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Reflection on AFP Defending the American Dream Summit


This weekend’s national Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit was my first AFP meeting ever…but it won’t be my last. It was conveniently located in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, but in all truthfulness, I will probably make an effort to go to future events regardless of location.

AFP does a wonderful job of coordinating and educating conservatives on policy issues and grassroots efforts, something that few other organizations on the conservative side have ever achieved.  The only organizations in America that I can really compare them to are the Unions…who have far more money and extensive structural advantages handed to them.  If you have any interest getting involved in grassroots efforts, AFP is as good a place to start as any.

The focus of these type of meetings always resides in its top speakers…and this weekend did not disappoint.  So who were the winners and losers?



Senator Ted Cruz:  He and Bobby Jindal received the most applause and pure excitement of the weekend, hands down. As for Cruz, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the first word, ready to burst in excitement.  Cruz certainly delivered the red meat: on immigration, foreign policy, Hillary Clinton..he hit every significant note that a conservative audience would demand.


Governor Bobby Jindal: This is the third time that I have seen Jindal in person. I have never been enamored with his cadence or talking points.  But I will wholly admit that this was, by far, the best speech I have seen Jindal give. It was targeted, focused, to the point….and moved the crowd.  The crowd was happy to see him at the beginning, but certainly not as enthusiastic as with Cruz. However, by the end of the speech, Jindal had them on the edge of their seats, ready to burst from their chairs in applause.  I think he certainly helped himself here, but considering his languishing poll numbers, it is probably far too little, too late.



Senator Marco Rubio:  Rubio, unlike Cruz and Jindal, decided on a more sedate, policy focused speech.  He talked extensively about education and the need to reform student loans; about the economy, and how the evolution of the modern economy requires that we evolve as a nation as well; and about the American Dream, a common focus of his speeches.  Rubio’s greatest applause lines came when talking about the greatness of America…and jokes about Hillary Clinton (server jokes were aplenty at the conference). Rubio helped himself at AFP, but on the excitement meter, he was certainly one step below the aforementioned.


Governor Jeb Bush:  By far, the biggest loser of the weekend. When he started his speech…virtually nobody applauded, other than the few intrepid souls in the audience like myself that thought it was simply polite. There was no excitement in the audience to hear what Jeb had to say.  The real irony? This was one of his better speeches.  He was correct on policy, and the speech was well crafted. The big problem for Bush is simple: there is no excitement from the base for his candidacy at all, and I am not sure how he rectifies that going forward.

Governor Rick Perry: I was hesitant to put Perry in this category.  I think he gave a fine speech, focusing on the economic revival in Texas, and why it is important to choose someone with a record of success. However, he simply could not rival Cruz or Jindal in excitement, nor could he rival Rubio on policy.  I really want to like Perry, but his inability to get this ‘home field’ crowd excited bores ill for his future prospects.

The name that hovered in the shadows through out the conference, but was barely mentioned?  Donald Trump.

I think even in this hard-core conservative environment, no more than one out of every five people were even open to the idea of Trump.  When people would try to cheer for Trump in one manner or another…the large majority of people simply politely remained silent.  Much like Bush, I can’t see how Trump would ever motivate these base voters.

I think coming out of this weekend, Cruz and Jindal were the big winners, though Cruz is obviously in a better position in the polls to take advantage of that.  Rubio helped himself marginally.  The tenor of the conference was quite clear though: the participants were angry (not furious or out of control, but a feeling of massive general discontent), and they want a conservative voice to fuel the next generation.  Which ever candidate can tap into that is going to have a powerful message going forward.



Regarding Hillary’s Emails…Grab Some Popcorn, A Seat On The Sidelines, And Watch The Show


Hillary Clinton is the midst of a slow, steady series of unforced errors.

The entire email controversy is a scandal of her own making. The original sin was to use a private email server in the first place; nobody in positions of power or in charge of protecting top-secret information can understand the logic of this initial mistake. Then, she compounded the mistake by attempting to hide the data (which was, under law, the property of the Federal government, for any records involving her time as Secretary of State), tried to destroy the data on the server, and then proceeded to lie about it. All of this, for reasons most of us still can’t really fathom.

Hillary, as any good Clinton is wont to do, is responding as predicted: she is blaming the vast Right Wing conspiracy.

Well, not in so many words…but tomato, toMAto…from Hillary Clinton this weekend:

You know what?  It’s not about emails or servers either.  It’s about politics.  I will do my part to provide transparency to Americans.  That’s why I’m insisting 55,000 pages of my emails be published as soon as possible.  I’ve even offered to answer questions for months before Congress.  I’ve just provided my server to the Justice Department.  But here’s what I won’t do: I won’t get down in the mud with them.  I won’t play politics with national security or dishonor the memory of those who we lost.  I won’t pretend that this is anything other than what it is – the same old partisan games we’ve seen so many times before.

