Friday, May 05, 2006

Spooked Spook

You don't need to be a political genius to know that the resignation of Porter Goss is not good news. It indicates that curing the endemic troubles at the CIA, a difficult task in the best of times, may be well-nigh impossible in this era where that position no longer reports to the President.

This seems a good time to refer back to my piece in The American Spectator, August 2004, in which I made the case against the idea of instituting an office of National Intelligence Director. It runs longer than my usual column length, but I think it's one of the most thorough presentations I have ever made in support of a political position.

Evolution and Abortion

Several posts down I included the words of Francis Canavan, who countered the usual baby's rights versus mother's rights talk by inserting the commonsensical notion that the child is in his mother's womb, which is, in fact, the only natural place for him to be.

A debate commenced in which one group repeatedly invoked the notion of competition between mother and unborn child for scarce resources. There is an immediate problem with that metaphor if we consider that Americans are typically not starving and that food is not scarce, but let's leave that aside.

The bigger problem is that this segment of the abortion debate could be dealt with via Darwin. In evolutionary terms, we all just want to reproduce and ensure the spread of our contribution to the gene pool. A pregnancy is, therefore, mission accomplished. In evolutionary terms, aborting a child is evidence of insanity. It is evidence that a person doesn't wish to do the only thing they are really here to do.

I find this fascinating because I've finally found a confluence in traditional morality and Darwinism. Darwin says, have the baby. Christianity says, have the baby. The natural law says, have the baby. All three agree that infanticide is evidence of a mind not working correctly.

Kennedy Family Values

Dateline Capitol Hill: Kennedy involved in a suspicious incident combining erratic behavior, an automobile, and alcohol. But there were no babes, so it wasn't Teddy.

There's something here I really do not understand. While some of the details are, and probably will remain, in dispute, there is one thing that Patches admits: he drove a Ford Mustang convertible "a few blocks" from his house to the Capitol building. An environmental scold since his boyhood days in the Rhode Island legislature, who equates SUV driving with warmongering, admits he took his 210hp 4.0L V6, EPA rated at 19 mpg, out of the garage for a trip most of us would unthinkingly make on foot? I await with bated breath the Sierra Club's statement pulling their endorsement.

This, by the way, is how to have a drink at the Hawk and Dove without getting into trouble.

Bush and Small Band of Repubs Promise to Stop Pork-Laden Spending Bill

The Wall Street Journal opinion page reports that President Bush "is promising to break his dubious record [of never vetoing a bill sent to him by Congress] by nixing the astonishing supplemental spending bill passed by the Senate yesterday." The Journal article opines:

If ever a bill deserved a veto, this is it. The ball of blubber rolled out of the world's greatest spending body at $108.9 billion, a mere $14.4 billion more than Mr. Bush requested. The original request was for Iraq, Afghanistan and hurricane relief, but these "emergency" spending bills have become regular bacchanalia because they fall outside the limits set by the annual budget spending "caps." . . .

The bill passed 78-20, which means this Senate bender is bipartisan. But 35 GOP Senators have also sent Mr. Bush a letter pledging to support his demand to reduce the bill's total cost; that's one more vote than needed to block a veto override. Meanwhile, over in the House, GOP leaders are finally behaving like, well, Republicans. Speaker Denny Hastert declared the Senate bill "dead on arrival" in a House-Senate conference. "The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers," he added. Hallelujah.

The story notes that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) "took to the Senate floor to deplore Mr. Bush's veto threat as an outrage that would deny money for all sorts of domestic disasters, including farm losses and coal-mine accidents. 'If the President wants to veto a bill that funds the troops, if he wants to veto a bill that funds victims of Hurricane Katrina . . . have at it,' he taunted."

The threat, of course, is that the Democrats will paint the Republicans in their cliched character as tightfisted Scrooges who care more about keeping taxes down than about throwing money at everything under the sun.

The Republicans response should be, "Please, don't throw us into that briar patch!"

Britain's Changing Political Landscape

Britain's ruling Labour Party took a huge hit in the recent polls for local offices. The New York Times reports:

With 4,360 local council seats and 176 authorities in play, Labor lost 250 councillors and 18 councils, according to preliminary results. The big winner was David Cameron, who took control of the opposition Conservative Party last December and for whom Thursday's vote was the first electoral challenge. The Conservatives gained 12 councils, according to preliminary results, including some in bellwether London boroughs, but failed to make ground in the north of England.

