Is Paul Appealing–Or Appalling?

We’ve got a link in our “Picks” section this morning to Bret Stephens’s Wall Street Journal column mockingly titled “Rand Paul for President,” whose subhed suggests that perhaps the GOP, like Democrats in the 1980s, needs to suffer a landslide defeat to get its head on straight.  Stephens thinks Rand Paul’s “bark-at-the-moon lunacy” would be just the ticket.

Paul’s partisans will discount Stephens as part of the neocon conspiracy.  But can the same be said for National Review editor Rich Lowry, whose column today sounds similar notes:

The oil-services company Halliburton is an old obsession of the anti-Bush Left, and evidently of Kentucky senator Rand Paul. . .

Rand Paul is a good-natured, thoughtful, and creative politician, and the GOP benefits from having such a high-profile figure who doesn’t look or feel like a typical Republican. But he will soon be running for an office where your view of the world matters profoundly, and his instincts sometimes seem more appropriate to a dorm-room bull session than the Situation Room. . .

You don’t have to be a war profiteer to consider this dewy-eyed foolishness. Barack Obama’s can’t-we-all-get-along naiveté didn’t hurt him in his primary fight in 2008, but he was running in the other party. Rand Paul is running in a party that, while chastened on foreign policy, still has a hawkish reflex — and not because it is beholden to Halliburton.

This is about get interesting—and quite acrimonious, too.  (Probably including our own readership.)

TCM at 20

The TCM (Turner Classic Movies) cable channel celebrated its twentieth anniversary yesterday. It did so in grand style, rebroadcasting movies from its first day on the air (Gone With the Wind and It Happened One Night). After GWTW, TCM broadcast an interesting interview with host-for-life Robert Osborne conducted by Alec Baldwin.

I have been a high volume consumer of TCF roughly since day one. I am a little vague on Ted Turner’s acquisition of the rights to just about every worthwhile movie ever made, but with TCM, he is putting them to good — even ingenious — use. The films are broadcast on basic cable uncut and uninterrupted, usually with a knowing introduction by Osborne or colleague Ben Mankiewicz. Incidentally, other than the fact that Mankiewicz’s grandfather wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane, I don’t know how he qualifies for the job, and his limited repertoire of hand gestures is distracting.

TCM regularly features silent films as well as classic foreign films with subtitles. It draws on a library that is deep and wide.

Terry Teachout declares TCM’s milestone “an important cultural anniversary.” He saluted TCM in a good Wall Street Journal column over the weekend. In the column he raises reasonable concerns about TCM’s future.

Before reading the column, concerns about the viability of TCM had never crossed my mind. Such threats to TCM had never come close to making my worry list. TCM was the refuge from my worry list! Now I’ve got one more thing to worry about. Thanks, Terry!

Looking back on the past 20 years with TCM, I find that one movie I discovered on TCM stands out for me: Christmas in July, written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring Dick Powell. It provides a brilliant, hilarious, thought-provoking insight into the relationship between talent and opportunity, among other things.

When I fantasize that TCM has invited me to join Robert Osborne for a gig as a guest programmer, I draw attention to a few underappreciated films that I have enjoyed several times over on TCM:

1. Cool Hand Luke: A funny, moving, audacious American film full of great lines.

2. Two For the Road: Written by Fredric Raphael, directed by Stanley Donen, maybe the wittiest film ever made.

3. My Favorite Year: Peter O’Toole enters the world of Your Show of Shows and its famous writers’ room. O’Toole, of course, saves the day.

4. The Man Who Would Be King: Directed by John Huston, starring Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer Sean Connery, a magnificent piece of storytelling.

5. High and Low: Akira Kurosawa adapted one of Ed McBain’s pulpy 87th Precinct novels into a work of high art and profound humanity.

6. Smiles of a Summer Night: Ingmar Bergman does romantic comedy. The film served as the source of the Sondheim musical A Little Night Music. I omit Bergman’s many other masterpieces from this list only because they aren’t underappreciated.

In his column, Terry Teachout doesn’t reckon with a future for TCM after Robert Osborne. The day will inevitably arrive when Osborne moves on. It seems to me that he has added much to the channel over the past 20 years. His eventual retirement must count as a threat to the channel up there with the shifting demographics Teachout writes about.

Premium rates soar under Obamacare

Fox News reports on a recent survey of 148 insurance brokers which shows that Obamacare is sending premiums upwards at the fastest clip in decades. The survey, conducted by Morgan Stanley, shows an increase in premium costs nationally of about 12 percent. California experienced a 53 percent increase; in Florida the increase was 37 percent; Pennsylvania’s was 28 percent.

