Topic: General

Mencken Fellows Penn & Teller Take Over TCM Tonight!

Need a cure for a bad case of the Mondays? Tune into Turner Classic Movies tonight, when Cato H.L. Mencken Research Fellows Penn Jillette and Teller take over as special guest programmers.

A quick look at what Penn & Teller have spooled up:

  • 8 PM—The Marx Bros.’ underappreciated 1939 film At the Circus
  • 9:30 PM—Orson Welles’ controversial 1976 documentary F for Fake, about the brilliant forger Elmyr de Hory
  • 11:15 PM—MGM’s disturbing and highly controversial 1932 film Freaks
  • 12:30 AM—Neil Simon’s 1975 Vaudeville tribute The Sunshine Boys, starring Walter Matthau and George Burns (with then-little-known F. Murray Abraham in a supporting role).
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I was KIDDING! Seriously. Come on, guys.

This morning’s LA Daily News is abuzz over a debate “gaffe” perpetrated by California Assembly candidate Frank Quintero. After a rough day campaigning for California’s 43rd Assembly District seat, Quintero was asked during a debate with his opponent if he supported school vouchers. His answer: “Yes.”

Oops.

Honestly, what would possess someone to support giving low income families the same educational choice that wealthier families already enjoy? The nerve of this Quintero guy intimating that parents, not bureaucrats, should be deciding what and where their children learn. It’s an outrage. It’s…

Wait a minute, that sounds kinda’ good, doesn’t it? Parental choice in education. More options for kids. Schools no longer being able to take their students for granted and having to compete for the privilege of serving each and every child. So what’s the problem?

Well, Quintero is a Democrat – the party unduly influenced by the nation’s teachers’ unions. Makes a bit more sense, now, doesn’t it?

Naturally, California’s biggest teachers’ union quickly mobilized to crush this brazen heretic, staging a rally outside his offices the weekend after the debate. Quintero quickly recanted, explaining that when he said “yes” to vouchers, he meant it in the sense that, um, he was opposed to them.

Good thing the teachers’ unions are out there to protect us from freedom vouchers.

Democrats Out of Power

The Washington Post reports today that the Ds are planning an onslaught of staged media events over the Memorial Day weekend to highlight their discontent over high gasoline prices. The Democrats are kicking off their campaign today in Ohio, where Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to appear in front of the cameras with Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate there, in front of a giant wind turbine outside a Cleveland science center.

Presumably, the Democrats think that the windmill symbolizes their commitment to break America’s so-called addiction to oil. In reality, the windmill symbolizes the Democrats’ incoherence on energy policy. Unless they plan to strap those turbines onto the hoods of our cars, wind power cannot substitute for oil because windpower is used to generate electricity and only a trivial amount of oil is used for that purpose.

“Wherever you live, your gas prices are out of control, and you want to hold someone accountable for it,” Reid said. While Reid predictably blames “Big Oil,” he apparently missed the FTC report out today finding nothing underhanded about gasoline prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I’m sure you’ll hear all about on tonight’s O’Reilly Factor.

“Net Neutrality” Grasstroturf

The opponents of broadband regulation have produced an amusing animation that pretty effectively skewers the campaign for “net neutrality.” Why, yes, of course it’s produced by large corporations seeking after their own interests. But the piece effectively points out that the campaign for federal regulation of broadband is also a product of large corporations seeking after their own interests.

So, if it’s a debate between two large corporate interests, we can drop the ad hominem and just discuss which group of large corporations is trying to protect its property and its investments, and which group of large corporations is trying to win rents through the legislative and regulatory process. Figured it out yet? Good.

(Cross-posted from TechLiberationFront)

A New Berlin Wall

On “The McLaughlin Group,” John McLaughlin asks if the United States should impose tariffs on Mexico equal to the cost of providing social services to Mexican immigrants if Mexico doesn’t stop illegal cross-border traffic. Pat Buchanan responded by emphasizing the need for U.S. border security, Eleanor Clift said it would be too costly for Mexico, and Tony Blankley said it would probably be a violation of WTO. Mort Zuckerman said the reaction to such a law in Mexico would move the country far to the left.

It seems to me that all of these insightful pundits missed the point: McLaughlin was proposing that Mexico build a wall to keep Mexicans inside. Immigration advocates sometimes warn that a fence along the border would be “a new Berlin Wall.” But that’s a little over the top; the Berlin Wall was designed to keep East Germans in, to declare them the property of a repressive regime that couldn’t survive if it allowed people to vote with their feet. Whatever its demerits, an American fence would be intended to protect our borders and regulate who could come in.

But McLaughlin’s proposed Mexican wall would be a new Berlin Wall. Anybody can stumble into a bad idea, but it’s disappointing that not one of McLaughlin’s four guests noticed the import of his proposal.

The Minutemen: Modern-Day Abolitionists?

Astonishing quote from Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner on Face the Nation yesterday:

…we shouldn’t be very sympathetic to employers who are hiring large numbers of illegal immigrants and paying them very low wages and exploiting them. Those folks are the 21st-century slave masters, and what they’re doing is just as immoral as what the 19th-century slave masters did that we had to fight a civil war to get rid of.

Words fail.

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The Strategy of Pure Destructionism

The flight of the Iraqi middle classes (New York Times; requires simple registration), which means among other things people with education and a more worldly viewpoint, is an especially dire sign for the future of Iraq. The goal of at least a large faction of the terrorists is pretty clear: to murder, bomb, and destroy their way to total chaos. This is just one example of their strategy:

Trash is collected only sporadically. On April 3, insurgents shot seven garbage collectors to death near their truck, and their bodies lay in the area for eight hours before the authorities could collect them, said Naeem al-Kaabi, deputy mayor for municipal affairs in Baghdad. In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months.

Trash collectors, electricians, sewage repairmen, nurses, police officers, lawyers, and many other professions have been targeted, not for their ethnicity or their politics, but in order to wreck social order, destroy the infrastructure, and create such chaos that only the most vicious and brutal will survive to establish their rule. For some that means a revival of Ba’athism, for others a theocracy. And for yet others, an endless war throughout the region that will bleed America.

I have worked with Iraqis on my trips to the country to try to craft an acceptable constitutional and legal improvement over the previous situation and I will continue to do so. But I also do not underestimate the challenges that Iraqis face. As I pointed out in this essay in Reason magazine (the third essay of the three that are linked),

The war being fought in Iraq is unlike any other. Parallels with Vietnam are of limited use for the simple reason that the Communists were seeking to kick out the Saigon government and replace it, not to create a firestorm that would engulf the region. For Al Qaeda in Iraq, it won’t be over if the U.S. and allied forces withdraw, or the U.S.-backed government falls. In fact, many of those fighting the U.S. and the elected government don’t want the U.S. to withdraw. They want to draw us in further, hoping, as Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently put it, to “make the West bleed for years.” Nor is World War II a useful comparison: Once the Fascists and Nazis were beaten, they were beaten. They didn’t go underground and wage a war of destruction; their ideology was effectively defeated with their armies.
The goal of at least a large faction among the insurgents is to create maximum chaos and maximum bloodshed. They account for a tiny fraction of the Iraqi population, and no one really knows what percentage of them are foreigners, but they are ruthless and determined. They will also be very difficult to defeat. No accommodation is possible with them. The existence of an armed faction that is dedicated to destruction per se makes the job of defeating the insurgency all the more difficult.

George Will’s remarks on Thursday in Chicago at the Milton Friedman Prize dinner honoring 2006 winner Mart Laar were quite on target when he lambasted the administration for their decision to invade. The administration’s naivete in thinking that all you had to do was to remove a dictatorship to uncover a democracy has been shown to be absurd. Criminally so. (The issue of WMD is more complex, since it seems that they sincerely believed that Saddam had poison gas and biological weapons. Nonetheless, the president’s decision to award a medal to the man who presided over the “intelligence” fiasco was a deliberate thumb-in-the-eye to the American people.)

It’s long past time for the U.S. to craft a careful withdrawal strategy that sets goals for the Iraqis but makes it clear that U.S. forces will be gone and therefore that Iraqis will have to create peace among themselves. As the fiasco with Ibrahim al-Jaafari (who refused to step down for months, even though it was clear he could not be confirmed) made clear, factions will jockey for power and delay any defeat of the terrorists so long as they think that the U.S. will be there to protect them. That safety net for politicians has to be removed. They will have to fashion their own safety net by fashioning peace themselves among the factions.