Unsubstantiated: Without Substance

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In Katherine Mansfield’s one-act play Trifles, trifling evidence such as a reticent personality, a half-cleaned table, a broken birdcage, and a canary with a broken neck lead the audience to conclude that a woman has murdered her husband. Motive and opportunity. That’s all it takes to find her guilty in the eyes of her peers. The play is written with a delicious sense of irony and poetic justice. My students at Sing Sing don’t buy it, however. “That’s just circumstantial evidence!” they complain. “You can’t convict on that!”

They’re right, of course. Motive and opportunity — and sometimes opportunity alone — once led to a vigilante justice system that culminated in countless lynchings in our nation’s history. Compounded by a healthy dose of police-induced false witness, it continues to lead to wrongful incarcerations today.

Motive, opportunity, and false — or at least unsubstantiated — witness lie at the heart of Clint Eastwood’s new film, J. Edgar. Eastwood has created a kind of wrongful incarceration inside a film that will stand as an unending sentence. Instead of relying on what is known about J. Edgar Hoover’s public life, Eastwood chose to focus on the very private life that was always hinted at but never confirmed. Books have been written about Hoover, but the conclusive evidence is missing. Even Eastwood acknowledges in this film that Hoover’s official biography may have been full of inaccuracies. The people who might have known the facts are dead, and the famous confidential files that Hoover collected over the years no longer exist. Writers can speculate about their contents, and they have. In print. But no one actually knows.

Hoover’s greatest legacy was his insistence on using evidence-based science to investigate crime. He recognized, for example, the value of using fingerprints, ballistics, and marked money to identify criminals. If he were alive today, he would cheer the use of DNA evidence. His was a bureau of investigation first and foremost.

“J. Edgar” ought to be one of the most fascinating and powerful films of the year. Instead, it is overlong, underinteresting, and often just plain creepy.

His not-so-great legacy was his willingness to trample constitutional rights in his march to justice. He was determined to protect America from political subversives, kidnappers, and organized crime rings. To do this he needed to create a public outcry that would (to paraphrase Ben Franklin) make additional security seem worth the cost of essential liberty. Several early scenes in J. Edgar emphasize Hoover’s disregard for constitutional rights. Again, if he were alive today, he would probably be at the forefront of Homeland Security and the TSA.

With Eastwood as director, Leonardo DiCaprio as actor, and the most influential law enforcement leader of the 20th century as its subject, J. Edgar, which opened this weekend, ought to be one of the most fascinating and powerful films of the year. Instead, it is overlong, underinteresting, and often just plain creepy.

Much of the creepiness comes from the way Eastwood portrays Hoover's relationships with his mother (Judi Dench); his secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts); and his lifelong friend and right-hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Fighting crime gets short shrift in this film that focuses on speculations about Hoover's private life. Eastwood pays very little attention to Hoover’s work in the Bureau, except to show how Hoover manipulated public opinion about crime to federalize the FBI and expand his power.

Arrests of notorious criminals in the 1930s are presented as photo ops for Hoover. The Kennedy assassination is mentioned, but receives less than two minutes of screen time. The Lindbergh kidnapping weaves throughout the plot, mostly to demonstrate Hoover’s conflict with states’ rights, but the tone regarding the kidnapping is strangely detached and unemotional. Even the bombing of private homes by anti-American groups in 1919 is presented as an exercise of free speech.

But what of the private life on which this film dwells? Much of what is “known” about Hoover’s private life is based on hearsay and innuendo, motive and opportunity. The film is unable to settle on a clear point of view. Was Hoover a homosexual? Possibly. He never married. He had a close relationship with Tolson, who also never married. But Hoover’s lifelong secretary, Helen Gandy, never married either. Does that make her a homosexual as well? Or simply a woman dedicated to her job, as Hoover always claimed to be?

And why should his private relationships matter, anyway? My biggest concern about this film is that, after deciding to establish that Hoover and Tolson were lovers, Eastwood pulls back, suggesting that they weren’t lovers after all. He presents their relationship as awkward, creepy, and heartless. There are plenty of scenes to suggest homosexuality: Tolson significantly passes a white hanky to Hoover at their first meeting (an anachronistic reference to a code that seems to have developed in the early 1970s); they hold hands in the back seat of a car; Tolson tells Hoover, “I want us always to have lunch and dinner together,” almost like a fiancé setting down the rules. And yet, when Tolson kisses Hoover, at the culmination of a physical fight reminiscent of those awful 1950s movies when a man would often slap a woman into erotic submission, Hoover responds furiously, “Don’t ever do that again!” What gives? Either they are seeing each other romantically or they are not. I think Eastwood was trying to portray Hoover’s own conflict over his homosexuality, but it gives the film itself a decidedly homophobic tone.

Even creepier is Hoover’s relationship with his mother. Hoover's father is portrayed as suffering from psychotic paranoia. His mother is domineering and flirtatiously predatory. She parades her new gowns for him, dances with him, buys a diamond ring for him. He is controlled by her and obsessed with her. Judi Dench is at her best in this role, and if this were a fictional film about fictional characters, I would say bravo. Chances are that having a mother like that would indeed lead to psychosexual deviance. But the problem here is that Eastwood is portraying as fact scenes that can only be speculative. And he is suggesting that homosexuality is a psychosexual deviation.

