Works and Days

Works and Days

Iran, the Munich Comparison, and the Abuse of History

August 2nd, 2015 - 7:30 pm


The Iranian deal has called to mind the Munich Agreement of 1938. Then Britain and France signed away the sovereignty of Czechoslovakia, in hopes that Adolf Hitler would be content with absorbing the German-speaking Sudetenland borderlands and cease further territorial acquisitions. But that appeasement only accelerated Nazi atrocities, from Kristallnacht at home to the dismemberment of all Czechoslovakia and, the next year, the invasion of Poland.

Is the Munich disaster a sound analogy for the current proposed agreement with Iran?

The Obama administration and its supporters say no. And they have offered a variety of odd arguments. How can anyone compare the once most powerful state in industrial Europe with the current, relatively isolated, and backward Iran, whose theocracy supposedly poses a far smaller threat than did Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht?

But is that assumption really true?

For all the later talk of Blitzkrieg in 1939-40, Hitler in 1938 was fairly weak. He had no model of tank that matched French heavy armor. Combined British and French aircraft production exceeded Germany’s, and in most cases allied planes were as good as German fighters and bombers. By 1940 Britain alone would be producing more fighter aircraft than Germany. In 1938-9, the combined infantry forces of the Western democracies — Britain, France, Denmark, Belgium the Netherlands and Norway — exceeded those of the Wehrmacht.

In the east, the Soviet Union alone fielded far more tanks, planes, guns and men than did Germany in 1938. Czechoslovakia, in the Skoda Works, had one of the most dynamic arms industries in Europe as well as extensive fortifications on the German border. Had the Polish, Czechs, and Russians united and stood firm, Hitler would have either backed down or would have been defeated — at a time when he was vastly outnumbered on his vulnerable Western borders.

The combined British and French fleets alone deployed about ten times more capital ships than did Germany, which never built a single aircraft carrier or deployed a single successful four-engine bomber.

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Donald Trump and the Fed-Up Crowd

July 26th, 2015 - 7:03 pm

Donald Trump — a former liberal and benefactor of Democrats — is still surging. But his loud New York lingo, popular put-downs of obnoxious reporters and trashing of the D.C. establishment are symptoms, not the catalyst, of the growing popular outrage of lots of angry Americans who are fed up.

The fed-up crowd likes the payback of watching blood sport in an arena where niceties just don’t apply anymore. At least for a while longer, they enjoy the smug getting their comeuppance, as an uncouth, bullheaded Trump charges about, snorting and spearing liberal pieties and more sober and judicious Republicans at random.

Perhaps they don’t see the abjectly crude Trump as any more crude that Barack Obama calmly in academic tones assuring Americans that they all could keep their doctors and health plans when he knew that was simply untrue or announcing to the nation that his own grandmother was a “typical white person” or advising supporters to “get in their face.”  They see Trump as no more vindictive that Harry Reid lying about Mitt Romney’s tax returns (and then bragging that such a lie helped defeat him), or a Sen. Barbara Boxer publicly attac­­king the single, non-parental status of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And they certainly don’t see Trump as uncouth as an Al Sharpton — former presidential candidate, chief advisor on matters of race to Barack Obama, and current TV news show host. Trump’s crass bombast is enjoyed by the fed-up crowd as the proper antidote to the even greater bombast of the Left, who created Trump’s latest manifestations.

The conservative base is tired of illegal immigration. Their furor peaked with the horrific killing of Kate Steinle by a seven-time convicted felon and five-time deported illegal alien.  They are baffled that one apparently exempt and privileged ethnic group can arbitrarily decide to ignore federal law. They are irate that they are lectured about their supposed racism from an open-borders movement predicated on La Raza-like ethnic chauvinism. They do not want to hear about nativism from a lobby that so often at rallies waves the flag of the country that none of the protestors seems to wish to return to, a country whose authoritarianism is romanticized as much as their host country is faulted for its magnanimity. Call this what you will, but emotion over neglecting federal law is much less worrisome than cool calculation over violating it.

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San Francisco: One Sick Sanctuary City

July 19th, 2015 - 2:44 pm

In this Tuesday, July 7, 2015 file photo, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. More than 1,800 immigrants that the federal government wanted to deport were nevertheless released from local jails and later re-arrested for various crimes, according to a government report released Monday, July 13, 2015. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File)

The horrific — but likely preventable — death of Kate Steinle at the hands of five-time deported illegal alien and seven-time released felon Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez should remind us all of the dangerous wages of ignoring the law.

