Thursday, December 29, 2011


It is often said that Rudy Giuliani's campaign for president in 2008 will be taught in poly sci classes for decades as the way NOT to run for president.  Rudy, as you may recall, focused all his attention on winning Florida, ignoring the first six states in the primary calendar.  The result was that by the time Florida arrived, almost a month after the Iowa caucuses, the nomination had virtually been decided and Rudy had been forgotten.

Well, Rudy Giuliani looked like a dope in 2008.  There's no doubt about that.  On the other hand, Giuliani was always a longshot to secure the Republican nomination.  As a  pro-choice, Catholic, multiple-wived moderate from a big Eastern blue state, he was probably not going to be the Republican candidate no matter what he did, so can he really be excoriated for a strategy that maybe, possibly, coulda-shoulda  have given him a chance if things had worked out differently?  Rudy was certainly a loser in 2008, but a fool?  He had a strategy, he stuck with it, and it failed.  Was Huckabee so much smarter?  After all, he lost as well.

All of which brings us to the Romney campaign for the Republican nomination in 2012.  As I write this, there is a distinct possibility that Romney will get the nomination, though I personally doubt it.  Even if he succeeds, however, his campaign gets my nomination for the stupidest presidential run of all time.

Consider the situation when the current presidential campaign began, shortly after the Republican landslide in 2010.  All of the ideas and enthusiasm in 2010 came from the Tea Party uprising, but since the Tea Party had no political organization of its own, it decided to use the decaying husk of the Republican Party to further its political goals.  The result was a gain of 63 seats in the House, and Republican control.

At the time, memories of the 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination were fresh in everyone's mind.  The choice of John McCain had been a disaster, the wrong man at the wrong time.  As a moderate in a field of conservatives, he was able to split the opposition voters and get the nomination even though only a minority in the party wanted him, but the ultimate harvest was an embarrassing defeat in November.

Following the McCain debacle and the Tea Party landslide, the path to victory for Republicans in 2012 was clear.  Nominate a conservative, harness the enthusiasm borne out of the Tea Party and the widespread horror at Obama's agenda, and roll to victory.

Mitt Romney was ideally situated to be the guy to beat Obama.  He was the “next in line” for the Republicans, he had positioned himself as a conservative (along with Huckabee) in 2008.  ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS STEP IN FRONT OF THE PARADE.  And he refused to do so.  He would not be the conservative the Republican party was looking for.  He had to be something else---a moderate, a technocrat, something....

Mitt Romney could have been the presumptive nominee for president for a year now.  He would have had to backtrack a bit on the philosophical underpinnings of Romneycare, and a few other missteps.  (He is at least partly responsible for bringing gay marriage to Massachusetts---not something you want to highlight on your conservative resume.)  But he could have put all that behind him months ago. He didn't, and he didn't because he did not want to be the conservative golden boy, even though accepting that mantle would likely have swept him to the nomination and into the White House.

Why?  I can only assume it's because he hates me, and people like me, and the things we believe in.    And at this point, the feeling is mutual.  I have really grown to dislike the guy.

In addition, I do not see him as beating Obama, though this seems to be the selling point that his supporters flog relentlessly to those of us who refuse to jump aboard the bandwagon.  He's “electable,” we are told.  I am not seeing what they're seeing.

There are many reasons to doubt this “electability” mantra, but one of the main ones is that Southerners like him even less than I do.  In 2008, Romney was very weak in the Southern primaries, and current polling does not suggest his image there has improved.  To beat Obama, a Republican will have to make serious inroads into Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, all of which were won by Obama.  Romney might even have trouble in red states like Kentucky and Tennessee, though both went for McCain in 2008.  Whatever you may think about Santorum, Perry, Gingrich and Bachman, they would almost certainly do better throughout the South than Romney would.

A further complication with Romney is that his nomination raises the likelihood of a conservative third-party candidate, and that would ensure Obama's reelection.  At this point it's hard to estimate the probability of such a thing happening, but it is certainly more likely if Romney gets the nod than if one of the conservatives does.

Finally, shouldn't it be obvious by now that America just doesn't want Mitt Romney as its president?  He has more money to spend and more name recognition, but he just can't get more than a fourth of Republicans to like him.  The rest of us have repeatedly turned to somebody, anybody, to beat him.  Bachman, Perry, Cain, Gingrich---all have been shot down.  Fine.  They weren't perfect.  I too saw their flaws.  BUT YOU CAN'T HAVE ROMNEY.  This is what I tend to scream at the conservative icons on my TV screen---Ann Coulter, Hugh Hewitt, Charles Krauthammer---when they tell me what's wrong with the other guys.  Fine, I say.  I don't need Gingrich.  I don't love the guy.  Get me somebody else.  Get me Jindel or Rubio or Palin or somebody.  Or go back to Perry and give him another shot.  BUT YOU CAN'T HAVE ROMNEY...YOU CAN'T HAVE ROMNEY...YOU CAN'T HAVE ROMNEY...YOU CAN'T HAVE ROMNEY....


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


There is a lot of talk these days about “income inequality,” and the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and other bits of class-warfare dogma. Our president talks about it all the time, and it's an article of faith with Occupy demonstrators and other leftists. The rich are getting richer, we are told, and whatever income mobility once existed in America is gone. If you're poor, you're going to stay poor. If you're in that top 1% or top 5% or top whatever%, you're going to stay there.

The general point is hooey (as you may have guessed). Thomas Sowell and others have debunked the theory repeatedly. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the case for income inequality confuses statistical categories with actual people. Thus, though it may be true that the people in the highest 1% had more money in 2009 than the highest 1% had in 2004, they are different people. In fact, people move from income category to income category over time, and they may move to a higher or lower category. Whatever you may wish to believe, we are NOT Ghana. People are constantly moving up and down. Usually, they move up, as they age and acquire more experience.

