Index to essays on this page:
  • California’s rendezvous with reality
  • Years of lax policies and overspending are finally catching up to the Golden State.

  • Shall we defend our common history?
  • Welcome to the new Orwellian world where censorship is free speech and we respect the past by attempting to elide it.
  • Most people treat the Constitution like it’s only a suggestion
  • Dating is a free software issue
  • Many dating Web sites run proprietary JavaScript. JavaScript is code that Web sites run on your computer in order to make certain features on Web sites function. Proprietary JavaScript is a trap that impacts your ability to run a free system.
  • The Republicans’ preemptive cringe
  • Stop validating the Left's self-serving standards.
  • Fire the Fed?
  • Some galaxy brain thinking on the shutdown and its economic impact
  • Trump puts Schumer and Pelosi in a brilliant vise grip
  • This is indeed Trump's chance to "smoke out the Resistance," but he must do it carefully. Thomas Lifson has published two columns in the American Thinker, here and here, explaining that Senior Executive Service (SES) employees cannot be furloughed (laid off) under normal circumstances, but they can be removed during a Reduction in Force (RIF) when their positions are found to be unnecessary.





    Californians brag that their state is the world’s fifth-largest economy. They talk as reverentially of Silicon Valley companies Apple, Facebook, and Google as the ancient Greeks did of their Olympian gods.

    Hollywood and universities such as Caltech, Stanford, and Berkeley are cited as permanent proof of the intellectual, aesthetic, and technological dominance of West Coast culture.

    Californians also see their progressive, one-party state as a neo-socialist model for a nation moving hard to the left.

    But how long will they retain such confidence?

    California’s 40 million residents depend on less than 1 percent of the state’s taxpayers to pay nearly half of the state income tax, which for California’s highest tier of earners tops out at the nation’s highest rate of 13.3 percent.

    In other words, California cannot afford to lose even a few thousand of its wealthiest individual taxpayers. But a new federal tax law now caps deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000 — a radical change that promises to cost many high-earning taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

    If even a few thousand of the state’s 1 percent flee to nearby no-tax states such as Nevada or Texas, California could face a devastating shortfall in annual income.

    During the 2011-16 California drought, politicians and experts claimed that global warming had permanently altered the climate, and that snow and rain would become increasingly rare in California. As a result, long-planned low-elevation reservoirs, designed to store water during exceptionally wet years, were considered all but useless and thus were never built.

    Then, in 2016 and 2017, California received record snow and rainfall — and the windfall of millions of acre-feet of runoff was mostly let out to sea. Nothing since has been learned.

    California has again been experiencing rain and cold that could approach seasonal records. The state has been soaked by some 18 trillion gallons of rain in February alone. With still no effort to expand California’s water storage capacity, millions of acre-feet of runoff are once again cascading out to sea (and may be sorely missed next year).

    The inability to build reservoirs is especially tragic given that the state’s high-speed rail project has gobbled up more than $5 billion in funds without a single foot of track laid. The total cost soared from an original $40 billion promise to a projected $77 billion. To his credit, newly elected governor Gavin Newsom, fearing a budget catastrophe, canceled the statewide project while allowing a few miles of the quarter-built Central Valley “track to nowhere” to be finished.

    For years, high-speed rail has drained the state budget of transportation funds that might have easily updated nightmarish stretches of the Central Valley’s Highway 99, or ensured that the nearby ossified Amtrak line became a modern two-track line.

    California politicians vie with each other to prove their open-borders bona fides in an effort to appeal to the estimated 27 percent of Californians who were not born in the United States.

    But the health, educational, and legal costs associated with massive illegal immigration are squeezing the budget. About a third of the California budget goes to the state’s Medicare program, Medi-Cal. Half the state’s births are funded by Medi-Cal, and in nearly a third of those state-funded births, the mother is an undocumented immigrant.

    California is facing a perfect storm of homelessness. Its labyrinth of zoning and building regulations discourages low-cost housing. Its generous welfare benefits, non-enforcement of vagrancy and public health laws, and moderate climate draw in the homeless. Nearly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in the state, and nearly one in five live below the poverty line.

