Walk right back

Last week I characterized Hunter Biden’s threatened legal assault on the purveyors of his abandoned laptop as “Battle of the Bulge, Biden style.” Hunter Biden’s new legal team invited the authorities to bring privacy claims and alleged defamation claims against a variety of parties that had the temerity to bring the contents of the laptop to the attention of the public. The news was notable for a number of reasons including those that fall under the heading of Laughter Is the Best Medicine.

Biden supporters including the old man himself had previously asserted that the contents of the laptop constituted Russian disinformation. Last week’s letters on Hunter’s behalf had moved on from the absurd lies of the Deep State 51, President Biden, and their media conduits. “This failed dirty political trick directly resulted in the exposure, exploitation, and manipulation of Mr. Biden’s private and personal information,” said big bucks Biden attorney Abbe Lowell. It was an amazing development.

But wait! No sooner had the letters gone out and been released than Hunter’s lawyers walked right back. The Lowell letters were inoperative in their logic. “These letters do not confirm Mac Isaac’s [the repair shop owner who took custody of it originally] or others’ versions of a so-called laptop. They address their conduct of seeking, manipulating, and disseminating what they allege to be Mr. Biden’s personal data, wherever they claim to have gotten it.”

At NRO, Jim Geraghty, Jeffrey Blehar, and Andrew McCarthy applied the law of non-contradiction to the Biden offensive. That is one law that Hunter Biden’s lawyers will neither observe nor call on the authorities to enforce.

Student Debt Forgiveness Comes to the Supreme Court

In August of last year, the Biden administration announced, by executive order, that some $400 billion in outstanding student debt would be forgiven. There was no statutory basis for this order, and many assumed that it was an election-year Hail Mary that ultimately would lose in the courts, but would garner Democrat votes in the midterms. That appears to be what happened.

The legality of Biden’s purported debt forgiveness has now made its way to the Supreme Court in Biden v. Nebraska. The case will be argued at the end of this month.

On Friday, a group of amici filed a brief urging the Court to invalidate Biden’s order. It is probably the most impressive group of amici I have ever seen, including top constitutional scholars like Michael McConnell and political figures including William Barr, Mitch Daniels, Mick Mulvaney, and others. These amici are represented by Sidley and Austin, a major law firm.

Their brief is embedded below. I encourage you to read it. The issue is the power of the purse–the most fundamental power that the Constitution gives to Congress, and the most important bulwark against executive abuse of power. The brief recounts the relevant British history, which the Founders had in mind when they made appropriations of money the sole prerogative of Congress.

In recent years, as the brief documents, presidents of both parties have used strained interpretations of broadly-worded statutes to justify unconstitutional usurpations of power, sometimes spending money that Congress had specifically refused to appropriate. Biden’s debt forgiveness continues this trend under particularly absurd pretenses, and on an unprecedented scale. As the brief argues, if the Biden administration can get away with this, there is really no check on executive power, going forward.

This is the brief. It isn’t very long, and makes interesting reading:

As a condition precedent to the merits, the case also raises a standing issue. I have not studied that issue, and have no idea whether it has merit under current law. I would only say that if a president acts unconstitutionally to deprive the taxpayers of $400 billion in revenue, there had better be someone who has standing to challenge his illegal action.

What Happened to Canada?

Canada was once a land of fishermen, lumberjacks, oil drillers and Mounties. What the Hell happened? In the Telegraph, Zoe Strimpel writes: “Canada is testing sinister wokeness to destruction.”

The madness of Trudeau’s Canada has reached a fresh, painful high. New rules have come into effect that allow adults in British Columbia – the capital of which is addict-packed, overdose-ravaged Vancouver – to possess 2.5g of ecstasy, cocaine or heroin, as well as the opioid fentanyl, without fear of being troubled by the police. The idea is that with so many shooting up and dying on the streets, the kindest and most helpful thing to do is decriminalise drug possession, ending arrests and prosecution as well as fines and confiscation.

As Kennedy Stewart, former mayor of Vancouver, proudly pointed out: “It gets the police out of the lives of drug users.”
Just as heroin has effectively been made legal on the streets of British Columbia, Canadians have been told not to have more than two alcoholic drinks per week – a drastic change from the previously recommended upper limit of around two drinks a day – because alcohol raises the risk of cancer and other diseases. So: a blind eye is turned to heroin on the streets, but a third glass of wine is frowned upon. As far as a philosophy of society goes, at least in 2023, this is a wacky mixture of the controlling and soulless with the callous and wilfully denialist.

