“I Actually Believe This”

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In politics, if you can’t get attention by saying something sober and judicious, say something bold, even fanciful. I give as an example Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s statement on July 13 that if elected president he would ask soccer player Megan Rapinoe to be his secretary of state.

When some at the Netroots Nation conference laughed, Inslee said, “I actually believe this.”

Really? Secretary of state is a post that has been held by Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, and George Shultz, and before that by John Foster Dulles, Elihu Root, James Madison, and even Thomas Jefferson. All of these folks had some qualifications for the job. Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had been first lady and a senator from New York.

This got Inslee noticed, but I don’t think it’s going to do him much good.

But a soccer player? What’s next — Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as secretary of defense?

Poor Jay Inslee. He’s stuck at 1% in the polls, and he’s trying to get noticed. This got him noticed, but I don’t think it’s going to do him much good. It merely confirms that he does not have the judgment necessary to be president of the United States.




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Then They Came for the TP

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A few days ago I was thinking about all the pleasures and conveniences of life that alleged environmentalists attempt to deny us, from plastic straws to the ever-useful Styrofoam. There’s even a California legislator who has been agitating to banish paper receipts for retail goods. I said “alleged” environmentalists because the purported danger is usually microscopic compared to the environmentalists’ constant quest for power.

As I mentioned, I was reflecting on these things, and, having just purchased a supply of toilet paper, I was feeling happy that there was no attack on that. In the event of blizzard, flood, or civil disturbance, I might run out of food, but I would not run out of TP.

The next day, my eye fell on one of the most depressing news stories I have seen this year — the Guardian’s alarmed account of how much TP, and unrecycled TP, is being used, and of the voices raised against the practice. Seems that toilet paper is actually made out of trees, which have to be cut down to make it! So something, obviously, has to be done.

Here it was again, this religious aversion to using any kind of resource, and it was asserting itself in a much less polite, much more dangerous way.

I remembered a complaint that a student made to me, several years ago, on the first day of class. I had passed out my syllabus — a paper syllabus — and she politely protested the lack of sustainability in my conduct. When I mentioned to her that trees are renewable resources, she looked at me with glassy eyes. So I clarified my statement: “They grow back.” “What do you mean?” she said. I then explained that people who own the trees make sure that their valuable resource does not run out, that they replant the trees they cut, and that this has been going on for generations, quite successfully. It was clear she did not wish to believe my good news. She said she would check it out.

But here it was again, this religious aversion to using any kind of resource, and it was asserting itself in a much less polite, much more dangerous way. The Guardian cited as an authority a spokesman for the environment, who claimed, among other things:

Only around 30% of the world’s population uses toilet roll, so [emphasis added — dig that crazy logic] we know that there are lots of perfectly hygienic alternatives to using paper-based products. It’s important we consider what we’re using to wipe our behinds with, because at the moment our precious planet is getting a bum deal.

Ha, ha. What a funny pun. I can just imagine what the purported 70% of the world uses instead of toilet paper. I’m sure it’s perfectly hygienic. I’m sure their standards of public health are even higher than our own.

Maybe you’ve noticed: two of the leading signs that a social regime is entering its death throes are a decline in public health and a lack of toilet paper.




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Democrats, Debating

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First Day

I did my duty and watched the Democrats’ “debate” on June 26. It was chaos. Two hours of ten candidates, each interrupting the others to delivering rehearsed lines to elicit cheers from the friendly audience. All the while, I’m thinking, “Is it going to be one of these? Please, no.”

Look, I admit that Donald Trump was a ridiculous candidate, unqualified to be president of the United States, and that Barack Obama, two years out of the Illinois legislature, was not fully qualified either. But does that mean qualifications are off the table? Would the Democratic Party really nominate a 44-year-old former secretary of HUD? Or a 46-year-old former member of the House of Representatives who ran for Senate and lost? Three of the candidates in the debate were current House members, but America has not elected a congressman president since the 19th century.

All the while, I’m thinking, “Is it going to be one of these? Please, no.”

We do occasionally elect senators, and I knew of Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The debate began with Warren declaring that America was a great country for the oil companies, the drug companies, and the insurance companies, but that the game was rigged against the rest of us. The badness of life in America was a common theme. “The economy is not working for the average American,” Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey boomed. “There’s plenty of money in this country,” said New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose city includes Wall Street. “It’s just in the wrong hands.”

Really? Is that the reason to reject Donald Trump — that life here is fundamentally unfair? Didn’t life offer about the same measure of fairness under Barack Obama? Has Trump transformed America that much in two and a half years? Apparently so; the debate among Democrats has shifted hugely left, and is now revolving around “social justice.” I use the term in quotation marks — but then, I’m not a Democrat.