The vote did not directly affect the composition of parliament in London, where Mr Blair won a third successive -- if reduced -- majority in national elections one year ago. But, according to a projection by the BBC, the local election in which 23 million Britons were eligible to cast a ballot, showed the Conservatives in the lead with 40 per cent of the vote, the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats with 27 per cent and Labor lagging with 26 per cent.

The Conservative Party benefited from the Labour meltdown—caused largely by scandals in the government—but the real beneficiaries were two right-wing parties, one reasonable and the other much less so. The NY Times reports:

The results also showed creeping gains by the small, anti-immigrant British National Party, particularly in the east London area of Barking and Dagenham where 11 of its 13 candidates won seats from Labor incumbents. Though tiny in relation to the big parties, its gains provoked unease about the possibility of a extreme right backlash against immigrants.

This all bodes ill for Labour's prospects in the next election, which must be held by 2010, the NY Times reports:

The results in local elections do not always mirror national polls: Labor also polled 26 per cent in the last major local vote in 2004, but won power again in the national election last year. But, this time, national politics weighed heavily after a series of scandals, including Mr. Prescott's affair, the questions over the government's failure to deport foreign criminals, worries about the future of the state-funded National Health Service and accusations that Labor offered campaign donors places in the House of Lords in return for loans.

The poll was the biggest electoral event before the next national vote, which must take place by 2010, when Mr Blair has said he will not seek re-election as prime minister.

The accumulation of problems has fed opposition claims that the third-term government is arrogant and incompetent.

The Tories have made a rather poor effort at taking advantage of Labour's decline in popularity, as John O'Sullivan points out, because under their new leader, David Cameron, the Tories have been "undergoing either a cultural makeover or a nervous breakdown as they re-brand themselves as a Green party that rejects lower taxes and believes in wealth redistribution. This transformation has not proved a vote-winner. Until Black Wednesday they were level-pegging with Labor. They have risen to a modest 35 percent since then." O'Sullivan correctly predicted that the Tories would "do well on Thursday. But their success will be based on Labor’s retreat rather than on Tory conversions."

This is a very bad thing because in pre-election polls, which were borne out by the election results, 15 percent of voters said they would vote for “other” parties. O'Sullivan writes, "Usually, that figure is one or two per cent. What makes this doubly shocking is the other parties: the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party.

"UKIP," O'Sulliven continues, "is a decent Euroskeptic party, mainly disillusioned Tories, with an Ealing Comedy flavor. But the BNP is a semi-fascist party on the model of the French National Front. And boosted by the Clarke fiasco, the BNP is likely to get the lion’s share of that fifteen percent."

The polls confirm that both Labour and the Tories, in remaking themselves as something they cannot be, have slid in the public's esteem. The Tories have blown a great opportunity—and not for the first time in recent years. As long as they become Labour Me-Toos, the Tories will probably continue to weaken, and the farther-Right parties will continue to rise. Not an appealing prospect.

Cynthia and Patrick Sitting In A Tree...

Well, now, I see that while a D.C. grand jury is trying to decide whether to indict Congressman Cynthia McKinney for assaulting a Capitol Hill cop, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who apparently fell on his head not far from the tree, crashed his car in the middle of the night. He then told the police on the scene that he was "late for a vote," after which those public servants dedicated to the rule of law drove him home and tucked him into bed without a bath. No sobriety test. No hard questions. No late snack for the teddy bear.

And no tears from Mizz McKinney. None indeed. After all, how are they going to indict her after having given Sir Patrick the kind of love one expects only from Grandma visiting from across the country? Can anyone imagine the black/white demagoguery issuing forth from the likes of the ineffable Sharpton if the black female were to be indicted while the lily white son of privilege got off with nothing at all? It is only my old age and deep cynicism that enable me to laugh at such folly. And the Beltway expects Americans to take it seriously in the context of counterterrorism.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Gas Gouging" Honor Roll

In a vote of 389 to 34, these are the only House members who had the integrity and common sense to vote against the scandalous “Federal Energy Price Protection Act,” including the one uniquely honorable Democrat.