Eastwood was trying to portray Hoover’s own conflict over his homosexuality, but it gives the film itself a decidedly homophobic tone.

An additional source of creepiness is in the prosthetic makeup used to age the characters as the plot moves back and forth between the 1970s and the 1930s. Armie Hammer, in particular, looks like he is dressed as an alien for Halloween, or for a skit on Saturday Night Live. The prosthetic material does not move like skin, and the liver spots that dot his forehead and face are hideous. Hammer is so handsome and debonair as the young Tolson that it comes as a shock each time his character moves into the 1970s.

Much has been written about Hoover’s secret life, and rumors have entered the realm of “everybody knows.” But secrets are just that: secrets. Hoover's confidential file is legendary, in the true sense of that word, but no one knows what was actually in them, because all the files were destroyed by Helen Gandy as soon as he died. But this lack of concrete evidence has not prevented authors, journalists, and filmmakers from speculating on their content.

It is an understatement to call J. Edgar Hoover a complex man. He was a fierce patriot who saw nothing wrong with deporting naturalized citizens exercising freedom of speech. He was a crime-fighter who broke laws to fight crime. He is quoted as saying, “Sometimes you have to bend the rules a little in order to protect your country.” He was a man with an enormous ego fed, perhaps, by private demons. He may have been a hypocrite who vilified homosexuals while engaging in homosexual acts himself. But to quote my Sing Sing students, that’s all circumstantial evidence. The only people who actually know the truth are dead. Eastwood’s film convicts J. Edgar by demonstrating a possible motive and a definite opportunity, fueled by probable false witness. In the process he has created a film that is homophobic itself.

At 137 minutes, J. Edgar is long. It isn’t suspenseful. It isn’t interesting. And it isn’t reliable. If you want to see a film that presents a more reasoned, though still critical, portrait of Hoover, I suggest you rent Public Enemies (2009) instead.


Editor's Note: Review of "J. Edgar," directed by Clint Eastwood. Warner Brothers, 2011, 137 minutes.



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Homes for Green Jobs

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It's difficult finding good green jobs today, even after $110 billion in stimulus money has been spent to help create them. Newly formed green energy companies such as Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, and Green Vehicles are going out of business and newly converted green energy companies such as General Electric are outsourcing manufacturing jobs to cheap-labor countries.

Nevertheless, many in government, especially the White House and the EPA and DOE, believe there will be plenty of future green jobs to go around — 5 million high-paying jobs, according to President Obama. The reason for their optimism may lie in the expectation that millions of Americans will soon make a transition to energy efficient homes. Although the parts and materials may be manufactured in other countries, the houses must be built and maintained here.

This optimism has, no doubt, been buoyed by the 2011 DOE-sponsored Solar Decathlon, a competition among collegiate architectural teams "to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive." The picture belowshows the excitement surrounding the program (all pictures: USDOE). To be fair, the Decathlon got off to a rainy start — good neither for attendance nor electricity generation. However, the inclement weather obviously failed to detract from the beauty of these earth-friendly, sustainable homes. A government source, who wishes to remain anonymous, exclaimed that he "envisioned entire communities of these cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive dwellings sprouting up throughout the land. The demand may exceed that of wind farms."

Such innovative designs underscore the wisdom of government programs spending hundreds of millions of dollars to train people for the coming green economy. Clearly, existing builders are not able to construct such ecological marvels, as advanced as they are beautiful. Indeed, to non-green tradespeople, even the new building codes will be incomprehensible. And remodeling companies and do-it-yourselfers will be sorely unqualified to handle renovations and repairs. But, a government source, who wishes to remain anonymous, predicted that "when millions of Americans begin to abandon their inefficient and wasteful homes for these cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive dwellings, a highly paid green energy workforce will be at the ready."

The offering in the forefront is from the California Institute of Technology, one of our most prestigious engineering schools. As can be seen in the enlarged, twilight view below, its parka-esque look (siding from LL Bean?) exudes warmth. And if the house becomes too warm (retains too much captured solar radiation), there's no better way to cool off than to luxuriate in the crisp (and now cleaner) sunset air whisking across your spacious deck. There, you can sink into an eco-friendly folding chair and ponder your energy savings while enjoying a panoramic view of our planet healing.

The Cal Tech house and the other contenders will seem diminutive and trifling to people with that antiquated "a man's home is his castle" attitude. But, as a government source, who wishes to remain anonymous,hastened to recall, "the goal of the competition is to demonstrate cost-effectiveness, energy-efficiency, and attractiveness." Consumers desiring bigger homes could simply purchase an enlarged version of their favorite design or integrate multiple units into a structure of the required size.

This latter option is more easily implemented with rectilinear structures such as the City College of New York design below. The CCNY offering is 750 square feet. A young couple seeking a starter home need only purchase two units and have them contiguously integrated into a 1500 square foot home, much like bolting together two double-wide mobile homes. The inherent flexibility of this modular approach permits end-to-end or side-to-side bolting. And, as the family grows, additional units can be readily attached. According to a government source, who wishes to remain anonymous, "this should be performed by properly trained, authorized and qualified green energy technicians."

