A Modest Constitutional Proposal

Here is an interesting essay by Sandy Levinson concerning his theme for the last few years: that the US Constitution is in dire need of reform to eliminate anachronisms, bottlenecks, and gaps that have become apparent over the last 222 years. What sets him off here is the seemingly mundane question of when a presidential transition should begin, but as we learned on 9/11 and are learning in today's Treasury Department, sometimes transitions lead to dangerous gaps in personnel and knowledge:

The basic problem, obviously, is that the current system runs the genuine (and sometimes actualized) danger of depriving us of a genuine "government," in the sense of combining political legitimacy and legal authority, in times where we really need one. Nothing that happened between November 4 and January 20 lessened my concern. We are in the middle of the greatest economic crisis of at least the past 75 years, and we had no one truly able, in the sense I described, of speaking for the United States and being able to commit the United States to a policy. This is madness. Just consider what might have happened had we suffered a terrorist attack attributed to people living, in say, Pakistan or (considerably less likely) Iran.
Levinson is really looking at nuts and bolts issues, not on existential questions of whether we should, say, include an explicit right to privacy (which we have in CA, by the way. Nyah! Nyah!). The transition period is not just delayed by the calendar. It is also delayed by the Senate, which has steadfastly refused to streamline its confirmation procedures.

Levinson doesn't mention this, but a more serious problem is the lack of regard many of our legislators have for the Constitution to begin with. Until recently, the Commerce Clause was used to pass all sorts of legislation that had nothing to do with economic activity. The recent tax bill directed against the AIG bonuses was widely seen as an unconstitutional bill of attainder, yet passed with wide majorities. The bail out of AIG by the Federal Reserve, which has no statutory or constitutional authority over an insurance company is similarly suspect, although it might be supportable on an exigent circumstances argument. But the fact that no congressman, except maybe Ron Paul, has raised this is disappointing. And, the list, as they say, goes on.

One problem is that most people think of the Constitution as relating to issues like free speech, abortion, police searches, and the question of whether one president or another is "shredding" the Constitution. The average person is aware of the political protections that the Constitution affords them, but the last six months have demonstrated how little people are aware of their economic freedom and how willing many are apparently willing to trade that freedom away. It is a real failure of our public discourse that so many constitutional issues are rarely discussed, or even acknowledged outside of law reivews.

The Truth - Indirectly

With Wagoner gone, GM may be on its way to its endgame. Or, at least, the bond holders and the UAW are being given fair warning that This Is It. U.S. Threatens Bankruptcy for GM, Chrysler

GM looks increasingly like it will be forced into filing for bankruptcy
protection, sometime in mid-to-late May, and that the surviving "new GM" will retain select brands and some international operations, said several people familiar with the situation.Stakes in this new GM could be given to creditors. It is also possible the new company could be sold whole or in parts to investors or its shares sold in an initial public offering. The UAW's retiree health-care fund would likely get either some shares or proceeds from the sale of the stock.A key ingredient in acting on this plan is getting the UAW to agree to an entirely new contract, including major reductions in health-care benefits, said several people involved in the matter. "That's the No.1 wild card here," one of these people said Monday.

The UAW isn't a "wild card." It is acting as if it thinks it can pull through this without any further pain. We'll see. George Bush probably couldn't put the UAW through the wringer because union supporters always manage to convince people that workin' stiffs will be forced to work as peacock tenders on the GOP's palatial estates. Obama, on the other hand, is positioned to hand the UAW its head on a "Nixon to China," "Clinton to Welfare Reform" theory.
President Obama also engaged in this bit of unintentional truth-telling
President Obama argued Monday that the U.S. auto industry -- and, by default, its largest component, GM -- was unique in its centrality to the U.S. economy. "This industry is, like no other, an emblem of theAmerican spirit," he said. "It is a pillar of our economy." He went on to insist that the government had no intention of running
Sadly, the part in bold is true. GM spent 35 years ignoring festering problems like unsustainable pension plans, stultifying work rules, and competition from despised "foreigners" from Germany and Japan. GM created an inverted pyramid of labor costs, where a shrinking number of active employees supported the gold plated pensions and medical care for retirees who often spent decades on the company dole. It leveraged itself to the breaking point, and sold cars with cheap financing. It allowed an over-expansion of its dealer network, which made just enough $$ to become rich and smug, so that GM's customer service plumbed industry lows. It clung to the outdated concept of GM as a company with cars for every step on the economic ladder, but then built cars that were undifferentiated in price, styling, and performance. And the cars themselves were often mediocre at best, as GM rode on the fumes of its once lustrous brand names.

Look at GM, and then look at a company like Southwest, Google, or Boeing. They are not perfect, but they certainly have not exhibited the hide-bound resistance to any sort of change demonstrated by GM's management and unions. There are some things in America that work like hell, but there is a lot that is simply broken - weighed down by bad babits, mediocre minds, and management-labor relations that prevent any meaningful reform or restructuring.

GM, and the US, have been kicking a number of cans down the road, and we have finally reached the point where the asphalt meets the sand. The stakeholders determined to hold on to this broken model, even as time and simple math counsel otherwise. In that sense, GM truly does represent the American spirit ca. 2009 with its bail outs and whinging interest groups .

Plutarch's Lives: Numa Pompilius

Not exactly a household name now, Numa was known to the Ancients as the law giver of Rome. As with others of the earliest of Plutarch's Lives, the extant information about Numa is limited, with much of his life shrouded in legend. Thus, like in the life of Lycurgus, the reader learns more about the society and culture Numa helped to establish, than about the man himself. 

Numa was a Sabine, and a contemporary of Romulus. When Romulus died, the people of Rome were little more than a disputatious rabble, still divided along the tribal divide between Romans and Sabines. However, they had suffered enough under the last tyrannical years of Romulus' reign that they made an effort to find a moderate ruler who could unite the city's warring factions, and bring stability to Rome. They decided to hold a vote between two nominees: a Sabine nominated by the Romans and a Roman preferred by the Sabines. Numa, a Sabine, won the vote and - after some initial reluctance - became the second king of Rome. 