Of the ten politicians on the first day, the most articulate, zealous, and dangerous was Elizabeth Warren. When the moderator asked, “Who among you would abolish private health insurance,” her hand shot up immediately, and it was the only one. Warren had no hesitation on any subject except for guns, which she uncharacteristically said needed to be “researched” and was “not an across-the-board problem.” For her, everything else was an across-the-board problem. She knew the solutions she wanted and promised to bite down like a pit bull in order to get them.

Three of the candidates in the debate were current House members, but America has not elected a congressman president since the 19th century.

The closest to Warren that first night was Booker. When it came to “health care for all,” Booker was positively pushy. If Congress wasn’t ready to act when he took office, he said, “I’m not going to wait.” I waited for somebody to ask, “And do what?” but nobody did.

I noted that when the subject came to war, Bill DeBlasio objected that America has “gone to war without Congressional authorization.” I liked that he referred to the Constitution — hardly anyone did — though I recall Barack Obama saying something similar. When politicians get power they like to use it.

The contestants did the usual dodging of questions. The champion evader was the former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who was asked whether he favored a 70% top rate of income tax. He switched to Spanish, and when he returned to English, he had changed the subject. He dodged a question from the former HUD secretary, Julian Castro, who tried to get him on the record about Title 1325 of the US Code. I didn’t know what that was, and I don’t think O’Rourke did, either. When O’Rourke was pitched a question about climate change, he dodged it by talking about his visit to Pacific Junction, Iowa, which had had a flood. O’Rourke was the “I-feel-your-pain” candidate. Some of the others tried it, but he was the master of it. He irritated me more than any of them.

Warren knew the solutions she wanted and promised to bite down like a pit bull in order to get them.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who has been cheered by libertarians for her stance against war, was calm and controlled. Not that this is an asset; “fire in the belly” is what wins elections, and she didn’t have much. Maybe it was her military training. Still, when Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio was cornered into saying that America has “to stay engaged” in Afghanistan, Gabbard replied, “We have to bring our troops home.” That was good.

Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, the climate-change man, bragged about the Evergreen State’s wind turbines and its progress toward “clean” electricity. Washington is my home state, so his bragging doesn’t impress me. Because of our mountains and rivers, we have been able to produce 70% of our electricity from dams, but most of them were in place before Inslee was born, and not one has been built since he was elected. Wind turbines produce 6% of our electricity, but they are federally subsidized and require the dams to ramp up when the wind dies down. Washington does have a strong economy as Inslee said, but it had that before he was elected.

At one point a moderator asked Inslee if his “plan” could save Miami from being flooded by the rising seas. He began a long-winded answer, checked himself and said, “Yes.” It was the most ridiculous promise of the night: Jay Inslee, the man who would hold back the sea.

O’Rourke was the “I-feel-your-pain” candidate, more irritating than any of the rest of them.

Not all the comments among the no-hopers were as goofy as his. After Elizabeth Warren had come out for abolishing private health insurance, Representative John Delaney of Maryland allowed that many people like their private health insurance. “Why,” he asked, “should we be the party of taking things away from people?” Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota made the same point. It was a reasonable one; there is no way any of them, if elected, would be able to do away with private health insurance. It was a night, however, when reasonableness was in short supply and offered mainly by candidates who weren’t going to win.

Second Day

More of the same. I tuned in just as Joe Biden was bloviating about Donald Trump’s “tax cut for the wealthy,” which was followed by Senator Kamala Harris of California going on about the “tax bill that benefited the 1%.” “No,” I thought, “not two hours of this.”

A few minutes later the moderator asked Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont if it wouldn’t be politically wiser to define the Democratic Party as nonsocialist. Sanders dodged the question and declared that Trump is “a pathetic liar and a racist.” Sanders was the only candidate to name Wall Street as the enemy. Regarding the health insurers, he said, elect him and “their day is done.”

It was the most ridiculous promise of the night: Jay Inslee, the man who would hold back the sea.

Sanders promised to cut prescription drug prices in half. This was the outrageous promise of Day Two, though it doesn’t quite match Jay Inslee’s promise to hold back the seas.

Kamala Harris, California’s former chief prosecutor, promised to fight. On immigration, she said that if Congress didn’t offer her a bill granting residence to illegal immigrants who came in as children, and their parents who came in as adults, she would declare it by executive order. Harris also said she would “ban by executive order the importation of assault weapons.”

The other candidate promising executive orders was Sanders, who said he would reverse by executive order every one of Trump’s executive orders.

Later in the debate the moderators asked for a yes-no reply on the question of whether noncitizens who had no papers allowing them to be in the United States should be deported. It was stated that under Barack Obama, three million such people were deported. Not one of the candidates said they supported this. All of them were for letting everyone who made it over the wall stay here, and for giving them free medical care and all the other goods and services to which every American had a “right.”

Sanders was the only candidate to name Wall Street as the enemy.

