A Long Overdue Goodbye to Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan was one of two big-time bloggers–the other being, of course, Glenn Reynolds–to have helped put me on the blogospheric map. For that, I shall always be grateful.

He was also–as Ross Douthat pointed out–extraordinarily influential in advancing the cause of same-sex marriage. Anyone who is the least bit concerned with fundamental human rights should be grateful to Sullivan for all that he has done on this issue.

At the outset, when I first started blogging, Sullivan’s political views and mine coincided quite neatly. After a while, they began to diverge. I certainly changed some of my political views as the years went on, and I don’t quite see how anyone could go an appreciable period of time without reappraising at least some political views. Sullivan’s views, of course, changed drastically. He went from being a supporter of George W. Bush to a fervent opponent. The shift began when Bush signed on to the Federal Marriage Amendment issue, and Sullivan reacted with outrage. I always got the sense that this issue became the jumping-off point for other Sullivanesque disagreements with the Bush administration; over Iraq, over interrogation and detention policy, and over foreign policy in general. Of course, it ought to go without saying that Sullivan was and is entitled to change whatever political views he wanted and wants to change.

So while Sullivan and I had our differences, some of those differences were reasonable in nature. Others . . . not so much.

In 2008, Sullivan decided that he really liked Barack Obama a lot. But he didn’t want to be identified as a contemporary American liberal, so he started concocting all sorts of ridiculous claims that the onetime senator and future president was and is a conservative. Hayek was cited, as was Locke, as was Oakeshott. Oakeshott was cited a lot. The claims, of course, made no sense whatsoever, but that didn’t stop Sullivan from making them, even as the rhetoric and policies from the White House became more and more port-sided. Of course, Sullivan could have taken the honorable road and simply announced a fundamental shift in his political philosophy. But instead, Sullivan, like Shakespeare’s Caesar, claimed and claims to be as constant as the North Star when it comes to his ideology, and his approach instead has been to desperately try to shoehorn Barack Obama into that ideology. It never worked before, it doesn’t work now, and it won’t work in the future, but Sullivan, not recognizing defeat when it stares him in the face, keeps on trying to make it work. The whole thing is rather pathetic, really.

There have been other Sullivanian obsessions as well. As anyone and everyone remotely familiar with Sullivan’s work are aware, he has engaged in an on-again-off-again seven-year obsessive quest to prove that Trig Palin is not actually Sarah Palin’s son. Oh, Sullivan denies over and over (and over) again that he actually doubts Trig’s matrilineal line. He just felt and feels that he needs to ask questions, and if only Palin would answer those questions by releasing a medical history that proves that she had the baby she claims to have had, Sullivan will give up his Ahabesque project to show that Trig is someone else’s son. To be clear: Sullivan’s theories and mutterings have been proven insane by science, but Sullivan refuses to admit defeat, and still periodically questions Trig Palin’s matrilineal line–against any and all medical and scientific evidence showing that Sullivan is making a fool of himself by continuing to doubt and deny the bloody obvious.

The obsession with Trig Palin’s parentage alone should have made Andrew Sullivan the laughingstock of the Blogosphere, but Sullivan, always willing and eager to double down on lunacy, decided that for his next trick, he would hate on Israel so much, that he would and could reasonably be accused of anti-Semitism. “Something Much Darker”, indeed. It is, to be sure, possible to criticize Israeli foreign policies without sounding and acting like an anti-Semitic loon, but the evidence shows quite plainly that Sullivan failed spectacularly to do so.

I guess I should mention as well the perpetually ridiculous periodic “meep, meep” blog posts, in which Sullivan wrote smugly about how, if one ingested enough LSD to kill a herd of elephants, an Obama political defeat could actually be viewed as a political victory–mostly over Republicans. This blog post had it right; during the Obama era, Sullivan has indeed blogged “like a hack in a one-party state.” At times, Sullivan’s blogging project seemed like a giant audition aimed at getting Sullivan named chief propagandist of the Obama administration. Sullivan may have failed to achieve this particular station in life, but his failure wasn’t for lack of trying.

