Thursday, March 25, 2010

Submitted For Your Approval...

If you’ve been wondering if you’d ever see author George Orwell, screen composer Bernard Herrmann and early television writer Rod Serling all mentioned in the same sentence, your wait is over.

I am, and have been for years, an admirer of all three. For purposes of this short piece let me simply state that in their respective fields, each is a giant. If you scroll back through the Plumwood Road archives you’ll see a piece posted December 21, 2009 that concerned one of Serling’s excursions into The Twilight Zone. Let the record therefore show that I’ve at least nibbled around the edges of the subject before.

The three men were not quite contemporaries. Orwell died in 1950, while Serling was writing teleplays for the great WLW in Cincinnati, and Herrmann was near composing the score for The Day the Earth Stood Still. But for the purposes of this article, let me offer this single observation: these three artists, Serling, Herrmann, and Orwell all frequently created works built around a dread of the totalitarian state.

For The Twilight Zone Rod Serling wrote dozens of episodes depicting the nature of dark, futuristic mega-governments, of state control and monitoring. The music of Bernard Herrmann, beautiful and listenable as it is, frequently contrasted warm inner passion with an icy, sterile, emotionless condition. Watch a copy of the 1966 production of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Pay special attention to the musical score and you’ll see what I mean. And, finally, what is there to say about George Orwell, author of 1984, that hasn’t already been said? The word “Orwellian” sums it up nicely.

As it happened, the other evening I was reading Orwell’s essay, The Prevention of Literature. It’s an excellent short piece if you want to gain a little insight into the workings progressives and of the leftist press from an expert.

Usually I read in silence. But I’d received a new CD; a collection of the scores that Herrmann wrote for The Twilight Zone.

After dinner, as Karen and I settled into the living room to do some reading. I unwrapped the double-disc CD set and put it in the player. I had only a hazy memory of the music composed for the episode titled Eye of the Beholder, so I cued it up and pushed play, then settled down to read.

As the music played, this is the passage from Orwell’s The Prevention of Literature that I happened to read:

“The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient… It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary….From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible… This kind of thing happens everywhere, but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. The friends of totalitarianism in this country (Great Britain in the post-war 1940s) usually argue that since absolute truth is not attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie. It is pointed out that all historical records are biased and inaccurate, or, on the other hand, that modern physics has proved that what seems to us the real world is an illusion, so that to believe in the evidence of one’s senses is simply vulgar philistinism. A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying a historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectuals.”

Did you get all of that? The above is excerpted from one, single paragraph. It pays to read Orwell slowly, with a pencil for underlining. But he opens a door for you, doesn't he?

About half way through the passage I became aware of the effect that Herrmann’s music was having in enhancing the impact of Orwell’s words and I began to read aloud. I didn’t get far before Karen said,

“Stop, Jed. Stop. It’s scaring me.”

She made my point. Orwell’s text read with Herrmann’s musical accompaniment projects a vivid image. You can feel “the state” at work. The state is everything. You are an ant.

And, now that you have read George Orwell’s text displayed on your computer screen didn’t you, too, even without musical embellishment, see the state as represented by our compliant, unquestioning press, by evidence-destroying global warming scientists, by a power hungry Congress, by seedy, self-serving cradle-to-grave programs?

But what about Mr. Serling; where’s his contribution in this discussion of a potentially all-controlling state?

If you have 23 minutes to spare, click on this You Tube video, broken into three short segments,

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

It is the original November 11, 1960 broadcast of The Eye of the Beholder. See if you don’t get the warnings concerning government medicine, of rationing, of benevolent oppression.

Submitted for your approval...
from Plumwood Road, via The Twilight Zone.

Monday, March 22, 2010

This Is What Change Looks Like

I should listen to my wife more often.

After Sunday night’s health care vote we turned off the television and took our dog for a walk.

I was pretty grumbly and probably not very good company. I griped and complained and expressed astonishment that a bill that mandates this much federal oversight of private industry, that is stuffed, end to end with pork – literally built on a cornerstone of graft – could ever be written in the capitol of the United States.

