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Christie Coasts

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 06:07

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s reelection win was undoubtedly a blowout, the likes of which the Garden State hasn’t seen since 1989. His smashing victory has been credited to his fiery attitude and his political positioning just to the right of center. But it also didn’t hurt that he was running against Barbara Buono, a far left candidate who fell out of the state party’s favor years ago. Though Christie will be praised for taking a blue state by storm, consider his opponent.

Few Democrats wanted to face Christie in the ring, and Buono seemed to earn no respect for trying. MSNBC called her “Dawn Quixote.”

She got little media attention—that is, until reporters uncapped their pens to point out that she was getting little media attention. The Bergen Record, a reliably liberal newspaper, barely even noted in endorsing Christie that he had an opponent, only mentioning Buono’s name six times in 837 words. Her greatest exposure likely came when Daily Show host Jon Stewart berated Christie for setting a special date for the U.S. Senate race, playing a three-second clip from one of Buono’s TV ads. The segment was meant to embarrass Christie by showing that he faced no threat. But it was Buono who deserved to be embarrassed: In the ad she repeatedly clarifies the pronunciation of her last name, contrasting it with Sonny Bono, Bono of U2, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

She might like to joke about her name, but her lack of name recognition at the end of October was particularly alarming. Forty percent of New Jersey voters knew nothing of her. Barbara Buono is well known among Trenton insiders and in her state senate district, and that’s about it.

Those who did get to know her, must not have liked what they found, even coming from an incredibly blue state. New Jerseyans don’t cared much for political extremists on either side of the aisle. They’re happy with moderate Republicans (see the two terms of Tom Kean Sr. and Christine Whitman) and wind up with buyer’s remorse when they elect liberals (see the one-and-done terms of Jim Florio and Jon Corzine).

Buono is in the latter camp, solidly left wing. She supports a bevy of liberal causes, including universal preschool, a millionaires tax, and raising the minimum wage. In the legislature, she pushed for bloated school funding and anti-bullying legislation.

To be her Lieutenant Governor and running mate, Buono chose union organizer Milly Silva, one of the Executive Vice Presidents of SEIU 1199, the healthcare workers union whose New England chapter has been accused of racketeering. Silva has never held political office. She didn’t even vote in the last few elections, and only registered as a Democrat in 2012.

It turns out that Buono probably needed a union activist on her ticket just to get labor’s attention. Although she received the obligatory endorsement from the state’s largest teachers union way back in March, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the NJEA’s website on Election Day. The latest item on Buono was an “open letter” she wrote to the NJEA—the links to which, depending on where you find it, lead either to a dead end or a member login page. This is the same teachers union that had a county chair once wish, in writing, that Chris Christie were dead.

The union’s Super PAC was the biggest outside spender in these elections, but it looks like most of that money went into state legislative races.

It would be an understatement to say that the Democrat establishment came up short in its support of Buono. Senator-elect Cory Booker lent her some support, but he also had his own campaign to run. And Stephen Sweeney, the New Jersey Senate president, only tepidly supported Buono, whom he beat in a Trenton power struggle two years ago.

Almost 50 Democratic elected officials backed Christie. Major Democrat power broker George Norcross sat the race out, and was recently seen arm in arm with the governor. National Democrats were likewise uninterested. On the Monday before election day, Buono complained to Slate’s Dave Weigel that President Obama didn’t visit New Jersey to campaign on her behalf.

With essentially no one of consequence in her corner, Buono didn’t stand a chance. Christie earned the right to coast frightening off stronger potential challengers, such as Booker or Sweeny, leaving “Dawn Quixote” to stand alone. But Christie deserves about as much credit for defeating her as the windmills deserve for defeating Cervantes’s protagonist.

Who’s The Hippest of Them All?

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 06:04

What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House
By Tevi Troy
(Regnery, 416 pages, $18.95)

HOW AWESOME CAN you get? The morning announcers on WTOP, Washington’s all-news station, couldn’t get over it. Bill Clinton and Bono had appeared on the same stage the day before and, as the show’s teaser put it, the President and the Rock Star were sometimes difficult to tell apart. Bono, it seems, started it by doing his impression of Mr. Clinton’s raspy and much-imitated voice. But then, to the delight of the delirious crowd, Mr. Clinton returned the favor by doing an equally recognizable impression of Bono. “They make fun of each other because they’re friends,” said one of the announcers.

“That’s awesome!” said the other.

Speaking as one of the apparently dwindling number of Americans for whom it is decidedly not awesome—which is to say one of those who does not want the president, nor yet the ex-president, to be a celebrity—I’m sorry to say that he now not only is one but is expected to be one. Or at least he is if he is a Democrat. Good-bye, Walter Mondale. So long, Michael Dukakis. Your party is now so closely entwined with the popular culture that, as with the President and the Rock Star, it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart. 

If you want to know how we got to this sad state of affairs, you should get hold of a copy of Tevi Troy’s new book, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House. Mr. Troy, author of Intellectuals and the American Presidency, is never less than a fascinating read, but I couldn’t get over how little disposed his book is to tell its story as one of decline. The “popular culture” of the subtitle seems to encompass Greek and Latin classics, political and moral philosophy, economics and science on the one hand, in the case of Presidents Jefferson and Adams, and on the other hand movies, TV, and popular music when it comes to more recent presidents. And yet there is hardly more than a hint that the change is of anything more than the type of media. But then that’s probably just me and my old-man belief that the world is going to the bow-wows.

Mr. Troy identifies the election of 1828, when the learned and scholarly John Quincy Adams was soundly defeated by the barely literate backwoodsman Andrew Jackson, as the moment when the American electorate decided (if not quite once and for all) that they wanted presidents more like themselves and less like old-world aristocrats. At the same time, he acknowledges that subsequent presidents, most notably Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, were what today we should call “intellectuals,” and that some in the Kennedy administration, possibly including JFK himself, thought a reputation for intellect and high-class taste was part of the image that the president should project. 

To my mind, that’s the real historical watershed, though a case could be made for locating it under FDR rather than JFK. At some time in the early-to-mid-20th century, in any case, we must pass from considering the president’s literary and cultural tastes, popular or otherwise, and move instead to what his spin doctors and image crafters thought would be politically beneficial for those tastes to be. In Kennedy’s case, we can now say with some confidence that he was bored by art and serious music, and had few intellectual interests of his own apart from political history. He couldn’t even sit still for a whole movie unless it was an exciting action picture. But “Kennedy and his team sensed that intellectualism would appeal to American sensibilities at the time,” according to Troy.

If so, it hasn’t done so since. By the time we get to Bill Clinton, who was Kennedy’s disciple in so many ways, it is almost impossible to tell the difference not just between him and Bono, but between what he read or watched and what he wanted people to think he read or watched. He even published a list of his 21 favorite books (reproduced on page 206)—all highbrow but not too highbrow, and including none of the “mysteries” that he also claimed to devour at the rate of three or four a week. The image projected was that of a brainiac but not quite an intellectual, scholar, or connoisseur of the arts. “Intellectualism” didn’t quite have the same cachet it had 30 years earlier.

Both Ronald Reagan and the second President Bush took an opposite tack. Though both were thought of as dim and philistine, both read a lot in private. Reagan, a “closet bookworm,” probably read more than Kennedy did, says Mr. Troy, though he didn’t publicize the fact. “Modesty may have played a part but he also may have been making a political calculation that being rugged rather than bookish would better suit the American people.” Or perhaps it just better suited the Republican base. George W. Bush, in whose administration Mr. Troy served as a deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, also read far more than the media or his political detractors were ever likely to give him credit for, although Karl Rove was allowed to be immodest on his behalf by claiming that the president had read 186 books (“mainly history and biography”) between 2005 and 2008.

About President Obama, Mr. Troy has this to say: “His great insight has been that by being part of pop culture—being a celebrity himself—a president can influence how pop culture portrays him.” This may be true, but I don’t think it could have worked if not for his being “the hippest president in history” (having presumably taken the title from Bill Clinton) and thus “cultivating an image with television as Kennedy did with books.” Also, it can hardly be right to say that “Obama likes to watch the shows of the one percent rather than the 99 percent.” Rather, he likes the shows (Homeland, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Entourage, and The Wire) of the people who invented the bogus cultural division between the 1 percent and the 99 percent.

To turn uncharacteristically optimistic for a moment, I wonder if the whole concept of “hip,” particularly as applied to the presidency, means very much to ordinary people. It is undoubtedly a kind of pass-key to membership in the cognitive elite—those intellectual snobs and not-coincidental champions of the 99 percent who are inclined to ask, as James Taranto puts it, if you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart? Besides, it would be foolish to suppose that Americans elected such a hip president twice by accident. At the least, “hip” at the end of the 20th century and in the first decade or so of the 21st  must be what a lot of people, like those WTOP announcers, want in a national leader. But I wonder if we might not yet wake up one day to find that hipness itself, like the cultural artifacts on which it pronounces its eagerly sought-after blessings, has turned out to be nothing but a fad in the end. 

The Boxing Ambassador

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 06:03

This is the story of a young boxer. He is a boy from the pleasantest suburbs of his city, a world of quiet tree-lined streets, of nice houses, SUV’s, good schools and all the best things a youngster could have. He comes from what his coach calls “a different environment.” That coach comes from the inner city, where he boxed with some renown in his younger years. He has arms twice the size of most men, few teeth, a great disposition, and a kind heart. About two years ago, this former fighter happened to be offering exercise instruction locally, and it was there that a rosy-cheek boy — who had come to the gym with his dad — approached Coach and said, “Please, Sir. My name is —— ——- and I would like to learn to box.”

At first his parents must have wondered if their son was serious enough to leave his brothers and friends and the ball teams of the suburban fields where he had played for years, to take on a very different sport with a very different world of its own. He was.

So he worked and learned his sport until today our young fighter gets to compete with other boys who box — and all on their home turf. That turf — another “different environment” — is far from the suburbs and is thought of and described by some residents as “neglected communities,” and the perfect place to build sports programs. To one local man, the official tournament photographer, it is a place where he can both practice and teach entrepreneurship.