I write all of this, of course, because Andrew Sullivan claims that he has decided to quit blogging. Now, Andrew Sullivan has claimed that he decided to quit blogging before, and he has come back, so I’m keeping the champagne on ice for the moment. But I’d like to think that at long last, Sullivan has realized that his fatuous, overwrought, emotionally unstable, intellect-insulting writing has finally reached China Syndrome proportions of insufferability. I would like to think that Sullivan took a good long look at his writing, his thought process (if one can be so generous as to claim that Sullivan’s writing is backed up by any thought whatsoever), and himself, and didn’t like what he saw. I would like to think that at long last, Andrew Sullivan decided that a belated embrace of discretion and silence was the best–the only–way to salvage whatever dignity he once had, before he decided to squander the vast majority of that dignity via anti-Semitic trolling, logic-defying apologetics on behalf of the Obama administration, and the spelunking of Sarah Palin’s womb.1

I would like to think all of this. So, I will do what Andrew Sullivan has frequently asked his readers to do.

I will know hope.

Andrew, if you read this, remember: We can’t truly miss you, if you won’t stay away.

1. I thought that I had come up with the “spelunking Sarah Palin’s womb” image. Alas, I did not.

The Truly Awful Idea to Tax 529 Plans

Megan McArdle:

Earlier in the week, I discussed the Obama administration’s proposal to tax earnings on so-called 529 college savings plans, part of a package of tax hikes that will pay for new programs such as his proposal to make the first two years of community college free. This has been touted as a plan to hike taxes on the rich to help the middle class, but in fact it’s more of a plan to redistribute money from the upper middle class to the lower middle class.

As I noted then, this proposal is not going anywhere, not just because Republican congressmen will block it, but because it would be very unpopular with affluent blue-state voters who currently vote for Democrats. About the only people I saw defending this particular idea were blue-state singles who haven’t yet confronted the monstrous expense of shepherding their progeny into the new mandarin class to which they belong.

Everyone else seems to be somewhere between confused and aghast. One comment in particular struck me, as I saw it several times on social media and in writings: “How would you feel if they did this to Roth IRAs?”

This proposal turned out to be quite the clunker, which is why the Obama administration is dropping it. But the fact that it was being pushed in the first place helps show that this White House is not nearly as interested in “middle class economics” as the president pretended during his State of the Uni0n address (about which I hope to write a post sometime in the near future). Middle class voters who think that this administration is on their side should think again. Especially after they read this:

. . . according to the College Savings Foundation, a consortium of financial institutions backing 529s, measuring tax benefits tells only part of the story. Close to 10 percent of 529 account holders have incomes below $50,000, and more than 70 percent of the total number of accounts are owned by households with incomes below $150,000.

In other words, the rich may be reaping the clear majority of the tax break, but a lot of other people are benefiting as well.

“Many people who fall within the lower echelon of the middle class were among the people the president proposed to tax,” said David Lillard, the state treasurer of Tennessee and president of the National Association of State Treasurers, who added that many states had made college savings a focal point of policy making.

Something to remember the next time the Obama administration tries to sell middle class voters a bill of goods.

Quote of the Day

In Des Moines this past weekend, Sarah Palin gave a speech, and at long last the vultures began to circle. “A tragedy,” declared Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe; “bizarro,” ajudged the London Times’ Toby Harnden; “an interminable ramble,” said Iowa professor Sam Clovis. These, alas were among the kinder adjectives.

In the Washington Examiner, Byron York treated those who missed the address to a brutal dissection. First, he recorded, Palin subjected the crowd to an “extended stream-of-consciousness complaint about media coverage of her decision to run in a half-marathon race in Storm Lake, Iowa.” Next, she offered up some self-righteous “grumbling about coverage of a recent photo of her with a supporter” and a litany of “objections about the social media ruckus over a picture of her six-year-old son Trig.” And, finally, she embarked upon a “free-association ramble on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the energy industry, her daughter Bristol, Margaret Thatcher, middle-class economics . . . women in politics, and much more.” All in all, York proposed, this did her no favors at all. Rather, the “long, rambling, and at times barely coherent speech, left some wondering what role she should play in Republican politics as the 2016 race begins.”