Numa was an unusual ancient king in that he was a scholar and mystic, rather than a warrior and conqueror. Numa did not add any territory to Rome's dominion. What he did was set Roman culture on a path towards greatness. He did this by instituting many of Rome's religious practices and festivals, which he saw as providing a means to impress upon the Roman masses a sense of wonder and awe for the universe. Plutarch claims that Numa was a disciple of Pythagorus (of Theorem fame), a belief apparently widespread in Rome, but unlikely as the two men lived a century apart. While Pythagorus is known now as a mathematician, he was known to the ancients as a mystic and philosopher whose innovations in geometry were directed more towards a religious end than a scientific one.

A prime example of this is the story of Numa's creation of the vestal virgins. Plutarch writes that they were among the most essential elements of Roman religious practice because they were tasked with keeping the vestal flame lit. For the Romans, fire (read: the sun) was the essence of life, and the vestal flame was a symbol of pure holy fire. Numa lit the vestal flame using a technique derived from the Pythagorean Theorem. The flame itself was kept in a circular room with the flame in the center, and the circular walls representing the manner in which the Earth circled the fire/sun. The basic mysteries of Roman religion were thus dependent on their knowledge of astronomy and geometry. 

Plutarch also credits Numa with instituting the 12-month, 365-day calendar. Before Numa, the Romans had used  a 10-month calendar, devised by Romulus, which began in March and ended in December, with two blank months in between. (this was apparently a typical characteristic of ancient calendars, which were used primarily to regulate the growing season) Numa created the months of January and February, and then instituted the practice of beginning the year in January. Numa's calendar wasn't perfect - the solar and lunar cycles eventually became decoupled from each other, requiring further tinkering, for example. However, it was an improvement over what came before, and was the basis for the calendar we know today. 

To quell the endless fighting between the Romans and Sabines, Numa divided the Romans into divisions based on their employment, creating guilds for the various occupations. This reduced violence in the city by causing people to focus on business rivalries, rather than blood rivalries. To alleviate the overcrowding and underemployment resulting from the large numbers of poor people within Rome's walls, Numa divided Rome's rural areas and assigned each of the urban poor to lots. His idea was to put people to work and improve their character through the bracing life of a farmer, who must remain attuned to the seasons, the weather, and the vagaries of nature. 

These were Numa's major innovations. He was also a benevolent ruler whom the Romans admired for his sense of justice, and for the peace that he brought with him during his reign. At his death, Numa asked that he be buried in one casket, and his writings and mathematic works be buried next to him in a second casket. The Romans did so. generations later, the Romans inadvertently dug the caskets up. The one containing Numa was empty, but the Romans found voluminous writings in the other. These writings were burned with the Roman leaders believing that the Roman people should not see their contents. Such was life in the ancient world, where the learning of one generation was easily lost by the carelessness of its successors. 

Doing the Jobs Americans Won't Do

Lots of noise being made over the governement's firing of Rick Waggoner as a condition of further bailouts to GM. Theoretically, it is disquieting that the gov't is now deciding who should or should not managing major multi-national corporations like GM. but I am not feeling disquieted now. GM's board should have done this four years ago. GM's shareholders should have done it 2 years ago. GM's dealers should have been jumping up and down over this one year ago. But none of these supposed stakeholders lifted a finger.

I like to think I'm a hip free market kind of person, but the last few months have been positively embarassing. The behavior of the so-called capitalists at the banks, AIG, the Wall Street investment houses, and now the auto companies does not give one any hope that these firms can be turned around. They demand their profits and perquisites in good times, but when the economic tide inevitably turns (and it always does. Do they still teach this at B-School?) they came running to the government for help. It's almost like it was part of their business plan. It should have been a pre-condition for all of these guys that the boards and officers all resign before acceptin any bailout money. Instead, they have been clinging to their planes, golf tournaments, and bonuses. Talk about moral hazard.

Is Caterpiller doing this? No, it's gritting its teeth and laying people off. Is Harley-Davidson doing this? No, they are running defiant "red, white, and blue" ads. Is Ford doing this? No, they brought in a new CEO who took names, looked for inefficiencies, and rationalized the product line. God forbid Waggoner do this 4 years ago when GM was already buckling under the pressures of its legacy costs, union rules, and dealer networks.

I still think that there will be a GM in five years with a reduced product line, smaller work force, and deservedly smaller set of dealers. You can talk about the free market all you want, but the Bailed Out haven't been participants in one for a long time. Now, we have the distasteful spectable of the president demanding the resignation of a corporate cheiftain. and offering guarantees for every GM warranty. Hopefully, the gov't will get out of this as quickly as it got in, but if it doesn't Obama will not be the only one to share the blame. The big league capitalists have failed spectacularly, and the political reality is that they cannot try to save their seats in the Executive Washroom with a bankruptcy. Rather than cry for the Death of the Free Market, let's make sure this "public-private" partnership is as short and forgettable as a Las Vegas wedding.

La Kangaro Justicia

The same Spanish judge who hounded Augusto Pinochet (but who studiously ignored Daniel Ortega and the Castro brothers) has found a new band of arch-right "merchants of death" to bring charges against for supposed crimes against humanity:Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials

A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.
I would agree that Alberto Gonzales is guilty of a grave crime . Alas, there is no actual criminal liability that attaches to being criminally stupid. 

The others are simply being abused by the "international" legal system which seems determined to give succor to the likes of Saddam Hussein and various GITMO inmates. 
The complaint under review also names John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying the president had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, and Douglas J. Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy.


The other Americans named in the complaint were William J. Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Jay S. Bybee, Mr. Yoo’s former boss at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David S. Addington, who was the chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.
If indictments are actually handed down against these men, they would be badges of honor. Feith, for one, is confused as to why he would even be dragged into this:
Mr. Feith, who was the top policy official at the Pentagon when the prison at Guantánamo was established, said he did not make the decision on interrogation methods and was baffled by the allegations. “I didn’t even argue for the thing I understand they’re objecting to,” he said.

There are a lot of people out there who think that, but for a small cabal of neo-cons, there would have been no 9/11, no GITMO, no "torture," and no Iraq War. These are also the same people who think that the ice caps are going to melt in 5 years, and that they can stop this by driving Priuses. "Judge" Garzon, who has determined that he has jurisdiction over the entire planet, is no impartial observer. He is yet another leftist trying to tie America down in legalisms and arrest warrants. That he would never bring such harassing  charges against left wingers like the rulers of Cuba, Venezuela, China, Viet Nam, and Nicaragua shows not only his ideological proclivities, but also his intellectual cowardice. That this comes out of one of our ostensible allies shows, once again, that we need to re-think some of our most basic alliances. 

