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Man of Steel: Movie Review

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Superman was the first superhero that excited me as a child.  I remember watching the Richard Donner movies starring Christopher Reeve, and being hooked.  But as I grew older, there simply wasn’t enough depth in the character and plot line.  What fun is a superhero that is virtually invulnerable?  What suspense is there in that?

And that pretty much defines the arc that Superman franchise has gone through over the years.  In the more innocent era of the mid-portion of the last century, Superman fit the ideal we were striving for.  Truth, justice, and the American way.

Today, in a darker, more dreary, a more realistic and fatalistic era, Superman seems as out of place as milkmen and paperboys. .

And the repercussions show.  Superman is largely ignored by the young set.  My son, who is seven, barely cares about Superman at all.  Even when watching cartoons of the Justice League, he gravitates more to Batman and even the Flash before Superman.

It is into that environment that Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) and screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David Goyer (the Dark Knight film trilogy) bring Man of Steel.  They were, because of reality, forced to update the Superman/Clark Kent saga for a new era.  First, the bring this new version of Superman, played wonderfully by Henry Cavill, into the modern era. Some of the changes are at first shocking.  For example, Clark Kent is almost a depressing figure at the beginning of this movie.  In the prior era, Clark was at times goofy, honest…a Boy Scout.  Here, Clark is brooding, and not always on his best behavior.  This actually fits with some of the comic book interpretations of the character, but we certainly haven’t for the most part seen that side of Clark on film.  Second, even as an adult, he seems to have a general distrust of humanity…something former iterations of the genre of lacked.

But in many ways, Snyder/Nolan/Goyer make the changes that are necessary to bring this character back to life.  Superman/Kent lives in a world where governments are not to be inherently trusted, and humanity can be its own worse any enemy.  In other words…the real world.

The other fascinating tactic they take is to give much more depth and time to the Kryptonian back story.  Some of my friends have mixed feelings on this, but I loved it. I loved seeing more texture given to the planet of Krypton, including its culture, government, history and people. And Russell Crowe (Jor-El) virtually steals every scene he is in.

On the other hand, the Smallville angle of Clark Kent’s history is basically told only in passing, mostly in flashbacks and other storytelling techniques.  We get brief scenes with Pete and Lana Lang, but nothing substantial.  Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) is another depressing figure in this movie.  In the past, he was at the heart of the good hearted nature that is at the center of his son’s character; in this film, he is dreary, and is much more concerned about his son’s safety than the future of the planet.

Michael Shannon as General Zod is fantastic.  He gives the character depth, and is able to portray a rigidness and single mindedness that is essential to getting to the heart of the character.  Not to get too political, but Zod is the classic statist; everything, including war, cruelty, and violence, are acceptable for the common good.  And the common good in this case is the survival of the Kryptonian people…and if a few humans get in the way, what matter is it to him?

Without giving the plot away, the directors also flip many of the plot points of former Superman story lines on their head.  I absolutely loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane; she isn’t some hot bimbo that the last film portrayed her as, but is a thoughtful, deep personality that is the definition of what a good journalist is supposed to be.  And her relationship with Clark Kent/Superman is, in many ways, unique to the way it has been portrayed before.  The ‘reveal’ at the end of the movie, in many ways, shows the heart of the way the writers took a new look and all new angle to the entire approach.

The final scenes, which of course result in a massive battle, are spectacular.  You seen Superman and Zod basically destroy the city of Metropolis in, what is ultimately, a grudge match.

Now, is this movie perfect?  Far from it.  Some of the plot details were probably unnecessary.  There are scenes in the movie that seem like they are a good idea, but in retrospect really add nothing (if you see the movie, pay attention to the church scene with the priest).  And some of the dialogue, especially for Cavill, is clunky.

Additionally, one wonders in hindsight:  what powers do the Kryptonians really have that make them ‘Supermen’?  The plot goes back and forth on what really gives them their strength, speed, etc; and thus, in battles, you come to wonder:  why are some battles even an equal match?  Shouldn’t they obviously be weighted to one side or the other, based on the premise of the source of their powers?

But ultimately, fans can get past these small qualms.  The movie delivers on all the levels that matter.  They gives us a Superman with depth, a character dealing with the realities of the world as it exists in the 21st century.  We have a Clark Kent that is not goofy but is thoughtful and emotional, and hides from humanity as much as he can.  And you have Superman coming into his own with a threat from his past, where he must face his ultimate limitations.