And then I said, “I wonder how long it will be before some Democrat sums all of this up as 'just a step in the right direction’.”

“Oh! Good point,” Karen said. “When we get home you should fire up Sparky and blog that.”

As it turns out I would have had to blog it that very instant, because while we were out, President Barack Obama addressed the nation and said the same thing almost word for word.

“This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction.”

Astounding, isn’t it? It’s like I’m some kind of a mind-reader.

Of course, the President's intent, after all the hype this last year, was to begin lowering expectations and yet still declare that the bill was “close enough for government work.” And, make no mistake; government work is precisely what medicine will become.

Looking at the bright side, Congress and the federal bureaucracy got exactly what they want: a platform they can build on and tinker with ad infinitum. More government jobs, more "process", more opportunities, as they say in Chicago, for a few extra potatoes on the side. At the same time, Democrats believe they’ve put another bullet in their campaign clip, and that for decades to come whenever they get into elective-trouble they can always talk about expanding coverage, adding or cutting benefits, means testing, increasing fees, tighter mandates, etc., etc. For Democrats, what’s not to like? This kind of thing is their bread and butter.

Then, President Obama, in his very next sentence, put a cherry on top of the sundae:

“This is what change looks like.”

He got it exactly right. With those six words spoke more truth than he intended.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Democrats Have Painted Themselves Into a Corner

Democrats have painted themselves into an ugly corner with their Health Care Reform Bill (HCR).

The Obama administration has managed to take what has been a standard Democratic vote-getting ploy -- promise government largesse to core constituencies and let the rest of the country pay for it -- and screw it up so badly that regardless of whether HCR passes or fails, Democrats will suffer heavy losses in the midterm election.

Problem is, it's not just Democrats in the corner; they've got the whole country held hostage with them.

Everything else in Washington is at a dead stop. Since late last summer, when details of The Bill began to leak, public support has declined and opposition sharply increased.

Consequently, the Obama administration moved all their troops to the Health Care eastern front. All other problems the nation faces have turned to weeds. The "official" unemployment rate hit 10% in November and has remained there. Iran is said to be months away from having a nuclear bomb. Diplomatic blunders have been committed with Great Britain, Israel, and South America. A would-be terrorist tackled by passengers while attempting to detonate an explosive device over Detroit was questioned by intelligence officers for fifty minutes, then whisked into the Miranda-ized world of the civilian court system. "Party crashers," in three separate incidents, got past security and attended White House functions.

The list goes on to include jihad lawyers hired into the Justice Department; the president's time-out to go to Europe to lobby in favor of bringing the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago; the White House chief of staff twisting arms, naked, in the Congress-only shower; and a credible charge that a White House "bribe" was offered to a politician as inducement to get him to stay out of a U.S. Senate race. Just the other evening, President Obama, being interviewed by Bret Baier on Fox News, told America that we need to spend millions of dollars to clean up after the earthquake in Hawaii. What earthquake in Hawaii? And we're going to spend millions to fix it? Health Care aside, the POTUS clearly does not have his mind on his work.

Let's take a look at the corner Democrats have put us all in.

The president has staked his entire administration on getting his Health Care Reform Bill passed. If it fails, he fails. The United States will then be shown to have a hollow leader, and the whole world -- Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and every dictator and drug lord from here to Marrakech -- will know it. By postponing his trip to Asia, first for three days, then for three months, in order to twist arms and get HCR chiseled in stone, President Obama put his entire presidency on the line. He has no plan "B."

Meanwhile, the American people have gotten a good look at the administration's Chicago-style legislative techniques -- sausage-making at its ugliest. Wavering Democrats are being offered anything they want -- anything -- in exchange for their votes. But kick-backs and payoffs aside, when the roll is finally called, each congressman will have only a "yes" or "no" choice: this abomination of a health care bill, or leaving America without a president for three years. Some choice: heads, we lose; tails, we lose.