In the upcoming months, the trial of her killer (on parole from Texas authorities and a user of aliases) may well prove a circus of sorts. We will likely hear all sorts of contextualization to explain why either Lopez-Sanchez was not culpable for the shooting, or hardly can be seen as the inevitable result of a quite unhinged policy. Or we will hear that he was just aiming at sea lions and simply missed with one of his three shots. Indeed, already the ubiquitous and often shameless Rep. Gutierrez has scoffed (on Telemundo no less) that the death of Kate Steinle was “a little thing” (una cosa pequeña).

San Francisco, as is true daily in other sanctuary cities, rolled the dice with someone else’s safety, and, in this case, a life was lost.

In a larger sense, we are asked to believe that breaking federal law is a one-time phenomenon for the illegal alien, not often the beginning of habitual legal noncompliance that quickly snowballs into a labyrinth of illegality — all predicated on the crime of entering the U.S. unlawfully. Suggesting that cities with large populations of illegal aliens witness no greater per capita crime rates (and do we know accurately the number of illegal aliens who reside in these supposedly safer cities?) than others is to ignore everyday things like creating false identities, filing fraudulent Social Security numbers, and driving without licenses, insurance and registration. Or are these written off as mere infractions rather than crimes?

By needs, the world of millions of illegal aliens is not one where one reports or counts all criminal activity, or considers reportable the sort of crimes that citizens would pay dearly for (try getting caught with a fake ID, or filing a Social Security number). But if the host country did not have a problem with millions entering it illegally, it certainly has even less than a problem with what follows.

I had the Orwellian experience of driving to the DMV not long ago while listening to a talking head on the car radio sermonize on the less-than-average criminal incidents among illegal aliens. Ten minutes later I queued up in a serpentine line with over a hundred habitual drivers who, as illegal aliens, were there for their first driver’s licenses. In the past, had they broken no law? Was it really a crime yesterday morning when two non-English speakers turned up on my front lawn, in trespass, sitting down waiting “for someone,” while exchanging wads of cash — just hours after my pickup was reported stolen with its registration (address) and the gate and garage clickers? Do such “infractions” happen much to Gov. Brown or Sen. Feinstein?

What we won’t hear from quite liberal people is that their own policies of legal nullification are catalysts for tragedies. Municipal and state nullification of federal statutes also has a shameful American history. It was just such a principle — that local and regional lawmakers could decide that the law of land is not applicable to themselves — that was at the heart of the argument for the Old Confederacy.

If 19th-century South Carolina could unilaterally declare that U.S. law did not apply within its environs, why then not 21st century San Francisco as well? (Apparently San Francisco thinks South Carolina was on the winning side of the Civil War.)

Such contemporary liberal nullification is predicated on the relativist premise that progressive and situational cancellation of law is noble — whereas other, less enlightened states or city rights movements have no business copying their model. Should Billings declare gay marriage illegal inside its city limits , or should Fresno County decide to suspend the Endangered Species Act inside its border, or should Provo announce that the city would summarily deport illegal aliens without notifying federal authorities, San Franciscans would be outraged. They would rightly equate such nullification with secessionism.

Picking and choosing which federal laws to follow — whether or not to file a tax return with the IRS? — leads where exactly? Do those who are caught not filing tax returns statistically have no higher incidence of criminality? And if that were true, what exactly would it prove?

The president early on developed a strange tic of editorializing on local criminal cases — both trivial and fundamental — to squeeze from them a few drops of supposed transcendental wisdom. Professor Henry Louis Gates was briefly detained for the understandable appearance of breaking into his own home. For Obama, that psychodrama prompted a teachable moment about the supposed racial prejudice of police who “stereotype” people of color.

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Last March, California Governor Jerry Brown declared that those who wished existing federal immigration law to be enforced — in the manner that would have saved the late Kate Steinle from a five-times deported, seven-times released felon illegal alien – were:

[A]t best … troglodyte, and at worst … un-Christian.

In California, if one assumes that the law as written should be followed, one is dubbed either a cave-dweller or an apostate. Meanwhile, sophisticated non-troglodytes in San Francisco have a sheriff — with a criminal record of his own — release a repeat felon and often-deported illegal alien, and that act is proof of his enlightenment.

