Ignoring The Flow of Information

San Francisco is always bragging about how it's in the vanguard of social change, whether for gay marriage, banning Happy Meal toys, or what have you. One of local environmentalists' crowning glories has been their successful effort to force everyone to convert (or die, I assume) to low-flow toilets years before the rest of the country did. Now, we are learning the horrific consequences of being so hip.

San Francisco's big push for low-flow toilets has turned into a multimillion-dollar plumbing stink.

Skimping on toilet water has resulted in more sludge backing up inside the sewer pipes, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission. That has created a rotten-egg stench near AT&T Park and elsewhere, especially during the dry summer months.

The city has already spent $100 million over the past five years to upgrade its sewer system and sewage plants, in part to combat the odor problem.

Now officials are stocking up on a $14 million, three-year supply of highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite - better known as bleach - to act as an odor eater and to disinfect the city's treated water before it's dumped into the bay. It will also be used to sanitize drinking water.

That translates into 8.5 million pounds of bleach either being poured down city drains or into the drinking water supply every year.

I swear. While conservatives in other parts of the country can go to Tea Party rallies, and even vote for a solid candidate like Rand Paul or Jim DeMint, San Francisco conservatives have to content ourselves with running out into the streets, arms waving madly, yelling "Stop! Stop! For, God's sake, just STOP for five minutes!" The City says 20 million gallons of water have been "saved" by this, which must not account for the fact that the men's room toilets at my office require at least two flushes to, uh, complete the circle of life. If you know what I mean.

You'd think this would cause red-faced local Greens to reconsider their endless efforts to tinker with the environment as being the cause of more trouble than whatever good comes from their pitiful little schemes. But, no, they're gearing up to object to the use of bleach to cover up the smell.
A Don't Bleach Our Bay alert has just gone out from eco-blogger Adam Lowry who argues the city would be much better off using a disinfectant like hydrogen peroxide - or better yet, a solution that would naturally break down the bacteria.
That's how it goes when you seek perfection. When your plans fail, you'll have a lifetime sinecure in tinkering.

The Silent Coup: How Do Wisconsin Protesters Have Permission To Occupy The State Capitol Building?

Ann Althouse asks a question that's been bugging me: how is that leftist protesters in Madison have been able to occupy the State Capitol Building, covering the Rotunda with signs, and even sleeping there? If this were happening in, say the Republic of Georgia or The Ukraine (and actually, it did happen there), people would wonder if the government was about to fall. So what the hell is going on?
In the current Wisconsin situation, the protesters are being allowed to do many, many things that ordinarily no one does. It's hard to imagine how the state could operate in the future if other groups were given equal treatment and permitted to stay overnight for days on end, to post thousands of signs all over the historic marble walls and pillars, to prop and post signs on the monuments, to bang drums and use a bullhorn in the rotunda to give speeches and lead chants all day long for days on end. Tell me then, what will happen when the next protester comes along and the next and the next? Hasn't the state opened the Capitol as a free speech forum in which viewpoint discrimination will be forbidden under the First Amendment?
Even asking the question, I know the answer: during the early days of the protests, the teachers and their allies entered the Rotunda en masse and simply haven't left. Gov. Walker, and the Capitol Police (or whoever it is has jurisdiction over the building) have quietly concluded that forcibly removing them would not be worth the hysterics and bad publicity that would entail. And, that's fine. The point of the last two weeks is to reform the way public employee unions organize themselves and negotiate with the state, not to pound on hippies. Still, why is it that left-wing goons can benefit from this sort of restraint while others would be evicted post haste?

Althouse looks at the question from a free speech perspective: what is to stop other groups from occupying the Capitol now that the unions have set the precedent? I think the more important question is political: doesn't the state have a sort of privacy right that would protect it from invasions of this sort? Althouse has cited the fact that the Rotunda had previously been a solemn, contemplative place befitting its dignity as Wisconsin's legislature, and the occupiers have ruined that. But, the state's dignity seems more a matter of tradition than of law. It hasn't previously occurred to anyone to invade the Capitol. Having debased the state in this manner, I can promise you that it will be hard to recover, not because everyone will want to occupy the Rotunda, but because the occupiers will either not want to leave, or will consider it their special right to return at their whim.

It seems hardwired into us, whether by history or education, to view the occupation of government buildings as somehow romantic, while the defense of such buildings by the state as somehow autocratic. One thinks of Boris Yeltsin, the man on the tank, sending in tanks of his own when recalcitrant leftists refused to recognize that the old order was well and truly gone (hmmmm). But, the state - even one as earnest and progressive as Wisconsin - has a claim on defending its dignity from invaders, even earnest progressive ones.

Boeing Boeing: Tanker Contract Awarded on Third Try

After a years long effort, including two previous contracts that were voided after outcry, the Air Force has awarded its $30 billion refueling contract to Boeing. I guess the Boeing executives who went to jail over this have finally earned their bonuses:
In a surprise twist to a long-running saga, the Air Force said on Thursday that it would award a $35 billion contract for aerial fueling tankers to Boeing rather than to a European company that buildsAirbus planes.

William J. Lynn III, the deputy defense secretary, said Boeing was “the clear winner” under a formula that considered the bid prices, how well each of the planes met war-fighting needs and what it would cost to operate them over 40 years.

After weighing all the factors, the Pentagon determined that Boeing’s bid was more than 1 percent below that of its rival, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, Mr. Lynn said. If the bids had been within 1 percent, the Air Force would have considered 92 additional requirements for the plane as a tiebreaker, and some of those were widely thought to favor the larger EADS plane.