I have already heard comparisons of this movie to the Dark Knight series, which is unavoidable with Nolan’s involvement in both films.  Let me say this: this is a far superior film to Batman Begins, the first film of that trilogy.  I would say it is at least as good as the first Iron Man as well.  My point is:  Snyder et. al. have done their job.  They have established a platform for future Superman movies (and may I dare dream:  Justice league movies?) and the real first entry into the wider DC comic universe.

So, an imperfect movie, to be sure, but still a movie that must be seen, and a movie that hits all the high marks.  The future for the DC Universe is now bright.

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It’s Not Paranoia If They Are Really Out To Get You

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I am anything but a conspiracy theorist.  In fact, I basically reject most conspiracy theories?

Why?

Simple:  conspiracies require secrecy, and humans for the most part are terrible at keeping secrets.  Oh, sure, one or two people can keep a secret. But 50?  100?  Not a chance.

And thus, vast government conspiracies don’t interest me all that much.

But that doesn’t mean sometimes the paranoid among us aren’t right.

The specifics of the various scandals floating around the Obama Administration will be parried and argued, prodded and pulled, until some version of the truth comes out.  It will take years or longer for us to really understand the depth of what has happened to our ever increasingly hidden big government apparatus.

Whether we are discussing the IRS scandal in targeting conservatives, the DOJ scandal going after reporters, the NSA kerfuffle about wide ranging wiretaps, the AP and other reporters being targeted by our Department of Justice…it all comes down to a simple truth.

Our government is so massively large, no one knows what is going on.

This is, of course, the ultimate result of an ever expanding Executive branch, rarely if ever checked by the Legislative branch and the Judiciary, and even less commonly checked by the voters of America.  When you have an entity that grabs power in the name of the greater good, without anyone asking if their reasons are relevant or just, corruptions ensues.  It is the nature of humanity.

Some of these ‘scandals’ really didn’t occur out of malice, in my humble opinion.  The discussion over the National Security Agency’s massive data trove of cell phone and internet records, I honestly believe, began as a way of trying to track down terrorist infiltrators.  It began as a just cause; an honest attempt to protect America.

But at some point, the problem is the leviathan feeds itself.  The system is top secret, so the public is blocked from knowing its inner workings.  Congress is supposed to be the check-and-balance, but according to numerous Senators, including Democrats Senator Ron Wyden, they are not told everything either, because of the need to remain in the shadows.

You often get exchanges like this, when the legislative branch questions the executive:

Here’s another congressional-subcommittee transcript highlight of the week. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois asks the attorney general if he’s spying on members of Congress and thereby giving the executive branch leverage over the legislative branch. Eric Holder answers:

“With all due respect, senator, I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue.”

Senator Kirk responded that “the correct answer would be, ‘No, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress.’” For some reason, the attorney general felt unable to say that. So I think we all know what the answer to the original question really is.

And even when they ask questions, they get misleading or outright falsehoods, like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did in a Senate hearing when questioned by Sen. Ron Wyden (D).

And so, a program that began with good intentions grows, and grows, feeding upon itself, until one wonders if it s achieving its goals, or for that matter, what its goals are anymore.

Here is a simple question that must eventually be answered:  what personal information is the government not allowed to obtain, store, and mine?

President Barack Obama tried to put the horse back in the barn last week, to no avail:

“If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.” Obama added that the National Security agents behind the surveillance programs “cherish our Constitution…You can shout Big Brother or program run amok, but if you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance,” he explained.

He may be right, but there is an inherent problem:  trust is not blindly given, but earned.  And what trust was earned by this President’s administration in last year’s election is quickly melting away.

Big bureaucracies inherently are corrupt.  It is a fact of humanity.  There isn’t a single example of a growing government that isn’t rife with such backstabbing and intrigue.

Maybe we  should keep that in mind every time we choose big government to supposedly fix our societal problems.

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Memorial Day: Freedom is not Free

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Memorial Day historically is for those members of the Armed Services who valiantly fought and died for their country.  Many have served and given their lives…but many others lives were taken away, regardless of their service.  I would like to remember our military, as well as all the others, who have given their lives for this country, in one manner or another.

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Always remember: FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.

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Star Trek Into Darkness: Movie Review

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Star Trek Into Darkness continues to take us into the JJ Abrams view of the Roddenberry created world…and Abrams continues to surprise us with every turn.