This, I think, is a good question, and one to which I have a modest answer: How about . . . none? Instead, Palin should leave the field to those who are in possession of genuine political aspirations, and she should refrain from treating the Republican party as if it were a little more than a convenient vehicle for her private ambition. In the meantime, conservatives who are finally cottoning on to the ruse should recognize that this Iowa sojourn was not an aberration or a blip, but the foreordained culmination of a slow and unseemly descent into farce that began almost immediately after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. So Sarah Palin has become Amy Winehouse? Of course she has. How else exactly was this going to end?

“It would be hard to say,” York observed drily, “that Palin’s 35-minute talk had a theme.” But, one might ask, “Do they ever?” For a long while now, Palin has not so much contributed arguments and ideas as she has thrown together a one-woman variety show for a band of traveling fans. One part free verse, one part Dada-laden ressentiment, and one part primal scream therapy, Palin’s appearances seem to be designed less to advance the ball for the Right and more to ensure that her name remains in the news, that her business opportunities are not entirely foreclosed, and that her hand remains strong enough to justify her role as kingmaker without portfolio. Ultimately, she isn’t really trying to change politics; she’s trying to be politics — the system and its complexities be damned. Want to find a figure to which Palin can be reasonably compared? It’s not Ronald Reagan. It’s Donald Trump.

Charles C.W. Cooke. How deluded does one have to be in order to disagree with any of this?

The Economic Picture Isn’t All Rosy

The Obama administration and various pundits would have us believe that everything is fine and good with the economy, that we have fully and completely come out of the Great Recession and that the severe downturn that followed the financial crisis is but a distant memory now.

Not so fast. Despite recent deficit reduction, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that deficits will increase again in 2018–other reports explain that this is because more baby boomers will retire and will put a strain on the benefits system. Additionally:

The most troubling feature of the Congressional Budget Office’s updated forecast was not about government spending or about trends in taxes, the deficit, or debt. Not a whole lot has changed on those fronts.

The most troubling part is that CBO is growing steadily gloomier about the U.S. economy’s capacity to grow, the potential growth rate of gross domestic product. If CBO is right, that means it would be harder to bring down the historically high ratio of government debt to GDP. And it means living standards in the U.S. will improve more slowly.

In August, CBO projected that the economy would grow an average of 2.7% a year from 2014 to 2018; now, it is anticipating 2.5% growth.

That doesn’t sound like much, but over time a few tenths of a percentage point add up to significant numbers.

So, anyone who tries to tell you that everything is hunky-dory with the American economy is either woefully misinformed, or is trying to sell you something. And of course, the, same goes for anyone who tries to tell you that the economy should be a winning issue for Democrats in 2016. By all rights, it should not, though it remains to be seen just how many people will be willing to tell the truth about the economic situation.

Mitt Romney Believes in Climate Change. And Well He Should.

Behold the story. Note that Romney’s belief in the existence of anthropogenic climate change is a longstanding one; he had to hide it in his last run for the presidency, but he is not hiding it now. And thank goodness. It’s long past time that Republicans decided to take action regarding climate change, and in taking action, it is to be hoped that Romney and other Republicans will follow the example of Hank Paulson in discussing the issue of climate change and proposing solutions aimed at reducing carbon emissions:

THERE is a time for weighing evidence and a time for acting. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in finance, government and conservation, it is to act before problems become too big to manage.

For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.

We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.

The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide — a carbon tax. Few in the United States now pay to emit this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere we all share. Putting a price on emissions will create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies.

It’s true that the United States can’t solve this problem alone. But we’re not going to be able to persuade other big carbon polluters to take the urgent action that’s needed if we’re not doing everything we can do to slow our carbon emissions and mitigate our risks.