The Air Force said the first phase of the contract would be worth $3.5 billion, and it would cover the construction of the first 18 tankers by 2017. Boeing would build 179 tankers in all for about $35 billion.

Boeing, its supporters in Congress and independent analysts were all surprised by the outcome, because in recent days, the Chicago-based company seemed to have given up hope of winning.

Lawmakers from Washington State, where Boeing assembles a substantial portion of its planes, had complained that the Pentagon had given EADS extra time to bid and had put in place several evaluation rules that seemed to favor the European company, which had submitted its bid through a North American subsidiary.

And the choice could still face opposition from lawmakers on the Gulf Coast, who were counting on EADS’s promise to build an assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., that would have created thousands of jobs.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, said. “Only Chicago politics could tip the scales in favor of Boeing’s inferior plane. EADS clearly offers the more capable aircraft. If this decision stands, our warfighters will not get the superior equipment they deserve.”

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, called the decision “a major victory for the American workers, the American aerospace industry and America’s military.”

I'll be honest. The only reason I am writing about this is to have the chance to republish one of my favorite sentences from the last two years:
Was there anymore of an absurd spectacle (in 2008) - in a year of absurd spectacles - than that of an anti-war Green like Patty Murray rushing to demand that Boeing be given the Air Force's tanker contract, even after Boeing executives had gone to jail for corrupt practices in trying to procure said contract?
Patty Murray has been riding her "just a Mom in tennis shoes" schtick since the mid-1980's, but we all know that, were she a Republican, the media shorthand on her would be that she is the "Senator from Boeing" and that would be that. Instead, she can play to her anti-war "what if the Air Force had to hold bake sales?" base while simultaneously chasing after every Pentagon procurement dollar out there.

The Air Force says it needs these planes, and certainly in a procurement battle one company will win, while the other will lose. But this sort of contracting - where the process was repeated three times until the desired result was achieved - is more than a little reminiscent of electioneering in Democratic strongholds like, say, Washington State, where votes will be recounted over and over again until we have the "correct" result.

Crashing The Sheen-kansen: Two & A Half Men Canceled

If Charlie Sheen hasn't hit bottom, he's almost there. After making another round of obnoxious comments on Alex Jones' radio show, the suits at CBS have placed Two And A Half Men on hiatus, with little prospect for the top rated show to ever return.
By halting production on the eighth season of "Two and a Half Men," CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. are turning away from a proven hit with both viewers and advertisers

Outbursts from star Charlie Sheen led the media companies to cut off production of TV's most-watched comedy, potentially ending a program that helped lead a revival in TV sitcoms.

New episodes of "Men" on CBS average 14.7 million viewers. Reruns on CBS rake in nearly three quarters of the audience, and it is also popular in nightly syndication on local TV stations.

It's now unclear whether new episodes will ever be made, however, according to people familiar with the matter.

CBS' and Warner Bros.' decision Thursday came less than six hours after Mr. Sheen went on an erratic rant in a radio interview against topics as varied as Alcoholics Anonymous, Thomas Jefferson, and "Men" co-creator Chuck Lorre.

The matter of Charlie Sheen's fate was apparently decided at the highest levels of CBS management:

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves learned of the radio rant while at a party the company was hosting for investors in midtown Manhattan, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Moonves spoke by telephone with Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group, the person said. Together, the two men decided to pull the plug.

"Based on the totality of Charlie Sheen's statements, conduct and condition, CBS and Warner Bros. Television have decided to discontinue production of 'Two and a Half Men' for the remainder of the season," the companies said.

Geez. Back in Ye Olden Days (the Seventies) when a sit-com lost its key player, the producers would find some doppelganger to play the departed character's "cousin" or some such, and soldier on. But, I seem to recall reading somewhere that Sheen's contract lacks a morals clause (D'Oh!) so they can't outright fire him. Still, Charlie Sheen must have achieved epic levels of management alienation to make them turn their backs on ready money.

And, no one's mentioned this, but Charlie Sheen is not the only guy who's out of a job. His co-stars and the dozens of people in the production company for Men have lost their jobs too. They didn't even get to have a hookers 'n' blow lost weekend before being shown the door.

Elsewhere, Eva St. Marie describes a night out with Cary Grant and shows how much Hollywood stars have lost their way:
When she was on location in Chicago shooting Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller, North by Northwest, her co-star, Cary Grant, took her to see a show. “A buzz went up in the audience the moment he was recognized. It was like a wave of adulation rolling round the theater. I found it overwhelming and a little scary. I was thrown by it. And I asked him, ‘How do you handle this, because I know I couldn’t?’ It was almost as if he were talking about someone else when he said, ‘They’ll tell their friends tomorrow that they saw Cary Grant. It makes them happy!’”
Hey, where's the sense of entitlement?

Revolution Come & Gone: Wisconsin & Libya

This week's revolutions are coming to a head. In Middle America, the Wisconsin State Assembly has voted to end collective bargaining by state employees. Let the fist shaking begin!
Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly took the first significant action on their plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers, abruptly passing the measure early Friday morning before sleep-deprived Democrats realized what was happening.

The vote ended three straight days of punishing debate in the Assembly. But the political standoff over the bill — and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it — appear far from over.


Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Friday that the Assembly's passage of the bill did not change Senate Democrats' intent to stay away.

