Apparently, Brad Pitt is John Galt. Angelina Jolie is Dagny Taggart. At least, that's what reports regarding the cinematic treatment of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged are suggesting. Galt, to me, is taller than Pitt, but he, like Pitt, carries a bit of mystery around him. So, maybe it could work. Dagny Taggart is sort of a capitalistic superwoman, and Angelina Jolie is that--superwoman that is--so I definitely could see the casting rationale there too. Jolie is slightly exotic looking, and Dagny I picture as a serious, Nordic goddess. But, as with Pitt, they could do a whole lot worse--for instance, Danny DeVito as Galt and Sally Field as Dagny.
Casting this movie right is important. More important is that this movie is being made. It should be huge, Lord of the Rings-huge, Passion of the Christ-huge. Yet, for years, because of concerns stemming from Hollywood's inability to be true to the 1,000-plus-page book, this film was never made. Rand, the difficult purist, regretted Hollywood's treatment of The Fountainhead, so the experience soured her on the idea of Atlas Shrugged for the silverscreen. And now that Atlas Shrugged (buy it here) will be made (and I wouldn't be surprised if some snag came along and killed it), some questions arise.
How will Hollywood condense Galt's sixty-page radio address? Who cares about the heroes? What self-respecting, self-loathing Hollywood liberal will consent to play a caricature of himself? (I nominate whim-worshipping looters George Clooney and Tim Robbins for Wesley Mouch and James Taggart.) A la George Lucas, will the producers of Atlas Shrugged capitalize on the film with a marketing campaign featuring dollar-sign cigarettes? Will the trailers, months in advance, simply ask: "Who is John Galt? Find out month/day/year"? Will Randians who hate the film accuse Randians who like the film of betraying the Randian sense of life?
Atlas Shrugged won't come to a theater near you for years, and already I'm excited. Just think of what hardcore Randroids are feeling--silly me, I should say what harcore Randroids are thinking.
Say what's on your mind to other minds. Don't be shy. Speak up in the comments section. It's open-thread Friday.
Why do Exxon-Mobil's $8.4 billion oil profits generate nationwide headlines, but the federal government's $24 billion oil profits generate no interest? It's hardly unusual for a company that sells gasoline to reap gasoline profits. But why should an entity not in the gasoline business benefit so richly from gasoline at a time when consumers suffer so greatly? Surely that story is more newsworthy than the pedestrian news item that giant oil companies make money on the product that they sell.
The Gas Buddy map of gas prices nationwide bears a striking resemblance to the Red State/Blue State map of the 2004 presidential election. Generally, the most expensive gas is bought in the Blue states and the cheapest gas is bought in the Red states. Might state taxes and regulations have something to do with the price disparities?
"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable?"
--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787
Twenty years ago today, the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl killed 10,000 people... or maybe it was 50,000... no, no, I'm pretty sure that 100,000 lives were lost... trust me, it was, hmmm, it was 1,000,000 people who died, yeah that's it. You can take that number to the bank.
No nuclear power plants have been built in North America since the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster that occured on April 26, 1986. That's a shame, the disaster and the retardation of the nuclear power industry.
When Chernobyl occured Time magazine estimated as many as 2,000 deaths. Five years later, USA today contended the accident may have killed as many as 10,000. Nearly fifteen years after the worst nuclear accident, the BBC gave credence to an estimate of 15,000 dead. Like many a nostalgic former high school athlete, Chernobyl statistics grow more impressive as memories of it grow fainter. Now, on the twentieth anniversary of the event, media outlets are peddling such wildly innaccurate numbers as 9,300 dead, and even 93,00 dead. But just last year, the United Nations offered a reality check to the phony numbers: 56 people, by their count, have perished as a result of Chernobyl. That's no small figure, but it's smaller, and less scary, than the numbers pushed by activist groups, and repeated by the media.
In an age of increasing oil prices and obsessive concern with global warming, nuclear power can make a positive difference. It creates energy more cleanly, and in some instances more cheaply, than fossil fuels. Nuclear power isn't the solution to energy problems. But neither is riding a bicycle, putting a windmill in your backyard, or installing solar panels on your roof. Though not a cure-all, nuclear power will ameliorate energy problems. India knows this, which is why it is building ten nuclear power plants. Iran and North Korea know this, which is, part of the reason at least, why evil and eviler have have sought nuclear power. But the United States of America, the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, is going backward. The U.S. irrationally eschews nuclear power, while nations where automobiles and televisions are a luxury embrace it.
The people who exaggerate Chernobyl's death count are the same people who protest nuclear power. Might the Luddite agenda influence the inflated estimates? Saying 100,000 people died as a result of Chernobyl is what's called a useful, or a needful, or a noble lie. Whatever modifier one uses, it's still a lie.
Give credit where credit is due: President Bush is the first politician to act, and not simply posture, on the energy crisis. On Tuesday, the president temporarily suspended environmental regulations on refineries and temporarily suspended the federal government's practice of hoarding oil. Refineries will not have to add ethanol to gasoline to satisfy environmentalists (and corn farmers). The federal government will cease to artificially inflate the oil demand, and artificially decrease its supply, by purchasing vast quantities of oil to reserve, not to use. Will these measures send gasoline back below $2.50 a gallon? No, but they will send (and already have sent) the price of oil in the right direction--down--and do so without infringing on the freedom of the marketplace, which would likely backfire anyhow (anyone remember price controls?). Senator Bob Martinez, a Democrat from New Jersey, also forwarded an excellent idea: temporarily eliminating the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax. Sure, this is temporary, but as we know from other crises, what's advertised as temporary often becomes permanent. And how many tax cuts do you remember liberal Democrats proposing? One has to jump on such opportunities when they arise. Amidst a gaggle of stupid ideas, some smart ones are reaching the politicians.
Does your block feature day-glo sex toys in shop windows? Are anti-syphilis fliers depicting cartoon phalluses regularly left on your windshield? Do your neighbors celebrate "Bear Day"?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you live in the Castro, in San Francisco, and probably shouldn't let your neighbors know that you read FlynnFiles. The Los Angeles Times's front page recently hosted an article suggesting that homosexual city enclaves and children don't go together. And as Bay-area homosexuals increasingly adopt and arrange with donors of the opposite sex to procreate, they, too, are discovering that the Castro and kids don't mix.
