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Let us cast aside our perennial differences with the Communist Chinese to praise the individual heroism of railway policeman Zhang Liyuan, whom along with his fellows took on a gang of terrorists with their bare hands:
Zhang said he saw the attackers were hacking people at random. He shouted, "Come attack me!" to attract the attention of the attackers and lead them to a parking area where there were fewer people.
"But they did not follow me and they ran toward the crowds, so I chased them," Zhang said.
When Zhang saw a railway security guard had stopped one attacker and others came to attack him, Zhang went up to help.
"One of the attackers turned around and cut right on my hand," Zhang said.
Another two attackers injured the railway station security guard and two of Zhang's colleagues who came to help.
"My colleague Xie Lin was hit on his head, and Peng Bin was stabbed in his abdomen," Zhang said.
The death toll is 29, with an additional 143 injured, 20 of which are still in critical condition in a local hospital. However, without the brave intervention of these men the death toll would have undoubtedly been much higher. Officer Liyuan lost a finger in the fight, but is recovering.
[Note: Where I come from we call a 70 centimeter (2.3 feet) long knife a sword. So officers Liyuan, Lin, and Bin took on five terrorists armed with swords using their bare hands. ]
In her post below, D. C. McAllister quotes me accurately and in some detail, and then she grossly misrepresents what I said and what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. Here is the passage she quotes:
And what of childless marriages? Only rarely is childlessness part of the deal—and when it is part of the deal, the marriage is arguably not a marriage at all, and whatever it is, it is not apt to last long. As for childless marriages where children were part of the aim, they certainly count morally as marriages. No one is at fault. But they are as marriages in one sense defective and incomplete—and the sign of this is that a measure of sadness nearly always accompanies such a marriage as a consequence. For the unity that we seek in marriage is exemplified by children. Those of us blessed with children see ourselves as a unity reflected in our children every day. Grandchildren are, of course, icing on this cake.
Here is what she says:
Unlike many in this situation, I did conceive and went on to experience the joys of childbirth that Professor Rahe praises. But many couples don’t. Their grief is deep, as they want to have a child together and express their love in the creation of a son or a daughter. This is natural and it is good—no one denies this—but for them, it is not meant to be.
It certainly wasn’t for my best friend. She and her husband tried everything, feverishly researching all the fertility treatments and all the latest medical advancements. They wanted a child. I guess, according to the Catholic Church, they were counted as “morally” married because they were trying. But they never conceived.
Does this fact lessen the beauty and realness of their marriage? Does this make their relationship—a joining bound by a holy covenant—less complete? Can two people be a family? Should my friend feel shame—the kind of shame cast on infertile women in the parochial past because they had failed to live up to the raison d’etre of marriage?
How ironic that at a time when I was going through a divorce and fighting for child custody (a true attack on the institution of marriage, to my shame), my infertile friend sat at a kitchen table with her husband, a glass of red wine in front of her, her eyes red with tears, their hands entwined, telling me of their inability to conceive. He looked at her with such love as he told her he would be committed to her always, no matter what. They had a unity without children—based on a covenant that expressed itself in love. The grace that passed between them, born of their struggle, refined by fire, equaled—if not surpassed—the love shared by a husband and wife cooing over the perfect face of a newborn child.
I understand intellectually the tradition that compels a statement like that made by Professor Rahe in his post. It’s logical. If marriage is defined by procreation, and if there is not procreation, then it is not a marriage. That point of view is logically consistent. It seems, however, that for them to be completely consistent regarding civil marriages, the government—along with the Catholic Church—should refuse to marry anyone who does not want to have children. And so the definition of marriage becomes even more narrow—from the union of a man and woman to the union of a man and a woman with children (or with the intent to have children). Is this what we want in America?
Are their premises correct? Is marriage defined by procreation? Is there any sense in which a man and woman who cannot conceive or who admittedly do not wish to conceive for whatever reason (some quite reasonable, as they consider genetic, financial, or even psychological circumstances that would make it unwise to bring a child into the world) are ever truly “one”?
Under this standard, can the infertile woman ever hope to enjoy the intimate companionship of a loving spouse or is she condemned to a life of solitude because she’s defective, passing from one stage to the next alone until she dies, never knowing the love of a man? Is the older man required to marry a much younger, fertile woman instead of enjoying the love and equal companionship of woman his own age? These are the logical conclusions of a doctrine that says marriage is defined by children or the intent to have children.
Or is it possible that there is something that defines marriage other than the birthing of children? Can a man and a woman be “one flesh,” find intimate companionship, completion, and a covenantal love that is more than friendship without having produced a child? Are they “married”?
It seems to me they are, but the Catholic tradition, according to Professor Rahe, says they aren’t. What do you think, Ricochetti? What of childless marriages? Are they marriages, or are they something else, whatever that might be?
Note the difference. Did I say that "marriage is defined by procreation, and if there is not procreation, then it is not a marriage"? No. I said nothing of the kind, and I said nothing that could honestly be interpreted as implying anything of the kind. Is that the Catholic teaching? It is not. What I did say and what the Catholic Church teaches is that a marriage that is not open to procreation is no marriage. As I pointed out in the comments yesterday (in response to a comment by D. C.), in cases of divorce, when one of the two spouses has proved to be closed to procreation, an annulment is automatic. Moreover, no Catholic priest will marry a couple capable of having children who announce that they are unwilling to do so.
In pagan antiquity, I should perhaps add, no father would marry his young daughter to a man unwilling to have children with her. As Aristotle reports in his Constitution of the Athenians, when the tyrant Peisistratus had sexual relations with the daughter of the Alcmeonid Megacles "in a manner not according with custom," his bride told her mother, and Megacles joined with the other Athenian magnates to oust the malefactor from power and drive him into exile.
I should also perhaps mention that what is today the Catholic position was until the early 1930s the position of every Christian Church. The first church to break ranks was the Church of England, which embraced contraception at its Lambeth Conference in 1930. Note, however, the deep discomfort reflected in the language the conference employed:
Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.
It was not until 1958 that the Anglican Church completely caved in. What I was asserting was not just the Catholic position. It was, until very, very recently, the teaching of every Christian sect.
More needs to be said. In what I wrote, I did not claim or imply that infertility "lessen[s] the . . . realness of [anyone's] marriage." Nor did I suggest that anyone should "feel shame—the kind of shame cast on infertile women in the parochial past because they had failed to live up to the raison d’etre of marriage." Indeed, I expressly said, as you can see above, that no one is morally at fault.
What I did say is that childless marriages are "in one sense defective and incomplete." In what sense? I pointed to sadness as a sign that fruitlessness is a source of regret. D. C. does not deny this fact. She makes much of it. She, in fact, agrees with me. Indeed, she makes my point in a manner far more eloquent than I did.
D. C.'s argument depends on her eliding two quite distinct sets of circumstances — not being willing to have children and not being able to have children. What I expressly kept asunder, she brought together. Rhetorically, this bit of legerdemain was elegantly done. Logically, however, it makes no sense at all.
Why attribute to me a position I expressly rejected? Why attribute to the Roman Catholic Church a teaching it expressly rejects? When D. C. writes, "I understand intellectually the tradition that compels a statement like that made by Professor Rahe in his post," she is quite wrong. She does not understand that tradition at all.
The question is posed by my old friend Eric Edelman on The Weekly Standard website. Eric and I overlapped at Cornell and later in graduate school at Yale. After getting a Ph.D. in diplomatic history with a dissertation on Turkey's entrance into NATO, he joined the Foreign Service. In time, he served as ambassador to Turkey (a job I crave myself), and he was last visible as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, a post he held from 2005 to 2009.
Here is the answer he gives:
First, [the Ukraine] matters because—despite Putin’s risible claims of anti-Russian violence in Crimea and eastern Ukraine (even Angela Merkel reportedly told President Obama that she thinks Putin is “in another world”)—this is military aggression against a neighboring independent state in the heart of Europe that violates the U.N. Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. Moreover, the pretext upon which it is based, protection of Russian national minorities in Ukraine, could also be used against NATO member states like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, “an armed attack against one [member state] . . . shall be considered an attack against them all.” The future viability of the alliance is at stake here.
Second, if Putin can pull off a smash and grab operation against Crimea without being made to pay a serious and significant price, others will draw their own conclusions. Would the “international community” exact a price subsequently if China seized the Senkaku Islands or even Taiwan? Would Pyongyang or Tehran conclude that it might have more leeway for aggressive moves against its neighbors?