According to Fox, analysts attribute the higher costs primarily to Obamacare:

“There are certain regulations and certain requirements that had to be in there. And because of that it’s driven up the costs of these benefits,” says John DiVito of the Flexible Benefit Service Corporation, which represents hundreds of agents.

The hikes reported in the survey are for the first policies issued under ObamaCare in 2014. Next year is likely to be worse:

“They’re going to see an announcement that next year’s premium’s going to be 25 percent or maybe 50 percent higher than what they’re now paying,” says John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

John Divito of Flexible Benefit Service Corporation says, “we’re reading studies where the rates could be 10 to 30, 40 percent higher. Again, it all depends geographically where these rates are being looked at but definitely an increase in rates.”…

Insurance executives say the same thing. Marc Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, recently told an earning conference that he anticipates 2014 spikes of 20 to 50 percent, going as high as 100 percent in some markets.

The suggestion that the Democrats’ Obamacare worries are behind them because more than 7 million people signed up for it is bunk.

Happy Birthday, Mustang

The Ford Mustang turns 50 years old this week.  Ford’s financial wizards projected that it would sell 100,000 to 125,000 units in the first year.  Even though the car got good advance reviews from the trade press, Ford’s bean counters were unenthusiastic about the Mustang because they feared the Mustang would cannibalize sales from other Ford models.  The Mustang sold 418,812 units in the first year, earning Ford over $1 billion in profits.  The smash success of the Mustang established the reputation of the Ford marketing man who had pushed the project against the company’s apathy: Lee Iacocca.  Well, that may be one thing we can regret about the Mustang.

Here’s a quiz I give my environmental studies students: Have a look at the first picture below, of a 1969 Mustang, parked in a driveway with the motor off.  The second picture is a  2013 Mustang, roaring down the road at 60 mph.  Question: which one gives off more air pollution?  (Answer below the photos.)

69 Mustang copy

2013 Mustang copy

If you’re very clever (or keep up with Matt Ridley), you’ll know the answer is that the parked 1969 Mustang gives off more air pollution, in the form of unburned hydrocarbons evaporating through the old-school carbuerator and unsealed gas tank caps (among other places).  A good object lesson in the advancement of engine technology.  And the fact that the real heroes of environmental improvement were engineers with pocket protectors more than hippie environmentalists.

Media Alert

I was on the Bill Bennett show this morning talking about the Bundy Ranch confrontation, when suddenly the power went out. So we didn’t get to finish the conversation. Therefore, I will be on again tomorrow at 7:05 EST, 6:05 CST, and we will take it from the top. It should be fun. If you don’t know where to tune in Bill’s show where you live, you can listen online here.

Why You Should Be Sympathetic Toward Cliven Bundy

On Saturday, I wrote about the standoff at Bundy Ranch. That post drew a remarkable amount of traffic, even though, as I wrote then, I had not quite decided what to make of the story. Since then, I have continued to study the facts and have drawn some conclusions. Here they are.

First, it must be admitted that legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The Bureau of Land Management has been charging him grazing fees since the early 1990s, which he has refused to pay. Further, BLM has issued orders limiting the area on which Bundy’s cows can graze and the number that can graze, and Bundy has ignored those directives. As a result, BLM has sued Bundy twice in federal court, and won both cases. In the second, more recent action, Bundy’s defense is that the federal government doesn’t own the land in question and therefore has no authority to regulate grazing. That simply isn’t right; the land, like most of Nevada, is federally owned. Bundy is representing himself, of necessity: no lawyer could make that argument.

That being the case, why does Bundy deserve our sympathy? To begin with, his family has been ranching on the acres at issue since the late 19th century. They and other settlers were induced to come to Nevada in part by the federal government’s promise that they would be able to graze their cattle on adjacent government-owned land. For many years they did so, with no limitations or fees. The Bundy family was ranching in southern Nevada long before the BLM came into existence.

Over the last two or three decades, the Bureau has squeezed the ranchers in southern Nevada by limiting the acres on which their cattle can graze, reducing the number of cattle that can be on federal land, and charging grazing fees for the ever-diminishing privilege. The effect of these restrictions has been to drive the ranchers out of business. Formerly, there were dozens of ranches in the area where Bundy operates. Now, his ranch is the only one. When Bundy refused to pay grazing fees beginning in around 1993, he said something to the effect of, they are supposed to be charging me a fee for managing the land and all they are doing is trying to manage me out of business. Why should I pay them for that?

border-resources-bundy-ranch

The bedrock issue here is that the federal government owns more than 80% of the state of Nevada. This is true across the western states. To an astonishing degree, those states lack sovereignty over their own territory. Most of the land is federal. And the federal agencies that rule over federal lands have agendas. At every opportunity, it seems, they restrict not only what can be done on federal lands, but on privately-owned property. They are hostile to traditional industries like logging, mining and ranching, and if you have a puddle in your back yard, the EPA will try to regulate it as a navigable waterway.