And that is only the beginning.

Then there’s the tampering with history for the sake of politics. After unmarked graves were supposedly discovered on the sites of former church-run residential schools for indigenous children, some tried to cancel Canada Day and churches were burnt down – an action that Trudeau called “understandable”. The treatment of indigenous peoples was indeed scandalous, but the evidence for mass murder is not there.

I believe this whole thing turned out to be false, but some stories are too good not to believe.

Nevertheless, an official inquiry in 2019 determined that Canada had committed – and was continuing to commit– “genocide”. Those who pushed back on the use of that term – Holocaust survivors and those who had witnessed the mass murder in Rwanda, among them – were mocked.

Wokeness remains a mystery to me. Sure, some people are making money off it, and some are using it to advance political ambitions. But that isn’t enough to explain the madness. There is a deeper sickness at work, and we see it here in the U.S. every day.

Loose Ends (205) & More Balloon Memes

Bill Kristol, a superspreader of Trump Derangement Syndrome, long ago demonstrated that one of the side effects of the TDS virus is losing your wit, but it appears the next symptom is losing your mind:

Meanwhile, this guy has the right idea:

 Speaking of humorless liberal scolds, Three Whisky Happy Hour podcast intends to lodge a protest at this gross slander—right after we refill our custom-engraved whisky glasses:

• Maybe China is just sending a hint that some time soon they might demand a balloon payment on all the U.S. debt they hold? And is this possibly the first time an American pilot has shot down an enemy balloon since World War I?

In any case, let’s keep having fun with this, since the pics will be stale by TWiP time next Saturday:

BTW, I hope everyone realizes that our military did not shoot down the balloon. They had to contract it out to Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise. Or maybe. . . it was this guy:

Breaking Wind

One of the favorite talking points of the climatistas is that we need to take account of the financial risk of future climate change. This is one reason the Biden Brigade is trying to impose a number of climate risk requirements on American business, even though by every conventional method of economic forecasting, the present value of hypothetical large costs decades from now is quite small. This is one reason why the climatistas insist on perverted forms of economic calculation (the “social cost of carbon”) that in any other context would get them called “economics deniers.”

One financial risk that turns out not to be small right now is the cost of green energy—especially windmills.  Bloomberg reports what is happening with wind power right now:

Wind Turbines Taller Than the Statue of Liberty Are Falling Over

…The instances [of windmill collapses] are part of a rash of recent wind turbine malfunctions across the US and Europe, ranging from failures of key components to full collapses. Some industry veterans say they’re happening more often, even if the events are occurring at only a small fraction of installed machines. The problems have added hundreds of millions of dollars in costs for the three largest Western turbine makers, GE, Vestas Wind Systems and Siemens Energy’s Siemens Gamesa unit; and they could result in more expensive insurance policies—a potential setback for the push to abandon fossil fuels and fight climate change. . .

The race to add production lines for ever-bigger turbines is cited as a major culprit by people in the industry. “We’re seeing these failures happening in a shorter time frame on the newer turbines, and that’s quite concerning,” says Fraser McLachlan, chief executive officer of London-based GCube Underwriting Ltd., which insures about $3.5 billion in wind assets in 38 countries. If the failure rate keeps climbing, he says, insurance premiums could increase or new coverage limits could be imposed. . .

Vestas Wind Systems A/S saw annual warranty provisions jump from roughly €600 million in 2019 to almost €1.2 billion in 2020 and 2021. . . The failure issue has become a concern for bankers and other creditors, however, who may begin to demand higher interest rates, he says. “There’s a hesitancy among insurers and lenders about these big models that haven’t been tested yet,” Metcalfe says. “The technology alarm bells are ringing.”

As we can see once again, while the political marketplace says one thing, the real marketplace says something else when it’s their own money at risk, and not taxpayer money.

Spy balloon stops a rollin’

The Chinese spy balloon entered the territory of the United States a week ago yesterday. Thanks to the observant eye of Chase Doak, we learned of it as it made its way over Montana this past Thursday. The Biden administration intended to keep it a secret while it made its way across the United States and Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed off to meet the friends of the Biden family in Beijing. Exposed, the Chinese advised it was a weather balloon that had wandered off course. Sorry about that.