"It's scary. It kind of makes you shudder," the piece quotes eight-year-old Zander commenting on the XXX-movies and sex toys publically displayed in his neighborhood. "It's not scary," his twelve-year-old brother, Brody, explains, "It's just gross." Where Brody and Zander live, the adults are more childish than the children and the children are more adult than the adults.
A lesbian mother of two "complained about a sadomasochistic tableau in a clothing shop window that featured a male mannequin chained to a toilet." The store owner wouldn't budge, so the mother will--she's moving. "Another parent complained when an antiques store displayed a kitschy life-size statue of an aroused naked man," the article notes. "Owner Robert Hedric said he reluctantly covered the offending portion after police intervened." The mere presence of normal couples, particularly married couples with children, inflames some locals. "Twelve years ago, Jeremy Paul and his wife, Lyssa Kaye Paul, were among a wave of heterosexual parents to colonize the Castro. They embraced the neighborhood's flair. But sometimes they didn't feel welcome. Gay waiters scowled while taking their order. Men sneered at them on the street." Now, as children in the Castro aren't such a curiosity, more tolerance and sensitivity has been extended to this minority community. "Slowly," the article claims, "both sides have shown compromise." The piece cites as an example of this spirit of "compromise" the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Community Center's decision to ban nudity in its halls, "requiring the center's bondage classes to stay behind closed doors."
Robert Hedric, the gay German who removed the sexually-excited mannequin from his shopfront, fears that prudes are ruining the unique, homosexual culture of the Castro district. "What surprise is next? Are they going to outlaw the Gay Pride Parade?" Hedric wonders. "This is the Castro, not the Vatican." Like anyone would ever confuse San Francisco for Vatican City?
John Kekes writes in The City Journal: "as revolutions go, the French one in 1789 was among the worst. True, in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity, it overthrew a corrupt regime. Yet what these fine ideals led to was, first, the Terror and mass murder in France, and then Napoleon and his wars, which took hundreds of thousands of lives in Europe and Russia. After this pointless slaughter came the restoration of the same corrupt regime that the Revolution overthrew. Aside from immense suffering, the upheaval achieved nothing."
The piece, Why Robespiere Chose Terror, is must reading as much for its value as history as for its relevance to current events. Before dying by one of the chief means he used to institute terror--the guillotine--Robespierre used terror to cultivate the fear so necessary for getting conventional citizens to participate in unconventional horrors.
Robespierre, Kekes writes, "is the prototype of a particularly odious kind of evildoer: the ideologue who believes that reason and morality are on the side of his butcheries. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot are of the same mold. They are the characteristic scourges of humanity in modern times, but Robespierre has a good claim to being the first." One finds a minor league Robespierre in bin Laden, and bin Laden's al Qaeda followers. They won't be the last.
"The ideology was the repository of the true and the good, the key to the welfare of humanity," Kekes writes specifically about the mentality of Robespierre and his cohorts, but generally about ideologues. "Its enemies had to be exterminated without mercy because they stood in the way. As the ideologues saw it, the future of mankind was a high enough stake to justify any deed that served their purpose." He continues: "When [Robespierre] encountered opposition, he knew with absolute certainty that his opponents were either vicious and had to be exterminated for the common good, or were ignorant and had to be coerced for their own good to act as if they were as pure and virtuous as he."
Kekes concludes that Robespierre's progeny--ideologues willing to use terror for political ends--are very much with us today, and understanding Robespierre is of value to understanding them. Force, not discussion, convinces such people to change their evil course. This is largely because many people sincerely believe that the evil that they do is really a good, which is the scariest evil of all.
The president and Congress have called for investigations into the high cost of gasoline. Why doesn't the federal government investigate itself? Government is a major cause of high gasoline costs. High taxes, restrictions on domestic oil drilling, and launching a foolish war in Iraq have all contributed to the $2.91 per-gallon cost. Government can alleviate a substantial portion of the price burden. But it won't. Instead, it will investigate private companies and attempt to force them to modify their practices. The government's practices, of course, will neither be investigated nor modified.
Penn State has cancelled a student's art exhibit entitled "Portraits of Terror" that focuses on terrorism in Israel. An email from Penn State's School of Visual Arts claimed that the display "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue." "It's not about hate. I don't hate Muslims. This is not about Islam," responded Josh Stulman, the censored student artist. "This is about terrorism impacting the Palestinian way of life and Israel way of life." Ten years ago, the professor fingered as the censor in this case penned an article called "Fighting Censorship in the Art Classroom."
Bin Laden has a new tape out. In it, bin Laden, like all fanatics, demonstrates an inability to see things from the opposing perspective. Bin Laden rails against popularly elected legislative bodies as "infidel assemblies," yet condemns the West's "rejection of Hamas," the elected government of Palestine. He takes the side of the genocidal maniacs in Sudan, who have killed and displaced more than a million of their non-Muslim countrymen, as he whines about abuses (real and imagined) against Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Pakistan. Less than a week after an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed nine Israelis, bin Laden points to a "Zionist" war on Muslims. He calls for a religious war against the West at the same time that he accuses the West of waging a religious, "crusader" war against Islam. "The politicians of the West," bin Laden complains, want neither "dialogue" nor a "truce." Why reason with unreasonable people? Why seek a truce with an irreconcilable warmonger? Defeating the terrorists won't come through chautauquas and peace pipes. Stronger means are necessary.
John Kerry has a self-serving article in the Boston Globe commemorating the 35th anniversary of his testimony against the Vietnam war before the United States Senate. Kerry writes, "Thirty-five years later, in another war gone off course, I see history repeating itself." I do too, but just not the history repeat that has occured to John F. Kerry.
John Kerry joined the Navy in 1966, when the Vietnam war was by no means unfashionable. A few years later, public opinion changed and John Kerry's opinion, as it is wont to do, changed too. More than three years ago, when public opinion favored a war on Iraq by 3 to 1 margins, John Kerry voted for the war (before he voted against it!). John Kerry masquerades as a high-minded statesman guided by principle. His principles, strangely, generally seem to mirror the latest public opinion poll. To some degree, this is the sin of just about every politician. But John Kerry seems even more of a politician than the other politicians.