At first our boy seemed a curiosity to the others — the lone blond in the weigh-in line. His family and fans looked conspicuous in the stands. But not for long. Last weekend the whole family went way downtown to pull for our boy at a fundraising tournament in the hood — a tournament titled “Fighting For Our Communities.” It was apparent there that this young man had chosen his sport well. He lost his bout to a good young opponent, but he put up a good fight. As he climbed out of the ring, he began to receive compliments, praise and even hugs from all over the crowd. “Good fight!” “Keep goin’” “You gonna be good!” And in response the boy thanked them in their own idioms, with their own gestures, just like his competitors do. This boy has learned their sport, and their ways — and in doing that, has become a young ambassador of goodwill from the suburbs to the hood. And clearly, the hood was saying “welcome.”

Walsh Elected Boston Mayor

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 00:45

On Tuesday, Boston elected State Representative Marty Walsh as its new mayor. Walsh won 52% of the vote against 48% for Boston city councillor John Connolly. Walsh will be sworn into office in the new year and will replace Tom Menino who was mayor for an unprecedented 20 years. 

As I noted the other day, I decided to support Connolly after other Boston area Republicans and conservatives raised alarms about Walsh’s union ties. But Walsh had a better organization which was augmented by the likes of city councillor Felix Arroyo, businessman John Barros and former Deval Patrick Chief-of-Staff Charlotte Golar-Richie. All three were mayoral candidates and threw their support behind Walsh after they were eliminated in the primary vote in September. Having Boston’s African-American & Latino communities augment the Irish vote in Walsh’s native Dorchester and neighboring Southie not to mention the union vote put Walsh over the top. 

In the grand scheme of things there was scarcely an inch of difference between Walsh and Connolly. On the other hand, that inch could prove to be vast especially when it comes to the unions. There will be a lot of people coming to collect their goodies with the taxpayer footing the bill. It could end up making the Big Dig look fiscally sound. 

Toronto Mayor Admits Smoking Crack; Vows to Remain in Office

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 20:07

After months of denial, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford today publicly admitted to smoking crack approximately a year ago in “one of my drunken stupors.” Late this afternoon, Ford held a press conference to apologize for his conduct, but will not resign and vows to stand for re-election next year.

Last May, Gawker alleged there was a cellphone video which showed Ford smoking crack and tried to raise $200,000 through to release the video. However, the story went cold when Gawker lost contact with the owner of the video and couldn’t produce it.

However, the story was reignited last week when the Toronto Police recovered the video. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair stated, “The video files depict images that are consistent with what has been previously reported.” Blair added that he was “disappointed” by what he saw. Ford continued to deny the allegations and early this morning his brother, Doug Ford (who is a Toronto City Councillor) called on Blair to step down. But within hours, the Mayor did an about face.

I wrote an article in the spring about the allegations against Ford. At the time, I expressed skepticism when Gawker couldn’t produce the video. So what are my thoughts in light of today’s revelations?

Well, I still think Gawker and the crack dealers who tried to consumate this deal deserve each other. Nothing has also changed about the fact that the Left has wanted to oust Ford from office by any means necessary, crack or no crack pipe.

Nevertheless, Ford repeatedly lied to the public over these past months. Today, he says he has nothing left to hide. I’m not sure why I should believe that. From where I sit, I think Ford should step down.

However, the people of Toronto might think otherwise. Ford’s popularity actually increased after last week’s statement by the Toronto Police. As long as Ford maintains these numbers then he isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t inconceivable that he could be re-elected. But I wonder if Torontonians who have supported Ford will feel duped. It will be interesting to see what those numbers will be in a week from now. 

Obama’s “Just Win” Presidency Means We Lose

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 17:24

In early 1998, Bill Clinton—perhaps the most poll-driven president in American history—reportedly commissioned Dick Morris to poll-test the reaction if it turned out that he’d actually had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The result? Voters would want him to resign. 

His response? “Well, we’ll just have to win, then.”

And win he did, after launching a vicious, months-long smear campaign against his accusers that featured an avalanche of lies directed at the American people, including his most loyal friends and supporters. By the end of the tawdry affair, America was numb to the truth, the reputations of good people were forever tarnished in the minds of millions, and Bill Clinton ultimately skated through with a mere slap on the wrist. Today he remains a hero of his party.

But Clinton’s Machiavellian streak is nothing compared to Barack Obama’s. At least when Bill Clinton decided to “just win,” the casualties were limited to his accusers and investigators. When President Obama adopts the same philosophy, his victims number in the tens of millions.

This Sunday, the Washington Post finally began doing its job—holding the powerful accountable—and published a lengthy investigation of the Obamacare debacle. Its key finding was illuminating regarding the character of our president:

Based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials and outsiders who worked alongside them, the project was hampered by the White House’s political sensitivity to Republican hatred of the law — sensitivity so intense that the president’s aides ordered that some work be slowed down or remain secret for fear of feeding the opposition.

Politics trumped functionality. Again and again the administration maintained secrecy and inflexibility to preserve its ability to use the future promises of Obamacare as a political weapon against Republicans. So long as problems remained unknown, so long as the administration was able to maintain the fiction that everything was on track, the president could continue to sell his base the Santa Claus fairy tale of universal and better coverage — all for less money.

How pervasive were the political considerations? This pervasive: The White House also slowed down important regulations that had been drafted months earlier, appearing to wait until just after Obama’s reelection. Among the most significant were standards for insurance coverage under exchanges. The rules for these “essential health benefits” were proposed just before Thanksgiving last year and yet did not become final until February. Another late regulation spelled out important rules for insurance premiums. All these moves were political ploys intended to keep Americans from knowing the truth. 

Such delays were “a singularly bad decision,” said Richard Foster, Medicare’s recently retired chief actuary. “It’s the president’s most significant domestic policy achievement,” he said, and the very aides who had pushed the law through Congress were risking bad implementation “for a short-term political gain.”

These regulations were not minor details. They represented key components of the literal “pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it” regulatory process that implemented some of the most draconian aspects of Obamacare through a regulatory process largely exempt from democratic accountability. Health care through bureaucracy is the essence of Obamacare, and concealing that fact from the public was a key component of the Obama electoral strategy.

The human cost of President Clinton’s “just win” strategy was high enough, but it simply can’t compare to the cost being borne by the millions of Americans losing their insurance, sometimes with life-threatening consequences.

There’s an old statist saying: “You have to break eggs to make an omelet.” The meaning is plain: Sometimes people have to suffer to achieve your public policy goals. Well, the eggs are breaking from coast to coast, but the Obamacare omelet remains inedible.

Just win? We lose.

The Sandy Man Can

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 15:13

As a Politico piece aptly stated, “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s romp to reelection began with a storm.” Now it’s Election Day in New Jersey and, it’s true, the question that is being posed is not whether Christie will be reelected as governor but by how much.

Who is Barbara Buono? Well, that seems to be the key problem for her campaign.

Chris Christie has a persona—a Jersey charm, if there ever was one—that has made him a household name to even the most casual observer of politics, and particularly since Hurricane Sandy. Given the 85 percent approval rating of his post-disaster work, we may presume that his positive numbers to this day are due in part to his proactive response during that time of crisis.

Say what you will about the “Stronger than the storm” jingle-slogan, which is essentially Christie’s calling card. It’s cheesy, but effective; it’s gained him notoriety and a windfall of public credit that Barbara Buono, “a Democratic state senator who was able to run just two ads against Christie’s 16 spots,” clearly lacks.

As recently as two weeks ago, according to PolitickerNJ, Christie’s statewide approval rating registered at 61 percent, while only 28 percent viewed him unfavorably—despite disapproval of Christie on specific issues, such as his handling of the economy, jobs, and taxes. This further illustrates the importance of Sandy in the equation.

But compare those numbers to Barbara Buono’s: “43 percent of respondents have no real impression of her,” and among those who actually have an opinion, she has a 29-28 percent approval-disapproval rating.

Two days ago, Jennifer Rubin wrote a piece for the Washington Post that she titled, “What the GOP Can Learn from Chris Christie.” In it, she listed the criteria for a more complete Republican politician, which she argued Christie meets regularly. Among these are: Make the emotional connection with voters, don’t be a phony, be humorous, be an optimist, and do something. It’s hard to argue against Christie’s résumé in these categories. Hence, the election tonight should be a rout.

But the inevitable outcome aside, perhaps the Republicans will adopt a rallying cry in 2016 that can overshadow the “Yes We Can” mantra once and for all: “The Sandy Man Can.” Of course, to seal the deal, it shall come complete with a Wonka-like jingle in the hopes of making wonks everywhere tingle.

Updates on the Texas Abortion Law

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 15:01

Last Friday, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals overturned District Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling that a portion of Texas’s abortion law was unconstitutional. The clause in contention required all abortion doctors to get admitting privileges to local hospitals.

Though Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott requested an immediate emergency ruling on October 29, the Fifth Circuit waited until Thursday to issue its ruling.

On Monday, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia denied Planned Parenthood’s emergency request to stay the appeals court’s ruling, asking the state to file a response by November 12.

The law has resulted in 13 clinic closures in Texas, a third of the total. The closings have prompted feminists and liberals to attack the decision as a broadside on women’s rights.

Jesse Wegman wrote on the “Taking Note” blog at the New York Times that the entire bill, which primarily bans abortion after 20 weeks, “is intended precisely to ‘strike at the right itself’ — only dishonest politicians pretend otherwise. Making it harder for women to get an abortion is not an ‘incidental effect’ of the law; it is its primary goal.”

Starting in the fall of 2014, all abortions will also have to be performed at certified surgical facilities.

I might sympathize with Ms. Wegman’s arguments more if all these laws hadn’t occurred after a certain monster by the name of Kermit Gosnell wreaked havoc with the lives of women and babies alike. In light of that tragedy, it’s easy to understand reasonable moves to limit abortion to certified doctors and facilities.