With the Senate immobilized, Assembly Republicans decided to act and convened the chamber Tuesday morning.

Democrats launched a filibuster, throwing out dozens of amendments and delivering rambling speeches. Each time Republicans tried to speed up the proceedings, Democrats rose from their seats and wailed that the GOP was stifling them.

Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.

Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.

Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file. The Democrats rushed at them, pumping their fists and shouting "Shame!" and "Cowards!"

Spare me. I thought the sight of thousands of protesters showing up in DC to protest the passing of Obamacare was unusual, if not unprecedented. But, a bunch of elected officials, wearing orange union T-shirts and waving their fists after a legitimate vote is something else. Isn't this how they do roll call votes in Caracas?

Democrats are already vowing revenge, and the 14 State Senators continue to refuse to return to work, so we're not going to bust any unions anytime soon. Still, the endgame looks to be in hand at this point.

And, in the Middle East, the Libyan Luke Skywalker is descending into the trench and getting ready to blow up the Death Star.
Protesters demanding Moammar Gadhafi's ouster came under a hail of bullets Friday when pro-regime militiamen opened fire to stop the first significant anti-government marches in days in the Libyan capital. The Libyan leader, speaking from the ramparts of a historic Tripoli fort, told supporters to prepare to defend the nation.

The U.N. Security Council met to consider possible sanctions against Gadhafi's regime, including trade sanctions and an arms embargo. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged it take "concrete action" to protect civilians in Libya, saying "the violence must stop" and those responsible for "so brutally shedding blood" must be punished.

But Gadhafi vowed to fight on. In the evening, he appeared before a crowd over more than 1,000 supporters massed in Green Square and called on them to fight back against protesters and "defend the nation."

"Retaliate against them, retaliate against them," Gadhafi said, speaking by microphone from the ramparts of the Red Castle, a Crusader fort overlooking the square. Wearing a fur cap, he shook his fist in the air, telling the crowd, "Dance, sing and prepare. Prepare to defend Libya, to defend the oil, dignity and independence."

He warned, "At the suitable time we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire." The crowd waved pictures of the leader and green flags as he said, "I am in the middle of the people in the Green Square. ... This is the people that loves Moammar Gadhafi. If the people of Libya and the Arabs and Africans don't love Moammar Gadhafi then Moammar Gadhafi does not deserve to live."

Earlier his son, Seif al-Islam, was asked in an interview with CNNTurk about the options in the face of the unrest. "Plan A is to live and die in Libya, Plan B is to live and die in Libya, Plan C is to live and die in Libya," he replied.

Give Qaddafi credit for melodrama, but it's hard to see how he gets out of this weekend alive.

2011 has already been full of surprises, but the scope and speed of the Libyan uprising is amazing to watch from afar. How street protests could grow into an armed rebellion leading to the near-overthrow of a totalitarian regime within a couple of weeks is beyond me. Surely this has been brewing for some time. (Cardinalpark has floated the theory that, somehow, US Special Forces infiltrated Libya and have been taking the lead, a la 2001 Afghanistan). Just as Wisconsinites will now know what it's like to take away public employee union's perks, the world will soon learn what it's like to live without Col. Qaddafi. Somehow, I think we will be able to adjust to both quite well.

Free Silly: Legal Liberals Petition For The Release of Kidnappers

The only thing I hate more than the progressive's demand for ever increasing government spending is their green eye-shade act. That is, when they suddenly become flinty-eyed fiscal conservatives when time to cut basic government services that they don't like. We saw an example of this yesterday when a group of liberal legal figures demanded the release of the Chowchilla kidnappers. Who are the Chowchilla kidnappers? These guys:

Thirty-five years ago, three men in their 20s kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren in the Central Valley town of Chowchilla (Madera County), stuffed them and their driver into a makeshift underground dungeon and demanded a $5 million ransom.

The 27 prisoners dug their way to freedom after 16 hours, the abductors were nabbed and given life terms in prison, and the victims all tried to get on with their lives.


The Schoenfelds lived in Atherton and Woods lived in Portola Valley. They told relatives they hijacked the school bus at gunpoint on a road in Chowchilla on July 15, 1976, to get money to pay off a $30,000 debt they'd racked up in buying a house.

After piling the driver and all the children into vans, they drove them 100 miles north to Livermore, where they left the prisoners buried in a moving van in a quarry.

That's when, failing to get through overloaded phone lines at the Chowchilla police station, they took a nap. When they woke up, they learned from the radio that their victims had dug themselves free. Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in eight days later, and the other two were captured less than a week later. The Schoenfelds' only brother, John Schoenfeld of Belmont, said his siblings would have jobs waiting if they got out. Richard Schoenfeld, now 57, could work at drafting, and James Schoenfeld, 59, could work in air conditioning, he said.

I can remember reading a compelling Weekly Reader story back in the day that was based on the kidnapping. I was surprised to learn years later that this crazy incident actually happened. (and not so surprised that it occurred in California). But, still...kidnapping two dozen kids and burying them alive? Life in prison sounds appropriate.

But, now the kidnappers are making some noise about getting released and have found some unusual allies, among them are the lead investigator for the kidnapping and one of the appellate judge's who upheld the original convictions.

Retired state appellate court Justice William Newsom, who took part in the 1980 ruling giving the three a chance at parole, said Wednesday that they have paid their debt.

"This is a gross injustice to leave them in prison," Newsom said. "Nobody was physically injured in the kidnapping, and that is a major factor."

