Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Northern Michigan Once Again – Part 6: Hemingway Sites

On this trip Up North in Michigan we visited some Hemingway sites.  In 1899 Ernest Hemingway’s parents bought a piece of property on what is now called Walloon Lake, a few miles south of Petoskey.  On this property they had built a cottage at which their growing family was to spend all or most of summers for well over 20 years.  Hemingway himself was brought north when he about two months old for a week while his parents arranged for construction, and he would then spend 19 full summers in the area. 

Walloon Lake, from a spot near the Hemingway Cottage
A few years after buying the property on Walloon Lake, Hemingway’s parents bought a small farm on the opposite shore which was named Longfield Farm.  The Hemingway children helped work the fields in the summers, supplementing the labors of a tenant farmer.  The family had some of the production shipped south for the family’s dinner table in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park.

From a spot near the Longfield Farm site,
looking east across Walloon Lake to the Hemingway cottage site
After his wedding and reception in 1921 at Horton Bay on nearby Lake Charlevoix, Hemingway and his new wife Hadley were driven down Sumner Road to the above spot on Walloon Lake across from the family cottage, steps from Longfield Farm, from where Hemingway rowed himself and his bride across the lake to the cottage, where they spent their honeymoon (sick with bad colds for the first few days).  It was a good pull, for the distance from one shore to the other is considerable.

Seemingly before he even was of school age, Hemingway loved to fish in the trout streams of northern Michigan.  A favorite spot early on was Horton Creek, which flowed into Horton Bay in the nearby lake now called Lake Charlevoix. 

Horton Creek, looking north from the bridge
on the Charlevoix-Boyne City Road 
In his mid-teens, Hemingway began spending more time at Longfield Farm, working it during the day.  Many evenings he would walk the three miles or so west to the shore of Lake Charlevoix and the little hamlet of Horton Bay (sometimes called Hortons Bay or Horton's Bay by Hemingway and others), where he would hang out at a small inn and restaurant called Pinehurst and at the General Store.  Next to the General Store is a building that became the Red Foxx Inn, now a quaint bookstore and memorabilia shop welcoming visitors and Hemingway fans on Fridays and Saturdays.  Both buildings were in use in Hemingway's time, as they are to this day. 

The Horton Bay General Store, with the "high false front," as Hemingway described it in a story;
the Red Fox Inn building sits to the right in the photo
In Horton Bay Hemingway he fell in with a small crowd that summered or worked in the area, most notably the Smith siblings Bill and Katy and their friend Carl Edgar (with whom he would later live for a while in Kansas City).  The Smith family would figure quite large in his life. 

Hemingway would sometimes sell the trout he caught to Liz Dilworth, who with her husband Jim owed and ran Pinehurst, where for a few years Hemingway often ate and slept.  The "resort" property consisted of two small buildings – Pinehurst and Shangri-La – located just south of the Charlevoix – Boyne City Road, about 100 yards up Lake Street from Horton Bay on the north shore of Lake Charlevoix.  In 1921, the reception after Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson was held here.    

Pinehurst in Horton Bay; Shangri-La stands to the right out of the photo
In the last few summers Hemingway spent up north, Bill Smith had a car and the group traveled around the area, to trout streams and to local towns Petoskey, Charlevoix and Boyne City on Lake Charlevoix, and Walloon Lake Village on Walloon Lake.  In fact, for a short time Hemingway lived in rooming houses in Petoskey and in Boyne City.  In Petoskey, one can drive by 602 State Street, just off the downtown area, and see the well-kept up home that was once Mrs. Potter's boarding house where he lived for almost three months in the fall of 1919.   

Hemingway famously set many of his short stories in northern Michigan, most of them semi-autobiographical featuring his fictional alter-ego Nick Adams.  The Nick Adams Stories span the protagonist’s life from a young boy living with his parents to a young man with his own son.  Many of them are set in the northern Michigan of Hemingway’s youth, notably along the shores of Walloon Lake and around Horton Bay on Lake Charlevoix.         

Horton Bay, from the foot of Lake Street, looking southwest;
in the distance is the finger of land that juts into Lake Charlevoix to form the bay  

From Hemingway's very autobiographical short story Summer People, published posthumously, which describes a clandestine love affair with a young woman named "Kate" who in real life was Katy Smith, who would introduce Hemingway to his first wife, indirectly introduce him to his second wife, and through Hemingway would meet the man who would become her husband, John Dos Passos:
Halfway down the gravel road [Lake Street, now paved] from Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring.  The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing through the close-growing mint into the swamp.  In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but he could not hold it there because of the cold.  He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers.  Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there.  I bet that would fix me.  He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road.  It was a hot night."     
The spring in Horton Bay, still there today beside the road
The spring is still there.  I put my arm in it.  It was cold indeed.
R Balsamo

[Note: Click on the "Hemingway" link below to see related posts; Also, click on any above photo to enlarge it] 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Northern Michigan Once Again – Part 5

The Petoskey area was our base for the second part of our excursion.  The city of Petoskey sits on the southern shore of Little Traverse Bay, a large inlet of northern Lake Michigan.  It’s a good-sized town by northern Michigan standards, and has a thriving, picturesque downtown.  The Petoskey area grew large as a vacation destination at the turn of the 20th Century, attracting thousands of summer visitors to its clean air, rolling landscapes, cool waters, and Chautauqua-like summer encampments sponsored by religious groups. 