The story arrives several years after the events of the first movie.  The universe that we knew with Shatner and Nimoy no longer exists; time changing events in the first film have significantly altered the reality of these characters, and the universe they live in.  And those changes have wide ranging ripple effects that leave us without truly understanding the reality as it ‘currently’ exists.

The primary villain is John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is waging a war against the Federation for reasons that are unknown at the beginning.  When those reasons become known, all hell breaks loose.

Our main characters, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) have grown into the close friendship that defined the original Star Trek series.  And at the core of this movie is their relationship…and how it grows, but differs, from the original time line that we know so well.

What has also changed in this Abrams Universe is the underlying character of Starfleet.  Roddenberry’s Federation and Starfleet were about utopian ideals; Abrams’s version is about hard realities in a new universe where the technology to destroy planets and kill billions exists.  All of a sudden, we are dealing with ‘weapons of mass destruction’ on a global scale.

Headline that difference is Peter Weller playing Admiral Marcus, the father of Carol Marcus.  Carol Marcus is a character well known to Trekkies, but in many ways, her appearance in this film is almost a distraction to the underlying reality of what is going on.

There are major spoilers, especially about specific characters, that I will leave out.  And that makes it difficult to talk in any detail about the plot.  But ultimately, what Abrams has created is a universe that is almost a ‘Bizarro’ version of the original Star Trek.

The characters, at their heart, are the same.  But nothing else is.  The utopian nature of the Federation is no more.  There is technology that now exists that should not.  And with the Vulcans basically wiped out, their calming influence on Starfleet is sorely lacking.

I have read many reviews about this movie.  It simply breaks down as follows:  if you are not a Trekkie, this is a simple action/adventure with space ships and guns, and nothing more.  A good, but not great, film.

However, if you are a Star Trek fan, and love the original series, this is a fascinating take on the original.  How can one incident change an entire universe?  Can one moment in time have such a wide ranging effect to basically change the nature of all existence?

Abrams basically says yes.

So as a Star Trek fan, I highly recommend this movie.  If you are not a Trekkie, I still recommend it, but you simply won’t understand or appreciate much of the nuance and irony.  But still, an excellent sequel, and another must see for what is shaping up to be an excellent summer movie season.

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Scandals Distract Us From The Conservative Cause

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Fast and Furious.  Solyndra.  Benghazi.  IRS targeting conservatives.  Department of Justice targeting reporters.

This week, the list of scandals has exploded, and seems endless.

Many of these scandals tell us what we already knew about the Obama administration. That they are highly politicized, they use the mantle of power to target their enemies, and that when they are incompetent and their failures are discovered, they blame anyone but themselves for the error.

As the minority party, the GOP must spend political capital investigating these issues.  It is the duty of the opposition to hold the party in power in account.  It goes to the heart of what we as Americans have come to understand as the basic ‘checks and balances’ of our Federal Government.

But at the same time, we should be wary.

It is very easy to get engrossed into the ‘culture of scandal’.  It gives some of us great joy to be finally shown as correct in our analysis of this current administration.

But there is a small truth hidden under the morass of the Obama scandals.  Not one investigation, not one whistleblower, not one new revelation will truly further the cause of conservatism.

Sure, it will give us a political advantage for some time.  As in past eras of scandal, most hurt the party in power and degrade the public’s faith in their ability to lead. Certainly, Obama’s credibility has been hurt by these stories, and will continue to be damaged.

But although it does give us a political opening, it does not ultimately lead the country down to the path of fiscal and philosophical conservatism.  That is a case that we as conservatives must make separately.  No amount of scandal will convince the public to follow us. It may convince them that Obama cannot lead them, but one does not automatically lead to the other.

So yes, keep your focus on the scandals.  Make sure those in power are held in account, especially if there was unethical and illegal activity. It is one of our duties as American citizens.

But at the same time, keep your eye on the ball.  Our primary focus should always be in furthering the cause of conservatism…and in that pursuit, these scandals are largely a distraction.

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Capitol Hill hearings today featured three compelling witnesses, all State Department veterans: Gregory N. Hicks, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Libya and the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in the country at the time of the Benghazi jihad attacks; Mark I. Thompson, a former Marine who now serves as deputy coordinator for operations in the agency’s Counterterrorism Bureau; and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic-security officer who was the top security officer in Libya.

Clearly, those that testified today appeared overall to be much more non-partisan and professional than some of the people questioning them.  Anyone that watched the testimony is going to be hard pressed to label Hicks and the others as some kind of political firebrands.  Tears were in the eyes of many of these whistleblowers, as they told of how their friends died while they watched.