When independent-minded people away from the heat of Washington consider The Bill, the question then becomes "Can America get along without a president?" Will We the People be able to take care of ourselves while an empty suit keeps the seat warm in the Oval Office?

As anyone who has ever looked at a government program knows, if HCR is this junked-up at the start, then it will take no time after passage before it becomes the biggest bureaucratic mess ever inflicted upon a free people. We all -- or or at least most of us -- will rue the day. Never mind the lost jobs, tax increases, medical rationing; that's just the tip of the iceberg that we can see from a distance. This thing will be worse. America's medical system will become riddled with government inefficiencies, politically-correct tinkering, and endless corruption. A two-tiered medical system will emerge, each coexisting as separate worlds: one for well-connected elites, and one for everyone else. Chills will crawl up your neck the first time you hear that someone in this country had to "tip" a hospital staffer in order to make sure a loved one got clean bed sheets. If government-run health care is bad in Europe, it will be a disaster here in America, where that magnificently American concept, E Pluribus Unum, went out of fashion at about the time the Me Generation got its hands on the culture.

Democrats are holding the entire nation hostage while they struggle to pass the Health Care Reform Bill. They've wasted a full year on something that only 38% of the nation favors. Check the numbers. It is a dead thing. The Obama media may trumpet a triumph, but there will be little joy in passing it -- no band playing "Happy Days Are Here Again" in most neighborhoods.

There is only one way out of the corner: Open a window and jump. It is a long way to the bottom, and it will be a rough landing, but it will beat the alternative of leashing the American public to the dead hand of Big Government. "No" and jump. Leave the president and his acolytes in the corner. It is their mess; let them clean it up. Passing the Health Care Reform Bill will not get us out of the corner.

This essay was originally published March 20,2010 on

Friday, March 12, 2010

The CARROT and the STICK

The Drudge Report got some laughs recently when it published a collection of news headlines, all virtually identical, going back to July 28th, 2009, each hailing an “endgame” deadline for passing the Health Care Reform Bill. These headlines were bannered just prior to the Senate’s August recess, when passage of the bill seemed certain. They were run again just before Labor Day, when passage again seemed assured...then again in mid-October, then before Halloween, then Thanksgiving… Each proclaimed the Health Care Bill a done-deal. All that remained was to take the final vote to send the bill to the President’s desk for signing.

We are now coming up on the third week of March, 2010. Spring is just days away, and the whole blessed Health Care Bill is still gathering dust on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk; un-voted upon. The reason Speaker Pelosi hasn’t yet called for the final House vote is obvious; there aren’t enough Democrats willing to vote for it. It’s just that simple.

Democratic leaders are said to be working furiously. President Obama has postponed his Asian trip to “work on the bill”…Work on the bill? Who are they trying to kid? They can’t change one word in the bill or it has to go back to the Senate where -- as of January 19th -- they no longer have enough Democrats to pass it. It's this bill, warts and all, or nothing. What the phrase “working on the bill” means is they are working to bribe or coerce the few reluctant Democrats to get on-board the bandwagon.

It is said that every man has his price, and House and Senate leaders have spent the last thirteen months in closed door meetings trying to determine each member's price-point, either personally or on behalf of a particular constituency, and then setting about to make sure they get the juice. Some of this juice has become public knowledge and is seen as outrageously laughable. For as long as the sun continues to rise in the east and there remain politics and politicians on the face of the earth, the “Louisiana Purchase”, the Florida “gator aid”, and the Corn Husker Kick-Back will be the stuff of legend. Back room deals don't get any more clownish than that.

Suffice it to say that by now everybody who needed to be taken care of has been taken care of. It has become clear that Leadership has run out of donkeys that will follow carrots dangled in front of them. In order to move the legislative cart any further nothing remains but to get out the stick.

This is where The Chicago Way of doing things comes into play and things can get ugly, because this is where the Administration sends out the message, “Last call for carrots!”