Third, there is a huge nonproliferation issue (allegedly the president’s highest national security priority) at stake. Ukraine, as one of the successor states to the former Soviet Union, found itself in 1991 with nuclear weapons on its territory to which it laid claim. It was one of the Clinton administration’s signal diplomatic achievements to have gotten Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to agree to return the nuclear weapons on their respective territory to Russia, leaving one nuclear weapons state on the territory of the former USSR rather than four. In return, the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia all signed, along with Ukraine, the Budapest Memorandum, which accompanied Ukraine’s adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Inter alia, that document committed Russia to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and imposed on Russia an “obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” If left standing, Russian aggression will establish that security assurances offered by the nuclear weapons states to states that willingly give up their nuclear weapons or weapons programs mean precisely nothing.
Eric also has some things to say about what can be done to bring Vladimir Putin to heel, and they deserve heeding -- especially because he knows whereof he speaks when he talks about military matters in particular.
I would merely add that it would not take much effort on our part to bring down the Russian economy. The place is a banana republic, or -- to be more precise -- a petrodollar paradise. Call the Russian bluff. Batten down the hatches and bring oil and gas to Europe from other sources this Spring, and the ruble will crash and Russia fall apart. Seventy-five percent of its exports have to do with energy.
Polls show that seventy percent of the citizens of Russia oppose Putin's intervention in the Crimea now. If the Russians do not export their oil and gas, they will have next to nothing to eat -- and that will not sit well with the Russian people.
Moreover, the place is a kleptocracy: run by and for a handful of oligarchs who profit from exploiting for their own benefit the resources that rightly belong to their fellow citizens, and they stash their loot abroad. Freeze all assets owned abroad by Russian nationals, and his fellow oligarchs will be calling for Putin's scalp.
Let me add that Putin himself has billions and billions stashed abroad. I am told by a Russian expert here at Stanford that he may be the world's wealthiest man, and we know under whose name his stolen riches are hidden. Remember: we read their mail.
The coup that Putin is trying to pull off is predicated on the presumption that we and our allies in Europe are so weak-kneed that we will acquiesce. There is one thing that you can be certain of. If we do acquiesce, this will not be Vladimir Putin's "last territorial demand in Europe."
There is this to be said in defense of Neville Chamberlain. Hitler made such a promise at the time he signed the Munich Agreement, and Chamberlain believed it. Putin has said nothing of the kind.
To acquiesce is to risk losing everything that we gained in World War II and the Cold War. Ron Paul, Rand Paul (I suspect), and the Cato Institute notwithstanding, our long-term well-being depends upon there being a tolerably reliable international order relatively free from thuggery and open to trade. This does not mean that we have to be deeply concerned with every bit of foolishness that goes on. It does not mean that we have to be the world's policeman. But when a power possessing nuclear arms runs amok and begins seizing territory from its neighbors, we have to act.
Isolationism made sense in the 19th century when we could rely on the British to support such an order. It made no sense in the 1920s and the 1930s as we learned the hard way in 1941, and it makes no sense now.
I am not suggesting that there is any need for histrionics. Nor do I think that we need to put boots on the ground. We simply need to use the economic levers at our disposal. In situations like this one, the less that statesmen posture the better. Talk softly, and wield a big stick with vigor and cunning. That should be our policy.
It's common (and proper) for those of us on the right to venerate the Constitution as providing the basis for limited government. But that doesn't make it a perfect legal document. The most obvious mistake was the failure to abolish slavery ab initio. But one could also argue that one of the lesser causes of the Civil War was constitutional ambiguities, especially regarding slavery in the territories and secession.
What do you think are its flaws? I'm thinking more about the structural aspects (checks and balances, etc.) than whether a particular individual right was specifically enumerated. Lifetime judicial appointments? The nearly endless elasticity of the Commerce Clause? Judicial review? Is amending it too difficult?
Let there be no doubt: when civility is threatened, Congress will be there to elevate the national tone.
Two senators are urging the Department of Transportation to ban in-flight calls to prevent fights from breaking out among passengers.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Thursday to encourage him to follow through with the ban the Transportation Department proposed last month.
“We strongly support the agency's efforts to preserve the last vestige of quiet in our busy skies,” the senators wrote in the letter.
The senators, who introduced the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act in December to ban in-flight calls through legislation, say cellphone conversations could create a “hostile atmosphere” for passengers. They said they worry flight crews might have to referee “senseless disputes” between passengers — or even force air marshals to reveal their identities to break up physical altercations.
“We are concerned that the addition of this entirely avoidable aggravation of a confined space will create a possibly hostile atmosphere on commercial flights,” the senators wrote.
Yes, because airplanes have heretofore been airborne Elysiums, where every child is mute and every passenger regulates his Bloody Mary intake with pinpoint precision. We wouldn't want to upset the delicate acoustic equipoise where no sound can be heard apart from the guy next to you laughing too loud at the Charles in Charge episodes he downloaded to his iPad.
Look, I probably wouldn't use my phone on an airplane unless necessity compelled it. The concern here isn't entirely misbegotten. The idea of being trapped on a transcontinental flight next to somebody with unlimited minutes and a lack of compunction about describing his digestive maladies is a powerful argument in favor of a road trip.
But is that grounds for writing a ban into law? Surely the airlines have an interest in finding the right balance between allowing customers access to their phones and keeping the flight from devolving into Lord of the Flies. It's easy to imagine certain carriers marketing themselves on the basis of the fact that they do or don't allow phone calls or even restricting phone usage to certain areas of the plane. It may be difficult to enforce, but experimenting until you've found a workable solution has got to be preferable to enacting a preemptive ban, right?
Is it crazy to imagine that this is probably solvable through the market? Or would you sign on to Feinstein and Alexander's proposed ban?
Image of guy you'd be too scared to tell to get off the phone via Shutterstock
In my post yesterday, I deliberately restricted my purview to civil marriage. My reason for doing so was that, last year or the year before, I attended a conference on marriage at Brigham Young University; and, both from the reading assigned and the discussion, I got a good sense of what Judaism, the various Christian sects, and Mormonism have in common in their teaching about religion, and I was made aware of some of the differences. (For the record, the best book I read dealing with the Catholics and the Protestants is From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, which was written by my friend John Witte).
What these monotheistic religious traditions have in common, let me add, they have in common also with the pagan Greeks and Romans and with the pagan peoples of ancient Mesopotamia (whose thinking is reflected in the ordinances pertaining to marriage and divorce found in the Code of Hammurabi, which reflects a tradition going back as much as a millennium of Sumerian and Akkadian case law). That something in common is the emphasis on the procreation and rearing of children.
None of these societies made any provision for same-sex marriage — which is extremely telling, given the fact that pederasty was a common practice throughout ancient Greece and achieved in some cities a measure of legal recognition (mainly because, like marriage, it served a public purpose — in this case, by reinforcing solidarity between men situated alongside one another in the battle line).
Why a man and a woman? Well, to the ancients — even to those who were themselves homoerotically inclined — the reason seemed obvious. Same-sex couples cannot procreate.
Why a lasting union? We human beings differ from the other animals in many particulars — one of which is in the fact that our offspring need looking after for a very long time. Marriage is the crucible for that task, and every human culture that I know of recognizes as much and provides marriages aimed at procreation and the nourishing of children with legal support.
In my view, the same logic applies within the Christian (and, for that matter, the Mormon and the Jewish) teaching, and this means that procreation and child-rearing are central and not in any sense secondary.
Take a look at the argument presented below by D. C. McAllister (from which I will selectively quote), and ask yourself whether the case that she makes for the view that the relationship must be one between a man and a woman is compelling:
Essential to marriage—from a natural and creational standpoint and expressed in many different religions—is the union of a man and a woman, not first to produce children (though that is important and necessary for the continuation of society), but to live a happy, content, and fulfilled life—to not be lonely. In a word, we can’t be happy unless we are complete.
This sense of oneness is foundational. While both men and women are individually created in the image of God, there is a sense—relationally—that this image cannot be fully realized alone. That’s because to be flourishing humans, we must love, give, and serve. We can’t do that in isolation.
Even Adam, pure as he was and in constant contact with his Creator, was in a very real sense “alone.” And not simply alone because he couldn’t produce children on his own, but existentially and relationally alone. The animals were not equipped to be loved and to love him as someone who was also made in the image of God—mind, body, and soul. The animals were not able to help Adam work the Garden and be a good steward of the earth (something he was called to do even without children). He needed a suitable helper. That helper was a woman. . .
To understand what it means to be made in the image of God and why it is important that marriage be between a man and a woman, it is necessary to remember that God is "neither male or female" he is not divided or separate—or another way of looking at it is that God is both male and female—that the fullness of the masculine and feminine, unified, is within the Godhead. While each human being is made in the likeness of God—spirit, soul, mind, original righteousness (both women and men)—relationally (that ability to love and give love and to grow more like God through that giving and loving) can only fully come in relation to another human being—a man and a woman. The masculine and feminine must be joined in spirit and body to find full expression of divine love as image-bearers of God.