Downtown Petoskey, Michigan
The city is named after Chief Petosega, whose father was a French Canadian fur trader and whose mother was an Ottawa Indian.  Petoskey in turn gave its name to fragments of fossilized coral, common along the northeastern Lake Michigan shoreline, called Petoskey stones.  The city is the birth place of noted Civil War historian Bruce Catton, whose widely-celebrated books I read voraciously years ago (and have reread many times since) as they came out around the time of the one hundredth anniversary of that war.

Looking Northwest Across Little Traverse Bay, From Its Southern Shore,
With Open Lake Michigan to the Left.  A Solitary Gull Heads For Shore.
One day we cruised around the east end of Little Traverse Bay to its north shore and the city of Harbor Springs.  We were very pleasantly surprised by how attractive a place it is.  Smaller than Petoskey and Traverse City, at one time though it was a bustling place as the terminus of many Great Lakes steamship lines that brought visitors to the area from big lakeside cities further south.  

Downtown Harbor Springs, Michigan
Harbor Springs sits within a small bay formed by a long finger of land in the shape of a backward comma that juts out into the much larger Little Traverse Bay and that shelters what is said to be the deepest natural harbor on the Great Lakes.  Travelers would disembark at Harbor Springs and take local short-distance trains or smaller ships to nearby towns such as Bay View, Petoskey, Walloon Village, and Charlevoix.
View of Harbor Springs from a Pier in the Harbor 
A road leading north out of Harbor Springs runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline, offering beautiful views of the Lake and of Beaver Island, at times through woods so dense they form the well-known “Tunnel of Trees” over the narrow lane.  On a clear and warm sunny day, we cruised this road for some time to take it all in.     

The "Tunnel of Trees" North of Harbor Springs
R Balsamo

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Northern Michigan Once Again -- Part 4

Today we left Traverse City and drove north along U.S. Route 31.  At Charlevoix we stopped for refreshment and a stroll.  Visible from the downtown main street is a small lake called Round Lake.  It is essentially a small ante-lake to the much larger Lake Charlevoix, which connects to Round Lake through a narrow channel, and Round Lake in turn flows into Lake Michigan.  Here is a shot of Round Lake, with the narrow entrance to Lake Charlevoix in the distance, looking east:

More about this at a later date, but we cruised over to Horton Bay, roughly in the middle of Lake Charlevoix's  long northern shore.  Horton Bay is Hemingway country.  For a few years in his late teens and early twenties, Hemingway spent a lot of time here and used the small hamlet as a setting in a number of his semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories.  Here is a photo from Lake Street, looking across the Charlevoix-Boyne City Road at the General Store (left) and Red Fox Inn, which is now a bookstore and memorabilia shop.  Both buildings were in use in Hemingway's time as they still are now.  Pinehurst is just behind the camera; it is a modest sized building that in Hemingway's time was a small inn and restaurant, a place where Hemingway often ate and slept.

Finally, we drove to Walloon Village at the foot of the sprawling Walloon Lake, on which the Hemingway cottage sits.  We had a nightcap at a busling new lakeside restaurant there, and strolled to the pier to watch the sunset:

More to come.

R Balsamo

Friday, September 11, 2015

Northern Michigan Once Again -- Part 3

From our base in Traverse City, today we visited the Lelanau Penninsula.  We first headed west to reach Lake Michigan at the little town of Empire, a small stretch of private property that bisects the huge, sprawling Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park.  Empire has a beautiful stretch of beach with some great views.

Looking south from the beach at Empire, from Empire Bluff on the left across Platte Bay to Betsie Point, which juts out near the western end of the large, inland Crystal Lake:

Turning around on the Beach at Empire, looking northwest through a small flock of gulls on the move to see South Manitou Island and then, to the right, the steep cliffs, some pure sand and some covered with trees and grass, of Sleeping Bear Dunes; the gulls were startled by a hawk circling above:

Then we drove north into the Sleeping Bear Dunes national park and, as we did last year, stopped for a ride along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  We left our car and walked to the not-to-be-missed scenic overlook, which affords a majestic view of Lake Michigan and the dunes.  The overlook is about 450 feet above the water.  This photo is looking south across Platte Bay, the outcropping at Empire Bluff, and Betsie Point.  The water along the shoreline is a turquoise blue:

We then moved on to the historic preservation site of Glen Haven, and old logging harbor on Sleeping Bear Bay just west of the town of Glen Harbor.  Finally, we drove to Leland, where we walked around and stopped in the Bluebird for their noted whitefish.  Here is a photo of the Lelanau River as it flows over the small dam near its mouth into Lake Michigan; the small, historic Fishtown area lies between the dam and the lake:

Now it's on to points further north.