John Kerry could have stood against President Bush's war of choice in Iraq. But that would have imperiled his presidential bid. Today, he could stick by his unpopular vote to authorize sending Americans to fight in Iraq. But that doesn't fly in Massachusetts, doesn't fly in the Democratic presidential primaries, and increasingly, doesn't fly in the country at large. So, he does, in the most amorphous manner possible, the popular thing. But what's popular yesterday isn't necessarily what's popular today, and what's popular today isn't necessarily what's popular tomorrow. Chasing polls isn't always good politics. It's never good leadership.
There's no virtue in sticking with a failed policy. But John Kerry will never be accused of this flaw, so thoroughly exemplified by his 2004 vanquisher. John Kerry the politician is, in C.S. Lewis words, one of the "men without chests." But he pretends otherwise on the campaign trail. He has all the gestures down pat--saluting upon accepting the Democratic nomination, delivering speeches as though every word were Churchillian, and speaking in that Ivy-League/Boston Brahmin accent. But his actions are those of a politician, not those of a statesman. John Kerry voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, yet claims to be opposed to same-sex marriage. He voted for the war in Iraq, but poses as an opponent. He voted for the Patriot Act, but campaigned against it. He stands for nothing. He stands for everything. It's no wonder that the hackneyed "flip-flop" chants at the Republican National Convention hit home.
On Iraq, Kerry could have stood against the war when it really mattered. He didn't. Now that America is three years into Iraq, and the American people have reversed their collective stance on the war, Kerry has, seemingly at least, reversed his stance too. Kerry could have thrown a touchdown pass in standing against the war in 2002 and in 2003. Instead, he punted. Now he wants to play Monday Morning Quarterback.
There's no risk in that, and that--risk--is what this boring politician avoids most of all. And without risk, there is usually no reward. Perhaps this is a lesson lost on rich kids who spent their summers in France, falls and springs at Swiss boarding-schools, young adult years at Yale, and adulthood in the U.S. Senate. Rewards didn't come from risks then, so why start taking chances now? John Kerry never led public opinion on Iraq. He followed it. By taking the safe route, he helped push so many young men and women down the unsafe route.
Kerry writes in today's op-ed: "It was clear that thousands of Americans were losing their lives in Vietnam while politicians in Washington schemed to save their political reputations." History does indeed repeat itself.
One man's whistleblower is another man's leaker. Scooter Libby, Mark Felt, and now Mary O. McCarthy may be heroes for some for providing truthful information to the media on sensitive subjects, but for others they are villains for using the press to pursue political or personal vendettas. McCarthy, the CIA agent fired Thursday, was a Clinton-apointee and Kerry-supporter. She's a major Democratic Party donor. In 2004, she gave $5,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party and $2,000 to John Kerry. She had reason to damage the Republican administration that she worked for, and did so. More troubling than motives is the dishonesty involved: McCarthy violated a signed contract, failed a polygraph, and usurped the decision-making power of what's classified and what's declassified by providing classified information to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. McCarthy will be a whistleblower to some, a leaker to others. On one matter there is no real debate: someone who lies to superiors, makes promises and then breaks them, and "goes Cowboy" by underruling decisions on classified material, shouldn't be a CIA agent. Mary McCarthy isn't anymore, and that's a good thing.
When you preside over a government that forces women to abort their children, does not recognize property rights, issues death sentences for Christianity, and erases the Tibetan culture, you should, at the very least, expect the people who you oppress to yell at you. If you're in China, you should expect such pesty protestors to be thrown in jail. But in the United States of America? At the White House?
Diplomacy is diplomacy. It's necessary to keep order. Hecklers shouldn't overtake a joint press conference of the leaders of two of the world's most powerful nations. And America's interests are better served by maintaining amicable relations with the rulers of the world's most populous nation than they are by staying in the good graces of members of a strange religious sect. Understanding all this, it is nauseating to witness the government of the United States jail the protestor as it apologized to the tyrant. "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors," George W. Bush told the world upon his second inauguration. "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." Might he produce an addendum for honesty's sake? We will stand with you unless you indelicately call for freedom during the an official state visit by the Red Chinese. Then we will throw you in jail and beg forgiveness from the aggrieved tyrant.
On Monday, April 24, I speak at Kutztown University on the themes addressed in Why the Left Hates America. The talk takes place at 7 p.m. in the Boehm Science Center. The event is sponsored by Young America's Foundation and KU's College Republicans. It is free and open to the public. FlynnFiles readers in southeastern Pennsylvania are encouraged to attend.
President Bush's approval rating has hit a new low: 33 percent. Not only are his numbers below embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but they are well beneath the political Mendoza line. Say hello to Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon while you are down there, Mr. President.
A teacher at Lexington, Massachusetts' Estabrook Elementary School read second-graders a book called King and King, which is about a prince who falls in lust with a princess's brother. Some parents, even in Lexington, object. "My problem is that this issue of romantic attraction between two men is being presented to my 7-year-old as wonderful and good and the way things should be," remarked Robin Wirthlin. "We feel like 7 years old is not appropriate to introduce homosexual themes." But officials at the public school believe they know how to raise Mrs. Wirthlin's child better than she does. They think talking homosexuality with second-graders is appropriate. "We want all of our families and all of the children to feel that they're welcome and included there, and one of the ways to do that is to show different kinds of families," maintained Helen Cohen of the Lexington school committee. Really? Are Catholic families welcome? How about Evangelicals? Even just stodgy traditionalist families? We already know the answer. Last year this same school had a complaining parent arrested when he refused to take no for an answer to his request that his first-grader be excluded from classroom discussions of homosexuality.
Driving is expensive. Government, and not some Exxon turkey getting an obscene retirement package, is a main reason for the high costs. The average price per gallon stands at $2.78. About 40 cents per gallon goes to government, with state and federal roughly splitting the take. At least ExxonMobil's Lee Raymond actually worked for an oil company before getting his millions.