Alt-Google Earth Malware

Some enterprising Canadians - hired by the Dalai Lama to find out why his group's computers seemed to be infected by viruses - have stumbled on to (ahem) Something Big: Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries:

A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, Canadian researchers have concluded.
Please tell me that the CIA/DNI/NSA/ETC knew about this. I'm betting they didn't, but that the pros at the Pentagon probably did. And you'll never guess where the computers are located.
In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.


Although the Canadian researchers said that most of the computers behind the spying were in China, they cautioned against concluding that China’s government was involved. The spying could be a nonstate, for-profit operation, for example, or one run by private citizens in China known as “patriotic hackers.”

That last bit must be in there for politeness' sake. Of course, the gov't was involved. No one is "patriotic' enough to set up this sort of system.

Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.

The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

Quick! Someone call Lynn Stewart and the ACLU! Civil liberties are being crushed for real this time!

The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.

The researchers were able to monitor the commands given to infected computers and to see the names of documents retrieved by the spies, but in most cases the contents of the stolen files have not been determined. Working with the Tibetans, however, the researchers found that specific correspondence had been stolen and that the intruders had gained control of the electronic mail server computers of the Dalai Lama’s organization.

Those darn patriotic hackers! What sort of mischief will they get into next?

As the world gets farther on-line, it would seem that our greatest secrets might have to re-enter the analogue world. Much of the US's military might is dependent on computers and satellite technology that may not be as secure as we like. We may never be able to leave homing pigeons and semaphores behind.

A Final Salute

The 4 Oakland police officers shot by a thug parolee were buried today. The memorial service was massive, but mostly it was fellow cops who turned out: More than 20,000 honor slain Oakland police

Rumbling corteges of motorcycle officers escorted each hearse in miles-long processions to the arena, causing traffic delays on most East Bay freeways in the morning and again in the afternoon. Along the way, police officers and firefighters stood in silent salute on highway overpasses.

At the arena, police vehicles passed underneath a giant American flag hanging between the extended ladders of two Oakland fire trucks, maintaining a tight and sharp formation, just as Dunakin would have liked it, his colleagues said.

Their badges wrapped with black bands of mourning, hundreds of officers in dress uniforms lined the steps outside the arena and saluted as one by one, honor guards escorted four flag-draped caskets inside, followed by the officers' families. A sign at the complex read, "Forever Heroes."

Hundreds of police vehicles - bomb-squad trucks, motorcycles, Ford Crown Victoria and Dodge Charger cruisers - filled the parking lot. There were police cars from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and New York. A rainbow of uniforms filled the arena and the adjacent Oakland Coliseum, where an overflow crowd of several thousand watched the service on two big screens.

Many officers dabbed at their eyes with white gloves as the caskets were placed in front of a flower-adorned stage beside their pictures. The police motorcycles of Dunakin and Hege and two pairs of empty boots sat nearby.

Meanwhile, there are people in Oakland saying "Don't forget about the fifth victim!" meaning the killer. No we won't forget him. But, we won't remember him fondly. 

Meanwhile, Oakland's useless mayor received a well-deserved cut from the bereaved family of one officer.Mayor asked to forgo speech at officers' funeral:

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is attending Friday's funeral for four slain city police officers, but will not be speaking at the request of at least one killed officer's family.

The mayor's spokesman, Paul Rose, said Dellums turned down a police offer to give opening remarks after at least one of the families requested he not be among the dignitaries speaking at the ceremony.

Dellums has been leading anti-cop rallies and marches since he was associated with the Black Panthers. He has long been a proponent of "police watchdogs," pro-criminal civil rights laws, and disarming cops. If there was a guy whining about "brutality," Dellums has always been there to lend a sympathetic ear. He is not only an inappropriate speaker at this funeral. He is in appropriate as the mayor of a city grappling with major crime issues. But, he's a Progressive Lion, so it's rare that anyone raises a peep in protest. Good for the bereaved family for finally standing up to him.

Facts Flowing From the Fog Of War

Remember the "story" of the Israeli sniper who claimed to have shot women and children in Gaza? Yeah, it might have some credibility problems:  Israel Disputes Soldiers’ Accounts of Gaza Abuses:

The accounts that have received the most attention came from a taped conversation of Gaza veterans at a pre-military course. The soldiers there told of a sniper killing a woman and her two children walking in a no-go zone and of another case in which an elderly woman was shot dead for approaching a commandeered house.

The army’s advocate general has opened an investigation and has not yet issued a report. But officers familiar with the investigation say that those who spoke of the killing of the mother and her children did not witness it and that it almost certainly did not occur. Warning shots were fired near the family but not at it, the officers said, and a rumor spread among the troops of an improper shooting.

The worst about Israel is always reported as fact. Even Israel does not claim to be perfect. But, the most explosive allegations against her are easily refuted and, frankly, should be seen as dubious to begin with. I specifically wrote that the sniper story was bogus and was comfortable in saying so. Those who believe otherwise - Israel's enemies in the West and the Middle East, the credulous media, and even the fifth columnists within the ranks of the IDF who often help spread such tales - demonstrate their bad faith for the world to see, but the world never seems to catch on.

Scared Stupid

it really should be a source of despair that the most educated among us have become convinced that the World Could End because of "climate change" (nee' "global warming") based on little more than the power point slides and ominous animation produced by non-scientist Al Gore. Hopefully stories like this can reverse the tide:  Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Draw Quality Complaints

A lot of people these days are finding the new compact fluorescent bulbs anything but simple. Consumers who are trying them say they sometimes fail to work, or wear out early. At best, people discover that using the bulbs requires learning a long list of dos and don’ts.

Take the case of Karen Zuercher and her husband, in San Francisco. Inspired by watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” they decided to swap out nearly every incandescent bulb in their home for energy-saving compact fluorescents. Instead of having a satisfying green moment, however, they wound up coping with a mess.

“Here’s my sad collection of bulbs that didn’t work,” Ms. Zuercher said the other day as she pulled a cardboard box containing defunct bulbs from her laundry shelf.

"Honey! I just watched a movie that said we can Save The Earth by switching lightbulbs! To Walgreens!" This from the same crowd that thinks the War of Terror is a crazy scheme cooked up in Texas, despite their watching the World Trade Center get destroyed on TV.

