"Starbucks is 39 years old now, and like a lot of 39-year-olds, especially those who’ve experienced great success in their salad years but are beginning to wonder if they’ve lost their touch, it’s having a bit of an identity crisis," writes Greg Beato in the March issue of Reason.
See, I'm a few months younger than Starbucks and I can't relate to that at all. I feel like my best years are yet to come.
But I think I understand the problem. Starbucks overextended. We had two Starbucks within a couple of miles of our house. Both closed last year -- one of them after just one year in operation.
I like Starbucks. I spend a lot of time at the store across the street from where my wife works. They know me there. I can work there more or less in peace. (Thank you, Bose Quiet Comfort 2's!) The coffee is too hot and too bitter and the food is overpriced, but it does the job. Although it may not be "a venue for conversation and civic discourse," I see plenty of realtors, pastors, paralegals, students and band moms gathering there regularly to converse about... well, whatever it is they discuss.
(I)f Starbucks really hopes to re-establish its authority as an innovative, forward-thinking trailblazer, it should perhaps use its next experimental venue to honor its heritage as the first chain to take gourmet coffee culture beyond the narrow boundaries of traditional coffeehouse values and aesthetics. Imagine a place with matching chairs, clean tables, beverages that look like ice cream sundaes, Norah Jones on the sound system, and absolutely no horrid paintings from local artists decorating the walls. A place, that is, exactly like Starbucks!
Because despite its ubiquity, despite its advancing years, Starbucks is still the most radical thing to hit the coffeehouse universe in the last 50 years.
Beats gas station coffee, anyway, I can tell you that.
That, at least, is the conclusion of Abe Greenwald a Friday post at Commentary's Contentions blog titled "Democracy only works if you use it." Greenwald, like me, used Charles Krauthammer's latest column, but to make a different point.
Dr. K notes the contentiousness of today's political debate and writes: "Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office." Even though, as Krauthammer writes, "it’s hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform," what does that matter when the Congress and the president are not listening to the people? As Greenwald writes:
All of the fighting, even the polarization, would be easier to hail if the Democrats were not sidestepping it. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are seeking to change the fundamental nature of the country, not by triumphing in rigorous debate, but rather by exploiting a procedural loophole that would allow them to act against the will of the people.
The citizens of this country have historically enjoyed a unique level of influence on their government. But we are now spectators before whom a cadre of floundering ideologues seeks to sever the trusts that make consensual governance consensual. The Democrats lost the public debate. Ask them if they care.
What I put in bold above is what is so troubling to me. Greenwald points to a recent statement by Nancy Pelosi that reflects her utter disregard — contempt, really — for the opinion of the American people as reflected in the polls and the election of several candidates who ran against the agenda of her caucus and Obama.
We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.
Is that really how our constitutional republic is supposed to work? That if the barriers to an agenda stand in the way — also known as checks and balances — those with a temporary hold on power are to ignore them, subvert them and (if necessary) "pole vault" over them? Previously in the entire history of this country, if you ain't got the votes for a major piece of legislation or "reform," you move on. That's what Bush and the Republican Congress did in 2005 regarding Social Security reform. Rigging the rules, coming up with endless schemes to get your way — including the "Slaughter Solution" to consider the Senate version of the bill passed without ever voting on it as the constitution demands — makes a mockery of our form of government. It's tyranny with a sheen of democracy.
No president, no speaker of the House, should be able to subvert our checks and balances on government power because that president and that speaker say they think its for our own good. We are not children, and they are not our absolute rulers.
Beyond the question of whether ObamaCare is good for the people — and I believe it is not — is proceeding with such contempt for our constitution and the will of the American people good for the country? Does it foster respect for our form of government, or cynicism (which Obama famously said in his campaign was his "real" opponent)?
Obama, Pelosi, and Reid now believe they must pass ObamaCare by any means necessary, because somewhere along the way, the quest to get this done turned into a political suicide mission. Might as well get what you came for, then, and have your political death not be all for naught. It is now left to a handful of House Democrats to decide if they want to take down 200-plus years of what Americans have considered consensual government down with them. Because a "yea" vote not only ratifies ObamaCare, but sets a precedent that "by any means necessary" is now how this republic governs the people.
Surely, there are hard lefties (and even mainstream Democrats) unhappy with the state of America's continued war-mongering foreign policy more than one year after that swaggering, idiot cowboy left the Oval Office and a liberal Democrat (with a like-thinking Congress) settled into power. But the good doctor, like me, looks at wonder at the tranquility on the war-protesting stage.
Do you think if John McCain, let alone George W. Bush, were president, we would not see growing demonstrations protesting our continued presence in Iraq and the escalation of Afghanistan? That we wouldn't see a serious push in Congress to cut off funds?
Why not? Because Barack Obama is now commander in chief. The lack of opposition is not a matter of hypocrisy. It is a natural result of the rotation of power. When a party is in opposition, it opposes. That's its job. But when it comes to power, it must govern. Easy rhetoric is over, the press of reality becomes irresistible. By necessity, it adopts some of the policies it had once denounced. And a new national consensus is born.
Left unsaid by Krauthammer, and what needs to be said, is that there's a reason why the protests from those "out of power" have not materialized. Those out of power today have a sense of decorum and — OK, I'll say it — patriotism. Those out of power today don't just support the troops in some kind of vague sense. They realize that you can't really support the troops without supporting the mission.
