August, 2018

Piltdown Review

August 22nd, 2018 5 Comments

For those of you who love dogs, or enjoy reading, or enjoy my writing, the online literary magazine, Piltdown Review has published a short story of mine. Here is the link ( https://dogb.us/samandjoe ). If you like it, pass it on. Oh, heck; tell the world.

Piltdown Review

August 22nd, 2018

For those of you who love dogs, or enjoy reading, or enjoy my writing, the online literary magazine, Piltdown Review has published a short story of mine. Here is the link (https://dogb.us/samandjoe ). If you enjoy it, pass it on. Oh, heck; tell the world.

Pen or Sword?

August 19th, 2018 3 Comments

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” From a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, stealing possibly from any one of a number of ancient sources, all the way back to the Old Testament. Regardless of the source, the meaning is that words and ideas are far more dangerous than weapons, especially to governments. Which is precisely why we have the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The emphasis, quite obviously, is mine, and I’ve done it for a reason, because Gentle Reader, you have no idea how close you came in 2014 to losing that portion of the First Amendment. That’s right, in 2014.

Let me quickly give you some background:

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) was passed in 1971 to regulate the raising of campaign money, and to restrict the amounts of contributions that could be made either to candidates or to parties. It mandated disclosure of contributions and expenditures, and it introduced outright bans on certain corporate and union contributions and speech.

With me so far?

In 1974, FECA was amended, and then in 1976 the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of FECA altogether in a lawsuit known as Buckley v Valeo, specifically ruling that (to quote the Encyclopedia Britannica) “spending money on behalf of a candidate or political party is a form of protected speech.” [Emphasis mine.]

In 2002, the McCain-Feingold Act was passed which prohibited a “broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate by name within sixty days of a general election or thirty days of a primary.”

In 2004, the inimitable Michael Moore aired one of his “mockumentaries,” Fahrenheit 9/11, which basically advocated the defeat of George W. Bush and his administration. Citizens United, a conservative non-profit (501(c)(4)), filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission saying that the film was political in nature and hence could not be aired or even advertised on television due to McCain-Feingold; they also claimed a violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, a law that restricts the power of unions. The FEC dismissed both aspects of the complaint.

Then we come to 2010. When Citizens United wanted to air a film about Hillary Clinton that, shall we say, did not show her to best advantage, they were told it was a violation of McCain-Feingold. Citizens United sued the Federal Election Committee claiming sauce for the liberal goose was sauce for the conservative gander and, eventually, in front of the Supreme Court, they won.

Putting all this in baby talk, what it means is if a bunch of conservatives like me can donate money to an organization—let’s say the NRA—that will represent our interests in Washington, DC, or, if we can get together and create our own 501(c)(4) to make our voices heard in support of a candidate or platform we believe in, the Citizens United ruling says that is allowed because it is considered protected speech.

Soooooo, in 2014 forty-nine US Senators, all members of the Democratic Caucus, tried to do something that has never been attempted in the entire history of your country. They tried to curtail your right to free speech by altering the First Amendment. Here, from Congress.gov (this is the link, if you doubt me: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/19) is the exact wording that describes what they intended:

“Constitutional Amendment – Authorizes Congress and the states to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

“Grants Congress and the states the power to implement and enforce this amendment by appropriate legislation, and to distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

“Declares that nothing in this amendment shall be construed to grant Congress or the states the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”

Ah, excuse me, but who exactly gets to decide what is “reasonable”?

Good question.

And why, exactly, would the good senators try to amend the Constitution instead of just passing another law?

An even better question. The reason the senators didn’t try to pass a law is because they knew damned well that such a law would be unconstitutional. Solution? Change that silly, outdated document to suit short-term partisan convenience. Will all those smelly deplorables bitch and moan because they’ve lost one of the most sacred rights any people may have? So what? They’re just smelly deplorables too dumb to know what’s best for us—for them, I meant them.