Also speaking out for parole was retired Madera County sheriff's Detective Dale Fore, who led the kidnapping investigation. Lead prosecutor David Minier, now a retired Madera County judge, sent a letter in support.

"These were just dumb rich kids who tried to rip a city off, and they've paid hell of a price for what they did," Fore said.

Yep! Just dumb rich kids! (in their mid-20's!) Newsome certainly knows a thing or two about dumb rich kids. In addition to being an administrator for the Getty Trust, he is also the father of Gavin Newsome, SF's former mayor and CA's current Lieutenant Governor. In other words, Newsome is as much a liberal as he is a retired appellate judge. Not that you could learn that from the linked article.

Still, it's kidnapper Schoenfeld's attorney who raises the "fiscal" argument for release

"Vengeance is a luxury California can no longer afford," attorney Scott Handleman said, noting that it costs about $50,000 a year to keep a state prisoner behind bars.

$50,000 a year?! Wow, just imagine the savings! Let's empty the prisons! We can't afford "vengence!" (cut to Gov. Brown nodding enthusiastically).

This is a perfect example of how liberals refuse to learn from the failures of their lousy ideas. The Chowchilla kidnappers were active during an era when legal leftists happily endorsed "soft on crime" policies that left criminals to run wild. Newsome, no doubt, was active in this effort. There really was a major crime wave back in the Seventies and Eighties that was only abated by conservative strategies such as "enforcing the law" and "sentencing criminals to long prison terms." The Chowchilla kidnappers were part of that wave, and well deserve their punishment. Next!

UPDATE: can't write about the Chowchilla "rich kids" without mentioning heroic bus driver Ed Ray, who saved all of those children. If Ray's kid was in prison, I doubt Newsome would be holding press conferences on his behalf. Needless to say, Ray gives the idea of parole a big thumbs down.

Bus driver Ed Ray, 89 and ailing in health, feels just as adamantly that the kidnappers should stay in prison, said his wife.

"We're not for them getting out," Odessa Ray said at their Chowchilla home. "We're thinking those three knew better. They really jeopardized a lot of lives."

That's straight talk from a decent man who did more in one terrifying afternoon that those three guys in prison have done in their entire lives.

Circus Maximus: Madison Protests Descend Into Farce

Wisconsin Democrats continue to hide in an "undisclosed location" (while giving press conferences, so some in the media know where they are, but won't report that) and deny the State Senate a quorum to vote on fiscal bills. Senate Republicans are showing a spry sense of parliamentary humor in putting the screws to their colleagues. They have passed a rule change requiring State Senators to pick up their paychecks in person on the Senate floor.

An oddity, however: the vote on the rule change passed 3-2 on a party line vote. Party line vote? I thought all of the Dems had fled to Illinois! Turns out you can participate in committee votes remotely. Or you could up until yesterday. Now, GOP senators have eliminated that rule too. They have already passed a Voter ID law out of committee despite the phoned-in presence of an obstreperous Dem.

Republicans on a state Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday to require voters to show ID at the polls, in their latest effort to entice Democrats to end their boycott of Senate proceedings.

The committee made significant changes to the bill in a meeting that included a bizarre element. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) participated in the meeting by phone, but Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), the committee chairwoman, refused to let him vote because he and the 13 other Senate Democrats left the state Thursday.

Senators routinely participate in committee meetings by phone and are allowed to debate, offer amendments and vote on measures. But Lazich said she wasn't allowing Erpenbach to vote because he had an invalid reasons for being absent.

"I won't extend courtesies for unethical behavior," Lazich told Erpenbach.

"Do you want the headline to be, 'Republicans won't let Democrats vote,' even though we've allowed that many, many times?" Erpenbach said.

Erpenbach's name was not called as the clerk took the roll, but he repeatedly yelled, "No!" over the speakerphone. The committee's three Republicans voted for the bill.

Hilarious. But, also, not so funny when you realize how it is virtually impossible to pass even common sense laws like having to show ID to vote without a crazy circumstance like the mass decamping of the Democratic caucus.

Speaking of "funny/not funny," The Daily Show appeared on the streets of Madison along with a camel - the better to make the link between Wisconsin/Cairo and Walker/Mubarak - but quickly found that bringing a camel into an icy Wisconsin public square will not lead to happy results.
The show's comic actor John Oliver was on the scene. Obviously, the idea was to play on the comparison between Egypt and Wisconsin, which has been pushed by the local protesters.

Truly nauseating. The linked piece in the Isthmus says it "ends happily" because the animal is eventually able to stand up again. Ithmus is a newspaper of sorts. Let's see if — instead of smiling on camera and calling it a happy ending — the reporter finds out where the TV crew got the camel, who thought it was acceptable to bring a camel out in the ice and snow, who decided to put a collapsible metal fence around the animal, what training the handlers had, why the owners of the camel entrusted its welfare to these people, and what ultimately happened to the animal?
Yep, John Stewart and the Daily Show are just common sense moderates! That's why they're playing up the sort of nonsensical "Madison=Cairo" comparisons pushed by middle aged drama queen liberal educators. (who are acting more like Mubarak's apparatchiks clinging to their perks than they can ever admit). The first comment on the linked post is classic, btw: "As God is my witness, I thought camels could walk on ice."