As an example of what can happen to those who refuse to cooperate, consider Eric Massa, now an Ex-Congressman from New York.

Until ten days ago Representative Massa was unknown to the public. It’s even a safe bet that if Jay Leno had done one of his Jay Walking routines in Upstate New York and asked “Who’s the Vice President of the United States? Who’s your Congressional Representative?” He’d have gotten embarrassed chuckles but few right answers.

However, Representative Massa was well-known in Washington, where he made it clear that believed the Health Care Bill did not go far enough. For that reason he planned to vote against it. Got that?

Unfortunately for Rep. Massa, this is not what party leaders need to hear right now. Equally unfortunate, there are some kinky skeletons in Massa’s closet.

Hints of these skeletons began to leak, bone by bone, out of the Congressional Ethics Committee. Surprise, then shock was expressed. In a matter of days Massa was gone.

But, you notice fellow New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, also the subject of an Ethics Committee investigation on tax and bribery charges, is still there... Rangel is a reliable "yes" vote.

It is impossible to believe that much of this came as news to anyone in the Washington power structure, as was claimed, until Massa made some inappropriate remarks at a wedding party in January. Eric Massa ran successfully as a Democrat for the US House of Representatives. That means he went through the nomination process and the election process. He was interviewed many times by Party leaders. He was assigned a DNC team of handlers; he had his background checked; he garnered endorsements, raised money, and shook thousands of hands in DC and in New York. It is simply impossible to believe that in the 24/7 pressure of a campaign somebody did not trip over one of the kinks in Massa's personality.

As clearly troubled as Massa appears, chances are someone did trip over them; likely several some-ones. And as soon as they said, “Whoops! We’ve got a problem here in the 29th District!” someone else higher up the ladder told them to keep their mouths shut. They pegged Massa as a strange one, word was passed along, discussions were held, information was put into a dossier, and the whole thing was kept locked away... until recently.

News out now is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was officially notified about Massa last October. Although, Speaker Pelosi states she personally didn’t get the word but her that her staff did.

“There are many rumors in Washington.” About whom, she didn’t say.

If it is true that staff didn’t pass word along to the Speaker then they were derelict in their duty. Further, Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a District in San Francisco. She should be able to pick up on various cues.

Here is a suspicion of what happened. Eric Massa wouldn’t budge on his “no” vote. Remember there were quite a lot of Liberal Democrats who said they would vote no unless the bill was made stronger. But, one by one they all fell in line. Not Massa. So, they got out the stick and let him have it.

In Chicago there are two kinds of mob hits: the quiet-kind where the victim just disappears; the body dumped in a landfill or sent to the bottom of Lake Michigan never to be seen again. Then there's The Big Noise, where the victim is whacked in some public place like a restaurant, splattered against a wall in front of a lot of witnesses. The later method is used to send a message; “Don’t let this happen to you.”

Would the Washington power structure do anything this dark, this devious? That's an unpleasant question to contemplate. There is a lot of money and power at stake. They've invested over a year in putting this deal across. If it goes down they've got nothing. So, would they? Speaker Pelosi referenced other "rumors". Certainly what happened to Eric Massa weighs on the other dozen or so Health Care hold-outs. Doubtless they quickly assessed their own pasts. Could there be anything they wouldn't want their families to see splashed across the evening news?

The Eric Massa story, "whether he fell or whether he was pushed" carries the clear inherent message; "The Health Care Bill has been stalled long enough. No more carrots. From now on there's nothing but stick."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

JIM BUNNING; None In, None Left On

Late last week the word on retiring Kentucky Senator, Jim Bunning, and his one man bust-up with the Democratic majority was grim. “Looks like some dour Republican has opened his yap and picked a fight he can’t win.”

By Sunday, a few details had penetrated the media firewall and it looked like Bunning might have a valid point: Democrats were proposing to borrow ten billion dollars to save non-essential workers their jobs in the Transportation Department and to install satellite TV in rural areas – this was bundled together with another extension of unemployment benefits. Bunning argued there is no need to go deeper into debt to the Chinese government when hundreds of billions remain unspent in last year’s “Stimulus” fund.

