Constitutional Crisis Mongering In Wisconsin

Moe Lane provides a summary of how it is that a Wisconsin trial judge has been trying, trying, and trying again to stop the new collective bargaining bill from going into effect. Is this "how a bill becomes a law?"
  • Wisconsin Democratic Senators run away rather than do their jobs. This prevents a quorum for bills that are primarily financial in nature.
  • Wisconsin Republican Senators end up passing what they can, including a critical union reform bill.
  • Having returned from self-imposed Illinois exile, Wisconsin Democrats find a convenient judge (Maryann Sumi) to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), on what is frankly a misunderstanding of the law.
  • Judge Sumi makes a mistake in the TRO by only enjoining the Secretary of State (Democrat) from publishing the law. For example, she did not enjoin the Legislative Research Bureau (LRB) from publishing the law, despite the fact that they are required to by law.
  • The LRB publishes the law, as per their statutory requirements; as the TRO did not cover that department, they have no choice.
  • On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DoJ) points this detail out to the courts and asks them to vacate the order, given that the law is published.
  • On Tuesday, Judge Sumi reissues her TRO to prevent implementation of the law.
  • On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DoA) points out that this ruling was flawed in that it: did not in fact indicate that the law is not in effect; explicitly declined to state that the law was not legally published; and since when did Judge Sumi get to presume to drag the DoA (a non-party in the original dispute) into this mess she made in the first place?
  • On Thursday, Judge Sumi has to fix her TRO again to rule that the law is not published, in a fashion that satisfies the DoA
First of all, if an attorney showed up in court and got a judge to sign an order, and then that attorney realized he had left something out, the judge would throw the guy out of the courtroom if he showed up trying to get that order amended. But, judges - at least this one - can just keep on keepin' on, I guess.

More important, Judge Sumi has (inadvertently, I'm sure) stumbled over a fundamental question for a nation of laws: when does a law "pass?" I used to think that a bill became a law after the legislature voted to pass it, and the head of the executive branch signed it. But, apparently a bill doesn't become a law until it has passed through the printing press. Really? The printers office is now a fourth branch of the government, as important to law making as the governor, the State Assembly and the State Senate? Amazing how no one realized this until now.

Printing a law duly passed by the people's representatives is a purely ministerial act, rather than a weighty constitutional matter. Can it really be the rule that, if there is no printer, then there can be no laws? If so, then there would be no end to penny-ante roadblocks to the enacting of laws.

Footnote: The 30th Anniversary of the Reagan Assassination Attempt

Steven Hayward notes that today is the 30th anniversary of John Hinkley's attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Not only does this make me feel old, it's also a reminder of how easily history has forgotten that the Reagan Revolution nearly died that day. In fact, Al Haig's "I'm in charge here" gaffe was probably its lasting legacy.

The shooting and near death of President Reagan on that March afternoon provides another occasion for reflection on the radical contingency of human affairs and for counterfactual "what-if" speculation. What if Winston Churchill had been killed when he was struck by a taxi on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1932? What if Oswald had missed his target in Dallas? Most such speculations are ultimately fatuous, but in the case of Ronald Reagan one can speculate with confidence that the "Reagan revolution" as it came to be known would not have been consummated under the presidency of George H.W. Bush. . .

One of the quips Reagan scribbled on a note pad after waking up after surgery was Winston Churchill's famous line from his autobiography My Early Life that "there is no more exhilarating feeling than being shot at without result." But the bullets missed Churchill. While Reagan survived his bullet, it was not without "result." In addition to the severe pain of his wounds (whose treatment required strong medication including morphine), Reagan contracted a staph infection in the hospital that was as life threatening as the bullet wound. He had to be placed back on oxygen and given powerful antibiotics. Three days after the shooting House Speaker Tip O'Neill was the first outsider to visit Reagan in the hospital. "He was in terrific pain, much more serious than anybody thought," O'Neill said. In an extraordinary moment, O'Neill, in tears, knelt next to Reagan's bedside, held the president's hand, and recited the 23rd Psalm with Reagan in prayer.

Although Reagan returned to the White House after 13 days in the hospital, his working hours were severely curtailed for weeks. Al Haig, one of Reagan's first visitors back at the White House, said "I was shocked when I saw him. He was a shell of his old self." It would be two months before he worked a full day. His personal physician said that he didn't think Reagan fully recovered until October, seven months later. Reagan never mentioned his discomfort. His only complaint was that he wouldn't be able to ride a horse for a while.

One thing that sticks in the craw is how Hinkley was able to get off relatively lightly after shooting the president, along with three other men, one of whom - James Bradey - was left permanently brain damaged. The guy got off on an insanity claim and has been living out his days at St. Elizabeth's in DC. Not only that, there are occasional flurries of legal activity as he and his wealthy family seek out ever increasing freedoms, including weekend passes and unsupervised visits to his parents' homes. I recall reading a while back that Hinkley even managed to have a couple girlfriends, although Jodie Foster is apparently still playing hard to get.

Squeakey Fromme and Sarah Moore took shots at Gerald Ford, which missed their target, but were enough to send them to prison for decades. Why the soft treatment for Hinkley? Surely his parents' wealth is a factor. They could get the best defense money could buy, after all. It wouldn't take much effort for a hustling defense attorney to look through the detritus of Hinkley's pathetic life, find some odd ramblings about Jodie Foster, and use that to put on a show. This was the era of the "Twinkie defense" and an overall soft-on-crime approach to crime, and Hinkley took full advantage.