A few questions clearly remain after today’s testimony:

1.  Not once, but TWICE, there was a ‘stand down’ order made on the night of 9/11/2012.  We can argue whether or not this action could have saved any lives; there is some dispute of whether the force in Tripoli could have made a difference, and whether there were other assets in the area.  Only the Defense Department review of events of that night will answer that question.

However, Hicks argues that even an Air Force fly over may have pushed the rebel insurgents back.  That is only his theory, however.

That said, we know the military was ready to move.  According to Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya, special forces in Tripoli were “furious” when they were told to stand down during the Benghazi attack. “I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson,” Hicks told the House Oversight Committee in hearings today, “He said, ‘This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.’”

Mark Thompson, the deputy coordinator for operations at the State Department’s bureau of counter-terrorism during the Benghazi attacks, testified in previous testimony, that the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST)—a special unit comprised of special-operations officers, FBI officers and diplomatic security personnel—was not deployed on the evening of the attacks.

“I alerted my leadership indicating that we needed to go forward and consider the deployment of the Foreign Emergency Support Team,” Thompson said. He added that he was told that meetings had already taken place. “I was told this was not the right time to deploy the team.”

So who made the decision to stop deployment? Maybe it was the right decision, maybe it wasn’t, but 8 months after the attack, we don’t know who in the leadership made the call.  I presume it was President Obama.

2.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was personally called by Hicks at 2 A.M. that night…did she issues the ‘stand down’ order herself?  Is that even legal?

What is more important about this call is that at that time, he told Ms. Clinton, in no uncertain terms, that this was clearly a terrorist attack, according to Ambassador Stevens himself, who told this to Hicks as the attack was starting.  Why Clinton then repeated the rhetoric that it was a ‘spontaneous protest’ days later, even at the funeral of one of the dead, remains a mystery.  Some intelligence sources in D.C. remained unsure of the facts, but if your own diplomatic personnel say it was a terrorist attack…why wouldn’t you believe your own people on the ground over intelligence sources in Washington?

3.  Following up on the previous, one thing is clear:  The “protest” about a YouTube video was a complete fabrication by the Obama administration. There was at no moment in time any evidence that this was spontaneous or that it was instigated by the video.  Not according to the people in Libya at the time.

4.  There was clear push back from allies of Ms. Clinton in allowing these whistleblowers to testify to Congress. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills on multiple occasions put up road blocks and pressured the witnesses to limit their testimony.  Why?  If Ms. Clinton supported full openness and transparency, there was absolutely no reason for these actions.

Further worsening the appearance of this, Hicks testified that he basically has been demoted; and the demotion came only after his intent to testify and bring his version of the facts came to light.  So much for whistleblower protections in the Obama Administration.

The reality is, ultimately, this testimony will do nothing on the larger scale.  Liberals dismissed this testimony without every hearing a second of it, and the media will aid their wish to remain ignorant.  They feel they know everything they need to know, even though there were numerous facts today that were omitted in the internal review performed by the State Department, and out right contradictions to testimony by Sec. Clinton and others.  It has gone so far as the White House complaining to CBS that Sharyl Attkisson, who has done brilliant work on Benghazi, should basically be ‘shut down’.  That is what transparency means to this White House and to the media today.

Furthermore, because of the lack of transparency from the White House, we don’t know who gave the ‘stand down’ order. If it was the President, he should admit it.  It was clearly his right, but to pass the buck to low level staffers who should never have had that responsibility is simply unfair.

However, Republicans have failed to show an outright cover-up.  The clearest we get to such a ‘crime’ is the Susan Rice debacle, with the repetitive blaming of the YouTube video for the riot instead of it clearly being, by all evidence even on the day of the attack, a coordinated terrorist event.  Was this a true cover-up, or was the administration really so stupid to believe their own story?  This is the most politically slanted part of the story, and my guess is neither side will accept the other’s version completely. Let us accept this much: it is reasonable to say the administration was clearly and utterly incompetent, and honestly should never have even mentioned the video in relation to Benghazi.

Ultimately, the country learned a lot about how the Obama Administration works today.  The blame, when things go wrong, will never reside with the President or his key advisers, but will be displaced to low level players that have no political leverage.  When those low level advisers try to tell their story, they are treated as pariahs and they are attacked mercilessly.  Democrats in that hearing today had no respect whatsoever for the concept of ‘whistleblower protections’, and sadly, future whistleblowers in this administration surely will have learned that lesson; they will get no protection from this President.

