July 17th, 2014

“America” the movie

I went to see the Dinesh D’Souza movie “America” the other evening.

I have to say it was a mixed bag. The ads, as well as the beginning of the movie, indicated it would explore what the world would be like without America. But the movie wandered away from that interesting premise pretty quickly and never really came back to it.

The movie retained my interest, but I’m not so sure that anyone who isn’t already on the right will be going to see it. The topic is huge, and it bites off a lot more than it can chew in an attempt to debunk the propaganda from the left about how awful America is, how racist and how imperialist and how hypocritical. How can this be accomplished in less than two hours? It can’t, except in a cursory manner, although I applaud D’Souza for trying. It has to be done.

And of course most of the reviews predictably pan the movie, and would do so even if it were excellent. Unfortunately, it’s not excellent enough, although it’s not bad, either. There’s also a bit too much of D’Souza himself, who’s just not a compelling personality nor a movie star. I wish he’d found someone else with more star power to narrate the movie.

Of course, those of us who pay a lot of attention to history already know most of what the movie points out. But still, there were a number of things in it with which I was unfamiliar. I hadn’t realized, for example, that there were some freed blacks before the civil war who owned slaves. And although I already knew a lot about Saul Alinsky, seeing the movie’s clips of him talking was an eye-opener. There was something about his demeanor that was absolutely chilling and made my blood run cold.

I hope the movie is far more successful than I think it will be. We desperately need more efforts to counter the left’s lies, because it’s late, and getting later.

I’m curious what those of you who’ve seen the movie think about it.

July 17th, 2014

Revisiting Allende

I’ve written before that Obama reminds me of Hugo Chavez. But there’s a touch of Allende in Obama, too.

Take a look. Note that a coalition of groups in the Chilean Chamber of Deputies attempted to stop Allende when they became alarmed at the extent of his constitutional overreach. Unfortunately, I don’t think that our Congress has the guts to do something similar these days:

On 22 August 1973, the Christian Democrats and the National Party members of the Chamber of Deputies joined together to vote 81 to 47 in favor of a resolution that asked the authorities to “put an immediate end” to “breach[es of] the Constitution . . . with the goal of redirecting government activity toward the path of law and ensuring the Constitutional order of our Nation, and the essential underpinnings of democratic co-existence among Chileans.”

The resolution declared that Allende’s government sought “to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the State . . . [with] the goal of establishing . . . a totalitarian system” and claimed that the government had made “violations of the Constitution . . . a permanent system of conduct.” Essentially, most of the accusations were about disregard by the Socialist government of the separation of powers, and arrogating legislative and judicial prerogatives to the executive branch of government.

Specifically, the Socialist government of President Allende was accused of:

Ruling by decree, thwarting the normal legislative system
Refusing to enforce judicial decisions against its partisans; not carrying out sentences and judicial resolutions that contravened its objectives
Ignoring the decrees of the independent General Comptroller’s Office
Sundry media offenses; usurping control of the National Television Network and applying economic pressure against those media organizations that are not unconditional supporters of the government
Allowing its Socialist supporters to assemble with arms, and preventing the same by its right-wing opponents
Supporting more than 1,500 illegal takeovers of farms
Illegal repression of the El Teniente miners’ strike
Illegally limiting emigration

Finally, the resolution condemned the creation and development of government-protected [socialist] armed groups, which . . . are headed towards a confrontation with the armed forces. President Allende’s efforts to re-organize the military and the police forces were characterized as notorious attempts to use the armed and police forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks.

Allende defied the Chamber of Deputies, and he was only stopped by a military coup. Allende committed suicide rather than step down, but the left has perpetrated the myth that he was assassinated. It makes much better propaganda.

