isn't about sexual harassment, we'll get to that later. But McIntire needed solid witnesses and where better to look than the people involved in his high-tech lynching? The issue, you ask? Justice Thomas has a friend (a rather wealthy one, at that) who was actively involved in funding a cultural museum in Thomas's home town of Pin Point, Georgia.

Thomas is in trouble on three counts. He has a rich friend, he comes from Pin Point, Georgia, and he supports the cultural museum. That is patently unethical, isn't it? McIntire thinks so, and devoted considerable ink to discussing it. Here's the evidence that Justice Thomas is devoid of any sense of morals and ethics. "Clarence Thomas was here [Pin Point] promoting his memoir a few years ago when he bumped into Algernon Varn." That seems innocent enough, but McIntire did his reporter's duty and dug deeper. "Varn's grandfather once ran a seafood cannery that employed Justice Thomas's mother as a crab picker."

And as if that isn't bad enough, Varn lived on the grounds of the crumbling remains of the cannery. Are you beginning to see the insidiousness of this childhood connection yet? The conspiracy between Varn and Thomas knew no bounds. In case you hadn't guessed by now, the rich friend wasn't Varn, though he's doing rather well these days. No, that's not it. Thomas inquired about the cannery property, and Varn told him that it was in pretty bad shape, but would be a great site for some sort of cultural center and revitalization of the cannery, if only he had the money to develop it. Said the sneaky Thomas, "Well, I've got a friend I'm going to put you in touch with, but he prefers not to be in the public eye." Aha! Gotcha! Thomas's friend is not only rich, but he must be a sleazy criminal [like Tony Rezko].

Well, not exactly. The rich friend is Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate magnate and, God help us all, a major contributor to Republican conservative causes. When Crow was told about the project, he offered to finance it himself, to be paid back at no interest if and when the center became self-supporting and capable of paying him back. Crow was fully aware of how successful the dilapidated Monterey Cannery Row in California had become after being revitalized, and he took a chance that a restored cannery could also support the cultural center. Well, that dirty rat!

McIntire gasps, and concludes "the project throws a spotlight on an unusual, and ethically sensitive, friendship that appears to be markedly different from those of other justices on the nation's highest court." McIntire is so sure that the whole world knows all about the friendships of the Supreme Court Justices that he doesn't explain or give any example of how this relationship is "markedly different." As far as I know, it isn't.

McIntire is on a roll now. "In several instances, news reports of Mr. Crow's largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics." I'm sure every Wal-Mart customer is buzzing about those news reports. I'm sure they are so well-known that universities and corporate board rooms are having fierce debates over the subject. Unfortunately, I never heard of them until now, and the only "news report" of which I'm aware is the one from McIntire.

Ya know, if there are ever any facts, evidence, proof, testimony, logic, codes, law or non-opinion to support this startling revelation, I will be on it like flies on McIntire. But until then, I guess we'll all just have to take his word for it that this is the worst Supreme Court ethical violation that nobody has ever heard of to come along in many a year.

Next up: Democratic Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida is under investigation by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics for allegations that he sexually-harassed a female staffer over a lengthy period of time (See? I told you we'd get to the juicy stuff eventually). He's also being sued by the staffer in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. In her affidavit (a declaration under penalty of perjury), Winsome Packer says: "[I received] unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings."

Before you ask, the answer is "no, I didn't make up the staffer's name to protect the innocent, or the guilty for that matter." Now we all know from our education about testimony and perjury taught by Bill Clinton that even if Hastings is guilty, it's only about sex, so it doesn't matter anyway. Everybody lies about that, we're told. But nevertheless, Hastings completely denies the charges. So, real charges of a real violation should be ignored, while incomprehensible allegations of an unknown form of ethical violation that only one reporter knows about must be taken very seriously. If you're confused, come and join me.

Now--for the quiz.

Question 1: Which of the two stories got front page headlines in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and honorable mention on CNN, MSNBC, and NBC? Discuss. Show your work.

Question 2: Which of the two personalities being discussed is black? (It's a trick question).

Question 3: Is there such a thing as karma, and is Hastings the victim of it?

Bonus Question: Name at least three mainstream outlets which discussed the Hastings story and mentioned that former federal judge Alcee Hastings earlier was charged with bribery and kickbacks totaling $150,000.00 to reduce the sentences of several mob bosses and return their seized assets. Or that he was impeached by a House vote of 413 to 3, convicted and removed by the Senate on a vote of 69 to 26, becoming only the sixth federal judge in American history to be removed from the bench by the Senate. Oh, and the Senate also found him guilty of perjury, largely because that time is wasn't about sex.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why I've Quit Sitcoms

Sitcoms are dead to me. They weren’t always, but then two sitcoms destroyed the entire industry. What two sitcoms? Friends and Roseanne. In truth, it’s probably not fair the blame these two specifically, so much as it is to blame the way everyone in Hollywood copies whatever was successful last. But I’m not feeling particularly fair.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms [+]

Global Warmists Lie About Ocean Levels

No sooner did we discover that the trees are sabotaging global warming, than we get news that global warming enthusiasts are fudging their data to make the oceans appear to be rising, when they aren’t. This has been a bad month for the enthusiasts. In fact, it’s been a bad couple years.