Then, by Tuesday word was out that colleagues were meeting with the Senator trying to get him to give up his cause. His issue had turned into a gift to the Democrats. The mainstream press was having a party; yocking it up, cracking wise on poor old Jim Bunning, portraying the matter as a Republican Party effort to deny unemployment benefits to millions who are out of work.

For Democrats it couldn’t get any better than this. Right in the middle of Congressman Charlie Rangel’s corruption problems, Speaker Pelosi gaffes, the Governor Patterson mess, and the terrorist’s lawyers in the Justice Department – out of the blue came a cranky old Republican who, as a matter of principle, wanted to starve widows and orphans. Champaign corks were popping all over DC.

But the problem for Democrats is that Bunning was able to hold out for five long days. One, lone US Senator was able to stop the gravy-train long enough to attract attention, and for the real message to leak out. In ’06 and ’08 Democrats campaigned specifically on what they call “Pay-Go”, whereby the government must match spending with revenue. The matter was hatched back when Democrats were trying to gum-up the War on Terror. Pay-Go was an attempt to tie George Bush’s hands. You see, voting for military cuts while troops were engaged in combat would have looked bad to voters, but Pay-Go, once passed, was to be a device whereby Democrats could cut military funding indirectly. “Hey, it isn’t us. We’re just following the law…”

But, government moves slowly and just a couple weeks ago, on February 10th, the Pay-Go bill finally became law. We didn’t hear much about a signing ceremony. George W. Bush is long gone and Barack H. Obama now owns The War.

Never the less, when President Obama signed the bill, the message was supposed to be clear: From now on, there’ll be no more spending unless we can pay for it, and that’s that.

This is exactly what the Senator Jim Bunning fuss was all about. A little over two weeks after they outlawed unsecured spending, in their first piece of major financial legislation, the Democratic majority ignored half-a-trillion dollars still sitting in Stimulus funds, and went ahead and borrowed other billions without indicating how they’d pay it back.

Of course, the suspicion is the Stimulus money is not meant for things like unemployment or highway funding, not now at least. Those funds are scheduled to be released later this summer and into the fall in order to give a sugar-boost to the economy just before the mid-term elections. Barack Obama may be a Harvard-educated lawyer, but as a politician he’s pure Chicago. Stashing away a slush fund of public money to dole out at election time is exactly the kind of ethical jiggling they do every day of the week back in the Windy City. The plan is, leave the economy in the tank until we need people to vote.

So, now the Bunning crisis is over. How did the Republicans do? That’s hard to tell just yet. This whole matter came out of the blue and clearly caught GOP leaders by surprise. The more important question is, did Republicans learn anything and do they recognize what Senator Bunning may have done for them?

In his earlier career, Jim Bunning pitched his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Back in the 1960s he was among the very best. He made seven All-Star appearances, pitched a perfect game in ‘64 – one of only 18 in official baseball history – and built a lifetime ERA of 3.27. For seventeen seasons Jim Bunning kept his team in the game. And, that may be exactly what he did in his one-man duel with the Senate Democratic majority; he kept Republicans in the game.

In order to get Senator Bunning to sit down Democrats made a couple seemingly minor concessions. They don’t plan to touch those left-over stimulus dollars just yet, but they allowed Bunning to attempt to pay for the bill by closing tax-benefits to the paper industry. That measure only got 43 votes, but that’s two more than the 41 Republicans…Interesting. They also made the re-hire of non-essential Federal employees and the unemployment benefits extension a temporary matter. It will have to be reauthorized in 30 days. That’s even more interesting.

Those 30-days should give Senate Republicans time to prepare. What might happen when this thing comes up for renewal again in April – right around Income Tax time – if a fight were to erupt over Government spending? What would happen if Democrats were forced to pay for jobless benefits and satellite TV and non-essential government employees from the Stimulus fund which taxpayers are already paying for? And by the way, how much longer can we expect Democrat economic policy to keep people unemployed?