There is no question that all the teams have done a great job improving energy efficiency. For example, the CCNY house is able to create up to eight kilowatts of free energy on sunny days. Purchasers of these homes will reduce their electricity bill by hundreds of dollars annually, thereby shrinking the time needed to recoup their solar investment.

The CCNY house costs $500,000 for materials. A conservative estimate of labor cost would be $125,000 (25% of the materials cost). With green labor, $200,000 (40%) is more realistic. Throwing in another $100,000 for the building lot and other expenses brings the total to $800,000. In this scenario, the young couple's 1500 square foot starter home would cost only $1,500,000.

Let's assume the couple comes up with the $300,000 (20%) down payment and can afford the monthly mortgage payments (perhaps by the time they are ready to buy, they will have high-paying green jobs). Further assume that their resulting energy savings are $2,000 a year. Their investment recovery time would therefore be only 150 years (for the down payment, of course). Imagine the recovery times of the designs from teams that failed to qualify for the Solar Decathlon.

Such calculations can be misleading because they fail to account for green goodwill, an intangible but saleable asset representing the value your investment contributes to saving the planet. It is saleable in that you can add it to the future selling price of your home. A government source, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained, "It is an additional amount that a prospective buyer, equally ignorant and gullible, would be willing to pay for your cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive solar home."

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Parents and Children

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The Way is a quiet film with a quiet soundtrack that emphasizes the quiet introspection of its main character, Tom (Martin Sheen). But do not equate “quiet” with “boring.” This is a compelling film with a compelling story, told against the backdrop of the beautiful Pyrenees.

Tom is an ophthalmologist who has trouble seeing things clearly. He has chosen a traditional path for his life: He attended a respectable college, entered a respectable career, and reared what he thought would be a respectable family. His son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has taken a different way. “I want to see Spain, Palau, Tibet!” he exclaims to his father during what will be their last day together. “Come with me,” he pleads. But Tom is too practical. He has his ophthalmology practice to consider. Leave for two months or more? Just to wander along a mountain trail? When he shouts back about choice and accountability, Daniel responds tersely, “You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.”

The two part angrily, but it is abundantly clear that Tom loves and misses his son. In one early scene, Tom’s receptionist informs him that Daniel has left a message while Tom was busy with a patient. Tom’s disappointment is palpable. “Did he leave a number this time?” he asks anxiously. “Do you know where he is?” Any parent who has been estranged from an adult child knows this feeling and can relate to Tom’s despair.

The next phone call is the one no parent ever wants to receive: Daniel is dead. While setting off to walk across the Pyrenees along the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage also known as “The Way of Saint James,” Daniel was caught in a freak storm. Tom must fly to Spain to identify the body and bring Daniel home. When the coroner suggests that cremation is an easier way to transport the body back to America, Tom decides that he will help Daniel complete the journey by walking the path himself and depositing a handful of Daniel’s ashes at each way station.

Along the way Tom meets several other pilgrims, each traveling The Way for seemingly practical reasons. Joost (Yorick van Wagengingen) is a jovial Dutchman who simply wants to lose weight for his brother’s wedding. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) is a flirtatious cougar who wants to quit smoking at the end of the journey. Jack (James Nesbitt) is a journalist looking for a good story.

All these characters have deeper spiritual conflicts that they have avoided facing. The film becomes a journey of introspection, self-discovery, and companionship as they travel not together, exactly, but side by side. Tom’s self-deception is perhaps the most pronounced, and he makes the deepest discoveries. Several times Tom sees Daniel, or imagines he sees him, in a crowd or on a hill, encouraging him and urging him forward. Daniel’s great desire was for Tom to accompany him on this journey. By dying, Daniel has found a way to make it happen.

The Way is a film about the relationship between a father and a son, made by a father and a son. Emilio Estevez, who wrote, directed, produced, and performs in The Way, seems to be Sheen’s less wayward offspring. One can’t help but think about the heartache Sheen must be experiencing in real life as he has watched his more celebrated son, Charlie Sheen, blow up in public over the past year. The younger Sheen was finally fired from his successful TV show, “Two and a Half Men,” because of problems associated with accusations about drugs, alcohol, and extramarital sex. The elder Sheen’s own heartache as a father is apparent in his portrayal of Tom, a man tortured by the way he said his last goodbye to a son whose way of life he did not approve. He plays the role with restraint, but his body language and facial expressions effectively convey his character’s deep emotions.

Tom tells himself he is walking The Way for Daniel, but as one pilgrim wisely tells him, “You walk The Way for yourself. Only yourself.” This is true of life, of course. We make the life we live. Another character tells Tom, “I wanted to be a bullfighter. My father wanted me to be a lawyer.” He blames his father for his failure to choose a more satisfying path, but it was his own choice to put his father’s approval ahead of his own happiness. The essence of good parenting is to provide protection and opportunity without forcing children into a way that is not their way. And above all—never say goodbye in anger.


Editor's Note: Review of "The Way," directed by Emilio Estevez. Filmax, 2010, 121 minutes.



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Is the Arab Spring a Winter for Women?

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President Obama backed the rebels in Egypt, abandoning our longstanding (and admittedly loathsome) quasi-ally Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptians in the street were, after all, demanding their freedom . . . or so it was presented. When Mubarak fell, Obama of course congratulated himself warmly.