No right is absolute, which liberals know especially well, with their calls for the regulation of firearms and money in political speech. However, when it comes to so-called “reproductive rights,” suddenly the state is an evil, invasive patriarch which doesn’t truly understand the plight of the poor single mother.

Unrestricted abortion, somehow, will serve the welfare of women best. 

Perhaps, just maybe, with the closure of these clinics, crisis pregnancy centers, along with other agencies or hospitals, will work to help these women without first resorting to the heinous act of abortion. As a volunteer at the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, I know firsthand that there are great Christian organizations who truly want to help women, instead of simply terminating their children.

Runoff in Alabama 1

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 14:31

Down here in coastal Alabama, there’s a Republican primary runoff today. I ran in the open primary, finishing a close fourth out of nine candidates — but didn’t make the runoff. As it is, I think my participation in this race precludes me from writing much about it. But, from a bare-bones standpoint, I did endorse former state Sen. Bradley Byrne over the extremist Dean Young. I have known Bradley rather well for 15 years, and know him to be a solid conservative and a man of faith and integrity. In fact, I knew him first from church, not through politics. That’s why, when Young began attacking Byrne’s faith on multiple fronts, I went beyond being a Byrne endorser for all sorts of positive reasons and became an open critic of Young. 

Young has cleverly cast this race as one pitting the “Tea Party” vs. the “establishment,” even though national Tea Party groups and those often aligned with them, such as the Club for Growth, have stayed out, and even though Byrne has a solidly conservative record and indeed was a frequent featured guest at Tea Party events locally.

We will see if Young’s trickery works. Most people think it is a close race. Stay tuned.  

Morning Round-Up 11-5

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 10:27

Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory. –General George S. Patton

Morning Headlines


Associated Press

  1. Local, Not US, Issues At Play in Tuesday Voting
  2. Gay Rights Gains Piling Up; Battles Still Ahead
  3. AP Exclusive: Border Patrol Rejects Curbs on Force


  1. Election Day 2013: What to watch in Virginia
  2. White House embraces issue roulette
  3. Chris Christie’s reelection romp


  1. Up to 17 million Americans eligible for Obamacare tax credits: report
  2. Even with changes, U.S. prisons may stay overcrowded: report
  3. Apple to open manufacturing plant in Arizona

Wall Street Journal

  1. More Commuters Go It Alone
  2. Young Avoid New Health Plans
  3. Gay-Rights Job Bill Clears Key Senate Hurdle

Washington Post

  1. Senate close to passing bill to ban discrimination against gay workers
  2. How to watch the exit polls in the Virginia governor’s race
  3. In Alabama election, a showdown between the GOP establishment and the tea party

Washington Times

  1. Landlord Joe Biden charges premium rent from Secret Service amid sequestration
  2. A whole lotta ifs, ands or buts as excuses mount for Obamacare
  3. Eric Holder: We might still charge George Zimmerman


Associated Press

  1. Aid Needs of Syrians Spike as Diplomats Meet
  2. India Launches First Mission to Mars
  3. OECD: Economic Crisis Hits Trust in Governments


  1. Exclusive: Syria chemical weapons mission funded only through this month
  2. Israel, Palestinians grim on peace talks before Kerry visit
  3. New French centrist pact aims for European breakthrough

 Wall Street Journal

  1. Taliban Silence Pakistani Musicians
  2. Microloans Catch On in Europe, Too
  3. Cache of Nazi-Seized Art Discovered in Munich Apartment

Washington Post

  1. Kerry reassures Saudis, says U.S. will step up its consultations with the kingdom
  2. Islamist rebels in Syria use faces of the dead to lure the living
  3. After chaotic start, trial of ousted Egyptian president Morsi adjourned until Jan. 8

Top Conservative Stories of the Day:

The American Conservative

  1. Snowden Shakes Up Washington
  2. Machiavellian Social Conservatives?

The Blaze   

  1. The Biblical Insight From a Writer at the New Yorker That Left Glenn Beck Stunned 


  1. Obama Rewrites History: You Can Keep Your Plan…’If It Hasn’t Changed Since the Law Passed’
  2. Obamacare Paper Enrollment A Placebo For Stuck Applicants

 The Daily Caller 

  1. Obama denies ‘you can keep it’ videotaped promises
  2. Tucker Carlson: Jay Carney attack on Jon Karl ‘shows you the depths to which they have sunk’

  1. $1.1T: CMS Sets Record for Annual Spending by a Federal Agency
  2. Federal Debt Jumped $409 Billion in October; $3,567 Per Household

National Review

  1. Hillary’s Odyssey
  2. If I Like It, You Can Keep It

Washington Free Beacon

  1. U.S., South Korea far from agreeing to relaunch nuclear talks with North Korea
  2. Congress May Let Tax Credit for Wind Industry Expire

Top Liberal Stories of the Day:

The Daily Beast

  1. Why National Democrats Rolled Over for Chris Christie
  2. The Virginia Gubernatorial Race Proves the GOP Is Suicidal

Huffington Post

  1. Tea Party’s Senate Meddling Agitates Republican Campaign Committee
  2. Joe Biden Had Nothing Nice To Say About Obama at Virginia Rally

Talking Points Memo

  1. Obama Defends ‘Keep Your Plan’ Claim
  2. Nowhere Left to Hide


      1. The Real Reason That The Cancer Patient Writing in Today’s Wall Street Journal Lost Her Insurance


Ross on NPR

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 09:16

The folks over at NPR’s national radio show, “To The Point,” hosted by Warren Olney, stumbled across my Friday article about food stamps and asked me to participate in a discussion on the topic.

The three other guests were a modestly liberal reporter for the Huffington Post and two overtly pro-food stamp women who run, respectively, “Feeding America” and the “Food Research and Action Center.”

Although it was three against one, I had a lot of fun with the conversation and think I held up my end of the bargain — namely representing a libertarian/conservative view — quite well.

If you’re interested in hearing the conversation (and I hope you are), you can find it here.

My confidence in having done a good job was reinforced by an e-mail sent (to the Heartland Institute) by a listener, which reads as follows (all language and spelling errors left as in original):

I heard Ross on Radio

He is more or less then a sick f*ck.

He is a complete asshole

The gov’t is me. I want it big and strong so it works for us.

you just don’t like America.

Think about the mind of a liberal here:

1) I am the government

2) I want the government big and strong

3) which means I want as much power for myself as possible so I can take your freedom and your money and control your life

4) If you don’t want me to control you, you hate your country

5) because you are too stupid to make your own decisions and make your own life “work for you” without my telling you what to do, you poor, stupid, confused sap. Be grateful that I’m willing to let you be dependent on me.

The writer obviously never heard Gerald Ford’s warning that “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”

Of course, this person’s point of view is typical of an elitist Progressive. Not only does it perfectly represent the left’s “fatal conceit,” but historically it consistently produces bad outcomes, ranging from poverty to mass murder. Of course in those cases, the same conceit causes the left, whose views as laid out above are a blend of confusion and evil, to believe that their policies just need a slight tweak, implementation by a slightly smarter person, a little more data used to inform the central planners. They just never learn because their ego blocks the possibility that their underlying premise is fundamentally flawed.

Finally, I assume that the show’s host, Warren Olney, is more sympathetic to the views of the liberals than to my position on food stamps and other economic issues. (If I’m wrong about that, I hope Mr. Olney takes no offense as none is intended.) Particularly given my assumption, I was very grateful to Mr. Olney for his absolutely even-handed treatment of his guests, and his smart and “to the point” questions of me and the others in the conversation. If Mr. Olney has a bias (and knowing that his audience surely does), there was no way to see it in his extremely professional moderation of the debate.

Shakedown Schneiderman

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:11

“He’s a businessman. I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” — Vito Corleone in The Godfather 

Donald Trump.

Eric Schneiderman.

Al Sharpton and Jon Corzine. 

President Obama and Obamacare.

It is a huge mistake to see the attack on Donald Trump by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a $40 million lawsuit over Trump University, as an isolated, Trump-centric event. 

But let’s begin with Donald Trump. Who last week filed 150-plus pages of court documents requesting a complete dismissal of the lawsuit, itemizing in devastating detail the bogus nature of Schneiderman’s case. Labeling the lawsuit as “nothing more than a baseless attempt to garner publicity and further his own political ambitions,” Trump also announced he would be filing an ethics complaint against Schneiderman with the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics. 

Let’s begin specifically by thinking of Donald Trump’s multi-billion dollar, resoundingly successful company — The Trump Organization — as Khartoum the race horse. 

Khartoum the race horse? 

You remember Khartoum the race horse. The scene is immortalized in the Oscar-winning film The Godfather

The rich and famous Hollywood producer Jack Woltz, owner of the $600,000 Secretariat-like race horse Khartoum, refuses to put Mafia Don Vito Corleone’s favored godson Johnny Fontane in a movie. One fine morning, Woltz awakens, horrified, to find the severed head of his beloved race horse — whom he has lovingly described beforehand as “the greatest racehorse in the world” — in his blood-soaked bed. As seen here in the legendary scene from the film version of Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel. Message delivered, Don Corleone’s god son Johnny Fontane gets his movie part from the thoroughly terrified movie producer.


Think of Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, supposed progressive “icon of the left” and a wannabe governor — as a dime store Godfather. Vicious, but Vito Corleone without the gravitas. 

The role of Johnny Fontane, the god son who wants the movie part? That would be played by Mr. Schneiderman’s cherished political career. A career that depends on getting as much money, connections, and favorable publicity as possible to push him into the governor’s office as the Next Great Progressive Hope in the manner of two of his attorney general-predecessors, the infamous Eliot (Client Number 9) Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.

The AG’s career also depends on Schneiderman keeping his coattails free of corruption charges, which thus far has been dicey. A federal sentencing memorandum on Schneiderman’s ex-State Senate colleague Shirley Huntley prompted Huntley’s attorney, according to the New York Daily News, to allege her client had information “about corruption involving Eric Schneiderman.”

