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Rand Paul Calls for Demilitarization of Police in Response to Ferguson



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Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) has an op-ed up in Time this afternoon reacting to the protests and police response in Ferguson, Mo. It reads in part:

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action. . . .

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

Missouri Democratic senator Claire McCaskill also called today for “demilitariz[ing] the police response,” earning a standing ovation from a crowd in a St. Louis County church. 

Congressman Pushing Legislation to Demilitarize Federal Regulatory Agencies



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Congressman Chris Stewart (R., Utah) is pushing legislation to lessen the number of federal agencies who have or are developing SWAT-like teams. The Regulatory Agency De-militarization Act prevents federal agencies that have not traditionally been tasked with enforcing federal law from purchasing machine guns, grenades, and other weaponry, according to a statement from Stewart’s office.

“When there are genuinely dangerous situations involving federal law, that’s the job of the Department of Justice, not regulatory agencies like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or the Department of Education,” Stewart said in a statement when he introduced the legislation earlier this summer. “Not only is it overkill, but having these highly-armed units within dozens of agencies is duplicative, costly, heavy handed, dangerous and destroys any sense of trust between citizens and the federal government.”

The statement points to a Department of Agriculture solicitation for submachine guns in May 2014 and recently created special law-enforcement teams at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Department of Education as examples of the problem the legislation would address. According to a 2011 Wall Street Journal report, hundreds of criminal investigators also work directly at agencies such as the Social Security Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. Since he first proposed the bill in June, Stewart has increased the number of co-sponsors of his bill to include 28 fellow House Republicans. 

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The Greatness of the City of Fountains, Baseball, and a Little Summertime Magic



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I am not only from Kansas City, but am a serious Kansas City enthusiast. For well over a decade now I have irritated and educated the uninitiated with discussions of Kansas City’s fountains (more than Rome?) and boulevards (more miles than Paris?) and the Plaza lights at Christmas and the steakhouses and Kansas City’s status as a founding city of jazz and blues and its proximity to President Truman’s home and General Eisenhower’s — without Kansas City, would we have won the war? — and Kansas City’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O’Neil and, of course, the barbeque. Did you know that Superman spent a considerable part of his life near Kansas City (after he left Krypton), as did Ernest Hemingway and Walt Disney? I astonish my Acela corridor friends with facts: In Kansas City, you can buy a 5,000 square foot mansion for seventeen dollars; you can’t find a thirty minute drive if you try, even in rush hour; the (non-barbeque) restaurants are actually getting better, to the point that sometimes you feel like you could be eating in New York. And, of course, the city is home to Rockhurst High School, the greatest prep school in galactic history. Many of my friends and colleagues have received gifts from me of the greatest barbeque sauces in all the world. All could if they just asked.

I am also a Kansas City Royals fan. This is much, much harder to sustain. It became a little easier when I read this New York Times article:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — How do I begin this story? How can I convince you that the greatest story for Royals fans in 29 years is unfolding before our eyes, and its protagonist lives a hemisphere away, speaks imperfect (but diligent) English and had never set foot in Kauffman Stadium until last Thursday?

I first became aware of Lee Sung-woo eight or nine years ago. I didn’t know his name; I just knew there was someone with the handle KoreanFan who posted on a site named Royals Corner. He wrote as if English was his second language, and he was eternally optimistic at a time when 70-victory seasons were something the Royals could only aspire to. I thought it was impressive that someone from South Korea followed the Royals, but didn’t think too much more of it.

Years later, KoreanFan joined Twitter as @Koreanfan_KC. And slowly, through osmosis, I picked up his general story: Lee had become a Royals fan in the 1990s after he saw a highlight on satellite television of the former first baseman Jeff King hitting a home run and was impressed by the beauty of Kauffman Stadium. He stuck loyally with the Royals even though he had no connection to the club or the city whatsoever — he had never set foot in America — and even though the team had just one winning season in his first 17 years as a fan.

Mr. Sung-woo finally came to Kansas City this summer, and the city showed its true and deep greatness.

To their credit, the Royals themselves then quickly got involved. The team contacted Lee directly and invited him to throw out a first pitch at a game. Coming from an organization that has made missteps with the way it communicates with its fan base at times, this was a classy move.