    The result is that tens of thousands of people live on the streets and sidewalks of the state’s major cities, where primeval diseases such as typhus have reappeared.

    California’s progressive government seems clueless how to deal with these issues, given that solutions such as low-cost housing and strict enforcement of health codes are seen as either too expensive or politically incorrect.

    In sum, California has no margin for error.

      





    The following is adapted from a talk delivered on board the Crystal Symphony on July 19, 2018, during a Hillsdale College educational cruise to Hawaii.

    The recent news that the University of Notre Dame, responding to complaints by some students, would “shroud” its twelve 134-year-old murals depicting Christopher Columbus was disappointing. It was not surprising, however, to anyone who has been paying attention to the widespread attack on America’s past wherever social justice warriors congregate.

    Notre Dame, a Congregation of Holy Cross institution, may not be particularly friendly to its Catholic heritage. But its president, the Rev. John Jenkins, demonstrated how jesuitical (if not, quite, Jesuit) he could be. Queried about the censorship, he said, apparently without irony, that his decision to cover the murals was not intended to conceal anything, but rather to tell “the full story” of Columbus’s activities.

    Welcome to the new Orwellian world where censorship is free speech and we respect the past by attempting to elide it.

    Over the past several years, we have seen a rising tide of assaults on statues and other works of art representing our nation’s history by those who are eager to squeeze that complex story into a box defined by the evolving rules of political correctness. We might call this the “monument controversy,” and what happened at Notre Dame is a case in point: a vocal minority, claiming victim status, demands the destruction, removal, or concealment of some object of which they disapprove. Usually, the official response is instant capitulation.

    As the French writer Charles Péguy once observed, “It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.” Consider the frequent demands to remove statues of Confederate war heroes from public spaces because their presence is said to be racist. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for example, has recently had statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson removed from a public gallery. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has set up a committee to review “all symbols of hate on city property.”

    But it is worth noting that the monument controversy signifies something much larger than the attacks on the Old South or Italian explorers.

    In the first place, the monument controversy involves not just art works or commemorative objects. Rather, it encompasses the resources of the past writ large. It is an attack on the past for failing to live up to our contemporary notions of virtue.

    In the background is the conviction that we, blessed members of the most enlightened cohort ever to grace the earth with its presence, occupy a moral plane superior to all who came before us. Consequently, the defacement of murals of Christopher Columbus—and statues of later historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt—is perfectly virtuous and above criticism since human beings in the past were by definition so much less enlightened than we.

    The English department at the University of Pennsylvania contributed to the monument controversy when it cheered on students who were upset that a portrait of a dead white male named William Shakespeare was hanging in the department’s hallway. The department removed the picture and replaced it with a photograph of Audre Lorde, a black feminist writer. “Students removed the Shakespeare portrait,” crowed department chairman Jed Esty, “and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department.” Right.

    High schools across the country contribute to the monument controversy when they remove masterpieces like Huckleberry Finn from their libraries because they contain ideas or even just words of which they disapprove.

    The psychopathology behind these occurrences is a subject unto itself. What has happened in our culture and educational institutions that so many students jump from their feelings of being offended—and how delicate they are, how quick to take offense!—to self-righteous demands to repudiate the thing that offends them? The more expensive education becomes the more it seems to lead, not to broader understanding, but to narrower horizons.

    ***

    Although there is something thuggish and intolerant about the monument controversy, it is not quite the same as the thuggishness of the Roman emperor Caracalla, who murdered his brother and co-emperor Geta and had statues of Geta toppled and his image chiseled off coins. Nor is it quite the same as what happened when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin exiled Leon Trotsky, had him airbrushed out of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, and sent assassins to Mexico to finish the job.