This doesn’t even count the murmurs from Schneiderman’s political base of New York’s hard left that he is, among other things, a “water boy” and “transactional.”

What does any of this have to do with Donald Trump?

And what does any of this have to do with Al Sharpton? With ex-New Jersey Governor, Goldman Sachs boss and Democrat fundraiser/financier Jon Corzine?

Not to mention President Obama and Obamacare?

It all comes clear as one reads through the recent comprehensive court filings — over 150 pages — by Donald Trump in response to the lawsuit filed by the man we call here “Shakedown Schneiderman.” Schneiderman’s nickname won by virtue of a hard-earned reputation for shaking down targets for either money or publicity to advance his gubernatorial yearnings. As seen here in this Reuter’s story of another Schneiderman lawsuit that has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

The core of Shakedown Schneiderman’s Don Corelone-style method of operation is captured by the famous line from the Don himself. As Puzo immortalized the line in The Godfather, the Don would get Johnny Fontane the desired movie part in unique fashion, saying of producer Woltz: “He’s a businessman. I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

The offer, of course, was Khartoum’s severed head. The blunt message? Next time it would be Woltz’s head.

What was Scheiderman’s “offer he can’t refuse” to businessman Donald Trump?

In Schneiderman’s own words to Trump’s counsel, as documented in the Trump filing, Donald Trump would be forced to settle the lawsuit Schneiderman was threatening because Trump would not “want all of the bad press.”

As in: Nice business ya got there Mr. Trump. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

To underline his threat to Trump, Trump’s family and business associates, Shakedown Schneiderman first “leaked the issuance of a subpoena” to the New York Times — the Trump associates getting a call from the Times literally within minutes of receiving the subpoena. Then, filing his lawsuit on a Saturday afternoon — which would put Schneiderman in the Sunday papers — Shakedown (in the words of the Trump filing) “went on a nationwide media blitz.” The purpose of which was, as the filing puts it, “to publically [sic] discuss the merits of his case.”

Which is to say, Schneiderman’s version of making an offer Donald Trump could not refuse was to appear on NBC’s Today Show, CNBC’s Squawk on the Street, MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, Fox News’ Fox and Friends, CNN’s New Day, the CBS Evening News and ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA). Every minute of every one of these Schneiderman appearances — in a national media heretofore uncaring about a mere state attorney general — devoted to giving Donald Trump a black eye. 

As it were, Schneiderman had just delivered a severed horse head to Donald Trump.

Notably, Trump first learned of the Schneiderman lawsuit not because his lawyers were formally and properly notified but from “a producer at GMA.” All these Schneiderman appearances were, in 21st century media-blitz style, actively promoted by Schneiderman on “Twitter and other social media” — a decidedly unethical practice in the legal world, not to mention for a New York state attorney general. 

And in the run-up to all of this? Just as Don Corleone was asking for that movie part for his godson Johnny from Hollywood producer Jack Woltz?

What do you think did Eric Schneiderman wanted from Donald Trump?

Why, the obvious. Money, of course. Campaign contributions. Connections. 

That’s right. In the run-up to this lawsuit Shakedown Schneiderman was busy trying to shakedown not only Donald Trump but “members of the Trump family, their attorneys and representaives” for cold hard cash and more, specifically “soliciting campaign contributions, political support and other personal favors” for himself. In the words of the Trump filing, Shakedown “repeatedly solicited campaign contributions and sought other favors from members of the Trump family and its representatives during the pendency of the two-year investigation” into the Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative (TEI), formerly known as Trump University. Telling them as he requested that campaign cash, political support and “other personal favors” that the case against TEI was “weak,” that he had “no intention of moving forward,” that TEI should be “patient” and “let things play out” and that he, Schneiderman, would “never file the lawsuit.” Indeed, Schneiderman looked Ivanka Trump right straight in the eye — at a campaign fundraiser, of course — and flatly stated “this case is going nowhere.”

These “blatant improprieties” are to be the subject of Trump’s forthcoming complaint on Schneiderman to the Public Ethics commission. So too is Schneiderman’s spectacularly brazen comment to Trump’s lawyer that the filing of a lawsuit against Donald Trump would “increase his [Schneiderman’s] political capital.”

The filing points out that when Schneiderman was asked about soliciting Trump family and business associate campaign cash, Shakedown “did not expressly deny the allegations, but instead stated that ‘prosecutors are used to people making wild accusations.’”

Or, as Bill Clinton might say, “it depends on what the definition of is, is.”

Schneiderman also said that he was merely “going through the motions” to, in the words of the filing, “satisfy the lower members of his staff.” We’ll come back to that Schneiderman jewel in a minute.

And if Trump and family and friends didn’t comply to Shakedown’s satisfaction? 

They would get the severed-horse-head-in-the- bed treatment.

In this case appearing as a Schneiderman media blitz on every major American television network, cable and broadcast, whether said network was liberal, conservative, or just breathing. And don’t forget all those social media twittering and Facebooking away 24/7, along with those old fashioned print presses. 

Print presses running headlines like these: 

  • USA Today: “N.Y. AG sues Trump, ‘Trump University,’ claims fraud”
  • New York Daily News:   “New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman files Donald Trump ‘University’ $40 million fraud suit”
  • New York Times: “Trump University Made False Claims, Lawsuit Says”
  • Chicago Tribune: NY attorney general sues Donald Trump investment school”

And just recently, as Trump fought back, the New York Daily News again:

  • More victims of alleged Trump University scam come forward supporting suit against The Donald

“More victims” defined as a laughably paltry 100 people. Responded Trump lawyer Jeffrey Goldman in the Daily News: “If someone told you that something you were happy with four years ago you could now possibly get money back, wouldn’t your perception change?” Goldman said. “Where were they during the three years of the investigation?” Goldman added that the Schneiderman charges were “intellectually dishonest, factually inaccurate, intentionally or recklessly deceptive and misleading, and legally unsupportable.”

All of these appearances and stories — every last one of them — designed to intimidate Donald Trump into giving Shakedown what he wanted. Either Trump and family and friends ponied up more appropriate bucks to Schneiderman — or a massive and prolonged Trump-dumping publicity binge lay ahead. With Schneiderman using his office both to punish Trump for not sufficiently tending to Schneiderman’s career — and using Trump to make Schneiderman seem as if he were some sort of fearless legal giant-killer devoted to protecting the little guy.

Schneiderman’s problem? Trump had no intention whatsoever of being pushed around. He was damned well not going to “settle” this bogus lawsuit. He would, as it were, have his own legal team wrap up the severed horse head and deliver it right back to Schneiderman. Launching not only his own detailed legal response but taking Shakedown directly to the state’s ethics commission.

The Trump legal response details Schneiderman as so hell-bent on his desperate “no holds barred quest to make a name for himself and propel his own political ambitions” by scoring headlines designed to intimidate Trump that the AG ignored the fact the three-year statute of limitations on the charges presented had expired. Expired by “not one, not two, but as many as five years… and eight years after the causes of action at issue… first arose.” But there’s no legal window on publicity — so Schneiderman, greedy for the publicity of a tangle with The Donald, eagerly went ahead anyway. 

There was the insistence that Trump had violated state law by using the name “university.” An astonished former 16-year Counsel and Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Education Department (SED) has filed an affidavit in support of Trump saying she couldn’t “recall a single instance during my 16-year tenure as General Counsel” where someone “was fined, asked to pay restitution to students or assessed a civil penalty for identifying itself as a ‘university.’” No attention is paid to the fact that when Trump’s colleagues were notified of this they quickly agreed to change the name of the venture to the Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative. Last but not least was the hilarious notion that out of the 10,000 students who voluntarily — say again voluntarily — filled out student surveys on their experience, “as many as 98% of the students who took TEI courses were overwhelmingly satisfied with their experience.” The Trump filings present one example after another of the handwritten evaluations of various seminars. Among the accolades comments that “the seminars have exceeded all my expectations,” “you are a great group of instructors,” “I just want to keep coming back,” “it was excellent, high energy, very informative,” “a standard of excellence.” And on… and on and on.  

The Trump lawyers than proceed to go through those students who have “complained” — listing them by name and methodically demonstrating the complaints “are all deliberately vague” and “so rife with deliberate omissions and misstatements” that the Court should disregard them entirely. Trump is prepared to submit “approximately 10 bankers’ boxes of evidence” to back up this particular point. To show in meticulous detail that there is zero “evidence of a pattern and practice of deceptive and fraudulent conduct.”

To the point?

The obvious question: Why in the world would billionaire Donald Trump, of all people, ever think of going to all this trouble to scam $35,000 a pop from students? It makes no sense. There is no reason. No possible motive. What there is here is an attempt to juice a political career by a prosecutor using Mafia tactics. 

So. Let’s see how Shakedown plays his game, shall we? Because there is more to this story — much more.

Remember this line from the filing? The direct quote from Schneiderman that he was merely “going through the motions” in considering whether to file the lawsuit? In the words of the filing, Schneiderman admitted he was going after Donald Trump to “satisfy the lower members of his staff.”

Hello? The “lower members of his staff”?

Who are these people? The filing doesn’t say.

But it is more than worth noting that the routine news stories out of Albany on Schneiderman and his staff — stories that have nothing to do with Trump — paint a picture of the state’s chief legal officer staffing the Office of the Attorney General with far left political activists. 

