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Announcing the Society for Equal-Opportunity Offenders

August 6th, 2014 - 4:01 pm

Last night, at a semi-secure, undisclosed location in Sydney, I had occasion to address a tonic group of serious thinkers who congregate periodically under the aegis of Quadrant magazine, which is by far Australia’s best cultural review.

My topic was “Fundamentally Transforming the United States of America.” But my remarks, I may venture to say, were not as dour as my title might suggest.  For while a good bit of my talk was devoted to cataloging some of the many depredations conducted by President Obama & Co. against the freedom, security, and prosperity of America. I also noted that the metabolism of transformation, even “fundamental transformation,” works in both directions.  Obama and his junta really are conducting open warfare against the Constitution and the rule of law (this just in: New Jersey cop: “If Obama doesn’t follow the Constitution, we don’t have to either”). But elsewhere in the world the virus of political correctness and socialistically-inclined torpor has been successfully rebuffed.  The dynamo that is Canada under Stephen Harper is one example.  Australia under Tony Abbott is another.

Both men have done an enormous amount in a very short time to revitalize their countries, demonstrating that the parable of Lazarus has an institutional as well as a personal application.  Obama has been a sort of institutional wrecking ball on legs, but now that a light gleams, however faintly, at the end of the tunnel of his disastrous tenure, we should take heart from the examples of our Anglosphere neighbors to the north and across the Pacific. We can hope that the instinct for self-preservation will at last trump the desire to bathe in the glow of politically correct self-admiration.  (“An Englishman’s mind works best,” said one wit, “when it is almost too late.”)

That said, I do want to register a demurral about Tony Abbott.  One of the topics of conversation last night was his retreat from efforts to overturn section 18C of Australia’s “Racial Discrimination Act.” According to one of my dinner companions, the act provides for legal penalties if someone from a recognized minority or victim group feels offended by something said or written. Gosh. (What if I feel offended by people who promulgate such nonsense? Am I entitled to an apology and compensation?)

One prominent case involved a politically mature journalist and television commentator called Andrew Bolt.  Mr. Bolt, who seems to have developed a habit of speaking frankly about contentious issues, has an admirable record of ticking off the delicate plants, redress mongers, and searchers-after-monetary-judgments with bracing regularity.  His most recent supposed tort, the thing that sent him afoul of section 18C of The Act (majuscules, please!) was his observation a couple of years back that it had become fashionable among hip-aspiring whites to ape black fashions in clothes, speech, and demeanor. “The articles,” Wikipedia reports, “suggested it was fashionable for ‘fair-skinned people’ of diverse ancestry to choose Aboriginal racial identity for the purposes of political and career clout.”

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From Apathy to Dependence

August 5th, 2014 - 4:04 pm

I am writing from beautiful, dynamic Sydney, Australia, whose 4.5 million polyglot inhabitants are enjoying the no-nonsense good government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who recently signaled his refreshing sanity by abolishing the country’s stupid “carbon tax,” aka, its tax on prosperity. There’s no hope that Barack Obama will ever proceed from his Romper Room of moralistic environmentalism to that state of enlightenment, but then we will not have Obama with us that much longer. May we hope that, at last, the American people are waking up to the economic nightmare that decades of fiscal incontinence have prepared for the country.  Again, I offer free and for nothing the idea of a grassroots organization whose high purpose is summed up in its title ThrowTheBumsOut.Org

There are many aspects to this tsunami of of fiscal irresponsibility. One element, which gets intermittent attention in the news, is the monster of pension debt threatening to devour our livelihoods. “Yes, yes, yes,” I hear you saying. “But what does that really mean?”

There are a few folks — more and more, I am happy to say — who are out in the trenches bringing the sorry news back to us voters.  One, which I have written about before in this space, is the great OpenTheBooks project out of Illinois.  Another, which I just found out about this morning, is TransparentCalifornia.

California is an interesting state. Big. Populous. Dynamic. And ridden with debt. Even California’s perennial governor, Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown, acknowledged the problem when he came to office and decried the state’s “wall of debt,” the nearly $25 billion debt the state faces. Governor Brown promised to fix things, but in fact the state’s current liabilities are only the tip of the problem. As a recent piece in the San Jose Mercury News noted, if you look behind that $25 billion wall:

You’ll see a $330 billion skyline of other liabilities threatening the state’s financial health. It includes $80 billion needed to cover teachers’ pensions and $64 billion to pay for state workers’ health care in retirement — two particularly troublesome liabilities because the state isn’t even making the minimum payments on them.