As for the night of the attacks, there was poor execution for any response, and even with the ‘fog of war’, the Obama people performed poorly and in hindsight, were completely taken aback by the events.  What is more disturbing is that on 9/11, one of the few days on the calendar when we should be prepared for a terrorist attack…our President and his administration were woefully unprepared.

One final point.  What is also clear, and that we have long known, is that those that died that night were left alone, without enough security, and still did their duty to our country.  They died as heroes.

This was cross posted at the Spitcracker Picayune

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Iron Man 3: Movie Review

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It has been an interesting road that Iron Man has taken over the past few years.  From progressing from what I would consider to a ‘B’ level star in the Marvel Universe (though more contemporary comic book fans tell me his popularity has been growing for years) to now being the keystone to Marvel’s entire comic book universe.  The penultimate movie of course was last year’s hit The Avengers.  Iron Man 3 begins was Marvel hopes is ‘Phase 2′, as the build up to Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, Thor 2:  The Dark World, and ultimately, Avengers 2.

But first comes Tony Stark’s foray into darkness.The events of this movie come on the heels of The Avengers.  Stark has retreated into his laboratory, tinkering with his doodads and whatnots.  He has left the crime fighting to Col. James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine (Don Cheadle), and left the business of Stark Enterprises to girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Even her security detail is not his purview, as Happy Hogan  (played by former Director Jon Favreau) plays the overbearing security leader.  Stark, like all the superheroes, now are treated on another plane of existence.  Fighting God-like aliens basically gives you too much experience to do much else.

The problem with this movie review is simple:  the producers have done a brilliant job of hiding most of the plot.  I have to admit I have seen all the trailers, and still was surprised where this story went.  The villain, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is unlike any other villain you have seen.  I will say no more.  His ‘ally’ is played by Guy Pearce, who is brilliant.  There is a simple reason why I can’t tell you much more: anything I say about the Mandarin should be considered spoiler material.   And many comic book fans will be upset about some of the changes they made from the comics…this Mandarin is not the Mandarin comic book aficionados know.

What is unique about this movie compared to the other Marvel movies is that this seems to be a self-contained story.  All the other previous movies (including some of the up coming ones) all seem to be leading elsewhere. But this story is about Tony Stark.  The great part of that is this is a character that is beloved in his own right, and really doesn’t require the greater Marvel Universe to make him fascinating.

So we get more insight to the complexities of Stark, the man.  He has given up drinking and womanizing, only to now face his own phobias and problems in other ways.  He lives in a world of existential threats, where he is target #1.  And the love of his life, Pepper, is in the cross hairs as much as he is…and he is not sure how to deal with that.

But here is the real shocking part.  You get to the end of the movie…and there are so many possibilities.  Will major characters here have roles in the future?  Tony, Pepper, Happy, the Mandarin?  Maybe, and although this story is self contained, could this story itself some how weave itself into the larger fabric of The Avengers?  It is possible, but I doubt anyone outside of the inner circle and predict the course or direction.

Overall, this is a much superior movie to Iron Man 2 (which unlike many critics, I actually like a lot).  Is it as good as the first Iron Man?  I think you can make a strong argument it is.  It cannot overcome the ‘grandness’ of The Avengers, but that was not the goal here.  The goal was clearly to add another great chapter to the Tony Stark/Iron Man arc, and they have succeeded beyond all expectations.

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The Charlie Brown Theory of Presidential Power

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Greg Sargent of the Washington Post had a complaint this week about how the media’s portrayal of Obama’s Presidency differs from reality.  He thus wrote a piece, titled, “The Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power”.

The basic explanation goes like this:  he believes many in the media believe the President can transform the political debate into any form he wants (much like the Green Lantern uses his ring of power to do the same) and thus their criticisms are unfair; they ask too much of this President.

Sargent makes some fair points.  Clearly, no President can force the issue if Congress is unwilling to listen.  And I don’t doubt for a second that this Congress largely ignores President Obama.

But the other end of the spectrum comes from liberal defenders of Mr. Obama, who, to continue with Sargent’s line of thought, buy into what I will call “The Charlie Brown Theory of Presidential Power”.

I am sure you hear the liberal complaint often: that Mr. Obama is a poor, victimized soul, because the mean, instransigent Republicans simply are unwilling to accept his glorious plans to save America.  Instead, when the President is ready to make a deal (who again, in their point of view, is willing to compromise left and right to placate the conservatives in Congerss), the Republicans, in their minds, talk and talk and talk…, and at the last second pull the football out from under him, as Charlie Brown/Barack Obama goes flying through the air and lands on his ass.  If only the GOP didn’t pull the football, Obama would surely nail the game winning field goal!