There are many things this email controversy is about…but as Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post states…politics really isn’t one of them:

So, sure the roots of the e-mail story are partisan — at least in part. But, to quote Clinton herself: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” As in, no matter how the fact that she exclusively used a private e-mail address and server  — the first Secretary of State to do — came to light, its existence and what she has said about it are now public knowledge and not particularly partisan.

Remember that Clinton turned over the server — and a thumbnail drive that her lawyer, David Kendall, had been in possession of — this week at the behest of the FBI and Justice Department. Neither of those entities are Republican partisans.

Whether or not Clinton sent or received any classified information over the server — she has said she hasn’t although the intelligence community’s inspector general appears to have found two top-secret e-mails —  isn’t a partisan issue. She either did what she said or she didn’t. Whether or not she turned over all work-related e-mails — she deleted more than 31,000 e-mails she described as purely personal and turned over 30,000 to the State Department — has almost nothing to do with House Republicans Benghazi Committee.

You can’t blame Hillary for using this strategy. It has been quite successful for both Bill and Hillary Clinton for over 2 decades: when in a hole, blame everyone, claim victimhood, and wait for the cavalry (a.k.a., the mainstream media), to ride in and blame the opposition for everything.

As a Republican, there is a simple solution to how to respond to Hillary’s mendacity: DO NOTHING.

Let Hillary rail against the evil conservatives for pillaging her unfairly. Let her defend her past statements on the emails (which were largely lies).  Let her continue to make disingenuous statement after disingenuous statement.

Republicans should shrug their shoulders, and say “No comment; the FBI and Department of Justice are in charge of that now.”

Hillary’s best hope is that Republicans will over reach, and try to push criminal charges or Congressional hearings on this matter. Trey Gowdy has done yeoman’s work in demanding full Congressional oversight on these details, but it is now the moment to step back and take a breath.  There is a time and place for these harsh investigative tactics, but this is neither the time nor place. Any maneuver by Republicans will be used by the Clintons as a defense for her lawbreaking. Why give her such ammunition to defend herself?

Gowdy has a hearing planned in October, where Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify.  I almost wish Republicans would delay the hearing, because of the FBI investigation. If the FBI drags its feel, or doesn’t follow protocol, that is certainly a time to step in and take more forceful action. This is not that time.

No, I for one will take the lead of one of my favorites, Dule Hill…grab some fresh buttery popcorn, grab a soft, comfortable spot on my barcalounger, and chomp away while I watch Hillary struggle to answer for her past lies, deceptions, and overall incompetence.



Book Review: Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition



Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition is Nisid Hajari’s addition to the vast historical literature on the subject of the human tragedy resulting from the awkward birth of Pakistan and India. The story is well-known in general terms, but the scope of the massacre and human suffering is often overlooked. Hajari’s work adds significant detail and historical footnotes that give context to the story.

‘Partition’, in modern times, has an echo of heartache and immense loss to Indians and Pakistanis, for good reason.  Even by the standards of a century that included the Holocaust, World War II, and instantaneous losses of life such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo, the numbers involved with this period of India’s independence is outrageous.

Most estimates state that at least 1 million civilians died during the period beginning with the Calcutta riots of 1946, to the end of hostilities on December 31, 1948, and that may actually be a conservative estimate.  Approximately 15 million people left their homes and repopulated to the country of their stated religion, making it likely the largest forced human migration in human history.  It destroyed many of the long-standing inter-religious relationships that existed in India during British rule, including the close ties among Hindus, Muslims and Sikh members for the Indian contingent of the British army, who had worked side by side during both World Wars.  The repercussions continue to echo to this day, as it was the birthplace of the hatred and animosity that exists between India and Pakistan, all the way to the now prevalent nuclear race.

Hajari’s first goal seems so obvious in retrospect, after decades of distrust; but in 1947 there was a real debate that now resonates:  How could two nations (Pakistan and India) who had so much in common, and so much reason to become strategic partners if not allies, become enemies willing to fight to the death?

The answer lies in two areas: one personal, and one religious.

The personal side begins with the dynamic of the four central players involved in India’s independence.  Jawaharlal Nehru with his “high, aristocratic cheekbones and eyes that were deep pools — irresistible to his many female admirers”; the cold and stand offish Mohammad Ali Jinnah, “cheekbones jutted out of his cadaverous face like the edges of a diamond”; Lord Louis Mountbatten, great-grandson of Queen Victoria herself,  “tall and tanned,” the “Hollywood version of a British prince”; and finally, of course, the father of Indian independence and of nonviolent protest, Mahatma Gandhi.