Let’s stop to contemplate that: $80 billion to cover teachers’ pensions and $64 billion for health care.  How did that happen?  In brief, the unions helped elect politicians who in turn made promises they couldn’t keep to the unions, who in turn helped re-elect the politicians, who in turn repaid that favor with even more generous tax-payer-funded subsidies, and so on ad, not infinitum, for that cannot happen, but certainly ad nauseam.

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The Gods of the Copybook Headings

August 3rd, 2014 - 2:38 pm

Do you remember Rudyard Kipling’s great poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”? The whole thing is very much worth reading. Today’s headlines, however bring this  powerful stanza to mind:

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.

“They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.”  Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the U.S. army, because of the Obama administration’s military cuts, is cashiering 550 majors.  Some are getting the news while on duty in Afghanistan. And that’s after 1200 captains got the news that their services were no longer required by the army.

A couple more data points from this morning’s headlines, courtesy of the Drudge Report:

And so on.

Also out today is a report from an independent panel appointed by the Pentagon and Congress warning that “President Obama’s strategy for sizing the armed services is too weak for today’s global threats.”  The shrinking US armed forces, the report cautioned, is a “serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States,” “inadequate given the future strategic and operational environment.”

It is still August 3rd in the United States as I write, but in Melbourne, Australia, where I am at the moment, it is the morning of August 4, the centenary of Britain’s entry in WWI. There are many events planned to commemorate that awesome moment. At first, the war was greeted by many heedless people on both sides with jubilation. “We’ll be home by Christmas,” etc., etc.

Then came the slaughter of the first battle of the Marne in September. Altogether, that little outing cost more than 500,000 casualties in about a week. Four years later, much of Europe lay in ruins, tens of millions were dead, three empires had vanished from the face of the earth, and European civilization as it had been known lay devastated, never to recover.

“The story of the human race,” Winston Churchill wrote at the end of his 3-volume history of the Great War, “is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world.” Wise men acknowledge that truth and behave accordingly.  We do not have wise men leading us in Washington.  The preposterous folly that is the Obama administration — its arrant lawlessness, its race baiting, its spectacular maladministration — looks more and more like a dangerous prelude to disaster.  There are plenty of voices speaking up to call attention to this malignant burlesque.  Mostly, they fall on deaf ears.  Let’s hope that people awaken from their dogmatic slumbers before the rest of Kipling’s poem has a chance to come true.

 

A lesson from Down Under

August 2nd, 2014 - 3:06 pm

I write from an idyllic spot on the Great Ocean Road, a couple hours outside Melbourne on the way to Adelaide. A vast expanse of spotless ocean opens out below me, and there’s nary a ship or illegal-immigrant-bearing boat in sight.  That’s been happening mostly up by Christmas Island, an Australia territory in the Indian Ocean. Hordes of indigents from Sri Lanka, India, and elsewhere had been crowding  on to something that floats and making their way to Christmas Island, if not the Australian mainland itself, and, once ashore, seeking out the nearest welfare agency for their first check. It was not dissimilar to what’s been happening on the Southern border of the United States, except, alas, there is no great body of water to impede those eager welfare seekers slipping into the U.S. 

The Aussies, under the enlightened leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, seem to be well on the way to solving the problem. The key is way they call “off shore processing.”  The key is nabbing the chaps before they set foot onto your sovereign territory.  Do not, I heard Prime Minister Abbott say on television last night, do not get on a boat and try to come here illegally. It won’t work.

Just like President Obama, right?  Strong leadership from a man who has his own country’s vital interests at heart . . . (just kidding).

Tony Abbott’s scheme relies on the Republic of Nauru. Nauru has been much in the news here lately. It’s a tiny island in the South Pacific, about 8 square miles in size and sporting fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.  It also, through special arrangement with the Australian government, serves as a sort of way station where illegals are docketed before, if all goes well, they are sent back whence they came.

Why doesn’t the United States find a U.S. equivalent to Nauru?  I first thought of Guantanamo Bay, our resort for terrorists on Cuba.  President Obama has pretty well emptied that of high-value prisoners, exchanging them for army deserters and the like. But perhaps Guantanamo Bay is not the right spot.  I also thought of Guam. Notwithstanding Congressman Hank Johnson, we can be reasonably sure that that small island will not tip over (as Congressman Johnson, D., of course,  GA., feared). Guam might work.  But the best place would be an independent principality in the Caribbean, some island republic not too far from Central America that we could pay to take the many welfare seekers who are pouring across our southern border.  I’m told it’s working out pretty well for the Aussies.  We should give it a shot.