Heh.

Let us get real, shall we?  Yes, the President does not have some magical ability to bend the will of those in Washington.  He must convince, coerce, and compromise to get that done. This is nothing new.  Liberals act like this is some grand alteration in the political dynamic of our nation’s capital.

Maybe some should watch the movie Lincoln.  In that movie, we see Abraham Lincoln cajole, strong arm, and actually even bribe members of Congress in order to get the 13th Amendment passed.

This is not unique in American history; not in the least.  Go read the papers of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan….even George W. Bush.  It is the same thing.  And they had the same complaints that Obama did.

I admit the acrimony in Washington is at a recent high.  But to absolve Mr. Obama of part of the blame is ludicrous.  From his first day in office, Mr. Obama has…well, acted like the community organizer that he is.  Community organizers do not look for common ground.  They look for acrimony, tumult, and challenge the status quo (Read:  people in the center).  That has been what Obama has done.

And shockingly, many in the center and on the right oppose him.

The lesson here is that neither the ‘Green Lantern Theory’ nor the ‘Charlie Brown Theory’ are totally accurate; most analogies aren’t very accurate.  The truth is that the GOP opposes much of what Obama wants because he is far to the left of the mainstream.  Obama, on the other hand, can’t do what Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan did, which is sacrifice major components of his political beliefs, because that is not who he is.  He has been a life long agitator, not a leader and conciliator like Governors Clinton and Reagan.  It simply is not in him to make the sacrifices necessary to bring the other side to the table.

And so round and round we go.

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Reject The Gang Of Eight Plan

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As a long time personal proponent of immigration reform, I was open to hearing what the so-called Gang of 8 would come up with as a solution to our immigration problems.  I was certainly skeptical, and far from optimistic, but I was trying to be open-minded about the process.

After seeing the full proposal, and many of the specifics, it is clearly to openly state my opposition to the plan.

My opposition to the plan is not simple or reactionary, but slowly formed after reading the specifics of the bill, which do not appear to solve the bulk of  the problem that faces us today.  As follows:

1.  Fails to insure Border Security.

Any rational, thoughtful analysis of our immigration problems starts with border security.  This was the ultimate failure of the 1986 Immigration reform process signed by Ronald Reagan.  Although he was promised a security measure after the delivery of amnesty, it never occurred, and over 20 million illegal immigrants would cross our borders in the following two decades.

The Gang of Eight appears ready to repeat those mistakes in principle.  To be sure, they are talking strong about security measures.  Led by Marco Rubio and John McCain, they have promised that security will be paramount.

But what of the specifics in the package?

The bill asks the Secretary of Homeland Security “to achieve and maintain effective control in high risk border sectors along the Southern Border.”  This is defined as “effective control” as “persistent surveillance” and a 90 percent apprehension rate at three out of nine total border sectors.

Sounds great.  Except for a myriad of problems.

First, Secretary Janet Napolitano, in Congressional hearings, openly admits there is no way to measure ‘90%’ apprehension rate.   “No one number captures the evolving and extensive nature of the border,” Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about the immigration bill. “There’s no one metric that’s your magic number.”

She stated that currently, DHS uses a process of estimation that guesses at the ‘trend’ that is occurring.  This is an amorphous and virtually non-existent standard that is clearly susceptible to manipulation.

Second, the one and only strategy that over time has shown significant success in reducing immigrant crossing (other than the recession which made it economically less desirable to cross) is the border fence.  In places where the border fence was built, there was an estimate (again, by the vague DHS standard) of 80% drop in crossing.

So, of course, this gang of 8 has no serious plan to build a fence.

The legislation allows the secretary to develop a “fencing strategy” for border security…and nothing more.  In fact, there is no requirement to build ANY fencing, and there is barely any funding for the prospect anyway.

To allay the fears of skeptics, the Gang added the prospect of the “Southern Border Security Commission”.  This commission is supposed to guarantee that border security is achieved before any of the legalization processes start.  The rub is, the commission has no force of law or power to insure their recommendations.  They are a advisory group…and nothing more.  The DHS can simply override their recommendations, and still be following the law.  Even worse, the Secretary of Homeland Security is given wide latitude in enforcing the law.  Considering this administration’s laughable enforcement measures, and complete dismissal of the laws as they stand, anyone that gives them the benefit of the doubt in enforcement is a fool.