After following a path that took it over our intercontinental ballistic missile bases, an Air Force F-22 shot it down yesterday afternoon six miles off the Carolina coastline. Absent the public exposure, I infer the Biden administration would have let bygones be bygones. Note the timing of the shootdown decision reported by Politico (with no mention of its significance): “On Friday night, Biden was briefed on the plan to shoot down the balloon and approved it, according to a senior administration official.”

The New York post drily observes: “By the time the white orb — the size of three school buses — deflated and fell into the ocean, it had spent eight days in the country and covered more than 4,000 miles of American territory.”

Politico credits the administration: “While the Pentagon worked to bring down the balloon, officials also took steps to protect against the balloon’s ability to collect sensitive information, the [senior administration official] said. Its flight path took it over some sensitive military installations.” Somebody noticed.

Politico looks at the upside as touted by a senior administration official: “The balloon’s flight was also of intelligence value to the United States, the official noted.” The official is quoted but not identified: “I can’t go into more detail but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment.” Hey, maybe the humiliation was worth it.

The AP story quotes the Chinese statement. The Chinese are unhappy about the shootdown. Their statement condemning it as “excessive” seems a tad ungrateful to me, but we understand. They want to leave the door open to their friends in the administration.

This episode raises a multitude of obvious questions with respect to which we can be sure that the administration will hold the answers as close to its vest as possible.

Sunday morning coming down

My intention this morning was to post a video of “Up, Up and Away” and leave it at that, but I can’t help myself. I love the song. When it entered the charts in 1967, I thought it stamped the arrival of a notable new songwriting voice. The songwriting voice was that of Jimmy Webb. When he celebrated his 75th birthday in 2021, I compiled the videos and comments below. Let’s take the news of the week as the occasion for revisiting these highlights today.

Webb is the author of The Cake and the Rain (2017), an artful memoir that gives you a sense of the demons with which he has contended in the course of his long career. The learned historian Dominic Green declared in the Wall Street Journal upon its publication: “No one writes songs like Jimmy Webb does, and no musician ever wrote a biography like this.” I read it as soon as it came out in paperback and couldn’t put it down.

Webb is a winner of numerous Grammy awards and a member of the National Songwriters Hall of Fame. He first achieved fame as an incredibly precocious songwriter in the ’60s — the composer of the over the top pop epic “MacArthur Park” as well as of several hits for the 5th Dimension and, perhaps most notably, Glen Campbell.

Having met Richard Harris in Los Angeles, Webb flew to London at Harris’s invitation. In London Webb played his songs for Harris. Webb recalls the events that followed in his one-man shows and in The Cake and the Rain. Harris somehow seized on “MacArthur Park.”

What the heck was this outrageous song all about? It took us a few years to begin to put it together, but Webb’s old flame “Susie” (Susan Horton Ronstadt) was at the heart of it. She proved to be quite the muse. Whatever the song was about, Harris brought Webb’s epic to life and it didn’t seem to bother him that Harris was slightly off on the name of the park. He conveyed the feeling. See the rest of the story here and in Webb’s memoir.

Glen Campbell turned in a live performance with the Boston Pops including both a terrific vocal and a guitar solo that are also worth a listen.

I don’t want to revisit all the hits in versions everybody knows, but let’s go back to the 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away.” Working as a young staff songwriter for Motown in the 60’s, Webb parted from the company on good terms. He asked Motown if he could take the song with him. Fortunately, they agreed. It’s an ode to romance, freedom, and release. “For we can fly!” The clarity of the stereo sound in the video below beats what we could hear on AM radio at the time and probably on vinyl as well.

The 5th Dimension loved Webb’s songwriting. They recorded his song cycle The Magic Garden in 1967. The label really should have released “The Worst That Could Happen” as a single.

Johnny Maestro recorded it the next year and turned the song into a hit for Brooklyn Bridge in 1969. I do believe that “Susie” was the inspiration for this one too.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (number 2, 1967) and “Wichita Lineman” (number 3, 1968) were of course the songs that launched Webb’s partnership with Campbell. The songs announced the arrival of a major new writer with a voice of his own. Webb wrote “Wichita Lineman” to order for Campbell as a follow-up to “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” He was all of about 20 at the time.