Liberals continue to hold the line both in Wisconsin and elsewhere, demanding the continued payment of bloated salaries and unsustainable pension benefits to public employees to the exclusion of everything else. Perhaps to prep the battlefield for more "shared sacrifice" by the public, some are already suggesting low-cost sources of nutrition as a way to cut personal budgets further. Are you ready for...the benefits of eating insects?
Could beetles, dragonfly larvae and water bug caviar be the meat of the future? As the global population booms and demand strains the world's supply of meat, there's a growing need for alternate animal proteins. Insects are high in protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc, and they're low in fat. Insects are easier to raise than livestock, and they produce less waste. Insects are abundant. Of all the known animal species, 80% walk on six legs; over 1,000 edible species have been identified. And the taste? It's often described as "nutty."
"They" say that insects are part of many diets in the developing world. Pass. I thought the whole point was to become more civilized, not less.

Another Busy Day

Lot of work today, so blogging will be light.

Happy President's Day

If you can read this, hug a President

We've had 44 of 'em and no matter how great or how low each one might have been, they either left on schedule and without protest, or were carried out on their shields. That's how we roll, constitutionally speaking.

The Untold Stories: What You Won't See On the Evening News

Did you know that there are doctors attending the pro-union protests in Madison, WI? And that they are writing "doctor's notes" to teachers? Presumably so teachers who have called in sick will have an excuse, and be able to collect sick pay? Althouse has the video, featuring smug, scruffy (must be abortionists) liberal MD's.

Did you know that, while unions have been busing people to Madison en masse (with gas and expenses paid for, at least indirectly, by the taxpayers), thousands of Tea Partiers showed up on 24 hours notice for a protest in support of Gov. Walker?

Did you know that China is trying to suppress a "Jasmine Revolution?"

Did you know that the Libyan regime has killed at least 100 protesters to the sound of absolutely no world-wide outrage (at least as compared to the outrage that follows Israeli attempts to build housing)?

Did you know that you don't have to believe in God in order to be a social conservative (a good post from Dan Rhiel. Read the whole thing)?

Did you know that an Islamist cleric gave a fire-breathing anti-Israeli speech to the masses in Tahrir Square in Cairo? Yeah, you might have heard that. But did you know that "martyred" (but he's still alive!) Google executive Wael Ghonin - the western face of the demonstrators - tried to make a speech too, but was prevented from doing so by the cleric's security team? William Jacobson puts it well: the Yuppie Revolution in Egypt is over. The Islamist Revolution has begun.

A Lone Voice Crying In The Wilderness

Joe Queenan, alas, does not like The King's Speech:

The King's Speech" is a heartwarming, "Masterpiece Theatre"-type affair about King George VI, who conquered a serious speech impediment and, with the able assistance of a saucy Aussie therapist, taught himself to address his countrymen in public during their finest hour. This is a very nice story, and even though the film fudges the facts—Edward VIII and his Nazi-loving wife get off pretty easily—it definitely achieves what it sets out to accomplish. The performances are very good, the dialogue is crackling (except when the king stutters) and the lighting could not be better. Moreover, the way Helena Bonham Carter jauntily cocks her stylish chapeaux is enough to convince you that the Queen Mother herself has generously returned from the dead to do a nice little cameo.

That said, "The King's Speech" is basically a film about what positively smashing folks the royals are. It's a film that's infatuated by those awfully swell people up at Balmoral who wear kilts and shoot foxes. Americans used to turn up their noses at this sort of stuff. But that was before "Upstairs, Downstairs" and Merchant & Ivory intoxicated the entire republic with the rustle of crinoline and the shimmer of lace. "The King's Speech" is not, after all, a film about a Welsh coal miner who overcomes a speech impediment. It is not a film about an Aussie doughboy trapped on the beach at Gallipoli who overcomes a speech impediment. It is a film about spiffing chaps and the spiffing folks who help them to be even more spiffing.

Dropping the Moment: Dems Flinch Away From Fiscal Reform

There was some excitement a couple days ago when six Senators, including Tom Coburn and Dick Durbin, announced they were working on a "grand bargain" on taxes, entitlements and spending. Well, put away your party hats because the Senate Dem "leadership" has already told Durbin to knock it off, at least as long as Social Security is on the table:

Top Senate Democrats tried to scotch efforts by Majority Whip Richard Durbin to include Social Security in comprehensive deficit-reduction negotiations, illustrating the challenge facing the bipartisan talks.

The discussion occurred during a closed-door White House meeting this week among negotiators including Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a key lieutenant.

President Barack Obama attended, although his contribution to the conversation couldn't be learned. Previously, the administration has offered general support for bipartisan debt-reduction talks.

The confrontation, as well as a flare-up on the right over taxes, illustrates the difficulty of reaching a deal on deficit-control legislation, and how fear of upsetting the party line on particular policies could trump the issue of controlling the debt.

You have to love the bolded part. Can I venture an educated guess? (this would be along the lines of Bill Maher's educated guess that the President doesn't "struggle" with the issue of gay marriage) The President doesn't want Social Security on the table either. Or do you actually think Harry Reid was sitting there dictating to the Radical in Chief? Obama thinks Americans like limited government in theory and big government in practice. Plus, I'm sure he believes all this Tea Party stuff will blow over once the economy recovers sufficiently enough so that even middle aged white guys can find a job. So, no, there's not going to be even talk of entitlement reform so long as he is in office and the Congress lacks veto-proof majorities.