Do they ever get the feeling they've been ripped off?

Smart Afghan Wars

Congratulations, Barack Obama! You are now the proud owner of the War in Afghanistan! That's the one we've come to know as the "Good War" where we "Took Our Eyes Off The Ball" and failed to find Osama bin Laden! Obama Unveils Afghan Plan to Add Troops and Set Goals

In strikingly ominous tones, Mr. Obama warned — just as PresidentGeorge W. Bush did repeatedly over the years — of intelligence estimates that al Qaeda “is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.”

Sheesh! Maybe Bush wasn't kidding when he was talking about dangers to America in "strikingly ominous tones." Mayhap, Obama has seen the light. 

“The situation is increasingly perilous,” he told government officials, top military officers and diplomats in remarks at the White House.

He added, “We have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

But President Obama promised neither to write a “blank check” nor to “blindly stay the course” if his risky new strategy does not achieve its ambitious goals.

Nope! No dopey course staying for Obama! Halliburton stock must have dropped like rock after he said that.

In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating an approach used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod shaky governments in the region to take more responsibility for fighting insurgents and building lasting political institutions.The new strategy, officials said, will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to Afghanistan shortly after taking office.

Cue portentious "Graveyard of Empires" music.

And you might have missed it, but Obama seems to have mumbled something about sending 4,000 more troops than he originally stated. I'm sure the guys at The American Empire Project just blew a few gaskets.

Although the administration is still developing the specific benchmarks for Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said they would be the most explicit demands ever presented to the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. In effect, Mr. Obama would be insisting that two fractured countries plagued by ancient tribal rivalries and modern geopolitical hostility find ways to work together and transform their societies.
What is it with liberals and warfare? It's not enough to go in and accomplish some narrowly defined military goals. Instead, they feel compelled to call on Afghans and Pakistanis to "transform their societies." Into what? We can't even transform our own without going bananas over AIG bonuses. Really, this reflects the fundamental distaste that progressives feel about war and the exercise of American power. 

Obama was wise in picking his foreign affairs team. They can almost run on auto-pilot while he works on the things he actually cares about. But, the buck stops with Obama and there is absolutely nothing in his background that could have prepared him for the role of commander in chief. Quite the opposite. And, erstwhile allies like Bill Ayers and Tom Hayden, who know a thing or two about the destabilizing domestic effects of a war gone bad, are already warning that this may be a mistake. 

I hope they're wrong. Except for the "transforming societies" part, I hope Obama's Afghan adventure succeeds on his terms and on ours.


The Secret Wars

Israel apparently attacked a weapons convoy two months ago. The convoy was carrying munitions from an unnamed nation to Gaza. Big deal, right? Well, you would think so, since the attack occurred in The Sudan: U.S. Officials Say Israel Struck in Sudan

American officials said the airstrike took place as Israel sought to stop the flow of weapons to Gaza during the weeks it was fighting a war with Hamas there.

Two American officials who are privy to classified intelligence assessments said that Iran had been involved in the effort to smuggle weapons to Gaza. They also noted that there had been intelligence reports that an operative with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary GuardsCorps had gone to Sudan to coordinate the effort.

But one former official said that the exact provenance of the arms that were being smuggled via Sudan was unclear.

Although the airstrike was carried out two months ago, it was not publicized until Sudanese officials said Thursday that a convoy of trucks in the remote eastern part of Sudan was bombed by what they called “American fighters,” killing dozens. The strikes were first reported on several Internet-based news sites, including cbsnews.com.

For all the macho strutting you hear from the Middle East about the Little Satan, it's amazing how often Israel can attack its antagonists without incurring much of a response. Israel and the US are unique among nations for their ability to strike anywhere, at virtually any time, with no real response from the loudmouths who excoriate them publicly, yet meekly allow air strikes, commando raids, and missile strikes inside their borders. 

It is also striking how Israel can maintain a veil of secrecy over these efforts, which encompasses not only themselves, but also with the apparent collusion of those being attacked. Syria, for one, was notably quiet after Israel destroyed its nascent nuclear facilities. Our secret wars seem to be much more effective than our "public" wars in Iraq and Lebanon. 

We often hear about the dangers of blowback from "cowboy" American diplomacy and Israeli "apartheid". The Great Satan and Little Satan are routinely threatened with annihilation for our supposed abuses. But, in the shadows, it seems our manner of projecting power and protecting ourselves is much more effective than anyone wishes to admit or even acknowledge.

Attack of the Notebooks

I honestly don't care whether Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) retains her Senate seat next year, but the NY Times sure does. It has put together a lengthy attack piece about Gillibrand's work as an attorney for Philip Morris - or, "Big Tobacco" as the sophisticates at the Times like to say - when she was a junior associate. As a Young Lawyer, Gillibrand Defended Big Tobacco

So, who cares, right? Junior associates have about as much control over their choice of assignments as buck privates. Don't be fooled sez the Times:

Now in the Senate seat formerly held by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ms. Gillibrand plays down her work as a lawyer representing Philip Morris, saying she was a junior associate with little control over the cases she was handed and limited involvement in defending the tobacco maker.

But a review of thousands of documents and interviews with dozens of lawyers and industry experts indicate that Ms. Gillibrand was involved in some of the most sensitive matters related to the defense of the tobacco giant as it confronted pivotal legal battles beginning in the mid-1990s

They reviewed "thousands of documents" for this?! Come on! It's not like she was walking around in a Joe Camel T-shirt!

Then, there's this:
During her most recent congressional race, Ms. Gillibrand, who is a former smoker, accepted $18,200 in campaign donations from tobacco companies and their executives — putting her among the top dozen House Democrats for such contributions. Many Congressional Democrats do not accept tobacco money.
A "former smoker?" Unclean! Unclean! 

To add to the obloquy, the Times illustrates the story with a picture from the famous 1994 hearing where Big Tobacco executives were "put under oath" and said that there was no provable link between smoking and cancer. Gillibrand, of course, had nothing to do with this "dramatic "event, but all's fair in love and war, right?

We Thank You Herbert Hoover

Here is the hardy perrennial of any US-recession: the "human interest" story about the "modern Hoover-ville" of tent cities and shanty town's that are "springing up" "nationwide." Cities Deal With a Surge in Shantytowns

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night,President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”
Hey! It's not acceptable! Move along!