Tolls are a ripoff too. A recent DC-Boston-DC trip extracted more than $40 in tolls. Every state on that journey save Connecticut gets its piece. In fact, 31 states have toll plazas. Drive through Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, and the paper in your wallet remains there. Drive a few miles in Delaware, and pay $6 in tolls. A lot has changed since the 1960s, when Delaware tolls charged 10 cents, or the 1970s, when the state relied on an honor system at certain toll plazas.
Now states work on a dishonor system. The EZ Pass/Fast Lane system, which is a lot like withholding in that it lulls payers into forgetting that they are paying, is used to nab drivers who go through the tolls too quickly. In Massachusetts, where they have affixed (for a price) corporate logos on speed-limit signs at toll booths, this is an inconvenience for many drivers. But that's what toll booths are, an inconvenience. They cause traffic jams, accidents, and thinning-wallet syndrome.
Apart from tolls and taxes, cities extort money from drivers through increasingly invasive fines. Washington, DC, which is inept at plowing snow-covered streets, educating children, and policing the streets, issues parking tickets with Prussian efficiency. The city employs a robotic paparazzi to catch speeders and motorists who fail to beat the change from yellow to red. The cameras have raised more than $30 million for DC's government (and millions more for a private company), but have actually coincided with an increase in accidents at intersections with the camers. So much for the idea that the cameras make us safer! And now the city has auctioned off public parking spaces to private companies. Do you have Zipcar or Flexcar in your city? They rent cars, which isn't such a novelty that they deserve their own public parking spaces. Avis and Hertz have been successful in the car-rental business for quite a long time, but not so successful that they got cities to hand over public-parking spaces to them. Because these private companies--Flexcar and Zipcar--don't use private lots to store their cars, private citizens--who now have even fewer on-street parking spots--will increasingly have to.
And don't get me started on insurance, emissions inspections, cars with plastic bumpers that fall off on contact, the army of stickers necessary to make your auto street legal, that state trooper hiding with a radar gun just below the crest of the hill...
Sure, driving would be a whole lot cheaper if greedy dictators--of the Latin American, Arabian, and ex-KGB variety--dropped prices. And it would be cheaper if retiring oil executives weren't so greedy in looting their stockholders' investments. But it would be a whole lot cheaper if our own elected officials weren't so greedy. Americans can't control foreign dictators or multinational-corporation heads. Americans can control who they vote into office.
Branch Davidians who survived the Waco conflagration that left 77 dead, including 20 children, thirteen years ago today--and at least one who wasn't even on the scene--have more good news. Not only did they not die on April 19, 1993, but they finally get to leave prison in the coming months. Where did they ever get the idea that they could practice their weird religion and own guns without the federal government shooting down their door?
"The majority of historical periods did not look upon their own time as superior to preceding ages. On the contrary, the most useful thing has been for men to dream of better times in a vague past, of a fuller existence; of a 'golden age,' as those taught by Greece and Rome have it; the Alcheringa of the Australian bushmen."
--Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, 1930
Rolling Stone boldly calls George W. Bush the "worst president in history" on their cover. Okay, okay, so they weren't so bold. The magazine uses the interrogative rather than the declarative. That's pretty timid. That's pretty boring. The editors lack the courage of their convictions. But is there any question what those convictions, at least regarding George W. Bush, are?
Aside from being asked about twenty years too soon, the question itself isn't terribly out of line. George W. Bush started a disastrous war, presided over a massive expansion in federal spending, abdicated his duty to protect the borders, and burdened future generations with paying for new, expensive medical entitlements. But Jimmy Carter was more inept, Lyndon Johnson more destructive, and dozens of other presidents more inconsequential (which, come to think of it, isn't a bad thing). Is George W. Bush the worst president in history? No. An affirmative answer reveals more about the respondent's knowledge of history than George W. Bush's place in it. Bush has done some good things--cut taxes, killed terrorists, appointed jurists who respect the Constitution. But the ideological rigidity of historians precludes them from recognizing any of this as positive.
More off-putting than the serious question is the silly person, and the sillier magazine, posing it. If Sean Wilentz truly is "one of America's leading historians," as Rolling Stone claims, what's he doing writing the cover story for a magazine that just last week asked on its cover: "Is Saving the World Killing Keifer Sutherland?" Forgive me for being a snob, but a celebrity magazine that's recently pondered such subjects as "Shaun White: Attack of the Flying Tomato" and "Madonna: How She Got Her Groove Back" doesn't seem the venue for one of America's leading historians. It's not. And Sean Wilentz is not.
Wilentz is a well known scholar of history, but he is well known for reasons independent of his work as a scholar. History bores Sean Wilentz. He much prefers the present to the past, which explains why he writes so much about the former and hasn't made much of a mark examining the latter, despite his ostensible profession.
In 1998, the Princeton University professor orchestrated a full-page advertisement in the New York Times defending President Clinton from the successful effort to impeach him. Signed by numerous liberal historians of note, the document lambasted what it labeled a "dangerous new theory of impeachment." Two years later, Wilentz organized a group of Americans with a less prestigious academic pedigree (Rosie O'Donnell, Paul Newman, Bianca Jagger), the Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000, to sign full-page ads opining on the Florida election controversy. "Sign," Wilentz implored in emails to liberals. "And get me as many famous names as you can to sign it by 1 p.m. TODAY. EXTREMELY URGENT." One of the ads claimed that there was "good reason to believe that Vice President Gore has been elected President," while another appeared with language that Wilentz failed to show his signatories. As far as public intellectuals go, Wilentz is more public than intellectual.
Was George W. Bush a good president? A bad president? Mediocre? These are questions that will be debated years from now by serious historians. Sean Wilentz will add his two cents as well.
Today is the deadline for sending in your income-tax returns to the federal government. Because April 15 fell on a weekend, and Easter weekend at that, the IRS allows three extra days for filing this year. I don't feel fortunate.
Paperwork, anxiety, aggravation, wasted time, and slimmer wallets reign on tax day. The government doesn't feel our pain on tax day. They make it. They make our pain because they benefit from it. Lord knows that we don't.