Harris, whose ancestry is part African, played the race card on white Joe Biden, saying, “I do not believe you are racist,” and then accused him of excusing racism. Clearly this was a prepared missile launched at the principal enemy. Part of it was that Biden had opposed mandatory racial busing sometime in the distant past — opposition to busing apparently being an indisputable mark of Cain. Biden didn’t defend his opposition to busing as such; his reply was that he had favored busing imposed by local authorities but not by the Department of Education.

As the frontrunner — and a guy with a long political record — Joe Biden made a fat target. Sanders lit into him for voting for the Iraq War (which Hillary Clinton had done as well). But that vote was in 2002, 17 years ago, when the Woke Generation was still in Pampers. Biden didn’t bother to defend it, but said, “I don’t think we should have combat troops in Afghanistan.”

Trump said that, too, as I recall.

Among the no-hopers, John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, said the Democratic Party should not label itself socialist, and that it just wouldn’t work to be “guaranteeing everybody a government job.” I liked that, but nobody cared what John Hickenlooper said. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was for taxpayer-funded election campaigns, which would save the nation by “getting money out of politics.” Representative Eric Swalwell of California advocated a federal buyback of assault guns, whether you wanted to sell yours or not. Andrew Yang, the Pie in the Sky candidate, wanted to give every American $1,000 a month, which he said would make people so physically and mentally healthy that it would increase Gross Domestic Product by $700 billion a year. (He really did say this!) And then there was Marianne Williamson, an author of some self-help books that I’d never heard of, but which made the New York Times bestseller list. She wanted to “harness love” to beat Donald Trump in November 2020.

As the frontrunner — and a guy with a long political record — Joe Biden made a fat target.

Finally, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He also said some things, but I can’t find anything in my notes that makes actual sense.

The one candidate I was eager to hear was Pete Buttigieg. I admit to a certain prejudice against the man, not because he is gay but because the idea of elevating a 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to the office of president of the United States strikes me as a jump too far. South Bend is not much bigger than Yakima, Washington, and for the presidency, age 37 is barely legal. But what the hell . . . Buttigieg did say more sensible things than any of the rest of them.

My first note on Buttigieg was that his version of “Medicare for All” was not forcing everyone to have government insurance — the Sanders-Warren idea — but allowing people without private insurance to buy into a Medicare-like plan. Buttigieg said, “Even in countries that have full socialized medicine like England, they still have a private sector.”

And then there was Marianne Williamson, who wanted to “harness love” to beat Donald Trump in November 2020.

On guns, Buttigieg said he was for universal background checks. That’s all. Noting that he was the only candidate on stage who had trained in military weapons — he served in Afghanistan — he said, “There are weapons that have absolutely no place on America’s streets.” He didn’t say which ones, but it was a reasonable statement.

On the topic of China, Buttigieg, who is from a part of the country not too favorable to world trade, made it clear he did not favor a trade war. “Tariffs are taxes,” he said. His answer to the economic challenge of China was to “invest in our own competitiveness.” I agreed with that, too, though a warning flag goes up when I hear a politician say “invest.”

Still, if I had to vote Democrat, I’d vote for Buttigieg — if I had to vote Democrat.




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Cut Taxes, Save the Poor

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Usually the debate between tax-and-spend liberals and cut-taxes conservatives is a fight about raising taxes on the rich or lowering taxes for the rich. Instead of wading into those troubled waters, I would like to propose a policy of cutting taxes on the poor and the lower middle class. As a byproduct, the system would fund charity to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and provide medical treatment for the poor and mentally ill.

State and local sales and property taxes hit the poor hard, while the tax laws ensure that only the prosperous benefit (though not very much) from donating to charity. I would change this, as follows:

1. Congress should pass a law providing a federal income tax credit equal to the amount of sales taxes and property taxes paid at the state and local level. Sales taxes hurt the poor: the rich don't notice them, but the poor and the middle class feel them painfully. The rich can afford to pay property taxes, but they bleed other homeowners dry, meanwhile driving up rents and home prices. States and localities are involved in providing essential public services, but the federal government can cut taxes on the poor by defunding nonessential federal programs. For people too poor to pay income taxes, a cash tax refund should be issued in the approximate amount of their sales and property taxes. This would effectively repeal those taxes. Technology exists to track how much sales tax a poor or middle-class person has paid. To assuage the fears of privacy advocates, tracking sales taxes could be an opt-in feature chosen by people who want the rebate for it. Or people could keep their own records of what sales tax they paid and report it to the IRS.

Sales taxes hurt the poor: the rich don't notice them, but the poor and the middle class feel them painfully.

2. Add the charitable deduction on top of the standard deduction, thus drawing in people who don’t itemize deductions and encouraging everyone to give more to charity and less to taxes.