To be specific:

  • Micha Lasher: Schneiderman’s chief of staff, Lasher is not a lawyer but rather a longtime Democratic operative who once worked years ago on Schneiderman’s state senate campaign. Lasher was, says the New York Timesa founding partner of the political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker.” What the Times does not say is that the managing directors of the firm Lasher founded include former Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and Schneiderman’s ex-wife Jennifer Cunningham, described as “the most powerful woman in Albany” by virtue of her lobbyist status and close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo.
  • Neal Kwatra: Now departed as Schneiderman’s chief of staff, Kwatra, like Lasher, is not a lawyer but a political operative whom New York magazine described as someone who “sees life as a campaign.” That would be a political campaign. Kwatra’s background for his central role in the AG’s office was as a union organizer, Campaign and Elections depicting Kwatra as “a slick and aggressive young operative, he’s widely credited for turning the small union into a power player at both the city and state levels.”
  • Melissa DeRosa: DeRosa, who recently departed the Schneiderman office where she was deputy chief of staff and later acting chief of staff (she now works for Cuomo) has, according to the Albany Times-Union, “served as New York State Director of Organizing for America, President Obama’s national political action organization. While at OFA, Ms. DeRosa developed and oversaw the grassroots strategy to lobby New York’s Congressional Delegation to vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.”
  • Damien LaVera: A “senior adviser and chief spokesman” for Schneiderman in the attorney general’s office, LaVera has worked previously for the Obama Energy Department (where he defended the Obama/Solyndra crony-capitalism deal) and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee.

In other words, while the Trump filing does not identify “the lower members” of Schneiderman’s staff that Schneiderman is said to have fingered as being responsible for pushing the Trump lawsuit, it is crystal clear that the Attorney General’s staff has been and is now staffed with far-left political activists who could easily have every political reason to target Donald Trump — a famous Obama critic and Republican. When the Trump court papers speak of the Schneiderman lawsuit as “nothing more than the AG seeking to use the significant publicity from a lawsuit against famed real estate developer and business mogul Donald J. Trump, also a Republican antagonist, to propel him toward next year’s election for Governor or Attorney General,” it is important to note that Schneiderman has made it a point to staff his office with political operatives. Just as Vito Corleone employed Luca Brasi as his personal enforcer (it was Luca, in a later Godfather sequel, who is revealed as dispatching the racehorse Khartoum and personally delivering the severed horse’s head to Jack Woltz’s bed), Eric Schneiderman employs political enforcers.

Let’s move on to Al Sharpton. That would be the Reverend Al Sharpton to you, the host of MSNBC’s Politics Nation to the universe of which the Reverend Al is allegedly the center at a salary of some $600,000 smackers.

Did you notice that one Schneiderman Trump-bashing media appearance was on MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Al Sharpton? Where Schneiderman repeatedly and cozily addresses the host as “Rev” and talks about “one set of rules for everyone”? As in — bold print for emphasis provided:

“Glad to be here, Rev,” or “I mean, you’ve known me for a long time, Rev,” or “This [suing Trump] is not the kind of thing that I shy away from.In fact, it’s important to send a message that no matter how powerful you are, no matter how famous you are, there is one set of rules for everyone.”

Interesting. Particularly when you realize that there was this story in the Village Voice by Wayne Barrett back in September of 2010 when Schneiderman was running for attorney general. The story in this famously liberal paper was headlined:

Al Sharpton and the ‘Times’ Endorse Eric Schneiderman: You Gotta Be Kidding

Wrote Barrett:

Here’s what astonished me. Schneiderman could have just said “Thank you, Rev.”

Instead, obsequious Eric said how great it was to get “the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from the man from the House of Justice,” which is what Sharpton calls his National Action Network (NAN) headquarters in Harlem.

Schneiderman cited Sharpton’s pursuit of justice and said he would “seek to follow that model as AG,” adding: “The House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of the state.”

Got that? The last sentence? Shakedown gushes that Sharpton’s “House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of the state.” Here’s a video version if you prefer.  

As Mr. Barrett pointed out, Sharpton was prominently listed by the State of New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance in September 2009 as a tax “scofflaw.” Sharpton’s name popping up as number 177 on a list of 400 personal and corporate income tax scofflaws. In fact, reported the Albany Times Union:

As for Sharpton, the civil rights activist weighed in at No. 177 on the list for his new warrant of $103,156. But if you add in outstanding 2008 warrants of $492,612 and $392,057, his debt is much larger.

This, mind you, barely a year before Sharpton received his lavish praise from Eric Schneiderman as the New York State tax scofflaw provided his endorsement with much fanfare — as that video clearly shows.

Here’s the Village Voice on Schneiderman’s performance as he got that Sharpton endorsement, again with bold print for emphasis:

It was craven excess, an unconscious declaration of how transactional Schneiderman actually sees the office he seeks. No one really expects a Sharpton cubicle in Schneiderman’s office, but the AG-to-be was declaring that an organization that the current officeholder, Andrew Cuomo, investigated just two years ago would have an inside track with Schneiderman because its leader was helping to make him AG. The Federal Election Commission recently levied its largest fine ever on Sharpton’s presidential campaign — $285,000 — and one reason was that the House of Justice’s NAN, and other Sharpton entities, had illegally covered $387,192 of Sharpton’s campaign expenses. Sharpton went nuts when federal subpoenas were served on his ex-chief of staff and many others in the NAN posse. Federal prosecutors wound up indicting no one but forced Sharpton to agree to a payout plan on his taxes. NAN is one hell of a strange annex for a top law enforcement officer

Strange indeed. Very strange that Schneiderman would be well aware of Sharpton’s problems and the actions of Andrew Cuomo when Cuomo was attorney general. The New York Post (here) had listed the following about Sharpton’s problems with New York taxes and the fact that Cuomo had not only begun files on Sharpton but turned them over to the feds:

  • The $1.9 million in payroll taxes and penalties that NAN owed as of 2006.
  • The $175,962 in state taxes that Sharpton’s profit-making company owes.
  • The $1.3 million in federal and local taxes that Sharpton owes personally. 
  • The rev’s 2004 presidential campaign, in which federal matching funds — tax dollars — financed Sharpton’s stays in swanky hotels.

Unless, of course, one realizes that Shakedown Schneiderman is “transactional” (Village Voice) and has a penchant for the “shakedown” (Reuters). There’s nothing more “transactional” than getting a big endorsement from his friend the “Rev” –- Schneiderman’s benefactor the Rev a star not just on MSNBC who gets his figurative “annex” to the attorney general’s office and quickly supplies Schneiderman with national air time to trash Trump on the Rev’s very own MSNBC show. The NY tax scofflaw list? What’s that to Schneiderman? He checked with the Sharpton annex to the Office of the Attorney General. The Rev isn’t the problem. So it must be Donald Trump who is the problem.

Notice anything here?

Just like his refusal to investigate ex-New Jersey Governor, Goldman Sachs poohbah and Democrat fundraiser extraordinaire Jon Corzine  for Corzine’s role in the spectacular crash of MF Global, there’s not a peep from Schneiderman about Sharpton.

In the case of Corzine, the New York Post reported that “critics suggest that Schneiderman’s reward for looking the other way on MF Global came when Obama appointed him to head a much-hyped task force to investigate mortgage-foreclosure fraud.” Which means that since Schneiderman looked the other way on Corzine’s loss of a billion dollars in MF Global investor money — he was rewarded. By…yes, indeed… the President of the United States.

In the case of Sharpton? There was the all-important, very public Sharpton endorsement for Schneiderman and the Schneiderman line that “The House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of the state.”

But Trump was less than enthusiastic. So… a “transactional” bid for more “political capital”…here comes Schneiderman’s shakedown.

Which is to say, Donald Trump was targeted for political extortion. 


What are we really seeing here? 

Recall in the first term of the Obama White House when then-White House Communications Director Anita Dunn — now the managing director of the Schneiderman chief of staff’s old consulting firm — waged a campaign to “delegitimize” Fox News? When a furious effort was made to remove Rush Limbaugh from the air in the Sandra Fluke episode? Recall the IRS going out of its way to use IRS power to wreck the Tea Party?

Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn.

It is a fool’s errand to think of Eric Schneiderman as a lone actor. Over the course of the Obama presidency the American Left has deliberately, brazenly, and repeatedly used the iron fist of government or the government’s political comrades to try and silence or intimidate its critics. Whether the target is Donald Trump today or Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, or the Tea Party yesterday the goal is always the same. In some cases even the people doing the targeting are the same. All of them at work to break up the “old order” of America’s founding principles of freedom, liberty, free markets, and a free press. This is what lies at the root of the Obamacare chaos descending on millions of Americans, stripping them of their insurance in the name of “social justice” and “fairness.” It is all of a piece. And make book that down the road, whenever what happens with Donald Trump has receded into the political rear view mirror, someone out there will be next.

But the story today is Donald Trump.

And when all is said and done, after all the posturing of Eric Schneiderman and his political cronies running the New York Office of the Attorney General, the barefaced reality of the Schneiderman shakedown lawsuit against Donald Trump is that it is about nothing more complex than the basest of motives camouflaged with the ethics of a Mafia Don: 

Common theft.


Who will investigate that?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Tale of Two Teds

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:09

They all laughed.

Ted was a newcomer from the south, with limited resources or clout. Yet, he had the audacity to presume that he knew better how to restructure and lead a legacy institution.

Didn’t he understand the way things worked?

How could Ted — Ted Turner — possibly leverage his tiny forty million dollar company to acquire media giant CBS with a net worth of more than $1.5 billion?

But this was June 1985, and Ted had an idea. Turner understood — and was happy to tell all who listened — that the terrestrial broadcasting paradigm of the past 50 years was over, and revenues would have to come from new streams. He proposed that, upon acquisition of CBS, he would raise the necessary purchase funds by pre-selling parts of the company and issuing high yield bonds, the newly-popular debt instrument which scoffers called “junk.”

But the big boys would have none of it. Ted had already humiliated them a few years previously by starting a then-revolutionary cable channel called CNN. This Atlanta-based success particularly stung the media barons because they possessed far greater resources to launch an all news channel — but they hadn’t.

Ridicule for Ted’s takeover plan came from all quarters — the news media, the broadcasting industry, the banking industry. There was a heavy sense of “how dare he?” and “who does he think he is?” His financing strategy was labeled ludicrous and his sanity questioned.

Quickly, though, the chortling morphed into fear as the real CBS insiders factored in the new realities of capital formation and reassessed the vulnerability of their stock to a tender offer. Quietly, behind the bluster, management took extraordinary actions to rearrange leadership and expand backup financial resources, incurring nearly one billion dollars in debt but rendering the company immune to takeover. By August, Ted knew he had lost and ceased his efforts.