The news media, the fans, the entire city took the hook. By the time Lee landed in Kansas City a week ago Tuesday afternoon, there were four local television crews waiting at the gate for his arrival. The city has laid out the red carpet for him ever since, and the story just continues to grow.

Deadspin and The Kansas City Star wrote about him. He was interviewed on a local sports radio station and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and got a shout-out from Duffy in a pregame interview.

As the week progressed, the team gave him a personal tour of Kauffman Stadium and presented him with a Royals jersey bearing his name and No. 23. Not to be outdone, the Chiefs also gave him a personalized jersey and tickets to a preseason game.

Mr. Sung-woo received a call from Missouri’s secretary of state. He was featured on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” “The Jackson County Commission gave him a commendation, presented by the Royals Hall of Famer Frank White. That night, he received an ovation before throwing out the first pitch, and another when he pinned the W on the scoreboard after the game.”

And his story — and the article — gets better from there: Since Mr. Sung-woo arrived in Kansas City, the Royals “can’t stop winning.”

You can read the entire article here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

Web Briefing: August 19, 2014

Murdock: Looting ‘Reduces Credibility’ for Those Who Want Justice for Slain Missouri Teen



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Re: To Name and to Name Not



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Naturally, I agree with every word of Kevin’s post. I couldn’t have put it better myself. But, if I may, I’d like to add one thing that I think bolsters his case. Kevin writes:

Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case. 

The government is all discretion when it comes to one of its own. True, there have been threats against the police officer in question — but if any municipal institution is positioned to defend its members, it is the police. And are there no threats against private individuals who are arrested or investigated? Are there no threats against people in prisons? Police departments and prosecutors regularly release discretionary information that has serious consequences for the lives of private individuals, including those who have not been charged with or convicted of any crime.

This matters for a variety of reasons. But among them is that when the state and its agents appear to be giving their own people special treatment, the institutions that we hold dear come under threat. There have been voices in Ferguson demanding that the cop who kicked the whole thing off be summarily fired and charged with murder. This, obviously, is a disastrous idea. Justice being a process and not an outcome, the officer in question is entitled to due process, to presumption of innocence, and to the care and patience that any other man would be. If he’s guilty, I hope he is punished severely. If he’s not, I hope he goes free. Either way, I hope that the system works as it should. The basic problem with the various “Justice for Michael” exhortations that we have seen from the outset is that they can — can, not always do — quickly cease being a call for a fair evaluation and turn into advocacy for a particular outcome.

This having been said, it’s difficult to sell lofty notions of impartial justice when you’re seen to be withholding information and breaking promises. It was disastrous that the initial police press conference conferred no useful data whatsoever. It was a considerable mistake for the authorities to have promised to release the name of the cop and then to have failed to do so. It was downright bizarre that Chris Hayes managed to interview the key witness before the state did. And, as Kevin suggests, the heavy handed and militaristic response to the subsequent rioting may well have served only to have added to the tensions, rather than to have assuaged them. I have no idea what happened between the officer in question and Michael Brown. I can’t know that. Almost nobody in the world can know that. I do know, however, that there are understandable historical and contemporary reasons why the residents of Ferguson, Missouri would be skeptical of the police. Even if the officer at the heart of the nightmare is innocent, there are good ways and bad ways to deal with that skepticism and anger. Frankly, the police have screwed up the response from the start. Trust in our institutions of justice is vital. But those institutions have to give us reasons to trust them.

To Name and To Name Not



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Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case. 

The government is all discretion when it comes to one of its own. True, there have been threats against the police officer in question — but if any municipal institution is positioned to defend its members, it is the police. And are there no threats against private individuals who are arrested or investigated? Are there no threats against people in prisons? Police departments and prosecutors regularly release discretionary information that has serious consequences for the lives of private individuals, including those who have not been charged with or convicted of any crime.

If we take seriously the idea that political power ultimately resides in the people, then for the people to do their job and oversee the activities of the representatives they have elected to take care of their affairs, they need information. They are entitled to know the details of the case, including the identity of the officer and the details of his professional history. It is wrong to withhold that information. The investigation of the shooting cannot be evaluated in the absence of that knowledge.