Although the Times purports to document a "nationwide" trend, most, if not all of these tent cities are located in California. And, despite the Times best efforts, it is clear that these are not reg'lar folks suffering from the destruction of illusory Bush-era wealth.
On a recent afternoon, nobody seemed thrilled to be living in New Jack City, a filthy collection of rain- and wind-battered tents in a garbage-strewn lot. Several weary-looking residents sat on decaying sofas as a pair of pit bulls chained to a fence howled.
The truth is, if these were middle class people thrown out of work, they would not be living in conditions like this. There would at least be a modicum of comfort and dignity.
Doug Brown, a freelance electrical engineer, said he had discovered the Village of Hope while unemployed a few years back and had returned after losing his job in October.
This guy sounds like he was living on the margins even in the best of times.

That mix is already evident in a walk around Taco Flats, where Sean Langer, 42, who lost a trucking job in December and could pass for a soccer dad, lives in his car in front of a sturdy shanty that is home to Barbara Smith, 41, a crack addict with a wild cackle for a laugh.

“This is a one-bedroom house,” said Ms. Smith, proudly taking a visitor through her home built with scrap wood and scavenged two-by-fours. “We got a roof, and it does not leak.”

Other than the crack addiction, she's jes' folks!

Daniel Kent, a clean-shaven 27-year-old from Oregon, has been living in Taco Flats for three months after running out of money on a planned hitchhiking trip to Florida. He did manage to earn $35 a day holding up a going-out-of-business sign for Mervyn’s until the department store actually went of out business.

Mr. Kent planned to attend a job fair soon, but said he did not completely mind living outdoors.

A hitchhiker from Oregon?! That could be me!

The Times goes out of its way to avoid saying it, but it's clear that many of the residents in CA's tent cities are migrant workers and illegal immigrants from Mexico. The names of some of these "Hoovervilles" - "Taco Flats" and "Little Tijuana," for example - pretty much says it all.

The problem in Fresno is different in that it is both chronic and largely outside the national limelight. Homelessness here has long been fed by the ups and downs in seasonal and subsistence jobs in agriculture, but now the recession has cast a wider net and drawn in hundreds of the newly homeless — from hitchhikers to truck drivers to electricians.

“These are able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their income,” said Michael Stoops, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in Washington.

I'm sorry, but that just doesn't strike me as being representative of what is happening to Americans, nor does it deserve much in the way of hard wringing.
Interestingly, the Times ran a good article a couple months ago about families in Orange County living in motels after losing their homes. That was a much more realistic portrait of the struggles that Americans may be having now. But, specious stories about "tent cities" and "Obama-villes" are little more than Pessimism Porn for the poorly informed.

Smart Drug War

Hillary Clinton is in Mexico offering succor to its besieged government, which is seeing an ever-spiraling level of drug violence and corruption. And, she's always ready to apologize for US sins. Clinton promotes US-Mexican relations in Monterrey

Clinton on Wednesday went further than U.S. officials have previously in acknowledging the United States must share the blame for the drug problem because of a continuing strong demand for drugs at home.

"I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility," Clinton told reporters.

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she said. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."

I am going to surprise everyone by saying I agree with the first part of that statement.  The size and scope of drug use in the US (and Europe) is a national disgrace and certainly does act as a magnet for the drug cartels. But, not all Americans are to blame for this. Most Americans are not illict drug users. And, without pointing any fingers or naming any names, I think we know which side of the ideological spectrum most drug use takes place. Democrats might want to put their own house in order before lecturing "americans" about their bad habits. 

The second bit about the "flow of arms" across the border to Mexico is pure poppy-cock. Mexico's cartels supposedly have access to "military-style" weapons, which they simply cannot buy in US gun shops, but which they could easily get from, say, a corrupt member of the Mexican military. But, I can understand that this would not be the most diplomatic thing to say if you are Secretary of State, and don't have a clue about weapons and US gun sales.  And, wouldn't it be nice if our southern border were more physically secure, rather than allowing an unimpeded flow of criminality into the US? See here for more.

Dr. Killdare to Cell Block-H!

The Governator is managing to get one or two things right, even as the state spirals towards insolvency. He has been involved in a long running dispute with the courts and a federal receiver who have decided - rather high handedly - that CA's prison health services are constitutionally inadequate and constitute "cruel & unusual punishment." 

The receiver, with the active assistance of the courts, is trying to force CA to spend $8 billion to "improve" prison health care without taking into account (1) CA doesn't exactly have $8 billion lying around and (2) their proposals would leave CA prisoners with access to better health services than many law abiding people. Practically speaking, it's a non-starter, but the court's and the receiver have gotten on their high horse, and have found they enjoy the view.Governor in trouble again on prison health care
A federal appeals court reinstated contempt-of-court proceedings Wednesday against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for defying a judge's order to pay the first $250 million of a multibillion-dollar plan to rebuild the state prison health care system.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco rejected the state's attempt to regain control of the prison health system. Henderson appointed a receiver to manage the system in 2006 after finding that one inmate a week was dying because of inadequate health care and that the state was unable to meet constitutional standards. Schwarzenegger said he would appeal.
The proposed "reforms" are so pie-in-the-sky they are almost a parody of "soft on crime" advocacy. They want to build a 5,000 bed hospital at a cost of $8 billion, for one thing. I don't think anybody is advocating withholding medical care (does that EVER happen? I doubt it). It's difficult to get a sense of what is going on at the prison hospitals. Maybe they are a Dickensian hellholes with prisoners sharing catheters and the like. But, stories of true abuse are hard to come by. Mostly, it seems like the prison hospitals are Spartan and lacking in cooing nurses and brilliant doctors. Is that really a surprise?

I feel like these reformers are approaching things from the wrong direction. Rather than focusing on healthcare, it might be more fiscally prudent - not to mention socially palatable - to look to the health of the individual prisoner. If a prisoner is so terminally ill that he s physically debilitated or needs 'round the clock medical care, it seems silly to keep him in prison. Who is he going to harm if he receives early parole? Occasionally, you hear stories of elderly prisoners with dementia or Alzheimers. Why keep them in prison? Surely they can be better cared for outside prison.

