Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quotes I go to again and again.

The past couple of years I've taken up arguing with people online. It is not always pleasant. Most of the commenters who reply are very partisan and rude and their style of arguing about a point you make is to call you names. At one point I started making a list of the insults I received, though few were clever enough to make it worth it and I would forget to copy down the words of those who were. But, among them are:

moderate (the one's who figure that out are really angry about it.)
Einstein (I assure you, not meant as a compliment. Rarely is.)

These are not as bad as some of the things my family and friends have called me, of course, including in response to this blog, but, it is obviously the best they can do. I don't really care if someone wants to comment on what they think my politics or mental capabilities are. That's fair game. But, when an insult to me is made to argue a completely unrelated point (the dreaded argumentum ad hominem), my virtual eyes roll in my digital head.

In any event, I found that as the topics were limited, I would often use the same quotes over and over. So, I started keeping a file with those too. The following are the ones I've kept lately. There's no pattern or overall theme here, but, I will make a few comments, just because I can.

Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.

Descartes - The above quote (one version of it, anyway) is from his Le Discours de la M├ęthode (1637). You can figure out what it means. Sometimes French is just like English. It's the same book, discussing reason, where he wrote the much more famous line, Je Pense, donc je suis - I think, therefore I am. But, I like the words I quoted, because I use them whenever someone tells me that I have no common sense. Unfortunately, it's not real pithy, and if I try to use it in person, my victim tends to pass out before I get to the end.


I have repeatedly said the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country. But there are realities we cannot ignore. For instance a Pew Poll said that 15% of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. This is the segment of the community al Qaeda is attempting to recruit.

This is from Rep. Peter King, who included it in his opening statement in the very controversial hearing he held on the radicalization of the Islamic-American community. It was hotly opposed by Democrats, before and during the hearing. I thought his quote was spot on. I did not get the complaint of the Democrats that if they were investigating jihadists they should also investigate the KKK and other radical groups. Of course, the last time the KKK killed someone was . . . ? I asked the gentleman I sometimes refer to here as my favorite liberal, and he made precisely this argument. I asked him - so really, since you know these other groups are a relatively minor threat, you just want to prevent any investigation of radical Muslims because it must be racist? He said yes. I watched the hearing and the follow up hearing, and they were both excellent, particularly the testimony of non-radical Muslims.


The real terrors of both Parties have all ways been, and now are, the fear that they shall loose the Elections and consequently the Loaves and Fishes; and that their Antagonists will obtain them.

John Adams to Jefferson


While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand; little better understood; little better practiced now then 3 or 4 thousand Years ago. What is the Reason? I say Parties and Factions will not suffer, or permit Improvements to be made. As soon as one Man hints at an Improvement his rival opposes it. No sooner has one Party discovered or invented an Amerlioration of the Condition of Man or the order of Society, than the opposite Party, belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it . . . .”

John Adams to Jefferson


Power always sincerely conscientiously . . . believes itself Right. Power always thinks it has a great Soul, and vast Views, beyond the Comprehension of the Weak; and that it is doing God Service, when it is violating all his Laws.

John Adams to Jefferson. John Adams to Jefferson. I love these three quotes from Adams in his wonderful correspondence with TJ and probably use them more than any others except from the first Twain one, below. Unlike Jefferson, Adams, tempermentally unsuited to be president (he hated it) unless he was completely adored, and his personality pretty much ruled that out, was a fairly moderate guy, and, other than the later admitted mistake of signing the Alien and Sedition Act into law, actually had a pretty good presidency. He's very quotable because he loved to stick it to his fellow founders, like in the next quote, also to Jefferson.


In the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of the Precipice or rather the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had candour and courage enough to acknowledge it. America is in total Ignorance, or under infinite deception concerning that assembly. To draw the characters of them all would require a volume and would now be considered as a caracatura print. One third Tories, another Whigs and the rest mongrels.


This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men---to lift artificial weights from all shoulders---to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all---to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.

Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1861, special message to congress. No president, not even Jefferson, could write like Lincoln. I often use this to summarize a reasonable summary of libertarianism.


The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name———liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names———liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to—day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.

Lincoln – speech April 18, 1864.  This is not honey to the ear of a partisan, who wants to believe that all right is on his side, and none on the other.  A few years ago I wrote about the Islamicist Qtub's vision of freedom, so different from ours, it is almost impossible for us to believe he was serious. But, as Lincoln shows, it is more an emotion than a formula. Yet, both sides could be said to be against liberty - the South, with their slaves, and the North, with their refusal to let the south severe itself from the union.


Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world - and it never will.

Mark Twain- I believe this is from an 1887 speech entitled Consistency. I'm not even sure that this is completely true. But, you know what he means and it sparkles. It's on Twain's bust in one of those D.C. museums. I might put it on my urn.


...we all know that in all matters of mere opinion that [every] man is insane--just as insane as we are...we know exactly where to put our finger upon his insanity: it is where his opinion differs from ours....All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it. None but the Republicans. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats can perceive it. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.

Twain - from Christian Science. Another quote that scratches my need to torment partisans. What says it better than the end - I often write online (well, who else is going to quote me) that . . . Partisanship makes everyone a little bit crazy. Pretty much the same thing, isn't it?


For at least I know, with certainty, that a man’s work is nothing but the long journeying to recover, through the detours of art, the two or three simple and great images which first gained access to his heart.

Albert Camus. I wish I could remember where I found this. I have a couple of Camus books on my shelf, but I haven't read him since my 20s and I can't find the source online. Existentialism and absurdism sounds better when you are young. But, I admire this thought, and suspect there is some truth to it. I have a few themes, but, I'm saving them for the second volume of my best selling autobiography, tentatively titled - I Really Suck.


I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said 'I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."

Benjamin Franklin at the end of the Constitutional Convention, urging his fellows to vote - Yes. Maybe it worked, because they did. In any event, it is a typically brilliant Franklin ode to humility, reason, moderation and the French language, which, despite his long stay in France during the war, he never quite mastered.


I have long entertained a suspicion with regard to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake to which they seem liable almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favourite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phenomenon, though by the most violent and absured reasoning. Our own mind being narrow and contracted, we cannot extend our conception to the variety and extent of nature, but imagine that she is as much bounded in her operations as we are in our speculation.

David Hume – from The Sceptic. I've argued, at least briefly, in an earlier post that he was the greatest modern philosopher. It might depend on when you begin "modern," but I base my argument on the influence he had on so many great scientists and philosophers. Others would argue Spinoza, I imagine, and I would say that Hume might stem from him, but, understanding Spinoza is a lifetime work - and I just don't have another lifetime. Anyway, what Hume is saying, of course, is that philosophers get stuck, just like mystery novelists and, for that matter, if you believe Camus, the rest of us.


Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

Lao Tze (Stephen Mitchell, 1988, translation)

I know this is good advice. But, it is also really, really hard to follow. Sort of like the poem, If, it is honored in the breach.


Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

Karl Popper - from The Open Society and Its Enemies: Vol. 2. Although Popper was an advocate of toleration, he opined that intolerance should not be tolerated. This is just another of those endless paradoxes we need to face. Just like pointing out to someone who constantly make the logical error of argument against the person, that they do. It is the only ad hominem argument you can reasonable make. Actually, it still isn't logical to do so, but sometimes you can't make any progress in a debate until you embarrass the other sided to actually argue the point. That comes up a lot in online debates.


If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.

From The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. This was a joint statement made about their work, after, if I recall, the 10th of 11th volumes. Could be wrong, but it was later on in their long careers. It's another saying I wouldn't mind having on my urn. I better order a big urn. Might as well  finish with a few more from Durant:


History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks all our rules; history is baroque.

Ditto, quoting from his own The Age of Reason. And, likewise:


Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies. Leave men free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically, as in England and America in the nineteenth century under laissez-faire.

Ditto. Lot of smiling.

Is it possible that, after all, “history has no sense,”that it teaches us nothing, and that the immense past was only the weary rehearsal of the mistakes that the future is destined to make on a larger stage and scale?

Ditto.  Ironic, huh? They spend all that time reviewing the history of the world as never before, and then repeatedly tell us don't take it too seriously.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Did you know that . . . III?

Having missed a week, I’ll double my posts this time. Here is some more Did you know? I didn’t know most of this stuff, but the internet is an amazing thing. I admit I am not doing a great deal of double checking though and hoping this stuff is accurate. IMDB and Wikipedia are the main sources, but there are a few others. Let me know if you have some evidence they are urban legends.

Did you know . . . :

. . . that Kane, the huge and supposedly monstrous professional wrestling superstar (44 year old Glenn Jacobs), was once a third grade teacher?