3. Limit eligible charitable deductions to charities that feed the hungry, house the homeless, or provide medical treatment to the poor or the mentally ill. This will funnel charitable dollars to the vulnerable and needy, lessening the ability of liberal politicians to exploit government power in the name of need. Within the realm of such vital services, remove all red tape to make it easy for any charity to gain IRS status for the right kind of donations.

4. By statute, eliminate liability for a charitable donor's honest errors in estimating the cash value of goods and services he has donated. Create a safe harbor so that if any reasonable person could have purchased the donated goods or services for $X amount, then the IRS may not challenge or litigate when the donor claims a tax deduction of $X. This will set the middle and lower middle classes free from the fear of using charitable contributions to avoid paying taxes.

Funneling charitable dollars to the vulnerable and needy would lessen the ability of liberal politicians to exploit government power in the name of need.

5. Institute a charity multiplier of 2x or 3x. For example, if someone donates $300 to a charity, he avoid paying $900 of federal income taxes. This will encourage people to donate to vital charities while achieving a massive de facto tax cut.

This policy package, if passed in its entirety, would help the poor by cutting taxes on both rich and poor. Congress should do this, and we libertarians should advocate it.




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I Need a Land Line!

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Don’t get me wrong — I’m into big tech. I use my pocket-sized computer about nine hours a day, according to Apple’s built-in surveillance report — which I never asked for and would be perfectly happy never to see again. It’s as bad as having to see the calorie count when I’m standing in line at Cinnabon.

But here’s the deal: my cellphone is no longer a phone. I can type on it, write articles on it, make lists on it, communicate with my family all over the world via text message and email on it, watch TV and movies on it – heck, I can even make movies on it. But try to talk on it? Like a phone? Forget about it. A phone needs a tower — a tower that communicates with the phone.

I haven’t been able to talk to my mother for at least five years because she doesn’t do texting or social media and my phone doesn’t do phone. Oh, it tries. But it doesn’t succeed. Halfway through a sentence it cuts out, leaving my mother to think that I just hung up on her. (Not only does she not speak text, she does not understand that cellphones don’t speak phone.) My sister, who lives in the 20th century with my mother, wrote me a scathing letter last year complaining that my kids keep hanging up on Grandma without saying goodbye. I tried to explain, but they don’t get it. Not enough cell coverage? They use a land line.

We want all our perks and benefits, but we want someone else to provide them.

It’s especially problematic in New York, where skyscrapers bounce signals off the walls, and in southern California, where the residents suffer from NIMBYism (among a multitude of other sanctimonious social ills). I have homes in both places, and it’s driving me crazy.

NIMBYism — Not In My Back Yard — is just one of many symptoms of the growing fascination with socialism. We want all our perks and benefits, but we want someone else to provide them. We want our cellphone reception to be clear and constant, but we don’t want an unsightly, and potentially dangerous, cell tower within ten miles of our darlings. (I find it ironic that people don’t want a cell tower installed within ten miles, but they give said darlings cellphones from infancy and sleep with their own phones under their pillows.)

Hence, I need a land line.

So here’s my offer to AT&T. You can put your cell tower in my backyard. I live at the top of a hill overlooking a canyon. People will benefit from my cell tower for miles around. And if you hide it inside one of my majestically towering juniper trees, no one will even see it.

People don’t want a cell tower installed within ten miles, but they give their children cellphones from infancy and sleep with their own phones under their pillows.

All I want in exchange is lifetime phone, internet, and cable service for me and my family in perpetuity. And a new phone every two years for free, as you used to do. That’s it, and you can have the top of my juniper tree. Deal?

I tried to call you with this offer, but my phone kept cutting out. So send me a text. Or better yet, let’s do lunch.




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Vivid and Explicit

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  • “As two masked and armed men broke in, Susan Gonzalez was shot in the chest.”
  • “When three armed intruders ... broke into the home of a single woman [Feng Zhu Chen] at 3:44 a.m., she dialed 911. No answer . . . [She] held a phone in one hand and took up her pistol in the other and began shooting. She fired numerous shots . . . After the shooting was over and two of the armed suspects got away and one lay dead, she did get through to the police. The home security camera video is dramatic.”
  • “Nothing in the Second Amendment makes lethality a factor to consider . . . The Second Amendment does not exist to protect the right to bear down pillows and foam baseball bats. It protects guns and every gun is dangerous.”
  • “In the late-15th Century, Leonardo Da Vinci designed a 33-shot weapon.”

These quotations are examples of how US District Judge Roger Benitez used unusually vivid language and illustrations in declaring that a high-capacity magazine ban in California is unconstitutional. The case, Virginia Duncan v. Xavier Becerra, began with a preliminary injunction in July 2017. It is an ongoing battle over banning high-capacity magazines. The latest news, as of this writing, is that his order of March 29, 2019 has been stayed pending appeal. So California can continue to prohibit buying and possessing magazines with a capacity greater than ten cartridges.