I keep hearing about how Obama is this transformational leader, that his real name should properly be spelled "Jesus Delano Wilson Lincoln." But he has shown himself to be absolutely incapable of leading on the fundamental domestic issue of the day: how to rein in spending. Entitlements are part of that conversation, something even a far left Senator like Dick Durbin recognizes. And spare me the "effective behind the scenes" line. Clark Clifford was effective behind the scenes. Pre-2001 Don Rumsfeld was effective behind the scenes. The President is the scene.

It's an incredible thing that two years into his presidency, we still have no idea what his qualities as a leader are. All we know is that he is the new Reagan/FDR/Lincoln/etc. But I doubt the Wall Street Journal would have written an article like this about Obama's supposed models with a line about how their "contribution to the conversation could not be learned." Imagine it: "President Lincoln's feelings regarding Gen. Hooker's continuing as head of the Army of the Potomac could not be learned?" "On the issue of packing the Supreme Court, President Roosevelt has been delphic and circumspect in his private statements?" "President Reagan's feelings about Communism were not known at this time?"

We all know what Obama thinks, but his supporters don't want it to be known.

Union Lowdown

Obama's decision to take the side of Wisconsin's bused in crowds of union rowdies underscores something Rush Limbaugh has been saying for two years: "He has not come to unite us. He has come to divide us." Now, Stanley Kurtz weighs in:

As I show in Radical-in-Chief, Obama began his organizing career planning and participating in just this sort of intimidating protest (a fact largely hidden in Dreams from My Father). As Obama moved into politics, he switched to the good cop role and funneled foundation money to his Alinskyite pals, while using their hardball protests to support his legislative agenda. Meanwhile Obama perfected his calm, post-partisan persona. It’s all a game developed by the president’s Alinskyite (and socialist) organizing mentors.

We are destined for still more polarization. Neither side can pull back, because the financial crunch is going to have to be resolved one way or another. We either scale back government and the powerof public employee unions, or we move toward a structurally higher tax burden and a permanently enlarged welfare state. The very nature of the American system is now at stake. The emerging populist movements on both the right and left recognize this, and so cannot turn back from further confrontation.

Conservatives may win this battle, but they need to understand that the possibility of failure is real. As I’ve argued, Obama’s long-term strategy of class-based polarization and realignment can succeed. That is why he’s been willing to take tremendous short-term political risks. From Obama’s point of view, Wisconsin means that the risks have been worth it. With an activated movement of the left now ready to oppose the Tea Party, the permanent transformation of the country Obama has been after from the start is in prospect.

One thing, though. We've been hearing a lot about "draconian cuts" and "deep cuts" and "cuts that will harm women and children." But it's not like anything has actually been cut yet. Indeed, House Republicans seem to only be dipping their toes gingerly into the water, all the while talking about a "government shutdown." As if the reason they got elected was to get into process arguments with the President! Arguments they will lose by the way. You know what would be a crazy idea? How about actually cutting a big program or department and just see what happens? My guess: the sun would still rise in the East.

We went through a milder form of this back in the Gingrich Nineties. After the first flush of the 1994 "Revolution" passed, all that grand talk about closing cabinet departments and the like mysteriously vanished after the GOP received some unflattering headlines about how they hated children. Liberals even trotted out PBS puppets, just like they are doing now. And the GOP quailed.

The worst thing, though? The most apocalyptic predictions back then were made about welfare reform. Children would starve in the streets, don't you know. But after all the hysterics, welfare reform passed and...no one died. No one starved. And yet, magically no one remembers this. Instead, we are seeing the same hysterics, in many cases from the same people. We can only hope today's Tea Party infused GOP is made of more sterner stuff because the window for effective conservative governance can be pitifully small.

Union Sundown: Libs Protest In Wisconsin

Everyone's been focused on DC and the federal budget battle just gathering steam, but the real action is in the states, especially those Blue States grappling with the unsustainable deficits that come with feel-good-now progressive governance. Thus, America's slow boiling battle over deficits and public sector unions has gone nuclear in...Wisconsin???

The state's largest teachers union Wednesday night called on all 98,000 of its members to attend rallies in Madison on Thursday and Friday, which led school districts — including Madison — to cancel classes for Thursday.

"This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits," Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell said at a press conference on the Capitol Square. "It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain."

In an interview, Bell said her message stopped short of endorsing the kind of coordinated action that closed Madison schools Wednesday. She asked teachers who "could" come to the rally to come.

As of press deadline, several Madison-area districts had canceled Thursday's classes. Middleton-Cross Plains union president Chris Bauman said she was encouraging all members to come to the Capitol at

8 a.m. Thursday.

Schools and teachers were a central focus at a third day of protests at the Capitol on Wednesday as Madison teachers and students joined thousands of public union workers to blast a plan to strip them of collective bargaining rights. Madison canceled school Wednesday after about 1,100 union teachers — almost half of its staff — called in sick by late Tuesday.

"This is the scariest thing I've ever seen," Betsy Barnard, a physics teacher at West High School, said of the Walker proposal. "This is going to change Wisconsin forever."

Barnard and other teachers at the rally said they are willing to make wage and benefit concessions to help fix the state budget, but Walker's plan to effectively dismantle the 50-year-old collective bargaining process for public employee unions goes too far.