For most of United States history, Americans did not pay income taxes. When political leaders--e.g., Abraham Lincoln and Grover Cleveland--instituted an income tax without amending the Constitution, conservatives correctly balked. In February 1913, all this changed with the Sixteenth Amendment. No longer could the courts invalidate federal income-tax laws as unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court had done in 1894's Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company by labeling the income tax a "communistic threat."
Initially, the top marginal tax-rate stood at seven percent. Incomes of $20,000 were taxed at a rate of one percent, and incomes below $3,000 weren't taxed at all. Times changed. Today, the top marginal rate stands at 35 percent. Sure, it's lower than during the Clinton years, and George W. Bush has gone in the right direction (down) on taxes. But W. is still more of a taxer than H.W., who caught endless grief for agreeing to a rise from 28 percent to 31 percent. With taxes, the public pays greater attention to cuts and hikes than to the total level. Relative seems to matter more than absolute.
And perhaps we should be happy that current rates are low relative to other points in history. Ronald Reagan inherited top marginal rates of 70 percent. John F. Kennedy inherited top marginal rates of 91 percent. Both men worked to lower those rates significantly. Other presidents inherited low rates and made them larger. When Herbert Hoover came into office, top rates stood at 24 percent. When he handed the baton over to Franklin Roosevelt, they stood at 63 percent. When Roosevelt left office, the top rate grew even more--to 94 percent. Briefly (and by executive order!), Roosevelt instituted a federal tax rate of 100 percent for incomes of $25,000 or more.
"And I therefore believe that in this time of grave national danger, when all excess income should go to win the war, no American citizen ought to have a net income after he's paid his taxes of more than twenty-five thousand dollars," explained Roosevelt, whose inherited wealth was not threatened by this draconian measure. "You show me where [FDR's 100 percent tax rate is] mentioned in any U.S. history textbook," offers historian Burt Folsom, "and I will eat the textbook." I don't sense that Dr. Folsom will need to drastically alter his diet anytime soon.
When we look at recent history, we think: it could be worse. But when we look at all of U.S. history, with no income tax being the norm, we think: it could be a whole lot better.
Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba did the right thing. Simply doing what you're supposed to do usually isn't grounds for confetti, jumping up and down, baloons dropping from the ceiling, and a marching band. But Votruba deserves all this because people in his position generally don't do the right thing on freedom of speech. He did.
Feminist professor Sally Jacobsen has indoctrinated her last student at NKU. Last week, she generated headlines by leading her class in the destruction of a student pro-life display. An Associated Press account claims that it is "unclear whether Jacobsen took part in dismantling the display," but it is quite clear from a photograph that she did just that. Votruba put her on leave from the university, and she will retire, as planned, at the conclusion of the semester. It's still a scandal that a university professor thought it appropriate to trash a display of political expression, and use her students to do so. But it's a scandal that the university community, and its leader, recognize as a scandal.
"We are proud that, as a campus, we are not the captive of one ideology or point of view," Votruba wrote in an email disseminated in the campus community. "At their best, universities are not places of comfortable conformity. They are places where ideas collide as students and faculty search for deeper understandings and perspectives." NKU's president continued that Jacobsen's "recent lapse of judgment was severe and, for a period of time, has caused some in our community and beyond to question whether Northern Kentucky University upholds freedom of expression. My answer to this question is an unequivocal yes."
Isn't there a university president job-opening at Harvard?
USA Today posts a map purporting to show what state-by-state laws might look like regarding "Abortion in a Post-Roe World." Be wary of it. Susan Page, the accompanying piece's author, relies on data provided by the Alan Guttmacher Institute to compose the map, but doesn't bother to tell readers that the Alan Guttmacher Institute is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. Advocacy groups (and Planned Parenthood more than advocates abortion) habitually exagerate the dangers posed by their enemies to scare up financial support and public interest. It's nice, for a pro-lifer at least, to think that Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania would be "likely to significantly restrict access to abortion" in a post-Roe v. Wade world, but it's not going to happen--at least not initially. Grouping, say, Utah and Mississippi with, say, Wisconsin and Missouri, may frighten pro-choice supporters, but it's not painting an accurate picture.
Note that USA Today's map of America after Roe's reversal is not a mirror image of the current map. In other words, post-Roe America, unlike Roe America, is not one color. Reversing the Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortions will not force the states to make abortion illegal. Roe v. Wade is one-size-fits-all. Reversing Roe v. Wade allows each state to determine what size fits. Roe represents the antithesis of choice. Overturning Roe would provide electorates with true choice--the choice of the laws that govern them. Thirty-three years ago, seven unelected Supreme Court justices took that choice away from the voters (and the officials they elected) of all fifty states.
More interesting than a hypothetical map detailing abortion laws in a post-Roe America is an actual map detailing abortion law in current, Roe v. Wade America. The post-Roe map (like the pre-Roe map) is a multiform of colors reflecting the diversity, and federalist heritage, of the United States. The current map is one color--blood red--indicating uniform law for fifty very different states.
By reading the reactions of some bloggers, one might get the impression that the six retired generals criticizing Donald Rumsfeld got their orders from the Democratic National Committee. The responses distract from the arguments the generals advance, but don't address them. "They are, in a sense, Clinton appointees," BigLizards.com says of the six generals. "Zinni is the epitome both of an Old School general and a Clintonista." Douglas Hanson at The American Thinker labels Anthony Zinni "one of those leaders during the Clinton years of bread and circuses." JustBarkingMad calls the critics "Clinton's Generals." Linking such honorable men to such a dishonorable man is more apt to make Clinton look good than it is to make the generals look bad. It's also a flip way of avoiding the serious points that the military leaders raise.
Three Ohio State University professors have filed sexual harrassment charges against Scott Savage in response to the reference librarian's book suggestions for a freshman reading list. The university is investigating. Savage, a committee member of OSU's "First Year Reading Experience" program, suggested David Horowitz's The Professors, Bat Ye'or's Eurabia, David Kupelian's The Marketing of Evil, and Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family, after members of the committee recommended a series of liberal books. The complaining professors report feeling "unsafe" as a result of Savage's book suggestions.