A Lesson in Economics for Argentina

July 31st, 2014 - 12:48 pm

Ok, you economists, this is a quick exercise in free association:  When I say “South America”  what do you think?  If you said “default,” go to the head of the class. Really, it’s the whole bloody continent (think “Mexico,” amigo), but let’s just look at Argentina, an economic basket case if there ever was one. The only question I have is why, given its recent history of fiscal incontinence (not to mention political barbarousness), anyone would lend them a nickel. 

The latest episode, which has been much in the news lately, involves more than $1 billion that Argentina owes to Elliott Management, a New York-based hedge fund. Things came to a head yesterday (well, I am writing from New Zealand, and somehow lost Thursday: it happened on Wednesday in New York) when Argentina failed to make  a $500 million bond payment and slid, officially, into default.  As the New York Times reported, Argentina had the money on to make the bond payment, but a right-thinking New York federal court judge had ruled that the spendthrift country had to pay its other creditors first. Clever work!

Of course, the New York Times is all pursed-lips about this.  It describes the head of Elliott Management, Paul Singer, as “a billionaire,” i.e. a bad guy, and goes on to note with distaste that the hedge fund’s pursuit of Argentina “is motivated by a desire to make money.” You don’t say? Is that a bad thing?

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Having just returned from a stimulating colloquy at a semi-secure, undisclosed location among the California redwoods — a location, moreover, cut off from the always exigent importunities of the Internet — I find that our masters in and about Washington, D.C., have continued that long-running road show “Wrecking the United States of America.”  The latest act, taking its place right alongside the three-ring circus of Appeasing Russia, Enabling Hamas, and Turning a Blind Eye Towards Iran, is the Great Disappearing Border Trick now showing in the southern most reaches of what we used to be able to call our country — you know, those bits of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona that border the land that “stout Cortes,” with eagle eyes, gazed upon lo! these many years ago. I mean, to speak plainly, the anarchic breakdown of law and order on the southern border of the United States of America and tsunami of illegal immigration orchestrated by Democrats in search of fresh dependents and future voters for their cause of destroying America.

Does that sound harsh?  Have you been paying attention?  How many millions of illegal aliens are the Democrats going to welcome and then grant amnesty to? At this point, no one knows.  The clock is still running.  Meanwhile, if Republicans block amnesty, the president has threatened to whip out his phone and his pen (or, at least, his pen) and extend amnesty by executive order.  That would be a sterling example of executive overreach, i.e., executive lawlessness, but what do you supposed establishment Republicans, those in the punditocracy as well our elected representatives, say?  Just before I went offline for a spell, David Brooks of The New York Times explained that talking about impeaching Obama was “obviously Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.”  And just yesterday, Charles Krauthammer, while acknowledging that, were Obama to grant legal status to the hordes besieging our southern border, he would be flouting the law and would have committed an impeachable offense, nevertheless said that to impeach the president would be “political suicide.”

Let’s pause over those statements for a moment.  Cast your mind back to that moment in 2013 when the Republicans decided to use the power of the purse that the Constitution vested in the House. Obama did everything he could to demagogue the situation. He cancelled tours of the White House, closed air lanes, and kept veterans out of national parks and monuments. Republicans promptly caved and swore they’d never listen to Ted Cruz again.  So Congress is no longer allowed to use its power of the purse to check executive overreach.

Fast forward to today.  The spectacle of lawlessness practiced by this administration is, or should be, breathtaking. It’s been catalogued by many observers, most crisply and exhaustively, I think, by my friend Andy McCarthy, whose book Faithless Execution is a veritable catalogue of lawlessness, from earlier immigration follies and abuse of the IRS to Obamacare and the festering scandal of Benghazi. One wit observed to me that the book ought to have been published the way some law school textbooks are, in a sort of binder format so that new cases can be added as they occur.  Faithless Execution was released in May, but already there have been important new instances of presidential lawlessness, e.g., trading five senior Taliban operatives for  one army deserter, Robert Bergdahl, new IRS follies, and right now, today, the immigration implosion.