Don't bother looking at "regular" news outlets for information on these protests. Madison resident and A-list blooger Ann Althouse has plenty of graphic photos and videos of protesting teachers denouncing the inoffensive Gov. Walker as a Hitler, or - to avoid Godwin's Law - Hosni Mubarak. What this is supposed to accomplish, besides demean Walker and fill the union biddies with righteousness, I have no idea. Are there really people in Wisconsin who are going to see a picture of Walker with a Hitler mustache or Mubarak comb-over and say "Wow, I voted for Walker, but I had no idea he was a genocidal dictator!" Verum Serum sums things up nicely

These are Obama’s people. Indeed, the President spoke up for themyesterday. Where the Tea Party exists to demand fiscal accountability from government, the public sector unions exist to demand more spending from government. Where the Tea Party is concerned about loading debt on future generations, the Free-Lunch Party is concerned about guaranteed benefits for themselves.

It’s an irony that exposes the hollowness of so much of the President’s rhetoric. He talked during his State of the Union about “winning the future,” but his natural allies in the public don’t give a damn about the future, except their own narrow sliver of it. And they certainly don’t care about doing “big things” unless that’s limited to getting themselves big raises and big benefits. You can certainly say they’re self-interested, but it’s not an enlightened self-interest. They want their free lunch now, even if that means somewhere down the road the entire system collapses under the weight of their demands.

It’s time for responsible leaders to tell the Lunchers to either pony up like everyone else or find another job.

To add to the chaos, the entire Democratic delegation in the Wisconsin State Senate has apparently jumped on a bus and fled to Illinois, in order to deny Republicans a quorum. Didn't this happen in Texas a few years ago?

A three-day-long stand-off at the Wisconsin state capitol between union supporters and those backing the Republican governor’s budget cuts just went to another level Thursday as Democratic senators apparently fled the area to prevent a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill, which would cut public employee union collective bargaining rights and require them to contribute to pensions and health care.

Fourteen Senate Democrats have left the state to prevent the vote, according to AP sources in Wisconsin, attempting to force further negotiation on the bill, which would pass the Republican-controlled Senate if brought up for a vote. ABC News reports that 13 of 14 of the Democrats may have fled the state in a bus headed to Iowa. The move would stall a vote on the budget-repair measure and protect missing Democrats from a provision in Wisconsin’s constitution that allows lawmakers to compel their return to the capitol.

Earlier today, law enforcement was sent to find missing Democratic lawmakers, according to a Madison, Wis. ABC affiliate. State Sen. leader Scott Fitzgerald said only one Democrat is needed for quorum to vote on the controversial bill, which is expected to pass a Republican-majority Senate. The “Sergeant of Arms is going door to door to find Democratic senators.”

Very mature. How long do they have to stay away before they can be said to have abandoned their seats?

These jokers might be able to fill a public square in Madison with chanting crowds, but the number of people who voted Wisconsin Republicans into office is surely larger by orders of magnitude. I haven't seen or heard from Walker, which I guess means he's not a combative Chris Christie type. But, I hope he has plenty of quiet courage. And, yes, just think. We could have done all this in California back in 2003.

Free Will Juke Box

What I've been listening to: metal and Eighties post-punk. Grow Up.

1.) Black Sabbath - Mob Rules: The albums Sabbath made with Ronnie James Dio are some of the secret classics of metal.

2.) Dark Tranquility - Damage Done: the word "epic" comes up a lot in descriptions of these guys. If U2 played death metal...

3.) Japan - Quiet Life: a perfect mix of the hip influences ca. 1978 - Eno, Low-era Bowie, Roxy, and Can. The bass playing by Mick Karn, who died just last month, is astonishing.

4.) Jesus & Mary Chain - Psychocandy: an absolute classic that I've listened to at least 1000 times since 1985. A dark melodic sound that was imitated by a million other bands, but never equaled. Even J&MC never bothered trying to repeat it.

5.) Neuraxis - Trilateral Progression: ever wanted to hear the apex of the genre known as "Canadian technical death metal?" This is your ticket. Not the sort of thing your grandmother would like, but the playing is heavy, tight and detailed.

6.) Pretenders - Pretenders: one of the few new wave bands that had instant credibility with "traditional" rock fans. Side One has some punk swagger, but it's Side Two that has the songs that still get played on the radio. Most days, I think "Stop Your Sobbing" is the best ever Kinks cover.

7.) Rainbow - Rising: kind of a "forgotten" band, but at one time these guys were considered the equals of Deep Purple. Blackmore and Dio are each at the height of their powers here, but special mention goes to Cozy Powell for his powerhouse drumming. This is as close as you can get to metal without *being* metal.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back To The Banquet Hall: California Moves To Ban Shark Fin Soup

California might be a fiscal train wreck, but that doesn't mean liberal legislators can't continue their hobby of "banning" this or that activity because of its danger to the environment, the environment being the California legislature's equivalent to the Commerce Clause in providing the rationale for virtually everything they do. Now, a couple Bay Area Assemblymen want to ban the sale of ... shark fin soup. As shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy, this is further proof that tolerance and multi-culturalism do not, in fact, extend to all cultures:

Less than a week after Chinese New Year, California legislators introduced a bill to ban the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins used in a traditional soup.

If successful, the proposed ban announced Monday would follow a similar measure enacted in Hawaii last year. Oregon and Washington are also considering a similar move.

Shark fins are used to create a luxury Chinese soup that can sell for more than $80 a bowl.

Supporters of the ban say shark finning is a cruel practice in which fishermen slice the shark's fin off while the animal is still alive and then throw the shark back in the sea to die.

Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, who introduced the legislation with colleague Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he was born in Macau and grew up eating the soup but stopped doing so when he learned about the practice of finning. More than 70 million sharks were killed last year, many for their fins, Fong said.