2.  Back Taxes

Marco Rubio has made a lot of comments about the ‘punishments’ that illegal aliens will have to accept on their path to legalization.  One of these is the penalty on paying back taxes.

Only if the bill actually accomplished that feat.

In fact, the bill as is does not force illegals to pay any penalties whatsoever.  What it merely requires is that they pay “any applicable federal tax liability,” defined as “all Federal income taxes assessed.”  Taxes that are assessed means only those liabilities that have been officially recorded by the IRS.  The problem, obviously, is that most illegal aliens have been paid in cash.  Thus, there is no way for the IRS to verify what liability is, in fact, owed.

Thus, an illegal alien could claim they made no money…and that they owe no penalty.  And for all practical purposes, there is no realistic recourse for the IRS.  So on top of no criminal penalty, there would also be no financial penalty for the majority of those involved.  This includes no penalties for those that stole and used illegal social security numbers, and would give amnesty to employers who knowingly hired illegal aliens previously.

3. Merit based immigration system

The modernization portion of the plan seeks to attempt to focus immigration policy on the economic needs of the country, instead of the ‘family based’ immigration system that favored relatives of those arriving on our shores, regardless of their training or background.

I support this in concept, however the current system still gives preferences to family.  Additionally, many lobby groups, including the Congressional Black Caucus, are pushing the Gang to again allow quotas from various countries around the globe, in the name of diversity.

I would prefer a system which is color blind, and based on credentials.  Have quotas based on need.  For example, let us assume you need 100,000 computer science majors.  Have a lottery, in which the names of all qualified applicants are placed.  Then every year, meet your quota.  This would be the fairest method to choose who should come, and from where.

4. Public Charge

Along the same lines as above, a rational immigration plan should block any candidates that would, with reasonable expectation, become a burden on our welfare state.  Today, this is not consider at all (look no further than the Boston Bombers for evidence).

In fact, not only does the Gang of 8 bill not take it into consideration…it specifically excludes the criteria from consideration.  It states that for the purpose of determining eligibility to register for provisional legal status — the first step on the pathway to citizenship — that section 212(a), paragraph (4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (the act of the 1952 law that prevents anyone who is deemed a risk to end up on welfare or other programs) “shall not apply.”

Not only that.  Additionally, as soon as legal residence was obtained, these immigrants would be eligible for all legal benefits.  That includes welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid.  Although theoretically it is supposed to exclude Obamacare benefits, it would give them access to the Medicaid system, at which point they would tacitly be within the Obamacare system.

This does not even begin to calculate the costs to the overall system, for which all legal residents, including all illegal aliens one year after the bill is passed, would be eligible.  Yes, some of that will be countered by increase federal taxes paid by these new legal residents, but it is not clear whatsoever if this would be a net loss or net gain to the Federal treasury.  The Gang of 8 plan simply ignores the issue all together.

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For all the talk on the Right, we still are not focusing on the real issues that most Americans are interested in.  Without going into extensive depth, here are the issues as I see them, in order of priority:

1.  Secure the border.  This will include a physical fence, border police, and drones and other electronic surveillence.

2.  Confirmation of border security success.  First and foremost, the responsibility for determining success must reside in someone other than the Federal government.  Why?  Because under this administration, we have seen the manipulation that takes place for political reasons.  No, the confirmation of success must be by some bipartisan group, preferably a group made up of both federal and state jurisdictions, where there is equal voice for both.

3.  A strong e-Verify system.  Not only must the system be foolproof; it almost must have harsh penalties, both for the immigrant and the employer. The penalties should be so harsh as to make anyone considering violating the law to think twice before even considering hiring someone without legal status.

4.  Deportation system.  This is not talked about much at all in the Gang of 8 bill.  But a simple question must be answered by anyone voting for this:  what happens to new illegal aliens that are found in this country?  Anyone that is unable to answer this simple question should not be given any credibility whatsoever.  The simple answer is that they must be deported immediately.  There should be no second chances, once this plan goes through.  However, the current plan is less than clear on this point.

5.  Legalization process.  I am ultimately not against the legalization process as stated in the Gang of 8 plan.  My preferred solution is to have those that wish to gain citizenship first return to their home countries; those that don’t want that option may state as legal immigrants.

However, I am willing to concede the point if I get the border security promises that are essential to this deal.  The reality is without giving up much more on security, there is no way any special legal exemption will pass the House of Representatives, as it stands.