Good for Paulson for making this bold and correct statement, and good for Romney for lending his star power to advancing the argument that we do need to do something about climate change. Of course, as Paulson notes, a carbon tax is the best way to combat climate change, and carbon taxes are supported by economists on the right as well as the left. The political support for a carbon tax is not there, even if a carbon tax includes–as it should–a payroll tax refund that makes the carbon tax revenue neutral. But that doesn’t change the fact that a carbon tax is needed, and the longer we wait before implementing the tax, the more damage will be done. No, climate change is not a hoax that has been cooked up by some conspiratorial cabal to inflict some strange, horrible whatever on the rest of us. It is a fact, and the sooner that we come to terms with that fact, the better off we will be in doing something about keeping our planet habitable.

I don’t know if I can support a third Romney run for the presidency. Romney is an admirable person with many admirable virtues–as this movie shows–but he was a terrible candidate who lost a race in 2012 that he should have won. But Romney is a smart and wise man, and he is entirely correct to point out that politicians on both sides of the aisle have done a horrible job of addressing climate change, education reform and poverty. And if a third Romney run for the presidency puts these and other pressing issues on the table for discussion in the Republican party, and across the country, well, I guess that I can live with a third Romney run for the presidency.

Jeb Bush: A Mature Presidential Candidate

This is the kind of thing that I like hearing from a potential next president of the United States:

Jeb Bush previewed the ideas at the heart of his likely presidential campaign, delivering a sweeping address here Friday about the economy, foreign affairs and energy exploration, and challenging the country to question “every aspect of how government works.”

In his first major speech since stepping into the 2016 presidential sweepstakes in December, the Republican former Florida governor spoke confidently and in significant detail about the broad range of issues beginning to shape the campaign for the White House. Bush signaled he would offer the country the “adult conversations” he said are lacking in Washington and would focus on people who have been left out of the economic revival.

“Sixty percent of Americans believe that we’re still in a recession,” Bush said. “They’re not dumb. It’s because they are in a recession. They’re frustrated, and they see a small portion of the population on the economy’s up escalator. Portfolios are strong, but paychecks are weak. Millions of Americans want to move forward in their lives — they want to rise — but they’re losing hope.”

Bush was sharply critical of Washington — not only of President Obama but also of the Republican-controlled Congress — saying there were too many “academic and political hacks” with “hard-core ideology” who are running the country without making progress.

“They’re basically Maytag repairmen,” he said. “Nothing gets done.” Bush added, “It is time to challenge every aspect of how government works — how it taxes, how it regulates, how it spends — to open up economic opportunity for all.”

Nice to see that at least one presidential candidate has decided not to dumb down his rhetoric in addressing the American people. And the following from Bush is especially welcome:

. . . Bush used the opportunity to signal the kind of campaign he intends to run. His message contrasted starkly with the rhetoric expected from some other hopefuls who are gathering in Iowa this weekend for a political festival hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an anti-immigration reform firebrand.

Bush drew loud and sustained applause when he called for immigration reform that would provide a path to legalized status for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“We have a history of allowing people to come in legally to embrace our values and pursue their dreams in a way that creates prosperity for all of us,” Bush said. “No country can do this like America. Our national identity is not based on race or some kind of exclusionary belief. Historically, the unwritten contract has been, come legally to our country, embrace our values, learn English, work and you can be as American as anyone else.”

In an subtle swipe at other GOP leaders and potential rivals who rally the conservative base with hot tirades about Obama’s overreach, Bush said the Republican Party will win back the White House only if it offers an optimistic message. “Hope and a positive agenda wins out over anger and reaction every day of the week,” he said.

Music to my computer screen. Of course, there are plenty on the right who believe that the Steve Kings of the world ought to dictate the Republican party’s message on immigration. Those people do not appreciate just how devastating the Kingian message is to both Republican party electoral prospects, and to the ability of the United States to renew itself by welcoming talented, hardworking immigrants who will contribute to the continuation of American greatness and live the American dream in return.