This is one of the primary motivations of the human heart and the central theme of art and literature in all cultures throughout all time—to fill the lonely void that only a man (for the woman) and a woman (for the man) can fill. I must reiterate, as I have above, that singleness is an extraordinary calling, and one that finds its fulfillment in God—but it is a special situation, and I think we all, if we understand human nature and human longings, rightly recognize that.
The main point I want to make is that marriage by its very nature—even leaving children out of the picture—can only be between a man and a woman because of how humanity is made, the very building blocks of their existence, physically and spiritually. A man and a man are not complete because the feminine image of God is absent in the relationship (no matter how they might try to mimic it). A woman and a woman are incomplete because the masculine image of God is absent in the relationship (again, no matter how they might try to imitate it).
The argument from loneliness I find persuasive. The argument that only a relationship with a member of the other sex will enable me to overcome that loneliness seems to me a stretch.
There is, however, another argument that is compelling, and, interestingly, at least two of the three authors who make it are Catholics (the third may be as well; I do not know). Consider the article written by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan Anderson cited and summarized by L. T. Rahe:
|L.T. Rahe: This article is interesting. Part of the argument (beginning on p. 253) goes as follows: 1. Our bodies are part of who we are (not just an irrelevant appendage). 2. A comprehensive union of spouses therefore requires a bodily unity. 3. Sexual intimacy of the kind by which a woman can get pregnant is the only way to achieve bodily unity, because the reproductive system is the only bodily system which require another human being to complete its function. · 51 minutes ago|
Note that the appeal is not to Revelation; it is an appeal to natural teleology -- an appeal understood and embraced, until just a few years ago, by every people on earth. Moreover, it explains the partnership between man and woman in a manner that is compelling.
There is another way to come at this. Aristotle distinguishes friendships of virtue from friendships of pleasure and friendships of utility. Friendships of pleasure are common among children who play with one another, and those which are purely friendships of pleasure last only as long as the play is pleasurable. Friendships of utility are perhaps best exemplified by business relationships between, say, sellers of a commodity and its buyers. Where utility is the only end, the friendship dissolves when the seller ceases to sell or the buyer ceases to buy. These friendships are, as you can see, unstable.
Friendships of virtue are different. They reflect a commitment on the part of all involved to the pursuit of a good they somehow share. Generally, such friendships are pleasurable and useful as well, but their chief ground is sacrifice for a common good.
Marriage is friendship of virtue aimed at the procreation and rearing of children. There is pleasure, too, of course, and there is utility. The couple enjoy one another's company, and they help one another. But what most effectively binds them together are what Augustine called "loved things held in common"; and, in most but not all cases, those loved things held in common are their children. They are the principal ground of marital unity.
And what of childless marriages? Only rarely is childlessness part of the deal — and when it is part of the deal, the marriage is arguably not a marriage at all, and whatever it is, it is not apt to last long. As for childless marriages where children were part of the aim, they certainly count morally as marriages. No one is at fault. But they are as marriages in one sense defective and incomplete — and the sign of this is that a measure of sadness nearly always accompanies such a marriage as a consequence. For the unity that we seek in marriage is exemplified by children. Those of us blessed with children see ourselves as a unity reflected in our children every day. Grandchildren are, of course, icing on this cake.
There are, to be sure, other loved things that can be held in common, other ends to which a couple can in tandem devote themselves — and the childless marriages most likely to last are those in which the couple find other loved things to hold in common of just this sort. But, of course, these other loved things could easily enough be shared by two men or by two women — which brings me back to L. T. Rahe's point.
There is one obvious regard in which men and women are made for one another. What DC has to say on this matter . . . well, it is not obvious; and, if I tried to pitch it to a friend who was homoerotically inclined, I would get as my reply a rolling of the eyes. Whereas, at least in the past, nearly everyone who was homoerotically inclined understood the truth of the argument that I have made here, and many, even today, would still acknowledge its truth.
In case you're nearby and haven't already made plans, consider this your reminder that there are two Ricochet meetups taking place this weekend.
— Ricochet members in the Washington D.C. area for CPAC will be meeting up tomorrow night, March 8, at 6 PM at the National Pastime Sports Bar and Grill at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland (where CPAC is being held).
— Ricochet members in the Twin Cities will also be getting together tomorrow night at Keegan's Pub in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they'll be joined by Ricochet's own James Lileks, as well as John Hinderaker and Brian Ward, who will be recording a live version of The Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast on site.
Details on both events can be found at RicochetMeetup.com
Make sure to take pictures and post about the events on Ricochet.
Not a member yet? Join today.
From our own Andrew Klavan's utterly brilliant review of House of Cards:
[T]here is one way in which House of Cards relentlessly and continuously undermines the left-wing narrative, whether it intends to or not. In its heightened way, it shows the government as exactly what it is: a power center, inspiring all the soulless perfidy and amoral ambition that any power center is prone to inspire.
This is devastating to left-wing philosophy, because the central flaw of leftism is not its ceaseless cynicism about business, individualism, religion, or the common man—it’s that its cynicism evaporates into unicorn-and-rainbow stupidity when it comes to government. Insurance companies are too greedy to handle health care, but not the government. Individuals are too reckless to own guns, but not the government. Religion is too corrupt to preach morals, but not the government. The people are too foolish to know their own good, but not our old friend Uncle Government. It’s no wonder some conservatives think leftists are all evil tyrants. It’s easier than believing they could really be such knuckleheads.
Not evil, just knuckleheads. Beautiful.
As some of you may remember, I was part of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) prostate study, and it arguably saved my life. The chief investigator was a physician named Peter Pinto. As I reported in a post three years ago, he and his team had developed a new technique for diagnosing prostate cancer.
A cousin of mine had died of prostate cancer when he was in his early sixties. My brother had come down with an aggressive strain of prostate cancer when he was in his early sixties. He had had his prostate removed, and he is now in his mid-80s. I was aware of this; and so, when my PSA jumped dramatically from a very low level, I was alarmed. So I called a prominent physician with whom I was acquainted, and the next thing I knew I was a guinea pig.
First, Dr. Pinto and his team did an ordinary biopsy of my prostate. Then, they did an experiment. They had developed a technique for doing a biopsy directed at lesions on the prostate made visible via a trans-rectal MRI — and using this technique they took another series of samples from my prostate.
In ordinary circumstances, given what are considered "best practices" today, I would not have been eligible for a biopsy. My PSA was quite low; and, in an attempt to save money, the powers that be are unfriendly to relying on the PSA test (which, to be fair, produces lots of false positives) unless it is dramatically high. Most potential candidates are told not to bother with a biopsy.
I was lucky. The first time I was biopsied, Dr. Pinto and his colleagues found that I was cancerous. The samples came up 2% positive, and they recommended "watchful waiting," which is to say, that I be biopsied again in a year. It was their expectation — especially, since the MRI I was given the second time suggested no change in the lesions — that the second biopsy would echo the first and that I would die of something else long before the cancer became a problem. But the second biopsy did not echo the first. A couple of weeks later I was informed that the samples were now 50% cancerous. What I had was an aggressive strain.
Various options were presented to me. Surgery was recommended, and surgery I chose. In late June, 2012, I went, as I put it in a post a couple of days in advance, Under the Knife. In that post, I wrote the following:
There is a debate going on within the medical community concerning the PSA test. It is not an especially accurate indicator of cancer, and some think that too many biopsies are done and too many men have their prostates removed. Others, including people here at NIH, are firmly of the opposite opinion. They contend that, in the last quarter-century, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of deaths from prostate cancer. The reason appears to be that PSA testing, digital rectal testing, and biopsies — when these techniques are all in play – often enough enable physicians to detect aggressive prostate cancer early on. And, when early detection is followed by surgery or radiation, they can usually stop the cancer in its tracks.
The new techniques, being pioneered by Dr. Pinto and his team here at NIH, promise to identify the tissue that is suspect and to enable those conducting biopsies to hone in on the suspect tissue. When these techniques are sanctioned for general use, they should make early diagnosis easy, and they should then even more dramatically reduce the number of deaths resulting from prostate cancer.
Tomorrow, if I do not die under the knife, the odds are good that Dr. Pinto will remove everything that is cancerous and that I will get a new lease on life. I owe the fact that the odds are on my side to vigilance on the part of physicians and on my part. If the powers that be succeed in striking the directive that causes physicians to administer the PSA test on men over the age of fifty as a matter of routine and you are such a man, you should exert yourself and insist on having the test done, and – if there is any indication of danger – you should have a biopsy. In my case, the indications were not strongly indicative. At the time of my first biopsy, my PSA had actually dropped from its mildly but suddenly elevated level. And last December, though it had gone up a little, there was no dramatic change. If I am alive in five years, it will be because I was alarmed when I got the news in December, 2010.