Akin
Burton (IN)
Campbell (CA)
Cannon
Conaway
Culberson
Feeney
Flake
Franks (AZ)
Garrett (NJ)
Gingrey
Hensarling
Hoekstra
Hostettler
Johnson, Sam
King (IA)
Kucinich
Lungren, Daniel E.
McHenry
Miller, Gary
Musgrave
Neugebauer
Otter
Paul
Pearce
Pence
Pitts
Poe
Rohrabacher
Sessions
Shadegg
Sullivan
Westmoreland
Wilson (SC)

George Speaketh

No, not that George. I refer here to the ineffable George V. Voinovich, Republican member of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Like a child who dropped his ice cream cone, George last was seen slobbering over the nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador. Anyway, he is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Workforce subcommittee, a lofty position achieved by virtue of deep wisdom and the profound respect of his honored colleagues. And so his latest pronouncement from on high is that "[Federal] employees should receive a rigorous evaluation, and their pay should be determined based upon their performance."

A brilliant insight, stated brilliantly, and sparkling with the gravitas bestowed by the Beltway only upon the brilliant. And so please tell us, Senator: Does that principle apply to members of Congress?

Galbraith

Excerpt from Alan Reynolds, “Irrelevant Anachronism”
The Intercollegiate Review (Winter 1975)

Galbraith is aware that "collective efforts at market control are numerous and frequently invoke the assistance or initiative of the state," and that "regulatory agencies tend to become the instruments, even the puppets, of the industries they are supposed to regulate." Far from deploring this, however, Galbraith thinks it ought to be universal --that the whole economy ought to run on the model of the Post Office, and that failing firms and individuals ought to be bailed-out, or propped-up, a la Lockheed or Penn Central. Where it isn't already doing so, Galbraith wants the government to: (1) "stabilize prices and production and regulate entry into the business," (2) provide "direct government regulation of prices and production," (3) provide "strong and effective encouragement to trade union organization," (4) use the minimum wage "aggressively," without regard to the survival of small firms, thus "forcing those who patronize the market system to pay the full price for the product" (or do without), (5) protect any remaining small firms from international competition "by official action or a tariff," and (6) provide small firms with “research and technical support, capital and qualified talent.”

True, many will be unemployed as a result of all this-"kept out because they are no longer allowed to offer their services at a lower rate." But they will receive a guaranteed income "as a matter of right" at a level "modestly below what can be earned in the planning system." Might as well be generous with the money (the Fed can always print more), since with such a policy of discouraging work there won't be any goodies around to buy with it.

The whole thing sounds very much like Roosevelt's N.LR.A., Mussolini's syndicates, or the medieval guilds. Galbraith has emerged as the supreme spokesman for the special interests. As producers and workers, we all want our own goods or services to be scarce and, therefore, relatively costly. But a policy of raising incomes generally through contrived scarcity and high prices confuses relative money income with total real income. We can all have more goods and services only if more are produced. Redistributing the existing stock of, say, housing and furniture would not provide any more housing and furniture. And the resulting disincentives to work and save would decrease the flow of future production.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Plague of Ambitious Prosecutors

A society's ability to function is based solidly on its government's willingness to treat people fairly and equally. The temptations of power, however, tend to corrupt the individuals who serve in office, as Lord Acton observed and as the Republicans in Congress have demonstrated in recent years. Nowhere is that temptation more damaging to individuals, however, than in the case of ambitious prosecutors.

As another old saying has it, "Every District Attorney looking in the mirror sees a Governor," and politically motivated prosecutions are an inevitable result of that reality. The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.

But the king of them all today is surely New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who is now running for governor of that state, in full confirmation of the old saying. As today's Wall Street Journal notes, Spitzer has truly taken the art of political prosecution to new heights, using the powers of his office to bully and intimidate all those whom he sees as obstacles to his agenda. Here's a good example of his style, from the Journal article:

A spokesman for New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly reported in 2003 that after Ms. Kelly disagreed with Mr. Spitzer over legislation that he felt would hamper his investigations, he hit her with a "slew of political threats and personal insults," warning he'd come to her district and "cause problems." Mr. Spitzer's office described the event as "spirited and frank." To which Ms. Kelly's spokesman bluntly replied: "The attorney general acted like a thug, and his office can try to spin it any way they want to."