Ah-nuld, meanwhile, is facing a contempt citation for his troubles: 
Henderson said the money was available in a bill the Legislature had approved, and scheduled a hearing in November to hold Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang in contempt of court for withholding the funds. Officials who are found in contempt can be jailed, but Henderson said he planned to assess financial penalties against the state until it complied with his order.
I haven't had much good to say about him the last few months, but I hope he stands firm against this bit of judicial foolishness.

Let's Give The Currency Markets A Good Roil, Shall We?

The Indispensable Man finally had a good day Monday. The Street liked his toxic assets plan - what's not to like when taxpayers will be subsidizing virtually their entire "investment" in said assets - giving him some much needed breathing room, but now he's back to "normal."  Geithner Comments Send Dollar For a Ride.

In a blink of an eye, the U.S. dollar has collapsed against the Euro, Japanese Yen and other major currencies. The trigger was comments from Tim Geithner who said that the U.S. is "quite open" to China's suggestion of moving towards a Special Drawing Right (SDR) linked currency system. If the world adopts the SDR, which was created by the IMF as an international reserve asset, it would mean that countries around the world would need to hold less U.S. dollars. The U.S. is probably open to this suggestion because a weaker dollar is stimulative for the U.S. economy and would relieve the U.S. from having to implement effective monetary policy while balancing the international demand for a reserve currency.
God forbid he would stand up for his country and his currency. Instead, he ends up kowtowing to an economically hostile initiative from a country that doesn't really wish us well. 

Paul Volcker has come out of his "undisclosed location" where the Administration has secreted him away, and has shown the Indispensable Man how a real man defends America's economy and currency: Geithner And Volcker Back The Buck

Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, threw cold water Wednesday on a Chinese proposal to downgrade the dollar, the second day in a row he has supported the greenback's primacy.

"I understand restiveness about the lopsided nature of the present international monetary system that's so dependent on the dollar," Reuters quoted Volcker as saying at a panel with Prime Minister Gordon Brownof Britain at New York University.

Volcker first spoke out against the Chinese proposal Tuesday, saying at a Wall Street Journal conference that the Chinese, "are a little disingenuous to say, 'Now isn't it so bad that we hold all these dollars.' They hold all these dollars because they chose to buy the dollars, and they didn't want to sell the dollars because they didn't want to depreciate their currency."
Was it really that hard to say all that?

If You Won't Do It, It Will Be Done For You

Gosh, I can't believe this hasn't been working out: Pension Glut Lies at Heart of Crisis Wracking Hungary
Hungary, a nation of 10 million, has three million pensioners. Besides
writing checks for regular retirees, the government gives special benefits to
accident victims, the disabled, military and police veterans, mayors, widows,
farmers, miners and "excellent and recognized" artists. The average Hungarian
retires at 58, and just 14% of Hungarians between 60 and 64 are working,
compared with more than half of Americans.
There are just 4 million Hungarians working to support the pensions of 3 million. Hungary has funded these pensions through bond sales, but people are no longer buying Hungarian bonds. The pensions themselves are ridiculously generous. Pensioners from higher income work receive a higher percentage of their working pay from their pension payments, for example.

The very idea that the pensions might need to be reined in is already causing political upheaval in Hungary. The linked article has the usual quotes from querelous old folks. You would think the first rule of reforming a pension program would be to immediately make it non-negotiable that pensions not be taken from people over, say 65 years old. The ones who need to be reformed (i.e. eliminated) are the pensions for middle aged, but able bodied, adults who would just as soon keep coasting, if at all possible.

The pensions are a legacy from Hungary's communist past, reason enough to reform them. If Hungarians decide they need to dig in their heels, then pretty soon nobody - old folks or limping 40-year olds - will have pensions.

Atlas Insurance Group, Part 6

Here is something that is becoming increasingly rare - somebody standing up for themselves:

Dear A.I.G., I Quit!
I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

Th writer is able to go out with his head held high ecause he believes he has done nothing wrong and has been ill-used by his bosses and his ostensible political leaders.

Ultimaltely, AIG's non-felonious employees are suffering for the sins of a razzle-dazzle group that has apparently been allowed to leave AIG quietly and, so far, retain their "earnings" from the last few years, leaving others to clean up their mess and face a full frontal assault from statist Dems and their media allies. That is a basic fraying of the social contract that canno tbe repaired without prosecutions and public exposure of the wrong-doers, and a show of restraint and respect for law from our elites. Neither of these options appear to be on the table.

The problem with the AIG bailout has been the utter lack of transparency. Until last week the $170 billion bailout had barely been spoken of, as AIG, the government, and the media engaged in a seeming conspiracy of silence to obfuscate and hide the truth of what was happening there.

The letter writer speaks of working 14 hour days to help AIG. Have you ever had a sense that this was happening? I haven't. After 9/11, there was a very publci display of flags and workers at the disaster sites. There has been no such display by AIG. No one really knows what's going on there, or at its counter-parties. In an atmosphere like that, of course a bonus payment - even if deserved - would look bad.

I have no idea what the writer's political associations are. It could be he's non-political. Then, again he makes an effort to emphasize his humble "son of two teachers," "mill town" roots, which makes him sound like a Democrat. If he is, he has undoubtedly marinated in tales of "stupid" Republicans," and the like. For people who like to think of themselves as liberal, I hope the last 8 weeks have been educational. Their preferred leaders have revealed themselves to be little more than disingenuous statist authoritarians, prone to panic and punitive acts to salve their left-wing base. Whatever rising tide of anger is out there, don't call it "populist." Call it a revolt of the productive class against those who have abused it.

Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste

The Chinese are laying the theoretical foundation for a world in which the dollar is no longer the world's reserve currency.  China Takes Aim at Dollar

China called for the creation of a new currency to eventually replace the dollar as the world's standard, proposing a sweeping overhaul of global finance that reflects developing nations' growing unhappiness with the U.S. role in the world economy.

The unusual proposal, made by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan in an essay released Monday in Beijing, is part of China's increasingly assertive approach to shaping the global response to the financial crisis.

Don't think a lot of people, including some who claim to be our erstwhile allies, wouldn't like to see this come into being.

The central banker's proposal reflects both China's desire to hold its $1.95 trillion in reserves in something other than U.S. dollars and the fact that Beijing has few alternatives. With more U.S. dollars continuing to pour into China from trade and investment, Beijing has no realistic option other than storing them in U.S. debt.