Did Ms. Steinle rate any editorialization from the president or his administration in the manner of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown? In all these cases, the allegation is that the state was culpable for the death of an innocent. But Ms. Steinle had no prior criminal record or brushes with the law, and was walking and not in a fight or in the process of being arrested, so therefore her death did not rise to the level of a Ferguson or Baltimore “teachable moment.”

Last week in Canada, the governor next turned his wrath on supposed “climate change deniers.” (Note the cheap moral equivalence between skepticism of man-made global warming and denial of the Holocaust.) He included them again in his growing categories of pre-civilized cave-dwellers. Brown scoffed to his more sophisticated Canadian audience:

We have a lot of troglodytes south of the [Canadian] border.

If one is both a “climate change denier,” and wanted someone like Francisco Lopez-Sanchez not to have been let into the U.S. unless he had met a background check and had waited in line for legal entrance, or at least was deported after his first felony, not his seventh, or at least was not let back in after his first deportation rather than his fifth, is he a troglodyte squared?

Aside from violating Churchill’s dictum that it is always unbecoming for a statesmen to ridicule his own citizens to foreigners while abroad, consider Brown’s weird logic and his own record as well.

Some of the state’s pillars of addressing climate change — Solyndra, the vast, expensive, and unimpressive cost-to-benefit (but quite impressive bird-killing) Mojave desert solar farm, and the planned corridor of the high-speed rail from Fresno to Corcoran — are assumed to be sophisticated and non-troglodyte. But completing a few of the once-scheduled California Water Project reservoirs would be Neanderthal.

Building a modest million-acre gravity-fed foot reservoir (had we started in Year One of this drought, it might have been finished by the present Year Four) would supply, at about the same cost, twenty times the annual water of the new southern California desalinization plant, without the daily “carbon footprint” of a huge electrical bill.

Insulting Americans as knuckle-draggers also makes no sense for a governor who, when he once presided over a 20 million-person state in the late 1970s, did much to cancel California’s planned infrastructure growth (“spaceship earth,” “smaller is better,” “era of limits,” etc.). He now presides over a 40 million-person state, mired in drought and short of canals, dams, reservoirs, and freeways.

If we cannot build reservoirs (although we might still should there be a Year Five of the drought, when the California Water Project and Hetch Hetchy prove inadequate to water the Bay Area corridor), can we at least not discharge to the sea millions of acre feet of stored water for purposes of (failed) fish restoration, for reasons never envisioned by the architects of the project? Those who wish to improve salmon runs are not just talking about redirecting reservoir water in northern California counties, but of recreating salmon runs in the San Joaquin River, something that few now alive have ever seen.

If sea temperatures rise this next autumn and if the familiar El Nino effect – well-known over the past decades — returns, and if we have a particularly wet and snowy winter, what will we then call the return of storms? Will that transition also be dubbed “climate change” because the weather in California became wetter and colder from a slight warming of a distant ocean?

Will Barack Obama fly back into Fresno amid heavy rains, and pronounce the end of the drought as the wage of climate change, in the way that he not long ago flew into Fresno to pronounce the persistence of the drought was the wage of climate change? Oceans that warm up cause snow in California; oceans that cool down cause drought and heat. When climate change is everything, is it anything? Is a slightly warmer phase in the Pacific Ocean bad or good, odd or normal, mysterious or completely understood? Is the present anti-El-Nino effect (i.e., slightly cooler oceanic temperatures) proof of anything? Too little global warming?

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Is the World Becoming Fed Up?

July 5th, 2015 - 5:07 pm

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

Given European socialism, and given its therapeutic culture that assumes morality is relative and situational, it is quite stunning — especially to the Greeks — that suddenly debts are to mean not endless negotiations, haggling, blame-gaming, and contextualization, but are reduced to something akin to Calvin Coolidge’s snarky alleged quote, “They hired the money, didn’t they?”

Aside from the threats of Vladimir Putin and the wobbling of the European Union, Europe is being overrun with illegal immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Once an impoverished foreign national arrives at any European shore, the European Union, either out of utopian piety or colonial guilt, feels obligated to accept him, without questioning much his legal status or the reasons for his arrival — much less why it should not extend such magnanimity to tens of millions of others who may well follow.