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Even as Establishment Washington, Republican as well as Democrat, does it’s ostrich imitation and pretends that there is Nothing To See Here, Move Along, two organizations, and two courageous judges, are beginning to peel back layer after layer from the fetid onion of corruption that is the scandal of the IRS’s “lost” emails.  As the Washington Free Beacon reports, law suits brought by True the Vote and the invaluable watchdog group Judicial Watch have resulted in court orders that the IRS answer the complaints and show eft-sone and right speedily (i.e., within a month) what steps were taken to retrieve the supposedly lost emails from Lois “I’ll take the Fifth” Lerner.  As Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, noted, “These extraordinary court rulings are key steps in unraveling the Obama IRS’s ongoing cover up of its abuses against critics of this administration.”

Commenting on this development, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit had the obvious ( also the correct) response: “They were incriminating, and show White House involvement. So they were ‘lost.’”

It was ever thus.  I am just re-reading bits of David Fromkin’s classic Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?  In a chapter called “Shredding the Evidence,” Fromkin details how the French and Germans both did their best to muddy the historical record, and thereby escape blame for the catastrophe of the war, by concealing, destroying, or falsifying incriminating documents. Gradually, modern scholarship has managed to piece together the truth, at least in broad outline.  It has been a painstaking process. Looking back over the many efforts by the chief players to distort the truth and thereby escape blame, Fromkin notes soberly that “On the whole, we have to draw the obvious and commonsense conclusion that documents destroyed or hidden probably were embarrassing or incriminating, and that the effort to blot out or falsify the record was undertaken in order to deny responsibility for the IRS’s criminal activity in persecuting opponents of the Obama administration.”

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The Rot of Intolerance at Swarthmore

June 29th, 2014 - 5:36 am

It’s nice when they make things perfectly clear. You step on to a college campus and you are beset by people parading around telling you how much they love “diversity.” Then you find out that when anyone who holds an opinion not perfectly in line the the contemporary gospel of race-gender-environmental sensitivity, they are shouted off campus.  If they had been invited to speak at campus, they are disinvited, or if that wasn’t possible their appearance is subjected to sophomoric protests.  As I put it last month in The New Criterion, contemporary academia presents us with that oxymoronic phenomenon, Illiberal Liberalism. 

Many well-meaning folks, I’ve observed, tend to discount the seriousness of this development. No matter how egregious the episode, they are ready with an extenuating excuse. It was an exception. It was not as bad as you made it seem. It was quickly remedied by a caring/sharing administration.  Et very much cetera.

It will be difficult, I think, for such hear-no-evil types to argue away Peter Berkowitz’s Open Letter to Swarthmore’s Board of Managers.  Berkowitz, himself an alumnus of Swarthmore, wrote to urge the tony but financially troubled institution to choose carefully in its search for a new president.  Please, he asked, please pick someone who will uphold the traditional values of liberal education, values that centrally include tolerance for competing views of the world.  Contemplating what actually happens at pampered institutions like Swarthmore, however, it is difficult to be sanguine. Berkowitz cites one episode that, in its crisp fatuousness, epitomizes so much that is wrong with higher education today.

Princeton Professors Robert George and Cornel West differ sharply in their philosophies. George is a conservative Catholic, West is some variety of Leftist firebrand. Despite their differences, however, they are friends and often appear together to debate. This is how it should be on college campuses, of course, since colleges are institutions that were formed to encourage free inquiry.

But that formation took place long ago.  When the pair came to Swarthmore in February to debate “same-sex marriage,” they were greeted by angry protests. Listen to Erin Ching, Class of 16: “What really bothered me,” Ching was quoted in the Swarthmore student newspaper as saying, “is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion. I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.”

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Deunionize the IRS

June 25th, 2014 - 5:55 am

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Here’s a headline from Forbes that caught my eye: 

IRS Employees Union Is ‘Very Concerned’ About Being Required To Enroll In Obamacare’s Health Insurance Exchange

You can’t blame ’em. Workers in the private sector are also “very concerned” about getting dumped into Obamacare’s subsidized insurance exchanges as, one by one, employers are forced to give up providing health insurance for their employees.

It’s possible that, like me, you are entertaining an un-Christian feeling of Schadenfreude about this happening to a large, widely loathed, and deeply politicized government agency.

But thing thing that should really arrest your attention about this headline, and the story it introduces, is contained in the first three words: “IRS Employees Union.”

The government’s tax collecting agency is unionized?  Think about that for a moment.