Still, you can't help feel like Hinkley was spared a real prison sentence because of who he shot. I can remember people being shocked by the shooting, but within a few months it was back to "Reagan = dumb cowboy." A short time later, Saturday Night Live broadcast an (admittedly funny) satire of presidential assassinations, which included a lot of Reagan elements. And, of course, a DC jury found Hinkley not guilty by reason of insanity despite the fact that he seemed to have put a certain amount of planning and forethought into his efforts. It's damn hard to imagine a similar reaction if, say, Bill Clinton was shot. But, because it was the hated Reagan, it didn't seem to matter so much.

Choreography: Schumer Feeds Boxer Her Lines

Barbara Boxer must be slipping with her advanced age. According to reports, she now needs Chuck Schumer to remind her to label Republicans' budget cutting plans as "extreme." The hyper-partisan Boxer needs to be reminded of this???

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Democratic Senate leadership, got on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning without realizing the reporters were already listening in. Schumer thought he was on a private line with four Democratic senators who were to talk with reporters about the current budget stalemate.

Schumer instructed the group, made up of Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, to tell reporters that the GOP is refusing to negotiate.

He told the group to make sure they label the GOP spending cuts as "extreme."

"I always use extreme, Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use."

I'm imaging Boxer's inner dialogue: "Wow, thanks Chuck. I was about to say that Republicans had extremely good ideas about the budget."

The joke, of course, is that Democrats have been labeling Republicans as extremists since, oh, about 1860. The "radical Republicans" talking point entered the lexicon in 1868 during the debates over passing the 13th and 14th Amendments and has never gone away. It doesn't matter if the issue is slavery, taxes, entitlements, or the free coinage of silver. Republicans are "extreme." Why an old pro like Boxer needs to be reminded of this is beyond me.

Of course, just as it's perplexing why Barbara Boxer needs coaching on labeling the GOP as extremists, it's also baffling why Republicans always seem to be caught off guard by liberals who robotically intone "extremextremextreme" in the media. The liberal hive mind is mind-numbingly predictable, yet Republicans always seem to fall silent when this "extreme" stuff comes up.

Altered States: The Campaign Against John Huntsman

I'm beginning to think there is an alternate reality United States out there where John Huntsman is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and Obama's minions' are desperately spreading inside information about him as a preemptive move to damage him before the primaries even start. (also in this alternate reality, Obama has a beard). How else to explain the seemingly endless stories from administration insiders about what a team player Huntsman was back when he was ambassador to China?:
I'll be honest, the first time I ever heard of Huntsman was when he was nominated to the Chinese embassy post. He barely registers in GOP primary polling. He has no national constituency to speak of. OK, he was governor of Utah, which is a conservative state, but he doesn't seem to have had a conservative record. Not only that, Utah voters have shown themselves to be rather restive regarding the demerits in their local politicos' bona fides. They've already sent Bob Bennett packing, and are threatening to do the same to Orrin Hatch. Want to bet Huntsman would have a Tea Party problem right about now if he was still in office?

The Obama team's approach to this is hard to fathom. I remember being bemused at the analysis at the time Huntsman was named to the Beijing post, which mostly focused on how the sophisticated political operatives in the White House had deftly undercut a potential GOP rival by packing him off to Beijing. Sheesh! Did he get there via a clipper ship voyage around Cape Horn? Does the diplomatic pouch from China travel by carrier pigeon? Is the the real action at the embassy in Ouagadougou? Did they honestly think he would just disappear for four years, like a Khartoum viceroy?

The point is, if you want to get rid of a guy, you don't send him out on a high profile posting to the rising power in the Pacific Rim. Want to get rid of a GOP rival? Set a honey trap (or a vinegar one, if you are Larry Craig) or send an FBI informant to his office with a wire and a briefcase full of cash.

Of course, Huntsman's approach is equally mystifying. I'd like to know the name on one Republican aspirant to the presidency who held a post in a Democratic administration during the time immediately preceding his presidential run. And, Huntsman comes across as a real Charlie Crist-type: a telegenic "moderate" who looks good on paper, but will caucus with Democrats if he thinks that will advance his career. Obama's got a lot to worry about, but facing off against John Huntsman in November 2012 shouldn't cause him to break into a sweat.

Hang Your Heads In Shame, California GOP

Via Ilya Somin comes this report from the California Assembly. Seems Gov. Brown's bid to defund the state's 400+ redevelopment agencies failed because of opposition from the GOP caucus, which presented a near-united front to preserve the status quo. As the status quo often involves government behaving at its worst; whether through union featherbedding, "unexpected" cost overruns, contracts to favored insiders, and Kelo-esque eminent domain seizures; all so someone like Antonio Villaraigosa can get his picture taken next to an oversized pair of scissors; this is pretty embarrassing:

California Governor Jerry Brown’s bid to dissolve about 400 redevelopment agencies and use their revenue for schools and local government may be resurrected in a compromise on tax increases to close the budget deficit, according to a fiscal adviser to the Senate’s top Democrat.

“It will follow the larger budget deal,” Steve Shea, an aide to Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, said of Brown’s proposal at a redevelopment conference in Sacramento yesterday. “It will fall into place as the larger budget deal comes together.”

Brown proposed abolishing the agencies, which have revitalized downtown San Diego and spruced up a Palm Desert golf course, to help bridge what was a $26.6 billion gap. The $5 billion plan, opposed by several big-city mayors, fell short of passing the Assembly by one vote on March 16.