One further word of warning. Genes may not be destiny, but, in these matters, they come pretty close to having that status. Know your family history, and take precautions.
I quote this material here for a reason. Today, in The Wall Street Journal, there was a report concerning a new study of men with early-stage prostate cancer. Here is what the study found: that men with this condition "who had their prostates surgically removed were significantly more likely to be alive nearly two decades later than men who went without surgery and were monitored through so-called 'watchful waiting.'"
The study, which was published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that, "after 18 years, there were 13% fewer deaths from any cause, and 11% fewer deaths from prostate cancer specifically" among those who had surgery. Here is the kicker:
The benefits of surgery were most pronounced in men who were under 65 when diagnosed. In these patients, there were 25.5% fewer deaths from any cause and 15.8% fewer deaths from prostate cancer in the surgery group. Among men 65 and older at diagnosis, there was no significant reduction in death in the surgery group, according to the study, which was led by Swedish physicians and funded by the Swedish Cancer Society.
Moreover, men whose cancers had an intermediate risk of growing or spreading were more likely to benefit from surgery than men whose cancer had a low or high risk of spreading. Among intermediate-risk patients, there were 24.2% fewer deaths from prostate cancer in the surgery group than in the watchful-waiting group. Among low-risk patients, there were 3.8% fewer deaths from prostate cancer in the surgery group, a slim enough difference that the researchers said it could have been due to chance. In high-risk patients, there was no significant difference in prostate-cancer death between the groups.
I was not a part of this particular study, but it fits my experience perfectly. If you know someone who was diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was under 65 or is likely to have had the condition by that time, alert him to this finding. Mention also that the biopsy technique devised by Dr. Pinto has been cleared for more general use.
Over three decades ago, in the context of the struggle for freedom of then-communist Poland, prominent leftist Susan Sontag gave a speech to her cohorts that had them gasping in shock, when she famously said:
Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?
I don't expect any current Democrats to speak similar heresy, but we do have an opportunity to make an equivalent point with the independents from now through November. It could be framed in a very similar manner. David Steinberg lays out the case, with examples:
I wager the swing-voter open to voting Republican will recognize the GOP’s wealth of correct pronouncements since 2008, whether they come from mealy leadership or Ted Cruz, and the average American open to voting Republican for a first time won’t reject the scorecard solely due to the manner of delivery. A person making such judgments wouldn’t be open to voting Republican.
Remind voters of the 2008, 2010, and 2012 GOP platforms, and dare them to find a flawed GOP prediction. Just one. Dare them to name just one successful Democratic prediction.
In other words, imagine that you'd listened to Sarah Palin about Russia invading Ukraine, or death panels, or that you'd listened to Mitt Romney on who was our greatest geopolitical adversary, or if you'd listened to all the people who warned that there were no shovel-ready jobs, that the "stimulus" wouldn't work as advertised, that you wouldn't be able to keep your plan and your doctor, regardless of Barack Obama's repetitive lies on that front. In contrast to those who listened only to every failed prediction of the Democrats, who would have been better informed about the realities of Democrats' policies?
Or make it even more Sontag like. "Imagine, if you will, a news consumer who, in defiance of President Obama's advice, watched only Fox News for the past half decade, and one whose sole information sources were CNN, MSNBC and the broadcast networks. Which of them would be more surprised by the current state of the country?"
"Who do you trust to get us out of this mess? The people who created it, whose every prediction about it was shown to be false, or the people who were prescient, understand why it failed, and know how to succeed going forward?"
That has to be a major campaign theme, with juxtaposed predictions.
The management of Ricochet, Inc. prioritizes listening to the membership and giving them exactly what they ask for. And if it’s one thing the membership has been demanding, it’s a meeting in an arctic wasteland during the depths of the most brutal winter on record. Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over.
The long promised Ricochet Minneapolis Meet Up is scheduled for Saturday March 8, at Keegan’s Pub in Minneapolis. Party begins at 5pm and goes until the last, desperate argument in favor or against Arizona SB 1062 is exhausted (we’ve warned management we may need to go past the 2am closing time).
We’re planning on taping an episode of the Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast during the evening and interviewing as many of the Ricochet members and other noteworthies on hand as possible. Scheduled to attend are Ricochet contributors James Lileks, John Hinderaker, and Brian Ward. Lots of our old friends from Minnesota media and politics promise to be there as well.
Ricochet members, or Ricochet members to-be, hope you can make it. Again it’s Saturday, March 8 at Keegan’s Pub, located at 16 University Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413.
And the extended forecast calls for a balmy high of 24 degrees on that day and only a 10% chance of snow, so old man winter is not a valid excuse for skipping it. It’s going to be a blast, don’t you dare miss it!
(Ricochetti, drop us an RSVP in the comments section if you can attend, so we can know who to look for.)
Two Choices in Crimean Referendum: "Yes" and "Yes"March 7, 2014
The official ballot of the Crimean referendum gives voters two options:
1. Vote yes for immediate union with Russia
2. Vote yes for Crimean independence, then union with Russia. A no vote is not an option.
This would be funny, if it wasn't so serious.
Voters in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea who vote in the March 16 referendum have two choices – join Russia immediately or declare independence and then join Russia.
So the choices are “yes, now” or “yes, later.”
Voting “no” is not an option.
The lack of choice wouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with how Soviet or Russian elections are run.
The Crimean parliament released the design of the ballot that will be used for the referendum, which will be taking place as thousands of Russian soldiers are in control and – it appears – Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling the shots..
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has annulled the referendum as illegal and unconstitutional, but the pro-Kremlin Crimean authorities who took power on Feb. 27 do not recognize the legitimacy of central government and have said they will proceed with the vote.
The ballot asks two questions and leaves no option for a “no” vote. Voters are simply asked to check one of two boxes:
Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russian Federation?
Do you support restoration of 1992 Crimean Constitution and Crimea's status as a part of Ukraine?
That Constitution declares that Crimea is an independent state.
The questions are written in Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar, the three most widely spoken languages on the peninsula, and the paper carries a warning in all three languages that marking both options will invalidate the ballot.
Follow the link for an image of the ballot, as well as the rest of the story.
Peggy Noonan had a nice piece in the Wall Street Journal today titled "The Ideologue vs. the Children", discussing New York mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign against charter schools in the city. The piece is worth reading for an update about the fiasco in New York, but what's especially interesting is Noonan's description of de Blasio as beholden to ideology rather than facts.
This, of course, is a charge that Democrats usually love to levy against Republicans. When Barack Obama took office in 2008, Democrats swooned that we finally had a "pragmatist" back in the White House after eight years of a Republican president who supposedly favored ideology to facts on everything from science to foreign policy. Translation: Democrats act based on knowing things because they are smarter and think about them rationally and scientifically, while Republicans act based on believing things because they are religious, ill-informed, or misled by powerful interest groups.
The last few years have supplied ample evidence of the opposite — namely, that Democrats are the ideologues wearing blinders to shield themselves from inconvenient realities. Indeed, it is worth reviewing a list of items on which Democrats seem incapable of overcoming preconceptions and interest groups:
Education -- Noonan's example of De Blasio, who has effectively declared war on charter schools in New York for no reason other than that they are opposed by teacher's unions (a key Democratic constituency) and supported by the private sector (God forbid). No matter that they are delivering results for students from low-income families.
Foreign Policy -- Obama's refusal to meaningfully project power internationally because, in his words, "no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation" — a fantasy view of international relations that flies in the face of how other nations conduct their foreign policy and helps explain why Obama was caught off guard by events in Ukraine. As Charles Krauthammer pointed out in a column today, the world has not suddenly, magically transformed "from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen."
There's also the failure to conclude important free trade agreements, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, simply because they are opposed by labor unions — even though these free trade agreements would benefit the U.S. economy and strengthen our alliances in key geographies.
Environment -- The Keystone Pipeline has been cleared by every single body that has been convened to opine on its merits. It will be hugely beneficial to the U.S. from an economic and energy security standpoint, and its environmental impact will be minimal — especially when you consider that the oil will go to international markets anyway, if not through Keystone then through various tankers and other pipeline facilities. Yet the Obama administration is still dragging its feet because of environmental zealots who have made it their mission to prevent Keystone from moving forward.
Economics -- The last few months have seen new proposals, strongly supported by Obama, to hike the minimum wage to over $10/hr despite incontrovertible evidence that such hikes only harm less-skilled workers by excluding them from the workforce.