The 2018 senatorial elections will be held on November 6th. I scarcely need tell you that much is riding on this election, and each of us must follow his or her conscience when we vote. But I would like you to remember one thing when you go to the polls. You may loathe and despise the smelly deplorables, but the Constitution protects you as well as them, and if you monkey with that silly old document, you may well have reason to cry out in terror when the same law is applied to you. Remember Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Season:

“And when the last law was down, and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the devil benefit of the law for my own safety’s sake.”

So, vote your conscience, but here, for your convenience, is a list of the senators who voted to diminish your rights:

Sponsored by Tom Udall (D-NM)

Cosponsored or voted for by:

Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Jon Tester (D-MT)

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Christopher Coons (D-DE)

Angus King (D-ME)

Christopher Murphy (D-CT)

Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Al Franken (D-MN)

Amy Klobucher (D-MN)

Mark Udal (D-CO)

Tim Johnson (D-SD)

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Jack Reed (D-RI)

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Mark Begich (D-AK)

Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Kay Hagen (D-NC)

Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Edward Markey (D-MA)

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

John Walsh, (D-MT)

Richard (Dick) Durbin (D-IL)

Harry Reid (D-NV)

Mazi Hirono (D-HI)

Thomas Carper (D-DE)

Patty Murray (D-WA)

Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Bernard (Bernie) Sanders (I-VT)

John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV)

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Robert Casey (D-PA)

Carl Levin (D-MI)

Notice any Republicans on that list?

Some of the above (Boxer, Reid, Franken) are, thank God, no longer polluting the halls of congress, but if you live in a state with one of the others, remember this when you cast your vote. If you agree with me, please pass this on.

Book Review: Fools of Fortune

August 17th, 2018 3 Comments

William Trevor (1928-2016) was one the greatest literary treasures the English-speaking world ever produced. He won or was nominated for just about everything an Irish/English writer can be, and he deserved more. I will probably not live long enough to see his like again.

Revered primarily as a prolific short story writer (I read once that the New Yorker magazine had a standing contract with him to buy anything he wrote, sight unseen) he also wrote fifteen or twenty novels, depending on how you count them, and depending too if you count novellas as short novels or long short stories.

One novel, which I first read many years ago, and now again, but not for the last time, is Fools of Fortune. The title may come from Romeo’s despairing cry after he revenges his friend Mercutio’s death by killing Tybalt, the King of Cats: “O I am Fortune’s fool!” And that should tell you much about what to expect from this unforgettable novel.

For reasons that mystify me—I was reading other things and involved in other projects—I recently found myself going back over and over to the bookshelf where it sat, until finally I picked it up and read once again the first, very short chapter and was, once again, hooked.

Many fine and gifted teachers of creative writing will tell you that it is always important to have a first line that will hook the reader:

“It was to have been a quiet evening at home;”

“Last night I dreamed I returned to Mandalay;”

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice;”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times;”

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

You get the picture. But a certain class of reader, the kind seriously interested in great writing, will usually take the time to at least wade through the first several pages, or more, if the writing is good enough. William Trevor’s first introductory short chapter appears initially to be very low-key and subdued, almost mundane, but the magic of how he puts his sentences together will make you read through to the end, perhaps five- or six-hundred words, total, and then you will come away with a wonderful, haunting desire to know what and why and who. And that quality of haunting will stay with you through the whole novel. You won’t find out the what and why and who quickly, but as the story gradually unfolds in alternating points of view, with glimpses, hints, oblique suggestions, you’ll find yourself hooked, horrified, and above all haunted. You will find yourself unable to forget the characters you have come to know.

Like all great novels, it works on many levels: it is a love story; a dark glimpse into a dark period in Ireland’s long and bloody struggle for independence; a story of murder and revenge and the appalling, lasting results of both of those; a mystery; even perhaps a parable. (Euripides: “The Gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.” Horace: “For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer.” Shakespeare: “The sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children.” And, of course, there is something in Exodus.) But above all it is incomparably evocative, with even the most briefly limned characters resonating unforgettably, drawing the reader into a doomed and tragic past with a final, brief adumbration of what might have been: “Fingers touch. One hand grasps another, awkwardly in elderliness.”