Mr. Zhou argued, without mentioning the dollar by name, that the loss of the dollar's de facto reserve status would benefit the U.S. by avoiding future crises. Because other nations continued to park their money in U.S. dollars, the argument goes, the Federal Reserve was able to pursue an irresponsible policy in recent years, keeping interest rates too low for too long and thereby helping to inflate a bubble in the housing market.

The world as we once knew has ended, but we are carrying on as if the manipulation of the bond market and our currency will suffice to bring it back to life. But, even if we were to accomplish this questionable goal, it is highly unlikely that the Chinese will willingly play this game again. And, we shouldn't want them to. Do Americans sleep soundly knowing that we rely so heavily on the Chinese gov't to fund our military and our entitlement programs? I hope not. 

It is, of course, hard to imagine that a "new" reserve currency could be willed into being through the writing of essays and attendance at G-20 meetings. Nothing short of war or cataclysm could bring about such a fundamental shift. Even under the best of conditions, Beijing Faces Big Barriers in Effort to Supplant Dollar. Then again, the Chinese are famous for taking the long view.

Developing, as they say...

Atlas Insurance Group, pt 5

Oh, for Pete's sake. AIG's now notorious "Financial Products" division is in trouble with the IRS for helping set up dodgy tax shelters for its counter-parties: AIG's Bonus Unit Now in IRS's Sights

Some of the same banks that got government-funded payouts to settle contracts with American International Group Inc. also turned to the insurer for help cutting their income taxes in the U.S. and Europe, according to court records and people familiar with the business.

The Internal Revenue Service is challenging some of the tax deals structured by AIG Financial Products Corp., the same unit of the New York company that has caused political ire over $165 million in employee bonuses.

The company paid $61 million last year in disputed taxes stemming from the deals but sued the U.S. government last month in federal court in New York, seeking a refund, according to filings in the case.

Banks that worked with AIG on tax deals include Crédit Agricole SA of France, Bank of Ireland and Bank of America Corp., according to AIG's lawsuit. The banks declined to comment.

The AIG debacle continues to be an under- and misreported story with a media/congressional mob forming over penny-ante bonuses while billion dollar rip-offs are relegated to the newspaper's back pages. 

The incuriosity about these sorts of things is chilling. Certainly, there are congressmen who are aware of what is happening, and who are exercising a modicum of oversight, but their efforts go unaired in the media. Look at what happened with the "bonus" story. The Obama administration and its allies almost got away with claiming that they were "shocked! shocked!" by it all. As it turned out, the bonuses were discussed in detail, and were the subject of congressional inquiry just two weeks ago. But, the only way you would have known that would have been if you were actually at the hearing!

We are not hearing the full story of AIG, nor are the bad actors being exposed and punished. Rather than demanding the return of bonuses, we should be seeing demands that AIG's financial products division be prosecuted for fraud, if anything. Instead, many apparently are still on the job, or have been allowed to leave discreetly. There has been an unregulated and unsupervised expenditure of $170 billion because of these guys. The present circumstance is simply an injustice. I doubt the financial system can truly recover a sense of trust, and thus cannot recover its bearings at all, until malefactors such as these are brought to justice. 

Yankees In Kim Jong-Il's Court

This is a story that has not been getting a lot of attention. You would think that two American journalists being kidnapped by North Korea would be causing a bit more of a furor. Report: NKorea suspects US journalists were spying

North Korean military intelligence officers in Pyongyang are questioning two American journalists for alleged espionage after they illegally crossed into the country from China, a South Korean newspaper reported Tuesday.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for the San Francisco-based media outlet Current TV, were undergoing "intense interrogation," with investigators poring through their notebooks, videotapes and camera for signs they were spying on the North's military facilities, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unnamed South Korean intelligence official.
The two journalists - both young women - work for Al Gore's Current TV, which I did not know was still extant. They also appear to be based out of San Francisco. If the circumstances of their capture are true, they have a typical San Franciscan's blend of bravery and foolhardiness. 

State-run North Korean media have said border guards arrested two Americans on March 17 for "illegally intruding" from China.

An activist who claims he helped the two plan their reporting trip has said they were reporting on North Korean refugees in China. The Rev. Chun Ki-won told The Associated Press that he warned them against getting too close to the border with North Korea.

JoongAng said they crossed into far northeastern North Korea by walking over the Tumen River dividing the country from China early in the morning of March 17. The narrow river, frozen this time of year, is a frequent escape route for refugees fleeing North Korea.

Regardless of their motivation, these women are now pawns in a diplomatic game that is playing out behind closed doors. No one in DC wants a confrontation with North Korea while we are simultaneously trying "rescue" our financial system. It's very easy to imagine that their capture could linger for months, if not longer, as North Korea uses them as a sort of currency to extract more perquisites for itself. And, North Korea also has its distinctive habit of kidnapping young women to serve as "wives," and who are never seen again. 

I suspect the women's families will need to make some noise to get anyone to pay attention to this strange and tragic situation. 

Plutarch's Lives: Lycurgus

Lycurgus was famed in the Ancient World as the Law Giver of Sparta. He was credited with creating the unique social and political structures that made Sparta a military power in its day, and a source of fascination for classics scholars and military historians ever since. While Athens is admired as the birthplace of democracy, and of western civilization, Sparta has drawn interest for its austerity, its military skill, and the regimented way of life it was able to maintain for generations. 

Plutarch, however, is quick to point out that there was very little extant information about Lycurgus, and it was unclear whether he even existed at all. Thus, Plutarch's "life" of Lycurgus spends much more time describing the social and political practices he instilled in the Spartans than it does actually telling the life history of Lycurgus. Plutarch's description of Sparta is quite detailed. For those who find democracy to be too noisy, and a market economy to be too messy, Sparta's austere, self-abnegating egalitarianism seems a welcome alternative. However, reading Plutarch, one comes away more disturbed than impressed with Spartan culture.

As Plutarch describes it, the bare bones of Lycurgus' were all that was known of him. He was apparently born into a royal house, but the era of his birth was unknown. The ancients did not even know what century he lived in with some making him a contemporary of Hercules, and others seeing him as a contemporary of Homer. There was agreement that he traveled around the Mediterranean, including rumored trips to Egypt and Spain. During his travels, he was exposed to different styles of government and political philosophies. Returning to Greece, Lycurgus ended up in Sparta, where he began using his powers of persuasion (supposedly his biggest gift) to talk the Spartans, then ruled by a conventional king, to make radical changes to their society. 