. . . that, he is also a libertarian who supports Ron Paul and is active in libertarian activities, including speaking at the highly respected Ludwig von Mises Institute?

. . . that, in the classic cowboy movie, True Grit, John Wayne, who won an Oscar for it, really disliked the young Kim Darby (actually 22, not 14, as was the character) and thought she was unprofessional and a lousy actress? Not only that, did you know he disliked Robert Duvall and threatened to punch him for repeatedly interrupting the director (Wayne was in his 60s at the time – still, he was John Wayne)?

. . . that Red Foxx, who starred on Sanford and Son’s, real last name, was, Sanford?

. . . that the movie staple, popcorn, was invented by American Indians thousands of years ago?

. . . that actor Jim Backus (Mr. Howell, Mr. Magoo) was expelled from Kentucky Military Institute? He rode a horse through the mess.

. . . that Olivia de Havilland is still alive? She’s 95 and lives in Paris. Amazingly, she is not the oldest surviving cast member. Alicia Rhett is.

. . . that Olivia de Havilland is Joan Fontaine’s sister (I've given that as a trivia question before)? Fontaine is 94. Her real last name is also de Havilland. The two haven’t spoken since 1975. Family. Sheesh.

. . . that Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Jay Silverheel’s real name was Harold J. Smith? Not so interesting, is it. He was actually a Mohawk Indian though and Silverheels was a nickname he got as a lacrosse player when young.

. . . that besides the now revealed mystery of his second family, Arnold Schwarzenegger also has a mystery about his height? It’s true. Media sources claim he is much shorter than the 6’ 2” or even 6’ 1.5” he claimed as a bodybuilder. There is even a website dedicated just to this mystery -

. . . that Get Smart was originally supposed to star Tom Poston (The Bob Newhart Show, Mork & Mindy)? But, when it went from ABC to NBC, Don Adams got the role. Tom Poston was a fun actor, but I can’t see him as Maxwell Smart.

. . . that Mark Harmon, of NCIS fame, is married to Pam Dawber, Robin Williams’ wife on Mork and Mindy for 25 years now, beginning a few years before Mork fame?

. . . that Mel Brooks and Mike Nichols are the only two directors who have won at least one Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award? Brooks though also won for writing, composing and acting, and Nichols, not as multi-talented, also won a Golden Globe Award.

. . . that Alec Guinness hated working on Star Wars and convinced Lucas to kill him off? He said he just couldn’t stand reciting the “banal lines” any more. But Lucas said he was actually quite patient on the set.

. . .  that the following actors all turned down the lead in Ghost: Paul Hogan, Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Mel Gibson, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Willis (married to Demi already), John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Mickey Rourke (I can't see that one), David Duchovny, Johnny Depp, Kevin Costner and Alec Baldwin. The director, Jerry Zucker, did not like Swayze for it until he auditioned.

. . . that Halle Berry is named after a shopping mall in Cleveland, where she was born?

. . . that the second of the Star Trek franchise was not The Next Generation – but Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-74), which actually featured the voices of all of the original main cast members except Chekhov? He got left out for budgetary reasons, but, did, however, become the first cast member to write an episode for it.

. . . that the rock classic, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, which sounds Italian, was actually supposed to be In the Garden of Eden, but the slurred drunken words of the lead singer, Doug Ingle, became the title?

. . . that Lead Zeppelin was actually Lead Zeppelin, but Jimmy Page was concerned . . . that “thick Americans would pronounce “lead” as in lead singer? Good move.

. . . that Melissa Gilbert, who got the role of Laura Ingalls Wilder after auditioning against 500 girls, was, coincidentally the stepdaughter of Warren Cowan, partner in the largest publicity agency in Hollywood? Hmmm?

. . . that Clint Eastwood’s first film role was as an uncredited lab technician in Revenge of the Creature (from the Black Lagoon, in case you were wondering) in 1955?

. . . That, speaking of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the lagoon in it was the same one used for Gilligan’s Island.

 . . . That Jonas Grumby is the real name of the character better known as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island. The Professor’s name was Roy Hinkley. Mary Ann was Mary Ann Summers.

. . . that Leonard Nemoy has been a pet shop owner, including after Star Trek was cancelled?

. . . that the movie Sunrise is no. 82 on the AFI top 100 movies ever list? Sunrise? It is one of two on the list I never heard of before.  I looked it up on IMDB. 1927. I never heard of anyone of the cast either. I also never heard of Swing Time, which was no. 90. But, it starred Astaire and Rogers, and I’m pretty sure I heard of them.