As far as I can tell, California first defined and regulated high-capacity magazines by the Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989. The act generally bans magazines with a capacity of more than ten cartridges. The law is absurdly complex, with exceptions for previously acquired weapons (grandfather provisions), for Olympic sport shooting, for active military moving to California, for film industry uses, for people traveling through California, etc. The same act imposes firearm-related rules relating to everything from the length of barrels to the use of shotshells in handguns.

If you did not get rid of your high-capacity magazines, you would become a criminal by simply keeping something that you had legally acquired and owned.

When this law went into effect you could no longer buy high-capacity magazines, but you could keep any that you already owned. The grandfather provisions allowed people who had lawfully acquired high-capacity magazines before the prohibition to keep them. In 2016 the state eliminated that exception. If you legally had high-capacity magazines, you would have to get rid of them. If you did not, you would become a criminal by simply keeping something that you had legally acquired and owned.

In May 2017, the plaintiffs sued in federal district court. They were people who owned high-capacity magazines and people wanted to own high-capacity magazines. The plaintiffs wanted to eliminate the ban entirely.

In June 2017, Judge Benitez issued a preliminary injunction blocking the change in the law that eliminated the grandfather provisions. You could keep your old high-capacity magazines and you could buy new ones.

In July 2018, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the preliminary injunction. You could continue to keep your old high-capacity magazines and buy new ones.

Heller was the first decision ever to recognize that the 2nd Amendment proclaims an individual civil liberty. The extent of that right will be fought over for a generation at least.

The defendants appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc. In April 2019, District Court Judge Benitez stayed part of his own order pending appeal. The effect of the stay is that current law travels back to a time in 2016 before the grandfather provisions were eliminated. You can now keep your high-capacity magazines, but you can’t get new ones.

Be prepared to see litigation like this for decades to come. It’s surprising to realize that the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision, Heller, was the first ever to recognize that the 2nd Amendment proclaims an individual civil liberty. The extent of that right will be fought over for a generation at least. In California alone, two important cases, this one about magazine capacity and Peruta, about concealed carry permits, have been going on for years. Some jurists say that the Constitution is a living document. That has become code for doctrines that change with the times rather than hewing to original intent. The Heller opinion relied on original intent and historical analysis. Duncan v. Becerra refers to Heller and gives us a vivid and explicit 2nd Amendment with no need for a “living document.”




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The Unbearable Burden of Meaning

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“Life imitates art,” said Oscar Wilde. He was right about many things; maybe he was right about that, too.

On April 16, a sad confirmation came from Rolling Stone, that repository of everything that is dumb and faux and anti-art — and thus, if Wilde was correct, anti-life. In its article about the burning of Notre Dame de Paris, Rolling Stone said this:

For some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,” says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University. If nothing else, the cathedral has been viewed by some as a stodgy reminder of “the old city — the embodiment of the Paris of stone and faith — just as the Eiffel Tower exemplifies the Paris of modernity, joie de vivre and change,” Michael Kimmelmann wrote for the New York Times.

Exemplifies, eh? I’ll tell you what’s being exemplified. This passage exemplifies the weird combination of ignorance and arrogance that gives current journalism its distinctive smell.

The Eiffel Tower is 130 years old. It was being satirized as a tourist trap as long as 68 years ago.

Just who are “some people”? Are there 30 of them, or is there one? By whom, exactly, and how many of whom, have the cathedral and the old city “been viewed” as such and such? Pray tell us, Rolling Stone; we presume you know. Maybe you can also tell us what “if nothing else” is doing in the third sentence, and why the second two sentences — when you actually read, rather than merely whiff them — aren’t tracking with the first sentence, which they’re meant to support.

The words about “exemplification,” of course, are just one more example of the wacko, your-engine-block-is-no-longer-attached commentary we expect from any of the outlets that make it to the first five on Google’s top stories list. Tour Eiffel is 130 years old. It was being satirized as a tourist trap as long as 68 years ago, when Alec Guinness made The Lavender Hill Mob. Effing Hitler was proud to pose in front of it. Modernity? The joy of life? Change? Change from what to what?

So that’s all meaningless. The Wilde moment comes in the first part, where we hear those lovingly quoted chicken cacklings about “liberation” from “meaning” itself. It’s an echo — certainly unconscious, or comatose, like everything else in the passage — from the world’s most popular book about architecture, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943), in which Ellsworth Toohey, an expert on architecture, attempts to destroy all meaning in the world, so that he can enjoy liberation. To many readers, this idea has seemed too absurd to put in a novel, but now we find that it’s not. Life now imitates art; Rand’s over-the-top satires are now reality. We’ve always heard of people killing themselves because “there’s no meaning left in the world.” Now we find that to other people, the thought is liberating.

