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Sequester Nation

Homeless

I should have listened to President Obama.  I should have called my Congressman, my Senators, the Speaker of the House.  But I just never imagined it would be this bad.  Or happen so fast.

This morning, on walkies with my dog, I saw a feral pack of children – kids from the shuttered Marin Country Day School – gnawing hungrily on the remains of a grackle – growling at each other as they struggled over the already picked-over bones.  Their Ralph Lauren toddler wear – so crisp and pristine just months ago, was soiled and ragged.  They were confused, unable to comprehend the disaster that had visited upon them.  First, their healthy, organic meals and snacks had been reduced to mere morsels of chicken nuggets and canned corn.  Then the school’s Olympic pool was drained, their WiFi was disconnected and their flat-screen televisions went dark.  And finally, for lack of vital Federal funding, the school was padlocked and the children were turned out to fend for themselves, like urchins in a Dickensian dystopia.

Later, behind my local Whole Foods Market, I witnessed a crowd of laid-off teachers, cops and firemen rioting as they fought for scraps from a dumpster.  Women were trampled underfoot as men flailed their fists and, reduced to beasts, gnawed at each others’ ears.

This afternoon, fearful of total social collapse, I loaded up my car, slapped an extended magazine into my AR-15 and headed off to a remote mountaintop in search of a secure position with a clear field of fire.  Highway 101 was virtually empty, except for zebras, giraffes and wildebeest – released from the de-funded local zoo – grazing in the overgrown median; and lions and tigers lurking in the blind spots where cops with radar guns used to hide.

Most of the radio stations have gone off the air, but I was able to tune into a station from Sacramento.  My Spanish isn’t all that good, but I was able to make out that a shipload of rice – a gift from the people of Bangladesh – is sailing its way to the docks at San Francisco.  We can only pray it comes soon.

For now, I still have good 4G reception, but I can hardly bear to read the news on my iPhone.  President Obama has been forced to postpone his vacation.  Congressional aides are subsisting on Ramen noodles.  Joe Biden, on a vital mission to plead for help from Azerbaijan, is huddled, miserably, in a Super 8 motel.

God, what have we come to?  What have we done?

I should have listened.

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The End of Greatness

Thatcher

There was a brief span, in the last quarter of the 20th Century, when a small group of great visionaries stood firm for liberty against tyranny, for the individual against the oppressive state, for the values that were the foundation of the greatest civilization the world has ever known.

They were courageous and confident and firm in their beliefs.  Savaged by a legion of detractors, they remained inspirational, optimistic, even joyful – and they reversed the decline of the West.

Then, in a short space of time, they left us.  First Ronald Reagan. Then John Paul II. Then Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley, Jr.

And now the last of them – perhaps the fiercest and most original – has passed.

Now, in a fearful new century, we look for vision and leadership, but they are nowhere to be found.

The 20th Century ended yesterday.

And greatness is gone.

Retirement Advice from Barack

Pickpocket

President Obama’s soon-to-be-unveiled budget includes sage counsel for upper-income citizens: You’re saving too much for retirement.

A senior administration official explains that some wealthy individuals (including Mitt Romney – yeah, they actually said that) are socking away millions of dollars in 401(k), SEP and other tax-sheltered accounts and this is…”substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement saving.”

Under this new proposal, tax-preferred accounts will be limited to a maximum balance that would provide $205,000 in withdrawals per retirement year.   (Where do they come up with these numbers?  It could just as well have been a flat $200,000, but flat numbers don’t sound quite as… scientific.).

But that’s not really the point, is it?   The point is that it’s good class warfare.

The administration says this measure will “…bring more fairness to the tax code,” while raising federal revenues by $900 million a year – about what the Federal government borrows every five hours.

That’s not a lot of money and it probably only affects about a thousand taxpayers, but it provides a nice precedent for the next round, when the administration decides that the real cash-cow – the middle class – already has too much money socked away and it’s time for the Feds to dip into your piggy bank.

It worked in Cyprus.

So don’t lie awake nights wondering how much you should be saving for your golden years.  Government will do that for you.