I keep thinking of Obama’s Honduras policy—not the current immigration crisis, but the 2009 shocker where Obama supported the leftist Zelaya’s constitutional overreach, and opposed that country’s lawful attempt to remove and replace him. It was one of the clearest signs that Obama was interested in doing something similar himself. I have very little doubt that, if Obama had been president at the time of Allende’s control of Chile, Obama would have tried to protect him from being deposed, too.

July 17th, 2014

July 18-19: join the amnesty protests

On July 18th and 19th a host of amnesty protests are planned across a wide section of the country. If you want to join the demonstrations, see this for a list of where they will be hold.

Unlike leftists, conservatives haven’t usually tended to participate in protests. The Tea Party was unusual in that respect, especially when the movement first began, and it scared the left. A populist conservative movement was a big threat, that that’s why there was a concerted effort to demonize the Tea Party as racists—and ultimately to squash the group through the mechanism of the IRS.

I have little doubt that demonstrations against amnesty will also be characterized by the left as racist, but I’m not so sure that ploy will work. Most Americans are very unhappy with the huge flood of illegal immigrants crossing the border and getting all sorts of services, and the public doesn’t seem to buy the line that we must allow them to stay. The real question is whether the Obama administration and the Democrats care what most Americans think. Whether or not their pro-amnesty position will hurt them in the short run, they seem to be convinced it will help them greatly in the long run, so they are willing to risk temporary disapproval from the majority of voters.

July 17th, 2014

Malaysian passenger plane reportedly shot down over Ukraine

Could this be? Horrendous if true:

A passenger plane with 295 people on board has been shot down as it flew above eastern Ukraine, according to aviation sources.

The Malaysia Airlines plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was travelling at an altitude of 10km (6.2 miles) when it was shot down, Russia’s Interfax reported.

The Boeing 777 was brought down by a Buk ground-to-air missile, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry quoted by the news agency said.

The adviser said 280 passengers and 15 crew members who were on the plane are all believed to have died…

Officials in Ukraine denied the country’s armed forces were involved in the shooting down of the plane.

It’s certainly not yet clear what has happened. I wonder if it will ever be clear exactly what has happened.

[NOTE: You may be surprised to learn how many civilian airliners have been shot down, seemingly by mistake, over the course of civil aviation history.]

[ADDENDUM: Now it's being reported that there may have been 23 Americans on board.]

July 16th, 2014

“My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV”…

says Leonard Cohen.

A likely story. If Cohen’s mind is like the DMV, it’s not like any DMV I’ve ever been to.

Cohen’s interview is a fascinating reflection on creativity and work:

Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.

That reminds me of something Robert Frost said about writing poetry:

You know, you know that, when I begin a poem I don’t know–I don’t want a poem that I can tell was written towards a good ending–one sentence, you know. That’s trickery. You’ve got to be the happy discoverer of your ends.

…I’ve often said that another definition of poetry is dawn–that it’s something dawning on you while you’re writing it. It comes off if it really dawns when the light comes at the end. And the feeling of dawn–the freshness of dawn–that you didn’t think this all out and write in prose first and than translate it into verse.

Note the metaphor of “light” that both poets use.

I’ve written a lot of poetry in my life, although “a lot” is relative. I’m certainly not up there in productivity with either Frost or Cohen. I’ve got maybe seventy or so poems that I wouldn’t be totally ashamed to own up to. And I have to say that almost all of them took the form both poets are describing: you write it and see whether it shines, and although you have some spark that starts the process you have no idea where the poem will end. The best ones end in pleasant surprise.

July 16th, 2014

How to prove wrongdoing when emails go missing?

Another hard drive bites the dust, taking with it the record of possible malfeasance:

Federal employees, like all Americans, are entitled to hold passionate political beliefs. Most executive branch federal employees, however, may not engage in certain political activities, thanks to an anti-conflict of interest principle enshrined in a federal law called the Hatch Act…

Which brings us to the case of April Sands, an employee at the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), who struck a deal with the agency’s Inspector General to avoid criminal charges related to running afoul of the Hatch Act on numerous occasions. She has openly confessed to breaching federal law as part of her effective plea bargain, but investigators were unable to probe a potential goldmine of incriminating activity: Her email. Why? You guessed it; her hard drive crashed, supposedly wiping out her email records, and resulting in the FEC recycling (i.e., destroying) the hard drive. Sounds familiar. Did I mention that Ms. Sands worked under Lois Lerner when Lerner served as the agency’s Associate General Counsel for Enforcement?