. . . When Ginger Rogers was honored at the Kennedy Center, there was no biographical show, because Fred Astaire’s widow refused to allow any joint scenes to be shown without payment? The widow, Robyn Smith, was the first important female jockey (at least in modern times) and 45 years younger than Astaire (one of the few facts here I actually knew). Is it a surprise her nickname was The Bitch? But, to be nicer about it, she had a really tough childhood – fostered, adopted, returned to a mentally ill natural mother, back to the adoptive family, etc. If she wants to hang onto what is hers, it is hard to blame her.

. . . that Dustin Hoffman has made it pretty clear he did not much like Tom Cruise, his Rain Man co-star, and did not even mention him in his Oscar acceptance speech for the movie role, though he took time to talk about his former roommate, Gene Hackman?

 . . . that basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar did not just act in The Game of Death and Airplane, but was also the movies Fletch and Forget Paris and tv shows like Full House, Everybody Loves Raymond, Martin, Diff'rent Strokes, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Scrubs, Tales from the Dark Side, 21 Jump Street, the tv movie The Stand (the only Stephen King book I really liked - didn't see the movie) and a bunch of others.  

. . . that Arthur Stanley Jefferson aka Stan Laurel, was originally an undertudy for Charlie Chaplin, and became a Chaplin imitator when Chaplin after Chaplin left their troupe and went to America (actually, Laurel went too, but Chaplin stayed there)? Eventually, Laurel went to America too and eventually directed Hardy in a few films. A few years later they teamed up and the rest is history.

. . . that in their (in my mind) greatest work, Babes in Toyland aka The March of the Wooden Soldiers,  the actor who played Old King Cole had to laugh a lot, and did such a good job, he had to be hospitalized when he tore his stomach muscles. Actually, Laurel also tore ligaments in his leg, and an unusual number of other injuries occurred, including, right after the finished shooting, Hardy had his tonsils and Hal Roach his appendix removed. I bet that Barnaby had something to do with it.

Okay, I have the new blog format downloaded and it is acting up, so I am going to stop here before it all goes blooey on me.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Political update for April, 2012

Sometimes I worry that my legion of fans really need political updates every week, but, alas, I manage once a month, at best.

As Romney comes closer to inevitability, and Santorum, Gingrich and Paul just become barely felt irritants, if they stay in at all, our thrills will rapidly dissipate. We will get to watch Romney pick a V.P. That’s always fun. Sometimes more fun than who gets to be president (Think Sarah Palin and Tom Eagleton). Everyone knows there is a good chance it will be Rubio, although he has repeatedly said, not “I’m not thinking about it,” but absolutely – “No” - sort of the way Christie kept saying no to a presidential run (but, then, at the end, he did give it some serious thought for a few days). No one really believes Rubio when he says “No.” I don't. I doubt his wife believes him.


Here’s a “No” you can believe. You have to love this late March poll from the Pew Research Center. They asked subjects to give one word responses to the names of the four Republican candidates. They then broke the answers down to positive, neutral and negative responses (and I don’t know). The first or second response for each nominee was – “no” or “no way.” That’s hysterical. In the case of Paul and Gingrich, the other word was “old.”  In the case of Romney, it was “rich.” In the case of Santorum, “conservative.”

I did my own math and broke them down this way, by candidate –

The first column ignores the neutral words and shows what percentage of positive words there were to just positive and negative one

The second column is the number of positive or neutral words as a percentage of positive, negative and neutral words.

And the third column is just the breakdown of all the words per candidate as given by Pew including positive, negative, neutral and those who had no opinion.

                        Pos as %            pos&neut as %          breakdown all
                        of pos and neg   of pos&neut&neg      categories

Gingrich          20                    46                               10/39/23/28                                        
Paul                 36                    58                               15/27/23/36
Romney           32                    59                               14/30/29/28
Santorum         39                    54                               13/30/22/35

Notice that Gingrich has the highest negatives by far. He has the lowest positives as well. This is consistent with my position that he would get slaughtered in a general election. Romney has the highest neutrals, which really isn’t surprising. If you compare those who had the best ratio of positive to negative, it is ranked Santorum, Paul, Romney and then Gingrich. If you take positives and neutrals against all those who had opinions (that is, excluding I don’t know), then it is ranked Romney, Paul and then slightly lower Santorum and then, of course, last - Gingrich.