But Krauthammer asks a great question: Where are all you smelly hippies! I guess we'll have to wait until ObamaCare dies to see them. ;-)
As I await the fusillade of approbrium ... please read the rest of Krauthammer's latest. Even you liberals. It's good stuff, and not nearly as snarky as my asides.
It's Academy Awards Weekend. Ben and Joel are joined once again by Christian Toto of What Would Toto Watch? and Matt Prigge of Philadelphia Weekly to talk about the 2009 nominees in the run up to Sunday's awards. (And if you are listening to this after the show, check out just how wrong -- or how right! -- we were.)
Among the questions we explore:
• Are 10 Best Picture nominations better than five?
• Or is expanding the nomination pool just a gimmick?
• Never mind what the Academy says: What movie really deserved the Best Picture Oscar?
• Is "Avatar" art -- or an embarrassment?
• What set "The Hurt Locker" apart from other recent war movies?
• Is it time for a gender-neutral “Best Actor” Oscar?
• Which movie released in 2009 should have been on the Best Picture list?
• Could there be a better Nazi zombie movie than "Dead Snow"?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Hooray for Hollywood," Geoff Muldaur
• "I See You (Theme from 'Avatar')," some cheap knockoff cover, not the Leona Lewis version from the "Avatar" OST
• "Slaughter," Billy Preston (from the "Inglourious Basterds" OST)
• "Julia's Theme," Alexander Desplat (from the "Julie and Julia" OST)
• "Up With End Credits," Michael Giacchino (from the "Up" OST)
I've said it before, but in light of this column today by none other than Jonah Goldberg, I'll say it again: "Big business" and "big government" are two sides of the same coin, and it's a mistake for conservatives to side with one over the other. The problem again is the adjective, not the noun.
Here's Goldberg making a related point in USA Today:
The lesson here is fairly simple: Big business is not "right wing," it's vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these "crony capitalists." But only if the politicians can actually deliver. The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.
That's good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it'd be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer.
This also relates to the arguments we had here and at Joel's place about the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United campaign finance case. If you're going to inject politics into business by way of regulation, it's only natural that business will seek to inject itself into politics to protect its interests. Hence: "Vampiric" big business.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the case of McDonald v. Chicago, which is challenging the Second City's 30-year-old ban on handguns. McDonald is the sequel to Heller v. District of Columbia, in which the justices ruled that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to bear arms in federal jurisdictions. If the court follows its own logic in McDonald, it will "incorporate" the language of the Fourteenth Amendment with the Second Amendment, extending the right of gun ownership to the states.
That would be a very good thing, of course. But as Randy Barnett argues in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, what's most interesting about McDonald are the questions the justices aren't asking.
At the McDonald argument, it seemed obvious that five or more justices will vote to apply the Second Amendment to the states. This would be a great victory for gun rights—one that until a few years ago would have been unimaginable. But it was also obvious that most were deeply afraid of following a text whose original meaning might lead them where they do not want to go. When it came to following the written Constitution, a visitor from another planet would not, I suspect, have been very impressed.
Barnett has bigger game in his sights; namely, the Fourteenth Amendment's "Privileges and Immunities" clause: "Justice Scalia insisted that the right to keep and bear arms is right there in the text, which of course is true. But so too is the Privileges or Immunities Clause, which, unlike the Court's due process jurisprudence, has a historical meaning that helps define and limit the rights it was meant to protect."
There is more, of course. Much more, in fact. Barnett continues the argument over privileges and immunities with Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy. And David Kopel weighs in on the question of "reasonable regulation."
I've been writing lately about the centralization of education under the Obama administration. Nothing is available online at the moment, but it should be real soon now. The problem is, centralization and bureaucratization -- two horrible words -- lead to rigidity and... well, stupidity.
Joel Kotkin, writing in Forbes, offers a trenchant critique of Barack Obama's centralizing tendencies:
From health care reform and transportation to education to the environment, the Obama administration has--from the beginning--sought to expand the power of the central state. The president's newest initiative to wrest environment, wage and benefit concessions from private companies is the latest example. But this trend of centralizing power to the federal government puts the political future of the ruling party--as well as the very nature of our federal system--in jeopardy.
Kotkin, who currently teaches at Chapman University, still considers himself a "social democrat." He would rather see government foster economic policies that work to the benefit of the lower and middle classes. Inasmuch as that requires government to get the hell out of the way, it's tough for me to disagree. Kotkin's latest book is "The Next Hundred Million: America at 2050."
I'm sure Joel will have something to say about John Yoo's commentary in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, which begins thus:
Barack Obama may not realize it, but I may have just helped save his presidency. How? By winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.
Ooooh, that's a thrown gauntlet if ever I've seen one. Have at it, comrades!
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday has a magnificent editorial on Congress's efforts to undo the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. (See posts here and here and from Joel here.)
Here's the Journal:
It didn't take long for Congress to try an end-run around the Supreme Court's landmark January decision in Citizens United v. FEC. With a campaign finance bill due to be introduced this week, Democrats are proposing to repeal the First Amendment, at least for some people.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland want to prevent any company with more than 20% of foreign shareholders from spending money in U.S. elections, ban TARP recipients and government contractors from campaign spending, and require CEOs to pop up at the end of television commercials to "approve this message" just like politicians.
Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards and Michigan Democrat John Conyers are going further and proposing to amend the Constitution so it bars corporate free speech. John Kerry and Arlen Specter are also on board for a First Amendment rewrite. At least these Constitutional amenders are honest about their goals and what it requires to be legal.
I don't object to barring TARP recipients from contributing to campaigns, actually. The idea has great potential for extension to other interests that rely almost exclusively on the government dole. (We can hope.) But the rest of it is foolish and would only be a genuine outrage if a constitutional amendment had any hope of ratification.
It's funny how people in power despise would-be challengers. The legislative reaction to the Citizens United decision is so transparently self-serving, it's hard to believe that voters would be dumb enough to buy in. As the Journal concludes:
Citizens United blew a huge hole in the campaign finance rules, and there is no Constitutional way to refill it. The campaign-finance restrictionists should give up their misbegotten and illegal regulatory model and try deregulation and transparency instead. States like Virginia and Utah have no contribution limits but require disclosure and are among the best-run states in such traditional hallmarks of good government as economic health and development. The First Amendment has worked pretty well for 230 years. We don't need a rewrite.
Not that legislators and other do-gooders won't try.
Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't think much of the Tea Party people:
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was dismissive of the Tea Party movement in a “This Week” exclusive interview with Terry Moran. "The Tea Party is not going to go anywhere,” Schwarzenegger told Moran. “I think the Tea Party is all about just an expression of anger and dissatisfaction.”
There's video, naturally.
Governor Schwarzenegger ran for election and reelection on a platform of fiscal restraint. He failed. Schwarzenegger last year backed an ambitious slate of ballot initiatives that would have extended tax hikes on Californians. The voters crushed those initiatives utterly. Schwarzenegger doesn't think the Tea Party is going anywhere? The Tea Parties are likely to go much further than Schwarzenegger's agenda in his final year in office.
David Rivkin and Lee Casey, both veterans of the Justice Department under Reagan and Bush, explain the virtues of divided government in Monday's Wall Street Journal:
When the country is fundamentally divided over an important issue—such as health-care reform—the necessary consensus may not be achieved. Moreover, disputes about one issue may well pour over into another, making compromise and consensus even more difficult. But that is simply human nature.
All of this may well mean that change, even necessary change, is postponed or permanently thwarted. But that is the price of the remarkable stability of government we have.
Despite the perpetual griping about Washington's political gridlock, the American people appear instinctively to understand and accept the Constitution's consensus-based architecture and support the very sort of compromises the system is designed to secure.
What I love about this piece is that Rivkin and Casey write it in a way that seventh graders and congressmen could understand.
Two pieces of note in Friday's Wall Street Journal.
"Even six months ago, when the president's growing problems with the public were becoming apparent, the commission and its top appointees might have been received as fresh and hopeful—the adults have arrived, the system can be made to work," Noonan writes. "Republicans would have felt forced to be part of it, or seen the gain in partnership. Now it looks more as if the president is trying to save his own political life. Timing is everything."
Meantime, the Journal's editors look at the commission and render a far less charitable verdict:
Having proposed peacetime records for spending as a share of the economy—more than 25% of GDP this year and next—Mr. Obama now promises to make "the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems." And what might those choices be? "Everything's on the table. That's how this thing's going to work," Mr. Obama said.
By "everything," Mr. Obama means in particular tax increases. The President vowed in 2008 that he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year, but that's looking to be as forlorn a hope as peace in Palestine.
The Journal suggests that Republicans should appoint "the most antitax members they can find in the hope that they will file a dissenting report." Beyond that, the burden is on Obama to cut spending.
The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools.
But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: "Parents are voting with their feet. ... As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent."
How revealing is that?
Public schools are supposed to exist for reasons other than simply to provide a jobs program for ed-school grads. The point of public education is to educate the public in the requirements of good citizenship. Who says the government alone is qualified to carry out that mission? And if it is in the public interest to ensure we teach our children well, why not give parents options to send their kids to the school of their choice?
Study after study shows that private schools tend to perform better than government-run schools; that more funding does not automatically equate to higher quality (because if you spend millions on shoddy ideas, you get shoddy results); that private school voucher programs in Wisconsin, Cleveland, Florida and Washington, D.C. are popular and, what's more, they're successful at giving "at-risk" and low-income kids first-rate educations. As Stossel writes: "Choice works, and government monopolies don't. How much more evidence do we need?"
Stossel will be discussing school reform tonight at 8 pm and 11 pm on his Fox Business Channel program with Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform and Kevin P. Chavous. Should be interesting.
(By the way, all of this relates to my new job, but I'm not speaking for my employers here. Just popping off on the subject as I've done for years and years.)
Sean Penn was on Larry King Live the other night talking about Haiti. And Penn certainly knows more about what's going on over there than me because he showed up to help after the earthquake hit. Penn warrants praise for lending his celebrity to the cause and physically helping the always poor and now horribly devastated people of Haiti. (There's video evidence on Fox News, of all places). We should all tip our hats to him for that.