Brown, a 72-year-old Democrat, took office in January on a pledge to repair financial strains that have brought the lowest credit rating to the most populous state. He signed budget bills yesterday with cuts, loans and transfers that lowered the deficit to $15.4 billion through June 2012.

The governor’s proposal to wipe out local redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones won support from Assembly Democrats and one Republican. Passage requires a two-thirds majority, which would take one more Republican.

Now, the word from the GOP is that they too want to ditch the redevelopment agencies. They just didn't want to support this plan because of overall displeasure with Brown's budget proposal. Uh huh.

Many Republicans voted against shuttering redevelopment agencies because their party was united against Brown’s overall budget, not redevelopment in particular, said Assemblyman Chris Norby, a Republican from Orange County. He was the only one to break with his party.

Norby, who also spoke at the conference, said redevelopment has become a form of corporate welfare and that some agencies had abused their powers of eminent domain to seize private property.

“For a number of them, it was a difficult vote to vote with the agencies,” Norby said of fellow Republicans, in an interview after the conference. “Many of them have been fighting the abuses for years.”

Norby declined to forecast the bill’s chances of passing, saying its fate is tied to Brown’s attempt to persuade at least four Republican lawmakers to put $9.3 billion in tax extensions on the June ballot.

Sabrina Lockhart, a spokeswoman for Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, agreed with that view.

“Assembly Republicans oppose the budget overall because of the gimmicks and the borrowing that got us into this mess,” Lockhart said by phone yesterday.

This is a pure example of looking a gift horse in the mouth. These agencies are little more than tools of Big Government. They are the playthings and money-mills for big city mayors, developers, construction unions and their various acolytes, none of whom are known for their ties to the GOP. Don't like the governor's budget proposal? Fine. But that shouldn't stop you from joining with him to eliminate government programs that are literally synonymous with boondoggles, corruption, and the weakening of private property rights. This was a real missed opportunity.

Die Another Day: How to Avoid Being A Murder Victim

The Other McCain passes along some sage advice, gleaned from watching a First 48 Hours marathon, on how to avoid being murdered:

...Let’s face it, if you refuse to pay a dope dealer, and he shoots you dead, how is that anybody’s fault but your own?

Either pay the man, or don’t do dope. It’s really not complicated.

But the lowlife scum have difficulty coping with even these uncomplicated rules of street life.

It’s kind of a rarity on The First 48 for the victim to be entirely innocent. Not that anybody deserves to be murdered, but a majority of the victims in the cases featured on the show end up dead because, at the very least, they were hanging out with lowlife scum.

Lowlife scum with “street names”: Avoid them, and your chances of getting murdered are significantly decreased.

For liberals, the above is too complicated. It must be society, or The Man, or the KKK or someone killing all those bright lights in America's trailer parks, barrios, and ghettos. Personal responsibility, even at the most de minimus level can never enter into the equation.

It may be true that America is a violent place compared to other developed nations, but we're not exactly losing the next Jonas Salk (or even the next Hitler) every time some drug deal goes bad.

Rhetorically Speaking: California's Special Political Discourse

Probably the worst part of having Jerry Brown return as governor is having to hear about what an intellectual heavyweight he is. Does this sound like the sort of thing a genius-level zen priest would say?

"We have to find more revenue or more and more drastic cuts, and certainly the next round of cuts will be much more painful and much more disruptive than the cuts to date," he said. "I want the people of California to understand we are in a serious bind here and we are going to get more revenues or get some drastic cutbacks."

During the 30-minute news conference, Brown's tone varied. At times he was optimistic, but he also leaned hard on Republicans.

"It's shocking they can say so cavalierly, 'Shut up, you have no right (to vote)'," he said at one point. "I have beseeched (Republicans) to give the people the right to vote on what California should look like over the next several years ... I think this is bigger than the Democratic Party, this is bigger than the Republican Party or the Legislature."

Give me a break. Since when is there a right to vote in a special election? Voting in November should be more than enough.

Brown is reacting to the (very small) GOP minority in the legislature refusing to go along with his idea of having Californians vote in a special election to raise their taxes. Why Republicans should want to have to go along with this is beyond me. Our political philosophy and allies haven't led to massive deficits and unfunded pension obligations. Liberals like Brown made this mess, let them clean it up. They're always talking about how Republicans are too dumb to govern, anyway.


Free Will favorites, ZZ Top, rip it up at the Cap Center:

For such a great live band, it's amazing how skimpy their concert recordings have been. Why are there, like 100 "official" Pearl Jam live albums, but only one from these guys?!

Cannons From the Left: Liberals at War

The rapidly changing rationales of the Libyan Air War have come too quick for me to comment fast enough to be current. Victor Davis Hanson, however, does a good job summarizing the amazing contradictions and flip-flopping that have marked Obama's move to war, which was - at once - both too fast and too late.

This is a Potemkin coalition, far smaller than the one that fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq, notwithstanding loud proclamations to the contrary. We are not even done with the first week of bombing, and yet no one seems in charge: What body/country/alliance determines targets, issues communiques, or coordinates diplomacy? The U.K. goes after Qaddafi, and we plead “They did it, not us”? Again, fairly or not, the impression is that Obama dressed up preponderant American intervention under a multicultural fig leaf, earning the downsides of both. A loud multilateral effort could be wise diplomacy, but not if it translates into a desire to subordinate American options and profile to European and international players that are not commensurately shouldering the burden — and not if all this is cynically used to advance a welcomed new unexceptional American profile.