However, some people were nervous at this spectacle. Especially nervous were people who recalled Obama’s spiritual guru, Jimmy Carter, who decided to abandon support for the Shah of Iran to help usher in the new “forces of democracy” there. The result was not democracy, but an even more authoritarian regime — indeed, a totalitarian one, driven by an Islamist ideology and implacably hostile to the United States.

Recent events in Egypt have ominously suggested that we may be seeing a similar devolution there, with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood looking to take control.

A recent story is both a disgusting and worrisome harbinger. It tells the story of a Cairo businessman trying to decide whether or not to “circumcise” (i.e., mutilate the genitals of) his daughter, who is — 12 years old! This procedure is a happy custom endorsed by many conservative Egyptians, and Mubarak’s regime struggled to suppress it. But with the winds of the Arab Spring, it is resurgent again.

Female genital mutilation (given the euphemistic acronym “FGM”) involves removing most or even all of the clitoris, and even the labia minora, followed by stitching up the vaginal opening.

All this, to make sure that young women remain chaste and “pure.” It is already incredibly common in Egypt, and is now likely to become even more so.

The Mubarak regime had banned the practice after a young girl died from it, and Suzanne Mubarak (the dictator’s wife) had spoken out continuously against FGM and had gotten religious leaders to oppose it. But the Muslim Brotherhood opposes the Mubarak ban, and it now appears that prior progress will be rapidly reversed.

We can only wonder what other treats are in store for Miss Liberty as the New Egypt evolves.




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Did You Build Grand Central Station?

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On Sept. 29, President Obama gave a TV interview in which he said, “The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track."

Notice that when the president said that “we need to get back on track,” he didn’t mean that “you and I” need to do so. He didn’t mean that he had lost his competitive edge during the past 20 years and needed to reform himself. He meant that you had lost your edge. The I he reserves for such statements as “I’m going to be signing an executive order today,” or “I urge Congress to move forward,” or “I need to win elections so I can become my own father.” (That last statement is something that he’s never actually said but that he has probably, poor man, always felt.)

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh published a book about his solo flight across the Atlantic. The book was called We. The reference was to Lindbergh and his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis. Those two were “we.”

Please imagine the effect if he had called the book I. Even Ayn Rand changed the name of her second novel from Ego to Anthem. If you want to call a book I, it had better be your autobiography. (And it had better be good.) But Lindbergh’s book was the story of his exploit, not the story of himself. Without the plane, he wouldn’t have had the exploit. His title showed appropriate courtesy to the plane.

Now imagine the effect if he had gone in the other way and called the book We, the American People. That wouldn’t have been discourteous. That would have been preposterous. It wasn’t the People who crossed the Atlantic. It was Lindbergh and his plane.

I’m not talking about metaphysical issues. I’m talking about literary effects. But there are certain large areas of American life in which neither metaphysics nor aesthetics are understood. The chief of these areas is politics. In this field, we is now one of the most common terms, and it is almost always misplaced — misplaced in a way that is shocking both to fact and to intellect.

As usual, President Obama provides the reductio ad absurdum. Here is what he said during his “give me money and I will create jobs” tour, on Sept. 22, in Cincinnati:

Now, we used to have the best infrastructure in the world here in America. We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad, the Interstate Highway System. We built the Hoover Dam. We built the Grand Central Station.

So how can we now sit back and let China build the best railroads? And let Europe build the best highways? And have Singapore build a nicer airport?

Andrew Malcolm, reporting on the president’s speech (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 23), asked a “quick question”: “Has anyone ever heard any American express jealousy over Singapore's sweet airport?” That’s a good question, but it’s not the important one. The important question is, Who is this we, anyhow?

I don’t remember having built any dams or train stations, and I’ll bet you don’t either. Obama’s we is simply a way of inciting people’s emotions by confusing their ideas about how things get done. We the people don’t raise capital, draw up plans, and pour cement. We may pay taxes or buy train tickets, but we can’t take the credit if a train station turns out to be a work of art, or take the blame if an airline terminal looks like a prison, but without the charm.

It should be noted that “we” is not a term of agitation simply on the Left. It is also a weapon of the Corporate Power — you know, that “1% of the country that owns 99% of it.” This putative 1% appears to consist mainly of oil companies, and they are fighting back, in their feckless way, with commercials in which simulacra of ordinary people say obnoxious, accusatory things — things like, “The oil companies are making a lot of money. Where does it go?” — and then are answered by the unsurprising news that the companies invest the money they make, thereby creating jobs. But many of the obnoxious statements refer to the alleged energy shortage. These take the form of hysterical outbursts such as, “We have to do something about this!” or “We gotta get on this now!

But there are certain large areas of American life in which neither metaphysics nor aesthetics are understood. The chief of these areas is politics.

None of the average citizens whom Chevron depicts as looking up from their busy lives to demand that something be done is portrayed as having any professional qualification to do something himself. We the people aren’t up to that. So the greasy oil company spokesman is free to step in and proclaim that certain other we’s, we the energy experts, are indeed doing something with those invested profits, something to better the lives of everyone, etc. It’s a contest between one we and another, which puts it on a very high intellectual level indeed.