"It's like removing the tusks from elephants and paws from tigers," he said. "The sharks are at the top of the food chain and they maintain the balance in the ecosystem. If sharks fall like a house of cards, the rest of the ocean will fall."

Now, I haven't gone out and done any surveys myself, but I know one thing. That "70 million sharks a year" number is bogus, the sort of thing you see on Sierra Club pamphlets, flyers at protests, and major legislation passed by the California Assembly. Even if it is true, what would banning the sale of shark fin soup in California accomplish? I can guarantee that 99% of all shark fin sales occur outside the Golden State, so Assemblyman Fong's goal of saving the ocean from a "fall" will not be met unless he's willing to travel the Pacific Rim nagging Chinese people who don't in fact need whiners from Cupertino telling them what to do. But that doesn't matter when the priceless opportunity to put on a brave face and "save the ocean" presents itself.

(Full disclosure: I, of course, have eaten shark fin soup. Once. It did not taste like chicken. Indeed, it did not taste like much at all. Also, I did not feel more "potent" afterwards. However, I did feel a little thrill as I thought "This is me, eating shark fin soup!")

Goofy food bans seem to have become the hot new thing among Bay Area liberals. Guess it's easier to do that than try to cut state spending or reform state pensions.

Egypt Year Zero, Day One

Democracy continues to flower in Egypt as the military has dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and promised to hold elections in September (that's soon, but not *too* soon). Also, the military won't lift emergency rule. Supposedly, this is cool with the "opposition." Really, you mean Google has an executive who wants military rule?
The Egyptian military, complying with most of the principal demands of the opposition, said Sunday that it had dissolved the country’s parliament, suspended its constitution and called for elections in six months, according to a statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces read on state television. It also said it would honor all of Egypt’s international agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel.

The military did not address a third major opposition demand to lift emergency rule. In previous statements, the council had promised to take that step once the security situation improved.

The announcement, the first indication of the direction the military intends to take the country, was welcomed by opposition leaders, who distrusted both houses of parliament after elections in the fall that were widely considered rigged. One of them, Ayman Nour, said that the military’s actions should be enough to satisfy the protesters, some of whom nevertheless refused to leave Tahrir Square and resisted soldiers’ attempts to evict them.

The Voice of Progressive Foreign Policy has already come out and declared that America could learn a lot from Egypt. We're going to be hearing a lot about this

The truth is that the United States has been behind the curve not only in Tunisia and Egypt for the last few weeks, but in the entire Middle East for decades. We supported corrupt autocrats as long as they kept oil flowing and weren’t too aggressive toward Israel. Even in the last month, we sometimes seemed as out of touch with the region’s youth as a Ben Ali or a Mubarak. Recognizing that crafting foreign policy is 1,000 times harder than it looks, let me suggest four lessons to draw from our mistakes:

1.) Stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogyman and allowing it to drive American foreign policy. American paranoia about Islamism has done as much damage as Muslim fundamentalism itself.

Back in the day ca. 1950 - 1989 we used to hear this line about the communists, probably from Kristof himself.

2.) We need better intelligence, the kind that is derived not from intercepting a president’s phone calls to his mistress but from hanging out with the powerless.

Agreed we need better intelligence. Our Ivy League educated president and his national security team have managed to be wrong in every possible way throughout the uprising, mostly out of vanity; they want to be seen as somehow controlling events in an alien society thousands of miles from their DC-Area desks.

3.) New technologies have lubricated the mechanisms of revolt. Facebook and Twitter make it easier for dissidents to network.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google, oh my! If you search the Times archives from 1979, are we going to read how word processors and fax machines were "crucial" to overthrowing the Shah?

4.) Let’s live our values. We pursued a Middle East realpolitik that failed us. Condi Rice had it right when she said in Egypt in 2005: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.”

I'm sure it kills Kristof to write that about Condi Rice, as much as it kills his readers to have to read it. Nothing wrong with her message, but I don't recall hearing a lot of liberal voices back then yelling "hear! hear!" In fact, when liberals talked about Rice and her boss back then, it was to denounce them as liars and baby killers.

After a long wishy-washy stage, President Obama got it pitch-perfect on Friday when he spoke after the fall of Mr. Mubarak. He forthrightly backed people power, while making clear that the future is for Egyptians to decide. Let’s hope that reflects a new start not only for Egypt but also for American policy toward the Arab world. Inshallah.

This is going to be set in stone, isn't it? No matter how awful the Egypt situation becomes - and given history and circumstance, the potential is there for permanent military rule or a Islamist theocracy - there are going to be Smart Power types burbling about "Democracy" and how Americans are just too dumb to understand the Middle East. 20 years from now, we may yet see a wizened John Kerry engaging in shuttle diplomacy, visiting his "old friend" General Hoedihoe or Imam Raufamauf in Cairo to resolve the latest flare-up over the Israeli settlements in the Sinai Desert (which the Little Satan took back in the 18-hour War of 2019). Whether the Egyptian people will be as happy to see Kerry as their oppressors will be remains to be seen.

Look I'm all for the Egyptians setting up a constitutional republic and all that. But, this great desire among the Obami to declare the Egyptian uprising to be "solved" is freakishly wrong footed. Egypt remains in flux, dangerously so. To simply kick back and say, "Ah, democracy and people power prevailed" is a recipe for waking up one morning to find a Hamas-style theocracy taking the reins in Cairo. For Americans, vigilence and humility (about those unknown unknows at work even now) should be, but aren't, the watchword.

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