This becomes clear when you look at specific individuals rather than groups of people in categories. It is possible to do this through data from the IRS, which tracks individuals via their social security numbers. When we look at individuals rather than categories, we find that the actual people who were in the bottom 20% of income in 1996 saw their incomes rise 91% by 2005. By contrast, people in the top 20% income level saw their income rise by only 10% by 2005, and the income of those in the top 5% and the top 1% actually fell. (Note: most of these numbers come from Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell [Basic Books, 2009], a book I highly recommend.)

In other words, the class warfare argument is based in junk science. The germ of truth, however, is what makes it interesting. Over the years, it is true that the income level of the top 20% of earners has increased relative to the income of the bottom 20%. “The rich” this year are not the same people as “the rich” last year, and this year's poor are different from last year's poor, but the gap between the categories is, in fact, wider. The poor are not poorer, but the rich are definitely richer. Why? What is there about America that has made the filthy rich get filthy richer?

The answer is technology.

A friend mentioned the other day that Bob Vila (“This Old House”) not only tweets regularly, but actually has someone manage his Twitter account for him. He pays someone to tweet for him, to read messages he doesn't have time to read, and to answer them. “I hear there are a bunch of celebrities that do that,” my friend said. “It's a regular Hollywood job now---being a ghost tweeter and social media person.”

And of course, there's really only one reason for it. There's money in it.

Let's take Bob Vila, for example. First of all, he has fans. He probably doesn't have fans who stalk him or chase him down the street or fantasize about him (though he might), but there are people who will glance at a book at Home Depot because it has his name on it. There are people who, if they see Bob Vila while flipping through channels on the remote, will stop and watch for a while. There are women who, if they see a tool with Bob Vila's name on it, will buy it for their husband's birthday. If you want to replace a faucet, and there's a website with Bob Vila's name on it that explains how to change a faucet, you may go to that website and accidentally glance at the ads surrounding the copy.

All these things translate into cash, but they only do so because we know who Bob Vila is. He's a “brand” now, and a wealthy man. But it is only because of the explosion in communications over the past fifty years that his success is possible. In 1960, he might have had a little TV show and he might have sold a few books, but without cable and the new media and the internet, he would never have achieved the sort of fame that has turned him into a mini-industry. Fifty years ago, there was no way for a guy like Bob Vila to become what Bob Vila is today. Today, if Bob Vila did not have an employee who tweeted for him, he would be throwing money away.

There are thousands of examples. Mickey Mantle, Duke Snyder, Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn were the great centerfielders of the 1950's, and they are all in the Hall of Fame, but you can take the money they made, add it all up and adjust it for inflation, and it still won't be close to what Shane Victorino makes today.

Or consider Frank Sinatra, a man at the pinnacle of popular music for four decades. Frank was a huge success, and became a very rich man, but he never saw the sort of money Lady Gaga pulls in.

There are even people who could not have existed fifty years ago, whose “careers” are entirely a result, and a function of, modern communications. Kim Kardashian comes to mind. In 1960, there was no such person, or if there was, she lived in a shotgun shack somewhere in Louisiana, we never learned her name, and our lives were undiminished by her absence from them. Kato Kaelin might have lived down the road from her, in equal obscurity. Google him today and you get 282,000 results. He has a career, you see, just being good old Kato. There will apparently never come a time when he doesn't get invited to the next Celebrity Boxing extravaganza or get offered a cameo in an “original drama” on the USA Network.

In short, the rich today can get richer than the rich did in the past. The real cash value of an extraordinary talent, a great idea, or simply a recognizable name, is higher. This is a sign of economic progress because it means that human capital and new ideas are more easily rewarded than they were in the past. New forms of communication and new technologies facilitate the process by which the marketplace can give people what they want, and giving people what they want is the only “purpose” of the capitalist system.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Have you heard that “if nothing is done,” the US government will default on its debt in early August? This unprecedented disaster is now presented in news stories as a sort of algebraic equation: DO NOTHING plus AUGUST 2 equals DEFAULT. Only a couple weeks ago, we were being warned about the “possibility” of a default or a “potential” insolvency. Now it's a given. It's the end of the world as we know it. There's the cliff, right up ahead, and we're going over.

Now, I will admit I am not a professor of finance or a professional economist, so here's my question: what the hell are they talking about? How, exactly, will the US government be rendered incapable of paying its debts as they come due? I have searched diligently for an explanation of how this will happen, but neither CNBC nor the New York Times nor the blogging world have anything to offer.

Currently, the debt service for US obligations amounts to about $20 billion each month, give or take. Revenues, primarily tax receipts, are about $200 billion per month, give or take. These are the basic numbers the federal government is working with and they don't vary much from month to month. How, then, can a default occur? When you are taking in ten times the amount you MUST pay out, doesn't the interest on all those trillions of T-bills come first?

Suppose you are bringing home $10,000 a month and your mortgage payment is $1000. Doesn't the mortgage get paid? There may be a lot of things you would rather spend the money on, but would you buy them all and let your house payment go south? According to the news media and virtually all our elected officials, both Republican and Democrat, the only option in this situation is to borrow more money to pay for the new Lexus and the country club dues and the private school tuition and the blond you have tucked away in an apartment downtown. You must pay for those things first, so that if you can't borrow more money somehow, you will have to short Wells Fargo. They're apparently all agreed on this point. Raise the debt limit or we go underwater. Default looms!

With its $200 billion every month, the federal government can pay the debt, the geezers, and the soldiers. At that point, there will be about $75 billion left for everybody else (the Department of Energy, the TSA, welfare programs, the SEC, etc., etc., etc.) to fight over, and none of them will like it.