The behavior of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police in this matter is illuminating. They are ridiculously militarized suburban police dressed up like characters from Starship Troopers and pointing rifles at people from atop armored vehicles, i.e. the worst sort of mall ninjas. They are arresting people for making videos of them at work in public places, which people are legally entitled to do, a habit they share with many other police departments. Protecting life, liberty, and property — which is the job of the police — does not require scooping people up for making phone videos; in fact, it requires not scooping people up for making phone videos.

These confrontations are a reminder of the eternal question: Who? Whom? Who is to protect and serve whom here? Is government our servant or our master?

A police department habitually conducting its business in secrecy and arresting people for documenting its public actions is more of a threat to liberty and property than those nine looters are. 

Misc.



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1) People are saying that President Obama is “tone-deaf” for playing golf as the world burns (and Islamists chop the heads off innocents). (Of course, if you waited to play golf until Islamists stopped chopping the heads off innocents, there would be no golf.)

I wrote a piece four years ago called “Hail to the Golfer-in-Chief.” As the title suggests, I defended Obama against his critics: against those who knock him for his golf habit. I think playing golf is usually just about the most innocent thing Obama could be doing.

George W. Bush loved golf. But he stopped playing altogether in August 2003 (for the duration of his presidency — which went until January 2009). He did not announce he was doing so. He just did. Years later, he explained, “I didn’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf.”

In my 2010 piece, I did some arguing with Bush, while of course respecting his position. But I must say, Obama is “tone-deaf.” (This is a cliché that began in Washington some years ago, like “kabuki dance.”) He might want to stay off the links for the time being.

If Bush were president right now, he couldn’t get away with playing golf. Of course, he couldn’t get away with vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard or some other swank spot. He went to boiling Crawford, Texas. Swank spots are for Democrats, period.

2) I see that our hero Lord Snowden has wrapped himself in the flag, literally. (Maybe I should specify, because this is Snowden, that it’s the American flag.)

Look, I realize there are important differences between Snowden and Kim Philby. But dammit, here’s one difference: When Philby fled to Moscow, at least he didn’t wrap himself in the Union Jack. He just drank, checked cricket scores back home, and did what he could for the Kremlin.

3) If you feel like a musical interlude in your reading, I have two links for you: here and here. The first is to a review of an event at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. The second is to a review of an event at the Salzburg Festival.

I’ll be back with political fulminations later (a warning, not a promise, as a friend of mine would say).

Give & Take



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The Giver arrives in movie theaters tomorrow. Listen to my audio interview with Michael Flaherty of Walden Media, one of the companies behind the film. We talk about dystopias, turning books into movies, and the lesson at the heart of this book-and-movie franchise.

Krauthammer’s Take: Martha’s Vineyard Hug Summit a ‘Blatant Display of Clinton Inauthenticity’



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Hillary Clinton’s attack on the Obama administration’s foreign policy, then quick retreat – supposedly to end Wednesday night with a hug while the Clintons and Obamas vacation simultaneously on Martha’s Vineyard – is a “blatant display of Clinton inauthenticity,” says Charles Krauthammer. “It’s breathtaking.”

“With these people — meaning the Clintons — do you ever know if they are saying anything sincere?” Krauthammer asked his fellow panelists. He recounted how Clinton admitted to then-secretary of defense Robert Gates that she had opposed the Iraq Surge for political reasons — because she was, at the time, running for president against Barack Obama, who had taken a firmer anti-war stance. “Now, because she is not going to face a serious challenge on her left, she is maneuvering to the center for her current run and expressing more hawkish opinions than the Obama administration.”

“You never actually have any idea what is the core belief,” says Krauthammer. “And I think if she finally ended up saying what you thought was inauthentic and withdraws it with a hug within a day, she’s in trouble.”

A Cloud Rather Bigger Than A Man’s Hand



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Mark Simmonds is stepping down from his job as a British foreign office minister and will leave the House of Commons at the general election. Simmonds, a Conservative,  has attributed the decision to the pressure on his young family, and the “intolerable” impact of tougher rules on parliamentary expenses.

But The Spectator quotes one of his party colleagues:

‘He’s under massive pressure in his constituency. Party infrastructure evaporated. UKIP all over him.’