But King, to his credit, challenged Penn on what appeared to the host to be a newfound appreciation for the United States military — which, predictably, proves to be Johnny-On-The-Spot when a natural disaster hits while the United Nations is still debating on whether to put on its shoes.
PENN: We work in strong collaboration with the 82nd Airborne, who have been extraordinary. To see the United States military with all its skill and discipline and most importantly the quality of human beings that there are doing this when it's a human aid effort is unparalleled.
KING: You were so praiseworthy of the military, and normally you're not a big fan of military.
PENN: That's not true. If anyone looks back at the things I've written, I've always been a supporter of the troops. I think that we have a responsibility to only deploy our troops constitutionally and responsibly.
In this case, there's no question. I think this is the most noble mission likely that the United States military has been involved in since World War II, but I support the military in right wars or unright wars.
The problem is the use of the military and the misuse of it at times. In this instance, this is the most efficient force in the country. And I would plead to our president that he keeps the United States military there for longer than I understand is currently planned.
Stop the presses! I agree with Sean Penn. Our forces should remain deployed there for longer than currently planned. (The people of Haiti would be better off today if we long ago invaded the country or won it as a prize in a war with France ... but let's put that aside.) As long as our troops can help, and our efforts there do not negatively affect our ability to respond to the war on terror, I'm all for it. But it's time to call bullshit — of which Penn's comments have tons.
As Tim Graham at NewsBusters notes, it was just last year that Penn won the Best Actor Oscar — and used his moment in the international spotlight to rip the kinds of people who join the military. And Penn was even less charitable toward those people in a 2006 HuffPost screed. So it's pretty rich for Penn to pretend he's "always been a supporter of the troops" in "right wars or unright wars." That's a joke.
Penn is among those liberals (especially among the Hollywood set) who only really love our men and women in uniform when they don't shoot anyone — when they act as an International Red Cross response team in fatigues. Of course, this is not the purpose of any nation's military. It would be nice if the "global community" that people like Penn so admire could dedicate itself to creating a rapid-response force with the "skill and discipline and most importantly the quality of human beings" found in the U.S. military. Alas, we are stuck with the incompetent, yet expensive, blue helmets of the United Nations — who occasionally rape the subjects of their humanitarian care.
I'm also intrigued by Penn's view that he's OK with military deployments when it's done "constitutionally." Funny. I don't remember a Congressional authorization for the U.S. military's deployment to Haiti. But I remember one for Iraq. Guess Penn's memory is sketchier than mine.
There's a by now old saw that liberals support military deployments when they are not in the national interest, but are all for them when they are for some sense of the "global interest." I recall Hollywood Hero Bill Clinton deploying troops to depose Slobodan Milosovic in the Balkans. Some conservatives growled, but nothing like the left did toward Bush. Personally, I supported it — but not enthusiastically, because I didn't see the vital U.S. interest in the endeavor. But it's a good thing that Milosovic is gone (dead, even). I'd like to hear Penn and his like-minded liberals say it's a good thing that Saddam is gone (dead, even) — without qualification. Still waiting.
Haiti is a military deployment that is justified for humanitarian reasons. No doubt. The "global community," and even Sean Penn, smiles upon our efforts. Which is nice. (Though, it should be noted, that Penn's good friend Hugo Chavez, calls America's humanitarian effort in Haiti a nefarious occupation. If Penn has weighed in publicly to correct his friend, I've missed it.) And it would be great to accept those well-wishes at face value.
But the left's historic hatred of the proper use of American military might on the global stage (Penn and his like-minded Hollywood friends opposed Reagan's stance in the Cold War, too) make Sean Penn's newfound appreciation for the troops — not to mention who sends them and how they are deployed — a little hard to stomach.
Many Americans think the American Revolution was fought over excessive taxes. Not true. When Bostonians held their famous "tea party" 237 years ago, the tax in question amounted to a couple of pennies per pound of tea. The real issue was consent, the rallying cry "no taxation without representation," because "if we are not represented, we are slaves."
Today, Americans do not lack the opportunity to consent in the same way that colonial revolutionaries did. For the 21st century tea partier, the "Intolerable Acts" are years of profligate spending by a Republican Congress that hypocritically wore the fiscal conservative mantle culminating with George W. Bush's multibillion-dollar bailout of the banks under the despised Troubled Asset Relief Program. Then came the stimulus bill, which most tea party protesters rightly derided as a "porkulus" bill. The automaker bailout soon followed, along with revelations about AIG's sweetheart deal, news of government mismanagement of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Cash for Clunkers, cap-and-trade, and, of course, health care reform. Obama's multitrillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see make George W. Bush's spendthrift ways look parsimonious by comparison.
Talk to any tea partier, and that's what they will tell you. That was what made part-time volunteer Laura Boatright and countless others like her into full-time activists.
...What tea parties represent is a revival of good, old-fashioned constitutionalism and the idea that government needs to get back to basics. There is a great yearning for a return to first principles. Millions of Americans, but perhaps not yet a majority, would very much like to restore the principles of the American Founding Fathers to their rightful and pre-eminent place in our political life. Or, as O'Hara put it to me, "Americans are realizing that more freedom, not more government, is both the principled and practical ingredient for prosperity."