I find it painful even to notice nonsense like this, so I’ll be content with one more example. A big, thumping, classic example. A confused person named Julianne Malveaux (who used to be visible pretty frequently on television, when television was an entirely leftwing venue), once posted a favorable review of a popular book about religion and morality, in which she made these comments: “Still, I could not read the book without wondering how [the author] or anyone else would expect morality in a nation of thieves. How could we expect our political leaders to be honest when we stole from the Indians, enslaved the Africans, interred [sic] the Japanese, disenfranchised the Chinese, conscripted labor from the Mexicans and so on and so on and so on.”

Clearly, Dr. Malveaux does not consider herself a part of this nation of thieves, or she wouldn’t trust herself to discuss its morality. Yet somehow she can’t avoid using we and our, thereby confessing herself to be a dastardly American after all. Having seen this nice lady on TV, I can hardly picture her forcing Chinese (presumably Chinese Americans) away from the polls, persecuting Mexicans by “conscripting” their labor (huh? when did that happen?), or enslaving Africans — much less burying the Japanese. By her account, however, she has done all these things, and is also several hundreds of years old.

Silly as it is, this kind of rhetoric is increasing. It is growing even faster than the national debt — although formerly, even the worst orators tried to avoid its worst excesses. But whenever I say things like that, I try to check them against Lyndon Johnson’s inaugural address (1965), which I regard as a standard by which bad writing can be measured. Bad, worse, worst: this speech is one of the worst things ever written. (I’ve discussed a few of its features before, in "The Great Man Speaks," Liberty, April 2009. I haven’t talked about any of its good features, because there aren’t any. ) So how is we handled in Johnson’s speech?

Johnson makes some borderline uses of the first person plural — innocuous generalizations about “we” as “we” are today: “Under this [the exact referent isn’t clear, but it’s meant to be something that happened, or maybe didn’t happen, sometime in American history] covenant of justice, liberty, and union we have become a nation — prosperous, great, and mighty. And we have kept our freedom. But we have no promise from God that our greatness will endure. We have been allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our spirit.” Blah, blah, blah. Yes, we don’t know what God has in store for us. This is perfectly true and fully supported by fact. Most of Johnson’s other we statements, however fallible or flaky, are also observations about current reality, about what we supposedly see now:

For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it — and we will bend it to the hopes of man.

To this we can only respond, “When was it that we said farewell to our world?” I, for one, can’t recall any worlds disappearing. And I know I never contemplated bending a new world to the hopes of man. Sorry, can’t picture that. But even baloney like this isn’t as bad as the oil company ads, which insist that we actually start doing something to bend the world, or the Malveaux review, which insists that we (you and I!) once actuallydid something like that, but it didn’t turn out very well.

Nevertheless, there is a disturbing parallel between Johnson’s speech and the more modern remarks I’ve been analyzing. It comes in the following paragraph, where Johnson says:

No longer need capitalist and worker, farmer and clerk, city and countryside, struggle to divide our bounty. By working shoulder to shoulder, together we can increase the bounty of all. We have discovered that every child who learns, every man who finds work, every sick body that is made whole — like a candle added to an altar — brightens the hope of all the faithful.

The Simpsons has the First Church of Springfield. America at large has the First Church of All. One of its dogmas is that all of usare always learning helpful things about all of us. For example, we learned to work shoulder to shoulder (now there’s a fresh expression), because we discovered that competition (the “struggle to divide”) doesn’t “increase the bounty of all.”

This notion goes a long way toward explaining America’s melancholy political history from the 1960s until now. No politician ever opens his mouth to say that we were once taught to believe that we should work shoulder to shoulder, but that now we know we were wrong, because competition increases the bounty of all. But that’s the plain, though unutterable, truth.

Somehow Malveaux can’t avoid using “we” and “our,” thereby confessing herself to be a dastardly American after all.

One thing we plainly did not discover, because it is patently absurd, is that everyone benefits from everything good that happens to everyone else. If this is what every child who learns is learning (and I’m afraid it is), then we are in serious trouble. But in case you haven’t noticed, we are in serious trouble, and it’s because some people actually accept the ridiculous assumptions behind these ridiculous uses of every, all, and we.

I hate to say it, because it seems so fundamentalist, so retro-libertarian, but this also is true: what I’ve been discussing here is collectivism, pure and simple, and collectivism is a very bad thing. Not only is it economically harmful; it’s destructive of thought, and today it is more prominent than ever in America. There is nothing more common than the linguistic collectivism that was planted in President Johnson’s idiotic remarks about “the hope of all the faithful” and now blossoms in President Obama’s amazing idea that we (of course including he) somehow constructed the Hoover Dam and summoned Grand Central Station out of the primordial ooze. Yet on this false conception, this linguistic folly, has been erected the vast framework of modern socialism, the system of thought and action that is now imperiling the future of us all.




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From “Reinvest” to “Occupy”

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The “Occupy” movement attacks only the superficial side of the problem. It’s like blaming the gardener, instead of the weather, when the flowers die.

Times are hard and our first impulse is to indict what is right in front of us, namely, banks, corporations, the people who have made money by merely observing and accurately interpreting the idiocy around them — people who have taken advantage of the economic distortions to make money.