R Balsamo

9/11 Fourteen Years On -- Europe's Cultural Suicide

Fourteen years after the September 11, 2001, radical Muslim attack on various targets in the United States, an increasingly dazed and deluded Europe, incapacitated by white guilt, enfeebled by the degradation of the male gene pool after two relatively-recent horrific wars, and beguiled by the need for young workers to support an increasingly aging society (fantasizing that young Muslims will work hard to support retired white Christian Europeans), after resisting Muslim invaders for 1,300 years from the fields of Tours to the gates of Vienna, now willingly allows and indeed encourages tens of thousands (with perhaps hundreds of thousands to come) of young Muslim men, accompanied by a few women and children to foster the ruse they are simply "migrants," to invade and occupy their countries.

I think I am on firm ground in saying such a thing has never happened before in human history.  Invading masses of men are just walking through Europe headed towards the countries with the most generous welfare benefits and the most enfeebled citizens and the most leaders contemptuous of people of their own ethnicity.  Muslims in Western Europe are not well integrated, and many reject integration, and many second generation Muslims, born in Europe, have rushed to the Middle East to join radical movements.  Equality for women, acceptance of homosexuality, freedom of religious worship -- these are just some of the Western values not present in the Muslim world.  To think that the next few hundred thousand Muslim migrants will integrate any better into Western culture is a pipe dream.  But the leftist and ultra-liberal destroyers of Western culture welcome the invasion and urge the West to take in yet more.  They have made the enemy of their enemy their friend.  This will end very badly.

R Balsamo

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Northern Michigan Once Again -- Part 2

Today we toured the Old Mission Penninsula, a 22-mile, finger-like projection that bisects the southern half of Grand Traverse Bay into east and west bays.  Homes line its southern shores and are scattered elsewhere, but overall the land is mostly agricultural -- grapes, apples, and cherries.  There are eight wineries on the peninsula, and also bays and beaches and at least one modest marina.  Beautiful views of the east, west, and northern parts of Grand Traverse Bay are all around.

Here is a view from the west side of Old Mission Peninsula, about 1/3 of the way up, looking southwest over the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay to the land on the far side:

Below is the view from a large bay, Bowers Harbor, on the west side of the peninsula, looking southwest again; there are three land masses visible from left to right, starting with the one in the distance below the big trees: Power Island; then further in the distance is the east side of the Lelanau Peninsula; and finally closer again is the southwest tip of Bowers Harbor bay.

The harbor in Bowers Harbor:

Here is a common view in the interior of the peninsula, where vineyards abound:

At the northern tip of the peninsula stands the old lighthouse, looking out wistfully to northern Grand Traverse Bay and open Lake Michigan beyond.  It rests almost exactly on the 45th parallel, the half-way point between the equator and the North Pole.  It is no longer in use but is open to the public as a small museum:

Finally, a view from the east side of Old Mission Peninsula, looking across the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay at the far shoreline just south of Elk Rapids:

R Balsamo

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Northern Michigan Once Again -- Part 1

What a difference a year makes, to borrow a phrase.  Last year at this time we took a drive Up North to northern Michigan and encountered exceptionally cold weather the whole week, and lots of rain as well.  Today we set out again, a year later, under clear, sunny skies and a warm breeze.

Starting on Lake Michigan's southern shore, we headed north and made our way onto US Route 31.  This year, our first detour was a short meander through Ludington, the eastern shore terminus of the car ferry between Wisconsin and Michigan.  The "Spartan" was moored along the quay.

We resumed our northward drive and then made a second detour to cruise around in the lakeside town of Manistee, which sits on the Manistee River just before it flows into Lake Michigan.

Manistee has a small but attractive downtown, stretching a few blocks along the river.  It has what appears to be a still-operational movie theater -- the "Vogue."

We continued on and a short way north of Manistee reached the starting point of Michigan's celebrated Route M22.  We took it north until we stopped for a nice dinner on the terrace of the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club clubhouse, a spot overlooking a few holes of a beautiful golf course with a stunning backdrop view of Lake Michigan.

Then it was on to Traverse City, which will be the base of our touring for the next few days.