Joel and I continue to argue whether the tea party people are nothing more than a bunch of sore losers. Even if that was true a year ago -- and I don't believe it was -- it's certainly not true now. These people are energized. They're active. They're trying to wrest the levels of power from an entrenched establishment at every level of government -- federal, state and, most important, local.
I don't know whether they will succeed, but I admire and respect the effort.
Joel and I discuss the tea parties in the new podcast with Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, which should be posted soon. We will revisit the tea parties in a couple of weeks, when John O'Hara, author of A New American Tea Party, joins us.
Well, this is awkward:
The United Nations climate panel faces a new challenge with scientists casting doubt on its claim that global temperatures are rising inexorably because of human pollution.
In its last assessment the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the evidence that the world was warming was “unequivocal”.
It warned that greenhouse gases had already heated the world by 0.7C and that there could be 5C-6C more warming by 2100, with devastating impacts on humanity and wildlife. However, new research, including work by British scientists, is casting doubt on such claims. Some even suggest the world may not be warming much at all.
“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.
But if the globe isn't warming, could the climate be changing anyway? Maybe. And couldn't humans still have a hand in both causing that change and reversing its effects? Who knows? I mean who really knows? Because it's pretty clear to me at this point that the people who claim to know with metaphysical certainty are just trying to sell something.
That's why I made such a big fuss the other day about California's cap-and-trade scheme. Doubtless certain well-connected firms will do well. But a lot of people are going to be thrown out of work as a result. And for what? Politics -- obviously not "science."
The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.
Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.
...Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.
And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.
The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.
The reason for skepticism has little to do with an "anti-science" mentality and everything to do with a healthy suspicion that the people pushing the policies based on "science" care less about liberty and more about control of the minutiae of every day life.
Turns out that of the weak lot of pricey commercials that aired during Super Bowl XLIV, the most politically charged and polarizing wasn't the Focus on the Family spot featuring Tim and Pam Tebow. (By the way, does anyone take the National Organization for Women seriously anymore? Anyone? Really?)
No, it was that Audi "Green Police" commercial.
I thought the ad was cleverly written and produced (the anteater was a cute touch)... and utterly horrifying. Two bits in particular really bothered me: The part where the Green Police put some hapless homeowner in the back of a squad car as a news reporter explains the perp was caught using incandescent lights; and the Cops-like scene where the bewildered couple is rousted for setting their hot tub's thermostat too high.
My first reaction watching the YouTube was entirely visceral. I've watched it three more times however, and I still don't like it. But I'm aware this may be an overreaction. (Maybe.) Steve Hayward's pithy analysis is perhaps among the more sensible from my comrades on the right:
Is it mocking environmentalism? Um. . . yeah. Your moral authority is pretty thin when a major advertiser finds it safe to take this approach. Think anyone would ever try something like this about the civil rights movement? Or the feminist movement?
Hayward suggests that Republicans could successfully exploit the part of the ad I hated most in the fall: "I'm guessing a winner will be a repeal of the forthcoming ban on incandescent lightbulbs. I know I'm running out of space stocking up on them for 2012 or whenever the ban goes into effect." (It will be phased in between 2012 and 2014, FYI.)
I wish I shared Hayward's optimism. Sure, arresting a guy for installing incandescent lights or raiding a house because some schlub committed a "composting infraction" might be over-the-top now. But how about fining and jailing people for not maintaining proper pressure on their car tires? California's Air Resources Board proposed to do precisely that, for real, but quickly backpedaled once the public got wind and started making ugly noises.
Certainly, some environmentalists viewed the ad the same as Hayward did -- to their great consternation. Our friend Lisa Schmeiser tweeted how she was "bugged by the demonization of environmental measures. Seemed counterintuitive to the sales pitch." And Audi itself appears to be unsure whether the ad is wholly irreverent or maybe just a little bit serious.
The Green Police are a humorous group of individuals that have joined forces in an effort to collectively help guide consumers to make the right decision when it comes to the environment. They’re not here to judge, merely to guide these decisions.
Right. They're "guiding" the guy who chose plastic over paper at the beginning of the ad where exactly? (Incidentally, the lyrics of Cheap Trick's Dream Police redo, which are basically identical to the 1979 hit single but for one word, say the Green Police are "judge and jury." So put that in your carbon-loaded pipe and smoke it, Audi ad geniuses!)
The Audi Green Police page goes on to helpfully explain how
there are numerous real Green Police units globally that are furthering green practices and environmental issues. For example, Israel's main arm of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in the area of enforcement and deterrence is called; you guess it, the Green Police. New York has officers within the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that are fondly called the "Green Police". The Green Police is also the popular name for Vietnam’s Environmental Police Department and the UK has a group who dresses in green as part of the Environment Agency’s squad to monitor excessive CO2 emissions.
Oh, and there was one other Green Police force that the German-owned carmaker doesn't mention, probably because... well, go and read for yourself.
Pains me as it does to link to it, if you can get past the "teabagger" guff, I think Grist's David Roberts discerns perfectly the message Audi is trying to get across in the spot:
The ad only makes sense if it's aimed at people who acknowledge the moral authority of the green police -- people who may find those obligations tiresome and constraining on occasion, who only fitfully meet them, who may be annoyed by sticklers and naggers, but who recognize that living more sustainably is in fact the moral thing to do. This basically describes every guy I know.