The Dogs Who (Sorta) Loved Me

German shorthair

As a boy, I spent much of my time in a remote village in the High Sierras.  A collection of two dozen weather-worn cabins shaded by towering trees, it was built in the 1920’s as the center of  a massive logging empire, but when the crash of 1929 came, the enterprise went bust and, over the years, as the company railroad and the lumber mill were dismantled and sold for scrap,  various people bought the cabins.  Most of them were comfortable middle-class folks from the scorching Central Valley, who came for weekend retreats, while a few, like my father, were small-scale, hardscrabble lumberjacks.

The original hydro-electric generator had long gone to rust, so we made do with kerosene lanterns and wood stoves, but for a boy like me, that just added to the appeal.  With a clear, babbling trout stream, wind sighing through the pines and miles of wilderness in every direction, the place was idyllic.

There was sort of a feudal system: one man owned all the land and employed all the loggers.  He had a big house on a hill, where three healthy German Shorthair dogs spent their days sunning on a broad porch.  They seemed to understand the uphill/downhill social divide and mostly kept to themselves.

On weekdays, when the summer-retreat people were away and I was the only kid in the village, I’d pack a sandwich, fill a canteen and head off into the forest.  My dad had taught me to read a compass and recognize the local landmarks; if I wanted to wander in wilderness, so be it.  It was just assumed I had the wits to find my way home.

But the boss man’s dogs had a less sanguine view of my intelligence.  If they happened to spy me trekking towards the village boundaries, they’d rise up off the porch and trot down to surround me, like brown-and-white spotted bodyguards.  The dominant female took point, the second female took flank and the male brought up the rear.  This was clearly no pleasure jaunt for them – they were there to protect the dumb little people-pup because,  somehow,their genetic makeup told them it was the right thing to do.

Occasionally, the point dog would catch a scent – bear scat, mountain lion, coyote, a rattlesnake den.  She’d stop and stand tall with her nose into the wind, while the others halted and held position.  Most times, satisfied that there was no lurking danger, she’d relax and move out, and the rest of us would follow, like a squad of soldiers on patrol.

But other times, clearly sensing  something ominous, she’d  turn around and come back down the trail.  The other dogs would turn, too.  They were all business now – it was time to go home.

I’m not sure those dogs even particularly liked me.  They never came to me for a pat on the head or a scratch on the ear – they weren’t the sentimental type.  They just had a job to do and, when we got back to the village, they’d trot back up to the porch without giving me so much as a backwards glance.  Their package of stupid had been safely delivered.

I can’t say that I might be dead if not for those dogs, but it’s certainly a possibility.  But I will say that if trouble had come, they would never have abandoned me.  It’s who they were.  It’s what they did.  And I’ll always remember them for it.

Richard Nixon’s War

Iraq was a stupid war.  Afghanistan, after year one, has been a stupid war.  Libya was a very, very stupid war.

But the stupidest war, and the longest-lasting and the most expensive is the war declared, in 1970, by Richard Milhouse Nixon: the War on Drugs.

That declaration was, as with most everything else Nixon ever did, raw political calculation.  There was, at the time, a nascent backlash among older Americans to the excesses of the 1960’s counterculture.  There wasn’t much Nixon could do about bell-bottom trousers or girly hair on boys or loud guitar music.  But, by God, he could come down hard on drugs. This appealed to his working and middle-class white base, who still couldn’t figure out where hippy headbands and naked communes had come from, but they knew where marijuana came from.  It came from Negros.   And they just weren’t gonna abide that.  Not in this house.

Forty-three years later, the War on Drugs, still in full swing, is a disaster.  We’ve spent 1.5 trillion dollars, incarcerated millions of people, created at all levels of law enforcement what amounts to a police state, and introduced a legion of intrusive new measures (having fun opening  that foil packet of sinus medicine?).

Meanwhile, we’ve engendered a whole new underclass. We currently arrest one person every 19 seconds on drug charges, more than half of them for simple possession of a small amount of marijuana.   Once they’re in the parole and prison systems, their lives are wrecked.

So what’s the payoff?  Well, in 1970 about two percent of the population could be classified as addicted to one illicit drug or another.  Ten million incarcerations later, that number is…two percent.