Well, as Alexander Pope said, “Peace to all such!” They felt overburdened. Now they feel free. But I’m not that way. I’d rather live in a world that’s full of more meanings than I can ever live to enjoy. And this, I believe, is the world we live in. I thank God that when I contemplate a Sumerian statue, a poem of Yeats, a panel from an Egyptian tomb, a chorus from Sophocles, any line from King Lear, I sense more meaning than I can fully appreciate. I need to stipulate, however, that I do not feel that way about Rolling Stone.

Life now imitates art; Rand’s over-the-top satires are now reality.

Few current authors or commentators are overtly following the program of Ellsworth Toohey, intent on freeing the world from meaning, although I can think of damned few who follow the program of those despised nonmoderns, the authors and public figures of the 18th and 19th centuries who set the standards of intelligent utterance. They labored to fill every sentence with as much meaning as a sentence could take. Read The Federalist. Read Hume. Read Tennyson. Read a hundred more of them. Read, even, the speeches of William Jennings Bryan, to cite a politician whose ideas do not happen to conform to mine — at all. But do not, whatever you do, read the utterances of today’s savants and politicians.

Consider the oracles momently delivered by the intellectuals’ candidate for president, Peter Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. By what process of logic he persuaded himself that his talents are needed in the White House, I cannot guess. I suppose it involved a stream of images without any meanings attached, because that’s what we find in his public sayings. Buttigieg is in favor of a scheme — some scheme or other — to mandate national service (i.e., enslavement, as Lori Heine points out) for all young men and women. Here are the mighty arguments by which he justifies his proposal:

We really want to talk about the threat to social cohesion that helps characterize this presidency but also just this era. One thing we could do that would change that would be to make it, if not legally obligatory, but certainly a social norm that anybody after they're 18 spends a year in national service.

Never mind the bad grammar and syntax. Let’s see what we can do with the meanings, alleged or real. Start with “we.” “We,” in this place, is a cunning way of saying “I,” which is sort of different. Then we have “social cohesion.” Who knows what this “cohesion” might mean, or why it is so particularly desirable, or why “this era” has so damaged it, or why national service would “change that.” The underlying image is probably that of millions of young men and women caught up in a harmonic convergence induced by two years of compulsory calisthenics, but maybe I’m putting too much content into the mayor’s words. I have a very clear idea about what enforcing “a social norm” might mean, and it seems strange to me that Buttigieg, as a gay person, would think that idea is swell. So maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he didn’t have any meaning in mind.

By what process of logic Buttigieg persuaded himself that his talents are needed in the White House, I cannot guess.

If you take Buttigieg’s inspiration seriously enough to ask why, if it’s such a great idea, nobody else is pushing for it, he provides a still less meaningful parade of words:

It’s one of these ideas that everybody kind of likes, but it was always important and never urgent. How would that ever kind of hold on [sic] its own in a policy debate where we deal with kids in cages and we have to deal with climate change and there are all these pressing, burning issues?

To this, one is virtually invited to respond, “Gosh. I don’t know. How would it?”

There is no meaning to be found here — no meaning of any kind, to be discovered in any way. “We,” who are debating “issues,” do not include me, or, I’ll bet, you. “We” — here intended, I think, to mean “ordinary people” — do not “have to deal” with “kids in cages,” or “climate change.” Those are non-issues, invented issues; they are life imitating the art of the press release. The other “pressing, burning issues” are created by Buttigieg with the same wave of the hand by which teenagers summon meaningless concepts: “Like, all these subjects I gotta take, I got, like, issues with them.” What are they? Again, who knows? Meanwhile, “pressing, burning” is the lowest form of cliché. What does it mean for an issue to press and burn you?

This is simple illiteracy — not unusual in the house organ of the We Know Better than You Do movement.

But let’s look at universal service, which is “one of those ideas that everybody kind of likes.” No, it’s not. I was born a few miles from South Bend. I have spent lots of my adult life in South Bend. Neither there nor in any other place have I met anyone who said that he or she was in favor of national service. In the words of the great gospel song, “No, not one; no, not one!” Buttigieg is — literally, in the literal meaning of the word literally — a nobody talking about nothing.

Of course, expulsion of meaning need not occur on the exalted intellectual level where Buttigieg attempts to situate himself. Here’s a headline from the Washington Post (May 11):

Trump’s interest stirring Ukraine investigations sows confusion in Kiev

Pardon me? Did you say something? What is that supposed to mean? This is simple illiteracy — not unusual in the house organ of the We Know Better than You Do movement. It’s just possible that being a stuffed shirt doesn’t automatically give meaning to your words.