There is plenty of evidence on this blog that Jeb Bush is a serious person who is ready to bring adult conversation and maturity back to American politics. In the event that you need more evidence supporting this proposition, consider the words of Mortimer Zuckerman:

It’s risky business dissenting from Barbara Pierce Bush. “We have had enough Bushes,” she pronounced in April 2013 when the name of Jeb Bush kept popping up like an irrepressible cork in the oceans of speculation about Republican presidential candidates for 2016.

Maybe she has changed her mind but there were certainly dissenters among the hundred leading citizens of New York who met her son on a recent private visit. Most of them had never met him. They expected a rehearsal for a stump speech. He didn’t give it. He just said, “Why don’t you all pose questions about the issues facing the country and I’ll just respond to them one after another.” That was a risk. He had no idea what hot potato might be lobbed at him from an audience with a wide range of expertise, say from high finance and fracking to the fratricidal tribes in Yemen. What was remarkable was how familiar he was on every issue raised over three hours. He responded in a well-organized manner, with lucidity and real charm and empathy. It was a tour de force. Everybody understood why he was such an effective governor of Florida and why he would be a formidable presidential candidate.

Read the whole thing. About the only statement from Zuckerman with which I disagree is his comment that “if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee and Jeb Bush the Republican nominee, I’ll go to bed early on election night confident that I’ll wake to find the country in good hands.” If Hillary Clinton had half the seriousness and intellectual maturity and vitality that Jeb Bush possesses, I would be the first to laud her. But she doesn’t.

Sometimes, Consistency Is No Hobgoblin at All

When Senate Democrats abolished the filibuster for nominations to federal district courts and courts of appeal, they made sure to preserve it for Supreme Court nominations. Apparently, while Senate Democrats were outraged that President Obama’s nominations to lower courts were getting filibustered, they still feared the possibility that a Republican might become president and might choose Supreme Court nominees whom they didn’t like. So, Senate Democrats wanted to make sure that they would still be able to filibuster those nominees.

Apart from the fact that this rule was convenient for Senate Democrats, it made no sense whatsoever. If judicial filibusters are bad, then they should be considered bad across the board, not just for lower court nominations. The design of the rule against judicial filibusters should have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that one party wants to have its cake and eat it too. So, Senate Republicans are set to abolish Supreme Court filibusters.

It’s worth noting that in making this change, Senate Republicans are being more solicitous of Democratic concerns than Democrats were when they changed the rules on judicial filibusters. As the linked story points out, Senate Republicans are seeking two-thirds approval for their proposal, while Senate Democrats rammed their proposal through via a simple majority. It would be nice if more media outlets noticed that Senate Republicans are being more equitable to Senate Democrats than Senate Democrats were to Senate Republicans, but I don’t expect much from the media these days.

Yet Another Problem with Healthcare.gov

It’s now working too well, at least in one respect:

The government’s health insurance website is quietly sending consumers’ personal data to private companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing Internet data for performance and marketing, The Associated Press has learned.

The scope of what is disclosed or how it might be used was not immediately clear, but it can include age, income, ZIP code, whether a person smokes, and if a person is pregnant. It can include a computer’s Internet address, which can identify a person’s name or address when combined with other information collected by sophisticated online marketing or advertising firms.

The Obama administration says HealthCare.gov’s connections to data firms were intended to help improve the consumer experience. Officials said outside firms are barred from using the data to further their own business interests.

There is no evidence that personal information has been misused. But connections to dozens of third-party tech firms were documented by technology experts who analyzed HealthCare.gov and then confirmed by AP. A handful of the companies were also collecting highly specific information. That combination is raising concerns.

Leading lawmakers on Tuesday asked the administration to explain how it oversees the data firms to make sure no personally identifiable information is improperly used or shared.

“This new information is extremely concerning, not only because it violates the privacy of millions of Americans, but because it may potentially compromise their security,” Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to the administration.

This story should be eliciting outrage. But there is barely a peep about it in the news.

Please Stop Saying that Americans Don’t Like Political Dynasties. It’s Just Not True.

It isn’t 2016 yet, but I am already sick to death of all of the claims that Americans do not like political dynasties. We have heard a fair amount of that talk in light of Hillary Clinton’s very likely candidacy for the presidency, and now that Jeb Bush appears to be getting ready to run for president as well, we are hearing even more such talk. The problem is that the talk in question is absurd.