The first change was to create a senate that would act as a buffer between the king and the people. Lycurgus saw the senate as crucial, as it would be best positioned to blunt both the tyrannical impulses of the king and the chaotic demands of the People. The Spartan senate was made up of 30 (or 28) wise men, chosen for their wisdom and age. This would be the basic structure of Sparta's government. 

Lycurgus then set about radically changing Spartan society. Lycurgus' object was to reduce competition in Sparta by creating a system of radical equality. Lyurgus divided Sparta's lands into 40,000 equal sized lots, and then settled families on to each one by lot. The lots were inalienable and could not be passed from one generation to another. When a man came of age, he would simply be assigned a lot, either in the country or city, where he and his family would live. To reduce competition further, Lycurgus persuaded the Spartans to bring forth all of their gold and silver, and replaced Sparta's currency with lead. This supposedly removed the profit motive from Spartan life and prevented lawsuits. Plutarch is famous for mixing myth with straight history, but this is the most fantastical story he has told so far!

Lyurgus set up the boot camp style barracks where Spartan men were expected to live. He also set up the system of military drills and training that all Spartan youths were expected to participate in. For whatever reason, Plutarch spends a lot of time discussing the Spartan's sexual practices which are appropriately "Spartan." Spartan spouses were expected to live apart, with the husband coming home on occasion to sleep with his wife. Spartan intercourse was done  in a darkened room, with both partners unable to see the other. But, while a man could not see his wife naked, women were expected to go about naked on certain festival days, during which they would dance and sing for the men. Lycurgus' idea was that this would remove the mystery of Women from the minds of men and allow them to concentrate on other things, like homosexual affairs, about which Plutarch is also quite voluable. 

By this time, one might begin to wonder how the Spartans supported themselves if there was no currency or private property, and everybody spent the day doing drills. Plutarch explains, but only in passing. The Spartans were supported by the Helots, a sort of slave class that lived in a region conquered by the Spartans. The Helots grew the Spartans food, and also paid rent to the Spartans. Thus, the rigorous "egalitarian" Spartan culture that has been admired by so many was only made possible by a system of vassalage and slavery. The Spartans also seem to have terrorized the Helots as well. Plutarch tells that part of a Spartan youth's rite of passage would be to go to the land of the Helots with nothing but a knife and a bit of food. When the sun went down, the Spartan youths were expected to go out and kill as many Helots as they could get their hands on. This was an annual ritual! Plutarch argues that Lycurgus should not be blamed for this innovation, and says it was a perversion of Lycurgus' original training regimen. 

The picture that emerges of Sparta is thus a disquieting one. While one can admire Sparta's ostensible equality, such equality was only possible with the involuntary support provided by the Helots, who were truly oppressed. Sparta's approach to family life - with little sexual intimacy, family members living apart, and children removed from their mothers at a young age - is similarly oppressive, with the state taking the place of the family and preventing individuals from forming their own associations. And the idea that all of the Spartans willingly gave up their lands and gold is far fetched. If such a thing happened, it could only have happened after coercion and state-sponsored theft. 

The portrait of Sparta that emerges is that of a socialist paradise, where individuals surrendered their desires and ambitions for the good of the state. Such surrender was only possible because the Spartan state oppressed the Helots and treated them as a vast servant class to be terrorized into supporting their masters in Sparta. There are many who admire Sparta,  up to and including in the present day, but I would guess that its admirers would never wish to live there. 

Going Out In a Blaze of Infamy

I lived in the DC area back when it was the "murder capital of the world." Oakland doesn't strike me as being more violent than DC, but nothing like this ever happened: 4 Oakland Police officers filled by single gunman.

Three Oakland police sergeants were shot and killed and a fourth officer
was critically wounded Saturday in a pair of related incidents that together
rank among the deadliest attacks on law enforcement in California history.

The fourth officer has since died.
Officer John Hege always wanted to be a motorcycle cop, and in the last
few months he got his wish. Hege, 41, joined the Oakland Police Department
10 years ago after a stint as a reserve officer. He graduated from St.
Mary's College in Moraga and had taught physical education and oversaw study
hall at Tennyson High School in Hayward.
Sgt. Mark Dunakin knew he was needed in Oakland and would never have chosen to be an officer anywhere else. Dunakin, 40, lived in Tracy and was an Oakland cop for 18 years. The father of three was a graduate of Chabot College in Hayward. He was
promoted to sergeant in 1999 and worked homicide cases in the criminal investigation division
Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43, of Danville was a member of the SWAT entry team, busting
down doors to arrest barricaded suspects. It was during just
such an operation Saturday in which Romans was shot to death in an East Oakland
Sgt. Daniel Sakai was a rising star on the Oakland police SWAT team. He loved
nature and studied forestry at UC Berkeley, where he also worked as a community
service officer, escorting students around campus at night. After graduation,
he spent a year in Japan teaching English, said Jim Yu, who was a fellow
community service officer.
Notice that at least 3 of these men were college graduates, and obviously well educated. Frankly, I am not sure Oakland deserved their service or their sacrifice.

It's maybe too obvious to point this out, but when the police shoot someone - even by accident - there is always a rent-a-mob and some college kids ready to "take it into the streets" in protest. But, when a cop (or 4) is shot, the only people around here who care are their colleagues and their families. No one might want to hear this right now, but I think that shows where Oakland's priorities are. They would rather act out a Theater of Rebellion, rather than show respect for guys who put themselves in harms way everyday, and are mostly paid back with complaints from the "community" about racism and brutality. In your dreams! Oakland needs more police "brutality" (meaning arrests), not less.

And here is a perspective I could care less about:
Lovelle Mixon's shocked family, gathering at an East Oakland home where the
parolee had been living until recently, apologized to the officers' families and
to the public, and said they don't understand what might have triggered his
burst of violence.

"He's not a monster," said his sister, 24-year-old Enjoli Mixon, whose apartment on 74th Avenue was where Mixon was slain in a gun battle with police that left two Oakland SWAT officers dead. "I don't want people to think he's a monster. He's just not. He's just not."
Sorry, I'm not persuaded.

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