Ah, yes. What's a little loss of liberty for a life of contentedly "green" servitude?
The ad's payoff, don't forget, is that the guy in Audi's new clean diesel roadster gets to drive off when the Green Police wave him through their preposterous eco-roadblock. So if you want to keep the Green Police off your back, you can start by switching back to partially recycled paper bags, installing mercury-filled compact fluorescent lights, and driving a imported car. Brilliant. And, as I say, horrifying. It's just a commercial. Yep. Got it. I still hope the campaign blows up in Audi's face.
"A Democrat points out Rahm apologized to Shriver, but not to the liberals he called 'retarded.'" More at Politico about this tempest in a teapot.
Thomas Mitchell provides a terse lesson in constitutional law for his readers in The Las Vegas Review Journal:
Don't imagine what you want the Constitution to say or pretend it says something it does not.
If you, like the president, don't like what the Constitution says, amend it. An amendment banning corporate free speech probably would pass, because most people think the rest of us are too gullible to resist a message backed by money.
If that's the case, this experiment in democracy is over.
President Bush's infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address:
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
These words were "infamous" because the left claimed (and still claims) that this was a lie. But it was not a lie. The British government believed that, shared that intelligence with the United States, and last I heard still stands by its word all these years later.
President Obama's infamous 29 words in his 2010 State of the Union address:
“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”
This is, in fact — if not a lie — an egregious misrepresentation of the Citizen's United decision, which plainly states on pages 46 and 47:
We need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process.... Section 441b [of current campaign finance law] is not limited to corporations or associations that were created in foreign countries or funded predominantly by foreign shareholders. Section 441b therefore would be overbroad even if we assumed, arguendo, that the Government has a compelling interest in limiting foreign influence over our political process.
In other words, the court's decision in Citzens United does not do anything to weaken (let alone repeal) current law preventing foreign corporations "to spend without limit in our elections."
Because I was covering Congress at the time, I remember how much of a tizzy Bush's "16 words" caused in Washington. Members of Congress demanded he apologize (for starters) for supposedly misrepresenting the facts and misleading the American people — despite the fact that he did not misrepresent the facts and what he said was not misleading.
But here we have President Obama, a supposed constitutional scholar, stating something that is flat-out wrong about the Citizens United free speech case. There are only two explanations for why he said what he said: (1) he, or his speech-writers and his entire White House staff, didn't read the decision very carefully; or (2) he knows the truth and engaged in willingly false demagoguery. Either one warrants an apology. And I hope for Obama's sake that this resulted because of option No. 1.
Update: President Obama on Friday said the U.S. would aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent in 2020, the Washington Post reports. Evidently, "hope" is a governing philosophy.
Cap-and-trade, or at least the version of it envisioned by the execrable Waxman-Markey bill, is in peril in the U.S. Senate. But for the moment, California is moving forward with the expansive carbon cap regulatory regime mandated by AB 32. That's even though the state's Air Resources Board knows the economic collateral damage will likely be extensive.
Although "skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg doesn't mention California specifically, he makes a good case in Friday's Wall Street Journal for why Sacramento should think twice about cap-and-trade and the headlong rush to slash carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020:
Despite all the optimistic talk about solar, wind and other green-energy technologies, the alternatives we currently have aren't anywhere close to being able to carry more than a fraction of the load fossil fuels currently bear. For two decades, we've been putting the cart before the horse, pretending we could cut carbon emissions now and solve the technology problem later. But as we saw in Copenhagen last month, that makes neither economic nor political sense.
If we really want to solve global warming, we need to get serious about developing alternatives to coal and oil. Last year, the Copenhagen Consensus Center commissioned research from more than two dozen of the world's top climate economists on different ways to respond to global warming.
An expert panel including three Nobel Laureate economists concluded that devoting just 0.2% of global GDP—roughly $100 billion a year—to green-energy R&D could produce the kind of breakthroughs needed to fuel a carbon-free future. Not only would this be a much less expensive fix than trying to cut carbon emissions, it would also reduce global warming far more quickly.
Are you listening, Governor Schwarzenegger? Do you care?
More fallout from President Obama's denunciation of the Supreme Court during Wednesday's State of the Union. The Wall Street Journal's editors "unpack the falsehoods" the president managed to load into three sentences:
The Court didn't reverse "a century of law," but merely two more recent precedents, one from 1990 and part of another from 2003. Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce in 1990 had set the Court in a markedly new direction in limiting independent corporate campaign expenditures. This is the outlier case that needed to be overturned.
Mr. Obama is also a sudden convert to stare decisis. Does he now believe that all Court precedents of a certain duration are sacrosanct, such as Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal, 1896), which was overturned by Brown v. Board (1954)? Or Bowers v. Hardwick (a ban on sodomy, 1986), which was overturned by Lawrence v. Texas (2003)?
The President's claim about "foreign entities" bankrolling U.S. political campaigns is also false, since the Court did not overrule laws limiting such contributions. His use of "foreign" was a conscious attempt to inflame public and Congressional opinion against the Court. Coming from a President who fancies himself a citizen of the world, and who has gone so far as foreswear American exceptionalism, this leap into talk-show nativism is certainly illuminating. What will they think of that one in the cafes of Berlin?