I'm not suggesting it's a good idea to cut hundreds of government agencies in half (well, OK, maybe I am), but the point is that the default bogeyman is pure hooey. There is no reason to think the US government will default on its debt obligations, whether or not the debt ceiling is raised. It's just a lie, as is Obama's warning yesterday that geezers won't get their Social Security payments in August.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


“I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” ---Mark Twain
On May 1, hours after the news broke about OBL's death, Father Federico Lombardi of the Vatican issued a statement:

"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

Is it morally right to celebrate the death of bin Laden? Yes, of course it is. Father Lombardi is wrong, morally, as are other Christians who share his thinking. Not only may one rejoice when evil is vanquished, but the failure to do so gives rise to a profound confusion and a moral relativism that leads us far from anything resembling biblical values. We see this confusion in some of the commentary about OBL's death. Celebrating it, some tell us, makes us equivalent to the Palestinians who partied in the streets when the World Trade Center went down. In other words, feeling pleasure at the slaughter of thousands of innocent people is the same, morally, as taking satisfaction in the execution of a mass murderer. Nothing good can come from this sort of thinking, and the Father Lombardis of the world are partially responsible for it If your moral compass is so broken that all you are able to do is “deplore violence” of any sort, and you cannot distinguish good from evil, you need a new compass.

Christians get confused sometimes because Christ was not a warrior. But He was not a pacifist either. He was not at all uncertain or dismissive, as pacifists are, about good and evil. In confronting the Pharisees, the money-changers, and even the fig tree, Jesus showed no ambivalence. Christ was not into whatever-whatever. Christ had definite views on things and He was not always an especially nice guy about it.

What can be puzzling is Christ's submission to torture and crucifixion. Christ gave himself to suffering because suffering is the lot of man, and He was a man in those final hours. This was His gift to all of us. But the use of this sacrifice to transform Christ into a symbol of non-violence or “tolerance” or moral mushiness is a perversion of Christianity. It misses the point entirely.

Father Lombardi's error is one Jews rarely make, even if they are thoroughly secular and go to synagogue once a year and voted for Obama. Even bagel-and-lox Jews normally have a well-developed sense of evil because, though their spiritual education may have been limited, it was unpolluted by the subtleties of the New Testament. Jewish kids get the Torah, and that's all they get, and one cannot read the Torah without getting the unambiguous message that God really, really, really hates evil and that, for us mortals, hatred of evil and a willingness to fight it are an essential component of obedience to God. For most Jews, it is a given that if one loves God, one must fight evil. For a Christian, even a Christian like Father Lombardi of the Vatican, it's a lot more complicated and nuanced and confusing.

Also, of course, the question of whether it is proper to celebrate the death of a monster is an ethical question, and ethical questions are pretty much what rabbis do for a living, and they've been doing it since long before Christ. That's what the Talmud is all about. Unlike Christians, Jews don't speculate much on the afterlife; they are an earthbound people who were “chosen,” in part, to tell the rest of us how God wants us to behave, so they've had a lot of practice in arguing about these questions.

And that (arguing) is what they do. There's no pope, there's no hierarchy, there's no white smoke and infallible pronouncements. There's just a bunch of rabbis writing books and arguing with each other down through the centuries. It's a dialectical process and, well, I suppose this is my prejudice, but I'll take a dialectical process over revelation any day of the week. Maybe if I had actually had a revelation, I would feel differently about it, but instead of having revelations I went to law school, so there it is. Some of us rely on reason and argument. Some of us only find the truth that way. Some of us prefer double-blind studies at Johns Hopkins to the ancient mutterings of Chinese herbalists.

It would be unfair to suggest that Christians are unable to handle these questions, you understand. All I'm saying is that if you rely on Vatican spokesmen for your understanding of good and evil in this dirty little world, you're just not playing the percentages. Jews have seen more evil than Father Lombardi can ever imagine, they know what to do with it, and they are unlikely to make Lombardi's mistake.

On the evening of March 8, 2004, I received a phone call from my friend Joe Andrejewski, a man with many connections in the US military. Joe informed me that Abu Abbas had died in Iraq a few hours before, after having been captured by American troops. Abbas had been on the run since 1985, when he masterminded the Achille Lauro hijacking and then had been permitted to escape from Italian custody. My parents had been among the twelve American hostages terrorized by the PLO aboard the Achille Lauro, and while I had not spent the preceding nineteen years dreaming of revenge, I was nevertheless aware that Abu Abbas had escaped justice, and Joe Andrejewski was aware I was aware.

I thanked him for the news, and we ended the conversation. I stood there in my kitchen for a while, staring out the window into the twilight. My cat Seven was on the kitchen table, and I scratched his head for a minute while he purred. Then I took a beer out of the refrigerator and stepped out into the backyard. It was a warmish day for early March and I noticed the crocuses were emerging. I popped the beer and took a pull. I've had thousands of beers, I suppose, but this one seemed especially cold and piquant. The world, on the evening of March 8, seemed a better place. I was not, at that moment, interested in “the further growth of peace.” I was glad the bastard was dead.

Few of us are saints, and most of us do not even aspire to be. We try to do the right thing and we try to please God, and if we are lucky, we will succeed some of the time. It is too much to ask of a man that he not take some satisfaction in imagining that when we triumph over an evil man like Osama bin Laden, God is pleased.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


It was about a week ago and the latest budget battle had just concluded (the one where the Republicans caved to Obama---oh, wait---I guess that describes all of the budget battles), and I happened to be in a room full of lefties and, as sometimes happens, one of them started working me over about it. So I started talking about the apocalypse that is coming now that both parties seem to have decided that spending $1.5 trillion more than you take in every year is something nobody has to worry about until 2040 or so, and they rose up en masse and stopped me.