It is also always shocking to see Democratic governors propose increasing various state taxes, pointing to wildly optimistic prognoses about how these tax-increases will result in massive amounts of additional revenue for the state — without understanding (or looking at the plentiful evidence) that businesses and high-income individuals can (and will) move to another state (see, e.g., Californians moving to Texas), thereby in fact draining the state of revenue.
The list could go on, but the point is clear. Democrats hurling accusations of ideological rigidity at Republicans are throwing stones in a glass house.
Mitt Romney was right. And that's straight from the ultra-left New Republic:
In the course of the last presidential campaign, Mitt Romney made a comment about America's number one "geopolitical foe," which Romney claimed was Russia. He was mocked by the president and many liberal commentators. Here are Romney's remarks, in their full context, which came during a conversation with Wolf Blitzer:
ROMNEY: Russia...is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors.
This all seems...exactly right.
Sarah Palin was right. From the always-brilliant Tim Stanley in the Telegraph:
In 2008, the Alaskan conservative warned that Putin was on the prowl. Quote: "After the Russian army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of moral indecision and equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next."
Wow. Mrs Palin not only got the country that Putin would threaten right, she also predicted the reason behind it. Obama's "indecision and equivalence" over Iran, Egypt and, most importantly, Syria, has probably encouraged Putin to believe that there would be next-to-no Western response to an attack on Ukraine.
Now, of course, Russia and Iran are joining together in cyberwarfare. From the Free Beacon:
Iran has emerged as a leading cyber threat and has already hacked into the U.S. defense establishment and financial institutions, likely with the help of the Russians, according to a former chairman of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Iran has boosted its cyber capabilities in a “surprisingly” short amount of time and possesses the ability to launch successful cyber attacks on American financial markets and its infrastructure, former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) told a panel of lawmakers on Tuesday.
The Iranian regime’s emergence as a “world class” cyber threat likely has to do with its close ties to Russia, according to Hoekstra, who warned during a hearing on Iran’s global terror activities that the two countries will only boost coordination on the cyber front in the coming months.
“Iran and Russia will develop a much closer relationship,” said Hoekstra, who was on the House’s intelligence committee from 2001 to 2011. “Russia and Iran have so much to gain from more significant cooperation [and] the immediate impacts will be profound.”
As Russia continues to take an aggressive stance towards the United States, its “assistance to Iran’s cyber program” will grow exponentially “as Iran continues to develop offensive and defensive capabilities,” Hoekstra said, noting that this “foreshadows an even darker future.”
Here's the key part:
“You would see something that would cause economic disruption,” as well as an attack “potentially against our infrastructure,” Hoekstra said. “The scary thing is they have the capability to do that and we don’t necessarily have the means to defend it. If something like that occurred it would be very, very difficult to pinpoint who the perpetrators would be. It could be Iran, but it’s very difficult to track it back to Iran.”
We're defenseless against an enemy that President Obama doesn't even think, apparently, is an enemy. We're defenseless against a country, Iran, that has already outsmarted our preening, egomaniacal, easily outsmartable president.
Photo above right: The President meets with his senior advisors.
The First Lady has turned more young people against Democrats than any GOP politician in history. I discovered this last year when my daughter stormed home from school shouting, “Michelle Obama ruined our lunches!”
It appears the reaction of my kids and their classmates aren't an exception. In the name of halting obesity, FLOTUS' one-size-fits-all standards banned some foods, rationed others, and significantly complicated cafeteria menu planning. Not only do kids get less food, it tastes worse and costs more.
But wait, there’s more! The Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited the program and found that more than 1 million children abandoned school lunches entirely.
Nationwide, student participation in the National School Lunch Program declined by 1.2 million students (or 3.7 percent) from school year 2010-2011 through school year 2012-2013, after having increased steadily for many years… State and local officials reported that the changes to lunch content and nutrition requirements, as well as other factors, influenced student participation.
The GAO also noted that 48 of 50 states faced challenges complying with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The new standards led to kids throwing out their fruits and vegetables, student boycotts, higher lunch costs, and odd food pairings such as “cheese stick with shrimp” in order for schools to comply with the complicated rules…
The standards forced some schools to stop serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and led middle school and high school students to opt for vending machines or buying food off campus to avoid the lunch line…
The new standards are exhaustive, including calorie ranges for each age group, sodium limits, zero tolerance for trans fats, and specific ounce amounts for meats and grains. White bread will be mostly phased out beginning in 2014 because only “whole grain rich” items will be allowed.
The most damaging result will be a generation of kids who equate healthy food with lousy taste. Like so many government initiatives, unintended consequences will achieve the exact opposite of what was intended.
Image via me.
A few weeks ago during Ricochet's 200th Podcast in L.A., James Lileks consumed his own weight in little cheese blocks and became uncharacteristically incoherent. So much so, in fact, that at one point he mentioned a Sajak/Carter presidential ticket in 2016, at which point Rob Long suggested a Carter/Sajak ticket.
So, entirely for fun, let's say the unthinkable happened. Drawing exclusively from the firmament of talent and intellect here at Ricochet, with whom do we fill cabinet level positions...or any other federal positions you care to entertain, or create?
Bob Lee for Secretary of Defense? John Yoo for Attorney General? D.C. McAllister as Ambassador to the Holy See? Franco to whip the RNC into shape? Doc Jay as Surgeon General? Judith Levy for Secretary of State? Fred Cole at Transportation? Jon Gabriel as Secretary for Punching Obnoxious People In the Nose? Ideas anyone?
Comedian Andrew Heaton has a new YouTube series exploring the intersection of economics and pop culture. Earlier this week, he posted the inaugural installment, featuring an analysis of Dallas Buyer's Club. Have a look and tell us what you think in the comments:
Yes, really. Providing an alarming and really astonishing overview of international news, Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal:
Here's what else happened in the week Mr. Putin captured Crimea.
Israel on Wednesday intercepted in the Red Sea an Iranian shipment to Gaza of dozens of Syrian-made surface-to-surface rockets. These are our new Iranian negotiating partners.
North Korea last Thursday test-fired four short-range ballistic missiles and another this Monday. Then on Tuesday it deployed a new multiple-rocket launcher that fired four missiles with enough range to hit American and South Korean military bases near Seoul.
In Moscow last Wednesday,Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia plans to use military bases in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua for its navy and to refuel strategic bombers. Three months ago, Secretary Kerry ostentatiously announced in a Washington speech, "The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over." Naturally the Russians took this as a green light to return to one of the Soviet Union's favorite playpens. The next day, a Russian spy ship, the Viktor Leonov SSV-175, slipped unannounced into Havana Harbor.
Then this Wednesday, a news bulletin: "China announces 12.2% increase in military budget." That boost comes within 24 hours of the Obama budget proposing a decline in U.S. defense spending.
This is all in one week!
The number of weeks remaining in the Obama administration? One hundred and forty-two.
In a much anticipated second appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today, Lois Lerner again invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and chose to not answer the committee’s queries. Ms. Lerner’s silence begs the question "what is the there that’s there?" Essentially what is Ms. Lerner refusing to illuminate with her non-testimony and why? And why is Elijah Cummings so insistent on closing the Darrell Issa committee investigation into the IRS?
To date, a compelling and growing body of evidence exists that members of Obama’s Administration and government agencies have targeted and are targeting his opponents, critics, and detractors. Targets have included AP reporters and editors, James Rosen of Fox News, Fox News itself, the Koch Brothers, Standard and Poor's, Dinesh D’Souza and, most notably, the conservative 501(c)4 groups (see definitional chart) being targeted by the IRS. Almost without exception, the president (or his surrogate, Jay Carney) has pled innocence each time that evidence of targeting has surfaced, claiming no knowledge or involvement and no intention to damage those targeted. When closely questioned by Bill O’Reilly about the IRS targeting scandal, the president famously stated, “not even mass corruption, not even a smidgeon of corruption, I would say.”
So how did we get here? Some background (coupled with a little speculation) bears mentioning. President Obama has consistently demonstrated a penchant for compulsively describing his opponents’ views as extreme and not worthy of serious consideration. For example, Obama has consistently charged groups and individuals that oppose abortion as not only waging "a war on women" but holding views that border on illegitimate or even indecent. This opprobrium is voiced in the face of polls indicating that a large and growing majority of Americans are pro-life. Further, those that are pro-gun, pro-DOMA, and pro deficit reduction —to name a few — have also been painted with similar rhetoric.
So why the scathing characterizations and do they matter? President Obama has learned that many in his party — particularly leaders like Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, and many others — take up and repeat his pronouncements, sometimes word for word. Obama also knows that the mainstream media has a tendency to report his statements without critical evaluation, thus assuring his message will reach millions of Americans in a largely unfiltered/uncontested way. His remarks have also become a method of communicating his concerns, likes, dislikes, goals and priorities to members of his administration. A method that can be used as a signal and possible call for action.