I accept the argument that illegals now in this country have a form of amnesty already.  Furthermore, I accept that no drastic solution, like deportation, can ever be a realistic option.  But every argument made on this issue resides on the ability to secure the border.  Without that, there is fundamentally no reason to pass any bill.

 

This was cross posted at the Spitcracker Picayune

1

Pontifications On Boston

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I have reserved my statements on the entire Boston Marathon bombing for several reasons, but in many ways, I am glad I did.  It forced me to consolidate some thoughts that allowed me to work through my initial knee jerk reactions.

So, stream of consciousness:

1.  The instant I heard about the bombs, I prayed for the victims.  I thought many more would die than did; and although this was a horrendous tragedy, this could have been far worse.  A more enclosed or more heavily populated situation would have resulted in far more deaths and maiming.

2.  The media, again, proved itself unworthy of any faith or respect.  Virtually every network I watched within the first few hours focused on…anti-government right wing groups.  To be fair, I would not have excluded that possibility at all.  But I also wouldn’t have excluded the possibility of liberal extremists, communists, animal rights groups, etc. But this had, from the very beginning, the hallmarks of Muslim terrorists. The media simply  went with their biases, more than the little evidence they had at hand.

The inability of the media to focus on the most apparent and most likely suspects in this bombing is not disastrous, but is worrisome.  There is a weird thread of political correctness now permeating the liberal intelligentsia of our country, both in the media and within politics.  Just listen to the ambivalence of our politicians, from the President on down, to target the most likely culprits (Islamofascists), and watch their discomfort now that the culprits are proven to be Muslim fanatics.  They are having great difficulty in facing that reality.

One other mistake by the media was publishing pictures of random people with backpacks at the Marathon, the worst offenders being the New York Post.  I understand the reason, but publishing pictures of many innocent individuals seems amateurish to me.

3.  Although the media was inept during much of this story, that doesn’t really hold true for our intelligence services.  I have friends within the FBI, and very early on, as the facts of the type of bomb and other tidbits came in, they were very quick to focus on a Islamic threat.  They let the facts drive their investigation, unlike the media who apparently let their every delusion drive their stories.

4.  Applaud the Boston Police, and the task force that identified and captured the bombers.

5.  As for the Watertown lock down.  There has been a lot of talk about the legality of their forced martial law (without imposition of martial law) to capture the last bomber.

I will say this: if the police came to my house, and asked to search it, I would probably allow them to do so.

That said, the real legal question is if I refused to allow them access to my house.  See the video below…did the homeowners have the ability to refuse the police in this situation?

Even if they could have refused the police entry, then what?  Every American should have the constitutional right to refuse entry to anyone without a warrant.  What would have happened in this case?  Would they have broken down the door?  Or would they have gone and received a warrant?  Clearly, the second option would be preferable.

I think the appropriate process in this situation would have been to go and obtain a search warrant for the general area, that also included the domiciles in that area.  The search would be exclusively for the bombers, and any additional criminal evidence would not be permissible outside of the specifics of this warrant.  That would have given the police the power to search where they wished, while still giving some judicial oversight.

It will be interesting to see where the ACLU and other liberal liberty groups end up on this issue.  A review of the procedures would also be beneficial to citizens and police alike, to see what was done right, what was done wrong, and what can be done better.

6.  The facts of whether these individuals received international support in this attack still remains elusive.  But it is clear that the war on terror exists, whether this administration accepts that term or not.

7. Finally, as for the criminal process regarding Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Initially, the Justice Department did not provide Miranda rights to Tsarnaev, using a federal exemption that allows the government to reserve those rights in case of an ‘imminent threat’.  I think clearly this was the right decision.

There has been further discussion about whether he should have been treated as an Enemy combatant (EC).  I again agree with the Obama Administration.  I have been quite clear on this issue, as have most conservatives outside of the John McCain/Lindsey Graham axis.  If you are a legal American resident, you deserve all constitutional protections, no matter how evil an individual you are.

The exception to this, of course, is if you are actively working with a foreign nation or overseas terror group.  In that case, and that case alone, you could treat an American citizen as an EC.  However, the evidence does not show that to be the case yet.

Furthermore, as an American citizen, the appropriate criminal prosecution of such connections may be treason.  To try him for treason would fit the rule of law, while protecting our constitutional rights.

In this case, we simply did not have to go through an alternative legal course to receive the justice the country deserves.  The Obama Administration so far has made the right call.

This was cross posted at the Spitcracker Picayune

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