All these reasons for Simmonds’s departure sound believable, but the most interesting in the last.  Almost wherever you look, there are reports of how Conservative constituency associations have hollowed out.  Part of this is due to a broader trend, the general decline of interest in traditional participatory democracy that has characterized many Western countries. But in the case of Britain’s Conservative party, it has been made worse by the way that David Cameron’s attempt at forcing through his own vision of Tory modernization has involved trashing the tradition of the autonomy of the party at a local level. That autonomy could be awkward at times but was, for the most part, something that was a source of strength. The decline  in membership (which, I should note, is not a phenomenon solely affecting the Tories)  had begun long before Cameron became party leader, but the fact remains that party membership fell from over 250,000 in 2005 to some 134,000 last September. A mass party it’s not.

Making matters worse for poor Mr. Hammond was the fact that his seat is in UKIP’s eastern heartland. The exodus of party members tends to speed up when there is somewhere for them to go. And in Boston and Skegness UKIP is very much in the game.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party (much further to the left than in Blair’s day, and that was bad enough)  is seeing its poll ratings rise according to a new Guardian / ICM poll. The Guardian speculates that the recent resignation of one wildly over-promoted Tory is responsible for the fall in Tory support. I doubt it. Voters don’t watch the Westminster scene that carefully. To the extent that they do, the poor impression left by Cameron’s recent (and characteristically bungled) ministerial reshuffle is much more likely to blame.

In a boost for Labour, which is embarking on a pre-election summer campaign called The Choice, the party has seen its support increase by five points over the last month to 38%, a share it last recorded in March. The Tories see their support fall by three points to 31% – last recorded in June – giving Labour a seven-point lead. In last month’s Guardian / ICM poll the Tories had a one-point lead over Labour – 34% to 33%. The Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 12%, while Ukip sees a one-point increase in its support to 10%.

Other polls are not so depressing for the Conservatives, nevertheless…

And then there’s this (from the Daily Telegraph):

Ukip has received more donations than the Liberal Democrats for the first time after being given more than £1.4 million in the three months to June.  Nigel Farage’s party saw its donations more than double after a £1 million donation a company owned by Paul Sykes, an entrepreneur and former Tory donor who is now backing Ukip.

Of course, one big donation (such as that from Mr.Sykes) can tip the scales (and the Tories are  easily out-raising the other parties), but even so…

As a reminder, the next British General Election will be in May. Tick, tock.

The Nanny State May Crush the E-Cigarette Industry — Knowingly



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My AEI colleagues Sally Satel and Alan D. Viard have a sobering op-ed discussing the FDA’s proposed regulation of the e-cigarette industry.

On balance, e-cigarettes are so much safer [than traditional cigarettes] that doctors should advise smokers who are unwilling to stop using nicotine to take up “vaping,” as e-cigarette use is called. Smokers who have tried and failed to quite using nicotine gum, patches, medications such as varenicline, or behavioral techniques should also be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes.

Yet the FDA, which released its much-awaited proposed “deeming regulations” last spring, is advancing a prescription that will surely cripple the future of electronic cigarettes and, with it, the health of millions of smokers.   

How will the FDA “cripple the future of” e-cigarettes, specifically? Administrative burdens.

The FDA estimates that conducting the necessary scientific investigations and preparing a premarket application would, on average, take more than 5,000 hours and cost more than $300,000. Only the large tobacco producers would be willing and able to incur these costs. As the FDA analysis states, the costs of submitting premarket applications for e-cigarettes “would be high enough to expect additional product exit, consolidation, and reduction in variety compared with the baseline.” The agency admits that nearly all e-cigarette products would be driven out of the market, simply by administrative burdens, not by any substantive health issues. The lack of product variety would thwart efforts to persuade smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, particularly because the surviving products are likely to be the “cigalikes” produced by the large tobacco companies, which are the least effective in luring smokers completely away from cigarettes.

The bold above is mine. You can read their entire op-ed here, and their response to the FDA’s call for public comments here.

In addition, they and my colleague Alex Brill have a great policy paper on whether e-cigarettes should be taxed, which you can find here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

Rick Perry: Blame Obama and Harry Reid for Murders Committed by Border Crossers



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Governor Rick Perry (R., Texas) warned that President Obama’s expected executive orders regarding immigration would “exacerbate” the border crisis and undermine state efforts to secure the border in the midst of an influx of Central American migrants.