But the cash-strapped leftwing European public, outside its privileged elite, is slowly tiring of illegal immigration as well. Apparently it has concluded that tens of millions of illegal migrants neither assimilate quickly nor are much thankful to their hosts for their sanctuary status — and that hundreds of millions more would come if they could to enjoy the European welfare state. An aging and shrinking European socialism accepts that its own redistributionist entitlements are not sustainable. But it also assumes that those arriving from the former Third World have neither the interest nor the skills to join the labor force to subsidize their hosts’ own generous retirement packages.

At home the progressive Left is on the scent of another scalp, this time Donald Trump’s for his uncouth and blunderbuss stereotyping of illegal immigrants from Mexico, who, he implies, are for the most part not Mexico’s choice citizenry and who have a tendency to commit various crimes upon arrival.

The best way to refute the shoot-from-the-hip Trump’s stereotyping of an entire illegal immigration population as inordinately committing crimes and relying on state subsidies should be easy: his critics should not quote creased-browed professors and outraged ethnic activists, but first cite federal and state statistics of crimes committed by illegal aliens as well as the legal status of those on federal and state assistance, and then calculate to what degree these percentages are not — or in fact are — in line with the native American population.

Of course, Trump’s opponents rarely do that, partly because governments, both state and federal — which love to categorize Americans by race, class, and gender — strangely claim that they do not have accurate and up-to-date statistics on illegal aliens. When the liberal PolitiFact stitches together what facts it can find to properly refute Fox pundit Gavin McInnes’s erroneous claim that 50 percent of Texas murders were committed by illegal aliens, does it then go on to correct the record with a more accurate percentage?

No. PolitiFact trumpets that 50% of Texas murders are not committed by illegal aliens. End of story? But it does not then tell us that its own data of refutation nevertheless might suggest that 17% of Texas murders may well be committed by illegal aliens — an astounding figure in its own right.

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Hillary Gump

June 28th, 2015 - 4:03 pm


The fictional and cinema hero Forrest Gump somehow always managed to turn up at historic moments in the latter twentieth century. But whereas Forrest usually had a positive role to play at the hinges of fate, the equally ubiquitous Hillary Gump usually appeared as a bit player who made things far worse.

Take the issue of government abuse, ethics, and public transparency. The modern locus classicus of government overreach was the Watergate scandal. Over forty years ago Hillary was there as a young legal intern purportedly advising the House Judiciary Committee during the congressional investigations. She was also reportedly let go by her superiors for unethical conduct — quis custodiet ipsos custodes? From Watergate to Travelgate to Filegate to Whitewater to the current quid pro quos of the Clinton Foundation to her recent destruction of private emails and her private server while serving as secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been at or near lots of government scandals of the last half-century. Twenty years ago Hillary Clinton was brazenly evading federal law by hiding her legal records from a court-ordered subpoena for documents — in the same fashion that in 2015 she destroyed all traces of her email correspondence on her private server, in violation of State Department protocol and most likely federal law.

Hillary Clinton has been all over the Middle East meltdown. In 1998 the Clinton administration pushed the Iraq Liberation Act, calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. In 2002 then Senator Clinton gave an impassioned speech in voting to authorize the Iraq war. By 2005 with rising unrest in Iraq and in worry over her own looming political ambitions, war supporter Clinton suddenly damned the war and blasted those who supported winning it. By 2007 she was ridiculing the surge. By 2008 she had berated Gen. David Petraeus’s congressional testimony that offered data proving the success of the surge — infamously suggesting that Petraeus was a veritable liar (“suspension of disbelief”). By late 2011 Clinton was helping to orchestrate the withdrawal of all U.S. peacekeepers from Iraq, the most unfortunate foreign policy decision of the last decade that birthed ISIS. She was also assuring the country that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad was a reformer: “There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” A little over a year later, the Obama administration was issuing a red line to Syria — soon to be withdrawn — threatening to bomb Assad out of power for his use of chemical weapons. When Clinton left office, no one could figure out what American policy toward Syria was. Was it against Assad? Against ISIS, the enemy of Assad? Was it working with Iran, an ally of Assad, against ISIS? Working with Sunni regional powers, enemies of Assad? Working with moderate opponents of Iran, Assad, and ISIS to the extent they existed?