Sands’ job was “helping to enforce election laws” as an FEC employee, and yet she posted strongly partisan anti-Republican political opinions on Twitter (example: “I just don’t understand how anyone but straight white men can vote Republican. What kind of delusional rhetorical [sic] does one use?”). She has already confessed to “violating the Hatch Act by soliciting political contributions via Twitter, conducting political activity through her Twitter account, and participating in a political discussion ‘via webcam from an FEC conference room . . . while on duty’.”

But Sands’ emails, which could be an extremely important source of evidence on which to base a charge of committing the criminal offense of soliciting campaign contributions from work, have been destroyed along with her hard drive. The criminal investigation is stalled without it.

So let’s leave Ms. Sands for a moment, and ponder the question of the necessity for emails as evidence. Emails would seem to be easily recoverable, even if hard drives crash, because until now it’s been unusual for computers and/or hard drives to actually be destroyed in order to cover a perp’s tracks. Computers and emails have largely taken over business and government correspondence within the last twenty years or so (perhaps even earlier, but I’m not sure, since I wasn’t employed in the business or government world). But I seem to recall that, before that, paper was the way to keep a record of things, and paper was not only harder to find in discovery (it’s not on a hard drive) but quite easy to destroy. And yet prosecutors managed somehow to indict and convict people.

So, how was it done? Not everyone made tapes a la Nixon (who of course most likely erased some crucial minutes of his); in fact, most people kept no electronic record whatsoever. So, how was prosecution accomplished? I don’t think white collar workers were routinely tortured back then to make them squeal. Did cases without a paper trail rely on witnesses, confederates who became informants? I doubt that perps had such a great respect for paper that they never destroyed it, either. Were threats to the perp or confederates involved? Or did perpetrators just get away with it?

Maybe I’m missing something; help me out here.

I’m really curious, because I foresee that from now on “my hard drive has been recycled” will be a routine defense. If we don’t figure out other ways to amass evidence of wrongdoing, government employees will violate these and other laws with impunity, and we will have no protection from them.

Hmmmm. Perhaps that’s already happened.

[NOTE: I realize that some people have suggested we call on the NSA records, the ones they've amassed through spying. That's a pretty dangerous incursion on liberty, don't you think? And wouldn't the NSA just say it didn't have any records for the people the government is interested in exonerating? Who checks on the NSA?]

July 16th, 2014

What it’s like to be a climate change skeptic

It’s not pretty, even if your credentials are impeccable:

John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, says he remembers the morning he spotted a well-known colleague at a gathering of climate experts.

“I walked over and held out my hand to greet him,” Dr. Christy recalled. “He looked me in the eye, and he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Come on, shake hands with me.’ And he said, ‘No.’ ”

It’s fortunate for Dr. Christy that burning at the stake has gone out of style.

And Christy isn’t even technically a climate change denier. He might more rightly be called a climate change minimizer:

Dr. Christy is an outlier on what the vast majority of his colleagues consider to be a matter of consensus: that global warming is both settled science and a dire threat. He regards it as neither. Not that the earth is not heating up. It is, he says, and carbon dioxide spewed from power plants, automobiles and other sources is at least partly responsible.

But in speeches, congressional testimony and peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, he argues that predictions of future warming have been greatly overstated and that humans have weathered warmer stretches without perishing.

One can only imagine how many “deniers” have been socially ostracized, not offered jobs, discouraged from continuing in the profession, and a host of other pressures designed to purge the field of anyone who might dissent in any way. After that’s done, the fact that a huge percentage of scientists have reached “consensus” is touted as all the more reason to be certain that “the science is settled.”

I found this passage in the article to be especially interesting:

Dr. Christy was pointing to a chart comparing seven computer projections of global atmospheric temperatures based on measurements taken by satellites and weather balloons. The projections traced a sharp upward slope; the actual measurements, however, ticked up only slightly.

Such charts — there are others, sometimes less dramatic but more or less accepted by the large majority of climate scientists — are the essence of the divide between that group on one side and Dr. Christy and a handful of other respected scientists on the other.

“Almost anyone would say the temperature rise seen over the last 35 years is less than the latest round of models suggests should have happened,” said Carl Mears, the senior research scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, a California firm that analyzes satellite climate readings.

“Where the disagreement comes is that Dr. Christy says the climate models are worthless and that there must be something wrong with the basic model, whereas there are actually a lot of other possibilities,” Dr. Mears said. Among them, he said, are natural variations in the climate and rising trade winds that have helped funnel atmospheric heat into the ocean.

No doubt there are many possibilities, and we don’t know which is correct—that’s why the science is not settled. And one of those possibilities is exactly what Dr. Christy asserts (an explanation that seems quite reasonable to me), which is that the models being used are grossly inadequate.

July 15th, 2014

Change Wilberforce now

You hear the pundits on the left saying that the right criticizes Obama for ignoring laws, but when he enforces the 2008 act that requires that unaccompanied minors from Central America be given special treatment, the right howls.

No doubt that criticism makes sense to some people. But it ignores almost every salient fact about the situation.

The bill in question, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, dealt with a different set of circumstances and was never envisioned to apply to what’s happening now. As its name suggests, it was aimed at stopping human trafficking, and only a very small part of it dealt with unaccompanied minors from Central America (actually, from all countries except Mexico and Canada), and even that was in the context of those minors as presumed human trafficking victims. Back then, there were no hordes of unaccompanied minors coming here from Central America to attempt to gain residence on rumored promises of amnesty.

The second point is that Obama is very selective about his enforcement. He ignores the laws he doesn’t like, or changes them, whereas with those that suit his purpose he falls back on the idea that he simply must obey the law. It’s his intentionally selective enforcement that’s the problem. In particular, if Obama enforced the laws on border security, Wilberforce wouldn’t have ever become such a problem in the first place.

For Wilberforce, Charles Lane invokes the law of unintended consequences—legislative version. He’s correct. In retrospect we can see that the section of the law involving unaccompanied minors was poorly drafted, but hindsight is always 20/20:

So, here we are: The Wilberforce Act, logical and humane on paper, has been overthrown by an influx of Central American kids…

This isn’t anyone’s idea of sustainable immigration; at least it shouldn’t be. Some call the situation a humanitarian crisis. I prefer “national scandal.”…

Yet the key is to fix the Wilberforce Act: to permit prompt exclusion of unaccompanied Central American minors, as is already the case for Mexicans and (far less frequently) Canadians.

Sounds simple, right? Seems like everyone should get behind this, right? Wrong. That’s much too reasonable.

It will be very interesting to see whether the House manages to pass some sort of revision to Wilburforce, making the new arrivals subject to quicker deportation:

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the working group’s leader, will argue that child immigrants from Central America should be subject to the same rules as those from Mexico. A source close to Granger said the group will also advise that National Guard troops be sent to the border, a longstanding demand from Republicans.

I’m not even sure the GOP would support such a bill, although it seems eminently sensible to me. And even if it were to somehow be passed, I can’t imagine Harry Reid allowing it to come to a vote in the Senate. And then, if by some incredible happenstance it did get through the Senate, and such an act reached Obama’s desk for signing, he would be faced with quite a dilemma: would he veto a bill most of America desperately wants? Or would he sign it and turn his back on the left of his party, as well as his own plans for America’s future and an entrenched Democratic majority? I know which one I’d put my money on.