I think the last point is arguable, but the bottom line is strong.
Judge not the words themselves, but their effect on the audience. The president fully expected that his hundreds of supporters in the legislative branch would stand and cheer, while the justices remained seated and silent, unable to respond even afterward. Moreover, the president's speech was only released about 30 minutes before the event, after the justices were already present. In short, the head of the executive branch ambushed six members of the judiciary, and called upon the legislative branch to deride them publicly. If you missed it, check the YouTube video. No one could reasonably believe in their heart that this was respectful behavior.
Then there is the substance of the remark itself. It was factually wrong. The Court's ruling in Citizens United concerned the right of labor unions and domestic corporations, including nonprofits, to express their views about candidates in media such as books, films and TV within 60 days of an election. In short, it concerned freedom of speech; in particular, an independent film critical of Hillary Clinton funded by a nonprofit corporation.
While the Court reversed a 1990 decision allowing such a ban, it left standing current restrictions on foreign nationals and "entities." Also untouched was a 100-year-old ban on domestic corporate contributions to political campaigns to which the president was presumably referring erroneously.
That is a whole lot to get wrong in 72 sanctimonious words.
Ouch. Just imagine what would happen if Barnett turned his attention to the other 7,100.
Finally, I can scarcely believe I agree with everything Jonathan Chait writes here. But I do!
Hillsdale College's Kirby Center in Washington D.C. sponsors an excellent monthly speakers' series called "First Principles on First Fridays," in which Hillsdale academics or friends of the college discuss Big Questions. All of the talks are online and available for download as podcasts. I'm currently listening to Larry Arnn's November talk on The Crisis of American Constitutionalism. Good stuff.
CNN's State of the Union focus group reveals that independents are tired of "hope." Notes the American Spectator's Philip Klein, "As always with focus groups, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt." It's nice to know, however, that I'm not the only one who has a negative visceral reaction to the word in almost any context.
Still, one shouldn't get too cocky about President Obama's apparent reversal of fortune among independents, because that would be racist, says San Francisco Chronicle blogger Zennie Abraham:
But when the hangover from the SOTU cleared, and the GOP realized what happened, some conservatives went for the racial-code-word jugular and sounded like White Supremacists in the process.
One such example is Red State's Erick Erickson.
In his Red State blog post, Erick Erickson used a word that's has a totally racist connection to describe President Obama's delivery: "cocky."
What you did not know at home listening to Barack Obama's speech tonight is that he inserted a few quips that were not in the prepared text. They were cocky and snide.
Erick Erickson, forgetting that Barack Obama is President of The United States, or perhaps upset about it, echoed the same views expressed over at the White Supremacist website Stormfront....
Abraham proceeds to quote from some obscure racist nobody's ever heard of, and concludes:
In other words, Erick Erickson and Red State apparently think that this African American President needs to be "slammed back" because he's too "cocky" and presumably like other black men should know his place.
Apparently, Nat X moved to San Francisco and started a blog when The Man took his show off the air.
Does anyone seriously buy these tendentious claims anymore? Anyone who is not wholly invested in the race hustling racket, I mean? Good grief.
The takeaway from President Obama's first official State of the Union address may not be the (bogus) spending freeze, his call for a jobs bill, education reform, or the pledge to end the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Rather, the most significant moment was this passage from the speech assailing the Supreme Court's decision last week in Citizens United v. FEC, and Justice Samuel Alito's reaction to it:
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
Nice touch there with the bit about "all due deference."* Just after Obama finishes saying "including foreign corporations," Justice Alito -- who is already shaking his head -- can clearly be seen saying the words, "Not true."
As more than one blogger has pointed out, this is another "Joe Wilson moment"... not for Alito, but for the president. Rep. Wilson of South Carolina famously shouted "You lie!" from the gallery last autumn when President Obama last addressed a joint session of Congress on health care reform. Specifically, Wilson objected to Obama's claim that the bill then under consideration would not cover illegal aliens. Wilson's outburst may have been indecorous -- and he did subsequently apologize -- but it also had the virtue of being true.
Although Alito's more dignified retort may have appeared awkward to some -- Orin Kerr, Kashmir Hill and Allahpundit are among those who think the justice should have sat in silence and let the president "demagogue the First Amendment" -- he was also telling the truth.
The president, however, was not.
Bradley Smith, former FEC commissioner, says flatly: "The president's statement is false."
The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making "a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election" under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any "expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication... ."
In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds Congressmen [sic]? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.
But perhaps the most subtly devastating reply to Obama's attack comes from none other than the New York Times' former Supreme Court correspondent, Linda Greenhouse:
The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election. It is true, though, that the majority wrote so broadly about corporate free speech rights as to call into question other limitations as well — although not necessarily the existing ban on direct contributions.
But this was a populist night and the target was irresistible. There are a variety of specific proposals floating around to address the Citizens United decision. The president offered no specifics and did not endorse any of them. Just as the decision doesn’t lend itself to a sound bite, neither do the fixes.
Greenhouse tries to offer the best possible spi... er, interpretation of what the president said, but there can be no denying that he botched a cheap attempt to score populist points. Worse, this one brief moment may completely overshadow everything else he attempted to do with the speech. If none dare call it "arrogance", may we at least call it folly?