When we talk of “European leadership,” we mean the U.K. and France, not Germany, Italy, or most of the EU. When we talk of the “Arab League,” we mean essentially zero military assets. And when we talk of the “U.N.,” we mean zero blue-helmeted troops. So, like it or not, there is a level of understandable cynicism that suspects Obama’s new paradigm of multilateral, international action is simply the same-old, same-old, albeit without the advantages that accrue when America is unapologetic about its leadership role, weathers the criticism, and insists on the options and prerogatives that a superpower must demand in war by virtue of its power and sacrifice.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Technically, I support this effort to the extent it is focused on ridding the world of Qaddafi, but...uh, they keep saying they're not trying to kill Qaddafi, or even depose him! They just want to keep him from killing his own citizens. A worthy goal, but one that promises a much longer commitment than the Obami are speaking of now. Fact is, the time to act was two weeks ago when Qaddafi was on the ropes. Now, he has nearly stamped out the rebellion. He's not going anywhere, unless he decides to go on vacation.

Much has been made of Obama having been dragged into war by the women on his national security team. Whatever. The bigger problem is that all of his actions have communicated for all to see that he has absolutely no good instincts in matters of war and foreign affairs. Want to pass an unconstitutional health care "reform" law by hook or by crook? Obama can get it done! Rid the world of an odious dictator who has killed hundreds of Americans? Forget it. Not only was his timing off, his method of announcing we were at war - a quick presser on the way to the airport - telegraphed how little he cares, and how little he realizes how dangerous it is that he doesn't care.

A bigger theoretical problem receiving only glancing attention: Obama's enthusiasm for waging a war only arose after France, the UN and the Arab League had demanded action. Coalitions are swell, but since when does the United States take orders from France and the UN? Feverish libertarians are already issuing dire warnings about how this is bringing us closer to one-world government. Ben Stein has noted that Obama hasn't even pretended to consult Congress, a constitutionally dubious precedent. Even Mickey Kaus is uneasy about the idea of intervening in a country purely on the UN's say-so.

The Libyan Air War didn't have to last long, but Obama's deliberations and the confusion about the war's goals means it could go on much longer than we realize.

Sick Pay: State Employees' Retirement Windfalls

Here's yet another story about excessive pay and benefits for state employees in California. Are you surprised to learn that a couple doctors who work for the Dept. of Corrections were able to cash in $500,000+ in unused paid time off?

One public employee received a $594,976 lump-sum payment from the state when he retired last year; another got $553,253.

The two - a surgeon and a dentist who provided care to prison inmates - topped the list of some 300 state employees who left or retired from their state jobs in 2010 and collected six-figure payments for unused vacation and other paid time off accumulated during their careers, according to records obtained from the state controller's office.

The records reflect a widespread failure by the state to control the amount of paid time off that employees amass. State policy caps the number of vacation hours an employee is allowed to bank at 640 hours - or 16 weeks - and sometimes higher for public safety workers. But many agencies do not enforce the limits.

Controller's data shows that in 2010, California paid $293 million in lump-sum payments to 20,048 state workers who retired or left. But while some checks were as low as 41 cents, others were for hundreds of thousands of dollars - reflecting months upon months, or in some cases years, of banked leave.

The outrage isn't the pay-out, of course. It's the fact that it was perfectly legal. And, we know what will happen in the highly unlikely event Gov. Brown tries to curtail these sorts of abuses. Suddenly, we'll be hearing about the "attack on the middle class," "rich v poor," "Koch Brothers," etc. Never mind that, if you stagger your paid time off right, you can earn a pay-off that will lift you right out of the middle class.

Breaking News: Actual Experts Discuss Nuclear Power On Local News

Here's a news report that ran on the local ABC news, featuring the Free Will Brother In Law, who is a post-doc at UC Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering. Turns out there's been a lot of misinformation out there RE: possible radiation leaks from the stricken Japanese nuclear reactors. Who knew!

UC Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering continues to collect air samples for any sign of radiation. On Friday, they also collected rain to see if any radioactive particles fell from the sky.

Air samples collected on Thursday night on the roof of UC Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering failed to show any significant levels of radioactivity, and then came the rain.

"The rain is a very efficient way to wash out activity in the atmosphere and get the potential activity down to us. So this is actually a much more sensitive and efficient way for sampling," Professor Professor Kai Vetter from the UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering said.

The levels may be slightly higher. According Vetter, there again he sees nothing to worry about. UC Berkeley nuclear engineers also demonstrated why it's impossible for the fuel rods in Japan to catch on fire. They exposed a piece of cladding, just like the ones found in the Japanese reactor cores to 2,000 degrees Celsius. If the cladding burnt, the nuclear fuel inside would send huge amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

"It's worse, much worse to have it on fire. The fire and the smoke become a way to spread the material that's inside," Professor Charles Yeamans from the UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering said.

The test proved the rods, while they would suffer some damage, would not catch on fire. The Japanese reactors have another layer of protection, pools of water that act as moderators unlike Chernobyl which had graphite.

American journalists have had a week to put something like that on the air, but instead we've been treated to a steady drumbeat of scare headlines about "sharply rising" radiation levels, plus nuclear experts whose jobs seem more PT Barnum than Robert Oppenheimer. But, since we've never heard any apologies for the "cannibalism at the Superdome" stories, it's probably too much to expect sober commentary on nukes, at least not while people are paying attention.