But what had he lost? Less than a year later, apparently now accepted as a player, Ted smoothly purchased MGM-UA, selling back the studio but acquiring a content library that was a significantly better fit to his organization that any single piece of CBS.

While they still called Ted names, “stupid” was no longer one of them. Take colorization (please) — a forty year object of derision among sensitive cinema fans. Immune to the snobs, Turner’s paint job on chestnuts such as Miracle on 34th St. and It’s a Wonderful Life represented a textbook example of a buyer understanding underlying value where the seller could not.

THE OTHER TED — Senator Cruz — is this year’s cowboy. The similarity to Turner extends far beyond each man’s choice to go by his middle name. Both are traitors to their Ivy League educations. Both inspired collusion among their enemies. Both endured ridicule — until they generated panic.

Most importantly, both grasped shifting dynamics of power and initiated their own “creative destruction.” Just as junk bonds empowered Turner, Ted Cruz propelled his cause via the synergistic deployment of New Media tools. By communicating a consistent, coherent message to an ad hoc national constituency, Cruz rendered political parties irrelevant as an organizing force, and seniority irrelevant as a path to senatorial power.

During the government shutdown in early October, critics in both parties labeled Cruz “un-serious.” They claimed he pursued unrealistic and unreachable goals that distracted the “adults in the room” from solving the real challenges.

Then came the great awakening of late October. The shutdown — billed (even by Cruz’s friends) as the imminent and inevitable self-generated Republican Götterdämmerung — has in fact turned out to be a mere prologue — an appetizer — for the more interesting, more convulsive, and far more consequential national tragedy called Obamacare. Thanks partly to a rococo website — by design or ineptitude — a sizable percentage of the populace suddenly realized they’d been had. 

Suddenly, instead of being the jerk who turned the lights out on both the government and Republican political dreams, Senator Cruz is quickly gaining the redemption of one who nobly unflinchingly plays a losing hand. Think Nathan Hale, Jim Bowie — or the tank man in Tiananmen Square.

It’s still open for debate whether Ted Cruz’s fandango will stand as more than symbolism. Unlike Mr. Turner, no one is yet handing him consolation prizes to induce his passivity.

But one thing is certain: they’ve stopped laughing.

BEING A CHANGE AGENT in either American Business or Politics is never for the faint of heart. A century ago, a determined candidate disrupted the status quo by exploiting the Progressive shift away from “smoke filled room” toward (some) party primaries. Possessing a distinct vision and a Nietzschean faith in the power of the individual, the presidential candidate exploded contemporary assumptions about party loyalty and political tradition. Running against the two major parties, but with insufficient time to gestate a new organization, his doomed attempt nonetheless remains the high-water mark for a third party vote in presidential history. Interestingly, his name, too, was Ted.

Photo: UPI

The Obama Mess: Who Done It? We Done It

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:08

It may well be — I wouldn’t deny it for a minute — that Barack Obama has less to recommend him as a U. S. president than any predecessor of the past century. Vain, cocksure, morose, disabled from admitting a mistake or a bad guess — what a guy! Small wonder no present poll shows him with majority public support.

There is irony here. Majority public support is what catapulted him to the presidency. The things he’s done which have lowered his reputation — e.g., put health care under federal control, fight for the redistribution of income, etc. — are pretty much the things he could have been heard pledging to do when he ran for the presidency. Except relatively few thought relatively much about the presumptive consequences.

We, the people elected him. That’s the point hardly ever acknowledged amid all the shouting and counter-shouting that drown Washington, D.C. in perpetual racket. We twice, not just once, armed him, escorted him to the White House, opened the front door for him, said, in effect, go to it.

The anti-Obama backlash now becoming a central fact of American politics is likely overdue, and probably constructive insofar as it slows him, hinders his designs, makes him think twice about notions that bear small resemblance to the products of careful, considered reasoning. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t be unduly hard on a guy we put where he is.

Barack Obama is the product — perhaps the inevitable product — of an unresolved cultural conflict among his countrymen: one conservatives thought they had licked back in the ’80s. Supposedly, Ronald Reagan had given such impetus to conservative free-market, anti-communist thinking that he had forever settled the questions that brought him to office. He had cut taxes, helped overthrow the Soviet commies, taken up for traditional morality. It was done! Hallelujah! It was going to be all right.

Except it wasn’t all right at all. With Reagan out of office, the great American political culture proved itself — if more hesitantly than would have been the case without Reagan — to be as bollixed as ever when it came to certain basic questions. To wit, how big should government be, and how much should that government cost? Is it government’s duty to make everybody happy or just grant people the opportunity to become happy with minimal interference from outside? Things like that.

The old conflicts and arguments broke out again. The old war cries rose. The rich had too much money! The poor had too little! Life wasn’t fair! Government had to make it fair!

Into the middle of our unresolved arguments strolled a community organizer whose race and education drew more attention than the unresolved nature of our conflicts. Many heard him giving more or less clear answers to the old questions. The rich had too much money? Yep, replied candidate Obama. Government needed to do more for more people? Yep. The free market wasn’t as good as Reagan had made it out to be? Sure enough.

Somehow, conservatives proved themselves unable — or reluctant — to make the case for smaller government at less cost. Obama’s case for bigger, costlier government, reinforced by the public’s Bush-fatigue, won the voters’ hearts. He got the job he asked for — courtesy of those who liked what they were hearing. Why they liked it is another matter entirely. They liked it — that’s the point. They promoted Barack Obama to run the whole country, which he proceeded to do in a way that is now producing buyers’ remorse of a very widespread — not universal but still widespread — nature indeed.

The presidency of Barack Obama, whose signature achievement is a health care “reform” stalled by a lousy website and castigated for an untenable, unaffordable economic approach, is the outcome of democratic deliberation — if you call it deliberation. We can’t pin this job on a single man. Not when so many millions of fingerprints are all over the crime scene.


(Photo: UPI)

Why Classical Schools Just Might Save America

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:08

Many years ago, the Frenchman Alexis De Tocqueville surveyed the American spirit and compared it to that of his native France: “In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.” The generalization was broad, but in retrospect it seems on the mark. The concepts of freedom and religion surely were connected, for example, in the First Great Awakening, which itself contributed to the revolutionary spirit of the late eighteenth-century colonies.

Fast-forward a couple centuries and it looks like we may be witnessing the untethering of this fruitful union. Freedom is paramount in our day. Not for nothing did novelist and social critic Jonathan Franzen title his most recent book Freedom, a text that showed how bankrupt the conceit of unrestrained liberty is when isolated from traditional institutions.

But religion does indeed seem to be marching in the opposite direction, led by black-suited bodyguards into a building with no windows. Whether we consider the Obama administration’s decision not to defend DOMA, on the one hand, and, on the other, this same administration’s heavy-handed efforts to bring doctrine to heel before the conscience-steamrolling Affordable Care Act, we’re observing nothing less than the separation of religion and freedom in America. In such a moment, what are religious people—and those who may be respectfully irreligious but support rights of conscience—to do?

There is much ground for common cause. Those who value truth, morality, the unfettered pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, and the Western canon make for strange but necessary bedfellows today. Whether evangelical or Catholic, Mormon or Anglican, skeptical libertarian or Orthodox Jew, citizens who value the permanent things find these ideals strangely missing from many public school classrooms. Gender fluidity, devaluation of traditional ideals, the teaching of individualized narratives, and what Harvey Mansfield calls “samesexuality” represent the prevailing educational imperatives of many of our public schools.

Citizens who would conserve the old ways, and who recognize the value of religious groups and their contributions, are faced with a few options. First, we can opt out and retreat into our enclaves. Second, we can stay in the public schools and try to preserve what good remains in their educational core. This choice is commendable, though I suspect it will prove difficult. I wonder if we have another path though. A third option, one deserving consideration, is this: to found classical schools and open them up to all community members.

The classical school model practiced today owes largely to Dorothy Sayers, who promoted in the early twentieth century the Greco-Roman style of pedagogy. This involves teaching the “trivium” to students, composed of the trinity of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Different classical schools arrange their curricula as they see fit, but the basic commitments of this form of education have historically included the study of Latin and Greek, the development of analytical and critical faculties (over against a narrowly defined body of facts), and the use of the Socratic method. This is a pedagogy that is not narrow, but broad; it will naturally interest many who value a good, hard, traditional education that introduces students not merely to new ideas, but to ancient civilizations and long-forgotten patterns of thought.

This model provides exactly what is missing from the modern American public school. The rationalist, the romantic, and the moralist are alive and well in the classical school. I have seen this firsthand at the stellar Highlands Latin School in my city, Louisville, Kentucky. At HLS, teachers lead students—including my child—through their Latin declensions before lunch and take them on nature walks in the afternoon. Children read Aristotle on logic in one period, then listen to a Bach symphony the next (differentiating it from Mozart). It’s a marvelous, right-and-left-brain model of education. It also produces fairly spectacular results, at least in this example: HLS is one of the top-testing schools in Kentucky, and with only a few classes graduated has sent students to places like Dartmouth, MIT, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, and Hillsdale. (There are many other success stories, as CNN recently noted.)

Such schools are the friend, in other words, of any who wish to think well and pursue the life of the mind. I submit, therefore, that classical schools offer great promise to religious citizens and all who want to train their children to think well and to live morally. If, for example, Protestant churches will start classical schools, they will likely find that there are many community members who likewise value real, old-style, ideas-driven education (just as Catholics have known for decades). (+50 if your Burkean “little platoons” sensors are beeping right now, by the way.)

Public schools will likely continue to harden. If this proves true, religious people of all kinds should consider the formation and sponsorship of classical schools. Such institutions will be open and accessible to all who buy into the school’s standards. Individual schools will have the freedom to tailor their curriculum as they see fit.