The IRS’s targeting of conservative 501(c)4 groups is prima facie evidence of Obama’s targeting and bears further scrutiny. Much has already been said, but the steady drip of new information necessitates a look at recent disclosures and Democrat actions after Lois Lerner’s dramatic testimony invoking her Fifth Amendment rights.
First: On Feb. 16, 2012, a group of seven senior Senators (Bennet-CO, Franken-MN, Merkley-OR, Schumer-NY, Shaheen-N.H., Udall-N.M., and Whitehouse-R.I.) wrote a letter to the IRS demanding an investigation of conservative 501(c)4 groups. The same Democrats wrote another letter on Mar. 12, 2012, claiming that conservative 501(c)4s abused their tax status. These letters were followed by even more letters demanding a probe. Each letter was careful to insist that both liberal and conservative organization be reviewed.
These actions occurred on the heels of President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address when he decried the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling prohibiting the government from regulating/prohibiting company donations to political candidates and PACs. Obama followed this criticism with innumerable pointed assaults on the decision throughout the 2012 election cycle.
Second: Information surfaced in late February 2014 that a Treasury Department official had disclosed to House Oversight investigators that the department began "brainstorming" ways to constrain non-profit groups over a year before the IRS scandal broke (in May 2013) due to pressure from a senior Democrat senator. This fact was referenced in a letter from Darrell Issa to the new IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen.
Third: The Federal Bureau of Investigation, through unnamed officials, indicated that no charges would be forthcoming in the IRS targeting scandal because evidence of "enemy hunting" or political bias that amounted to a criminal act had not been uncovered. Their probe had only found evidence of a mismanaged bureaucracy enforcing rules about tax-exemption applications it didn’t understand.
Almost simultaneously the lead IRS investigator, Barbara Bosserman, was shown to have donated appreciable sums to both Obama presidential campaigns. Outraged conservatives and moderates were met with a bristling rejoinder; Ms. Bosserman is “simply a member of the team,” adding inanely, “targeting career attorneys in this manner could plainly have a chilling effect on the valid exercise by federal employees of their basic right to participate in the political process.”
Fourth: At an explosive hearing in early February, Cleta Mitchell, Jay Sekulow and Catherine Engelbrecht offered compelling testimony of IRS targeting. Ms. Engelbrecht stated unequivocally that her life has been turned upside down due to the “weaponization” of the IRS and government. Ms. Engelbrecht testified that her organization (True the Vote) was subjected to hundreds of interrogatories, many illegal; e.g. insisting on the identities of donors, an active members’ roster with delineation of responsibilities, dates/subjects of speeches, etc. But even more horrifying was her identification of government audits that took place after the exemption filing targeting her organization, business and family — they included a total of 15 audits conducted by the IRS, ATF, FBI, and even OSHA – yet during the previous 20 years she had never been audited.
Fifth: Although the number of right-leaning groups targeted by the IRS varies depending on source, Mr. Sekulow (who represents 41 entities) estimated the number at 298 while left-leaning groups came in at 29 – yet some put the number of targeted conservative organizations at over 570. Mr. Sekulow points out the DOJ/FBI has not contacted even one of his groups while insisting they are conducting a thorough investigation. To date about 45% of conservative organizations have received approval (after many delays), and 70% of liberal groups.
Sixth: The IRS and Treasury Department have released a set of proposed new rules that will stifle free speech and ban espousing support of political candidates and issues. The new rules will bar direct advocacy of issues or for candidates 60 days prior to a general election and 30 days before a primary. Preparation and distribution of voter guides that refer to a party or candidates, as well as materials referring to a candidate, are also prohibited for the same time periods.
The aforementioned facts illustrate both the depth and growing breath of efforts to silence conservative speech from President Obama, the executive branch, and key Democrats. These extraordinary "political machine" endeavors are clearly driven by ideology, political survival, ObamaCare, a narrowing fund raising gap and a fear of significant electoral loses in 2014 and 2016.
In recent weeks, attacks have materially escalated and we have seen the demonization of the Koch brothers (without any mention of George Soros). The Koch brothers spent about $53 million (59th in rank) during the previous election cycle, while Soros has written checks for approximately $200 million (ranked 1st). Furthermore, unions, the largest Democrat sugar daddy, have not been mentioned… yet government statistics show union funding of Democrats exceeded an astonishing $736 million during the 2008 election cycle.
ObamaCare has become a bane to Democrat candidates – thus rhetoric from Charles Schumer, Elijah Cummings, Richard Durbin, James Clyburn, Harry Reid and others has railed against advertising that emphasizes Democrat support for the law and its failings – advertising funded in part by conservative 501(c)4 groups.
The political targeting has continued unabated and the proposed rule changes “would make intimidation and harassment of the administration’s political opponents the official policy of the IRS." This while the mainstream media has done its usual job of downplaying, dismissing, or defending President Obama, Attorney General Holder, their surrogates and many others in the Administration. The most prevalent media tactic has been to not report on the scandal. Any argument that calls into question the “not a smidgeon of corruption" claim is risible on its face!
Taken together, these tactics endanger our Constitution and the First Amendment. If targeting is not stopped, it will deny the rationale expressed in The Federalist #51 by James Madison. Madison wrote, “It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.”
Over at PJMedia today, I say that it's time to end our reliance on the Soyuz for access to the International Space Station. The piece is topical, given recent events in Eurasia. Much of it is actually adapted excerpts from my new book. It's not just a matter of national security – having a larger vehicle would allow us to increase crew, and productivity, of the facility.
As the artillery rolls into Ukraine, and the notion that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an ally has been revealed to one and all to be a fantasy, it’s time to finally end our policy insanity of relying on Russian spaceships for American access to space.
Since the last space shuttle flight two-and-a-half years ago, our only means of getting NASA astronauts (or anyone) to the ISS has been on the Soyuz launch system, at an ever-rising cost, now over $70M a seat as of last August. Alternate competing U.S. means to replace it are under development in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, but Congress has been continually underfunding the effort in order to instead funnel money to the Space Launch System, a giant rocket with no funded payloads and no apparent mission other than providing job security in the states and districts of those on the congressional space committees.
This issue goes beyond that of sending American taxpayer dollars to the Russian space establishment that could instead be purchasing lower-cost American flights from American providers and creating a new high-tech American industry.
Over on Twitter yesterday, I noted that if NASA wanted to show it still had the Right Stuff, it would have an astronaut on the very next flight of SpaceX's Dragon cargo mission to ISS coming up in a week and a half, even if it had to send him with a scuba tank. It would demonstrate that we no longer need the Russians.
Tablet Magazine has noted that there will soon be something of a bonanza of big-budget Hollywood movies with religious themes: Noah, starring Russell Crowe; the Jesus biopic Son of God; and Exodus, a Ridley Scott remake of The Ten Commandments starring Christian Bale as Moses. Writer Liel Liebovitz claims, first of all, that Hollywood is more likely to get religion right when it comes at it obliquely than when it tries a straight-up retelling (with Groundhog Day being the best and most obvious example). He also posits that Hollywood tends to misunderstand what religious people want when they go to the movies:
Who’s a religious person? And what kind of film might he like? To hear marketers, in Hollywood and beyond, tell it, a religious person is someone whose cultural horizon begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation, some sort of sniggering simpleton who grows suspicious unless his entertainment features swords, sandals, and the heroes he’d read about in Sunday School. This lazy and skewed approach is no less offensive than the efforts to market products to women simply by slapping on pink packaging, and no less ineffective: Women, like religious people and members of minority groups and the young and the old and people with terrible nut allergies and anyone else who was blessed with the breath of life, are complex and nuanced people whose tastes and predilections run far deeper than a single, simple note.
What, then, do religious people want? To the extent that the question is even answerable, we’d do well to look for clues beyond the obvious reverence for the Good Book. We may safely assume, for example, that religious people believe in God; that they adhere to a few theological precepts they hold sacred; that these precepts regulate behavior here on earth but look heavenward for authority, for reassurance, and for comfort; and that given the wild gap between heaven and earth, religious people struggle mightily to understand the nature of their relationship with God, a tricky proposition given that the Creator is ultimately unknowable. Not all religious people share this foundation, but a foundation nonetheless it is, and it is more likely than not to influence all aspects of a person’s life.
Like his or her taste in movies: Given the definition above, what kind of movie might a religious person love?