FlynnFiles readers may remember last year at this time the story of a Western Michigan University women's studies professor who used class time to encourage her students to tear down fliers promoting a Pat Buchanan speech. This week, a feminist professor at Northern Kentucky University encouraged her students to destroy a campus pro-life display, which they promptly did. "I did, outside of class during the break, invite students to express their freedom-of-speech rights to destroy the display if they wished to," Sally Jacobsen admitted. "Any violence perpetrated against that silly display was minor compared to how I felt when I saw it. Some of my students felt the same way, just outraged."
UPDATE: Sally Jacobsen, the professor in the middle of NKU's "Cemetery of Innocents" vandalism case, didn't just encourage students to destroy the display, she helped destroy the display herself. The proof is in the picture.
Outside St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, PETA plans a Good Friday protest featuring the mock crucifixions of three people wearing animal masks. PETA's message? Animals "suffer and die for your sins of nourishment."
A Slate.com article begins: "David Brooks is America's one genuinely likable conservative." When your employers include PBS and the New York Times, you'll always be the likeable "conservative" for liberals. (Hat tip, The Corner.)
My Tuesday lecture at Portland State took place, amidst a lot of shouting, in something called the "Multicultural Center." In case anyone forgets what room they are in, the Multicultural Center is adorned with dozens of national flags, including the Iranian flag, and they all stand equal. Well, okay, there are a few flags hung a little higher than the Stars and Stripes, but it is the Multicultural Center, after all, and I'm sure--really I am--that it's just an oversight. In case anyone forgets what multiculturalism is, the Multicultural Center features giant cult-of-personality posters of Black Panthers Kathleen Cleaver and Bobby Seale. A wall-length mural dominates the front of the room and features the likenesses of cop-killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, amidst a number of leftist slogans. If multiculturalism is about embracing other cultures, Portland State's Multicultural Center is a non sequitur. Judging from the figures lionized by the center, one might deduce that multiculturalism is about Americans, violence, or radicalism. Apart from the flag cliche, one would never guess it had anything to do with foreign cultures. And it doesn't.
"The peasants are a leaderless mass. History shows few instances when they seriously threatened the rulers. The term 'peasant revolt' sounds nice in textbooks and has a certain propaganda value, but only for the naive. In reality, the peasants have almost always served as a tool; their leaders, most often of non-peasant origin, have used them for their own ends."
--Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind, 1953
Flynn Files readers on Long Island and in upstate New York are invited to attend my area lectures. On Thursday, April 13, I speak at Skidmore College on Why the Left Hates America. My talk takes place at 7 p.m. in Gannet Auditorium. On April 26, I speak at Stony Brook University (details to follow). Both events are free, open to the public, and sponsored by Young America's Foundation.
In America, protestors shout: Let us stay. Elsewhere, protestors whisper: Let us leave.
I blog from Portland, Oregon, where I caught some of this afternoon's protest of America's immigration laws. A few hundred people, mostly young Hispanics, showed up in downtown Portland. (Let's face it, Portland is not San Diego or Phoenix.) The atmosphere seemed more festive than militant, which sugggests that most of the attendees came to a party rather than a protest. A truant officer might have had a busier day at the rally than an INS agent. But amidst the partygoers, there were a few protestors, and they seemed confused. Signs, in English and Spanish, lambasted President Bush. But apart from sharing political affiliation with most of those making a fuss about illegal immigration, what, precisely, has George W. Bush done to make life harder for illegal immigrants? President Bush, to the chagrin of much of his party, has attempted to grant amnesty to illegal aliens. He has been the most open-borders president in probably a century.
Bush has become a symbol for activists to rail against. It makes no difference that he actually supports the activists' demands. He will become the object of hate anyhow. At a stop at KXL to promote my Oregon lectures, Lars Larson's callers lit up the phone lines in outrage over the lax enforcement of immigration laws. Today's rallies were the hot topic. Curiously, outraged talk-radio callers, who detest amnesty, are apt to support the president, despite the president supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants; the illegal-immigrant rights protestors, who support amnesty, are apt to detest the president, despite the president supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants. Something has been lost in translation.
Eight of the ten most heavily taxed states are Blue States. Nine of the ten least taxed states are Red States.
According to Sy Hersh, the Pentagon has drawn up war plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. This is news? The Pentagon devises war plans for all sorts of situations. In almost all cases, these plans are not implemented. That the Bush administration has contingency plans to drop nuclear warheads on Iranian nuclear facilities is no indictment against it. Carrying out those plans is another story. Using nuclear weapons in a wartime situation is horrific enough. Using them in a non-wartime situation is tough to justify, even in the most extreme circumstances. Let's hope this talk within the Bush administration is just talk. Let's hope so because we can't afford to hope that the talk from the Iranians is just talk.
UPDATE: President Bush today labelled talk of a nuclear strike on Iran "wild speculation." The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, dubbed the internal discussions regarding using nuclear weapons on Iran "normal millitary contingency planning."
I will be in Oregon, a beautiful state with an ugly problem, for the next few days. If you watched Frontline's excellent documentary, The Meth Epidemic, you know the ugly problem that I refer to. The last time I was in Oregon (which happened to be the first time I was in Oregon), someone broke into the laundry room of my motel and stole the change from the coin-operated machines--on multiple nights. That's the type of petty crime typical of a meth user, I thought. In Portland, passing faces, and begging faces, clearly had been affected by some drug, with methamphetamine being the main suspect. As this map demonstrates, meth is primarily a Western problem. I had always associated the drug with motorcycle gangs, truckers, and high-desert rebels. Obviously, its reach is far greater. Its impact on health, as these before-and-after mug-shots demonstrate, is far more pernicious than many other hard drugs. Because the high is so high, users keep coming back for more. Not having that high, and the damage done to the brain from meth, creates terrible lows. Aside from depression, meth users are marked by deteriorating teeth and premature aging. Worst of all, it's cheap and made of household products that are next to impossible to keep from the public. Meth isn't going anywhere. Meth users, however, are: rehab, jail, and the grave are common destinations. If depression, deterioration, and death aren't persuasive enough deterrents, then jail won't be either. The best way to stop meth is never to start meth. For too many Westerners, easier said than done.