The foregoing offers religious groups and citizens who tilt away from the prevailing secular consensus one of the last, best shots we have at genuine cultural influence and renewal. I am no triumphalist. We might lose spectacularly in coming days; there are certainly signs that point that way. But this gloomy forecast also, it must be said, might not be wholly correct. Perhaps there will be some big losses; perhaps there will be some surprising and unexpected gains. If this is true, it would not shock me if a fresh investment in education played a role in a narrative of hope.

It may just be that widespread classical education creates a corps of citizens who prize wisdom and value honest inquiry. The power of classically oriented instruction was captured eloquently by W. E. B. DuBois many years ago:

I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color-line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of the evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed to Truth, I dwell above the veil.

The poetry should not obscure the strength of thought in these words. If the educational enterprise is in our time as in past days wed to truth—the numinous and the rational alike—then religion and freedom may work in happy partnership in this country once more.

The Coming Obamacare Bailout

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:08

Think back to the fall of 2008. Congress was asked to pass a $700 billion taxpayer bailout for Wall Street. We were told it had to be passed, or else the economy would collapse, perhaps into another Great Depression.

House conservatives voted it down. The stock market fell hundreds of points in response. In the ensuing panic, Congress went along and passed the bailout.

That bailout, and the insane, nearly $1 trillion “stimulus” bill passed just a few months later as Obama’s first act, gave birth to the Tea Party revolution that gave Republicans a 63-seat landslide in the House in the 2010 elections. Voters supported that to stop the run on taxpayer funds.

Next on the horizon is an Obamacare “death spiral” for the private health insurance industry. Taxpayers will now be told a new bailout of hundreds of billions for the private health insurers must be passed, or else private health insurance will go out of business under Obamacare. That would leave the government in complete control of American health care, especially as he who pays the piper calls the tune.

It is called “single payer” by advocates of government-run health care. In plain English, “single payer” means “government monopoly” over health care, more commonly known as “socialized medicine.” That means the government decides who gets what health care, or ultimately, who lives and who dies. For those who think the government is God, such health care socialism is long overdue.

Meaning — spiraling decline in the quality of American health care, the end of investment in new, breakthrough medicine, Sarah Palin’s death panels.

The Obamacare Death Spiral Begins
President Obama sold the idea of Obamacare to its most credulous supporters on the promise that it would mean universal health insurance, with no uninsured. That is what appealed about it to the Left, and to the simple-minded true believers in Obama. But even the Washington establishment Congressional Budget Office scored Obamacare as still leaving 30 million uninsured 10 years after implementation!

But the reality is even worse than that. Because the effect of Obamacare so far has been to increase the number of uninsured, rather than reduce it. Consider recent news reports from around the country:

• Florida Blue terminates 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state.

• Kaiser Permanente in California terminates 160,000 policies, about half of its individual policies in the state.

• Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia cancels 45% of its individual policies.

• CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield drops 76,000 individual policies in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., over 40 percent of its individual policies in those states.

• Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh sends out termination notices for about 20% of its individual policies.

The Weekly Standard summarized the impact last month as likely to total 16 million terminated individual policies, out of a total individual market of 19 million policies. So more than 80% of the health insurance policies individuals buy directly by themselves would be terminated as a result of Obamacare.

But the great majority of health insurance pre-Obamacare came through employer-provided health coverage. The Obamacare wrecking ball, however, is terminating health insurance there too. CBO scored Obamacare as causing as many as 20 million workers to lose their employer-provided health insurance. Former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin estimated double that, or 40 million, in a study for the American Action Forum.

But even that does not match what Obama knew would happen back in 2010 when Obamacare was passed. Section 1251 of the Obamacare legislation includes the “grandfather” provision that is supposed to allow people to keep their current health plan if they like it. But on June 17, 2010, Obama’s own Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a notice in the Federal Register saying, “The Department’s mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013.” That adds up to 51 percent of employer-provided health insurance plans that would become illegal and terminated under Obamacare. Counting both the employer provided and individual health insurance markets, Avik Roy of Forbes calculates that means that altogether 93 million Americans will lose their health insurance under Obamacare.

President Obama promised over and over that if you like your health insurance you can keep it, in selling his Obamacare snake oil. The ringing declaration was, “If you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan. Period. Nobody will be able to take that away from you.” But now Obama derides the millions and millions of terminated policies as substandard in not meeting the Obamacare regulatory requirements. In other words, his much repeated promise to the American people is now revised to proclaim: If Obama likes your health plan you can keep it. What a sad egomaniac for suckers not only to elect but reelect as President.

Moreover, now we know that Obama knew that this pledge to the American people, which he has continued to repeat over and over since 2010, was false from the beginning.

The Obamacare Death Spiral Crash and Burn
President Obama also promised repeatedly that Obamacare would reduce the cost of health insurance for families on average by $2,500 per year. But as with everything that government promises, Obamacare is having just the opposite effect, as another Obama pledge to the American people is proven false.

Avik Roy in a report for the Manhattan Institute estimated that the new Obamacare policies being offered on the Exchanges involved increased insurance premiums of 99 percent for men, and 62 percent for women. But that finding was more recently superseded by a new study by economists for the American Action Forum concluding that the Obamacare premium increases for individual policies on average amount to 260 percent for men and 193 percent.

Obamacare advocates are quick to point out that Obamacare includes tax credits to offset some of these premium increases. But for most people, those tax credits will offset only a fraction of these increases. Many people, singles making over $46,000 and families making only somewhat more, close to half the country at least, will not be eligible for these credits at all. Even those just above poverty will not see all of the increases offset.

This is what people are facing who lose their coverage and turn to the Obamacare Exchanges to find a new plan. And this too was known and predicted by opponents of Obamacare from the beginning. It’s a no-brainer that all the “free” benefits mandated by Obamacare were going to increase the cost of health insurance premiums.

Then there are the Obamacare regulatory requirements of “guaranteed issue” and “community rating.” Those requirements mean that no matter how sick and costly a new applicant for health insurance is when he first shows up, the health insurance company must issue a new policy to them covering everything at standard rates.

That is like requiring fire insurance to issue new homeowner policies to those whose first call comes when their houses are already on fire. The insurer must cover them and can charge no more than the standard rates that apply to everyone else. Of course, those standard rates must soar to ensure that the insurance company will have enough money to pay for an insurance pool covering all burnt down houses, because as the standard rates explode, no one is going to buy fire insurance until their house catches fire.

Those very guaranteed issue and community rating requirements will further contribute to the final crash and burn of the death spiral. When people see the costs of the new replacement Obamacare insurance, healthy and low cost customers are going to react the same way that George Schwab of North Carolina did when interviewed by NBC News. He liked his insurance plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which insured him and his wife for $228 a month. But his plan was recently cancelled (Obama did not like it). The insurance company offered him a “comparable” plan costing $1,208 a month, with an annual deductible soaring to $5,500 a year. The best alternative he could find on the Exchange charged a deductible of $948 a month, more than four times what his previous plan cost. He told NBC, “I’m sitting here looking at this, thinking we ought to just pay the fine and just get insurance when we’re sick.”

You can bet, though, that everyone who is sick with costly illnesses like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes will pay to get the insurance. Just like everyone whose house catches fire would analogously sign up immediately for fire insurance.

This problem is made even worse by the difficulties of working with the online Exchanges. Those who are healthy and low cost and just checking out prices will be quickly discouraged by the dysfunctional Obamacare website. But those who are sick with costly illnesses will persevere (as if their lives depended on it, which they may) until they succeed in getting coverage.

Moreover, as John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, points out in his highly insightful health policy blog, waves of the sickest and most costly are now swamping the insurance offered on the Exchanges. That is because state and federal High Risk Pools formerly serving these sickest and most costly are officially closing now, expecting Obamacare to pick them up. Moreover, government and private employers are in the process of dumping retirees they formerly covered on the Obamacare Exchanges as well. Sick and costly employees sticking with their current employers only for the health coverage because they would have costly pre-existing conditions for any new insurer are also in the process of leaving for new opportunities because they are assured of new coverage under Obamacare.

Even worse, the soaring premiums on the Obamacare Exchanges were calculated by health insurers on the assumption that the individual and employer mandates would succeed in forcing everyone to buy health insurance, the healthy and low cost as well as the sick and high cost. But with 93 million Americans, more than half of everyone with health insurance pre-Obamacare, losing their health coverage under Obamacare, and facing the incentives described above, the covered health insurance pool will not come remotely close to covering everyone, with the healthy, younger, and low cost being exactly the ones to drop out, and evade the mandates.

The pool the insurers end up covering, then, will be a lot more like the pool of all burnt down houses for fire insurers discussed above. The premiums the insurers receive from this adversely shrunken pool will not remotely cover the costs of that pool. Hence they will be facing bankruptcy next year, absent another taxpayer bailout of hundreds of billions. So the choice will be that, or socialized medicine, including the government death panels we see in every other country weighed down by this “enlightened” last century albatross.

Photo: UPI

Banned in Bremerton

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:07

LYNDEN, Washington — By day, Nigel is a mild-mannered one man band of a cook, waiter, caterer and whatever else he needs to be done at Shuksan Golf Club’s The Grille.

For my dough, his establishment is the restaurant with the best view in all of Whatcom County. The wedding arbor, the golf course, the trees, the hills and the mountains all form one perfect panorama.

By night, with one all-important asterisk, Nigel is more like a literal one-man band. He cheers and boos and grins like a maniac. The other evening, he brought his new cowbell that he’d bought at a music store and a borrowed drumstick, and absolutely went to town. Christopher Walken couldn’t ask for more.

The asterisk is that Nigel only raises a ruckus when he’s watching the Bellingham Blazers slap the puck around against other teams in the Northern Pacific Hockey League. (The NPHL is part of the larger Junior Hockey League system, with players aged 16 to 20 years old, volunteer host families, the whole frozen enchilada.)

Nigel goes to almost all of the home games, at the dual-use hockey rink/indoor soccer Sportsplex, and he makes it to many away games. All the teams in the league are located in Oregon, Washington, and Montana, which makes mass fan travel more feasible.