Oh yes, above all a love story.

Aretha Franklin

August 16th, 2018 7 Comments

Aretha Franklin died today.

I am married to the greatest singer I will ever know or even meet, and Darleen summed up Aretha Franklin by saying simply, “She was the greatest voice ever.”

Not “a great voice,” or “one of the greatest;” just the greatest.

On the news they showed her singing “Think;” not the version from The Blues Brothers, but in concert somewhere, and if you can watch that without grinning and your body moving, you might want to inquire about your local undertaker’s schedule.

And then Darleen found the YouTube video of Ms. Franklin filling in at the last moment for an ailing Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards ceremony. Think about it for a moment: filling in for Pavarotti with only a few hours to prepare, singing an aria from Puccini’s Turandot, arguably one of the most difficult of all arias, singing it in both Italian and English, in front of an auditorium of professional singers and musicians every one of whom was probably, rightly, just as sensitive to and critical of their art form as my bride is, and Ms. Franklin blew them out of their seats. If you can watch that performance and not weep, you have no soul within you.

She did it all and she did it all better than anyone else.

Democratic Socialism

August 15th, 2018 3 Comments

You may have noticed a lot of socialist talk recently among both politicians and the civilian progressive left.

Bernie Sanders, who is reportedly testing the waters for another run at the White House, and the progressive left’s newest political darling, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is running for Congress, are the two most visible candidates on the national stage who identify themselves—either directly or indirectly—with some form of Socialism, while former actress Cynthia Nixon is running for the governorship of New York State and a host of lesser lights are running for smaller offices in other states on the same platform.

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez have been out stumping for their own political ambitions and for various other far-left Democrats, or—as those on that particular end of the spectrum like to call themselves—Democratic Socialists. Mr. Sanders, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, and Ms. Nixon (not to mention the other Democratic Socialists) have called for Medicare for All; in fact, Medicare for All (or free health care) is the very first platform listed on the official site of the Democratic Socialists of America website.

I am not familiar with the other candidates, but while Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have both called for free health care, they also want free college tuition and abolishment of student debt; both want a guaranteed “living wage;” both want paid family and medical leave; both want a switch from fossil fuels to green energy, though Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wants it implemented within ten years, while Mr. Sanders appears to be a little more flexible on the time factor. And both share a number of very similar ideologies on various other issues, ranging from income equality to campaign finance reform to vaguely realized ideas about immigration reform all of which basically boil down to open borders.

I have pointed out elsewhere that historians Will and Arial Durante (authors of the eleven-volume Story of Civilization) have written that no civilization in the known history of the world, has ever adopted socialism as a form of government and survived more than one-hundred years. The reason why is, to quote the great Maggie Thatcher, “Sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.”

Forget all the other “freebies” (a misnomer, if ever there was one, since someone has to pay for them) for a moment and let’s just look at the 800-pound gorilla: “Medicare for All:”

According to Stanford University research fellow Charles Blahous, who specializes in domestic economic policy and was President George W. Bush’s Special Assistant for Economic Policy, Sanders’ and Ocasio-Cortez’s (and all the Democratic Socialists’) proposed “Medicare for All” would cost a minimum of $32.6-trillion over the first decade if—if—Medicare immediately cuts provider payment rates by 40%. Without such cuts, “Medicare for All” would cost somewhere over $38-trillion just during its first ten years.

I feel I have a dog in this fight because I tried to refuse an emergency medical helicopter ride to the trauma center after my horse accident. I did so because I had been told by Medicare that I had been dropped because of a failure to pay a bill they sent me, and I knew the cost of the helicopter ride and subsequent surgery/hospitalization would bankrupt Darleen and me, as well as costing us our house, and I frankly didn’t think I was worth it. As it turned out, my failure to pay the bill in question was Medicare’s fault (transposed numbers on our address); they admitted it, and they paid for almost everything. Kudos to them. So, I’m not much in favor of cutting Medicare payments by 40%. I’ve paid into the system ever since I was sixteen and having lived up to my end of the bargain, I would now like the government to live up to its end of the bargain and continue to honor its promise to me.