The Journal article includes several other examples, and indeed an entire book could be written about Spitzer's use of his office for vendettas against prominent businesses and individuals. He is not the most repugnant AG ever, one supposes, but his roughhouse tactics and naked ambition show just how vulnerable society is to the ambitions of its leaders (as if any confirmation were needed). As the Journal story notes,

[T]here are disturbing suggestions that Mr. Spitzer is peddling information to the public that may not be accurate. You can bet that if this were President Bush, the press would be all over the disparate versions of events. But this is Mr. Spitzer, who at this very moment is running campaign ads that are nothing more than a compilation of the adulatory headlines he's received over his tenure.

Far better for the public if a little more light were directed on these discrepancies. Mr. Spitzer is asking to govern one of the most populous states in the nation. Politicians are certainly allowed "passion," but given the power they wield they also have to demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment. Voters deserve to know if Mr. Spitzer has the character to hold such a job.

Yes, we must expect our governors to "demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment." But we should expect that of our attorneys general, too, and indeed of all those who step forward to serve the public in leadership positions.

The Cry Beneath The Silence

(This is a very brief slice of a very large topic. It deserves much more space; perhaps some day when life is less hectic. For now this is the extent of my available time and energy.)

A famous thinker once said: “God is in the details.” To which a noted architect responded: “The Devil is in the details.” Both were right. But in my slot at Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, I hope this bit of insight survives: “God is in the premises. The Devil is in the premises.” In the words of Rabbi Abba Berman, a great Talmud scholar who recently passed on: “From your viewpoint, you’re right. It’s your viewpoint that’s wrong.”

Indeed it is not too much to say that whenever the Reaganite position loses the debate in the public arena, it is not because it reasoned poorly from the premise. It is because the other side had managed to slip in an unchallenged premise that corrupted the entire dialogue.

And so the great adventure of reforming the culture is most challenging when the target is a premise that has hardened into a pillar. The most pernicious of these, the capstone of evil in our time, the rawest, crudest, crassest, grossest of them all is the one that was on display last week in the Day of Silence observed around the country’s schools. Sadly, sadly, sadly, conservatives have not mounted any resistance to the premise, so whatever quibbles they register against its offshoots are turned, win or lose, into an exercise in futility.

The Day of Silence is to empathize with the silence that is said to be forced upon gay and lesbian teenagers. The Ninth Circuit Court just issued a decision that schools may prevent students from making such statements as: “The Bible says that homosexual behavior is shameful.” Many conservatives are debating and appealing the ruling while decrying the Day as unnecessary and gratuitously provocative. But no one challenges the premise, the horrid, horrible, horrific premise. Namely, that there is such a thing as a “gay teenager”.

Don’t take my word for it. Open your ears, listen carefully. When a high school opened for gays in New York City in the late 1980s, the debate focused on whether isolating them in a separate school was helpful or counterproductive. When people call laissez-faire psychologists like Dr. Joy Browne or strict moralists like Dr. Laura Schlessinger to ask how to deal with their high-schoolers who have “come out” as gay, the only difference in the answer is that Browne says to embrace it while Schlessinger says to be understanding without endorsing. But no one, no one at all, no liberal, no conservative, has the simple honesty, sense and courage to say the commonsensical truth; namely, that every teenager is mixed up about sex and has no clue what he or she “is” or “is not”.

This is a subject that deserves to be treated in a very long treatise. But in our short format today, we can ask ourselves simple questions that highlight obvious verities. Who among us did not experience moments of utter humiliation in approaching members of the opposite sex? How many of us can declare that we never doubted our masculinity or femininity during such moments of humiliation? If a seducer of the same sex played his or her cards right in that moment, was there no vulnerability there? Be honest.

Or look at it from the other side. It is a simple fact that homosexuals try to seduce people to try their way. A practicing psychologist showed me gay magazines that specifically advocated “breaking in” new recruits. In my own life, I was hit on by men a number of times, and when I politely said “I’m not gay”, every one of them kept trying, saying it would be fun, etcetera. Quite a few girls have described to me the exact same experience, eerily almost word-for-word. So if some kid, lonely with rejection by the opposite sex, flattered by same-sex attention, indulges a time or two and thinks that he or she is now gay, should a responsible parent or teacher take that declaration as fact, not subject to discussions, counseling, deliberation and reconsideration?

Furthermore, most teenage socializing is in same-sex environments. Even in coed schools, kids generally cluster in gender-segregated packs. Small experimental ventures into sexual activity cannot reasonably be extrapolated into a lifetime preference. Things happen sometimes in schools, in armies, in jails, when access is more or less limited to the same gender, that do not reflect life in the bigger world. A youngster who had such an experience during a formative period is likely to think that this reveals his or her “true self”.