"Despite an overall loss in the population in San Francisco in the last five years, we think there has been an absolute gain in gay men," William McFarland, who oversees compiling HIV/AIDS statistics for the city's government, told Reuters. Correlation or coincidence?
A quarter of gay men in San Francisco are HIV+, and the vast majority of those men will die well before they would have otherwise because of the virus they carry. But just in case anyone mistakenly believes that the city by the bay isn't health conscious, rest assured that the board of supervisors voted last week to ban smoking at bus stops and golf courses.
McFarland deems San Francisco "the gayest city in the world." (Jellicle Junkyard, though not a proper city, is certainly way gayer than San Francisco.) Yet, McFarland estimates that 63,577 gay men live in the city, which amounts to about eight percent of all inhabitants. This statistical inconvenience clashes with the claims of gay activists, who, mantra-like, insist that one in ten people is gay. Based on San Francisco's own numbers, it's doubtful that one in ten San Franciscans is gay. If it truly is the "gayest city in the world," then clearly reports of gays constituting ten percent of the population are wildly inflated.
A more important statistic than Alfred Kinsey's "one in ten" is gay San Francisco's "one in four." The first is useful fiction; the latter, tragic reality.
Whatever percentage of the population that gays constitute, in San Francisco or elsewhere, it will certainly dwindle so long as risky behavior persists. More than a quarter-century after AIDS infected our vocabulary, the terrible disease remains a villain that preys primarily upon gay men. AIDS is the biggest homophobe of them all. Even with advances in medicine, San Francisco can't long remain the "gayest city in the world" as HIV stakes its claim on a significant portion of its gay population on a yearly basis. Today, HIV claims 25 percent of the city's gay population. Tomorrow, AIDS will claim nearly 100 percent of that HIV+ 25 percent. These men are brothers, sons, fathers, best friends. They will die. But before they do, San Francisco's board of supervisors will pass numerous resolutions condemning cigarettes.
And the band played on.
FlynnFiles readers in Oregon are invited to attend my lectures in the Beaver State next week. On Monday, April 10, I speak at Oregon State University in Corvallis. My lecture, sponsored by the OSU Student Alliance, will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Memorial Union Lounge. The following day, April 11, I speak at Portland State University. My lecture, sponsored by the PSU College Republicans, takes place at 12:30 p.m. in the Multicultural Center. Both events are free, open to the public, sponsored by Young America's Foundation, and focus on the themes addressed in Why the Left Hates America.
Both Time and Newsweek devote covers this week to the immigration debate. Both covers take sides. Unsurprisingly, the dead-tree rivals take the same side--the side of law breaking. Newsweek's headline screams, "Illegals Under Fire." In case it's not loud enough, the weekly put "under fire" in red. Time's cover story goes "Inside America's Secret Workforce." Its cover shows an illegal immigrant "who came to America and found success" and promises to introduce readers to "the real people behind the debate." The "real people" we meet in the accompanying article are named Julio, Mario, Pancho, and Carlos. Whatever qualifies for "real people" status in Time's eyes, native-born Americans curiously don't possess it.
Like the Time article, Newsweek's cover-story is a human-interest story uninterested in all varieties of humans save one: the illegal immigrant.
Of course, the magazines rarely use such clear terms. Newsweek, like most other news outlets, prefers the more cumbersome, Orwellian "undocumented worker" to "illegal immigrant." Illegal immigrant conveys the idea that the immigrant has done something wrong in transgressing our laws. Undocumented worker suggests that our laws have done something wrong in not providing documents to the immigrant workers. In other words, "undocumented" is a politically-loaded word the alerts the audience to the journalist's bias on the illegal immigration issue.
The cover, the article--even Newsweek's selection of photographs and captions are slanted. One picture shows a line of Mexican prostitutes in Tijauna. The caption reads: "Against the wall: Young women wait in Tijuana's red-light district, close to the border. Some who fail to make the crossing to the United States wind up working here." The message? America condemns Mexican women to lives of prostitution by enforcing immigration laws. Another, bleak picture shows Americans painlessly entering Mexico while Mexicans painfully get deported. The caption reads: "Shut out: Young Mexican men arrested by the border patrol wait to be deported. To the left, the gate through which U.S. citizens can enter Mexico without identification."
To Newsweek, the national mood isn't against law-breaking--illegal immigration--but against all immigrants. The piece points to a "seemingly rising anti-immigrant sentiment," "excessive—and possibly racist—immigrant-bashing," "immigration raids," and this not being "the first time in American history that nativist sentiment prevailed." But where are there raids against legal immigrants? When did the wave of "immigrant bashing" occur? How is a desire amongst citizens to enforce the laws they support an example of "nativist sentiment"?
In a sidebar to its main piece, Newsweek posts an interview with CNN host Lou Dobbs, a dogged critic of illegal immigration. The magazine badgers him with questions not so much on illegal immigration as on his bias on the issue: "Is it appropriate for CNN to give you a platform every night?" "[I]s it appropriate for a host to take position on any kind of issue?" "[S]hould all journalists give up the pretense of objectivity?"
Instead of a cable television personality, might these questions be a better fit for the editors of America's leading "news" magazines, Newsweek and Time?
Today is the anniversary of the very first presidential veto. Blogger Eric Langborgh marks the occassion by comparing the George who issued the first veto in 1792 with the George who has yet to issue a veto five-plus years into his presidency in 2006. George, Bush not Washington, just can't say no. One has to go back to the 1820s to find such a lengthy period of "yes men" occupying the Oval Office. Langborgh asks: "Has there really been no legislation passed by the 107th and 108th Congresses that violated the Constitution or simple common sense?"
"What the intellectual craves above all is to be taken seriously, to be treated as a decisive force in shaping history. He is far more at home in a society that weighs his every word and keeps close watch on his attitudes than in a society that cares not what he says or does. He would rather be persecuted than ignored."
--Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change, 1963
National Review editorializes: "With the resignation of Rep. Tom DeLay after his two decades in the House, Congress will be losing its most effective conservative." If "Leviathan's Hammer" is truly Congress's "most effective conservative," then the conservative movement is in greater trouble than anyone had imagined.