Smugness creates no meanings, and neither does smarminess. There’s a guy who features in ads for Trivago, a company specializing in cheap hotel reservations. The guy was arrested for drunk driving. So what? What’s the deep meaning in that? Nothing; there isn’t any. But the company felt a compulsion to provide one, right away, and in the process . . . Well, take a look.

At this stage, we do not have the full details of the situation, but we want to make clear that Trivago treats such incidents very seriously and strongly condemns drinking and driving, which poses a risk to others and goes against the Trivago culture.

“The Trivago culture” is presumably one and the same with “the Facebook culture,” “the Tumblr culture,” “the Acme Widget culture,” and any other culture that wants to portray itself as absolutely loaded with meaning. Unfortunately, this “culture” is the exact opposite of culture. Culture conserves meanings; “culture” annihilates them. Not only is it empty of meaning; it’s a vacuum cleaner, sweeping up the last remains of the meanings around it. Sensing that, its operators insist all the more that they do so mean something. They mean it seriously and strongly; they mean it very seriously and strongly. . . . Are you still there? Are you still reading? Should we say it even more seriously and strongly?

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that people who uttered such claptrap would notice what it is, and notice what other people think of it. They don’t — and why not? A cause is suggested by a comment made by the 18th-century rhetorician Hugh Blair. Speculating about what was wrong with James Macpherson, author of the Ossian poems, which are as close to being empty of meaning as 18th-century literature could get, he said that Macpherson “must be miserable,” because he was “absolutely void of curiosity.”

Culture conserves meanings; “culture” annihilates them.

It wouldn’t take much curiosity for Professor del Real to find something of continuing interest in the cathedral of Notre Dame. It wouldn’t take much curiosity for Mayor Buttigieg and the Trivago flack to find some words that mean something. It wouldn’t take much curiosity for the Ivy League graduates at the Washington Post to observe that their words may be impossible to figure out.

Admittedly, a little curiosity might dispel some of this world’s alluring mystery, thereby, I suppose, dispelling some of its meaning. But it can protect one from exposure as the kind of person who has never noticed any meaningful objects lurking more than 12 inches away from his nose. At the moment, I’m thinking about the first George Bush, who marveled at the way items are scanned at supermarket checkout counters (he’d never seen it before), and Hillary Clinton trying to hide her confusion about how to get into the New York Subway (the Senator from New York had never done it before). I’m also thinking about that constant source of merriment, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who on May 6 reported to her Instagram audience about her latest existential crisis. No, it wasn’t “climate change”; it was — well, here it is:

OK everyone, I need your help because I just moved into this apartment a few months ago and I just flipped a switch and it made that noise and it scared the daylights out of me. This D.C. apartment is bougie [bourgeois-y] and has things I’ve never seen before. Like what is a garbage disposal really for? Is it better or worse than throwing something in the garbage? More importantly why is it so loud and yelling at me?

Why indeed? When that happens, there’s ground for suspicion. What is a garbage disposal really for? Imagine all the possible meanings! And none of them good!

Take this as a warning: If Notre Dame is so bougie that it’s overburdened with meaning, and you’re happy to get rid of it, you may still be threatened by your garbage disposal.




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Russiagate, Version 34.2

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In 1884, a Republican (and Protestant) demagogue called the Democrats the party of "Rum, Romanism, and rebellion."

Nice start. But today, if he wanted to denounce that party, he could add "racism and Russianism" to his mantra.

No Russian collusion? Bah! Humbug! There has been Russian collusion since the 1930s! At least since the Franklin Roosevelt administration recognized the Communist dictatorship, there has been collusion, including, for example, Soviet agents deep within the FDR administration, such as Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White (to name but two). Scientist Robert Oppenheimer eventually lost his security clearance because of his affiliations with Stalinists.

There has been Russian collusion since the 1930s, since the Franklin Roosevelt administration recognized the Communist dictatorship.

During the Truman administration, there were still more charges that federal officials and employees were agents of Soviet imperialism. People wondered, for instance, how the communist forces in Korea seemed often to know in advance about "United Nations" military actions and plans.

John Kennedy's last well-known sexual escapade was with a German woman suspected of being a spy for the Soviet empire. Lyndon Johnson did so much damage to the same United States that he might as well have been a Soviet sleeper agent, but probably wasn't. With presidents like that, we didn't need foreign enemies.

During Ronald Reagan's presidency, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy privately asked the Soviet Union to help him defeat Reagan. President Barack Obama very famously, on that notorious open microphone, sent a message via Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Vladimir ("Ras") Putin to just hang on, that he, Obama, would have more leeway after his second term began.

John Kennedy's last well-known sexual escapade was with a German woman suspected of being a spy for the Soviet empire.

And now, after quiet speculation, there is more open and public consideration that "The Dossier" might well be the result of, yep, Russian disinformation. Via willing, nay, eager Democrats (and Republicans).