The failure of these four men to understand their rivals and opponents, to misread their intentions at every turn, and underestimate the animosity that culture, religion, economic class, and simple personality conflicts ultimately lead to failure after failure, ultimately leading to the tragedy that became partition.

A quote echoes in my mind from the biographical tale The Pity of Partition by Ayesha Jalal. In the story, Jalal recounts a conversation between her uncle and his close Muslim friend after the riots. “I am a Muslim, don’t you feel like killing me?” her uncle responds solemnly; “Not now, but when I was hearing about the atrocities committed by Muslims . . . I could have killed you.”

This is a reality that each of the central characters in this story never understood…to the detriment of all Indians.

The religious bigotry and hatred that brought upon the violence among former friends, fellow villagers, neighbors, and even housemates has always and will always been a part of the reality of what India is, to this very day. India strives to be a secular country, which attempts to overcome these historic biases in order to create a union that allows more equal access to all. But always, bubbling under the surface, is this animosity.

Partition was a moment when that animosity broke through the surface, for the world to see. Nehru failed to understand Muslims fear of the massive Hindu majority, and his blind idealism blinded him. Gandhi was even a greater idealist, and his waning days, ill and weak, he didn’t have the power to intercede when needed. Mountbatten was the voice of a dying empire, who was more interested in their bankruptcy treasury than the small details that would have made the partition go smoother. And Jinnah, who often takes the brunt of the blame for many reasons (but probably in reality deserves less of the blame than he regularly receives) was arrogant, single-minded, and thin-skinned…all traits that served him ill.  The leaders at the time denied the reality of India and their own personal relationship with the greater nation, at great cost to the citizens of India and Pakistan.

If there is a weakness in this book, it is that Hajari does understate the case for partition, from the eyes of Pakistanis.  Key names in the origin of Pakistan, like Muhammad Iqbal, the philosophical founder of the country, were largely left out. Ultimately this doesn’t distract from the thesis of the book, but it does leave out nuance of the Muslim position that the reader would not have without reading from other sources.

The book is far from perfect, as any book that confronts such a divisive and partisan historical period would be. But in toto, the author does a magnificent job conveying the horror and immensity of the human tragedy that unfolded, and showing how the failures of a few, very mortal and imperfect men, led to not only that tragedy, but decades of distrust and even current hate for two of the largest countries on the planet.

Other recent books, including  Dilip Hiro’s The Longest August, Yasmin Khan’s The Great Partition, Patrick French’s Liberty or Death, and Alex von Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer are all fine alternatives, but simply put, none are as enjoyable or thorough as Hajari’s entry.

One question Hajari doesn’t really attempt to answer: whether partition was worth it.  The scale of the devastation possibly makes this question unanswerable, being too much for any single person to comprehend and allocate.

However, India is now an emerging superpower, who has had a female and Sikh Prime Minister, and a Muslim president; whose most famous actors/actresses are both Muslim and Hindu; and whose richest industrialists and business magnates count Sikhs, Jains, and Muslims among them. Pakistan continues to lag, largely because of religious forces, but also has always had immense potential. Both countries are nuclear powers, and thus, deserve a voice on the international stage.  The subcontinent teems with vitality and possibilities.

The question is, as always: did partition serve either country well, or were they worse off for it?

Like most people confronting that question, I will defer to answer; I think that question is far above my pay grade.



First Republican Debate


I have purposefully avoided commenting too much about the GOP nomination race.  I’ve been through enough of these races to know that virtually nothing worthwhile happens in the summer before the primaries. That was compounded this year, with the emergence of Donald Trump to the race.

But the first debate deserves some commentary, so here are my initial thoughts, in order of the Fox News ranking:

1. Donald Trump: Trump hurt himself from the get go. Bret Baier began the night with maybe the most impressive question a debate ever has begun with: would the candidates promise not to run as a third party candidate?

Trump of course would never make that promise…and lost the crowd immediately. This is where being a Republican matters. I still believe much of Trump’s support comes from fringe GOP voters, not voters that make up most of the primary electorate. Tonight was the first example of this discord.

Trump then went on to insult Megyn Kelly (after she asked a tough question about his relationship with women)…and the night went downhill from there.

I have no idea of what effect this will have on his poll numbers.  Who knows what his supporters believe at this point. I can say without any doubt that this hurt his chances among GOP primary voters.

2. Jeb Bush: Jeb is Jeb. He is boring, competent, plodding, unexciting, but steadfast. If milquetoast is what you want, Jeb is your man. He didn’t hurt himself, but I don’t think he helped himself either.

3.  Scott Walker: Walker calls himself boring, and in some ways he is.  I think like Jeb, he didn’t hurt himself at all. He probably helped himself in small ways, repeating his successes in Wisconsin against withering attacks from liberals and Unions.