And then there’s the corrosive affect this “war” had had on the relationship between citizens and law enforcement.  There are so many incentives for cops to make drug arrests – from promotion to overtime pay to Federal dollars for shiny new cop toys – that they often come to see every contact with a citizen as an opportunity to ring the bell, whether or not that contact had anything to do with drugs in the first place.   After enough years of that, everybody looks like a suspect.  That’s not how the relationship between cops and citizens should be.

We’ve given Richard Nixon’s war four decades and all we have to show for it is millions of ruined lives, billions of dollars squandered and a grotesque distortion of the law enforcement function.  Let’s end this madness.

Diane Throws a Hissy Fit

Feinstein trigger

The gun control debate isn’t breaking Diane Feinstein’s way and she’s pretty pissed off about it.

It’s just gone from bad to worse for Di: first, while blood was still congealing on the floors of Sandy Hook, she way, way over-reached, calling for universal gun registration. She hardly had time to wipe the spittle from her chin before her Senate colleagues scrambled wildly for the exits.  Look, in America, tyranny doesn’t nakedly announce itself; you gotta take quiet little baby steps.  But even low-information voters could figure out that registration was just a prelude to confiscation and the thought of what might happen when SWAT teams went door to door looking for guns was…disconcerting.

So Diane retreated to her hoary default: banning “assault rifles”.  Hey, it worked like a charm in 1994 and this time around we’re talking Kindergarten kids.  Slam dunk.

Unfortunately for Big Momma, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics, which are available online to just any old private citizen (who the hell authorized that?)  immediately revealed that more people are murdered with screwdrivers, cheese graters and penis enlargers than with semi-automatic rifles.  Hell, you don’t even have to stop to reload a cheese grater.

So, it fell to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to gingerly explain to Feinstein that, um, an assault weapons ban wasn’t going be part of the Senate’s “gun safety” bill, but, ah, she could get a courtesy vote on her very own assault weapons amendment, which, uh, no red state Senator in his right mind is gonna vote for.

Whoa, whoa…a few busted table lamps later, DiFi informed Reid, “You guys just don’t get it: this is my own personal, signature issue.  I’m not going quietly, I’m gonna make sure everybody knows you’re nothing but NRA lickspittles.”

Which is exactly what she did, the other day, at a San Francisco conclave of the Commonwealth Club, California’s elite society for people with progressive  political views and  endless reservoirs of cash to spread around.

The gist of Feinstein’s rant was that the freaking stupid public really didn’t know squat about the second Second Amendment, they’d just been bamboozled by the National Rifle Association and greedy gun manufacturers.  The NRA, with blood dripping from its fangs, should just sit down and shut up.  At the least.  In a perfect world, the NRA wouldn’t even be allowed to exist.

And then she went on to attack, without naming names, Democratic Senators in red states who’ve been ducking behind furniture and whistling past graveyards ever since they were deluged by letters, phone calls and emails from their more Constitutionally-minded constituents:

“A fear has set in that if they vote for the bill they won’t be re-elected. It’s that plain, it’s that simple. My view is they shouldn’’t go up to the Senate if they are unwilling to stand up and vote.

Translated into sane English, Feinstein, who regularly enjoys landslide re-election in crazy-blue California,  is saying her red-state Esteemed Colleagues shouldn’t even be in the Senate if they’re such pussies that they think they have to listen to voters.  

Old Dogs

Lileks Dog

An acquaintance of mine has been Tweeting about his fears that his elderly dog may be coming to…that time.  I know how he feels: I’ve been there.

Dogs, like people, have seasons in their lives. From clumsy, frolicking pup to vibrant adulthood and thence to the long decline.

All dogs are appealing, but  it’s the old dogs who really get to me.  White muzzled, arthritic, limping, swaybacked, with their heads held low, their days of chasing squirrels and tussling on green lawns are over.   Now, they’re slow and creaky and vulnerable.  And they know it –  you can see it in their eyes.

Whenever I approach an old dog, I think, “This is a loyal creature who has lived life to the full and loved with all his heart.” And for that moment, while younger dogs are cavorting and leaping and chasing frisbees, he lays his weary head on my knee, grateful for the attention, and I love him, too.

(Photo courtesy of James Lileks)

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