So don't buy any of that Trump-supporter nonsense that there has been no Russian collusion. Yes, there was.




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The High Priesthood

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Americans could be forgiven for thinking that a high priesthood existed in our government. Regardless of the office to which politicians aspire, they seem to be running for high priest. Politics and religion have become so enmeshed that it’s impossible to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.

This can’t be constitutional. Nor does it benefit either politics or religion. It’s especially degrading to the latter.

Those who would serve the people would, if responsible, bid us to examine our own behavior — “our own” including their own and their voters’. If they were genuinely concerned about morality, they could do nothing else. Our politicos, however, constantly focus our obsessions on the behavior of other people. Government is all about making people do things or forcing them not to do them. There is no way to square that with “Take the plank out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of your neighbor’s” (Matthew 7:3–5).

Regardless of the office to which politicians aspire, they seem to be running for high priest.

President Trump is a strange choice for high priest. Cheating on his (third) wife with a porn star, then paying the woman to keep quiet, is hardly the sort of behavior the religious Right claims to countenance. But Trump is their man, so they’ve backed themselves into that corner. They have revealed that their real priority is not holiness but power.

Personally, this leaves me cold. I’m not interested in whether people addicted to political power think I’m a sinner, or whether they believe I am a Christian. Their opinion means nothing to me, nor should it.

The moralizers tell us that “society” needs morality. But “society” does not reason, and makes no rational decisions on its own. Only individuals do that. Individuals need morality, but politicians can do nothing to give it to them. Politicians deal not with the individual, but with the collective.

And in those dealings, they are profoundly immoral. Politics are all about lying, coveting, and stealing. But we members of society are also at fault. We dare not examine our own consciences if we’re going to be influenced collectively. We must concentrate on the splinter in our neighbor’s eye.

Our politicos constantly focus our obsessions on the behavior of other people. Government is all about making people do things or forcing them not to do them.

Democrats are not learning from the religious Right’s mistakes, but merely copying them. They want to make people do things. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is staking his reputation on his “progressive” Christianity. His big idea is a year of national service for every young adult in the country — “if not legally obligatory, but certainly a social norm that anybody after they're 18 spends a year in national service.” Having begun as a crusade against slavery, “progressive” Christianity now advocates slavery.

I must admit to a certain satisfaction when I hear an openly gay man boldly and unapologetically attest to being a Christian. I’m openly gay, and I am also a Christian. My faith has been hijacked by identity politics, and I like to see someone outside the religious Right standing up to claim it. But Pete Buttigieg has merely claimed it for another tribe, just as bound by identity politics as those of the religious Right. I, on the other hand, don’t want to make anyone do anything.

How do we reclaim our faith without permitting someone else to copyright it? The answer, it seems to me, can be found in the libertarian response. We are individuals who have no right to impose our religious strictures on others. That’s the way to peace. It makes harmony between individuals possible.

Religion remains the plaything of politicians and lobbyists, to the neglect of the individual and for the benefit of the tribe.

Government has no business deciding who can or cannot be Christian. Politicians can’t answer the question, regardless of which side they take. They shouldn’t conscript biblical principles for the sake of secular policy. Nor should young people be conscripted into involuntary servitude for the sake of a political vision, however public spirited it claims to be.

The religious Right still dominates the politics of religion. “Progressive” Christianity merely plays by the rules established by its adversaries. Religion remains the plaything of politicians and lobbyists, to the neglect of the individual and for the benefit of the tribe. No politician, of any stripe, can remedy this problem.

The one good thing to come out of Pete Buttigieg’s embrace of religious faith is that it shows those who support him are tired of the religious Right. The conversation has been broadened. But only when it’s tired of the politics of religion will the public remove a plank from its own eye.




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Some Dare Call It Treason

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On May 17, President Trump sent forth the following idiotic tweet:

My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!

The president’s tweet responded to the constant, equally idiotic accusations of his highly placed enemies that he himself was guilty of treason — supposedly for colluding with the Russians, actually for committing lèse majesté against the political class. But that doesn’t mean he’s right to take up their theme. “Treason” has a definition, and one of the worst things that can happen to the republic is for definitions to be widened by people in power until suddenly, anyone can be accused of anything.

It’s not a complicated matter. Anyone who can read the Constitution can understand the treason clause.

In The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson pointed the significance of Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution:

The treason clause remains unique in all the long record of political institutions. In the first place, it declares that there is no such crime as treason in peace time. “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” Nothing but armed rebellion or joining with an enemy nation — and nations are, by definition, enemies only when at war — can be treason.

That’s it. It’s not a complicated matter. Anyone who can read the Constitution can understand the treason clause. As recent years have shown, however, practically no one in power has ever read anything more challenging than slogans and donor lists.




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