Webb’s partnership with Campbell remained productive in the ’70s and ’80s as they continued to work together (work documented on the bountiful Raven compilation Reunited with Jimmy Webb: 1974-1988), although without the chart success of their earlier hits. Among the peaks of their later work is Webb’s haunting “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” a song also covered by Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Nanci Griffith, Renee Fleming and many others.

I don’t think any performance of this song surpasses Campbell’s emotional reading of it (video above, in concert with the South Dakota Symphony in 2001). Campbell briefly introduces the song: “Here’s one of my favorite Jimmy Webb songs. It’s called ‘The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.’ As you can tell, I’m partial to Jimmy Webb.”

Although female performers have gravitated to it, the song is a man’s lament over a fickle woman. As I say, “Susie” inspired much of his work — see, for example, this Los Angeles Times article on “MacArthur Park” — and she may have been the inspiration for Webb’s lyrical exploration of the metaphor in the song’s title, but that’s my own speculation in this case.

By contrast, we can make an educated guess that she has something to do with the song Campbell performed in the video of the remastered hit single “Where’s the Playground Susie.” She’s right there in the title of the song. Campbell also introduced this song in concert as “one of my favorite Jimmy Webb songs.” He had a few of them.

“Galveston” was another Webb song that Glen Campbell turned into a hit single (1969). I never heard the heartbreaking beauty of the song until Webb slowed down the tempo for the version he recorded with Lucinda Williams on Just Across the River. In the video below it is sung by Campbell at a slower tempo with Webb backing him on piano.

Stephen Holden profiled Webb for the New York Times in 2010. The occasion of Holden’s profile was the release of Webb’s Just Across the River, a wonderful recording in which Webb revisited some of the highlights of his catalog together with Vince Gill (“Oklahoma Nights”), Billy Joel (“Wichita Lineman”), Willie Nelson (“If You See Me Getting Smaller”), Lucinda Williams (“Galveston”), Jackson Browne (“P. F. Sloan”), Michael McDonald (“Where Words End”), Mark Knopfler (“Highwayman”), and Linda Ronstadt (“All I Know”).

Webb also teamed up with Campbell on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (video below). In the liner notes Webb wrote that he had been a fan of Campbell since he first heard “Turn Around and Look At Me” when he was 14. He said that he considered Campbell “the greatest natural entertainer and performer that America has ever produced.”

“I used to literally pray that God would let me grow up and be a songwriter and be lucky enough to have Glen Campbell record one of my songs,” Webb wrote. “I rest my case for the existence of God.”

Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. He went public with the diagnosis and embarked on the farewell tour featured in the documentary Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me. The 2011 album Ghost On the Canvas was to be his final recording, but he revisited a few of the highlights of his career during the recording of Ghost On the Canvas. His producers added a spare backing to the tracks and released See You There in 2013. Five of the album’s 12 songs are written by Webb, including the lesser known “Postcard From Paris.”

Webb’s work lives also lives in the numerous artists who have taken it up. “All I Know” was the last of many unrecorded songs Webb played for Art Garfunkel when Webb worked with him back in the ’70s and Garfunkel immediately glommed onto it. It was a hit for him in 1973.

Webb called on Linda Ronstadt to help him out on the song for Just Across the River. Ronstadt retired from performing in 2009 and announced that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013. The Parkinson’s has disabled her singing. This may be her last recording. With Ronstadt’s assistance, and with the backing by Bryan Sutton on guitar, this poignant song becomes more poignant than ever. I thought some readers might enjoy hearing the song in this unfamiliar version even though, in the singing department, Webb is more or less the guy who wrote the song.

Billy Joel is one of Webb’s prominent admirers. How great it is to be able to revisit “Wichita Lineman” with Webb and Joel.

Shawn Colvin covered Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak” on her album Cover Girl (1994). Shawn is a brilliant singer/songwriter who achieved stardom with the Grammy-winning pop hit “Sunny Came Home” on A Few Small Repairs in 1997. She is also a compelling live performer and interpreter. On Cover Girl she explored songs written by others and, by my lights, it is full of knockouts. One such is “If These Walls Could Speak.” You can’t help but feel the personal connection she finds in Webb’s lyrics:

They would tell you that I’m sorry
For being cold and blind and weak,
They would tell you that it’s only
That I have a stubborn streak
If these old walls could speak.

I don’t think any clip captures her artistry better than what appears to be the amateur video below of Colvin performing Webb’s song as an encore before an appreciative audience at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in December 2011. Her eyes well up with tears as she sings that touching chorus.