Perry called it “the height of irresponsibility” for Obama to use executive orders to provide administrative legalization of immigrants, saying he and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) will be responsible for the deaths of Americans murdered by criminals coming into the country.

“What they will be doing, from my perspective, would be to just exacerbate the problem that we’ve already got [of] these massive amounts of individuals, both the unaccompanied alien children and the 80 percent of other individuals — you’re just going to send the message of ‘more of you come, more of you get on a train, more of you put yourselves or your family in the position of being misused, abused, being recruited into these drug cartels and transnational gangs,’” Perry told National Review Online during a Wednesday phone interview.

“We are a country of laws, and if this president continues to flaunt the laws of America, he’s putting, number one, our people in jeopardy, because there are a substantial number of criminal aliens that are coming across the border, conducting themselves in ways that are very dangerous to our citizens, up to and including homicide,” the governor says.

Perry recalled the murder of an off-duty Border Patrol agent, allegedly shot by illegal immigrants. “That Border Patrol agent . . . was killed by an individual who had been deported multiple times, and for the president to not understand the impact that he’s having on this country is of great concern to me as a governor and as a citizen of this country,” he says.

The governor stopped short of calling for the end of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides temporary legal status to children who would qualify for citizenship if the DREAM Act ever passes Congress.

“I’m more concerned about the security of the border right now and the cost to the citizens of the State of Texas,” Perry said when asked if Congress needs to block the DACA program. “If Harry Reid wants to stand up and say that the border is secure, then he needs to do that, but I will suggest to you, Americans know that is the big lie, and that no longer are they going to accept an individual who is in a leadership position misrepresenting what’s going on in this country, particularly when it is putting the citizens of his state in jeopardy. When an individual who has come into Nevada [commits] a heinous crime against his citizens, the people of Nevada are going to say, ‘wait a minute, Mr. Majority Leader, why are you not addressing this issue of border security?’”

Perry says that the border-security efforts undertaken by Texas law enforcement are already having success.

“Five weeks ago, prior to the announcement of the deployment of the Guard, we had approved a surge operation by our Department of Public Safety, which included our Texas Ranger Recon Teams and the Texas Parks and Wildlife wardens,” he says. “We have seen now over that five-week period of time a decrease in apprehensions by 56 percent.”

Hollywood’s Golden Age Fades Away



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The news of Lauren Bacall’s passing yesterday may have surprised many who assumed that all of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age had long ago left us. Bacall, who was 89 when she died, was perhaps the last of the true mega-stars from that era, noted not only for her excellent body of work, but for her indelible connection to the giants of the time, foremost among them her husband, Humphrey Bogart. To consider Bacall’s closeness, not only to Bogie, but to Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and others, is to conjure up images of a bygone era, once so familiar, yet fading away in our collective memory. That Bacall was the Brooklyn-born daughter of Jewish immigrants who always identified as a Jew, only makes her life path more fascinating. Andrew’s post on “the last empress of Byzantium” nicely catches her inimitable character as reflected in her best roles.

With her death, and that of Mickey Rooney earlier this year, the only major stars left from Hollywood’s Golden Age are the wonderful Olivia de Havilland, who made her first movie in 1935 and turned 98 last month, and the fiery Maureen O’Hara, who celebrates her 94th birthday next week. Some may also put Kirk Douglas in that group, but his career did not take off until the 1950s. For real film aficionados, German-born Luise Rainer is 104, but while she became the first back-to-back Oscar winner, she never achieved the stardom of Bacall, et al. Bacall truly was one of the last of a breed who helped define American culture at the height of the country’s power.

Sessions Warns of ‘Chilling’ Obama Immigration Plotting



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Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) called for Americans to pressure their senators about voting against President Obama’s expected executive orders on immigration, which he described as a “chilling” plot with activists to undermine national laws.

“Recent developments suggest the president’s planned executive amnesty could be increasingly imminent and broad in scope. House Democrat Leader Pelosi — clearly one of the White House’s closest allies — has just urged the president to issue ‘the broadest possible’ executive actions,” Sessions said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Open-borders groups have grown bolder and louder in their unlawful demands, launching a campaign for the president to ‘go big,’ and demanding that he ‘stand up’ to Congress and ‘expand DACA,’” he added, citing an Associated Press report that administration officials were meeting with immigration activists and the Chamber of Commerce.