I've seen a lot of critical commentary out there about how Japanese officials have not been forthcoming enough about the extent of the danger from a possible meltdown. Yeah, it's so much better to have a lot of hysteria and bad information out there whether from Ed Markey trying to score cheap Green points, the surgeon general suggesting people stockpile iodine, CNN trying to scare the Depends off of its aging audience, or good old fashioned nonsense about irradiated spinich. Could it be that the Japanese put a premium on putting out correct information while Americans apparently prefer to just have a huge out-pouring of "facts," the majority of which are wrong or exaggerated? Perish the thought.

This is the point when I will wax philosophical about how this shows how fundamentally different Japanese and American society is. While Japanese media and politics is buttoned up ("inscrutable" is the formulation), America's lets it all hang out. And that works for all concerned. But, I'll bet Japan will still have a robust nuclear industry after all this, while America's is going to be set back for another 20 years, mostly based on opportunistic fear mongering. While Luddite American Greens can always find screen-time on national broadcasts, the sober engineers and scientists who know what they are talking about sit around their labs talking to themselves.

Back To The Shores of Tripoli: US At War With Libya

Heading out the door to Brazil, President Obama paused for a moment to announce that, let me be clear, we are going to war against Libya. I don't think there are any more "what if George Bush did this" columns left to write

President Barack Obama demanded Friday that Moammar Gadhafi halt all military attacks on civilians and said that if the Libyan leader did not stand down the United States would join other nations in launching military action against him.

But the president also stressed the United States "is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya."

In a brief appearance at the White House, Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would travel to Paris on Saturday to join allies in discussing next steps in Libya, where Gadhafi has pressed a brutal crackdown against rebels trying to end his 42-year reign.

Stressing that the United States was acting in concert with European allies and Arab nations, the president said, "Our goal is focused, our cause is just and our coalition is strong."

Obama's remarks came less than 24 hours after the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action — including a "no-fly zone" over Libya — to prevent the killing of civilians by Gadhafi's forces.

The idea is that this will be a war to do nothing more than provide a no-fly zone for Libyan rebels, who will have to do the ground fighting. And, that's great, only it's about two weeks late. Two weeks ago the rebels had the momentum and were marching on Tripoli, while Qaddafi was issuing blood curdling promises to fight to the last man. Now, it's Qaddafi who is on the march. Indeed, he is at the gates of the last rebel stronghold. Yes, he's now declared a cease-fire and, yes, apparently the Egyptians are arming the rebels and the rebels now have their no-fly zone, but...the above is not a recipe for success. At best, it promises more bloodshed and even a stalemate.

Two weeks ago, Qaddafi was on the ropes and could have been quickly dispatched by the mere presence of US forces (such as an air craft floating off-shore). Now? We're going to be stuck providing a no-fly zone to rebels whose politics and motivations are largely unknown. Hillary Clinton has been meeting with Libyan rebels in Paris, and supposedly these guys are liberal democracy advocates. Could be. But, this would not be the first revolution that put forward liberal reformers as spokesmen and then dispatched those reformers as soon as the real rebel leadership took power.

There's a lot of scuttlebutt out there that many of the rebels are aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda, which would explain how street protests could morph into an armed insurrection that nearly toppled the dictatorship in a few weeks time. Sure would be nice if the President had some workable intelligence to help sort this out, but he and his ideological allies have spent decades neutering the CIA's ability to gather such intelligence. Surely it says something that the Secretary of Defense, whose department has had to set up its own intelligence shops after the CIA's failures in Iraq, was loud in his skepticism of prosecuting this war. Oddly, it's been the diplomats who have pushed Obama to war. Hope they know something we don't know.

And, speaking of the president's ideological allies, how do you suppose they will react? I mean, it's not like Libya attacked us, right? Doesn't Libya have a lot of oil? Wouldn't want to be seen as "stealing" it, right? The rationale for this war seems to be that Qaddafi must go because he's killing his own people, but that was never enough, by itself, to support removing Saddam Hussein, was it? Plus, I'm old enough to remember all of the "cowboy war monger" complaints when President Reagan sent in the air force to decapitate the Qaddafi regime*. And so on. I've read that there are fears Qaddafi might us mustard gas on the rebels. Wouldn't it be a hoot if somehow we found out that he didn't have any mustard gas, or other WMD's, but let the world think he did?

Conservatives are often accused of having a simple-minded view of the world, but I would hate to have to go through the mental contortions of having to adjust my political posture to support the left-wing alpha dog of the day. Here, for example, is Nancy Pelosi's obsequious message of support:
"I commend the president for his leadership and prudence on how our nation will proceed in regards to Libya and work in concert with European and Arab allies to address the crisis," she said in a written statement.
Lotta smart power in the air these days.

* oh, and Reagan gave an Oval Office address after he unleashed the military, ticked off the reasons why the attack was justified, and did not go jetting off to Rio immediately afterward. Also, when he signed off with "God bless America" you knew he meant it.

Devolution: Government Mandates "Dirty" Washing Machines

The Wall Street Journal had this essay about how government regulations have degraded the quality of washing machines in the United States. Read it and weep:

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were "excellent" and five were "very good." By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were "fair" or "poor." This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as "often mediocre or worse."

How's that for progress?

The culprit is the federal government's obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren't as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.

The federal government first issued energy standards for washers in the early 1990s. When the Department of Energy ratcheted them up a decade later, it was the beginning of the end for top-loaders. Their costlier and harder-to-use rivals—front-loading washing machines—were poised to dominate.

Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don't fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy. But, as Americans are increasingly learning, front-loaders are expensive, often have mold problems, and don't let you toss in a wayward sock after they've started.

I swear, sometimes I think "American Exceptionalism" refers to how Americans, or at least those in government, are exceptionally stupid. In the name of Saving The Planet we have switched to lightbulbs that don't cast light, toilets that don't flush, and now washing machines that don't wash. GM is starting to sell an electric car that lacks any kind of adequate heating system because it's the only way to preserve the MPG numbers that justify its existence. It's a joke, but not a particularly funny one.

Tea Party South: Mayor of Miami Recalled By Wide Margins

Lots of dramatic news out there, so you might not have heard that mayor of Miami, Carlos Alvarez, lost a recall election by the astonishing margin of 88% - 12. The issues that killed him? Tax increases to fund pay raises demanded by the public employee unions. Watch out Scott Walker!

Voters swept Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez out of office by a stunning margin Tuesday, capping a dramatic collapse for a politician who was given increased authority by voters four years ago to clean up much-maligned county government but was ushered out in the largest recall of a local politician in U.S. history.

The spectacular fall from power comes after two years of missteps, ranging from granting top staffers big pay hikes to construction of a publicly funded stadium for the Florida Marlins to implementation of a property-tax rate increase that outraged an electorate struggling through an ugly recession.

Alvarez tried to fend off ouster by twice filing suit to block a recall vote. After the lawsuits went nowhere, he defended his record in speeches, radio and television appearances and paid advertisements, arguing that he made the tough calls to preserve vital services for residents.

But voters responded by handing the mayor a humiliating defeat: Nearly nine of every 10 voted to remove Alvarez from office.

“The voters have spoken and a time of healing and reconciliation must now begin,’’ Alvarez said in a statement Tuesday night. “No matter which side of the recall issue, one thing is certain: We all care very deeply about this community… I wish the next mayor of Miami-Dade County much success.”

Word on the street is that Alvarez was actually a Republican (news reports have been a little sketchy on this), although he's obviously one of those Schwarzenegger/Bloomberg "moderates" who are supposed to be so appealing.

A lot of professional politicians seem to be getting a little too relaxed about Tea Party-style voter anger. Certainly, national Republican leaders are not exactly hustling to defund Obamacare or make other serious budget cuts. The Miami recall shows that the anti-tax, anti-public employee union sentiments of last year are not in abeyance, but may even be growing.

Loose Lips, Loose Nukes

We have reached the stage of the "Japanese nuclear meltdown" emergency where the off-hand comments of obscure government officials are enough to set off panic. In this case, the Surgeon General of the United States (do you even know their name?) has suggested that people stock up on iodine as a "precaution" even as other parts of the government say don't bother. Well, it's one or the other.

The fear that a nuclear cloud could float from the shores of Japan to the shores of California has some people making a run on iodine tablets. Pharmacists across California report being flooded with requests.

State and county officials spent much of Tuesday trying to keep people calm by saying that getting the pills wasn't necessary, but then the United States surgeon general supported the idea as a worthy "precaution."

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin is in the Bay Area touring a peninsula hospital. NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo asked her about the run on tablets and Dr. Benjamin said although she wasn't aware of people stocking up, she did not think that would be an overreaction. She said it was right to be prepared.

On the other side of the issue is Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management Agency. Huston said state officials, along with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the California Energy Commission, were monitoring the situation and said people don't need to buy the pills.

Does anyone remember back in the early days of the post-9/11 color coded alert system when there was a Code Orange for a nerve gas alert, or some such? A reporter asked Tom Ridge what people could do to prepare for an emergency and he made some off-hand comment about buying duct tape? There was a run on hardware stores! One guy even covered his house with plastic sheeting and duct tape! That doesn't mean Ridge's information was bad, but it didn't take much for him to set off a round of panic buying.

For whatever reason, American media and politics are inordinately focused on Japan's damaged nuclear reactors, which have yet to kill anyone yet. Not saying the situation is dangerous and in flux, but is there any doubt the Japanese are going all out to prevent a catastrophic meltdown?Meanwhile the tens of thousands of dead and displaced are already fading to the background, at least in major American media.

I have no idea whether the Japanese reactors are going to kill us all, or not. The Free Will brother in law is a nuclear engineer, and he has so far been pretty sanguine. I'll take that over anti-nuke hysteria any day.

The Lost City: Finding Atlantis

This got lost in the shuffle over the weekend, but someone out there claims to have found, not only the fabled lost city of Atlantis, but also a series of smaller cities built in imitation after its destruction.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass (Reuters) – A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain.

"This is the power of tsunamis," head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters.

"It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that's pretty much what we're talking about," said Freund, a University of Hartford, Connecticut, professor who lead an international team searching for the true site of Atlantis.

To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain. There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multi-ringed dominion known as Atlantis.

The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology to survey the site.

Freund's discovery in central Spain of a strange series of "memorial cities," built in Atlantis' image by its refugees after the city's likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said.

Atlantis residents who did not perish in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.

The team's findings will be unveiled on Sunday in "Finding Atlantis," a new National Geographic Channel special.

While it is hard to know with certainty that the site in Spain in Atlantis, Freund said the "twist" of finding the memorial cities makes him confident Atlantis was buried in the mud flats on Spain's southern coast.