4. Mike Huckabee: OK, for me, this was a clear disconnect. I didn’t care for virtually anything he said. But there is no question that he connected with base voters at times.

5. Ben Carson: I really liked Carson. He was shallow on policy details, and that will always dog him. But he had, by far, the best closing statement of the night, and that helped redeem him.

6. Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz had a very good night. When he went on the attack against Obama and his abuse of executive power, he was very strong.  Cruz maybe had his best moment when he talked about sanctuary cities, and the bill he wrote in response to the murder in San Francisco.

7. Marco Rubio: Rubio had an excellent night. Like Cruz, when he was able to get to his core issues, he was commanding and, maybe most important, appeared Presidential.

8. Rand Paul: Paul started the night by going after Trump, somewhat successfully.  But then, he seemed combative with everyone, eventually getting into a fierce fight with, of all people, Chris Christie. Strategically, this was a mistake. It wasted time on a candidate that Paul has nothing to gain from, and even worse, he probably lost a winnable argument to Christie.

9. Chris Chrisite: Christie had a solid night, actually. Problem is, he has no chance of rising in the polls enough to challenge the top-tier. He carries far too many negatives at this point.

10. John Kasich: Kasich had a very good night as well. His form of ‘compassionate conservatism’ came over nicely, especially in the question regarding how he would react if his daughters revealed they were gay.  Of course, Kasich did make some factual errors regarding Medicaid expansion in Ohio, and often avoided the central questions asked, but still he came off as reasonable and competent.

Others: I wanted to include the members of the earlier debate. Carly Fiorina, by far, won the afternoon debate. She was personable, likable, and demonstrated a command of the issues. She was also the most effective critic of Hillary Clinton by far. Ironically, her most publicized moment may have come after the debate, in a scuffle with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. That can be seen here, but in short: she took Matthews to the woodshed, and looked commanding doing it.

Sadly, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal had mediocre debate performances at best.  It will be very difficult for them to gain traction as we go forward. The other candidates are, for all practical measures, non-entities.

My overall take?

I think it is very hard to pick a winner from such a broad debate stage. If I forced to choose, I would say Marco Rubio came out on top. He appeared steady, Presidential, with a command of the issues and the ability to attack when needed.

Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee probably helped themselves out to varying degrees. I will really be interested in seeing if Carly Fiorina’s performance gives her any traction. She probably deserves some; I honestly wonder if she would have won the night debate, if she had been on stage.

Jeb Bush was boring and competent, and he will always be boring and competent. Is that enough to win the nomination?

Chris Christie and Rand Paul are just biding time, I think. Neither made a strong case to go forward for too long. Paul at least has the support of a libertarian base to continue onward; Christie really has no such argument to make.

The $60 million question?  How much did Trump hurt himself? I would say he was boorish, clownish, and largely unresponsive to questions…but that didn’t stop him from surging to first place to begin with. I make no predictions about how this will affect his poll numbers; I have long ago given up on predicting what will happen in regards to Donald Trump.

One last point: I was very skeptical of Fox News and their format, but Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace did as fantastic a job as could be expected in this kind of setting. They deserve a lot of credit for running a very enjoyable debate.




Ant-Man: Movie Review



For fans who are not familiar with the Marvel Comic history, Ant-Man seems like a bad joke; a flashback to the heydays of low-quality science fiction B movies.

In fact, Ant-Man (at least in his original iteration, Hank Pym) was always want the integral members of the Avengers. As one of the founding members, and resident geniuses, of the group, Ant-Man was every bit as important to the team as Iron Man and Captain America.

For obvious reasons, Marvel very early on decided to delay a Ant-Man movie.  It is hard enough to get the non-comic book reading public to buy into Thor and mystical objects from space, without having a character that can miniaturize and control ants. That said, Ant-Man is able to deliver as a nice addition to the 2015 summer blockbusters.

The story begins with an introduction of Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas, who we discover was the original Ant-Man). In this movie iteration of the story, Pym was a superhero decades earlier, in an era long before the Avengers. Pym had been a key part of the science team for S.H.I.E.L.D., the global police force, until he feared they would steal his secret technology of miniaturization and abuse that power.

Pym however has been pushed out of control of his own company by his protegé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), as well as his own daughter, Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly). We soon discover that Hope (who, as we find out, has a troubled history with her father) has a coming-to-Jesus where she realizes her mistake too late.

Pym is looking for a new hero to wear his Ant-Man suit, and to defend his life’s work from the abuse from evil hands.  In that quest, he finds his hero in the likes of a petty, convicted burglar, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

The biggest fear for movie producers of these type of films is that they will look cheap or silly. Ant-Man has that problem more than many other characters. As ridiculous as the character’s name is (and they don’t shy away from making fun of the name), the ability for him to control, ride, and use ants could have been ludicrous if done incorrectly. Instead, they make the interaction with the miniature world seem to be exciting, and actually fun to watch.

What makes this movie work however, in ways that Age of Ultron did not, was that this was a much more personal story. We grow to learn who these characters are, and cheer for them to succeed in what ultimately becomes in some ways a classic heist story.  Ant-Man also seems somewhat more lighthearted than any of the recent additions to the Marvel Universe, including Age of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The stakes here are significant, but can’t compare to the global annihilation in those movies. Thus, it allows the characters just enough leeway to be loose and relaxed, instead of waiting for the apocalypse.

In many ways, I enjoyed this movie far more than Age of Ultron, not that I disliked the latter film. This movie is not groundbreaking at all; people will recognize several very similar plot analogues to Iron Man for example.  But after the dull seriousness of the past few movies (despite their excellence) it was fun to watch Marvel get back to just making a fun movie.

Ant-Man concludes Marvel’s ‘Phase 2′ roll out of new heroes for the new Avengers. The end credits help set up several major characters that will be integral in the coming Captain America: Civil War movies, as well as the ultimate Infinity War series.

Overall, this was simply a nice, fun classic summer superhero movie, that doesn’t prove a game changer, but definitely adds to the ever-growing Marvel Comics Universe.









The Soft Bigotry Of Progressive Arrogance

There has been a great deal of discussion about racism in society in recent weeks, especially in connection to issues such as the Baltimore riots, relationship to poverty, and even the First Lady’s aversion of museums.

However, one trend that has gained more traction in recent years is a form of soft bigotry that is pervasive among the extreme Left, especially among Progressives.

This came to the forefront this week in my mind because of the behavior of Bloomberg News Editor Mark Halperin. Halperin, in a much documented interview with Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, asked a serious of questions that can only be termed as ‘race baiting’.  His questions centered on Cruz’s ethnicity more than any intellectual or policy positions held by this distinguished man.

This correlates quite nicely with how many, if not most, progressives view ‘Non-Liberal Minorities’.  Anyone in a minority group who does not conform to the Progressive ideology is considered an anomaly, to be outed and criticized.

In a time long past, they would be using the term “Uncle Tom”.

Halperin’s interview is actually only a microcosm of the problem. Ask any minority conservative how Progressives treat them and their ideology, and a very common theme arises: one in which the Progressive is aghast that a minority can hold a conservative ideological position. And therefore, since their viewpoint is an anathema to their cultural background, the conservative must prove their ‘worth’ when it comes to minority status. thoughtcrime

This reaction is fundamentally based in arrogance, ignorance, and ultimately…a form of soft bigotry.

The fundamental position held by Progressives that act this way is that they, and their cohort of believers, know better than any other individual how best to think. Furthermore, that ideological position is so certain, so foundational in their minds, that any minority that holds a belief in opposition must be either stupid, deluded, ignorant, or must be actively being paid to hold such a position.

Of course, a corollary of this is the behavior of Gay activist when a prominent Gay Hotel owner in New York City decided to [GASP!] talk to Senator Ted Cruz.  Mati Weiderpass and his partner, Ian Reisner, were inundated with hateful attacks from Leftists and Progressives after hosting a sit down chat with Cruz. The simple act of sitting down and eating with someone who disagrees with you is apparently a bridge too far for many on the Left.

In an editorial Sunday, Weiderpass took his critics to task:

In the U.S., if the rights to free speech, expression, and association are whittled away, the gay community along with most other minority communities will be vulnerable to losing all that has been gained.  Shunning dialogue with political opponents is not the road to advancement.

Beyond the free speech issues, what this shows again is the inability of many on the far Left in this country to accept true diversity of ideas. They are sadly intellectually limited only to a diversity that they can see visually; any deeper philosophical diversity is beyond them.  Fundamentally, if one does not conform, they do not deserve to exist, in the Progressive mind. And that goes double for those of us that are minorities, because, apparently…we should know better.

The presumption that any group, whether it be based on race, creed, sexual identity, or some other superficial criteria, should only think a certain way is inherently prejudiced, racist, or bigoted. A tolerant society would accept every thinking person for their belief system, and their individuality…and ideally, would try to understand their intellectual position, instead of relying on the most inane component of that person’s being. Until progressives reach this type of acceptance…bigotry will continue, just in a form that we are historically not used to.


Avengers: Age of Ultron: Movie Review



Marvels Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon, is the third largest worldwide grossing movie of all-time, reaping in over $1.5 billion.  As such, it was a no brainer to bring in the Marvels team for a second go around.

The problem facing Whedon and the producers of this sequel is the problem always faced by Hollywood with action sequels:  “What’s bigger and badder?” What threat to humanity could invoke more emotion and anxiety?

In our first movie, do recall, aliens invade Earth in order to subjugate all of mankind, only to be stopped after the absolute destruction of Manhattan.

So how do you possible elevate the game?

Whedon chooses to try to go small first.  The movie largely begins by going back to the characters themselves, each with their own lives and goals.  Joss Whedon does try to make this a more intimate get together, although that was likely always impossible in a film like this.

Whedon never seems to take himself too seriously, and that ultimately lets the viewer ‘go with the flow’ with sometimes silly, occasionally outrageous plot lines.  The scene with the Avengers playing with Thor’s hammer is a perfect example.

What’s fascinating is how Whedon uses Hawkeye and Black Widow, our most ‘human’ Avengers, to play prominent roles, in many ways as the viewers’ surrogate participants among their ‘God-like’ partners. In many ways, Whedon uses their experiences as a window into how average, normal humans would react to this war among the erstwhile immortals that rule over us.

In a sense, the destruction and the reality of humanity teetering on the verge of planetary apocalypse is almost a backdrop to the characters themselves.  Literally any ‘end of the world’ scenario would work here…because that ultimately isn’t really even the focus of the movie.

That said, the big new bad guy is Ultron…an artificial robotic lifeform (voiced by the impeccable James Spader) who Tony Stark initially envisions as a protector for the planet. That plan does not go so well…as Ultron gains a newfound hatred for the species that created him. Spader brings a level of charm (dare I say, a level of humanity?) to the character that makes him seem somewhat more foreboding than a robotic voice would do.

The movie ultimately does pay off, but in a sense…we have been here, done that.  The actions scenes are fantastic, as you would come to expect in any Marvel movie.  But at this point, is there any action that could ‘wow’ us anymore?

This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. It simply means no new ground is broken here, there is nothing we haven’t seen before.  Whedon has said he wanted to make Age of Ultron a shorter, more intimate film than his first Avengers movie. In that, he failed completely; in many ways, this is a louder, less personal film, largely because of the necessities of commercialism and the need to expand the ever growing Marvel Universe.

But that said, intimate is not what comic books are about. They are about action scene to action scene, about global threats and heroes at the edge of their limits. This movie does certainly deliver on that.

There are scenes that will initiate nerdgasms (especially the introduction of Vision to the series, but that discussion I’ll leave for another day), but for the average viewers, this is your usual, summertime romp.  Not evolutionary, but still a blast. It does sets up the future Civil War plot line nicely, and I can’t wait for the potential of an all out war among heroes, with Spiderman joining the fray.

For the comic book devotee and science fiction fan, however, this is just another episode in one of the great gifts Hollywood has presented us in the modern golden age of science fiction of the past two decades. Enjoy it while it lasts.




The Silly, Unintellectual ‘Religious Freedom’ Debate


There are few public policy disagreements that show the poor level of intellectual discourse in America as well as the recent uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has demonstrated.

In the past week, innumerable disingenuous, dishonest arguments about the intent, character, and goals of RFRAs has come from all sides, largely amounting to no real advancement of the debate.  We have, however, successfully called each other bigots, Nazis, Brownshirts, and other names, all the while not truly discussing what is a real, and rather fascinating, debate about how a free society deals with disparate belief systems in the public sphere.

I am no legal expert, so I will leave the intricacies of the various state and Federal statutes to those that are much more knowledgeable.  I think we have seen some excellent articles from Josh Blackmon (who has several great posts, including those notably on his blog and in the National Review), Eugene Volokh, Jonathan Adler, Gabriel Malor, and many, many others.  I will happily defer to them on the myriad of legal issues involved with these cases.

However, where the debate has failed miserably is in the philosophical discussion of what human interaction means in America, and what is required of us in a free, equitable society.

What is missing from this debate is understanding that free association in a free society not only allows for equal access to all, but allow for individuals to opt out of participation when they so choose. And opting out of public issues, when you are an individual, is wholly within the sphere of freedom in a diverse society.

I think the major confusion comes from whether you think a person is acting in the ‘public’ arena or not when they interact in some form of commerce. When we get down to the complaints from social conservatives on religious freedom, versus complaints from progressives on complaints about discrimination, this is where the conflict arises.

First, let me say that a ‘public’ entity should be open to all. Some libertarians disagree with this, but I believe this is where the line should be drawn.  Absolutist libertarians believe all free association should be voluntary.  I sympathize with that belief philosophically, but in all practical terms such a system could not exist in America as it exists today.

A ‘public’ entity is one that has entered into a virtual social contract with the community to provide goods and services to everyone in that community. One does not get a permit to open a restaurant in any city in America to only serve people they deem fit based on arbitrary criteria.  The same goes for gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. On the other hand, if an entity wishes to be private, that is their choice too; but then they will be treated as such, with the more limited government interventions that go along with that type of business.

The question then becomes, what is ‘public’?  Clearly, any business that accepts ‘walk-in’ customers, in my humble opinion, should be considered, as my list above shows. Additionally, any service deemed ‘emergent’ must be included: that includes medical care facilities, car repair shops, ambulance service, etc. I find very few people willing to allow restaurants to pick and choose which customers it is willing to serve based on race, culture, creed, or sexual orientation. And nobody wants to restrict access to services in case of any type of emergency.

If we establish that truly open public entities do have to meet a much higher burden, then what controversy is left?

The more troublesome question for many may be, what is deemed ‘private’?  Here in lies the battlefront of the culture wars. If you are an independent professional, such as a photographer…should you be forced to travel to, participate in, and perform duties at a gay wedding? Or for any wedding, for that matter? Or any religious ceremony?

How about a web designer?  Should a Jewish web designer be obligated to do websites for antisemitic groups? Or, even, right-wing extremist Christian or Muslim groups? Under the construct logically built by many progressives, that is precisely the standard they would apply.

There are going to be gray areas in any legal construct, and this one is certainly no exception. What do we do about a bakery, who has a public store, but also does private catering? I think the question answers itself: the bakery as a public entity cannot discriminate on these issues; but the catering business, which is not public and is an ‘At Will’ commercial entity, should be able to.

To presume that government retains the power to force an individual into such a scenario is very troublesome.  We can come up with all sorts of absurd scenarios: an African-American singer at a KKK rally; a gay designed at a party held by Westboro church; a Muslim waiter at a pig roast.

Of course, those are uses of absurdity to prove the point.  We in our society try to allow as much personal choice as possible, whenever possible. But what if that choice appears discriminatory to one of the participants? Is that personally legally bound to serve the other, because of their hurt feelings, or general belief that they are being hurt based on the choice of that other person?

The other question we must all face is, how much burden to we place on each party?  My driving intent is to place as little burden on each party as possible in order to allow them to follow their own personal choices.  A gas station that limits access to certain individuals could potentially place an enormous burden on a gay couple running out of fuel. On the other hand, if a wedding photographer refuses to perform at a wedding…is the burden to find another photographer so great as to require government force to impose that will on that individual?  That does not seem reasonable; and when such a case arose last year, more than 80% of Americans (with supermajorities of both Republicans and Democrats) believed that was a step too far.

Let me make two points, both more political than philosophical. I think conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that homosexuals do have a lot of right to complain about how they have been treated.  Additionally, many conservatives never came to their aid, when their rights were clearly being diminished. The fact that they have trouble trusting conservatives in general is not unreasonable. Conservatives must make an attempt to bridge this distrust.

However, the progressives that have led this fight have been quite illogical in their response. These same people who do not like arbitrary refusal of service based on moral beliefs are the same people who applaud when a musician refuses to allow Republicans fair use of their music during campaigns. Every four years, we hear about how Republicans struggle to find music they can use, because…the music industry is discriminating against conservatives.

The day progressives demands musicians should require all politicians be allowed to use their music as is deemed reasonable under the law…I will believe they really believe what they are saying.  I am anxiously waiting for the moment Miley Cyrus’s music is used by a pro-life, social conservative Republican..and she demands that her work product not be used because of her moral stands.  The schadenfraude would be tremendous.  Of course, considering the quality of her music, I likely will be waiting a long time for such an occurrence.

Like any personal freedom in a public society, the discussion of the protections of religious freedoms when it involves free association of individuals and interaction of citizens with the public is a difficult on, especially upon first glance.  But if we are willing to contemplate the practical realities involved, and try to defer to individual choice as much as possible, solutions do start to emerge. The greatest failure of our political process today is its failure to bring about such sensible discourse; the debate over Indiana’s RFRA is just the latest, but not the last, of these types of ludicrous discussions.



The Path To Free Market Health Care: Philip Klein’s ‘Overcoming Obamacare’

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Conservatives have been mesmerized by the discussion of how we find a way to roll back the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislation.  The number of pages written on the subject must be in the millions.

And despite that, Philip Klein‘s book, Overcoming Obamacare, does a better job than almost any of its predecessors to succinctly and aptly describe the hurdles conservatives face in reaching that goal.  Even in the week since the book was published, many have written about their opinions about Klein’s view of the landscape.  Just to give some perspective, I point you to my favorite reads on the subject from Mark Hemingway, Aaron Carroll, Veronique de Rugy, and Ezra Klein.  I believe it is well worth a read for health policy experts, politicians, and average citizens that want to get their heads around the very complicated and important subject.  And frankly, at $2.99 on Amazon for the Kindle version, it is readily accessible to everyone.

Klein begins the book by providing a nice synopsis of the evolution of the ACA, what Democrats intended to achieve from the beginning, and the multitude of compromises they made to get the complicated ‘Rube Goldberg’ (Paul Krugman’s words, not mine or Klein’s) system passed in order to achieve their long-term goal: single payer health care.

But where Klein’s book excels, and takes us past previous Obamacare books, is his breakdown of where the conservative attempts for pushing back the ACA’s government over extended regulations and restrictions stand.  He concisely breaks down these political camps between the Reform School, Replace School, and the Restart School.

The Reform School proposes to roll back many of the taxes and regulations of the ACA, while not fully repealing the law wholesale.  It’s biggest and most vocal proponent has been Avik Roy, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Editor of the opinion page at Forbes.  Roy has published an extensive, specific plan called ‘Transcending Healthcare‘, which lays out specifically how he would transform the current health care exchanges into a more free market system, reduce federal regulation and taxation, all the while providing more choice to American consumers, reducing the overall taxpayer costs in health care, while also covering more citizens than is currently expected to be covered under Obamacare.

As Klein notes, the harshest critics of the Reform School largely lie within the Replace School.  The question ultimately lies upon how much you believe Obamacare can truly be repealed. Those that believe the entire law can be repealed, without any or little political cost, prefer repeal. Those, like Roy, who see complete repeal as unlikely because of the millions of people who would lose health care insurance under such a strategy, feel that a different path is necessary.

The Replace School, on the other hand, firmly believes that the entire Affordable Care Act can and should be repealed; and then, if that occurs, put in place a true conservative vision of free market health care.  Led by such commentators as James Capretta of the American Entreprise Institute and Yuval Levin of the National Review, this group largely believes that we cannot reform the current system until the damage of Obamacare is remove.  Capretta has written extensively on the subject, and has submitted his own extensive plan on the subject.

The most extensive proposal in this school, however, is by the Republican Senatorial triumvirate of Tom Coburn, Orrin Hatch, and Robert Burr. The Burr-Coburn-Hatch proposal would have completely repealed the Affordable Care Act, and replace it. This plan would have dramatically decreased federal regulations on states, allowing them far more leniency in developing their own regulations, while covering slightly more individuals than Obamacare while spending less money.

The final school Klein outlines is the Restart School.  This school is most famously identified with Sen. Ted Cruz, although I would argue its biggest true propoents are Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, for one, has submitted the America Next proposal for health care reform.  It was far more radical in its approach than the other plans listed here, largely because of its radical reform of the employer based system.  As such, it requires the end of the Affordable Care Act, which is largely built on the employer mandate and the presumption that most Americans will continue to receive health care through their employers.  It also in many ways requires the end of the employer sponsored insurance system that has been the foundation of health care in the U.S. since the 1940s.  Therefore, it is hard to envision such a plan not to cause widespread disruption and anxiety.

As Klein admits, there are many whose positions overlap these three broad ‘schools’.  However, I think Klein does a great service to conservatives by simplifying where the current conservative positions stand.

By providing a ‘gestalt’ view of conservatism’s health care positions, Klein allows many who don’t follow the specifics and intricacies of the health care reform debate to start to build a ‘ mental construct’ of how to approach the entire issue. I have found that those that are politically savvy but not necessarily knowledgeable about health care find this entire debate off-putting. In fact, I found this to be a common symptom of how Congressmen and Senators approach the issue; it is easier for them to use platitudes and generalities in their responses to health care reform, instead of truly understanding the cost and benefits of each strategy to reform the system.

I also think that for many, we have gone through an evolution on this.  Four years ago, I would have definitely placed myself in the ‘Restart School’.  I fundamentally didn’t believe that Obamacare could be adequately reformed, and therefore, only a complete overhaul was appropriate.

However, I personally believe that we crossed the Rubicon with the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012.  Once the exchanges and Medicaid expansion occurred in full force, we had lost the short-term window for a full repeal.

As of 2015, the landscape is far different than it was in 2012.  Millions, in one manner or another, and for better or worse, have been insured under the Obamacare system, largely with subsidies and direct benefits from the government. It is possible to roll back these measures, but once started, that rollback will have to be incremental to be truly politically viable.

Klein’s book is a short, succinct tome that everyone truly interested in understanding the strategies necessary for conservatives to return health care to a free market model should read and try to assimilate into their own thinking process.  I think it is now essential reading for all conservative politicos and Republican politicians, along with items such as Avik Roy’s health plan and Tom Coburn’s extensive writings on the subject.  Conservatives need to, in short order, decide on a reasonable political strategy forward, while also balancing the most cost efficient, free market approach to health care that we can possibly pass into law.  As such, Philip Klein’s submission to this literature is a worthy addition.



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