Banks, corporations, and wealthy people happily obeyed the Community Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress, and used the cheap money created by the Fed to make obscene profits in the five years or so before 2007. Since that time, they have made even more profits by borrowing short-term money at almost zero interest rates, forced into the economy by the Fed, and investing in long-term Treasuries at 3%, the so-called carry trade. If there is a trough, there will be pigs.

The government is the ultimate source of the misallocations that have and probably will continue to impoverish “the 99%.” “Occupy” and its supporters who “believe,” in their government-school-induced darkness, that the government can “save” them from evil “capitalists” seem to be screwing their heads into a socket that produces very little light.




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How Green Were My Cronies

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One of the signature issues of the Obama administration has been “green energy.” From its first day in office, the Green Regime has attempted to get America to convert to the so-called “renewable” sources of energy: biofuels (especially corn ethanol), geothermal power, wind power, and solar power.

Behind its ideological commitment to green energy, however, is a solid core of self-interest. It gets a huge amount of financial support from environmental organizations, and a large number of wealthy environmentalists. It is using its funding and regulatory power to reward these donors, giving them not only psychic benefits but also material ones.

In short, it is green for the green.

This crony green capitalism has two sides: a regulatory side (negative) and a subsidization side (positive). Both sides are needed, because “renewable energy” sources are seldom even remotely price competitive with fossil fuels. Not only must they be subsidized by government, because private investors are reluctant to put up their own money for them, but they can become saleable only if the government drives up the cost of fossil fuels by piling up regulations on fossil fuel production.

The regulatory side of crony green capitalism is the administration's jihad against all fossil fuel industries. It has locked away vast parts of the continent from oil and gas drilling, and has fought the new fracking technology tooth and nail. It has set loose the EPA with the goal of ending the use of coal, and has severely restricted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. And it is opposing even the exploration of the US continental shelf.

The flip side is the lavish subsidization of so-called green energy sources, especially wind and solar. It is here that the play for pay game gets frisky. A flurry of recent reports about who has gotten these taxpayer subsidies dramatically increases the stench of corruption that emanates from the Regime.

It is hard to know just where to begin, but we can start with Solyndra, that striking piece of rentseeking dreck Obama boasted would create tons of jobs. We first learned that the billionaire who backed the company, George Kaiser, was a big donor to and “bundler” (i.e., a collector of donations ostensibly from others) for the Obama campaign. Kaiser’s company Solyndra was given a half-billion dollar loan guarantee by the Green Regime’s Department of Energy (DOE), structured in such a way that if the company hit the wall, the American taxpayer (as opposed to the billionaire bundler) would be liable for the loan. And hit the wall it did.

The regulatory side of crony green capitalism is the administration's jihad against all fossil fuel industries.

Well, now we learn that the entrepreneurial genius, Kaiser, this bien-pensant billionaire who wants so very much to help his country — paid zero income taxes for years. He did this by buying companies that had unrealized losses that he could then use to wipe away his personal income taxes. Kaiser is an interesting pal for a president who has shown deep fondness for bashing “millionaires and billionaires” for not paying “their fair share” in taxes.

It also turns out that an advisor for the loan program that shoveled the cash at Solyndra was — by an astonishing coincidence — a huge Obama fundraiser. This fellow, Steve Spinner, raised over a half-million dollars for Obama. And he is also — by an even more astonishing coincidence — the husband of a lawyer whose firm represented the company during its application for the loan. Moreover, despite the fact that Spinner agreed in writing to stay out of the loan process, emails show that he was involved up to his eyebrows.

It has also come to light that RockPort Capital, one of Solyndra’s biggest investors (and a board member) used its seat on a Pentagon panel that exists to help the Armed Forces identify useful new technologies to push Solyndra on the military. While RockPort disclosed that it had an investment in Solyndra, it never mentioned that the latter was a financial basket-case.

We now also learn that at least four other solar energy firms that received massive loan guarantees had executives and board members who were big donors to major Democratic politicians. These companies include Abengoa SA, First Solar, SolarReserve, and SunPower Corporation.

Start with Abengoa, a Spanish company. (Spain, remember, embraced wind and solar as the key to a jobs renaissance a decade ago. But green energy proved a veritable economic Black Plague for a country that has massive state-induced financial problems.) It turns out that Abengoa has worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to get nearly $3 billion in loan guarantees from the Regime to finance Arizona solar farms.

First Solar, upon which the Regime has lavished over $2 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees, is likewise a supporter of the self-same Regime. Its founder and CEO Michael Ahearn donated nearly $125,000 to Democrats in the last election. He cleared nearly $69 million by selling some of his stock last month, even though the company cannot qualify for another loan from the DOE. Ahearn is clearly using the guarantees to keep a shaky company afloat, even as he sells his personal stock. His $125k investment in crony green capitalism has paid off big time — $69 million — while the taxpayer faces a $2.1 billion hosing. No, no corruption there!

SolarReserve is even more choice. The aforementioned billionaire bundler Kaiser (the Solyndra genius) also owns a majority of this rotten company, which got a tidy $737 million taxpayer-backed loan guarantee from the DOE. His company, Argonaut, has a voting share on the SolarReserve board of directors. Another member of the SolarReserve board of directors is one James McDermott, who just happens to have given over $60,000 to various Democrats since 2008, with about half going to Obama’s campaign. McDermott’s company, US Renewable Energy Group, has also donated heavily to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who needs no introduction.