"We found something that no one else has ever seen before, which gives it a layer of credibility, especially for archeology, that makes a lot more sense," Freund said.

The flake factor on Atlantis discoveries is usually pretty high, but Freund and his team claim to have found, not just the city, but also a series of smaller cities that echo Atlantis' multi-ringed design. If true, that's incredible enough even without the Atlantis angle.

We know so little of the ancient world, but there is plenty of tantalizing evidence that there really was a city of Atlantis that was destroyed by flood. The biggest Atlantis booster was Plato who wrote extensively about the city and clearly believed that it existed. Less well known is that Solon spent years working on a history of Atlantis, at least according to Plutarch. And you may recall a story from last year about a new theory that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by a catastrophic flood from the Atlantic Ocean pouring into a previously dry valley.

Read enough ancient sources, and you realize that the ancients were aware of an world more ancient than theirs. We now know that Minos and Troy existed, and that the legends described as happening there actually occurred, at least to some degree. Atlantis may well give up its secrets, yet.

Decline Is Good: Blacks Leave Oakland

A surprise from the census: the black population of Oakland declined by 25% over the last decade, and now has nearly as many whites as it does blacks. The reasons for the decline: increased integration and suburbanization as black families seek out better neighborhoods and schools.

Oakland, whose thriving African American community for decades shaped black identity for the nation, lost nearly a quarter of its black population in the past decade, U.S. Census data shows.

Now, Oakland has nearly as many white people as it does African American. It also has nearly as many Latinos.

The exodus left the city with a net loss of 33,000 African American residents and made Oakland one of the few big California cities to decline in size. Oakland, which had the second largest overall population decline in the state, lost about 2 percent of its population, which now stands at 390,724. Only Santa Ana lost more residents.

African Americans have been moving in large numbers from urban areas to the suburbs and beyond for the past two decades in California. But the migration has particular significance in Oakland.

As you might expect, some people find this to be bad news.

Oakland was where the Black Panther Party was founded, the place that produced iconic black politicians, athletes and entertainers. Hall of Fame athletes Joe Morgan, Bill Russell and Rickey Henderson all grew up in Oakland. So did entertainers like the R&B group the Pointer Sisters. Black congressional leaders Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee are both from Oakland.

Oakland's black community "brought African American identity into the mainstream, instead of the margins," said Ishmael Reed, author of "Blues City: a Walk in Oakland" and a longtime resident. "I just hate to see the decline."

Is it part of the SF Chronicle's style guide to lead off a discussion of the glories of Oakland's black community by name checking the Black Panthers?! They were part of the problem, not the solution, and in fact brought about many of the dysfunctions that have blighted Oakland over the last few decades: street crime, drug dealing, ghettoization, racial separatism, and anti-authority antagonism.

Black people haven't bee ethnically cleansed from Oakland. They are leaving voluntarily, often for greener pastures available now because the sort of de facto segregation that was once the rule has been virtually wiped out. You don't need to stay in Oakland to "appreciate" its rich heritage, but there's no rule of racial solidarity that requires people to stay in a crime-ridden neighborhood just to satisfy Ishmael Reed.

Slowly, but surely, we are making progress. That's a good thing.

Wind & Wave: the Japan Tsunami

The scenes of destruction in Japan are almost too much to blog about. It's a disaster that hit close to home here at Free Will HQ. The Free Will wife is Japanese. I was born in Tokyo and lived there for several years. The Free Will mother still has a lot of friends there. It's true that earthquakes are common, and that the Japanese are fanatics about earthquake drills and safety prep. Everyone understands from birth that the country could be hit with a massive quake, followed by tsunami, but when it actually happens, it's still a shock.

Still, once the waters recede, and the fires go out, and the nukes are back in their coolant, we all know what will happen next: the Japanese will rebuild, and rebuild quickly. My mother used to say that if you told three Americans to walk across a field, they would each make their own way over. But, if you told three Japanese to walk across a field, they would do it shoulder to shoulder. I think that says a lot about how Japanese society faces adversity of the sort it is facing now.

Some things I think we all know will not happen:

The Japanese won't shut down their nuclear power industry because one plant is experiencing a semi-meltdown brought on by an apocalyptic natural disaster.

There won't be any crazy rumors about survivors resorting to cannibalism.

There won't be any wide-scale looting. (I would actually bet on no looting)

No one will wonder if this disaster is good for Obama

A Japanese rapper (yes, there are some) won't go on television and announce that Prime Minister Kan "hates" Sendai

First responders will not be dragged away from their jobs to attend press conferences

Media figures will not use this disaster as an opportunity to emote for the cameras.

No one will blame global warming.

You get the idea.

As bad as this was, it could have been much much worse. But Japan is one of the wealthiest, technologically sophisticated countries in the world. From the early alerts to the seismic upgrades to the years of drills and preparation, people and buildings survived a disaster that would have utterly destroyed other nations. No doubt many would wonder if this is fair. Why should a Turk or a Chinese or a Haitian or Indonesian die in an earthquake that a Japanese had a much better chance of surviving? Well, if you haven't learned that life isn't fair by now, I don't know when you ever will.

Americans , Europeans, and Japanese should wake up everyday and thank God that they were born within the borders of an advanced civilization. Instead, we have millions of people, up to and including the president himself, who seem to think that the Developed World has somehow use more than its fair share of resources. But, it's the use of these resources that gives us the resilience to survive disasters that would lay low a nation in the Developing World or the Third World. It's a basic fact of life. You either protect yourself as a society, or you leave yourself at the mercy of the elements. Fair's got nothing to do with it.