    Iconoclasm takes different forms. The disgusting attacks on the past and other religious cultures carried out by the Taliban, for example, are quite different from the toppling of statues of Saddam Hussein by liberated Iraqis after the Iraq War. Different again was the action of America’s own Sons of Liberty in 1776, who toppled a statue of the hated George III and melted down its lead to make 40,000 musket balls. It is easy to sympathize with that pragmatic response to what the Declaration of Independence called “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” It is worth noting, however, that George Washington censured even this action for “having much the appearance of a riot and a want of discipline.”

    While the monument controversy does depend upon a reservoir of iconoclastic feeling, it represents not the blunt expression of power or destructiveness but rather the rancorous, self-despising triumph of political correctness. The exhibition of wounded virtue, of what we now call “virtue-signaling,” is key.

    Consider some recent events at Yale University, an institution where preening self-infatuation is always on parade. Yale recently formed a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming and a Committee on Art in Public Spaces. Members of the former prowl the campus looking for buildings, colleges, faculty chairs, lecture programs, and awards that have politically incorrect names. The latter police works of art and other images on campus, making sure that anything offensive to favored groups is covered or removed.

    At the residential college formerly known as Calhoun College, for example—it’s now called Grace Hopper College—the Committee ordered the removal of stained glass windows depicting slaves and other historical scenes of Southern life. Statues and other representations of John C. Calhoun have likewise been slotted for removal. Calhoun, an 1804 Yale graduate, was a leading statesman and political thinker of his day. But he was also an apologist for slavery, so he has to be erased from the record.

    Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. He earned his B.A. from Bennington College and his M.A. and M.Phil. in philosophy from Yale University. He has written for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Book Review, and is a columnist for The Spectator USA, American Greatness, and PJ Media. He is editor or author of several books, including The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, and Vox Populi: The Perils and Promises of Populism.

      





    The Constitution is really just a series of suggestions. At least that’s how most American treat it.

    The concept of a “Living Breathing Constitution” is the biggest enduring myth in America’s political narrative.

    It used to be primarily a left-wing dogma. But in the era of Trump, an awful lot of people on the right have embraced the myth as well.

    A few weeks ago, I posted an article by KrisAnne Hall about the illegitimacy of presidential “emergency powers.” But I was told the constitutional argument wasn’t really important.

    After all, we’re faced with a “crisis” at the border and it’s imperative that the president deals with it. Surely there is wiggle-room in the Constitution for the president to act. We can’t be dogmatic at times like this. The Constitution was meant to flex with the times!

    No.

    No, it wasn’t.

    The powers delegated to the federal government, and distributed among its three branches, were set in stone. As I have explained before, a “living, breathing” Constitution is dead.

    “But Mike,” people say, “You can’t expect the government to be limited by a document written more than 200 years ago. It has to be able to flex and change with the times.”

    Yes. I agree. And in their wisdom, the founders included a process to change the Constitution as needed. It’s called the amendment process. You will find it in Article V.

    “But Mike,” people say. (People “but Mike” me a lot.) “It’s hard to amend the Constitution and it takes too long. We need to be able to react quickly in an emergency. We can’t be waiting around for amendments.”

    Actually, that was the point. We don’t want to give government new powers every time there’s some perceived crisis. [Emphasis mine — ed.] Once the government has a given power, it will never give it up. Not ever. The power you allow government to exercise today will remain with you forever. So, you darn well better slow your roll and count the cost.

      





    I've been making the argument that everything is a free software issue for a few months now. Back in November, I was lucky enough to speak at SeaGL and SFSCon, specifically on the issues proprietary technology poses in dating and maintaining romantic relationships.

    I've been thinking about this since then -- the issues and infringements on user freedom we face when using technology to meet people, date, and fall in love. I think Valentine's Day is the perfect opportunity to share just some of these thoughts I've been having.

    Meeting people

    Many dating Web sites run proprietary JavaScript. JavaScript is code that Web sites run on your computer in order to make certain features on Web sites function. Proprietary JavaScript is a trap that impacts your ability to run a free system, and not only does it sneak proprietary software onto your machine, but it also poses a security risk. Any piece of software can be malicious, but proprietary JavaScript goes the extra mile. Much of the JavaScript you encounter runs automatically when you load a Web site, which enables it to attack you without you even noticing.