R Balsamo

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lessons of Hurricane Katrina

The meaning of the disastrous Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast ten years ago, is now in clear focus.  Law professor and commentator Glenn Reynolds writes (link) that “the extremism [in the media reporting] … did real harm.  New Orleans, a city battered by disaster, was portrayed as … ‘a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning.’ ”  But, as we now know, much of the worst said was profoundly untrue.  The motive of the ultraliberals behind all their lying propaganda was to damage the Bush presidency, and they achieved their aim quite well, but once again, as it is all too clear now, they showed they have no moral scruples and that they could care less who else was damaged in the process.  As Reynolds writes, “by playing up anarchy and danger [in New Orleans], [the liberal media] may even have delayed the arrival of aid, as rescuers feared to go in without armed escort.  Overall, a horrible media performance.”  The ongoing drumbeat of lies also probably stoked some lawlessness that would not have been there otherwise if the media had told the truth.  Moreover, the distorted reporting perhaps discouraged post-Katrina business investment to an area perceived as especially prone to violence and social breakdown.

The disaster that was New Orleans after Katrina was primarily the responsibility of the gross negligence and incompetence by the Democrat black mayor and the grandmotherly-looking, deer-in-headlights female Democrat governor, whose deadly non-management and mismanagement were vigorously covered up by the liberal media.  President George Bush played a role in not directing the federal relief agencies to step in more aggressively early on in the face of local and state abdication of their primary responsibility.  Finally, Bush and his Republican brain trust showed great political incompetence as well.  Bush’s abject failure to push back against politically-motivated lies, unfortunately a theme throughout his presidency, hurt him, hurt Republicans, hurt the ongoing political cause of true American patriots, and hurt the American body politic.  Overall a very bad showing by everyone involved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The New Diet Pepsi – No Thanks To Its “New Coke” Brain Cramp

The Pepsi company has just removed the artificial sweetener aspartame from its Diet Pepsi product and replaced it with something called sucralose.  It may have made other changes as well.  Apparently Diet Pepsi sales have been down, and the company has been worried about some old rat study wherein rodents fed aspartame by the pound for the rat-equivalent of 100 years showed some altered biochemical marker, or something.  Or maybe it was some other study, but those reports have been around for a long time and so far nothing has been proven, and other soft drink makers are still using aspartame.  Nevertheless, the Pepsi brain trust studied the New Coke fiasco and thought … hey, we can do that too!  Look at all the publicity Coke got!  

I’ve been a Diet Pepsi drinker for a long time.  The new product has lost the crisp, fresh edge to the taste, leaves a modestly unpleasant after-taste, and is noticeably less sweet.  I've heard Pepsi says focus groups went wild over this new stuff, but I don’t believe that for a moment.  It’s not for me.  Moreover, now in restaurants I can’t just order a diet cola and take whatever brand comes; I now must ask for my drink by name, as in “Diet Coke, but only Diet Coke, please.”  Or maybe I'll switch to bourbon and then I won't care what brand arrives at my table.  One more thing to complicate each passing day.   

As an aside, Pepsi’s CEO is Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi, a woman born and raised outside of the United States.  She got briefly into some hot water some years ago with an intemperate anti-American comment, an incident ignored by the liberal media, as she is a foreign-born woman of color, and thus missing from her Wikipedia page.  The media undoubtedly agreed with her anyway.  I thought I would revisit the incident but don’t want to spend the time to dig deeper to find a web site that hasn’t been Sovietized.    

Well, maybe it’s time to cut back some on soft drinks anyway, and diet Coke is all right.  And that Diet Dr. Pepper is pretty good, but its manufacturer wants to keep each can’s age a secret and so, unlike Coke or Pepsi, doesn’t date it, making a purchase a bit risky at anyplace other than a high volume supermarket.  As always, buyer beware.   

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lakeside Days

Overcast with a strong northerly wind along the southern shore of wild Lake Michigan, on August 24, 2015: (Click to enlarge photos)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lakeside Days

Finally a day hot and hazy, after that cool spring and early summer.  The full expanse of Lake Michigan spreads out before me.  Overhead, high, thin clouds buffer the sun, a bit.  The sand burns under foot.  A welcome northerly breeze barrels straight down the lake right at me.  Where are all the gulls, who love to glide the currents high above the glistening water; somewhere else is more enticing, for now. 

Out on the deep blue water are lots of cruisers, open-bow boats, and jet skis.  There’s a cigarette boat noisily zooming about a good way offshore.  A few kayakers and paddle boarders tentatively move about.

The lake has a mild chop with scattered small whitecaps.  The rollers hitting the beach are pleasantly rhythmic and surprisingly loud.  They usually break orderly-like, but now and then a rogue wave arrives and causes an odd and noisy collision. 

I float in the waves a while and wait for the gulls to return.  Later they come, having become bored wherever they had been.  

The water is clear – perhaps too clear, thanks to small mussels, the zebras and the quaggas, destructive invaders from a world away that hog too much mico-food.  The water is also warm, 72 degrees a nearby buoy says, surprisingly so given the last two extra-cold winters.

The water level is high, higher than it has been for years.  Some of the dune grass on the small bluff edging the narrowing beach struggles to maintain footing as the sand collapses beneath from the battering of the relentless waves. 