Liebovitz answers his question this way:
How about, for example, a movie about a heartbroken man who must, at times of great upheaval, choose between his own narrow interests and his commitment, badly shaken but never shattered, to helping defeat evil and repair the world? It’s the sort of conflict, after all, every person of faith acutely feels at one point or another, that heady mixture of cynicism and despair and hurt that makes holding on to one’s values direly difficult. And yet we rise to the occasion, as did Rick Blaine, making Casablanca not only a cinematic masterpiece but also a paragon of religious art, no less evocative and instructive than, say, Rembrandt’s portraits of Christ, his gaze downturned, his head filled with doubt, his spirit struggling to overcome.
The list goes on: There’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—the “God concept,” Kubrick told an interviewer, was at the heart of his film; Groundhog Day, whose brilliant treatment of free will has won it the admiration of clergy of all stripes; even Fight Club, that slick and sexy telling of man’s quest for meaning in a soulless corporate wasteland. All these movies did very well in the box office, and all have inspired a genuine discussion about morality, spirituality, and the kind of life worth living. When’s the last time you felt this moved in shul or in church?
I agree with Liebovitz that Groundhog Day belongs at the top of the heap. What others would you add to the list?
Easily the best piece that I have read on what I will call the Crimean crisis is the analysis published in The Wall Street Journal on Monday by John Vinocur, who was formerly the executive editor of The International Herald Tribune, and who knows his way around the European continent. It begins as follows:
If truth be told, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says, Europe's leaders have known for years that Vladimir Putin's ultimate goal has been "a far-reaching revision of the post-Cold War strategic order in Europe." But rather like the United States for much of the last decade, they have refused to deal with this fact. As a result, Mr. Fischer contends, if "Ukraine loses its independence in one way or another, European security will be at risk," notably in Poland and the Baltic states.
Russia has now rejected the legitimacy of a pro-West government the European Union helped install against Moscow's will. Russian troops have entered Ukraine and captured its Crimean peninsula. If Europe swivels around the challenge, it can't simply default to its usual can't-we-all-be-friends mantra. As Mr. Fischer, a man of the West, explained to me in a series of conversations, the EU must face up to a Russian president who says: "You lose, I win."
The United States was informed last July, directly after a visit by Mr. Putin to Kiev, that the Russian president had told Ukrainian leaders they would not be allowed to stray from Moscow's orbit into an "association" agreement with the EU. Reuters news agency, quoting U.S. officials, also said Washington and European capitals regarded this as "a sign of how hard Russia would fight Western influence on Ukraine."
Apparently no one at the highest levels paid attention. Europe, and the Americans in their own way, simply ignored this challenge to European order. . .
Real change would mean Europe accepting something like Mr. Fischer's characterization of Mr. Putin's Russia. This would mean shedding the Russia-is-manageable views that rank as ideology among some of the EU's leading members.
A blinders-off European Union would also define Mr. Putin's Eurasian Union plan as aimed at keeping ex-Soviet zone countries such as Ukraine in a Russian sphere of influence. As Mr. Fischer put it, the EU would admit that large parts of the "blame for the outcome in Ukraine falls squarely on the EU's leaders" and their "neglect of Europe's own strategic interests," extending to Syria and Iran.
Vinocur draws attention to a deal in the offing that might settle the crisis — just as Putin would like to see it settled: "Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor, Gazprom executive and Mr. Putin's authorized megaphone to the EU, has said the real game-changer in Europe's East-West future would be for Brussels to make 'simultaneous' offers of 'association' to both Ukraine and Russia. That would give Mr. Putin an all-access pass into EU affairs and a gripping hand on any Kiev government. It's a given that Mr. Putin will require quid pro quos for any arrangement involving Crimea. The Schröder recommendation points in the direction of the concessions he will want."
As he notes, something along these lines already has the support of Nicolas Sarkozy, former President of France, and of Dominique Villepin, former Foreign Minister, who has been calling for a "deepened dialogue" with Russia. "Let's do this alone," he says. "The Americans have nothing to do with this good-neighborly exchange apart from discussing relations between Anchorage and Vladivostok." This, Vinocur explains, is precisely the role that Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier envisaged for his country when he put together the Social Democratic Party's 2013 election manifesto.
To this, I can add, that such an arrangement is precisely what the Russians were aiming at in the last years of the Cold War.
Yesterday . . .
Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
This morning, Newsweek broke a breathless story detailing how forensic analysis and interviews with developers and family members led, presumably, to the mysterious founder of the Bitcoin digital currency/payment system. (I'm not going to link to the story, for reasons that I hope will become obvious by the end of this post.) If the article is correct, he's an engineer living in California.
The shocking aspect of the story was not that Satoshi Nakamoto was found – privacy in the digital age is basically nonexistent, and has been for many years – but the lengths to which Newsweek has gone to expose this individual. The article shows not only a picture of Nakamoto, but a picture of his house and car (including its license plate!), and details about the not-very-large California city in which he lives. He apparently deserves this treatment, in the eyes of our betters at Newsweek, for the crimes of:
- writing a white paper about what he believed to be a better payment system;
- implementing the system in software;
- distributing his implementation of the system;
- running his implementation for a while, to "mine" some bitcoin; and
- talking with other like-minded individuals about his implementation.
The fact that Satoshi holds a staggering amount of Bitcoin wealth, assuming he still has access to it, and wants to do anything with what is ultimately his property, will no doubt be cited as justification for Newsweek's article. One-percenters deserve what they get, after all. However, Nakamoto had nothing to do with the run-up in Bitcoin's value – he's been uninvolved in the project since December 2010. He apparently wanted to live his life outside the public eye, a privilege which has now been denied him.
"Reporter" Leah McGrath Goodman and "forensic analysts" Sharon Sergeant and Barbara Mathews should all be very ashamed of their participation in creating and publishing this article.
Edit: Turns out they might have the wrong guy: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ap-exclusive-man-denies-hes-bitcoin-founder
I know many people who are not all that informed about politics. Despite that fact, they buy into some of these vision statements:
— Democrats are for saving the planet.
— Democrats are for marriage equality.
— Democrats are for income equality.
— Democrats are for immigrants' rights.
There are more, of course.
I am not talking about reality here, so much as perception. Let's say that I needed a 30-second pitch for conservatives. What would it be?
I know what Republicans are against: abortion, gay marriage and spending increases. Let's even say they are for smaller government.
However, if I wanted a complete novice to be inspired in 30 seconds, what would I say the Republicans are for?
Liz Wahl, an American anchor for the Moscow-funded RT network in D.C. resigned live on air today.
"I'm proud to be an American." When was the last time a journalist said that on air?
In the small hours of Wednesday morning, an elite commando unit from the Israeli Navy boarded a civilian cargo ship, the Klos-C, in the Red Sea, about 900 miles south of the Israeli coast. On board were dozens of Syrian-made M-302 rockets concealed among commercial cargo. Their destination was Gaza. "We have conclusive evidence that there were rockets on board the ship, and we have proof and can say with certainty that Iran is behind this operation," a senior IDF officer said.
M-302 rockets have a range of 100-200 kilometers, and they were used by Hezbollah against Israeli civilian targets during the 2006 war. Had these rockets reached Gaza, they would have enabled either Hamas or Islamic Jihad — it's not clear as yet for which terrorist group they were intended — to target all of central Israel. For those of you who know some Israeli geography, an M-302 shot northwards from Gaza could land north of Netanya.
Haaretz reports that Israel Navy Commander Ram Rothberg oversaw the operation from a missile boat at sea, while IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz supervised from the Defense Ministry complex in Tel Aviv. According to an IDF YouTube video describing the operation, its stages were:
- The IDF spots a shipment of Syrian-made M-302 rockets leaving Damascus International Airport. They are being smuggled inside standard, commercial shipping containers.
- Israel tracks the arms as they are flown to Tehran and then to the southern Iranian port Bandar Arras, where they are loaded onto the Klos-C, a Panamanian civilian vessel. (The IDF is questioning the ship's crew of 17, but indicates that it believes they were unaware of the contents of the shipment.)
- Israel tracks the ship as it detours to Umm Qasr port in Iraq, where the crates are covered with cement bags in an attempt to further disguise them as commercial cargo.
- The ship sets off for Port Sudan, but is tailed and then boarded by the Israeli commandos before arrival. The Israelis believe that had the ship not been intercepted, the rockets would have been smuggled overland, through Sudan and the Sinai Peninsula, to the Gaza Strip, thereby avoiding the naval blockade. The ship is now on its way to Eilat.
Israel has, of course, been concerned for a long time about Hamas's eagerness to upgrade its arsenal. She is also deeply concerned about the presence in Gaza of Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, which already possesses at least 2,000 Iranian rockets. The prospect of either a renewed effort by Hamas to mend fences with Iran and bolster its offensive capabilities, or an infusion of arms into Islamic Jihad in Gaza, would be alarming at any time — but it's particularly worrisome now, with an emboldened Iran crowing openly about Hezbollah's massive arsenal to the north. That arsenal, combined with a large supply of medium-range rockets in Gaza, would mean that all our large population centers are within range of Iranian-backed enemies of Israel — all of them, from Haifa to Beersheva.