    Proprietary JavaScript doesn't have to be the only way to use Web sites. LibreJS is an initiative which blocks "nonfree nontrivial" JavaScript while allowing JavaScript that is either free or trivial.

    Many dating apps are also proprietary, available only at the Apple App and Google Play stores, both of which currently require the use of proprietary software.

    Going out

    When it's time to meet your online date in person, or spend time together with the person you're dating, more proprietary software is ready to crash the party, whether you're going out or staying in. Many restaurants run reservations entirely through Web sites, using software and JavaScript that is proprietary. Using ride sharing apps like Uber to get around puts users and drivers alike at all sorts of risks. Or, if you decide to have a romantic evening at home, you might find yourself tempted by freedom disrespecting, DRM-supporting streaming services like Hulu and Netflix.

    DRM is an oppressive technology, prevalent among downloadable, online, and streaming media. It restricts your ability to use, reuse, modify, share, and really own the media you purchase. There are practical damages DRM causes: it prevents modifying media for accessibility needs; it keeps people from being able to access their media whenever they want or need to; and it stifles creativity through the prevention of re-use. However, most importantly, the type of control enabled by DRM infringes on your freedoms.

    Luckily, there are DRM-free media options available to you. Whether you want to find movies, listen to music, or curl up and read together, there is the perfect DRM-free choice available now.

      





    Recently two events occurred that illustrate the Republican bad habit of ceding to progressives a whole set of questionable assumptions. Whether out of sincere but misguided belief or fear of political cost, this anxious and cringing validation of progressive ideas and the double-standards that follow empowers the Democrats and weakens the GOP.

    The most egregious example was the speed at which many nominal conservatives chastised the Kentucky parochial school students who were attacked by an illiberal and racist outfit called the Black Hebrew Israelites, and by an American Indian “activist,” “tribal elder,” and “Vietnam vet” (the last a patent lie and a case of stolen valor). The anti-Trump media, as expected, without waiting for more information savaged the kids for embodying the worst traits of “white supremacism,” “toxic masculinity,” and “racial privilege.” One CNN Minister of Propaganda delighted in pointed out one kid’s “punchable face.” This was the same young man who stoically endured a deranged grown-up banging a drum in his face while the Black Hebrews rained down vile epithets on him.

    The left’s reaction should surprise no one familiar with its disregard for fact and equal justice, and its penchant for bullying the weak. More disgusting were the equally precipitate and bullying comments from some on the right. The NeverTrumpers at National Review beclowned themselves with their usual moral preening and preemptive cringing. One editorial subaltern tweeted of the students, “they might as well have just spit on the cross and got it over with.” At least the putative conservatives had the decency to be embarrassed, apologizing and removing their tweets and articles.

    Those gestures, however, don’t explain the initial impulse to attack, before all the facts were in, sixteen-year-old Catholic kids attending the March for Life rally against abortion, a cohort likely to become readers of National Review. Given that the bell of the attackers’ calumny cannot be unrung, it smacks of opportunism to apologize now, when the pundits never should have hastened to condemn the kids on such scant and subjective evidence in the first place.

    The next incident is not quite as straightforward. Nine-term Iowa Representative Steven King was stripped of his committee assignments by the Republican leadership for wondering during a New York Times interview, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” In King’s defense, he claims that his point was to protest equating white supremacism and nationalism with Western civilization, as the left does frequently. And it is certainly plausible that the ethically challenged Times would stoop to such unethical journalism.

    Whether King actually made the comment or the Times distorted his comment, associating the West with race-based nationalism and notions of racial superiority validates the identity politics lie that the West is an inherently oppressive and racist civilization. This staple of left-wing multiculturalism is a crude misunderstanding of history and human nature. For quite simply, the offenses of the West––slavery, sex inequality, violent invasion, occupation, and exploitation–– are the universal sins of a flawed mankind.

    Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

      





    President Trump’s frustration with the Federal Reserve’s (minuscule) interest rate increases that he blames for the downturn in the stock market has reportedly led him to inquire if he has the authority to remove Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Chairman Powell has stated that he would not comply with a presidential request for his resignation, meaning President Trump would have to fire Powell if Trump was serious about removing him.

    The law creating the Federal Reserve gives the president power to remove members of the Federal Reserve Board — including the chairman — “for cause.” The law is silent on what does, and does not, constitute a justifiable cause for removal. So, President Trump may be able to fire Powell for not tailoring monetary policy to the president’s liking.

    By firing Powell, President Trump would once and for all dispel the myth that the Federal Reserve is free from political interference. All modern presidents have tried to influence the Federal Reserve’s policies. Is Trump’s threatening to fire Powell worse than President Lyndon Johnson shoving a Fed chairman against a wall after the Federal Reserve increased interest rates? Or worse than President Carter “promoting” an uncooperative Fed chairman to Treasury secretary?

    Yet, until President Trump began attacking the Fed on Twitter, the only individuals expressing concerns about political interference with the Federal Reserve in recent years were those claiming the Audit the Fed bill politicizes monetary policy. The truth is that the audit bill, which was recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and will soon be reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), does not in any way expand Congress’ authority over the Fed. The bill simply authorizes the General Accountability Office to perform a full audit of the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy, including the Fed’s dealings with Wall Street and foreign central banks and governments.

      





    The easy — though not entirely wrong — analysis of the ongoing government shutdown is that it’s a political event rather than a market or economic event. For Republicans and Democrats, the shutdown is the ultimate cage match with big potential electoral and policy implications. As the Washington Post characterizes the standoff: “[President Trump] has to win. His entire reputation, his entire relationship with the base, it’s all a function of being committed on big things and not backing down. If he backs down on this, Pelosi will be so emboldened that the next two years will be a nightmare.” Big stakes, to say the least.

    But not so much for Wall Street. At least not yet. Perfect example: JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli has lowered his estimate of first-quarter real GDP growth to 2.0 percent from 2.25 percent with the “primary reason” for the revision being the shutdown. And although the longer the shutdown lasts the greater the risk of “spillover to the private sector,” Feroli adds, his downward revision to growth this quarter implies a lift to the second quarter (assuming the shutdown is over). So, even-steven, more or less.

    Well, maybe for the short-term. But what if the shutdown keeps going and going and going? Certainly the economic damage is cumulative as federal workers don’t get paid. Then there’s how the shutdown generates all sorts of micro-cracks in the long-running expansion. In The Wall Street Journal, reporters Josh Mitchell and Sharron Nunn tell the story of Groennfell Meadery in Colchester, VT, whose owners find their $1.3 million SBA loan on hold because of the shutdown. No loan means having to delay the purchase of three massive fermenters and a move to a bigger facility. Expect to hear more stories like that at the shutdown continues.

    But as they say on Twitter — usually sarcastically in reference to a popular meme — that’s Small Brain thinking. Big Brain remembers that the federal debt limit gets reinstated on March 2. And while the ceiling doesn’t need to be raised for some time — maybe until October — the economics team at Goldman Sachs notes that the “ongoing shutdown raises the possibility of a debt limit showdown,” although new budget rules make that more difficult than in the past. Such a confrontation does have market and economic implications as was seen during the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis.

    Then there’s the Galaxy Brain perspective: American wealth isn’t just derived from its entrepreneurial people, natural resources, fantastic companies, and world-class universities. Even more important is the entire democratic capitalist American system, including rule of law. Government is supposed to follow the rules. Contracts and property rights are enforced. The political system is predictable in all the best ways, including the reticence of policymakers to push the system to its breaking point. Investors, for instance, should be nervous when presidents claim novel emergency powers to force through their agenda when Congress balks. On this subject, here is a bit from a great blog post by money manager Josh Brown:

    The United States stock market currently sells at a price-to-earnings (PE) multiple of 21.8 times (trailing 12 months) and a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) multiple of 26.4 times. In comparison, the Russian stock market sells at a PE of 9.1 times and a CAPE of 5.9. It is the “cheapest” large stock market in the world.