“It is chilling to consider now that these groups, frustrated in their aims by our Constitutional system of government, are plotting with the Obama administration to collect their spoils through executive fiat,” he said.

Sessions issued the statement in an attempt to build pressure on Democrats, especially red-state senators facing reelection, to force a vote on the House-passed bill to prevent Obama from expanding DACA or issuing any work permits to illegal immigrants.

“The steps that must be taken are clear: the Senate must vote on the House-passed measure to stop these unlawful actions. It is true that Majority Leader Reid is blocking it from a vote. But Reid acts only with the blessing of his members in the Democrat conference — so the American people have the power to force it to a vote through their elected senators,” Sessions said. “That begins with asking a simple question: Where do your senators stand?”

Obama Snubs Lauren Bacall! Pop-Culture President Fails to Issue Statement on Death of Hollywood Legend



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President Barack Obama, whose opinions on entertainment are eagerly awaited by all Americans, has shocked the entertainment industry by ignoring the death of legendary Hollywood actress, and lifelong Democrat, Lauren Bacall.

Bacall, a movie legend whose career included work with filmmakers ranging from Howard Hawks to Douglas Sirk to Lars von Trier, died Tuesday, leaving behind a legacy that included many classic films, a youthful marriage (and early widowhood) to Humphrey Bogart, and a lifetime of activism for liberal causes. Bacall joined protests against the House Un-American Activities Committee, campaigned for two-time failed presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, and identified herself as “anti-Republican . . . a liberal” in a 2005 Larry King interview.

Yet Bacall’s loyalty to the president’s party has not earned any recognition from the pop-culture-saturated commander-in-chief. Obama has spent much of his time in office taking selfies with cultural notables; giving his opinions on Downton Abbey, Orange Is the New Black, Mad Men, and many other popular television shows; texting with Jay-Z; and gracing the nation with his opinion of Kanye West’s interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Obama rarely leaves America in the dark about his media diet and pop-culture opinions.

Inconveniently, Obama’s pop connoisseurship is occasionally interrupted by details of national and global politics: Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine; an area of Iraq the size of Belgium is under the control of a mass-murdering Sunni Islamist terror group; and the United States remains stuck in the longest period of economic stagnation since the Great Depression. But Obama has until now found ways to soldier through, most recently taking time during his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to issue a statement on the death of hirsute funnyman Robin Williams.

The cause of Obama’s Bacall snub is not known. It is possible that he is preparing to hug it out with his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on the Vineyard tonight. The president may also share the view, held by a large minority of American men, that Martha Vickers, who played Bacall’s slutty younger sister in Hawks’s 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, was the real hot one.

The White House did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

Tags: War On Women , Hollywood , Barack Obama

Lauren Bacall (1924–2014)



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The Breaking Bad marathon (episode 25 and counting) will have to be put on hold for a little while. It’s time to turn to the DVD collection and watch (yet again) To Have and Have Not and (yet again) The Big Sleep, the two films that were Bacall. And then I’ll watch them again.

Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe.

Marlowe: Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he’s walking out of your bedroom.

I don’t remember when or where I first saw those two movies — in the 1970s, I think, maybe on the telly or maybe, quite possibly, at Oxford’s Penultimate Picture Palace, a wonderful cinema that was unafraid (unusual then) of showing movies three or more decades old — but I have never forgotten the impression they made. Bogart? Bacall? Who were these people, what was this world, and how could I get there?

Vivian: So you’re a private detective. I didn’t know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you’re a mess, aren’t you?

And then there’s the discussion about, uh, horses, but this is a family website.

There’s not much to say that has not already been said. Of the two, I prefer The Big Sleep, its labyrinth the point, and Bacall, well . . .

The Economist:

Prior to “To Have And Have Not”, she had had little acting experience: she was a Bronx fashion model who had changed her name from Betty Joan Perske and had made only brief appearances on Broadway. But in Howard Hawks’s French Resistance thriller, there’s not a trace of girlish insecurity about her. Her strong-jawed beauty and immaculate styling help, of course, but it’s her insouciance that’s remarkable.