Truthfulness and compassion demand that we counsel those children, that we tell them they are still young, they are still confused, they do not have all their skills, they do not have all their maturity, they do not have all their resources, and that they need to calm down, get their schooling, not let their doubts fester in their minds, and work their way healthily toward adulthood without some label that was applied through ignorance and self-doubt.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Startling Thought on Abortion

"If we take the principles of liberal individualism as axiomatic, we find it possible to think of the fetus and the woman as the parties of the first and second part arguing over their respective rights. We are then able to blind ourselves to the natural fact that they are related as mother and child and that the child is in the only natural place for him to be, his mother's womb."

--Francis Canavan, The Pluralist Game

Trimming the Pork—There Is Only One Way

Politicians have long bragged about how much federal money they were bringing back home, and it worked because citizens of one's district or state knew that tax money sent to D.C. that did not come back in the form of direct services or greater national security would simply be spent on projects in states with representatives who were better at getting their way. That brought about a natural process known as pork-barreling, in which every successful representative tried to get the most federal money possible spent in his state, which led to an incredible amount of taxpayer money being spent on boondoggles such as roads to literally nowhere and federally financed hot dog museums. Politicians would brag about how much bacon they were bringing home, regardless of how unconstitutional and worthless the projects actually were.

Now that the Republicans have been in power for a few years and have become openly addicted to pork-barreling, it's no longer fashionable.

Well, good! As the New York Times reports, challengers in some congressional and Senate races are actually talking about their opponents' success at bringing home this federal money—and using the incumbents' spending as a weapon, "portraying them as symbols of corruption and waste in Washington," as the Times puts it. The national controversy over these "earmarks"—which finally occurred when the hated (by the media) Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress—has begun to turn the public against this wasteful spending—in principle (see below). Aspiring politicians are quick to take advantage, as the Times story notes:

And so, in a reversal of tactics, challengers here and in other states like Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island are telling voters what the incumbents have brought home, in the hopes, it seems, that the national controversy over the pet projects known as earmarks has come home, too.

"In a time of war, and with the costs of Katrina, we've got to look at what we want to have and what we've got to have," said Mr. Ricketts, who has never run for office but was ahead of the two other Republican candidates in a recent poll. "We've got to end earmarks — or at least reform them."

The
Times story correctly observes that it's far too early now to tell whether the tactic will work, but the old reality probably still applies, as this comment from a Nebraska voter suggests:

"I am critical of the fact that the federal government is worried about paying for parking garages — and for a million other things like that," said Steve McCollister, who heard Mr. Ricketts speak at a recent fund-raiser in west Omaha. "But they are. And if they are, I want my senator to be in there. I want Nebraska to compete."

That's probably the way most people feel. And despite the fact that nearly all of these projects are wasteful and are not constitutionally appropriate candidates for federal spending, it's important to remember that the real bloat is in the entitlement programs, corporate welfare (including farm subsidies), and national defense. The federal budget is in large part an accumulation of politicians' attempts to buy votes in order to remain in office, using our money.

That's the way the system works, and that's not going to change until the federal government is made subject to the kind of constitutionally imposed tax and budget limitations (known as taxpayers' bills of rights, or TABORs) many states have implemented or are considering.

The only solution is a real federal TABOR.

How are things in your town?

I took the wife and kids (both under 4) to Little Italy Pizzeria in downtown Athens last night. As we walked toward the restaurant from our parked car, I saw and heard a very large parade coming toward us on the sidewalk. I knew what it was right away. The American flags and the Spanish chanting gave it away. I maneuvered my way through the crowd into Little Italy with my one year old in my arms.

It was a peaceful demonstration, but it didn’t go down well with me. I kept thinking that this was something in the nature of a demonstration of power in numbers — a steel fist in a velvet glove, a loudly whispered “Don’t tread on us.”

My wife works in an indigent clinic in Athens and speaks Spanish. She basically provides free medical care to illegal immigrants for a living. She’s not very political and didn’t know the purpose of the rally. When she finally came in the restaurant she was smiling and said, “Those are my people!”

When I explained the point of the rally, she was a little less happy. It was her natural sense that there is something not quite right about illegal immigrants demanding that the host country do nothing to secure the borders or regulate the citizenship process, especially when they receive things like free medical care.