    — The reason for this discount is that these are shares of stock that trade in a dictatorship, wholly controlled by the whims of the Kremlin. CEOs can be jailed for operating or even speaking against those in power. Assets can be confiscated or reassigned at will. State control of corporate entities does not encourage investors to pay up for minority stakes in these businesses.

    — Put simply, US stocks, bonds and real estate are the most trusted and relied upon financial “risk assets” on planet earth. We have strong contract law and, as a result, people all over the world allocate to these instruments with confidence. We should not take this for granted or fool ourselves into believing it’s permanent.

    — The existence of Microsoft, the corporation, is a story we’ve told ourselves and everyone has bought into it. This means we all agree that it should be afforded certain rights and protections and that its shareholders should too — this includes the protection of its property and the legal recourse for it to defend itself from thieves, bad actors, corrupt executives, etc. If this story we’ve all agreed upon begins to fall apart in the eyes of the people with money invested, then so will the company’s valuation. The implications for a massive loss of confidence in our rule of law are too terrifying to consider.

    That’s Galaxy Brain thinking, but for real. It is the sort of big-picture perspective that’s needed in Washington right now as America’s reputation as a serious nation continues to erode.

    James Pethokoukis is a columnist and blogger at the American Enterprise Institute. (Previously, he was Washington columnist for Reuters Breakingviews, the opinion and commentary wing of Thomson Reuters.) In addition, he is an official CNBC contributor. Pethokoukis has written for many publications, including The New York Times, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review, The Washington Examiner, and The Daily.




    The federal government shutdown has presented a unique opportunity for President Donald Trump to clear out the deadwood in the federal bureaucracy, saving U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in salaries, perks, and rented office space for people who aren't doing anything productive.

    At the same time, Trump can get rid of dozens, possibly even hundreds of Deep State operatives in the government, handpicked by Barack Obama and Bill Clinton for their loyalty to the Democratic Party, not their country or the law.

    These people leak like a screen door in a submarine, mainly to CNN and MSNBC, the twin headquarters of Trump-hatred on cable TV.  Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were choreographing their leaks to the media via text messages.  Even though Strzok was fired and Page resigned, it's clear there are many others.  They actively resist Trump and the Republicans at every opportunity.  This is the core of the Resistance.

    A high-ranking Trump administration official wrote four days ago in the Daily Caller that the shutdown enables Trump to get rid of people like this.  As members of the Senior Executive Service, many of them can't be fired unless they're convicted of a felony, or of committing some flagrant misconduct.

    This is indeed Trump's chance to "smoke out the Resistance," but he must do it carefully.  Thomas Lifson has published two columns in the American Thinker, here and here, explaining that Senior Executive Service (SES) employees cannot be furloughed (laid off) under normal circumstances, but they can be removed during a Reduction in Force (RIF) when their positions are found to be unnecessary.

    In the D.C. article, our unnamed administration official explains that roughly 80% of the federal work force in many departments, including his own, simply don't do anything.  They plan shopping trips and vacations.  They send out résumés for better-paying positions, perhaps without realizing that any new employer might expect them to actually get some work done.

    My experience in employment law teaches me that all federal employees are working under some kind of written contract, whether it's a collectively bargained contract with a union or an individual employment contract.  As of today (January 18), the shutdown is in its 28th day.  At 30 days, even SES executives loyal to the Democratic Party become vulnerable to the RIF monster.

    Lifson believes, and I also suspect, that Trump suckered the Democrats into a battle royale over the southern border wall Trump has proposed.  By refraining from declaring a national emergency and then building the wall (with Department of Defense funds saved from the withdrawal from Syria), Trump can simply bypass Congress.  He can order the Army Corps of Engineers to build it.

      




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