I think of waves in song.  From Hammerstein:  “You can’t hear a sound, not the turn of a leaf, Or the fall of a wave hittin’ the sand / The tide’s creeping up on the beach like a thief, Afraid to be caught stealing the land.”  From Fields:  “I won’t dance, don’t ask me, I won’t dance madam with you / But oh what you do to me, I’m like an ocean wave that’s bumped on the shore, I fell so absolutely stumped on the floor.”

A shout from somewhere down the beach cuts through the din and breaks the trance.  I look out to see the full expanse of the great lake spread out before me, this hot and hazy day.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Remembering Omar Sharif

He was given one of the most dramatic entrances for an actor in film, cast as a then-unknown by director David Lean in his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia.  Starting as a shimmering dot in the distant desert, his figure grew slowly larger until he burst into the scene by suddenly shooting Lawrence’s companion and guide. 

According to Wikipedia, Omar Sharif was born Michel Demitri Chalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, to a Lebanese Christian family.  The city in his youth was a "chaotically cosmopolitan" place (link) in a country ruled by the Westernized King Farouk, who was a friend of his mother and played bridge at their house.  He graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics, but eventually gravitated to acting.  In his early 20s he converted to Islam and scrapped his Christian name in order to marry an Egyptian actress, back when Muslim countries had actresses.  In 1962 Lean cast the 32 year old actor in his first English-speaking role in Lawrence.     

Smart and educated, a noted bridge player and a speaker of many languages, Omar Sharif died a few days ago in Cairo at the age of 83.     

To a generation of middle-aged American women, he came to epitomize the somewhat exotic, always mysterious, ever debonair foreign sex symbol.  His film roles included The Night of the Generals, a favorite of mine in which he plays a German army officer conducting a murder investigation during WWII; the picture also features his co-star from Lawrence, Peter O’Toole.  Perhaps his greatest part was that of a sensitive and altruistic physician and poet consumed by the barbarity of the Russian Revolution in another David Lean epic masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago.

I imagine it would be hard for someone young today to appreciate the breath of his appeal.  But there is this.  In the rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin, far from the plains of the Nile delta or the forests of Lebanon, nestled along the high, picturesque dalles of the Wisconsin River is a little town called Wisconsin Dells.  It has become a resort area hosting the thousands of tourists attracted to the cool water and beautiful north woods countryside.  In the heart of the sprawl is a supper club called Wally’s House of Embers, there since the late 1950s.  For that special occasion it has a cozy, overly-decorated, very private booth for two.  Anyone wanting to reserve it for a romantic dinner by candlelight needs just to ask for the Omar Sharif Room.

R Balsamo

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Democrat Chicago Public Schools Running Out of “Other People’s Money”

The patronage-rich, administrator-dense Chicago Public School System, run for generations by the Democrat Party and effectively bankrupt like so many states and cities long-controlled by that same gang, is fast running out of "other people's money." 

Now it says (link) it will eliminate well over one thousand current teachers to be able to continue to pay generous benefits to the ever-growing ranks of retired teachers.  "But what about the children!!!," to echo the standard liberal refrain whenever a Republican proposes just the slightest cut in even the rate of growth of government spending.

All this reminds me of the old joke that General Motors is a retirement and social welfare organization that funds itself by financing the purchase of pricey motor vehicles that it poorly manufactures.  Likewise, the Chicago Public School System seems to be a generous retirement and social welfare organization that funds itself by lavishly administering an inefficiently-run day care operation for children that requires ever-increasing funding by foolish taxpayers and even more foolish lenders.  Take a look at the kids' test scores if you dare, although to be fair the schools have no control over the often dismal home life of the students and the dangerous, toxic gangsta/ho culture in which many are immersed.

R Balsamo

Related post:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Bork Nomination Legacy – Democrat Viciousness Paying Supreme Court Dividends

In light of the recent big Supreme Court decisions “upholding” Obamacare subsidies and same-sex marriage, in which two Republican-nominated justices voted their political policy preferences rather than looking to constitutional textual principles, it is worth noting how our Republic got to this point.  The point where clear language in a crucial section of an important law that purposefully stated that subsidies were only available through health care exchanges “established by the state” is decreed to have really meant “not established by the state” in order to rescue the law from economic and political disaster.  That the so-called liberal justices always vote their personal political preferences is hard enough to take, but to have Republican-nominated justices join them is truly an ominous sign for the future of our Republic.

In 1987, Republican President Ronald Reagan was faced with an opening on the Supreme Court.  Up to that time, there was a general Senate policy of deference to the President’s nominee, although in the decade earlier Republican Nixon had two nominations rejected.  Reagan proceeded to nominate noted lawyer and jurist Robert Bork, who Democrats in the Senate considered too forceful an advocate for the non-political constitutional interpretation they opposed.  Democrats smeared and savaged Bork, and Republican pushback was feeble.  His nomination failed.  The viciousness with which the Democrats attacked Bork and Reagan served to profoundly intimidate Republican presidents thereafter.  In Bork’s place, Reagan ultimately nominated Anthony Kennedy, who would become, on cases with significant political issues, a man who votes his personal political preferences rather than constitutional dictates.   