That wasn't the point of what happened, you see. The real issue was those rascally Republicans trying to cut public funding for Planned Parenthood. How dare they attempt this! Planned Parenthood, I was told, will occasionally perform an abortion, but what they do most of the time is write prescriptions and do pap smears and other women's healthy-type things and---well, you've probably heard the line they're taking on all the news channels. Planned Parenthood is in every state, with 865 locations, they do more abortions than any other organization in the U.S. (332,278 in 2009), and according to the former director of the PP clinic in Bryan, Texas, offices get quotas on the number of abortions they are expected to perform. Suggesting Planned Parenthood runs a string of “abortion clinics,” however, is now officially considered hate speech. I mean, next they'll be telling me the Colonel doesn't sell chicken.

But that's not really the point. What is stunning is that anyone, on the left or the right, cares about the public funding of Planned Parenthood at this moment in history. The world price of both wheat and corn have doubled in the past ten months and food riots are breaking out around the world because people are starving. The dollar is crashing, and when the bankers of the world come up with an alternative reserve currency, commodity prices in America will instantly rise by 50% and industry will shut down. Before rational political leadership can be installed in the United States, there is a not-insignificant chance that the U.S., and the world economy, will spin into a crash that will make the Great Depression look like New Year's Eve. The government is broke, and broken.

But the real issue, they tell me, is public funding for Planned Parenthood.

Well, fine. Let's talk about Planned Parenthood. Let's put that issue to rest, at least. Because there is so much wrong with public funding for Planned Parenthood that I hardly know where to begin.

Let's start with what we're not talking about. We're not talking about abortion and whether it is right or wrong. People disagree about that, and while the spectrum of views in America is vast, the number of people who (basically) approve of abortion is about equal to the number of people who (basically) disapprove. It's a 50-50 issue and it's been that way for forty years, since Roe v. Wade came down. For a long time, it has been the moral issue in America, and it will probably remain that way until Roe v. Wade is reversed and the American people are again permitted to express their views on the subject through the democratic process.

But abortion is legal everywhere in America. We're not talking about that.

What we are talking about is the insistence of abortion advocates that people who disapprove of abortion should nevertheless be forced to pay for them. That is the meaning of “public funding.” This has never been a 50-50 issue. The American people have been asked about this in polls for decades, and public funding has never been supported by more than 30% of respondents. Most Americans see there is a moral issue involved and that those who disapprove of abortion are not “wrong,” so it is unfair to force them to pay for it. There are also those who want abortion to remain legal, but disapprove of public funding for a procedure that, in the vast majority of cases, is elective surgery. If we don't pay for other people's nose jobs, they argue, why should we pay for their abortions?

Let's make this personal. All of you know someone---a serious Christian, an Orthodox Jew, a Libertarian, a crank---who, for whatever moral or ethical reason, views abortion as wrong. I think of Marge Murphy, an older Catholic woman I know who sports a “Pray The Rosary” bumper sticker on her car. Why, I wonder, should Marge have to pay, through her taxes, for other people's abortions? You probably know someone like that, or someone with similar beliefs. Is it fair? Is it right?

(I will pass briefly over another point. It is not merely the Marge Murphys and the Baptist ministers who have to pay for other people's abortions. In America at this point, we are going into hock to do this. We are borrowing money from the Chinese so American babies can be aborted.)

To all of these arguments, the executives and supporters of Planned Parenthood respond that this is a non-issue, that government money does not go to pay for abortions. It is only, they assure us, used to provide pap smears and all those other wonderful women's-healthy-type services. But this claim cannot be proven and the reason it cannot be proven is that PP itself commingles, in its accounting, all moneys it receives. Critics have demanded for years that PP separate its women's-healthy-type services from its abortions, but PP has refused to do so. It would be easy, of course, since the services provided to pregnant women are different from the services provided to non-pregnant women, but they won't. The continued refusal to provide any transparency to their financing is why, when PP claims they don't use public money for abortions, one must assume they are lying.

Then, of course, there is Margaret Sanger and the eugenics movement and the history of Planned Parenthood.

Today, when liberal icons like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry proudly call themselves “Progressives,” much of the real history of the Progressive movement in the 1910's, 20's and 30's has been discretely hushed up. The Ku Klux Klan, for example, was a part of it we don't like to talk about anymore. Another centerpiece was the eugenics movement, which sought to perfect the human species by discouraging (or preventing) reproduction by “imbeciles,” “defectives,” “criminals,” “inferior races” and other undesirables. Later, of course, the Nazis carried this vision to its horrible, though logical, conclusion.

In America, eugenics never went that far, though it went far enough. It was not a fringe movement. Woodrow Wilson, for example, was a firm believer. As governor of New Jersey, he created the “Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics and Other Defectives” so the state could determine who would be permitted to procreate. Similar laws appeared across the country in the early 20th Century, and thousands were involuntarily sterilized. The movement achieved Constitutional footing in the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, when Justice Holmes wrote. “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

Margaret Sanger, publisher of the Birth Control Review and founder of the American Birth Control League (which became Planned Parenthood), was an enthusiastic and high-profile voice of the eugenics movement. Though she had little love for children of any color (“The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”---Women and the New Race, 1920), she was particularly adamant about the need to sterilize “genetically inferior races.” Racist articles appeared regularly in her magazine. One example: an article entitled “Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need” by Ernst Rudin, founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene.

Sanger's interest in reducing the black population culminated in her “Negro Project” in 1939. Black ministers and other community leaders were hired to encourage the use of birth control in order to trim the black population. It is clear, by the way, from the internal documents relating to the “Negro Project,” that it had nothing to do with “women's liberation” or feminism or some other nice liberal goal. The intent was solely to limit breeding among a race perceived as inferior.

Not everyone has forgotten this history. Jesse Jackson, for example, in arguing against government funding for abortion, told Congress in 1977 that it amounted to “a genocide against the black race.” Today, there are dozens of civil rights organizations espousing this view (that Jackson abandoned when he ran for President as a Democrat). One of the best known is headed by Dr. Alveda King, niece of MLK, but you can see for yourself by typing “abortion black genocide” into your browser.

Margaret Sanger? Well, that was the old days---I guess that's the argument. But what has changed? Today, slightly more than half of all black pregnancies end in abortion. And though only about 12% of American women are black, about 37% of the abortions in this country are performed on black women. Planned Parenthood does more of them than anybody, of course, and 80% of their clinics are located in minority areas or very close to them.

Even the rhetoric has not changed all that much. Though abortion advocates no longer speak in explicitly racist terms, some of their language, with a few alterations, would fit neatly into a eugenics tract of the 1920's. Ron Weddington, co-counsel in Roe v. Wade, in urging President Clinton to approve RU-486 (the morning-after pill), wrote:

“[S]tart immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy and poor segment of our country. No, I'm not advocating some sort of mass extinction of these unfortunate people. Crime, drugs and disease are already doing that. The problem is that their numbers are not only replaced but increased by the birth of millions of babies to people who can't afford to have babies. There, I've said it.”

Planned Parenthood, with its disgusting history, its unsavory present, and its utter lack of transparency, does not deserve public funding. There. I've said it.


(NOTE: much of the story of Margaret Sanger herein, and some of the quotations, come from Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg's fascinating history of the Progressive movement in America. I recommend this book to anyone interested in American history.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Yesterday, at Argus, a woman (blond, 30's, well put together, Main Line) strolled by wearing a t-shirt bearing the words “INVISIBLE CHILDREN.” I see odd or puzzling t-shirts regularly, and I often ask the wearer to explain them, but by the time I realized I was curious, she had vanished. Was it a band? A horror movie? The name of her softball team?

When I got home and hit the computer, it came up immediately. “Invisible Children” was a documentary that came out in 2003, concerning a guy named Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army. Kony has kidnapped thousands of children in Uganda, the Congo, the Central African Republic and southern Sudan, and turned them into his soldiers. Today, “Invisible Children” is also the name of an organization devoted to fighting the LRA's scourge of Central Africa. They do it through “film, creativity and social action.”

The website is impressive. In addition to the t-shirt I saw, you can buy bumper stickers, plastic bracelets, tank tops, handbags and the documentary. And when you spend money on the website, it gets used to do---well, something nice, I guess. You know---something involving film, creativity and social action. Unfortunately, the film/creativity/social-action war hasn't quite done the job on Mr. Kony yet, since he and the LRA have been snatching kids since 1987, and they're apparently still at it.

Now I understood. It's another Free Tibet movement. In fact, had I followed my Argus customer into the parking lot, I don't doubt I would have found a FREE TIBET sticker on her car (right next to the one that says WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER). As Mark Steyn once pointed out, the Free Tibet movement, with all its t-shirts, cultural festivals and consciousness-raising seminars, will endure until every last living Tibetan has been slaughtered. Only at that point will Academy Award winners start dedicating their Oscars to some other endangered demographic. The Free Tibet people, you see, feel about Tibet pretty much the way the Congressional Black Caucus feels about Darfur. The Congressional Black Caucus totally disapproves of the killing in Darfur. They actually condemn the genocide on their website!

As for the LRA, I can't say I'm any kind of expert on the horrors of Central African countries, but you don't really need to be an expert to understand that what Mr. Kony needs is not a disapproving bumper sticker on a car in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, but rather a large-caliber bullet in his medulla oblongata. It's not that film, creativity and social action are such bad things, but wouldn't it be nice if there were a website where you could buy a refrigerator magnet or something and a couple bucks would go toward hiring a really expert sniper to kill the SOB? I mean, I would buy the damn magnet. I would buy a bunch of them and give them to everybody for Christmas. Why don't we have charities like THAT?


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


The NBC/Politico Republican Presidential Debate scheduled for May 2 has now been postponed until.... Well, how about never? Does never work for you?
The stated reason is that the field of Republican candidates at present consists of Tim Pawlenty (maybe) and Donald Trump (maybe), and you can probably throw Ron Paul in there because he enjoys running for President and he has a built-in VP candidate now with his son Rand, so why not? Even so, it wouldn't be much of a show with Mitt and Newt and Sarah and Haley and Michelle and Mitch and the Huckster all sitting home watching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But it's never much of a show, even when they have a good crowd like they did in 2008. They are dreadful events, almost unwatchable, and not only because most of the questions are not about issues Republican voters care about. Oh, it's better than the Democratic debates where there are never any disagreements on issues, but even with the Republicans, there are serious problems:

  1. There are too many rules about who gets asked a question and who gets to answer first and who can talk and how long they can talk and who gets to reply.
  2. The audience can't cheer or boo or throw things.
  3. The moderator is often a left-winger who hates all Republican candidates. (“Show of hands---who doesn't believe in evolution?”) In 2008, two of the Republican debates were moderated by Chris Mathews and another was moderated by Charlie Gibson, which is like naming David Duke the Grand Marshall of the Martin Luther King Day Parade.
Under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, the football season at the University of Alabama always began the same way. The first practice was a cattle call to any young man who wanted, or expected, or hoped, or dreamed of playing football for the Crimson Tide. All the returning players and all the new recruits were there, but so were other athletes who didn't have anything better to do that day, frat boys who wanted to be able to say they tried out for the team, and guys who were just football fans and wanted to meet Bear Bryant. Virtually every serious athlete, tough guy, bully, bruiser and psychopath on campus would show up. In a given year, there might be 150 of them.
Bryant would gather all of them in one end zone. In the other end zone were six footballs. “Boys,” he would say, ”This first day, we just run one little drill, to see what we've got here, and it's real simple. I want each and every one of you boys to run down to that other end zone and bring me back a football.” Then he would blow his whistle.
Twenty minutes later, the field would be littered with bodies, and Bear would have his six footballs. One year (it is said), Dwight Stephenson, who is now in the NFL Hall of Fame, brought back three. “Mr. Stephenson,” Bear reportedly said, “I like your attitude.”
Bear Bryant's opening-day practice is the model I suggest for Republican debates. Everybody gets a microphone and a chair, there's no moderator, there's no agenda, and there are no restraints on the audience, which will consist entirely of genuine Republican voters. Then we'll see who can bring back a football.


Monday, January 31, 2011


A number of states are seriously under water financially (led by California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts---the usual suspects), and there has been speculation that Congress will add a provision to the Bankruptcy Code to allow states to go bankrupt. Currently, there is no such procedure, so if a state defaults on its obligations, it will remain liable for those debts into perpetuity. The magic of bankruptcy is that, by operation of law, it permits the debtor to discharge prior obligations and obtain a "fresh start."

The reason there has never been a provision for states in the Bankruptcy Code is that states retain many aspects of sovereignty under the federal system, and one traditional aspect of sovereignty is that THE SOVEREIGN CANNOT DISCHARGE ITS DEBTS except by paying them. Default is the end of the line, and the end of the sovereign. This has been the case, basically, forever. When the sovereign is truly broke, there's a revolution, or the country is taken over by another country, or Marie Antoinette gets beheaded, or the Weimar Republic disappears. Unlike the most destitute schnook in Manayunk, the sovereign can never say, "Sorry, guys, but I'm not going to pay." Other sovereigns have to give you a loan, or "restructure your liabilities" or agree to something similar, or you're dead.

But the campaign to provide states with a route to bankruptcy and discharge of their debts creates a Constitutional issue. (This is one of the amazing and beautiful things about our Constitution---that it pops up when you least expect it and makes you think about what you are doing.) The Contracts Clause, in Article I, Section 10, provides: "No State shall...pass any Bill...or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts...." It is curious that the Contracts Clause applies only to states, but the explanation is fairly straightforward. There was no reason to place limits upon the federal government because the power to alter contracts is not among those enumerated in the Constitution. In other words, since the feds have no basis upon which to exercise such a power, there was no reason to explicitly bar them from doing so. (In addition, it would not have occurred to anyone in the 18th Century that a sovereign nation could default on its debts and continue to exist, so the power of the United States to renounce its debt was not an issue of any practical import.)

The powers of the states, however, were a different matter. Were they to be sovereign entities or not? This is the argument between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists that is no more settled today than it was in 1887. The Contracts Clause embodies the Founders' resolution of the issue ---the states, just like the new federal government, were to be sovereign in at least this limited sense. The states, just like the feds, had to pay their bills.

So what will happen when California (for example) defaults? There are several possibilities.

First, the federal government might decide to bail them out. This would be a complete victory for the Federalists who, today, are called left-wing Democrats or Progressives. They HATE "state's rights," and this would be the end of them, at least where California is concerned. If the federal government were to keep California afloat, it would do so only on condition that the state consent to federal supervision of basically every state function. The sovereign (or quasi-sovereign) entity that is California would remain a "state" in name only. As other states fell under the weight of their debt, state sovereignty would begin to seem like a quaint and antiquated notion until finally it disappeared altogether.

Another possibility is amending the Bankruptcy Code to allow states a discharge of their debts. The thorny Constitutional issue is whether such a thing is permitted under Art. 1, Sect. 10. It is true that this would be a federal law and that the Contracts Clause, by its terms, applies only to state action. However, in order for California to take advantage of such a provision in the Bankruptcy Code, it would have to choose to do so, and that choice would be the equivalent of a "Bill...or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts." That, in any event, would be the argument. If anyone tells you he knows how the Supreme Court would decide this question, he's lying.

If a state bankruptcy is permitted, the Federalists win again. Though a legal discharge of debt would not instantly make California a ward of the federal government (as would a bail-out), it would fatally undermine any claim California might make that it remains an independent entity. Again, sovereign states just don't do that sort of thing, and the only reason it could do so in this case is because it was permitted to by the REAL sovereign, the United States of America. At that point, it becomes hard to come up with a theory of government that would justify California in running its own police force or passing its own laws. Logically, final authority would reside in Washington D.C.

The other possibility is for states to do nothing, and simply default. This is what happened following the Panic of 1839 when 10 US states (out of 29) defaulted on loans from British and Dutch banks. Almost all of the debt was ultimately repaid, but the citizens of the defaulting states rejected all proposals for the federal government to assume their states' debts. Even though this meant their states would be cut off from the world's credit markets, the attitude of the citizenry appeared to be that a long period of downsized government and severe austerity measures was only proper punishment for sovereigns that run amok.

It is unlikely that the citizens of California in 2011 would take this attitude. With millions enrolled in entitlement programs and tens of thousands receiving $100,000-plus annual pensions from the state, there will be no stomach for cutbacks. Nevertheless, it is probably the most sensible solution to the problem, just as it was in 1847. Neither the bailout nor the bankruptcy would be pain-free for California, and will probably only delay slightly the day of reckoning. A little harsh medicine now might be the best prescription, but...well, that's the rub, isn't it? Nobody wants the harsh medicine right now.

And now, at last, I will get to the point. As one of the last remaining Anti-Federalists in America, I view federal bailouts or state bankruptcy proceedings with alarm. The growth of the federal government, with its ever-increasing power over our lives, our livelihoods and our freedom, is the primary cause for most of the problems the American people now face. We are ruled by an elite political class of smartest-guys-in-the-room who all went to Harvard or Yale, rather than a government of and by the people. Supporting them is a corrupt, politically-connected group of economically-powerful forces (Goldman-Sachs, Fannie and Freddie, Google, the SEIU, the NEA) who are never subjected to our laws no matter what they do. At the federal level, government is purely an insider's game, and look at the results. Over the last fifty years, America has lost wars for the first time in its history, the black family has been destroyed (and many white ones) by a government-created culture of dependency and victimhood, our currency has been debased and we now find ourselves on the brink of insolvency. And then, of course, there's "Jersey Shore."

State governments may be the only means we have left to push back against the embedded corruption, profligacy, and authoritarianism of the feds. Granted, they're not doing a great job of it now, but that doesn't mean they can't. In the past, states have been a powerful check on Washington, often just by standing together and saying, "NO!" State sovereignty remains a vehicle by which free Americans can assert themselves.

And that's why the prospect of federal bailouts or a new provision in the Bankruptcy Code is so dangerous, because either one would render the states powerless against the federal government. If these things happen, they happen, and it looks like one or the other are going to, but I would like to see real consequences for accepting a bailout or using the Bankruptcy Code. Any state that does so should be stripped of its statehood and revert to Territory status, like Guam or Puerto Rico, or Alaska in 1959.

A reclassification to Territory status would merely reflect the new reality since by taking a bailout or a bankruptcy discharge,a state would have given up any legitimate claim to sovereignty. Not only would this discourage a state from taking the easy road to solvency, it would separate the fake states from the real ones, and the real ones could still assert their powers of sovereignty to resist the takeover of America by the modern Federalists. The Territory of California, well, that would be one thing, but the State of Texas would be something entirely different. And it should be.

Copyright2011Michael Kubacki

Thursday, January 27, 2011

NFL UPDATE (The 2011 Superbowl)

Well, it's not like they don't belong here, is it? In point differential, Green Bay and Pittsburgh were second and third in the league (behind only the Pats). In the most meaningful measure of defense, points allowed, Pittsburgh was the best at 232, and the Packers were next, at 240. In Adjusted Yards/Pass, the Steelers were second and the Packers were third (again behind the Pats). In Defensive Adjusted Yards/Pass, Green Bay was the best in the NFL, with Pittsburgh right behind them.

If the Patriots were not going to be in the Superbowl this year, these are the two teams that should be. Baltimore and Atlanta (or even Philly), might have gotten lucky, but they didn't, and there are no other teams in the NFL that posted any legitimate claim to greatness. Pittsburgh and Green Bay both have very effective offenses, and superlative defenses. They are very similar teams that are equal in strength, and there is no reason to think one of them will fail to show up on February 6. There are probably guys out there who know about match-ups and game plans and other intangible nuances of football prognostication, and maybe they can identify a clear favorite here, but I can't. If they played this game ten times, my best guess is that each team would win five of them. That's what the numbers tell me. It's a toss-up.

The sane gambler passes a game like this, but of course, it's the Superbowl, so passing the game is not really an option, no matter how sane you are (or think you are). Therefore, I'm taking the Steelers simply because they are getting 2 ½ points in Vegas and they are not worse than the Packers.

Don't bet the house.


Friday, January 21, 2011


Well, I'm 4-1 on my picks against the spread, but the one was a doozy. Basically, I said the 2010-11 Patriots were the 1927 Yankees and, well, they weren't. They were more like the 1969 Seattle Pilots. (Or to put it another, more obscure, way: I said the Patriots were Secretariat and they turned out to be Jacques Who.) Shortly after the game concluded, I stepped into the backyard to ponder the question of how I could possibly have been so mistaken and whether my wife now would (or should!) leave me because I was so wrong, so very very wrong, about the Patriots. As I stood in the freezing wind, my tears crystallizing on my face, I could not help but address certain fundamental questions I have been avoiding for many years:

1) Have I lost it?
2) Did I ever have it?
3) Did I ever even know what “it” is?
4) Is it possible Bill Belichick is not the intellectual and spiritual equal of St. Thomas Aquinas?
5) Are the Jets really any good?

Suddenly, the forsythia bush in front of me burst into flames. Though I always seek, and welcome, the miraculous in life, I admit this surprised me. Over the crackling of the branches, a voice boomed out: “Michael,” it said, “you know NOTHING about football!”

So now it's official, I guess.

Nevertheless, I still have my numbers (and not much else). And based on that, I have to like the Steelers (-3 ½) against the Jets. We are talking here about (maybe) the 2nd best team in the NFL versus Mark Sanchez. I grant you that Sanchez just beat the (maybe) best team in the NFL, the Patriots, but that may well have been an any-given-Sunday kind of thing. Sanchez played well, but the Patriots dominated many of the offensive stats. In other words, my skepticism of the Jets is unabated. A team like this almost never gets to the Superbowl.

The Packers-Bears game is an easy choice as well. In the NFC, by my reckoning, the Packers were the best playoff team and the Bears were the worst.

In many ways, the Bears and the Jets are the same sort of team. They combine a medium-to-weak offense with a better-than-average defense, and hope to put themselves in close games where they can get lucky. This strategy can win games, but it rarely gets the ring.

Steelers. Packers.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Seattle @ Chicago (-10)

So let me get this straight. All Da Bears have to do to reach the NFC Championship game is beat Seattle? IN Chicago? Just who do you have to sleep with in the Commissioner's Office to get this kind of break?

These are the two worst teams in the NFC playoffs, but the Bears are better. Ninety days ago, however, the Seahawks visited Chicago and won the game 23 - 20. Seattle dominated the game, sacking Cutler six times, and the final score was close only because Devin Hester returned a punt for a touchdown in the closing minutes.

In short, I would not touch the 10-point line with a 10-foot hot poker. I have to pass this game, but I will be rooting for Seattle.

Green Bay @ Atlanta (-2)

On November 28, The Falcons beat the Packers 20 - 17, in Atlanta, on a field goal as time expired. I discount this result somewhat because Green Bay gained more yards in the game, beat Atlanta in various statistical categories, and was somewhat unlucky. Also, this game was played during Green Bay's mid-season fugue period, a stretch during which they lost three of four games including an ugly mess (7 - 3) in Detroit. I think Green Bay had the flu or something. They're better now.

Green Bay's passing offense is one yard better (per pass) than Atlanta's, and Green Bay's pass defense is one yard better, per pass, than Atlanta's defense. These are big margins, so I want the Packers. They should win outright.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

Two good teams, and they split their games during the season. However, if I believe my numbers (and I do), Pittsburgh's edge here is about the same as Green Bay's edge over Atlanta. The Steelers are better than the Ravens, by a meaningful margin, on both sides of the ball. I have to lay the points.

NYJ @ New England (-8 1/2)

Long before the Jets were embarrassed in New England on December 6 (final score: 45 -3), they actually beat the Patriots in Week 2 of the season. (Ever notice that the NFL uses Roman numerals for Superbowls but standard Arabic ones for the Weeks? Why? And did Andy Rooney beat me to this observation?)

But I don't care what happened in September. Plus, I hate the Jets, I find Rex Ryan almost transcendentally annoying, and I never liked Rex Ryan's daddy either. More importantly, the Patriots have the best passing game in the NFL (by far), and the Jets have the worst pass attack in the AFC.

The line is large, but I'm laying it. If Brady is knocked cold on the first play of the game, I suppose anything could happen. Otherwise, this game should be over by the 3rd quarter.

Copyright2011Michael Kubacki

Thursday, January 6, 2011


As you should know by now, my predictions for the NFL playoffs are based on the one factor that has been most reliable in predicting NFL playoff results in the past, which is yards per pass (with an adjustment for interceptions thrown, a huge negative). You may like a team with an effective running game, but it doesn't matter much in the playoffs. Neither does defense, largely because all the real contenders for the ring will have a decent defense and there won't be much of an advantage for anybody. The difference between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez, on the other hand---well, it's big. It's really big. It matters.

Normally, I have three categories of teams-- the Contenders, the Could-Get-Lucky's, and the Pretenders. This year, I think there has to be a fourth division, occupied solely by the New England Patriots. In this greatest year of Tom Brady's put-him-in-the-hall-of-fame-without-even-checking-his-driver's-license career, it is unlikely that anyone can beat them. Much like the 2009 Yankees, the Patriots this year are one of the truly great teams in the history of their sport.

The other Contenders are Pittsburgh and Green Bay, either of whom, in a normal sort of year, could win it all. Pittsburgh's problem, of course, is that the AFC Championship game will be played in New England. Green Bay's is that they will have to win all their games on the road. However, New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay (in that order) have the best yards/pass numbers in the league by a substantial margin. In addition, Pittsburgh and Green Bay have the two best defenses and have given up the fewest points over the season. These are very good teams.

On the Could-Get-Lucky list, there are three squads:

Philly. Based on the numbers, Philly might be the second-best team in the NFC. The bad news is that they have to play the first-best team right out of the box. The good news is that they get to do it in Philly. I am calling this wild-card game for the Packers, but it is entirely possible that the dog-torturer and his various Seans will do something magical and actually prevail. If so, they can win the NFC Championship.

Atlanta. Quick! Who's Atlanta's quarterback? In fact, his name is Matt Ryan, and while he is having as good a season as somebody like Matt Ryan can ever have, it's not good enough to win a Superbowl in a world that contains people named Brady and Manning and Rodgers and Brees and Vick. The good news is that Atlanta only has to win two games to get to the BIG ONE, and both those games will be in Atlanta. It's possible.

Baltimore. Another very good team with a bruising defense and an efficient offense. They will beat Kansas City easily but then they will probably have to go to Pittsburgh, where they won by three earlier in the year (they later lost by three to Pittsburgh in Baltimore). You will have to like the Steelers in that game, but the Ravens are not nothing.

The Pretenders this year are half the field, and some of the names may surprise you:

Seattle. Will get toasted in the first round, of course. The Seahawks were outscored by six points per game this year.

Kansas City. The best running game in the NFL this year. Goodbye, Kansas City.

Indy. They are still capable of beating anyone, but let's face it, it's not Peyton's year. He still racks up the yards (4700 this year), but there's nothing else on offense and the defense is thin. They might beat the Jets in the wild card, but that will be the end.

Jets. In yards/pass, they are 11th out of 12, and their pass defense is nowhere near as good as you think it is. This is a team that will have to ditch Sanchez and do substantial rebuilding before it can challenge for the Championship.

New Orleans. This is still a really, really good team, but Drew Brees (25 interceptions) is having the worst year he will ever have. It was never a great defensive team, and it still isn't, so without Brees clicking the way he is capable of doing, they have no shot.

Chicago. When I drilled down and looked at this team, I was surprised by how thin they are. Though they won eleven games (but lost at home to both Seattle and Washington), they show the worst yards/pass numbers of any team in the tournament. What tends to happen to teams like this in the playoffs is that they are eventually confronted with a situation where they MUST score, and they are unable to. Shortly thereafter, the players start calling for tee times.


New Orleans -8 @ Seattle PASS

Jets @ Indy -3 PASS

Baltimore -2.5 @ K.C. TAKE BALTIMORE

Green Bay @ Philly -2.5 TAKE GREEN BAY