That natural sense is right. America should be generous, but not because she is intimidated.

Una Modesta ProposiciĆ³n

Welcome to America
Friend from across the sea
We'll just pretend the theory is
You're just as good as me.
You'll get some work
You'll earn some bread
You'll make yourself some wine.
If you don't think you have enough
I'll give you some of mine.



Of course, if what's mine is yours, shouldn't what's yours be mine?

TRC's Kathy Hutchins, in her post below, exhibits a pretty mellow attitude towards the creation of what they're already calling "The Star-Spanglish Banner," and I seconded that emotion. I'm near Ground Zero here in Los Angeles, and have been pretty much a dove on the illegal immigration question. There are pluses and minuses, achieving a rough equilibrium: our public services are stressed, the private economy thrives.

Illegal immigration hasn't disrupted civil society here, either---our (largely Mexican) sojourners are pretty mellow folk themselves, and in ten years of owning a business on Los Angeles' Skid Row, the crossroads of the world's desperate, I only once was asked for a handout instead of for work from a Latin American guy. (You can kinda tell they're Latin American, because they tend to speak Spanish at a third-grade level, four grade-levels higher than I speak Spanish meself, and English sometimes, too.)

Out of the reputed 12 million illegal immigrants in the US, it might not be a bad guess that 8 million come from Mexico, a million or two from Central America, and the rest I'm not writing about right now. You won't see many of 'em on TV tonight on the Protest Update because they weren't there.

Now, what's coming clear is that the protests are seeking some sort of amnesty for the trespassers, US citizenship for illegals. I'm a dove on that, too, in principle: to my mind, a mind that thinks the USA is the greatest country in the world if not in all human history, it's entirely sensible to want to join up and become one of us. You can't be president, sorry, but you can become Secretary of State or a governor no sweat. Not bad. And your kids get zero constitutional restrictions at all.

Now the quickest way for you guys to overcome the legal barriers to US citizenship would be for your home country to join up with the US lock, stock and barrel. A marriage, just as naturalization is. A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home. Since you're still entitled to vote in Mexico even while you're enjoying our hospitality here, surely you'd vote "yes" in a Mexican plebicite that petitions the United States to annex Mexico.

If we're to be married, what's mine is yours and vice-versa, no?


"Modest proposals" aren't designed to be accepted, of course. Their purpose is to illustrate absurdities. You see where I'm going with this.

Although there are many sincere persons among our illegal immigrants for whom I would gladly find a place in our household, for most, it appears, the US is a second wife, a second household, unwelcome in the first. We are not being romanced, we are being used. We open our doors, our shores, and our hearts to those who want to marry us. But this nation of immigrants does not offer itself as a sham bride.

On talk radio today (Los Angeles radio pre-empted Rush and Hannity and Dr. Laura and every friggin' body else in favor of Day Without an Immigrant news), there were a number of black Americans who saw through today's events, and more than one responded to the waving of Mexican flags as "disrespecting us." In fact, they used the word "us" in reference to we the people of the United States more unanimously than I observed after 9-11.

This could be a good thing. The (forced) marriage between white and black America has largely been a horror, although this American still holds out hope for it. Because the one thing we all know at this point is that none of us is going home to mother, to Europe or Africa. We are in it together for life and forever. We have no choice but to work out our differences.

It's not so clear for those whose home country is only a few miles away. And so, it's not unseemly or unfeeling to ask the 8-12 million here illegally about their intentions. If you've come courting, even illegally, maybe we can work something out. But all those Mexican flags are beginning to make it look like you're just looking for a little something on the side.

So, just a gentle word of caution: The Statue of Liberty is a proud and beautiful lady, and her affections are not be trifled with.

It's Human to Vent

Well, this piece was written earlier and not under duress. For the readers of Human Events, I share my analysis of Mexico's new drug laws as a stealthy shot across our bow on the immigration issue.

And let this suffice as an appetizer:

Now if you’re a trusting sort, then you can interpret this as a new philosophy of drug use that genius Mexican think-tank guys came up with to reorder the mores of their society. Or just to relieve their overworked and scaredy-cat cops, who were anyway too chicken to go after every pot or to cut the lines for cocaine. If you believe that, then the timing of this in the midst of the immigration arm-wrestle between the U.S. and Mexico is the sheerest coincidence.