By 2011 Ms. Clinton was calling for bombing strikes against Moammar Khadafy without either congressional or UN approval. After the gruesome mob murder of Khadafy, she chuckled that “we came, we saw, he [Khadafy] died.” A sort of Mogadishu on the Mediterranean followed in Libya, as the country descended into an Al Qaeda and ISIS miasma. Of the murders of four Americans that followed in Benghazi, Clinton scoffed, “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” In the aftermath of the killings she also falsely assured the nation and the family of the dead that an obscure video maker, not al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, had murdered the Americans. She later filtered all her email communications concerning Benghazi, destroying thousands of emails that she insists were entirely private in nature.

Hillary Clinton came of age during the era of the new feminism, which lectured the nation about its sexist assumptions: a professional woman need not take her husband’s name; women who sleep with men outside the protocols of marriage are not to be denigrated as ethically suspect; women are to be paid the same wage for the same work as men; women need not cling to philandering husbands to maintain their economic or career viability or social standing. Yet Hillary’s feminist legacy is that loud professions of feminism can offer medieval exemption from sexist acts: she helped organize the administration’s demonization of younger, less powerful women who were harassed by the sexual predator Bill Clinton; she piggybacked her own career to that of her husband; she used census methodologies to criticize pay disparities in the work force that by the same formula show that her own female Senate staffers received much less than her male workers; she rebranded herself with the Clinton name when her husband’s persona proved politically advantageous.

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California: Running On Empty

June 21st, 2015 - 11:57 pm
California Drought-Salmon

In this June 3, 2015 photo provided by the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, juvenile coho salmon, or fry, rescued from Green Valley Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, wait in a container to be relocated to suitable habitat in Santa Rosa, Calif. State water regulators want vineyards in Northern California’s Wine Country to start reporting how much groundwater they are pumping up, saying excessive withdrawals to irrigate grapes are draining creeks that host an endangered population of coho salmon. (Eric Larson/California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife via AP)

The air in the San Joaquin Valley this late-June is, of course, hot and dry, but also dustier and more full of particulates than usual. This year a strange flu reached epidemic proportions. I say strange, because after the initial viral symptoms subsided, one’s cough still lingered for weeks and even months. Antibiotics did not seem to faze it. Allergy clinics were full. Almost every valley resident notices that when orchards and vineyards are less watered, when row cropland lies fallow, when lawns die and blow away, when highway landscaping dries up, nature takes over and the air becomes even filthier. Green elites lecture that agriculture is unnatural, without any idea why pre-civilized, pre-irrigated, and “natural” California was an empty place, whose dry, hazy climate and dusty winds made life almost impossible. The state is running on empty.

Domestic and agricultural wells are going dry all over Central California, especially in the corridors south of Fresno to the Grapevine, along the Sierra Nevada foothills, and out west of the 99 Freeway — anywhere there is not a deep aquifer. I have never seen anything quite like this water madness in 60 years, as families scrimp and borrow to drill, or simply move to town to take advantage of municipal wells. I have developed a habit as I drive to work to Stanford of counting the abandoned homes I see west of Highway 41 (sort of like counting those who sit in Wal-Mart not to shop, but to enjoy the air conditioning they cannot afford).  The number increases each week.  Retired couples — or families in general — apparently do not have tens of thousands of dollars to drill a deeper well, especially given the uncertainty of how fast the dropping water table will soon make their investment superfluous. Without water, there is nothing.

Some dry farmland is turning into vacant parcels. Many rural homes must have potable water trucked in. Hispanics who recently immigrated to California and bought or rented older homes with shallow wells in these areas of the valley countryside have no money to drill deeper $30,000 domestic wells. Nor do many poor whites, who often live in isolated communities in the foothills. Who has the capital to gamble on finding scarce water in dicey granite seams?  There is no water in the reservoirs left to recharge the water table or to fill canals that can be tapped for domestic use.

Along the vast West Side of the Central Valley thousands of acres lie fallow — a euphemism that does not reflect the dust that arises from neglected fields. Thousands of acres of West Side nut orchards seem like they are beginning to wither, as insufficient and brackish water from 1,000-foot wells after four years has fatally taxed the trees. The idea that in such crisis times of the last four years anyone would have released millions of acre-feet of precious stored fresh water to the ocean is profoundly immoral. The thought that anyone would oppose the creation of more reservoirs to accommodate a thirsty state population of 40 million is morally bankrupt.