Climate change enthusiasts have had a bad time of late:
1. Their seminal religious text, the Nobel-Prize-winning Fourth Report (2007) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been repeatedly disgraced:
● They had to retract a completely unsupported statement that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035.

● Accurate satellite, balloon and mountain top observations made over the last three decades have not shown any significant change in the long term rate of increase in global temperatures. In fact, global temperatures are currently below the “low end” of the IPCC’s prediction. What’s more, 1999-2008 showed no warming, and certainly not the 0.20 degrees Celsius expected by the IPCC.

● It was revealed that flaws in weather stations wrongly created warming.

● It was revealed that the report wrongly used summer data for winter months to generate warming.

● The IPCC claim that global warming will hurt biodiversity was shown to have no basis -- not to mention that the world’s species are at least one million years old and thus have all been through hundreds of climate cycles.

● They had to retract unsubstantiated fears about threats to the Amazon rainforests;

● The IPCC’s statement that sea level would rise 2.3 mm per year was shown to be based on data collected in a part of Hong Kong that is sinking.
2. Real scientists have debunked much of the enthusiasts claims. For example, despite claims by enthusiasts, CO2 does not constitute 3% of the atmosphere, it actually constitutes 0.037%. What’s more, ice core samples show that we are currently in a low CO2 period compared to earth’s history. Indeed, CO2 levels have been as much as 10 times higher than today. And CO2 changes typically follow temperature changes, i.e. they do not lead temperature changes, and often by hundreds of years.

3. In 2009, the climate “scientists” primarily responsible for tracking global warming were caught fudging their data and formulas and waging a jihad against their opponents (see climategate).

4. In January, IPCC scientist Osvaldo Canziani was listed as an advisor on a report that overstated warming by 1000%, and which was published even after this error was pointed out to the study’s authors. They neither corrected nor noted the error.

5. Last week warming enthusiasts had to back down from claims about warming because it turned out that trees were actually absorbing carbon dioxide. . . as expected.
Now we have the sea level issue. Warming enthusiasts assert that rising sea levels would wipe out islands and coastal cities. The IPCC predicts sea level rises equal to 2.3 meters per century, with 2.7 feet happening this century. But in January 2010, they had to retract this report because of “mistakes in time intervals and inaccurately applied statistics.” Then in May of 2010, a paleogeophysics/geodynamics professor from Stockholm University in Sweden issued a report that observations from around the world showed no rising sea levels in the last 40 years.

So what do you do when the sea just won’t do what you predict? The University of Colorado’s Sea Level Research Group decided to add 0.3 millimeters a year to their sea level figures to create rising sea levels where none exist.

But don’t worry, they assure us, this rising is real. . . you just can’t see it because the land level is rising too. Does this make sense to anyone? If this is true and both land and sea are rising equally, then where is the justification for panicking the world into fighting global warming? And if it’s not true, then this is just another example of poli-scientists fudging their data to make their predictions appear to be true. And if land and sea are rising equally, why add 0.3 millimeters to create the impression that the sea is rising faster than the land?

Do you know what the Sea Level Research Group responded? Come on, we're not adding much.

I kid you not.

(P.S. Sorry for not continuing the 2012 contender series today, but Bachmann is requiring more research than expected. Besides. . . Ronald "Huntsman" Reagan has it all sewn up, right?)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How To Tell Liberal From Conservative Books

I’m working on a Commentarama reading list, which will be published Thursday evening. Before I do that, however, it might be wise to define “liberal” and “conservative,” as these concepts are rather nebulous and easily confused. Indeed, as we saw when National Review and Big Hollywood started listing “conservative” films, most people have no idea what constitutes a liberal or conservative film, and they instead confuse things they like for "conservative" and things they dislike for "liberal."

For starters, let me recommend that you go back and read my article on What Constitutes A Conservative Film. That article lays out the difference between mere conservative elements and actual conservative stories, and how to spot both. In particular, you need to look at the context of how issues are presented and how conflicts are resolved.

Secondly, let me ask: should we judge a book by its content or the author’s intent? Take 1984. Orwell was a committed socialist and even a fan of Soviet communism (until the truth about Stalin’s murderous ways came out, at which point he disavowed the Soviets, but not communism.) Yet, 1984 is the seminal anti-totalitarian text. How can this be? Because Orwell meant 1984 as an attack on Nazism, which he considered a right-wing philosophy and which he didn’t see as being at all like communism. So should we call this a leftist book because Orwell meant to attack what he perceived to be a “conservative” philosophy, or should we call it a conservative book because it attacks leftist oppressive government? I believe we should treat books for what they actually are, not what they are intended.

So how do we separate liberal from conservative books? Well, let’s start with the problem: confusion.