Not that this should surprise anyone. Gingrich and Santorum are going to be liked or disliked by those with more liberal or conservative positions and Romney liked best by moderates. I personally like that Paul did better than Gingrich and Santorum concerning positives and neutrals as opposed to negatives, but, in the end, it doesn’t matter. No one thinks he could win.

Santorum loses where he should be strongest

Just a quick note on a little fact I picked up this week. Obviously, Santorum is stronger than Romney with evangelists – Romney can’t win in states where they are more than 50%. But, oddly, Santorum is not an evangelist. He is a Catholic. But, the Catholics have gone more for Romney in every single state where they have exit polls excepting Tennessee.

This is actually good news, far as I’m concerned. It means people care less about precisely what religion a candidate is, and more about their values. Of course, as of last weekend, we saw Romney finally do better than Santorum with evangelicals, but that is just because many of them are buying the narrative (as they should) that Romney is going to win.

But now that Romney seems like a lock – is that it for the Republicans?

Columnist Charles M. Blow wrote on April 4th that now that Romney seemed assured a victory, the election was pretty much over, as Obama can be charismatic on the campaign trail and Romney is a slight more animated Al Gore (actually, that is my description of what he said). The race was pretty much over.

You have to laugh when so called pundits or experts are so certain in their predictions, particularly of the “Hardy har har har, the opposition has no chance at all” variety. Not very many pundits were thinking Obama was going to win handily back in early 2008. Most didn't even think he'd be the nominee. And, most wrote off McCain when he seemed to drop out of sight in the primaries for a while. Many pundits seriously thought Huntsman had a shot this time. I mean, Huntsman? How? Nor did many (any?) expect Santorum to surge as he has this time (including the world famous pundit who writes this blog). Elections simply depend on too many circumstances and variables to predict with any certainty unless there is a really popular incumbent. I remember how my favorite liberal rejoiced when Obama was elected in '08, certain that the Republicans were dead as a major party, and having to eat crow at the rise of the tea party and the 2010 elections. Similarly, I remember a conservative I know saying after the midterm elections that it was obvious that any Republican would be able to beat Obama in 2012. The bottom line is, make your predictions for fun - I do - but, when you are right, it is as much luck as anything else. And, admit your biases – oh, wise pundits. Not for us - we already know them, most of the time. For yourselves. It will make you look less silly.


I listened to the oral arguments in late March regarding the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The court scheduled four separate arguments on this one case over 3 days, on the specific subjects they wanted covered. The issue the first day was whether the Tax Anti-injunction Act applies to the case. This is a highly technical argument, but it does not seem really difficult to see where the court is heading.

If the part of the law requiring a mandate is really a tax, then it cannot be challenged in court until such time as it is due, paid and administrative remedies are exhausted (in other words, the plaintiff would have to go through the IRS process). If that applies to this case, then the cases challenging the law which have gotten so much publicity have to be dismissed and can’t be re-filed at least until 2015. This would be critical, because if that is the case, then the law would be completely in effect and, given the comprehensive and labyrinth like characteristics of the ACA, even a hostile court would know how difficult that would be to entangle if they overturned it.

Ironically, though, not only have those challenging the act said the anti-injunction law  doesn’t apply here, but, at least for now, so does the government. Unfortunately for both of them – it is a jurisdictional question that cannot just be waived. If the court finds the cases violate the anti-injunction law, then that’s the end of the matter.

But, the court won’t do that. At least, I seriously doubt it. From the questions I heard the court ask the attorneys, it seems that they have largely already made up their mind to find some kind of exception or another to the act (nothing so frustrates lay people as to the law like exceptions).

The reason for the anti-injunction law is that if people could just challenge taxes willy nilly, anytime they wanted to, legitimately or not, the government would be deprived of its “life’s blood” – money – and, as a general rule, that would not be a good idea.

There are some serious problems with the government claiming that the mandate to buy health insurance which is the center of the case - is not a tax, so that they can legally hear the case. The first problem is - the government repeatedly called it a “tax” while the law was being debated. Second, when the cases started, the government tried to get them dismissed, again claiming it was a tax. Third, even after the government decided the mandate wasn’t a tax so that the anti-injunction law did not apply, they still argued it was a tax for other purposes (ridiculous inconsistencies are the other things that lay people can’t stand about the law). Last, in the oral argument before the Supreme Court last week – the government’s hapless attorney (and, I feel bad for the guy, but he was as bad as everyone said) couldn’t help himself but call it a “tax” to the point that one of the judges suggested he might want to watch that. It’s funny to a point.