* By the way, I reject the view that Obama's critique of the Supreme Court is somehow unprecedented or especially alarming because of the venue in which he made it. Here's an example of what I mean from The American Spectator's blog: "Has a president ever attacked The U.S. Supreme Court like that in such an august setting?" I don't know the answer to that, but I'm sure some enterprising blogger will fill us in before breakfast. (Update: See here.) Clearly, American history is replete with examples of U.S. presidents battling the High Court for political supremacy. Andrew Jackson, anyone? And as Kevin Mooney points out in that Spectator post, "President Franklin Roosevelt's attacks on the judiciary ultimately worked to his political disadvantage back in the 1930s." Obama can expect no different.
Good news from Menifee, where parents and school district officials have come to their senses about Webster's dictionary. The Press-Enterprise reports:
The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary will return to fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at Oak Meadows Elementary School, a committee of Menifee Union School District parents, teachers and administrators decided Tuesday.
An alternate dictionary also will be placed in the classrooms, and parents will have the option of choosing which dictionary their child can use, Superintendent Linda Callaway said in a statement about the committee's decision at a school board meeting Tuesday.
School officials pulled the Merriam-Webster dictionaries from classrooms last week after an Oak Meadows parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."
The decision to offer both dictionaries was made by a committee of about a dozen school administrators, teachers and parents. School board policy calls for such a committee to be formed when classroom materials are challenged.
Here's a PDF of the school district's statement on the resolution. I'm pleased that Menifee's elementary school kids will continue to have access to first-rate dictionaries. Their teachers and administrators, however, could use a remedial course in writing simply and directly.
Peter Schramm, an American born in the wrong place, is one of the finest conversationalists I've ever encountered. Peter has a knack for reminding -- sometimes none too gently -- those of us who grew up spoiled and coddled in American comfort that whatever ails the Republic in places like Washington D.C. and Sacramento does not necessarily afflict the far reaches of the Republic.
"Sometimes the educated-sophisticated class gives us the impression that we are on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation and are about to give up governing ourselves," Peter wrote Sunday at No Left Turns. "I actually don't need election returns from distant states, or a good Supreme Court decision, to remind me that we are still capable of governing ourselves. I just have to go to places like Winesburg (and they are everywhere)."
Mark Helprin has a new piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal warning against repeating the mistakes of the past while reacquiring some old habits as the country emerges from the Great Recession:
How things will turn out is anyone's guess, but it would be nice if, as in the quiet during and after a snow storm, Manhattan would reappear to be appreciated in tranquility; if cops, firemen, nurses, and teachers did not have to live in New Jersey; if students, waitress-actresses, waiter-painters, and dish-washer-writers did not have to board nine to a room or like beagles in their parents' condominia; if the traffic on Park Avenue (as I can personally attest it was in the late 1940s) were sufficiently sparse that you could hear insects in the flower beds; if to balance the frenetic getting and spending, the qualities of reserve and equanimity would retake their once honored places; if celebrity were to be ignored, media switched off, and the stories of ordinary men and women assume their deserved precedence; and if for everyone, like health returning after a long illness, a life of one's own would emerge from an era tragically addicted to quantity and speed.
My old boss John Temple, the man who dreamed up RedBlueAmerica.com and who is responsible for unleashing the vaunted Boychuk-Mathis juggernaut upon the world, is moving to the fever swamps of Honolulu in the godforsaken climes of Hawaii to become editor of a new publication called Peer News.
Here's how John spins this grim development on his blog:
Today Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, announced that I’m going to become the first editor of Peer News, a Honolulu-based local news service that will produce original, in-depth reporting and analysis of local issues in Hawaii.
Pierre and Randy Ching co-founded Peer News Inc. in 2008 “with the goal of empowering citizens and encouraging greater civic participation through media.” I learned of the project in November when a friend pointed out Pierre’s blog post about his search for an editor. He wrote: “We believe that a strong democracy requires an engaged society supported by effective news reporting and analysis. And, we believe that this can be done in a profitable, sustainable way.”
I share those beliefs, and when we began talking I became excited about the opportunity to work as a member of their team. I’ve collaborated with many great people in the newspaper industry over the years, but my new colleagues come at these challenges from a fresh perspective and with a record of accomplishment in the online world. I’ve enjoyed my freedom since the Rocky Mountain News closed last February. I’ve been writing here and elsewhere, speaking, consulting, traveling and learning new skills. But as I wrote in a column for The Wall Street Journal last summer, "I genuinely miss being part of a larger entity with a purpose." That I now will have the opportunity to help build one from scratch, to create a new news culture with such talented partners, makes me very happy.
Okay, okay, I guess that qualifies as extraordinarily good news.
Peer News is worth watching closely as old media companies struggle to survive and nonprofit groups experiment with different models in places like San Diego, Washington D.C. and Seattle. In this sluggish and uncertain economy, it's heartening to see some new media capitalists venturing boldly into the marketplace with experimental for-profit models of their own.
And, oh by the way, unemployed journos: John's hiring. "Hawaii experience or background is a big plus." Hmmmm. I'm a California guy who mostly writes opinion on state and national issues, but I do make a killer chi-chi...