Americans may pretend to dislike political dynasties, but in fact, efforts to perpetrate such dynasties have been remarkably successful throughout American history. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the first father and son team to make it to the presidency. William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison were the first grandfather and grandson team to do so. Theodore Roosevelt’s two terms in the White House undoubtedly helped distant cousin Franklin get there as well. The Kennedys did just fine; one brother made it to the White House and would probably have won a second term were it not for his assassination. Another brother made use of dynastic connections to become the senator from New York–after having served as attorney general, of course–and may very well have won the presidency himself were it not for the fact that he got assassinated too. A third brother made use of dynastic connections to become the senator from Massachusetts, a post which he held until his death, and while his run for the presidency was an abject failure, that was likely because it is next to impossible to challenge a sitting president of one’s own party for the presidential nomination of that party. And then, of course, there is the Bush family, which saw the Adamses and is trying to raise them, while the Clintons try to become the first husband and wife team to create a presidential dynasty–after Hillary Clinton parlayed dynastic connections to become the senator from New York and secretary of state.

This history alone should make it abundantly clear that Americans like dynasties just fine. To be sure, in Hillary Clinton’s first run for the presidency, she was a tremendously bad candidate. But her failure had little to nothing to do with any qualms about dynasties and just about everything to do with the fact that Hillary Clinton ran a lousy campaign and was lousy on the campaign trail. Right now, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, and while that was also true in 2008, if Clinton fails to capture the nomination, or fails to win the general election in 2016, it will likely be due to her own failings as a candidate, and due to the failings of her campaign, not due to any concerns regarding dynastic succession. We can, of course, say the same thing about Jeb Bush and his likely candidacy for the presidency.

Perhaps even more importantly, there is no reason whatsoever why we should disqualify a presidential candidate because of dynastic concerns. It makes no sense to tell someone that just because a family member of his or hers was president, he or she cannot be president as well. Such a rationale is inequitable, and it actually overlooks unique qualifications that dynastic presidential candidates may bring to the table. Hillary Clinton may not be my cup of tea, but the fact of the matter is that she is not unfamiliar with presidential power, she knows where the political bodies are buried, and she can always rely on a former president for advice and assistance. Ditto for Jeb Bush. Candidates who are unfamiliar with the presidency as an institution, with life in the White House, and with the way in which politics is played at the highest levels, cannot boast similar qualifications.

So we really should stop claiming that Americans dislike political dynasties and we should also stop claiming that dynastic candidates should somehow be disqualified from seeking the presidency. Both claims are illogical (to say the least), and as to the second claim, if you don’t like a particular presidential candidate, you can vote against that candidate. Whether that candidate is or is not part of a potential political dynasty should be, at best, a secondary question in determining whether he or she has your vote.

Head, Meet Desk

Oh boy:

recent survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.”

We really do need better science education in this country. And incidentally, is it any surprise whatsoever that there is a Venn diagram intersection between people who support mandatory labeling of GMO foods and people who support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA”?

Immigration Policy Blunders

For those who wonder why it is that I hate, abhor and utterly detest our current immigration policies, be sure to read this. Read it in full. Read it twice. Read it three times. Heck, read it five times; it’s that important.

Why is it that important? Because no nation, no matter how great, can continue to be great if it kicks out, rejects and punishes extraordinary talented people with laudable work ethics who want to weave themselves into the fabric of that great nation’s life, and who are willing to contribute to that nation’s continued greatness as long as they and their loved ones can live better lives in the process.

When it comes to immigration policy, the United States is like a millipede with a .357 Magnum, intent on shooting itself in as many feet as possible. To say the least, this policy stance is nothing to be proud of. But try telling some people that.

Good for the Obama Administration

And credit where it is due:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

It took long enough for this program to be implemented. But better late than never.