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Goodnight, California

June 16th, 2015 - 10:59 pm


I offer another chronicle, a 14-hour tour of the skeleton I once knew as California.

8:00 AM

I finally got around to retrieving the car seat that someone threw out in front of the vineyard near my mailbox. (Don’t try waiting dumpers out — as if it is not your responsibility to clean up California roadsides.)

An acquaintance had also emailed and reminded me that not far away there was a mound of used drip hose on the roadside. That mess proved to be quite large, maybe 1,000 feet of corroded and ripped up plastic hose. I suppose no scavenger thinks it can be recycled. I promise to haul it away this week. One must be prompt: even a small pile attracts dumpers like honey to bees. They are an ingenious and industrious lot (sort of like the cunning and work ethic of those who planted IEDs during the Iraq War). My cousin’s pile across the road has grown to Mt. Rushmore proportions. Do freelance dumpers make good money promising to take away their neighborhood’s mattresses and trash without paying the $20 or so county dumping fee? And does their success depend on fools like me, who are expected to keep roadsides tidy by cleaning up past trash to make room for future refuse?

9:00 AM

My relative has sold her 20 acres to a successful almond grower; that was the last parcel other than my own left of my great great grandmother’s farm. All that remains is the original house I live in and 40 acres. Almost all the small farming neighbors I grew up with — of Armenian, Punjabi, German, or Japanese descent — are long gone. Goodbye, diversity. And their children either sold the parcels and moved away (the poorer seem to head to the foothills, the middle class go out of state, the better off flee to the coast) or rent them out. Most of the surrounding countryside, piece-by-piece, is being reconstituted into vast almond groves. I plan to rent out mine next year for such conversion.

Almonds can net far more per acre than raisins and do not require much more water and require almost no labor. Tree fruit, given its expenses and risks, can lose your farm. The last vestiges of small, agrarian farming in these parts died sometime in the 1990s. Oddly, or perhaps predictably, the land to the naked eye looks better in the sense that the power of corporate capital and savvy scientific expertise has resulted in picture-perfect orchards. The old agrarian idea that 40 acres also grows a unique family, not just food, is — how do we say it? No longer operative?

10:00 AM

I drive on the 99 freeway past Kingsburg on the way to Visalia. It is a road-warrior maze of construction and detours. The construction hazards are of the sort that would earn any private contractor a lawsuit. (How do you sue Caltrans — and why is it that four or five men always seem to be standing around one who is working?) Only recently has the state decided to upgrade the fossilized two-lane 99 into an interstate freeway of three lanes. But the construction is slow and seemingly endless. Could we not have a simple state rule: “no high-speed rail corridors until the 101, 99, and I-5 are three-lane freeways, and the neglected Amtrak line achieves profitable ridership?” It is almost as if California answers back: “I am too bewildered by your premodern challenges, so I will take psychological refuge in my postmodern fantasies.”

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Building the New Dark-Age Mind

June 8th, 2015 - 8:23 pm


History is not static and it does not progress linearly.  There was more free speech and unimpeded expression in 5th-century Athens than in Western Europe between 1934-45, or in Eastern Europe during 1946-1989. An American could speak his mind more freely in 1970 than now. Many in the United States had naively believed that the Enlightenment, the U.S. Constitution, and over two centuries of American customs and traditions had guaranteed that Americans could always take for granted free speech and unfettered inquiry.

That is an ahistorical assumption. The wish to silence, censor, and impede thought is just as strong a human emotion as the desire for free expression — especially when censorship is cloaked in rhetoric about fairness, equality, justice, and all the other euphemisms for not allowing the free promulgation of ideas.

George Orwell devoted his later years to warning us that while the fascist method of destroying free expression was easily identified (albeit only with difficulty combatted), the leftwing totalitarian impulse to squelch unpopular speech was far harder to resist — couched as it was in sloganeering about the “people” and “social justice.” It is easy to object to the speech codes of a self-interested, corrupt dictator in sunglasses and epaulettes, but difficult to fight censorship that allegedly helps the poor, minorities, and the helpless.

We can all but write off today’s university as a place of free expression. In the age of Obama, zealots in the university have clamped down on any thought deemed reactionary. “Trigger warning” is a euphemism for trying either to censure literature or to denigrate it. “Safe space” is another term for the segregation of campus areas by race, class, or ideology. “Hate speech” has become a pejorative for uncomfortable truth.