Gone In 6 Seconds: Celebrity Lamborghini Stolen in SF

San Francisco hosted the heist of the year Tuesday night, as someone broke into a luxury car dealership and stole a $200,000 Lamborghini Gallardo. The best part? The car belonged to celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

The thief pulled the heist with panache and was gone in a flash, but will he get the cash?

Most likely not, investigators are saying with somewhat bemused - though still serious - shakes of their heads.

That's because it's going to be mighty hard to sell what an unusually athletic thief using climbing gear stole from a swanky car dealership in San Francisco early Tuesday morning: a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo sports car.

For one, as one of the most exclusive, distinctively designed and longed-for vehicles in the world, the car will stand out like neon wherever it is driven. It's even bright yellow, making it even more conspicuous.

For another, the car is worth more than $200,000 - and is owned by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, star of the game show "Minute to Win It" and "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." Not the sort of thing that peddles easily on a used car lot or in the want ads, investigators note.

Pretty impressive and obviously an inside job. The thief gained access to the roof and then rappelled down into the showroom. Presumably the getaway happened pretty quick once he got the car started. Now that he has it, though, it's hard to know what he's going to do with his Italian supercar. It's virtually unsellable, at least in this country. But right now, he seems to just be enjoying the ride. The car has already been videotaped crossing the Golden Gate Bridge twice, even going through the tollbooth. Excitable San Franciscans are calling in tips as the thief lingers, inexplicably, in the Bay Area.

The Rage Of The Machine: Union Violence In Wisconsin

Looks like Wisconsin Republicans finally got tired of the impasse in the state Senate. They separated the much-protested collective bargaining bill from the budget bill, which meant they didn't need a supermajority for a quorum. The result: no more collective bargaining for Wisconsinite public sector unions. Wait a minute, did you hear that? Sounds like a bunch of rhesus monkeys howling:

The Wisconsin Senate succeeded in voting Wednesday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers, after Republicans outmaneuvered the chamber's missing Democrats and approved an explosive proposal that has rocked the state and unions nationwide.

"You are cowards!" spectators in the Senate gallery screamed as lawmakers voted. Within hours, a crowd of a few hundred protesters inside the Capitol had grown to an estimated 7,000, more than had been in the building at any point during weeks of protests.

"The whole world is watching!" they shouted as they pressed up against the heavily guarded entrance to the Senate chamber.

All 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois nearly three weeks ago, preventing the chamber from having enough members present to consider Gov. Scott Walker's "budget-repair bill" — a proposal introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall.

The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measure that spends money. But Republicans on Wednesday took all the spending measures out of Walker's proposal and a special committee of lawmakers from both the Senate and Assembly approved the revised bill a short time later.

Meade on the scene reports that lefty protesters have actually stormed the State Capitol Building and are now barricading themselves inside. Honestly, if this were Tbilisi instead of Madison, the State Department would be wondering if the government was about to fall.
Meade, who is in the building now, tells me, by phone, that he saw a window on the Wisconsin Avenue side of the building opened and protesters entering through that window.

He thought it seemed as if someone in one of the Democratic legislators' offices had opened a window to let them in, and — once they were in — many doors have been opened all around, and people have streamed into the building. He says he counted 3 "troopers" — I'm not sure what the official job title is for these security people — and that they were absurdly overwhelmed by the crowd.
Meade also reports that while there is no violence - beyond the take over of the seat of Wisconsin's government, I guess - the situation is volatile, with protesters locking the doors from inside.
He told me that just now, by phone. He got out, and is warning others not to go in. Obviously, it's a terrible fire hazard to make it so people cannot get out of the building easily. Presumably, protesters think it's a good idea to keep the police out, but it is dangerously stupid.

ADDED: Meade called back to say, some of the doors are handcuffed shut and some are wide open. "ANYBODY CAN GET IN AND ANYBODY CAN BRING ANYTHING IN. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SECURITY WHATEVER."
The idea seems to be that this might somehow prevent the Assembly from voting. Isn't there a tennis court nearby where they could gather?

I've been hearing a lot of talk about recalls and falling poll numbers and Republican "overreach." I don't know, didn't Gov. Walker and his colleagues in the Legislature just get elected to office a few months ago promising to rein in public sector unions? Are people in Wisconsin so dense that they could vote in solid majorities for a guy, and then turn on him not half a year later? I don't think so. The protesters, of course, probably think they can benefit from favorable media coverage, which inevitably looks fondly at the sight of "idealists" manning the barricades. They also seem to think, thanks to their prior three week protest, that storming the Capitol is their special right. If Wisconsinites are moved by this sort of thing, that's fine, but they're not using their brains.

The fact is Republicans have long talked about doing just what Walker - along with Govs. Christie, Daniels, and Kasich - has done: reform the way his state budgets itself by taking away some of the power of the public sector unions. If the passage of Obamacare taught us one thing, it's this: when you have legislative majorities, you should use them while you can. In this case, Wisconsin Republicans had a rare opportunity to weaken their ideological opponents. Public sector unions are a double danger because they can buy their own allies in government, and then use their union dues to fund progressive causes. That's an iron triangle that needs to be broken. A Republican office holder cannot hold elective office and then act like a go-along-to-get-along RINO, at least not in this age of straitened budgets. Good for Wisconsin Republicans for taking a brave stand.

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