That is only a slight exaggeration.

bundy.ranch_.nevOne could say that Cliven Bundy is just one more victim of progress and changing mores. The federal government has gotten more environmentally-conscious, and now we really, really care about desert tortoises. (It was the designation of desert tortoises as an endangered species that gave BLM the opportunity to squeeze Bundy in the early 1990s.) But here’s the thing: the Bureau of Land Management–the federal government–is not necessarily anti-development. Rather, its attitude depends entirely on what sort of development is in question.

Thus, BLM has developed a grandiose plan to develop vast solar energy installations on federal land across the Southwest. Wind power projects are favored, too. In fact, the same BLM that has driven Nevada’s ranchers out of business has welcomed solar projects with open arms. Some have claimed that Harry Reid is behind the BLM’s war against Cliven Bundy, on the theory that he wants the land for a solar project in which his son Rory is involved, along with the Chinese. I don’t believe this is correct. The solar projects are located north of Las Vegas, 30 miles or so from the area where Bundy ranches.

But the connection is nevertheless important in two respects. First, BLM has promulgated a regional mitigation strategy for the environmental impacts of the solar developments. Let’s pause on that for a moment: the excuse for limiting Bundy’s rights is the endangered desert tortoise. But wait! Don’t they have desert tortoises a few miles away where the solar projects are being built? Of course they do. That’s where they get to the mitigation strategy, which may involve, among other things, moving some desert tortoises to a new location:

The Gold Butte ACEC is preliminarily recommended as the best recipient location for regional mitigation from the Dry Lake SEZ. This ACEC is located 32 miles (51 km) east of the Dry Lake SEZ.

Gold Butte is the area where Bundy ranches. There are a few problems with the Gold Butte location as a mitigation area; one of them is that there are “trespassing” cattle:

The resource values found in the Gold Butte ACEC are threatened by: unauthorized activities, including off-road vehicle use, illegal dumping, and trespass livestock grazing; wildfire; and weed infestation.

So it is possible that the federal government is driving Bundy off federal lands to make way for mitigation activities that enable the solar energy development to the north. But I don’t think it is necessary to go there. Rather–this is the second and more important point–it is obvious that some activities are favored by the Obama administration’s BLM, and others are disfavored. The favored developments include solar and wind projects. No surprise there: the developers of such projects are invariably major Democratic Party donors. Wind and solar energy survive only by virtue of federal subsidies, so influencing people like Barack Obama and Harry Reid is fundamental to the developers’ business plans. Ranchers, on the other hand, ask nothing from the federal government other than the continuation of their historic rights. It is a safe bet that Cliven Bundy is not an Obama or Reid contributor.

Solar energy projects don't draw BLM snipers

Solar energy projects don’t draw BLM snipers

The new head of the BLM is a former Reid staffer. Presumably he was placed in his current position on Reid’s recommendation. Harry Reid is known to be a corrupt politician, one who has gotten wealthy on a public employee’s salary, in part, at least, by benefiting from sweetheart real estate deals. Does Harry Reid now control more than 80% of the territory of Nevada? If you need federal authority to conduct business in Nevada–which is overwhelmingly probable–do you need to pay a bribe to Harry Reid or a member of his family to get that permission? Why is it that the BLM is deeply concerned about desert tortoises when it comes to ranchers, but couldn’t care less when the solar power developers from China come calling? Environmentalists have asked this question. Does the difference lie in the fact that Cliven Bundy has never contributed to an Obama or Reid campaign, or paid a bribe to Reid or a member of his family?

Based on the evidence, I would say: yes, that is probably the difference. When the desert tortoises balance out, Occam’s razor tells us that the distinction is political.

So let’s have some sympathy for Cliven Bundy and his family. They don’t have a chance on the law, because under the Endangered Species Act and many other federal statutes, the agencies are always in the right. And their way of life is one that, frankly, is on the outs. They don’t develop apps. They don’t ask for food stamps. It probably has never occurred to them to bribe a politician. They don’t subsist by virtue of government subsidies or regulations that hamstring competitors. They aren’t illegal immigrants. They have never even gone to law school. So what possible place is there for the Bundys in the Age of Obama?

Just In Time for Tax Day: Remy to the Rescue

So it’s everyone’s favorite day of the year tomorrow.  Just in time, our pal Remy Munasifi and ReasonTV bring you a remake of Pharrell Williams’ tune “Happy.”  Lyrics at the link to the left.  About two minutes long. (more…)