An Outrage in Mississippi

Carroll Frazier Landrum is a doctor in Mississippi who will see patients even when they cannot afford to pay for his services, no matter where they are, even if the meetings have to take place in Landrum’s car. He is, by all accounts, a superb physician and he is filling a need by providing his services. On these matters, there is no dispute whatsoever.

The state of Mississippi has responded to Landrum’s good work by threatening to take away his medical license. Supposedly, Landrum is “incompetent” because he sees patients in his car. The charge is ridiculous, vague and overbroad, but there you have it; since the state of Mississippi can’t conceive of a doctor’s appointment being held in a car, it is threatening the livelihood of a doctor on whom people have come to rely for exceptionally good medical care.

The following testimonial speaks to the absurdity of the situation:

I beg the state board of medicine to allow Dr Landrum to continue practicing medicine. He is one of the smartest physicians still practicing. His knowledge base is vast. His diagnosis are always on point and he refers patients and always follow up with his patients. He cares about people, about treating them. He doesn’t care about all of the billing insurances and Medicare and all of the politics associated with medicine. He just wants to help people. He is still very sharp mentally at 88 probably because he did not let all of this political monopoly on healthcare stress him out by not continuing to partake. He is 88 y/o. Let him do what he enjoys and at the same time continue to serve his community…

The smart thing to for Mississippi to do would be to pay heed to the calls of its own citizens and allow Landrum to do his work–whether or not that work is done in Landrum’s car, or in other locations that are convenient for patients. We will see whether Mississippi actually does the smart thing. But it would behoove them to do it, and to do right by its citizens in the process.

Let’s Put Matters Bluntly

The Charlie Hebdo murders were caused by Islamist terrorists.

They were not a false flag operation.

Anyone who says otherwise is a lunatic.

Any group of people who publish that particular anyone’s claims that the Charlie Hebdo murders were a false flag operation may be considered a group of lunatics.

Any former politician whose name is used by that particular group of lunatics to also name the institute of the lunatics in question may have some ‘splainin’ to do.

And finally, any son of the former politician in question who doesn’t say something along the lines of “the lunatics who appropriated my father’s name in order to promote silly conspiratorial ideas do not speak and never have spoken for me,” has no business even being considered for the position of president of the United States.

Pope Francis Blunders

I actually like the pope. But this is just awful commentary:

Pope Francis said there are limits to freedom of speech, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith, in comments that the Vatican later said Friday did not mean justifying the attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines on Thursday, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.

But he said there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasbarri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Er . . . yes you can. That is what free speech is all about. Sometimes, it is highly offensive, but thus far, no one has come up with a way to restrict highly offensive speech that does not somehow lead to the restriction of other kinds of speech. The price we pay for living in a free society is that sometimes, we are offended by the speech of others. But we are willing to pay that price in order to be able to freely express our own speech.

It is remarkable that this basic point has to be made in 2015.

Oh, and if someone says a curse word against your mother, and you punch that someone in response, you are risking indictment for assault and battery. You may even get sued in civil court. Someone inform the pope of this, before he gets into a bar fight and lands in the slammer as a consequence.

Good for Arizona

Civics education in the United States is nothing short of shameful, and something has to be done to improve it. A high school test won’t solve all the problems, but it would not hurt in the slightest to make high school kids learn civics and be forced to pass a test on civics before graduation. So, Arizona has gone ahead and passed legislation requiring just that.

I certainly approve. And to those who criticize this move by saying that requiring that high school students pass a civics test won’t necessarily make for better citizens, I say “you are right.” But requiring that high school students pass a physics course won’t necessarily make for physicists. Requiring that they pass a mathematics course won’t make for mathematicians. Requiring that they pass an English course won’t make for future Shakespeares. But that doesn’t stop us from requiring–quite rightly–that high school students be versed in physics, mathematics, and English, among other subjects. We are interested in giving students as complete an education as possible, with the hopes that it will have some positive impact upon them as they go forward in their lives. To be sure, the education may fail to take. But it will not be, and should not be for lack of trying. High school students should know something of our Constitution, our laws, how our government works, and what our rights are. Kudos to Arizona for trying to pass that knowledge along.


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