Doesn’t matter how bad their attorney was, the court is going to rule on Obamacare in its entirety. And, it’s a sham. Because, of course it is a tax.

The oral argument concerning the central issue - whether the mandate (that all individuals must purchase insurance or pay a tax/penalty to the IRS) was possibly the most interesting one I’ve heard in a long time (there is no video – C-Span replays the audio after the argument is over and puts up static pictures of which attorney is speaking and which judge questioning, plus sometimes a little information below it). The question of whether the mandate is constitutional – whether under the commerce clause the government has the right to order a person to participate in commerce by getting insurance or paying a penalty if they do not. It became quite clear during the questioning that the four “liberal” judges were very comfortable with the idea that the government can intervene in pretty much anything it wants that isn’t expressly forbidden by the Constitution and the conservatives were comfortable with limits on government intervention. The truth is, for them, they have really lost that battle long, long ago. Obviously, these are generalizations, but largely true.

The power of the federal government under the commerce clause has grown dramatically over the last two centuries already. But, there are some limits. First, there are some very few things that courts will say are still “local” to a state and thus not “interstate,” in nature. Two, there are also some very few things which are not considered commerce like, e.g., violence. In this case, the most pertinent question is whether the government can order someone to purchase insurance and thereby put themselves in commerce.

I expect the answer will be no, the federal government cannot do that. It was interesting to me that Paul Clement, a former Solicitor General himself, arguing for 26 states opposed to the law, said that a state, as opposed to the federal government, would have the right to force their citizens to do so. This is precisely Romney’s argument with respect to the Massachusetts’s law he signed into law when he was governor there, for which he is being mocked and tortured about now. I’m sure he was pleased with Clement’s comment. He’ll be even happier if one of the judge’s say it.

The last of the four issues surrounding the law being argued involved the Medicare provisions (the third one was whether the act is severable – if the mandate falls, does the entire Act?) The Medicare question is whether the federal government telling the states that it either does what the government requests with respect to certain matters or they will be cut off from all Medicare payments.

All states get Medicare money from the federal government which they distribute to their citizens. It is an awful lot of money and the loss of it would certainly cause whichever state administration managed to lose it, to also lose their heads – at least professionally – if they did not work out an agreement with the federal government at the end of the day (the way it is usually resolved).

This type of “coercion” by the federal government is not really new. The states are calling this unacceptable coercion because of the nature of the entire Affordable Care Act, including the mandate. I think the complainants have less chance to win this part of the case. But, that’s not really why I bring it up. What interested me was the way that everyone involved, lawyers and judges, simply accepted that it was perfectly okay for the federal government to take tax money from people (obviously, people living in a state, for the most part) and then return the money to the state as if they were doing them a big favor. That includes, of course, states which pay more money in taxes than they get back. No one even suggested that if the federal government did not take the money from the state’s citizens in the first place, to pay for things which are really local in nature (like older peoples’ or disabled persons’ health care) and then give it back to the states as if it was a wonderful gift, for which the states should be grateful to accept all the federal baggage tied to it, that might be better.

I’m not suggesting that we are going to wake up one day and the federal government is going to go all Ron Paul on us and decide it is going to greatly reduce taxes so that either we can spend it ourselves or the states can tax us for things specifically beneficial to our state. But, it is stunning – even now after decades of it - that we’ve so far from the supposed federalism we were designed to have, that no one will even mention it in the Supreme Court.

Obama’s blunder

It must be really hard to be president and run for office again when things aren’t going so well. It must be really hard to have your signature piece of legislation about to be overturned by the Supreme Court. Because, for President Obama to claim that it would be unprecedented for the Court to overturn a federal law, is just silly. It’s more than silly. It’s kooky and crazy and so untrue that it can be mocked by anyone with the slightest bit of legal knowledge and no one, not even the Attorney General, can defend it. The Supreme Court has, since Marbury v. Madison in 1803, claimed the right to overturn federal laws. It is a little bit rare, but not terribly so, and certainly not unprecedented. But, lots of people have written on this already and why flog a dead horse?