July 15th, 2014

One more thing about that famous Hillary Clinton quote “What difference at this point does it make?”

The question Hillary Clinton asked during the Benghazi hearings has become famous, and famously mocked.

But people have been so focused on the blase attitude it shows that they rarely comment on the fact that embedded in it is a false choice. This has bothered me for a long time, so I want to set the record straight.

Not that it makes any difference at this point.

But here’s the quote:

With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

So, was it “because of a protest”? Or was it some random chaotic act “because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans”?

Well, how about: “Neither, Hillary, and what’s more, you know it was neither. Both suggestions are absurd. It actually was a group of organized terrorists who planned an attack, and succeeded in killing not just ‘some’ random Americans, but the ambassador and three protectors.”

I’ve long wondered why that part of the quote has been pretty much ignored.

July 15th, 2014

Another worthless poll

A WaPo-ABC News poll finds that:

Nearly 6 out of 10 Americans are not happy with Obama’s performance in dealing with the tens of thousands of minors who have arrived from Central America in recent months, overwhelming Border Patrol stations. All told, 58 percent disapprove of his management on the issue, including 54 percent of Latinos…

But as with other hot-button issues, congressional Republicans fare even worse in the court of public opinion, with 66 percent disapproving of the job GOP lawmakers have done to address the crisis. Almost as many Republicans disapprove of their party’s handling of the issue as say they approve, with negative ratings rising to a majority among conservatives.

Here’s the poll in its entirety: three questions. But the all-important one, both for Obama and for Congress—”do you think he/they is/are too lenient on allowing illegal immigrants in, or too tough?”—isn’t even dreamed of by the clever WaPo or the brilliant ABC.

And that’s the only question that would make any real sense of the poll. Without it, it’s just noise.

I can’t believe that the WaPo and ABC can’t figure that out, so I’ll just assume their purpose is to obfuscate. I’ve noticed that this is not unusual for polls in general. They often ask opinion questions without adding a single follow-up question to inquire as to the basis for the disapproval, and without that, the polls are nearly worthless. For example, what percentage of Obama’s growing disapproval rates is because respondents think he’s too far to the left, and what percentage is because they think he’s been not effective enough in getting his leftist agenda across? Inquiring minds should want to know.

July 14th, 2014

We won’t be solving the Fermi Paradox any time soon

The Fermi Paradox is scary any way you look at it. Are we alone in the universe, and if so, why? And if not, why haven’t we heard a thing?:

Continuing to speculate, if 1% of intelligent life survives long enough to become a potentially galaxy-colonizing Type III Civilization, our calculations above suggest that there should be at least 1,000 Type III Civilizations in our galaxy alone — and given the power of such a civilization, their presence would likely be pretty noticeable. And yet, we see nothing, hear nothing, and we’re visited by no one.

So where is everybody?

Welcome to the Fermi Paradox.

We have no answer to the Fermi Paradox — the best we can do is “possible explanations.” And if you ask ten different scientists what their hunch is about the correct one, you’ll get ten different answers. You know when you hear about humans of the past debating whether the Earth was round or if the sun revolved around the Earth or thinking that lightning happened because of Zeus, and they seem so primitive and in the dark? That’s about where we are with this topic.

It seems to me to be an excellent introductory article dealing with a complex subject. The author, whom I’d never heard of before, also has a blog. Surfing around there, I found this fascinating post on the author’s visit to North Korea.

Yes, you heard me right: North Korea. Read it. Ignore the gratuitous f-words. It’s a good article nonetheless.

July 14th, 2014

Do you wonder whatever happened to this bill?

In 2011 Senator Vitter of Louisiana introduced a bill to ban the automatic granting of citizenship to so-called “anchor babies” of illegal immigrants:

A group of conservative Republicans in the U.S. Senate have drafted a bill to stop “anchor babies” from automatically being granted birthright citizenship, ABC News reported Wednesday.

David Vitter of Louisiana, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas said that their bill requires the federal government to limit automatic citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is a citizen, legal resident, or member of the military.

Or this subsequent one from 2013?

I can’t find much about their final dénouement. My guess is that most either die in committee, or are voted down in the House, because not enough Republicans will support them, much less Democrats. And even if such bills were to somehow pass the House, Harry Reid would block them in the Senate.

In addition, I’m not sure whether, if they somehow managed to be passed, the Supreme Court would uphold them. This would depend on how the Court interprets the Fourteenth Amendment. According to this, the Court so far has only ruled (at least, up to the year 2009, when the article was written) that children who are born here of legal immigrants must be citizens, a proposition with which I have absolutely no quarrel. If you’d like to study the history of the Fourteenth Amendment and how it might apply if Congress were to pass a bill like that proposed by Vitter in 2011, see this, particularly the description of the Congressional debates at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was passed:

Howard said that the clause “is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States.” He added that citizenship “will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons”—a comment which would later raise questions as to whether Congress had originally intended that U.S.-born children of foreign parents were to be included as citizens.

There’s much more that’s relevant to the question of whether the Court would uphold a law such as Vitter’s, and on what grounds, here and here. The ultimate remedy for the Court’s ruling against such a bill’s constitutionality would be to pass a constitutional amendment, which would require a lot more support than a mere bill.

But wouldn’t it be worthwhile it to pass such a bill and see what the Court would say about it? I’m almost positive that most Americans would favor such a law, especially now with the border crisis exploding. The most recent poll I could find on the subject was taken in 2011, and that year 61% of respondents disliked the anchor baby rule as it stands. What’s more, only 28% agreed with the rule, and “Eighty-four percent (84%) of voters believe that before anyone receives local, state or federal government services, they should be required to prove they are legally allowed to be in the United States. Only nine percent (9%) oppose such a requirement.” And although it was Republicans and Independents who most wanted to change the law favoring anchor babies, even Democrats were evenly split on the issue. That’s fairly overwhelming support.

So laws such as those sponsored by Vitter would seem to have unusually wide appeal. Why then are they not passed? Well, you know why. From the same poll:

There are sharper differences of opinion as far as the Political Class is concerned. Seventy percent (70%) of those in the Political Class favor automatic citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, but 70% of Mainstream voters are opposed.

Mainstream voters also believe much more emphatically that those seeking government services need to prove they are in this country legally.

The Rasmussen report on the poll is behind a paywall so I don’t know how they define “Political Class” (the above quotes and facts are from a blog purporting to quote the Rasmussen report). But it seems clear that the interests of Congress involving business, lobbyists, and the Hispanic bloc have conspired to cause them to act against the interests of the American people as a whole on this issue.

Not only is the Vitter bill sensible, but it is also the position of many countries in the world:

To stop birth tourism, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom have a modified jus soli, granting citizenship by birth only when at least one parent is a citizen of the country or a legal permanent resident who has lived in the country for several years.

Works for me. Only Canada of all the developed countries has a rule that resembles ours.

And I don’t care what race, ethnicity, or country we’re talking about. If the parent is a whiter-than-white illegal immigrant from Scandinavia I don’t want anchor babies of illegal immigrants to be given automatic citizenship. Same for wealthy Chinese mothers who come here to give birth and then return home, and whose kids will some day come to the US and be computer whizzes. I don’t care.

Our current policy not only encourages people without respect for the rule of law to come here to game the system and to reap benefits we cannot afford (illegal immigrant women who are pregnant or nursing can qualify for WIC, and their children can be on Medicaid), but it can only decrease respect for the rule of law in general. It’s time to take another look at changing the birthright citizenship rules and passing something like the Vitter bill. Too bad that even the Republicans seem to have no stomach for it.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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