So try a thought experiment. If Professor A in various fora — before the academic senate, at the “free speech” area of the quad, during student advising, in a faculty meeting, or during class — announced that on-campus, Christian student groups practiced hate speech and thus should be monitored or silenced, or he declared that due to white privilege he was holding private tutoring sessions only for people of color, or he urged that global warming deniers should not be allowed to spread their heresies in class, or he insisted that the nature and propriety of sexual intercourse should be post facto defined only by the female participant, he would be hailed, and many of those proposals would be taken seriously if they were not already part of campus protocol.

But if a bookend Professor B in the same venues announced that he found Muslim groups equally suspect, or that, due to constant deprecation of white males, he was holding tutoring sessions only for his European-American students, or that he was hosting a campus conference on the unscientific nature of the global warming movement, or if he urged the university to insist that any allegations of rape follow strictly the rules of evidence and procedures as outlined in the U.S. Constitution and state laws of criminal jurisprudence, he would find himself in a great deal of trouble, if not fired.

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Junk Journalism

June 2nd, 2015 - 5:18 pm


Once upon a time, Dan Rather — the fallen CBS celebrity anchorman from the evening news and at 60 Minutes – was the master of “gotcha” journalism. Rather would play up his populist credentials, do ambush interviews with supposedly self-important grandees, and then pull out an unknown memo, an embarrassing quote from one’s past, or some sort of previously unexamined hypocrisy. And, presto, down went the high and mighty, as Rather grinned that he had taken down another enemy of his middle-class viewers without power and influence.

Rather became a multimillionaire celebrity himself, and forgot the very rules of ethical journalism that he so often preached to his victims. Nemesis finally — she is often a slowcoach goddess — caught up with him at 73, in the heat of the 2004 campaign and furor at the Texan-twanged, evangelical, Iraq War promoter George W. Bush. Rather’s producers got hold of faked memos purportedly proving that the commander-in-chief had once gone AWOL while serving as a twenty-something pilot with the Texas National Guard.

Rather’s story of Bush, the privileged hypocrite, made a big splash, especially in the age of Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. When the truth came out that the memos were not only not true but could not be true, given their computerized format from the pre-Microsoft age, a red-faced CBS hierarchy fired a few of its marquee producers and eventually eased Rather out.

Rather sued. He denied. He blustered. He pleaded. He cajoled. He would not go away. When he was all through, he had become the sort of hapless prey caught in a web of contradictions that he once had enjoyed teasing before stinging on air. Rather’s defense was finally reduced to “the means justify the ends” argument that the memos could have been fake but his charges were still accurate.

NBC anchor Brian Williams was a less abrasive persona, but no less smug and privileged a celebrity tele-journalist. He too imploded when his Rather-like ego convinced him that Rule One of journalism — to demand the truth from others, first one must always tell the truth — no longer applied, given Williams’ omnipresence, big money, and colossal sense of self.

So Williams began making stuff up live in front of millions of listeners, as if he were the story and as if the audience were the amazed bystanders. Given his progressive faith, his celebrity status, and his nice-guy image, Williams apparently mythologized for quite some time without audit. His yarns were pathetic, in the sense that they characteristically placed Williams, as a self-inflated version of Forrest Gump, in a danger zone perhaps at risk of his life, but always cool, forever professional in conveying inside drama to Americans on their couches. A sort of journalist version of Hillary Clinton flying into the Balkans braving gunfire.

Like Rather, Brian Williams is now gone, at least for a while. He may be back, given that he made his network far more money than did Rather in his waning years. But who could ever believe his personal-voice psychodramas again?

George Stephanopoulos was a Clinton-era flack who effectively bullied would-be investigative reporters, did negative research, and massaged liberal journalists to convince America that Bill Clinton was not a philanderer and slave to his appetites who habitually lied to escape the serial messes he got himself — and his family and friends — into. And Stephanopoulos was good at spin apparently, in that Clinton won his election and the country ignored the various females whom he had bullied, groped, cajoled, and sometimes smeared.

Stephanopoulos wrote a memoir that served as a kind of mea culpa, as he transitioned into the limelight of New York-D.C. corridor journalism. Yet Stephanopoulos never severed his valuable Clinton connections, even as he went from partisan political analyst to supposedly disinterested anchor. Like Rather and Williams, his hubris got the best of him and he too ended up calling down Nemesis.

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