Moreover, another SolarReserve board member, Lee Bailey, is a lavish campaign donor to Regime members and other prominent Democrats. Not to mention the fact that yet another board member, Jasandra Nyker, is partners with the brother-in-law of Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in an investment company (Pacific Corporate Asset Management). And SolarReserve paid $100K in fees to a lobbying firm headed by Obama’s transitional team leader John Podesta, to push its loan and other interests.

Then there is SunPower, whose stock price has recently plummeted with its projection of losses for this year and next. It received a $1.2 billion taxpayer-backed loan guarantee, even after it announced that it would be building its solar panels in a new plant — in Mexico! So much for the idea that “green jobs,” paid for by Americans, would go to Americans.

SunPower gave $14,650 to Congressional Democrats in 2010 (and $500 to one Republican), with about a fourth of the money going to Reid. Oh, and the company paid nearly $300K to a lobbying firm headed by Reid’s close associate Patrick Murphy. Another major SunPower lobbyist just happens to be the son of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who touted for the company in Congress, and publicity-toured its plant with the Regime’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar. The right honorable Rep. Miller also received funds for his own campaign war chest from the company in question.

SunPower, by the way, now has a market capitalization of only $800 million, not much in the face of corporate debt of $820 million, and is facing a mass of investor lawsuits. No doubt it will, like Solyndra before it, eventually hit the wall and hose the taxpayers.

In general, the solar energy boom is going bust, because it was solely a function of political, not market, forces. Taxpayer money was shoveled to economic losers, to enrich the crony capitalists who shoveled money at the Regime.

Let’s turn next to the latest news on electric cars (EVs). Start with the frisky Frisker fiasco.

Frisker Automotive is a Finnish company that makes pricey EVs — cars in the $100K range, sticker price, making them attractive to movie stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, but few others. Fisker was given — yes, you guessed it! — a $529 million dollar taxpayer loan guarantee from the Energy Department. No doubt pushing the idea was Reverend Al Gore, the Green Giant who is also a major investor in — Fisker! (Gore, by the way, has already earned tens of millions from preaching the environmentalist religion, making him eerily similar to a corrupt televangelist.) Also on the list of investors in Fisker Automotive are several big donors to the Obama regime, and also John Doerr, one of Obama’s advisors.

So much for the idea that “green jobs,” paid for by Americans, would go to Americans.

The Regime justified the loan on the usual lying basis, i.e., that it would bring jobs to Americans. Vice President and Chief Buffoon Joe Biden bragged that the Fisker loan would create “thousands” of American manufacturing jobs. But Fisker has just announced that because it couldn’t find any facility in America suitable for building its cars, it will build them in Finland. Again, so much for the idea that American tax dollars are bringing jobs to America. Oh, and Fisker's electric motor and batteries are made in China! All of these cars will get a $7,500 tax credit, meaning that the few rich buyers of the Finnish-made cars with Chinese-made innards will have part of the tab covered by average-income American taxpayers. Comedy writers must have scripted this.

The kicker is that the Fiskers that were recently showcased in DC are not pure EVs, but hybrids, whose gas mileage is about that of an older model Ford Explorer.

By the bye, also receiving a similar-size taxpayer loan guarantee is Tesla Motors. Tesla’s main investors include Larry Paige and Sergey Brin, both Google-billionaires who lavishly supported Obama. So much for their corporate motto, “Don’t be evil.”

Then there is EnerDel, a maker of lithium-ion car batteries. Back in 2009, Obama doled out $2.4 billion in grants to battery makers to support EVs, including $118 million to EnerDel. Again, the insufferably dense Joe Biden saucily minced around two EnerDel plants in Indiana, boasting before cameras that the administration wasn’t only creating jobs “but sparking whole new industries.”

EnerDel, which has never turned a profit since its founding nearly a decade ago, closed the last fiscal year with a whopping $165 million loss, a mindboggling $100 million more in losses than it had reported previously. Its shares have plummeted 95% in the last years, down to a risible 27 cents a share. Nasdaq looks like it will delist the stock, and Ener1 — the parent company — has notified the SEC that it “is in the process of determining whether the company has sufficient liquidity to fund its operations.”

In short, it’s a goner, and when it goes, the taxpayer will again eat a big loss. This company was dicey all along, but the Regime still threw money at it — because it is only taxpayer money.

EnerDel also got huge support from the state of Indiana, promising 1,700 new jobs by next year and 3,000 in four years. Unfortunately, it only employs 380 people, and they look like goners, too.

The problem is obvious, at least to everyone but the cretins and corrupt clowns who populate the Regime: the market for EVs is and will remain tiny, given their inherent limitations.

Now, let’s look at wind power. First is the news that Obama went out this month to raise money with a “businessman,” a supporter of long standing, named Tom Carnahan. They chummed it up at a $25,000 a plate fundraising dinner for the Obama reelection campaign. (That has a sickening ring, doesn’t it?) Carnahan is another bundler, having garnered between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama in 2008.

Al Gore has already earned tens of millions from preaching the environmentalist religion, making him eerily similar to a corrupt televangelist.