And that is the point—or, more accurately, one of the points: I started paying into Social Security (Medicare is part of the Social Security system, funded by, among other things, taxing my income) when I was sixteen. I wasn’t given a choice, but I was given a promise that if I did my part, the government would do its. I could have done better investing the money myself, but that wasn’t an option, and if I had not had a catastrophic accident, Medicare would have come out about $600,000 ahead.

But I did my part. I earned that medical care. It was a quid pro quo. I would like someone to explain to me why an illegal alien can come to this country, having never paid a penny in taxes, and deserve free health care, because that is what the Democratic Socialists are demanding.

Both Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez propose to pay for their “Medicare for All” plan by radically raising taxes on the “wealthy” (which means different things to different people, but which Mr. Sanders spells out as anyone earning more than $250,000 a year) and on corporations.

American corporations, for the record, paid the highest tax rate in the world, at 35%, until just this year, when President Trump lowered the rate to 21%, but that’s just a sort of broad way of speaking, because states impose their own corporate tax rates, ranging from a high of 12% in Iowa, to 0% in Texas, Nevada, Wyoming, Ohio, South Dakota, and Washington. Also, both federal and state taxes have to be weighed against a wide range of possible deductions, so corporate taxes may be higher or lower, depending on location. But let’s just take 21% as a general expression of the tax rate and look at the facts of the situation as it pertains to paying for free Medicare for all.

According to the numbers I found, the total number of billionaires in America is 585. The total wealth of those billionaires is $2.466-trillion.

According to Forbes, there are 225 firms in America with sales of $2-billion or more per annum, and those 225 firms have combined revenues of $1.57-trillion.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed personal tax rate is 15%, which she claims would generate $2-trillion in ten years. Unlikely (I don’t understand how she arrived at that figure), but even if her math is correct, it is only applicable if—if—none of those individuals and none of those companies once again take their business and their money overseas

Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed corporate tax rate is 28%, more reasonable than 35%, God knows, but again, do the math and tell me if that will cover the costs of Medicare, even if no companies once again move out of the US rather than pay that high a tax, even if we disregard the additional burden of those who are currently uninsured, even if we disregard the additional burden of approximately one-million legal immigrants every year and God only knows how many illegal immigrants, and even if prescription drug costs and administrative costs could somehow be cut by more than half, all of which would be necessary just to achieve Mr. Blahous’s lower estimate. In fact, even if the federal government were to confiscate all that wealth, the way certain socialist paradises such as Cuba and Venezuela have been reported as doing, it still would not pay for free Medicare.

But let’s be generous and assume it does. Cool. But, oops, now how do we pay for all those ancillary little items we take for granted, items that also cost a dollar or so here and there, mandatory items such as: social security; veterans’ benefits; transportation; food and agriculture? Then there are the discretionary items the government also has to pay for, name not withstanding: the military, which we need more than any of us realize; veterans benefits (yes, it is covered under both mandatory and discretionary budgets); housing and community; energy and environment; transportation (another covered in both categories); international affairs; running the government (though there I wouldn’t mind saving a lot of money); and many more, how do we pay for those? Some of it may be stuff you don’t agree with; some of it may be stuff I don’t agree with; it just depends whose ox is being gored, but that’s the way a civilization works. And no civilization has ever worked or endured, or will now work and endure, or ever will work and endure, that redistributes wealth along the socialist paradigm.