What interests me is the irony – typical irony, I should say – of a political party piling upon an adversary by going against one of their pet arguments. For, it happens to be the case that conservatives have for the longest time opposed Marbury v. Madison as incorrect law, particularly when they did not want a law overturned. This is so much the case, that when arch-conservative Justice Scalia was having his confirmation hearing in the Senate, he actually was asked about whether he thought Marbury was settled law and refused to answer – twice - because he thought it might come before him again and he would want to consider it. He did think better of it (going by my memory) and said he would not. But, he had to give it some thought. Or, take conservative talk show host, Mark Levin host who writes on legal topics as well. In his book on the Supreme Court, Men in Black, he wrote, “Neither the history of our founding nor the establishment of our govenments supports the current arrangement in which the judiciary rules supreme. Indeed, Marshall’s ruling in Marbury was nothing short of a counter-revolution. For 200 years, the elected branches have largely acquiesced to the judiciary’s tyranny.”

In other words, Marbury was wrong.

I don’t want to be mistaken. Marbury has been the law for over 200 years. It is the law and Obama’s comment was cra-a-a-zy. But, conservatives have been beating him up for it for a couple of days, when they have been for the longest time – in his corner on that point. This is the way partisans are. You know, that reminds me. I think I said last political update that I was going to bash Obama this time, and I just realized I forgot. Okay, next one.

Egypt Muslim Brotherhood makes a sly chess move

I am not a fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the head of any nation where they do not cherish the enlightenment values. But, there rise in Egypt, presuming they are not crushed by the military in the near future, makes what is going on in Israel interesting, if more uncomfortable for Israel.

I have been writing for years here Israel stands on a precipice despite their great military power. The reason for this is the dissemination of military technology to less developed countries and organizations such that even Israel’s relatively weak neighbors like Hizbollah and Hamas will sooner than one thinks have so many missiles, which someday they will also be able to aim, so that even tiny Israel’s victory in another war may be such a blow to Israel that she is destroyed - or nearly so.

However, I sincerely believe that many of Israel’s neighboring governments, particularly those controlled by Sunnis like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, no longer really expect or at least strongly desire, Israel’s demise. I’m differentiating the governments from the Middle Eastern people, who are very strongly conditioned to be anti-Israeli.

Armed aggression has never worked against Israel. What I have always thought would work better for the Palestinians would be a cooperative and friendly attitude by them – more “poor us,” and less “I kill you.”  In other words, when the word “martyr” ceases to mean someone who was killed during an aggressive and violent act by them or because they were associated with terrorists and starts to mean Palestinians who suffer or die because they do not have the same rights to self-governance as Israel insists upon for itself. This would turn any Israeli government into the bad guys for virtually everyone not already of that persuasion, excepting many American evangelicals or Jews. For some reason, probably cultural, the Arab world just did not get this strategy. They want to win a fight.  And, Hamas’ existence and power has made it easy for a politician like Netanyahu never to go back to serious negotiations.

The Brotherhood, which has sworn off violence long ago, at least so they claim (we can be vigilant and cynical about any former terrorist organization which claims to have changed its stripes), has made a move in the direction that might actually help the Palestinians. That shouldn’t sound so revolutionary, but it is.

Instead of backing Hamas, a position which doesn’t help Hamas or any Palestinian, they have transferred their backing to Fatah, which is, the same party that Israel wants to deal with. It is more complicated than this, of course – what in the Middle East is not? – as Fatah and Hamas have also supposedly buried the hatchet with each other, a rapprochement that Israel rejects as making it impossible for them to negotiate with Fatah either.

Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, a member of Egypt’s parliament, and Brotherhood member (the Freedom and Justice Party is the name of the political party associated with them) made a speech at a conference at Georgetown University in D.C. If you listen to his speech, you think, okay, it sounds like the Freedom and Justice Party wants Egypt to be free and just. He talks about all groups participating in the government, including, non-Muslims, Christians and even secular people participating. It’s all about democracy and respecting democratic institutions, free speech and so on for him and the other Brotherhood members on the panel I watched. He claims they want the spirit of Sharia law – such as justice – whatever that means – and not Sharia laws. Considering that polls show that the large majority of Egyptians like Sharia laws, including some of its more violent aspects that is a little hard to believe. Time will tell, of course, as in all countries. We still cannot know whether the Arab Spring will be good for Western countries or bad.

There are lots of doubters and I’m cynical, if hopeful. But, this the right lip service for them, at least. And a smart move. Whether they mean it or not.
That's it for this month. Next month I really am going to beat up on the president. He deserves it.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .