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The latest round of Ron Paul excitement reminds me of this blog’s long and rich relationship with the mad doctor. Herewith a holiday selection of oldies.

Enjoy.

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Life among the 1%:

Mr. Lolli-Ghetti has one of the world’s most expensive parking spaces, a costly talking point in a city where residents spend dearly to shelter their cars. His three-bedroom apartment at 200 11th Avenue — now on the market for $7 million — includes a 300-square-foot “en suite sky garage” that would be valued at more than $800,000 if priced at the same rate per square foot as the rest of the apartment…“Obviously, when you have a nice car, at least now you know you’re the only one touching it — it’s safe,” Mr. Lolli-Ghetti said. “I don’t think it needs views like this, but it does need heating and it wants to be inside.”

Don’t we all.

A friend*, who happens to be among the most astute observers of the political scene I know, has this to say in the wake of last night’s Republican debate:

I think he’s [Romney] going to be an unbelievably good candidate in the general. He’s Obama — a tall, handsome technocrat who instituted universal coverage — with a different coalition behind him. I now have this dystopian fantasy about how the campaign will play out:

Romney: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m not black.
Obama: I’m Barack Obama, and I’m not Mormon.
R: I’m not secretly a Muslim.
O: My religion doesn’t treat “Space Invaders” as a sacred text.
R: I don’t want to rape your daughters.
O: I won’t force them to become my sixth and seventh wives when they turn 13.

Good times. Oh, by the way, with the economy in tatters, Steve Jobs in the grave, and the nation mired in countless foreign wars, we’re considering coming back.

Time will tell.

* The Edge of the American West: new and improved and now with blind sourcing. Superpro!

D’Souza:

It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying….For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. And here is where our anticolonial understanding of Obama really takes off, because it provides a vital key to explaining not only his major policy actions but also the little details that no other theory can adequately account for.

Gingrich:

Gingrich says that D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior — the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.”

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Please account for D’Souza’s beliefs by appeal to his origins in Mumbai. Contenders: many Indians consider bathing in the sewage-filled Ganges to be purifying, and only after realizing this can you see why D’Souza tries to make the national conversation better by taking huge dumps in it; only a man raised on ghee could provide such concentrated, rarified idiocy.

God help you when Ramesh Ponnuru is the sensible one in the room.

I’ve mostly ignored this over the past few months because I believe that examining pictures of a pregnant woman with an eye to figuring out whether her shape is appropriate to the gestation of the fetus is morally degrading to the examiner.  But I have to say that I’m with Amanda here, and I’m very surprised at the quarters whence the newest round of conspiracy theory comes.

Don’t get me wrong.  It strikes me as completely plausible that Palin, a woman whose public persona is constructed around a conservative fantasy, the tough woman who proves liberals wrong by having Christ, a career, children, and a perfect coiffure, exaggerated the extent to which she was in labor during the plane flight (here’s one account, where the doc says she induced labor upon landing)  This would not be surprising for any politician whose career depends more than most on personal charisma and narrative.   I have heard that male politicians have sometimes exaggerated their influence in important legislation or their status as a war hero.

What bothers me is the epistemic leap from Palin probably isn’t wholly truthful big friggin’ shocker to Therefore, we have a right to demand the birth certificate of her child to prove that she’s  the mother. As near as I can tell the only reason anyone considers the latter question seriously is due to Andrew Sullivan’s hissy fit that started way back before anyone knew that Bristol was pregnant (which makes it next to impossible that there’s another candidate for the role of Trig’s Mother besides Sarah Palin); otherwise it would be a complete non sequitur.  Settling the question that Palin is Trig’s mother wouldn’t prove her Wild Ride story to be true or false.

The obvious parallel with birtherism annoys people, but there’s more in common than the fact that in both cases people are demanding birth certificates and bemoaning the lack of MSM interest.  In both cases, the demand for the birth certificate came after a bunch of common-sense evidence was rejected as easily fabricated.  And I’d be willing to bet that if Palin released Trig’s birth certificate tomorrow, there will still be people pointing out that sometimes adoptive birth certificates show the adoptive parents as the parents with no indication that the child has been adopted, and somewhere down in the abyss of Amanda’s comments there will continue to be arguments that because Palin was photographed wearing kitten-heeled boots, she’s can’t really be the mother.

It’s no wonder that this is happening on Barack Hussein Obama’s watch. I mean, am I right or what? And by this, I mean the fact that if Elana Kagan, the chalk pick* as President Obama’s choice to replace John Paul Stevens, is nominated and confirmed, there will be no white Anglo-Saxon Protestants left on the Supreme Court. Not one! Think about it: there will be six Catholics** and three Jews**** charged with interpreting the United States Constitution, the most sacred document in the history of ever. Somebody fetch me some tea; I’m ready to party.

* What does this expression mean? No, I’m not going to look it up. That’s cheating.

** Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and Thomas.***

*** “Thomas is Catholic?” you’re saying to yourself. “Yes”, I’m saying back at you. Because it’s true: the man is Catholic.

**** Breyer, Ginsburg, and, in this nightmarish parallel universe that used to be known as the United States of America, Kagan.

Linked for truth.  Moreover, suppose Douthat was right about the alleged permissive sexual mores of 1970s Ireland.  What, by all the angels and saints and the holy living mother of the fuck does that explain?  What is that supposed to say about the U.S.? Are we to believe that this sexual liberation permeated the Church hierarchy so thoroughly that they kept the vow of celibacy instead of permitting married priests, but decided that raping children was okay and then constructed a time machine to send the abusers back in time so the authorities could establish a track record of complete wickedness and uselessness?

Look, whether raping children is wrong is not one of the hard ethical questions.  (Maybe Douthat skipped that night at RCIA.) And deciding whether to protect the institution or the rape victims wasn’t supposed to be one of the hard questions, either.

“Contrition” does not mean find a way to blame it on hippies on another continent.  Christ on a cracker.

Oh my.

A senior Vatican priest speaking at a Good Friday service compared the uproar over sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church — which have included reports about Pope Benedict XVI’s oversight role in two cases — to the persecution of the Jews, sharply raising the volume in the Vatican’s counterattack.

The remarks, on the day Christians mark the crucifixion, underscored how much the Catholic Church has felt under attack from recent news reports and criticism over how it has handled charges of child molestation against priests in the past, and sought to focus attention on the church as the central victim.

What do you make of this, Rabbi?

Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, who hosted Benedict at the Rome synagogue in January on a visit that helped calm waters after a year of tensions, laughed in seeming disbelief when asked about Father Cantalamessa’s remarks.

“With a minimum of irony, I will say that today is Good Friday, when they pray that the Lord illuminate our hearts so we recognize Jesus,” Rabbi Di Segni said, referring to a prayer in a traditional Catholic liturgy calling for the conversion of the Jews. “We also pray that the Lord illuminate theirs.”

Heh-indeed.

Do you think that following the suicide bombing of the Moscow subway that anyone writing articles will bother explaining some of the history concerning Chechnya, or will it all get swept under the heading of monolithic radical Islamic extremism?  (Those damn Caucasian Arabs ….!  What about Iran!)*

/annoyed with reporting

*Note for the slow and tendentious:  I am not saying that the suicide bombing is justified.  Killing people is wrong.  It is a source of frustration that a suicide bombing in Moscow by Chechen terrorists is attributed to nothing more than radical Islam, which is apparently the only monolithic religion on the planet.  By parity of reasoning we should respond to the Catholic sex scandals by investigating the Baptist ministers.

I once saw Joel Garreau give a talk in which he promised (promised!) that brick-and-mortar stores would soon be gone (gone!) because everybody (everybody!) would be doing all their shopping online. Big boxes, especially, were dinosaurs (dinosaurs!), he claimed. And one of the major challenges facing urbanists would be what to do with the empty shell of the discarded consumer landscape after all of the consumers had moved to Internet. Garreau told his rapt audience that this process of creative destruction would take less than a decade.*

That was eleven years ago. And Davis’s gigantic new Target, a palace to hyper-modern consumer culture, is slated to open in less than a month.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve long had doubts about the idea that online education will spell the death of brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. But this article, coupled with the University of California’s decision to try to raise fees by A LOT over the next two years, gives me pause. My sense is that the children of relatively well-off parents will continue to go to traditional colleges and universities for the foreseeable future: to learn, for credentials, to network, for finishing school, etc. What I don’t know, though, is what will happen when some significant chunk of non-traditional students, coupled with the children of not-especially-affluent families, decide that higher education for $99/month sounds pretty darned good. What will that do to the revenue stream that colleges and universities now rely upon for survival? What will it do to the economies of scale that currently make higher education viable? And what will the ripple effects be? I guess I could give Joel Garreau a call and ask him what he thinks.

* Word to the wise: elements of this paragraph may be slightly exaggerated for effect. But only slightly. The talk, by the way, happened at a conference on cultural landscape studies held at the University of New Mexico in 1998. As part of that conference, I got to tour J.B. Jackson‘s house, which was cool.

As I am not a scholar of the law, I do not have much to add to the conversation concerning Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court.  Kevin Drum is almost assuredly correct about the end result following the mandatory political theater; Kieran Healy provides us with the program notes.

So in lieu of analysis, I have for you a mental toy inspired in part by the end of the spring semester and joyful graduation ceremonies everywhere and the rise once again, dissected here, of the zombie affirmative action meme.  (It says “GRAAADESSSS! GRAAAAADES!”)

Imagine you’re a political pundit.   Your little girl has just graduated from Yale Law School, where she distinguished herself at the Yale Law Journal.  Four years earlier you had wept with joy as your little girl, first in her family to go to college, graduated summa cum laude from Princeton.  You feel as if you would burst with pride at all she has accomplished.  You wish your father had lived to see this day….

…and as you hug her, you whisper in her ear your respica te, hominem te memento, that really, Princeton is nothing, Yale is nothing, and she’s must be an affirmative action student who never really accomplished anything at all.  You haven’t bragged to your friends.  You haven’t mentioned it.  Why would you?

What’s been amusing me in the past few days is the contrast between the hypothetical parent who would be thrilled to tears to have a child with half of those accomplishments, the hypothetical response of the friends and community of those parents, and the rush to paint Sotomayor as someone who isn’t very bright, rather common really, a dime a dozen, part of the new detestable affirmative action policy for the Supreme Court. Whatever the reasons to oppose Sotomayor legitimately, one of them is not that she isn’t qualified.

I swear you could get pundits to declare that salt is sweet if they thought there was an advantage in it.

[Editor’s note: Louis Warren, our colleague and friend, returns to write about why you should care that California has decided to self immolate.]

[Editor’s note II: This post has been updated to reflect author’s changes.]

While the scolding and the tut-tutting goes viral — “California, such a shame those weird, flaky people can’t live within their means” — it’s time for some serious reflection about how the nation’s richest, most populous state got where it is. California, home to one in eight Americans, has a GDP bigger than Canada’s. And it’s in the middle of an on-going fiscal calamity which threatens to rip our legislature apart (again). This week, the governor went to the White House to beg for federal backing of state bonds, a move which threatens to make California’s predicament a national drama.

So, whatever the solutions to California’s problems, rest assured those problems are coming soon to a theater near you, because unlike any other place, the Golden State is where the future is now. In a sense, California is the un-Las Vegas. What happens here does not stay here, it goes global. The growth of independent political voters? Auto emission regulations? The tax revolt and modern conservatism? We saw them all first in LA and San Francisco. Watts erupted in flames before any other American ghetto in the 1960s. Harvey Milk led the charge for gay rights on our televisions first. The tech boom was here first. And so was the bust.

So what explains California’s budget crisis, and what can we learn from it? In truth, the reason California has been unable to balance its budget has little to do with being an outlier, and more to do with some small, structural peculiarities that simply don’t suit a modern American state. Our politicians are about as partisan as Americans in general (read “very”). Our state tax rate is marginally higher than most others (but it is not the highest), and the level of our spending on public education and other services is also somewhat higher. So what gives?

The root of our problem is our state constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes or pass a budget. In some ways, this is peculiar. No other state requires two-thirds majorities to perform those two vital functions (although Rhode Island and Arkansas both require 66% to raise taxes, their budgets pass on simple majority votes). In other words, to pass a budget every year in California requires the same level of amity and consensus other states require for a constitutional amendment.

Where did the supermajority originate? Although many blame Proposition 13 (passed in 1978), California’s constitution has in fact been tilted this way for a very long time. The state first passed a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds majorities to approve budgets back in 1933. The rule kicked in only when budgets increased by 5% or more over a previous year. But since most budgets did increase by at least that much (California was growing by leaps and bounds), it kicked in a lot.

Even then, budgets passed with little trouble. California Republicans fought to restrain expenditures, then voted to raise taxes to cover what the budget required. Democrats fought for public education (including the nation’s most extensive system of higher education). In the 1950s and ‘60s, California took on more debt than any state in history to fund massive public works, including highways, university campuses, and the state aqueduct system (which together did much to create the wonders of LA and San Diego as we know them).

All this spending was funded by taxes and bonds, which voters approved at the ballot box. This despite the fact that in 1962, voters and legislators united to “streamline” the budget process and require two-thirds majorities for ALL state budgets. Still, Republicans and Democrats typically hammered out deals, with Republicans voting for taxes only after exacting concessions from Democrats.

So it went for another decade or so, when the rise of movement conservatism changed the terms of debate. Republicans never liked taxes, but they saw them as an unfortunate necessity. By the 1970s, conservatives increasingly sounded like the leader of California’s tax rebellion, Howard Jarvis, who condemned all taxes as “felony grand theft.” With passage of his Proposition 13, voters mandated that all tax increases required two-thirds majorities, just like state budgets.

Still, for many years, leading Republicans could contain their most conservative brethren and hammer out deals in the old-fashioned way. As late as 1991, a Republican governor (Pete Wilson) championed a tax increase and budget cuts to close a deficit. In 1994 he won re-election.

But already the tide was turning. As Wilson discovered during his abortive presidential campaign in 1995, the “No New Taxes Pledge” had become a litmus test which he had failed. This hostility to all taxes is now conservatism’s defining feature. It is also, historically speaking, quite new. More than anything else, this is what killed the consensus that drove California’s 66% majorities.

The proof is in the pudding. The state has had the same supermajority requirements for budgets for the last 47 years. But only for about the last two decades has the budget become a source of continual drama, with legislators deadlocking 18 years out of the last 22. There has been chronic division in the last ten. We are a long way from the consensus that built the Golden State.

But it’s worth observing that we’re not beyond consensus. Today, California’s state assembly is less than 40% Republican, a situation that is not likely to change much in favor of Republicans (for reasons I’ll discuss in a later post). They are stalwarts for tax cuts, but over 60% of the state’s voters have opted for higher taxes and more public services. In any other state, this wouldn’t even be an argument. But in California, it’s a crisis because of the supermajority amendment to the constitution. The state is not “dysfunctional.” It’s not “flaky.” But the constitution no longer suits political realities, and it seems bound for some kind of change. The Bay Area Council, a group of prominent San Francisco business leaders, has proposed a state constitutional convention to require only a simple majority for new budgets and taxes. Their idea appears to be gaining ground.

This all might seem a peculiar California story, but to any observant American it is a sign of the times, a symptom of the country’s divisions. The U.S. Congress has no supermajority requirement, but California’s travail is echoed in the Senate, where rules require 60 votes to end a filibuster. Democrats now control 59 seats, Republicans have 40. The empty seat is Minnesota’s, where Democrat Al Franken appears to have eked out a victory over Republican Norm Coleman in the 2008 election. That was six months ago. Since then, Republican operatives have poured money into legal appeals, tying up the business of the country, stalling health care reform, threatening a filibuster of the president’s Supreme Court nominee and many other big initiatives, to buy their flagging party some time. From the Pacific to Minnesota to the nation’s capital, California blazes a path into the future — like it or not.

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