In baseball when a team is on defense the pitcher takes the mound. He stands alone in the center of the infield. He faces each of the opposing batters. One-on-one, it’s him them. It takes a certain kind of guy to do that successfully. Last week Senator Jim Bunning did what a great pitcher does; he gutted it up and kept his team in the game.

Now Republicans need to go on offense and score some runs.

This essay was first published 3/4/10 on American Thinker

Monday, March 1, 2010

Coffee Party, anyone?

In the one-year that The Tea Partiers have been around they have been ignored, insulted, denigrated, and dismissed by mainstream media and official Washington. They have been shut out of public meetings, compared to Nazis, labeled wing-nuts, and denounced as dangerous kooks and populist radicals.

In the face of these calumnies we are reminded that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Yes, that’s right; the political Left has decided to get in on the act.

Drum roll, please. Enter, stage left; “The Coffee Party”.

Over the last couple weeks I have noticed a couple squibs on the internet about a brand-new political advocacy group dedicated to countering the Tea Party movement. At first I thought it was a joke. I wondered if this an organization made up of people who are not Taxed Enough Already, who think government is too small, that there’s not enough intrusion, who think that when it comes to Washington spending there is still plenty of room left on the National Credit Card. The question is, will they take that famous revolutionary flag seen at Tea Parties, the one with the coiled rattlesnake, and update its message to read “Tread On Me Some More”?

The Left is good at looking down on the common-folk, at telling others what to do, but they are not good a copying conservative phenomena. Remember what happened when they tried to get in on the talk radio business? Air America, now defunct, was a nation-wide Left wing broadcasting network that spent gobs of money – some of it tax money – yet was able to attract an audience from among only the most loyal of their fringe. Just to give an idea of how big that fringe is, their “hit” program was The Al Franken Show; at its peak it drew 1.5 million listeners per week, not listeners per day or listeners per 15-minute rating segments. That’s listeners per week to their top-rated program. In broadcasting numbers that low are presumed to include a significant percentage of those who tuned in accidentally and were unable to change the dial. The few times I got curious enough to tune in I almost asked for Novocain. That was back before Al Franken got himself elected the Senator from ACORN.

So now, the Left is going to take a stab at populist organizing. Of course, their idea of “populist” is a little high-falutin’ if the Washington Post article of February 26th is an indication. One organizer was quoted saying; “let's start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. Geez. Ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss 'em off because it sounds elitist . . . let's get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.”

Yes, and then we’ll all hold hands and feel good about ourselves.

First, we can see the Left's grasp of populist reality is limited. They don’t understand that regular Joes don’t spend too much time worrying about what beverages to serve at their meetings.

Second – and I think this is an important distinction – Tea Party people do not seek to “piss off” others. Rather, Tea Partiers seek to inform and persuade – which is what makes them effective and such a problem for the Left.

So let’s get out our crystal ball and have a look. As we gaze into the future here is what’s likely to happen: The Coffee Party will perk into existence under the leadership of the customary Democratic Party enablers. They’ll hold a couple media-approved rallies. They’ll stress that they are in favor of co-operation between the public and the government. They will say they want this 2,400 page health care bill to pass, but think it should be expanded to cover everybody on the planet. They'll want to screw The Rich to the wall with taxes, they think Rush Limbaugh should be forced off the air, and are saddened by the fact that Dick Cheney has not had the big one. The mainstream media message will be, “Isn’t it nice that such reasonable people care about our future?”

But it’ll be no time at all before some guy in a “Che” t-shirt says something dumb in front of a FOX NEWS camera. Or one of their leaders is identified as a 9/11 Truther, or a spokesman is found to have an arrest record for drug and firearm violations, or somebody was busted 20-years ago for mailing a pipe-bomb but their Democratic Congressman got the charges dropped. The possibilities are endless.

Tea, anyone?