Watch the scene in which she asks Humphrey Bogart for a match in her deep drawl, glances at him with quiet amusement and lights her cigarette with maddening slowness before strolling out of his room. It’s easy to imagine that it’s Ms Bacall who is the sophisticated, seen-it-all veteran, while the 44-year-old Bogie is the nervous newcomer. Even as a teenager, she seemed to be older and classier than anyone else in the room—and she maintained that aura as the decades passed. She was just two years older than Marilyn Monroe when they traded banter in “How To Marry A Millionaire” in 1953, but her jaded poise contrasts so strikingly with Ms Monroe’s frothy clowning that, again, it seemed as if Ms Bacall came from an earlier, more dignified generation.

And a long and measured assessment in the Guardian that ends thus:

Lunching with her was an audience with the last empress of Byzantium, imperiousness interspersed with a really dirty laugh, perhaps the sound of her true self. Every online search sends you back to a picture of her at 19 giving The Look: “You know, Steve, you don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to whistle.”

A year or so back, the daughter of some friends back in England came to stay for a while and, intrigued by the idea of watching a black and white movie that was not one of her dad’s war movies, asked me to choose an old film. I picked out The Big Sleep. At the end she just said, “I had no idea.” To Have and Have Not was in the DVD player within minutes. At the end of her stay, she gave me a copy of Key Largo. It was, she noted disapprovingly, missing from my collection.

Lauren Bacall, Slim, Vivian, and, yes, the last empress of Byzantium, thank you. R.I.P.

Report Finds Employment Gains Made in Florida Go to Legal And Illegal Immigrants



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A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies finds that the majority of the net increase in employment among Florida’s working age population since the first quarter of 2000 has gone to legal and illegal immigrants. Florida ranked second in the nation in employment growth among 16 to 65 year olds since the first quarter of 2000, CIS says, but still ranks 34th nationwide in labor-force participation of its native-born population in the same age range.

“Employment data for the state do not support the idea that workers are in short supply,” the report states. “In the future Florida’s political leaders should at least consider the employment situation in their state before supporting calls for significantly increasing the number of foreign workers allowed into the country.”

According to CIS, both the total number and share of natives not working has grown significantly in Florida since 2000. But if the employment rate of natives remained where it was in 2000, CIS claims, approximately 768,000 more natives would be working today.

Facebook Suspends User’s Account for Posting the Phrase ‘Tranny Bingo’



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Facebook suspended an Australian transgender-rights activist’s account because one of her posts contained the phrase “Tranny Bingo” — which is apparently offensive.

“We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards: Tranny Bingo,” read the message Norrie received from the social-networking site.

Norrie posted a screenshot of the message on Twitter account early Tuesday morning:

“Facebook should be offering a fair and equitable service,” Norrie said, according to an article on Same Same, an Australian LGBT news website. “As gender-diverse people, we own the word ‘tranny’ and it can be a good and empowering word.”

Norrie has repeatedly tweeted to express her outrage over the suspension, sometimes using the hashtag “#trannyban.”

“I’m still blocked because I’m a tranny and I say so,” a Tuesday evening post read. “Facebook’s autobots are thought/word police.”

Facebook allegedly suspended the page after someone had reported the post as offensive.

It is unclear when the original suspended ended, but according a screenshot Norrie posted on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Facebook just had suspended her account yet again over another post that used the word “tranny.”

At the time of publication, a link to Norrie’s Facebook page still did not work.

Tags: Culture

Rough Justice For High School Bondage Textbook



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Bay Area parents have given given a sound thrashing to a sexual education textbook that featured information on handcuffs, sex toys, bondage, and other topics best left in the hands of an experienced dominatrix.

As National Review Online’s Molly Wharton reported last week, the Fremont Unified School District planned to introduce the textbook entitled Your Health Today, without so much as a mutually agreed-upon safe word from parents, at the beginning of the school year:

Teachers unanimously chose the explicit book in June to replace an earlier one that was ten years old. “Our high-school students today need all the tools they can have to arm themselves to make the best-informed decision,” the school district’s Board President, Lara Calvert-York, said.