The union in question is the National Treasury Employees Union. According to the web site of the NTEU, the mission of the union is “to organize federal employees to work together to ensure that every federal employee is treated with dignity and respect.” That’s a tall order, in part because there are so very many federal employees. The NTEU’s web site includes a nifty interactive graphic that shows you just how many there are in each state: 279,622 in Texas, for example, 350,544 in California, 165,943 in New York, etc., etc. There are, in short, millions of them.

And what political party do you suppose they support? In the 2012 election cycle, 94% of its PAC contributions went to Democrats, 4% to Republicans. That’s only one year, of course. How about 2010? That year 98% of its contributions went to Democrats, 2% went to Republicans. 2008 was a bit more balanced: that year only 96% went to Democrats. As Andrew Stiles pointed out at National Review, the NTEU is a “powerful, deeply partisan union whose boss has publicly disparaged the Tea Party and criticized the Republican party for having ties to it.”

As the example of Lois “I’ll-take-the-Fifth” Lerner suggests, employees at the IRS support Democrat candidates by a huge margin. “The agency’s employees are heavily engaged in politics and lean considerably to the left,” Stiles reports. “Records show that IRS employees in 2012 donated more than twice as much to the Obama as to the Romney campaign. Nearly two-thirds of all employee contributions over the last three elections cycles have gone to Democrats.”

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It’s only recently that I became aware of  John Koskinen, who was sworn in as the 48th commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in December 2013. Mr. Koskinen is obviously a smart chap: BA magna cum laude in physics from Duke; member of Phi Beta Kappa; a JD, cum laude, from Yale; and post-graduate work at Cambridge University. Watching snippets of his testimony before Congress on June 20th and June 23rd about the Case of the Missing Emails, however, I had to wonder whether, in all his years working for Freddie Mac and trying to salvage the Teamsters pension plan, he had ever managed to take on board Walter Scott’s famous couplet from “Marmion:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!

This was not Mr. Koskinen’s first time testifying, under oath, before Congress about the ever-broadening IRS scandal. Back in March, Mr. Koskinen faced a demand that the IRS produce “every single email [sent by Lois 'I-take-the 5th' Lerner] in the time period in the subpoena.”

“Will you commit to provide all those emails?”

“Yes, we will do that,” answered Koskinen.

Words are funny things, though.  What do you suppose the congressman meant by “all” and “every single email”?

If you’re just an ordinary Joe or Jill, the sort of schlump folks like John Koskinen and Lois Lerner are used to pushing around, you might have thought that Congressman Jim Jordan, who made the demand, wanted the IRS to turn over, you know, all of Lois Lerner’s emails from the period under review, that is, he wanted the IRS to produce every single email from the specified period.

Are we clear about that? (In case you think the request was ambiguous, look at this footage.)

On March 26, Mr. Koskinen said (I paraphrase), “Sure, boss, no problem: you want all the emails of la Lerner, I promise to get you all the dame’s emails.”

That was March 26th. On that date, according to Mr. Koskinen’s sworn testimony, he had no idea that he didn’t have access to all of Lois Lerner’s emails because, gosh darn, her hard drive failed and, wouldn’t you know it, they had no backup and, what’s more,  Lerner’s hard drive had been “recycled.”

So he couldn’t produce all the emails because (as far as we know right now) many of the emails are lost. The IRS, Mr. Koskinen testified, knew about the lost emails in February, but no one told him, the commissioner of the agency, this interesting fact until April.

It’s nice that it was April, because had it been anytime before March 26, a skeptical observer might conclude that John Koskinen had been economical with the truth when he testified before Congress on March 26th and promised to hand over all the emails.

Just as the IRS forgot or neglected — at least, they said, according to Mr. Koskinen, that they forgot or neglect — to tell him that 2 years’ worth of emails had gone missing, so Mr. Koskinen forgot or neglected to tell Congress about this most interesting fact when (according to him) he found out about it in April. Exactly when in April?  He can’t remember. Who told him?  He can’t remember that either. After all, the IRS has 90,000 employees (think about that!) and, after all, it was filing season. He was busy.

What do you think about that gambit? Convinced?

Or how about this: the IRS, which requires individuals to keep records for 7 years, only keeps emails for 6 months. Mr. Koskinen also testified that they cap the number of emails they save at 6,000. Why? Because their servers are overloaded. The head of the IRS said that it would cost between $10 and $30 million to upgraded their servers to accommodate a full backup.

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