Liberalism and conservatism are often confused for a variety of reasons. For one thing, these ideologies are not always honest about what they believe because they know it will not play to the mainstream. (Liberals in particular use rhetoric that does not match their actions.) This blurs the line. Moreover, sometimes liberals/conservatives take ideological positions on particular issues that they would normally oppose so as to maintain political alliances or because of historical accidents. Also, some people who claim to be liberals/ conservatives really aren’t, and they advocate things that are antithetical to the underlying principles of the ideology. Populists and kooks fall into this category as they shift back and forth between pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Yet these groups are “loud” enough that liberalism/conservatism often gets associated with their views.

More importantly, however, both liberals and conservatives largely see the same problems and injustices within society and thus lay claim to the same issues. This generates further blurring and thereby confusion. However, the two ideologies almost always differ in the solutions they propose. And that is where we must look.

To understand this point, one must realize that both modern liberalism and modern conservatism claim roots in classical liberalism -- although the liberal claim is dishonest. Classical liberalism advocated the rights of the individual against the state. It believed in things like freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion or non-religion, freedom of property, freedom of person, and freedom from conformity. However, those freedoms were not unfettered, as classical liberalism also assumed that personal responsibility was required to exercise those rights and government intervention was allowed when personal responsibility failed. Modern conservatism grew from these roots and largely continues to follow these principles today -- a balancing of individual rights against personal responsibility.

By comparison, modern liberalism adopted the rhetoric of individual rights, but actually disdains those rights. Instead, it advocates collective rights and imposition of a solution by those in authority. This is because modern liberalism really traces its roots back to progressivism, which sought to use government power to fix the ills of society. Moreover, liberalism has disdain for the concept of individual responsibility. Instead, it balances competing group interests.

What this means is that when you get a topic like civil rights, it is propaganda to say that one side cares more than the other about the issue. Indeed, both sides have adopted this as a cause. But they see the issue differently and they advocate very different solutions. For example, the conservative solution is to require equality under the law combined with moral persuasion to get people to see all individuals in a color-blind way. The liberal solution is to use the power of government to force group equality. Moreover, both define equality differently, with conservatives believing in equality of opportunity and liberals believing in equality of result. Other issues are similarly divided.

Thus, when trying to separate books into liberal or conservative, the relevant question is not what issues they address, the relevant question is what solutions they propose?

Now let me add two caveats. First, on conservatism: it is important to realize that being religious and being conservative are not the same thing. Religion deals with the relationship between ourselves and God, politics deals with the relationship between man and the state. Thus, being politically conservative and being religious address two different aspects of the human condition. There can be significant overlap, particularly as many people let their religious views inform their sense of personal responsibility, but it is very possible to be conservative without being religious. The corollary is true as well, as it is equally easy to be religious without being politically conservative. What this means in terms of labeling books is that just because a book has a religious theme does not make it conservative. . . it makes it religious. Whether or not the book is also politically conservative will depend on how the religious themes are applied to the relationship between man and the state.

Secondly, on liberalism: there is another aspect of liberalism that must be considered. Liberalism has a destructive core that asserts itself periodically. That’s why socialist movements turned to violence in the 1900s, 1930s, and 1960s. And that’s why the counter-culture found a home within liberalism and why counter-culture values, i.e. the tearing down of existing societal institutions and norms, continue to hold so much sway within liberalism today. Thus, books that promote counter-culture values, even where the underlying issue may be of concern to both conservatives or liberals, must be considered liberal.

A good example of this would be All Quiet On The Western Front, which predates the official counter-culture movement, but shares its elements. Neither left nor right is “pro war.” Both have found reasons to start wars and both have shown a willingness to resist wars. Thus, it would be wrong to say the anti-war All Quiet is a liberal book just because liberals have been more anti-war lately than conservatives (in the 1930s, this was reversed.) What makes All Quiet a liberal book, rather than a conservative book, is its disdain for the traditional institutions of society. This book is not merely anti-war, but it is anti-officer, anti-church, anti-family, and anti-hero, by which I mean it disdains the individual values society normally considers noble, i.e. self-sacrifice, courage, honesty, faith, etc. That puts the book firmly into the counter-culture wing of liberalism and makes it a liberal book.

And let me be clear on this counter-culture point. Merely advocating change does not make one an advocate of counter-culture values. Counter-culture values are at odds with society and human nature as a whole and they seek to destroy existing institutions rather than reform them -- it is the difference between eliminating racism within police ranks (i.e. reform) and eliminating the police force (i.e. counter-culture values). Counter-culture values tend to be extremely radical.

That’s how I would divide books ideologically. If they propose a government or collectivist solution or they advocate group rights, or if they advocate counter-culture values associated with breaking traditional society, then they are liberal. But if they advocate freedom for the individual vis-à-vis the state coupled with individual responsibility, but without pushing those freedoms to the point of being counter-culture beliefs, then they are conservative.


Tune in Thursday for the list. . .

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