Last season, Nigel and a bunch of Blazers boosters bused down to Bremerton. They would watch the Blazers beat the West Sound Warriors to win the league’s Cascade Cup, but first they had to get through the door. That hat with compressed air horns one Blazers fan was wearing? It simply had to go, even though the West Sound heavies could cite no league rule against noisemakers.

No matter. According to Nigel, Blazers fans were led into their own designated section, away from Warriors fans. They easily outnumbered and out cheered the Bremerton crowd for the Blazers’ 3-1 victory.

Most impressive is that Nigel’s Blazers did all of this in their first year. They were the NPHL expansion team for the 2012-2013 season. Bellingham had an awful start but shot right back into the net.

In spite of the Blazers’ first year triumph, many locals — I’ve found — have yet to hear of them. Wikipedia doesn’t help. The e-encyclopedia entry will tell you they were a team from Bellingham and British Columbia between 1972 and 1985, changing from the Bellingham Blazers to the Burnaby Blue Hawks with several bumps along the way.

Nowhere from one of our premier sources of information will you learn that the Bellingham Blazers club name has been resurrected, or, say, that they won the freaking Cascade Cup earlier this year. Perhaps some random Wikipedian sports nut can read this article and right a great injustice.

Of course, that entry could never represent the sheer fun of going to these great amateur hockey games. You wouldn’t learn about the raucous beer garden cheer section, the ledge right next to the glass where small kids get an extreme close-up of the action, or the side rivalry of the fan chuck-a-puck contest. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a runner-up twice and won it once.)

Blazers have taken seven of their ten home games so far this season, before a long November road trip. If Bellingham and Bremerton continue to perform as they are now, a Cascade Cup rematch is mathematically certain.

Here’s hoping it will take place in Bellingham this time around. At the Sportsplex, nobody’s going to try to confiscate your noisemakers at the door for fear that you might actually use them. The Blazers’ basic temperament is, the more cowbell, the better.

Whatcha Gonna Do If They Come for You

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:05

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces
By Radley Balko
(Public Affairs, 400 pages, $27.99)

As a first year law student and aspiring prosecutor, I was in potential-employment heaven at the government jobs fair. Nearly every federal agency was there, along with many state and local agencies, all promising opportunities to throngs of would-be deputies. Several federal agencies, including the Inspector General’s Office in the Social Security Administration, advertised that they let their employees carry a gun. That this gave me no pause at the time demonstrates that Radley Balko, a prominent critic of police militarization and author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, has his work cut out for him.

Balko, a Huffington Post investigative journalist formerly of Reason magazine, opens his new book by questioning the constitutionality of police forces as we know them today. For instance, he argues that as police look more and more like a standing army, they might run afoul of the Third Amendment (“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law”). The body of case law on the Third Amendment is slim, since no case primarily resting on it has ever reached the Supreme Court. But history suggests the Founders were less concerned about the mere physical presence of soldiers in homes than in the use of the military to enforce the law. British troops stationed in colonial cities blatantly disregarded the Castle Doctrine, despite its recognition by the crown. That presence later allowed the soldiers to enforce the Stamp Act.

Under the community policing model prevalent in the early United States, citizens kept each other in check, and reprobation was often sufficient deterrent or punishment. But as cities grew and hired professional police forces, there arose an increasing disconnect between cops and citizens. Social Security lawyers with guns are the least of our worries.

For Balko, the crackdown on illicit drugs is the driving force behind police militarization. Battlefield rhetoric—we speak of the drug “war,” for instance—encouraged an “us vs. them” attitude that superseded the old “protect and serve.” Hundreds of police forces began to insist that they needed SWAT teams to combat dangerous drug traders. In dress and in tactics, SWAT forces are far closer to military than police. The book’s cover features a phalanx of state troopers wearing Kevlar vests and face shields, gear more reminiscent of the battle suits from the Halo video game series than of a local sheriff.

As military-style police became the norm, the need to treat suspects like enemy combatants changed the legal landscape. No-knock raids, in which police simply storm a residence before showing a warrant or even identifying themselves to the occupants, rose with public demand for something be done about drugs. Balko finds several villains here, expressing particular distaste for Richard Nixon and a heavy criticism of Ronald Reagan’s administration.

After the attack on the World Trade Center, new budgets for “homeland security” expanded strike force units in many police forces, and added SWAT teams to smaller forces that would never have dreamed of them prior to 9/11. Governments in towns that seem unlikely terror targets suddenly began purchasing heavily armored vehicles.

The political lines on police militarization have ebbed and flowed. In the 1990s, those on the right condemned the debacles at Ruby Ridge and Waco as abuses of power. The raid to seize a terrified Elian Gonzalez, immortalized by a photographer’s lens, galvanized many on both sides of the aisle. But as the focus turned to counterterrorism many conservatives’ opinions became more nuanced and complicated.

Balko’s argument suffers from over-emphasis on the drug war. Groups ranging from the American Bar Association, to the Heritage Foundation, to the American Civil Liberties Union, agree broadly on the problem of overcriminalization, roughly defined as the heavy-handed use of criminal law to punish not only malum in se crimes—those that are inherently evil, such as rape and murder—but also malum prohibitum offenses—those that are “wrong” only because they have been prohibited. This amalgamation of groups also opposes the current disregard for lack of criminal intent in prosecution of malum prohibitum violations. But drug use is perhaps the one area where the organizations part ways.

Balko would have a stronger case had he used more examples accessible to the average reader—“crimes” that most everyone can agree do not justify a militaristic response. Instead, he hopes his readers will accept that personal drug use isn’t worthy of any police action. The book is neither an anti-cop screed nor a stereotypical libertarian drug decriminalization rant, but this is asking too much from a skeptical reader.

Nonetheless, Balko does a good job of making the pro-prohibition reader consider that his home may no longer be his castle, but the next battlefield in the drug war. Police forces have perverse incentives, since, like any other government agency, they receive more money if they do more work, meaning more raids and more arrests. In turn, this can lead to overzealous, or just plain sloppy, detective work. The stories of mistaken drug raids—forced entrances, guns drawn, into what turns out to be the wrong house—are just plain frightening. Dog owners will recoil while reading through the horrific stories of man’s best friend becoming an almost obligatory casualty in a drug raid.

Such stories from the drug war effectively punctuate the consequences of the militarization of police. But they hurt the overall flow of the narrative, which is already disjointed, in part because some segments are selections from Balko’s earlier writing. There’s no excuse, too, for a rather uninteresting political play-by-play on how the federal omnibus crime bills came to be, and came to be reversed.

These quibbles can be forgiven considering that Balko is one of the few journalists covering police misconduct in earnest (and doing so without the Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theories). And his chronological organization is helpful in showing an evolution from the Founding Fathers’ insistence on including the restriction for quartering soldiers in the Bill of Rights to today’s judges who approve no-knock raids with no questions asked.

It is said that the color blue is psychologically calming to the observer, evoking feelings of trust. In the model of community policing it made perfect sense as the color of law enforcement. But today, as Balko deftly explains, is the age of the warrior cop, and camo is the new blue.

An Old ‘New’ Program

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 06:02

Like so many things that seem new, Obamacare is in many ways old wine in new bottles.

For example, when confronted with the fact that millions of Americans stand to lose their existing medical insurance, as a result of Obamacare, defenders of Obamacare say that this is true only when those people have “substandard” insurance.

Who decides what is “substandard”? What is older than the idea that some exalted elite know what is good for us better than we know ourselves? Obama uses the rhetoric of going “forward,” but he is in fact going backward to an age when despots told everybody what they had better do and better not do.

Obamacare is old in yet another way. One of the fundamental reasons why private medical insurance has gotten so expensive is that politicians in state after state have mandated what this insurance must cover, regardless of what individuals want.

Insurance covering everything from baldness treatments to sex-change operations is a lot more expensive than insurance covering only major illnesses that can drain your life’s savings. Now these mandates have moved up from the state to the federal level.

Insurance is an institution for dealing with risks. It is a costly and counterproductive way to pay for things that are not risks — such as annual checkups, which are known in advance to occur every year.

Your annual checkup does not cost any less because it is covered by insurance. In fact it costs more, because the person who is insured must pay premiums that cover not only the cost of the checkup itself, but also the costs of insurance company paperwork.

 If automobile insurance covered the cost of paying for your oil changes, would that make oil changes cheaper or more expensive? Obviously more expensive, since additional people would have to be paid to become involved in handling the transaction, instead of your simply paying directly out of your own pocket to the people who changed your oil.

Different people have different risks and different willingness to take care of risks themselves, instead of paying to have them transferred to an insurance company. But politicians in state after state have mandated what must be covered by insurance, regardless of what policy-holders and insurance companies might agree on if left free to make their own choices.

That has made it impossible to get less expensive insurance that covers only costly but rare medical problems.

Politicians love to play Santa Claus by handing out favors to voters, while depicting insurance companies as Scrooge when they raise insurance premiums to cover the costs of government mandates.

This kind of political game has been played for generations in other areas besides insurance.

Municipal transit used to be privately owned and run, but politicians would not allow the fares to be raised to a level that would cover costs. The net result was that private companies were driven out of business and local governments took over, saddling the taxpayers with the costs that fares don’t cover.

That is what “single payer” means in any context — a government monopoly that virtually guarantees worse service. Why would anyone want that for something as crucial as medical care?

One reason, of course, is the ever seductive illusion of something for nothing, an illusion spread by glib politicians, posing as saviors of the public against villains in the private sector.

Yet another way in which Obamacare is an old political story is that it began as supposedly a way to deal with the problem of a segment of the population — those without health insurance.

But, instead of directly helping those particular people to get insurance, the “solution” was to expand the government’s power over everybody, including people who already had health insurance that they wanted to keep.

Since there has never been a society of human beings without at least some segment with some problem, this is a formula for a never-ending expansion of government power. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are all on record as believing in a “single payer” system — that is, a government monopoly able to impose its own will on everybody. Even the current and future problems of Obamacare can help them to reach that goal.