Republican presidents after Bork became drawn to nominating so-called "stealth" candidates, hopefully secretly true constitutionalists but without much of a track record that might upset the strident liberal Democrats who sought a political Supreme Court.  The stealth strategy of course has turned out to be a disaster for constitutionalists (see, for example, Kennedy, Anthony; Souter, David; and Roberts, John – just to stick with the Supreme Court).  One might have at least hoped at the time that the new Senate approach would mean that Democrat presidents would also be forced to nominate “stealth” candidates more acceptable to the other side.    

No such luck.  When Clinton was elected and nominated two extreme, no-doubt-about-it ultraliberal lawyers, the Republicans should have returned the favor, leveled the playing field, and as the Democrats did with Bork should have rejected those nominations.  But they did not, and inexplicably returned to the old policy of deference to a president’s choice.  A stunning show of political cowardice and incompetence of lasting historical importance. 

One Clinton nominee, the ultraliberal Ginsburg, an anti-constitutionalist who votes her political preferences as a super-legislator, was confirmed by the senate 93-3.  Thirty-nine Republicans voted to confirm her, within recent memory of the Bork attack, while only three said nay.  Republicans voting to confirm Ginsburg included current senators McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and McCain, a former Republican Party nominee for president, as well as former Senator Robert Dole, the Republican Party nominee for president in 1996.  Compare these Senate confirmation vote totals:  for Republican-nominated Thomas (52-48) and Alito (58-42) versus Democrat-nominated Breyer (87-9).  Even ultra-stealth nominee John Roberts, a George W. Bush discredit, who was such a cipher that he was regarded at the time by some astute conservatives as dangerously political rather than constitutional, and who has gone on to become a political liberal vote on some big cases, was only confirmed 78-22, with many prominent ultraliberal Democrats like Joe Biden and Dick Durbin voting against him.  The bottom line is that Republicans senators overwhelmingly vote for Democrat nominees, but not vice-versa.  Why would that possibly be?  Why should that possibly be?

The disgraceful Republican weakness after the Bork episode led directly to the nominations by Republican presidents of some liberal justices, and the nomination (with easy confirmation) by Democrat presidents of anti-constitution ultraliberal justices.  The scorched earth strategy toward Republican nominees was begun by Ted Kennedy, the Democrat Party saint who left a woman passenger to slowly drown in the car he drove into water while he slithered off to sober up.  Kennedy looked into Republican eyes and saw weakness.  The strategy has been extremely successful.  It has worked in spades, likely beyond the wildest Democrat dreams, and continues to pay dividends down to this very day, to the everlasting detriment of the Republic.

R Balsamo

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Roberts Rule of Disorder: The Supreme Court Decides the Obamacare Subsidies Case

In King v Burwell, the Obamacare subsidies case whose decision was released today, John Roberts and five other Supreme Court justices now say that the law is not the clear and plain meaning of its text but rather is whatever the Supreme Court says it is in order to accomplish its political goal at the moment.  Everyone now truly knows that the law was written precisely as intended, to induce states to set up their own Obamacare exchanges via a big financial carrot – federal subsidies for its poorer citizens available only through a state-established exchange, not one run by the federal government.  The Obamacare law’s drafters and the Democrats who voted for it did not foresee that some states would refuse to establish exchanges.  Thus to now uphold the law as clearly written and intended would cripple the law, and so Roberts and five other justices introduce a new concept – the Roberts Rule of Disorder:  if parts of a law will cripple that law if interpreted as clearly and purposefully written, then we as Supreme Court justices can simply rewrite the law to strike out those clearly-written and clearly-intended troublesome words if that allows us to accomplish a political goal we support.

Quin Hillyer writes (link):  "With today’s Obamacare decision, John Roberts confirms that he has completely jettisoned all pretense of textualism.  He is a results-oriented judge, period, ruling on big cases based on what he thinks the policy result should be or what the political stakes are for the court itself.  He is a disgrace. That is all."

R. Balsamo

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Illinois Whistles Past the Fiscal Graveyard

The state of Illinois is functionally bankrupt from humongous annual pension payments to retired former employees, most of them Democrats.  A recent Illinois Supreme Court decision has just invalidated the Illinois pension reform law, weak as it was, that helped address the financial crisis.  The basis of the court’s decision was a provision in the state constitution, inserted when the document was revised in 1970, that purportedly explicitly protects every state employee’s pension plan as of the day that employee was hired.  Note to self:  vigorously oppose any future effort to rewrite any constitution because of this issue or that, because while everyone is concentrating on the headline issues somewhere in the background insiders will be inserting language that benefits them and shafts the public overall.