Katie Couric informed Matt Lauer today of her decision to join CBS as its anchorwoman. According to my inside sources, the conversation, witnessed by the entire news team, didn't go smoothly. Here's how the discussion went down:
KATIE COURIC: I told you that I wanted to be an anchor. I told you that.
MATT LAUER: I thought you were kidding! I thought it was a joke, I even wrote it down in my diary. 'Katie had a very funny joke today.' I laughed at it later that night!
KATIE COURIC: I can't believe that I cared for you!
MATT LAURER: Get out! Just go! We are through! Through! Because of your actions, you scorpion woman!
A New York state judge affirmed the city of New York's right to refuse licenses to dance clubs, ruling Monday that dancing is not a Constitutional right. Several New York-based experts (on dance, not the Constitution), including Baby, Tony Manero, and Fame's Coco Hernandez, strongly dissent. Somewhere, the Reverend Shaw Moore looks on approvingly.
Lest anyone attempt to fool you into thinking Katie Couric America's first anchorwoman, know these two words: Victoria Corningstone. No, seriously, several women--including ABC's Barbara Walters and Elizabeth Vargas--have anchored the evening news, albeit with a "co" prefacing the coveted "anchor" title. Though, with ABC co-anchor Bob Woodruff on the mend since his January injuries suffered while covering the war in Iraq, is it fair to continue to refer to Vargas as World News Tonight's "co-anchor"? The point is that women have anchored the network evening news before; that they weren't called the "anchor" doesn't negate this. And since the evening news has diminished in importance, is it as big of a deal in 2006 for a woman to read the news solo as it would have been in 1976? Tim Graham has the 411 on Couric's not-so-historic move to CBS at The Corner.
Tom DeLay announced that he will not seek reelection and will resign his seat in Congress. The legal charges against the former House Majority Leader, at least up until this point, have been more smoke than fire. But DeLay stands guilty of plotting with nearly 434 co-conspirators to make government bigger, impersonating a conservative, and aiding and abetting the transformation of the GOP from a Goldwater-Reagan party to a Nixon-Bush party (at least on spending). DeLay's departure should be welcomed by conservatives not just because Congress will have one less enemy of limited government, but because this increases the chances that a real conservative--Steve Stockman--will pick up this seat.
David Oritiz went three for five with three RBI on opening day. At this rate, the Red Sox slugger will break Major League Baseball's seasonal records in hits and RBI with 486 of each by year's end. Albert Pujols, too, is on track for a record-breaking season. Projecting Monday's numbers upon the entire 2006 season, Pujols stands poised to break Barry Bonds's single-season home-run record by mid-May.
A little ridiculous? Not as ridiculous as global-warming Jeremiahs who, based on a fraction of the planet's existence--much smaller than a single contest's relation to a 162-game season--postulate dramatic temperature increases for Earth. If the temperatures on the planet have been rising during the brief time that man has been able to measure such fluctuations, what does that tell us about climate change in the future or weather patterns in the present? Not much. Graph lines generally don't stay the course.
Today, in Washington DC, the city where I live, the mercury is supposed to rise from thirty-six degrees fahrenheit to fifty-four degrees fahrenheit. Extrapolating from this rapid increase (and the baffling thermometer rise in recent weeks), I hypothesize that by this time next year the temperature on my porch will be as hot as the surface of the sun. It's science.
A new study claims that churchgoers live longer. But do they live better? Might the party-people release a study purporting that, although the church-people outlast them, they outlive the church-people? So far as I know, Rick James, John Belushi, and Wilt Chamberlain weren't avid churchgoers. They died relatively young, but boy did they live--just not that long. We could ask them: if you had to do it over again would you choose quantity or quality? But it would be a big waste of time. They're dead, and can't answer.
The United States is now in its third straight decade of increased fertility rates. The opposite is true of Italy, Spain, Greece, and Germany. Why is Europe getting overrun by Muslims? The answer involves geography, but also math. Europeans don't reproduce. Muslims do. Seven out of the top ten fertility rates belong to nations where Islam is the leading religion. Nineteen of the bottom twenty fertility rates belong to European nations. As the Europeans vanish, the Muslims arrive to take their place. A civilization that refuses to propagate itself is not a good bet to strenuously object when a threatening civilization moves in on its territory.
UPDATE: Looking at the same numbers, Andrew Sullivan concludes: "Instead of bemoaning population decline, why not celebrate it?"
The Iraq situation may have deteriorated for Iraqis, but not for the Americans fighting there. Perhaps the latter is indirectly connected to the former, perhaps not. U.S. fatalities have decreased for five straight months. Last month, just 31 Americans deployed in Iraq lost their lives. That's the lowest total since February 2004. Body counts can be morbid, obtuse, and reductionistic, but if they are to be highlighted when the counts are higher then notice should be taken when the counts are lower.
Good Morning America suspended producer John Green for one month after embarrasing emails revealed Green's biases on some of the subjects his weekend show covers. "Bush makes me sick," Green explained in one electronic missive. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider reacted: "I don't think the e-mails tell us anything about the show John Green was putting on the air every Saturday and Sunday, which is fair and balanced and down the middle." Sure. And CBS hiring Katie Couric to anchor its newscasts doesn't reveal any internal political bias either. C'mon, folks. The jig is up. The big-three network evening newscasts, and the big-three network morning shows too, are run by liberals. It's not hard to understand why this is a story reporters shy away from covering. When journalists can't even tell the truth about themselves, how can they be expected to tell the truth in the stories they report?
Heavyweight boxing is supposed to be boring. Heavyweights are supposed to be lazy. The division is supposed to be mired in mediocrity. Someone forgot to tell Sergei Liakhovich and Lamon Brewster. The two put on the most exciting heavyweight battle of the new millenium in Cleveland on Saturday night. The Belarusian, despite suffering a knockdown, took the toe-to-toe brawl from the champion Brewster. And Liakhovich did it with amazingly accurate punches and boxing skills that boxers rarely possess. Best of all, the lively, live crowd in Cleveland knew a great fight when they saw it. Sure, Liakhovich was a fringe contender to a fringe heavyweight (WBO) belt. But great fighters don't always make great fights. Great fights make great fights. And anyone who took advantage of Showtime's free package this weekend saw a great fight.