Yet by amazing coincidence, Carnahan is the head of a wind power company, Wind Capital Group, which just happened to receive $107 million in federal tax credits from the Regime. By the same kind of coincidence, Carnahan is part of the Democratic family that has long dominated the state’s political scene, and a brother of Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO).

Even more egregious is the case of the Shepherds Flat project in Oregon.

Shepherds Flat is an 845-megawatt wind farm that will cost $1.9 billion. Of this, astoundingly, the DOE will pay the developers $490 million in an outright cash grant, and give them another $1.06 billion in loans. The developers are putting up only about 11% of the total cost, and — according to Carol Browner (the Regime’s own “energy czar”) and Larry Summers (its economic advisor) — they will reap a staggering 30% return on their investment. This compares very favorably with the average 7.1% that most utility companies receive on their projects.

And just who might these lucky “entrepreneurs” be? The biggest player is — wait, let the suspense build! — GE!, which is being joined by Google and a couple of other partners. Google, as I mentioned earlier, was a big donor to Obama’s campaign. And GE? It is headed by Jeffrey Immelt, whom Obama appointed head of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. And he was a big donor to Obama as well, natch.

This is the same GE that has a market cap of $170 billion, earned $5.1 billion in profit last year, and paid no taxes at all. Did it really need the money?

The project is questionable on other grounds as well. It is being built in a region that is already experiencing electricity congestion (the region of the massive Bonneville Dam). CNNMoney reports that it will create only 35 permanent jobs, which works out to around $16 million per job. Not that GE really cares much about American jobs — it is shipping its medical devices division to China.

No, no corruption here. None at all.

By the way, geothermal is looking pretty putrid, too. Two large geothermal companies, Raser Technologies and Nevada Geothermal Power, both received massive taxpayer backing, and are both sucking wind — the same wind that the solar and the (literal) wind companies are sucking.

Raser Technologies received a $33 million grant from the DOE. After pissing away all that taxpayer cash, along with a couple of hundred million bucks in private investor cash, the company has now filed for bankruptcy.

And Nevada Geothermal — a favorite pet of Harry Reid — received $66 million in grants from the Department of Energy, as well as a nearly $99 million taxpayer-backed loan guarantee. But it has just revealed that it has never operated at a profit for even one lousy day, and that it, too, is facing oblivion.

Still another geothermal company, US Geothermal, received a $97 million loan from the Department in February of this year, even though its financial filing with the SEC shows it hasn’t made a profit — in four years. And the stocks of two other geothermal companies that also got DOE loans are down 60% to 80%. These are just some of the tidbits of recent news from the taxpayer-supported green energy front.

Now, every time I report on the green "capitalism" that has been shoved down the throat of the American taxpayer by this corrupt Regime, I get wails of tearful anger from its supporters. The wails are of two types.

1. I am told that Republicans (especially the Evil Bush) have also supported various green energy projects. So, for example, the aforementioned Raser Technologies was backed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). I am aware of that, and I criticized Bush in these very pages for doing the same thing.

But please spare me the simple-minded faux equation of the past administration with this one. There are massive differences in scale and focus. Bush did fund some green energy projects, but never on this massive scale. And his administration allowed oil, coal, and natural gas to flourish, and took the heat for it. He was pilloried for being too fond of fossil fuels. He was portrayed in the mainstream press as a creature of the oil industry; and Cheney and Halliburton — God, we never heard the end of that. Bush at least tried to push everything. . . . I certainly would have much preferred that he had pushed, or freed up, only what works (fossil fuels and nuclear power), but his approach was certainly better than the present crusade against fossil fuels, inaction on nuclear energy, and a massive splurge in technologies that are proven losers, yet owned by supporters.

The problem is obvious, at least to everyone but the cretins and corrupt clowns who populate the Regime: the market for electric vehicles is and will remain tiny.

You have to be blind to all recent history not to comprehend that since Carter at least, the Democrats have been by far more focused than Republicans on pushing inefficient green energies. Granted, Public Choice Theory posits that all politicians (Democrat, Republican, Communist, or Libertarian) are self-interested, so will be prone to spend public resources to advance their careers. But the point here is that precisely because green energies are absolutely commercially unviable without subsidies, while fossil fuels are extremely viable, a fossil fuels based energy program won’t need much subsidization, so will leave less scope for paying off supporters.

Really, if Obama dropped hydrogen bombs on every major red state in America, these same apologists would squeal, “But Bush bombed Iraq!”

2. I am told that I am being “hyperbolic.” In no way, these Regime apologists yelp, can the Green Regime be compared to, say, that of Putin.

My response is to ask the reader, with all we now know of the crony car capitalism, the crony green energy capitalism, and the numerous other crony dealings between the Regime and its supporters over the last three years, whether the comparison isn’t just. You decide: am I really being hyperbolic, or are the supporters of the Regime being merely obtuse?

While entertaining that question, you might consider this point. What has come to light so far has come out basically from the investigations of the alternative media. The mainstream media have done very little to look into any of the Regime’s scandals (contrast the unremitting, endless investigations of Bush). The Republican-controlled House of Representatives held some feckless hearings on the Solyndra farce, and only saw Solyndra’s executives smirk and plead the Fifth. If there were — as there ought to be — Watergate-style hearings into the whole green energy boondoggle, as well as the whole Government Motors scam, just imagine (if your stomach can bear it) what would come to light.

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