Illinois is broke.  Democrats of course want to raise taxes to cover the financial hole, but that’s just been tried and didn’t work.  Illinois just had a portion of a temporary income tax hike expire.  Illinois has a flat income tax, and the increase was from 3% to 5% for individuals, a 66% hike, that ran for three or four years.  Despite bringing in a ton of additional cash, and despite the bulk of that cash going to state pension funds (I have read as much as 90%), at the end of the period of the tax hike I have read that the pension shortfall is greater than it was before the tax hike, meaning that the pension deficit is increasing faster than the additional money raised via the tax hike.  The temporary hike was supposed to make things much better, but it did not. 

The tax rate for individuals has now dropped to 3.75%, which is still higher than the 3% it was a few years ago.  The state is in, as the saying goes, deep doo doo, and of course some local units of government like the City of Chicago and the Chicago Public School System may be in even worse shape. 

Some argue that the problem started with a "rich" and ultimately unaffordable formula for determining the amount of pension, aggravated by a fair amount of Illinois-style corruption such as double and triple dipping, pension spiking, and adding many non-governmental union employees to the pension system.  The unaffordability was hidden for years by financial legerdemain, while some of the money that should have been put to the pension fund was spent elsewhere to make the politicians look better at the moment to their constituencies.  Here's one old clipping I have related to the mess:  "From 1998 through 2008, despite revenue that has gone up by many billions, [Illinois] spending has skyrocketed: per capita state expenditures after inflation have climbed almost 47% while the state population has grown only 4%."  At some point the financial chicanery could not be hidden anymore, even from the accounting firms.

Most state politicians have resisted real reform such as moving government employees off a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, the kind almost all private businesses have today.  For them, "Illinois ain't ready for reform," to borrow a phrase. 

The total state and local tax burden in Illinois is on the high side as states go, and I have read the highest among the surrounding (and competing) states.  Although the income tax may be relatively low (although some states have none), local property taxes and sales taxes are relatively high.

The process some high-tax and functionally-bankrupt states are beginning to experience is conceptually similar to the downward death spiral of an old health insurance plan when, through bad underwriting and pricing, its prices become too high to attract healthy customers and at the same time drive away healthy current enrollees, leaving behind the costly sick ones as an ever increasing percentage of covered lives.  Of course, the implications, intermediate- to long-term, for the municipal bond market are the dark clouds on the horizon.  In some places like Detroit, they have already blown in.

Truly and honestly fixing this problem without changing spending would require a massive tax hike, one that would substantially harm the competitiveness of the state, whose economic growth may already be behind such neighbors as Wisconsin and Indiana, and one that would cause I think most tax-paying retirees and many businesses to flee the state.  One tough alternative so crazy it just might work:  truly and substantially cutting state spending.  But that would mean cutting spending to the core base of the Democrat Party – government workers and welfare recipients, which is not likely to happen. 

So the state slowly slouches toward bankruptcy, while tax-paying retirees and business owners set their sights on Indiana, Tennessee, or Florida.  Many have already left, and many more are sure to follow.  Illinois' financial death spiral may have already begun.

Yeats comes easily to mind:

       Turning and turning in the widening gyre
       The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
       Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
       Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
       And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
       Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Liberal Mob Attacks Christians in Indiana While Ignoring the Real Abuse Elsewhere

The opponents of religious freedom are attacking Republican politicians in the state of Indiana for their recent passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The attack mob is not discussing if and how this new law is any different from a federal law of the same name or such laws that exist in 19 other states.  The mob says this law permits discrimination against gays and lesbians, but its proponents say that it, like the federal law and other state laws, does not.

Ed Whelan at National Review reminds us:

H.L. Mencken famously defined puritanism as the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”  Progressivism, it seems, should be defined as the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be making a decision you disapprove of—and the fervent use of government power to prevent and punish such a decision.”

This attack is a tactic from the playbook of communist agitator Saul Alinsky, the spiritual mentor of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Pick the target, freeze it, swarm it, smear it; avoid calm and reasoned discussion.  The ultimate goal is to break the will to resist the liberal political agenda.  Just as “women’s rights” activists condemn conservatives for every imagined slight while staying silent on the profound violence against and degradation of women in much of the world, “gay rights” proponents attack American conservatives relentlessly while also ignoring that same violence and degradation elsewhere.    

The electronics company Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, a gay man, has blasted the new Indiana law.  Yet Cook’s Apple does lots of business, willingly and happily, with Muslim countries that commit violence against homosexuals.  So for Cook, is this dust up really about fair treatment of gays, real or imagined?

What’s going on here, when supposed “advocates” of rights for women and homosexuals ignore the real violence against them in the world, sometimes right here in American Muslim families (e.g., “honor killings”), and only attack American Christian conservatives?  What’s going on is yet another effort to marginalize and suppress political opponents of American liberals, generally and specifically. 

The general part is obvious.  The specific part is to attack Indiana governor Mike Pence, a smart, likeable, and accomplished Republican politician.  This over-the-top attack on Indiana tells us that Pence is seen as a significant national political threat by Democrats and so needs to be Palinized however possible.  Democrats play a long game.