We are not necessarily the only target. While the Israelis are saying the shipment was intended for use against Israel, The Tower cites Iranian-born analyst Amir Taheri, who tweeted that according to his sources in Tehran, the arms were actually meant to be transferred by Hamas to Islamists in the Sinai to be used in their war against the military-backed government of Egypt. The logistics of this seem odd — why smuggle them from Sinai into Gaza and then back into Sinai again? — but it could be true. If it is, it would appear to vindicate Egyptian accusations that Hamas is supporting jihad against the government. Once again, Egypt and Israel — which both enforce the blockade on Gaza, though Egypt's role is often elided — share a strategic goal with respect to Hamas. (Don't get too excited, though. Egypt is playing all its cards.)
Bibi Netanyahu had this to say: "At a time when Iran is talking with world powers, is smiling and uttering pleasantries, it is also sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations – via an elaborate network of secret operations around the world that aim to funnel rockets, missiles and other deadly weapons to be used to harm innocent civilians. This is the real Iran, and this country must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. We will continue to do everything we must to protect the citizens of Israel."
Hamas is claiming innocence of the whole affair, and our peace partners in Ramallah are accusing Israel of fabricating the whole thing.
From 1947 through 1973, real median household income grew by 2.1% a year, but just 0.1% annually since. (These numbers come from a new Goldman Sachs research note, and for now let’s take them as is.) So will the future look more like the immediate postwar decades or more like the last decades of the 20th century and first one of the 21st?
One of the gloomier prognosticators is economist Robert Gordon. As he writes in his new paper, “The Demise of U.S. Economic Growth: Restatement, Rebuttal, and Reflections”: “Future growth will be … 0.4 percent for real income per capita of the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution, and 0.2 percent for the real disposable income of that group.”
Aack! Gordon’s reasons for New Normal pessimism: (a) lower labor force participation, due in part to demographics; (b) stagnating educational attainment; (c) income inequality; (d) higher taxes to deal with rising debt; and (e) continued weak productivity growth.
But Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius is much cheerier:
Our conclusion is that real income growth for the majority of US households should be better in the next four decades than in the past four. The uncertainty is substantial, but we believe 1%-1½% is a reasonable base case. … If so, the next four decades would show significantly faster household income growth than the last four, though the progress would fall short of the postwar “golden age.”
Why does Hatzius disagree with Gordon? For starters, he’s more positive about education (still a favorable cost-benefit to getting a four-year degree) and labor force participation (some of the decline is cyclical, and eventually the boomers will have completed their workforce exit, stabilizing employment). In addition, Hatzius notes that even though government may need to raise taxes, that money will turn into Medicare and Social Security income transfers and feed into disposable personal income, Gordon’s income measurement of choice. So “the net effect on disposable income is zero.”
Hatzius also clips Gordon for simplistically extrapolating income inequality trends. For instance, Gordon takes the Piketty-Saez estimate that high-end inequality has reduced the 99%’s income growth by 0.5 percentage points over the past few decades and “extrapolates these numbers into the future without much discussion of why the trends must necessarily continue.” Yet, as Hatzius explains, inequality looks to be slowing: “There was a big increase in wage inequality in the 1980s and 1990s, but that increase has slowed since the early 2000s. In fact, wage inequality has been roughly flat over the past decade. While a renewed increase is certainly possible, it is far from a foregone conclusion.” Likewise, Hatzius expects the decline in labor’s share of income to stabilize or even reverse.
Gordon’s technopessimistic views have brought him a lot of attention, so let me quote Hatzius at length:
We are sympathetic to Gordon’s view that the total factor productivity (TFP) impact of the third industrial revolution (IT etc.) may continue to disappoint relative to the second one (electricity, automobiles, telecoms etc.). The second industrial revolution was unprecedented in human history, and may well remain unmatched. In that sense, Gordon’s study marks a useful counterpoint against the cliché of unprecedented and ever-accelerating technological change.
It therefore seems reasonable to use the 1972-2007 period—that is, the period after the second industrial revolution—as the starting point for a projection of long-term living standards. Over this period, labor productivity grew 2% in the nonfarm business sector and 1.6% in the overall economy. Our working assumption is that the average of coming decades will be similar. This is also broadly in line with the latest numbers from the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office.
But even without a statistical upturn in innovation and productivity — metrics which may not be providing effective measurement in America’s increasingly IT-centric economy — Hatzius still sees a much brighter future for American workers. While I wish there were greater discussion on the impact of automation and the differing sorts of innovation, the economist adds an enlightening perspective of the future of the US economy.
California Rep. Darrell Issa adjourned a House Oversight hearing after IRS official Lois Lerner pleaded the Fifth, refusing to answer even one of his questions about the IRS targeting conservative groups.
After 15 minutes, he gave up and said, “Seeking the truth is the obligation of this committee. I have no expectation that Miss Lerner will cooperate with this committee and therefore we stand adjourned.”
As soon as Issa closed the hearing, Democratic Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings said he wanted to make a “statement.”
When he realized Issa wasn’t going to let him make a statement in a hearing that was for the sole purpose of trying to get answers from Lerner about the IRS targeting, Cummings switched gears and said he wanted to ask a “procedural question.”
Cummings: Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural question.
Notice that he’s sticking with that, instead of repeating that he has a statement.
Issa: We’re adjourned.
Cummings: Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this.
Oh, yes we can! If we’ve learned anything from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, you can run a committee just like this. And worse—Issa’s adjournment of the hearing was nothing compared to Reid’s refusing to allow Republicans to add amendments to the bill extending emergency unemployment benefits. It is nothing compared to Reid’s blocking bills from House Republicans to reduce federal regulations, allow for more energy independence, reform job training programs, help schools recruit good teachers, and scale back Obamacare.
Cummings: We’re better than that as a country. We’re better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask a procedural question.
But first you said it was a statement....
Cummings: And now you’re turning me off.
Issa: We are adjourned.
Cummings: The fact is I’m asking a question. I am a ranking member of this committee and I want to ask a question. What are we hiding? What’s the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?
Issa: We are adjourned, but the gentleman may ask his question.
Cummings: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question and it goes to trying to help you get the information, by the way, that you just asked.
Oh really, well this should be helpful. It’s good to know Cummings wants to get to the truth of the IRS violating the rights of American citizens. Makes one wonder why he didn’t ask Lerner any questions.
Issa: What’s your question?
Cummings: No, let me say what I have to say. I’ve listened to you for the last 15 or 20 minutes. Let me say what I have to say.
Um, he is letting you say what you have to say. Didn’t you have a question? You said you had a question. Or is it a statement? You initially said you have a statement.
Issa: Miss Lerner, you’re released.
Cummings: But first I would like to use my time to make some brief points.
What? I thought you had a question. Or a statement. Now, you want to make some brief points? How far down the rabbit hole are we going to go with this?
Cummings: For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation...
Okay, here we go, it’s about the Republicans. I see.
Issa: We’re adjourned. Close it down.
Cummings: ...has been that there was political collusion directed by or on behalf of the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, “This was the targeting of the president’s political enemies effectively, and lies about it during the election year.” End of quote.
Issa: Ask your question.
Cummings: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question...
You had your opportunity to ask your question, but you didn’t. You launched off in an attack on the chairman. You never intended to ask a question.
Cummings: I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that. That is absolutely un-American.
Now, what exactly does he mean by “one-sided investigation”? This is important because if he means both Democrats and Republicans need to be participating in the investigation, then where are the Democrats? If anything, they have impeded the investigation, not participated in it.
Issa: We had a hearing. The hearing’s adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question. You had no question.
Cummings: I do have a question.
Issa: I gave you time...you gave speech.
Cummings: Chairman, what are you hiding?
Where did that come from? But, this is exactly what Cummings was getting to. The one-sided investigation comment now comes to light. The one-sidedness of the investigation has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans both participating in the investigation of the IRS or with Cummings being able to make a statement, or ask a question, or make some brief points, but with the Republicans themselves being investigated. If Issa is going to question Lerner, then Issa must be questioned.
Off-Camera: He’s taking the Fifth, Elijah.
That person gets it—it’s not about getting to the truth of why Lerner is taking the Fifth; it’s about turning the tables on Issa and the Republicans and making them out to be the real threat—not a massive government willing to violate the rights of citizens for political power.
As for that procedural question, I never heard it. Did you? Of course not. That was a lie. The Democratic Party isn’t about seeking the truth. It’s about deflection, misdirection, and cover-up. If we don’t realize that, accept it, and fight it, we’re lost.