Now add to all those the still unpaid additional costs of free college tuition, the unpaid cost of a guaranteed “living wage,” the unpaid costs of a switch from fossil fuels to “green energy” (which is currently economically unfeasible, and is one of the reasons why Europe pays so much more for gas and electricity than America), and the unfactored costs of additional welfare, healthcare, education, and ancillary costs that will come with the influx of an uneducated, untrained flood of people who will pour across the open border Democratic Socialists portray as utopia. Take all of those into account and we can turn America into a poor imitation of Venezuela in no time.

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are both very appealing, one blazing with passion, the other rumpled and avuncular, and I have no doubt they are both stuffed to the gills with good intentions, but voting for good intentions over pragmatic realities is a short cut to the kind of hell we are witnessing in socialist paradises around the world. If you doubt me, and if you have a serious death wish, go take a look at Venezuela.

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Impossible

August 2nd, 2018 7 Comments

 

Everyone knows politicians are congenital pathological liars. The only reason they even condescend to give their real names out is because they have to in order to get onto the ballot; otherwise they’d lie about that.

Some are smooth and plausible: think of Barack Obama smiling that charming smile and saying, “Why, I only just heard about…” (fill in the blank: Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS scandal, and on and on) “…the other day on the news.” Think about, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Who could not believe him? Hell, I did too, at first.

Some are so clumsy and so obvious it beggars description: think of Donald Trump: “It’ll be big! It’ll be stupendous! It’ll be beautiful! And Mexico will pay for it.” Think of some of the nonsense he tweets. Or think of virtually anything Harry Reid ever said, up to and including his taking the oath of office.

But, as with everything, there are always a few exceptions, a tiny handful of men and women who actually try to serve their constituents and the Constitution without breaking the law to line their own pockets or advance their personal agendas. And I always thought our Vice President, Mike Pence was one of those: a reasonably honest straight-shooter who plays the game more or less by the rules.

So, picture my dismay and my anger when I read the following quote from Mike Pence, made during a speech he gave in Missouri:

“Last year alone, I’m proud to report to you that ICE agents removed more than 226,000 illegal immigrants from our country. In fact, they arrested more than 127,000 illegal immigrants with criminal convictions or facing charges of breaking our nation’s laws, including ICE removed nearly 5,000 gang members from our streets.”

I mean, come on, Mr. Pence! If you’re going to swell the ranks of the dark side of politicians, at least try to tell some whoppers that are semi-plausible. Use numbers that might, at the very least, fool some of the dimmer-watt bulbs that make up all of us smelly deplorables. Don’t take a page out Trump’s book and get egregious!

I was so outraged I decided to write about the paucity of probity in Washington, and in order to properly rebuke our Vice President, I decided to quickly do the research and find out what the actual numbers of criminal deportees were (leaving aside the fact that illegal immigration is itself a crime).

What?!

Oh.

Ah… Oops.

It turns out Mike Pence was telling the gospel truth. Actually, the numbers I found on official sites and fact-checking sites were slightly higher than Mr. Pence’s, but his are close enough for government work, you should pardon the expression.

In the interests of simplicity, I’ll give you Politifact’s (https://www.politifact.com) take on Mr. Pence’s statement:

“Readers asked us to verify Pence’s data. We found that he accurately cited ICE numbers. But data also showed that the most common charges and convictions were for traffic offenses, immigration, and ‘dangerous drugs.’ Pence’s wording could leave the wrong impression that those criminal convictions were for more serious offenses.”

I could make a good argument that being in the country illegally is all one needs to qualify as a criminal, and I could make a far stronger argument that drug charges are indeed serious, but I’ll let it go.

Consequently, I would like to suggest that instead of “abolishing ICE,” as so many of our more progressive lunatic fringe are demanding, we would be well-served to keep or even expand ICE and disband some of the more flagrantly and obviously criminal bureaucratic agencies that have so arrogantly, and for so long, considered themselves above the rest of us, and, worst of all, considered themselves above the law and the Constitution they swore to protect and defend. I’m referring to the FBI, the DOJ, and the IRS. Get rid of them, at least the senior officers smugly calling the shots in plush offices in Washington, DC, and let’s start over with a clean slate.

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