A more comprehensive analysis of this move tells us that this is actually designed to ‘cure’ the immigration problem by scaring us with the drug law. It’s actually less of a drug law than a stealth immigration law. They expect us to offer a deal in which we agree to some kind of amnesty for our Mexican illegals and they repeal that law or find a way to reinterpret it into nonexistence.

The Boycott Game

The day of the boycott had almost passed unremarked, when at 11:30 p.m., I got through to my Editor, asking if anyone had written on the subject. He answered, "No, but don't feel you have to grind something out..." So of course I had to grind something out by 1 a.m. If you think I'm a tad less sharp than ordinarily, I'll attribute it to the mad deadline-chasing like a sportswriter after an extra-inning game.

If you must have a teaser segment, try this:

Not that this nation has been particularly eager to evict, or deport, these visitors without visas. Quite the contrary. Once they have managed to pass Go by hook or by crook, they are likely to collect their $200, take a ride on the Reading, dip liberally into the Community Chest, settle into Free Parking, and eventually take a walk on the Boardwalk. On the rare occasions that they end up in jail, they usually turn on the Water Works and wind up Just Visiting. So why boycott us?

Monday, May 01, 2006

How Dr. McGuire earned $1.6 Billion

When William McGuire became CEO of United Health in 1989, the company had annual revenue of $400 million and the stock sold for about a dollar a share. Annual revenues increased to $45.4 billion in 2005 and the stock topped $98 before being split. Because Mr. McGuire did not exercise (cash-in) options accumulated over many years when the stock was much cheaper, he had unrealized (and therefore uncertain) capital gains of $1.6 billion by early 2006.

An AP wire story quotes McGuire saying, "This isn't a giveaway of money that occurs out of the premiums of health care recipients. These are shareholder dollars.”

That is absolutely right. Gains from exercised stock options are entirely at the expense of stockholders -- not customers or other employees. Exercised options are a cost to other shareholders because the difference between the grant price and the exercise price has to be financed by issuing more shares (which dilutes earnings per share) or by using cash that could otherwise have been invested. Grants of restricted stock to executives are also entirely at the expense of other shareholders, because they dilute the value of other shares.

There is no sense it which stock-based compensation of executives – which accounts for nearly all of the periodic windfalls that make the headlines -- could be said to be at the expense of the company’s customers, the company's workers or workers in general.

McGuire called the current criticism of stock options "overheated," and said, "The real scrutiny should address those situations where . . . executives are handsomely paid even when the shareholders are not." That too is quite right.

Politicians and pundits take note:
If you don't own shares in United Health, what that company's executives earned because the stock price went up is literally none of your business.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93: Re-living the Real

I saw United 93 on Saturday night. It was the single most powerful film I've seen in my life. The film lacks any element of fiction. I didn't feel as though I was being told a story, so much as I felt that I was a ghost given permission to observe events at the FAA, NORAD, and onboard United 93.

What I observed was the incredible vulnerability of human systems confronted by something new, the tenuousness of authority in the face of relentless second-guessing by media and legal professionals, and the willingness of people to keep working in the most impossible situations.

The recreation of events on the flight are super-realistic. We only get one side of phone calls. We see the rapid formation of a plan by men who know only that they have to do something and that failure will be no worse than a death sentence 95% already delivered. By the time the passengers move against the attackers you are so keyed up and identify so fully with their plight, you move with them. I could almost smell the recycled air of the cabin.

The closest I can come to explaining the experience is to invoke the holodeck of Star Trek fame. I felt as though I had walked into a holodeck taking me through September 11 and United Flight 93. I couldn't help, but I could feel the emotions and take in the atmosphere.

When the passengers finally move against their captors, I felt a dam break inside me and all the tension, fear, and anger racked my body as tears literally jumped out of my eyes. I knew no one in the theatre would notice because the other people were going through the same thing. When the credits came up, no one moved.

After a few moments, we recovered from our shock and walked from the theatre in a procession just as orderly as a funeral.

If a lot of people see this film (and I pray they will), there will no longer be much debate about Iraq or Iran. Wide recognition will dawn upon Americans that we are in uncharted territory and that something is exponentially better than nothing when facing an implacable foe. We need to churn up as many difficulties as possible so that our experience will be wide and we will never again display the innocence we did just a few Septembers ago.

No matter how much we wish it were not so and pretend it is not true when previous memories fail, we are violently reminded that there is evil in the world and that its practitioners are convinced of their rectitude.