R Balsamo

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Peggy Noonan Strikes at Ted Cruz, But Wounds Herself; Again

The dreamily erratic, mellifluous, and oft-duped Peggy Noonan is at it again.  In 2008, she utterly destroyed whatever credibility and reputation she had with her notoriously delusional and pathetic school-girl crush on Barack Obama (how’d that work out Peggy?), that at an age when people should know better.   

In 2008 she became infatuated with a rookie senator with an almost negligible resume as an Alinskyite (i.e., radical socialist) community organizer, a part-time Illinois state politician famous for setting a world record in voting “present”, and part-time lecturer (nota bene: not professor) of one course on the 14thAmendment and blacks at the UChicago Law School.  Obama was president (nota bene: not editor) of the Harvard Law Review, apparently a ceremonial post often used to promote diversity; he wrote nary a single word for it.  Looking at this man, she said this:  “His victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief....  He rose with guts and gifts.  He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make.”  While sensible, grounded people saw Obama for what he was based on his past actions and words, a man who never held a real job before the presidency, fake conservatives like Noonan and David Brooks (who infamously swooned over the “crease” of Obama’s pant leg) saw what they wanted to see.     

Now Noonan, having not learned to distrust her instincts, delivers a hit piece on Ted Cruz.  Noonan is the George Costanza contrary indicator here.  Cruz scares the beejessus out of liberals, socialists, fake conservatives, and go-along, get-along Republicans because he is smart, charismatic, and committed to principles of liberty rather than authoritarian big government.  She now says of Cruz in the Wall Street Journal in a post titled “The Too Smooth Cruz”:  “He is 44 and a first-term senator. He entered the national stage less than three years ago, though it seems like longer because he made himself so famous so fast.  He talks about Reagan, but Reagan in 1980 had been a union president, two-term governor of a huge state, candidate for the GOP nomination in 1976, and longtime leader of modern conservatism. He had been an executive; he had run things; his accomplishments could be measured.”

Though Noonan was enthralled with Obama in 2008 despite a wafer-thin resume, now the following apparently doesn’t count for Cruz, who actually has done lots of stuff at ages when Obama was smoking dope with his choom gang, working as a “community organizer” for a socialist organization, and flitting around the Illinois statehouse avoiding a voting record: 

·        Editor – a working, productive editor – of the Harvard Law Review, unlike Obama’s ceremonial affirmative-action post of “president”.
·        Clerk to the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
·        Solicitor General of the State of Texas, where he argued and won cases before the US Supreme Court.
·        Associate Deputy Attorney General in the U.S. Justice Department.
·        Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
·        Real-world experience in the private practice of law.

I’d say Cruz stacks up a world better than Barack Obama did then, and does now.

R Balsamo

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Barack Obama on Religious Identification

I say that I am a Christian, so everyone must accept that and proclaim agreement with that if asked (this especially goes for Republicans): Barack Obama.

Despite the fact that thousands of men, women, and imams of the Islamic State say they are good Muslims, and claim to be acting in accordance with the directives of the Muslim faith, I, Barack Obama, a Christian, proclaim that in no way are these people Muslim, regardless of what they say they are: Barack Obama.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Ted Cruz Running

Senator Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz, the first Hispanic to serve as a U.S. senator from Texas, announced today that he is running for the Republican nomination for the 2016 Presidential election.  Cruz’s father is Cuban and his mother is of mixed Irish and Italian ancestry, despite which, Cruz jokes, he “somehow ended up Southern Baptist."

Per Wikipedia, Cruz graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.  At Harvard he was a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review and a named Fellow in Law and Economics.  After law school, Cruz served as a law clerk to a judge of the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals and then for Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William Rehnquist.  Cruz was the first Hispanic to clerk for a Chief Justice of the United States.

Besides some years as an attorney in private practice, Cruz served as the Solicitor General of Texas for five years, the youngest and longest-serving in the history of that office.  In the Senate, Cruz has been a tireless advocate for individual liberty, Constitutionalism, and the impartial rule of law.  He also has been a fierce critic of the depredations of Barack Obama and his lieutenants on the integrity of the American system of government.   

Cruz is a strong and articulate advocate for his principles, and so is feared politically by liberals (and some Republicans-in-Name-Only) who thus smear him endlessly in ways large and small.  One example of the latter: just today National Public Radio, the ultra-liberal radio network largely funded by the American taxpayers, referred to Cruz as a “white Hispanic”, a term recently coined by the extremely-liberal New York Times to mean, in liberal dog-whistle terms, that somehow he’s not an authentic Hispanic.  Liberals have yet to refer to Barack Obama as a white African-American.  Unlike the milquetoast Mitt Romney, a good man but timid politically, and the feckless John McCain, who suffers from Stockholm Syndrome, Cruz will be a strong candidate.  I’m looking forward to his race.   

R Balsamo