Authors of the textbook told Today that the book is meant for college freshmen. They added, though, that they believe the material is appropriate for younger readers.

Parents, and even students, say the book goes too far.

“It’s a bit much for me, I’m not comfortable with my child — I mean, wow, that’s, the graphics are extreme — oh my gosh,” one parent told CBS as she was shown some of the images in the book. “They are very pornographic. The pictures are very explicit.”

Clearly a decade-old textbook would not be suitable for a modern readership, given that until 2004 babies were still made through a crude process — involving labor-intensive horticulture and ritual incantations to the sun — that differs radically from today’s sophisticated methods. But old-fashioned Fremont parents hogtied the school district with a petition demanding the book be removed. And according to the Los Angeles Times, Fremont Unified has submitted:

Supt. Jim Morris will ask school board members Wednesday to place the book, “Your Health Today,” on hold until it’s fully vetted following concerns from the community that it would expose teens to topics on sexual fantasies, sex games, as well as themes that include ropes, handcuffs, sex toys and vibrators.

The book’s publisher, McGraw-Hill, will work with school officials to modify the textbook so it meets the district’s needs and address concerns about “the appropriateness of its content for high school students,” according to a district statement.

The land of the nuts and the fruits has lately seen several instances in which parents escaped the chains of public school bureaucracies. In June a Los Angeles judge threw out teacher tenure rules, and a lawsuit is threatening compulsory dues for teacher unions. But the teachers still often end up on top: In July Los Angeles Unified School District passed a hefty minimum wage increase.

Tags: California , sex , Education

Extending the Debate on UI Benefits



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Policy analysts from the left, right, and center continue to debate the wisdom of extending unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed. On July 1, 2013, my home state of North Carolina became the first to exit the extended-benefits program as part of a comprehensive reform of the state’s UI system that pulled North Carolina out from under a federal grandfather clause. At the start of 2014, the entire extended-benefits program expired for the country as a whole.

Republican leaders in Congress and most conservative analysts agreed with the expiration of extended benefits, citing a well-established conclusion in the scholarly literature that extended or rich UI benefits create disincentives for unemployed workers to make decisions that are painful or challenging in the short run but in their interest in the long run — such as accepting a less-than-ideal job, moving to another location where jobs in one’s field are more plentiful, returning to school to retrain for a new career, or starting a business. But some conservatives, including NRO contributors, argued that Congress should have made a deal with President Obama to extend UI benefits once again. They doubt the significance of the disincentive effect and worry that the long-term unemployed losing benefits would simply drop out of the workforce and end up on public assistance (or worse).

Because North Carolina exited the program six months before the rest of the country did, its experience is obviously of great interest. I’ve written about it multiple times, as have other analysts. My latest piece is a lengthy response to a thoughtful article by Brookings Institution fellow Justin Wolfers that ran in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. My conclusion is that while Wolfers is a far better critic of North Carolina’s decision than most, his interpretation of the data is debatable. Using a broad range of valid, relevant economic statistics suggests that North Carolina’s labor market and broader economy improved faster during the last six months of 2013 than both the national and regional averages, and that ending the disincentive effects of extended benefits likely played some role (although not a massive one, since most unemployed workers were never eligible for UI in the first place and thus aren’t directly affected by changes in UI benefits).

I end the piece by observing that Wolfers’ interpretation (extended benefits have no macroeconomic effects either way) and my interpretation (ending extended benefits has positive macroeconomic effects) are only two of three positions on the issue:

The third possible interpretation, still favored by liberals and some conservatives, is that ending extended benefits had deleterious results for the labor market and larger economy, first in North Carolina in the last half of 2013 and then in the nation as a whole during 2014. I’m unaware of any persuasive evidence for this conclusion. Since the entire extended-benefits program expired at the end of 2013, the American labor market has clearly experienced substantial improvement. The U-3, U-4, U-5, and U-6 rates are all down substantially. The employment-population ratio is up. Fewer people are on food stamps. The gains appear to be particularly strong among the long-term unemployed.

In short, the supporters of UI extended benefits predicted dire economic consequences from the expiration of those benefits. The predicted consequences didn’t happen. On that, Wolfers and conservatives agree.

Tags: unemployment insurance , Unemployment

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