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Special Report

Murder on the Fly

By 3.26.15

Suicide is prohibited by the Torah, but the Talmud shows great sensitivity when people end their lives in the wake of overwhelming loss. One episode recounted there (Hullin 94a) involves a man who accidentally sold his costly barrel of wine for the price of olive oil. There were some oil drippings on the cover of the barrel and he had mislabeled it as the much cheaper liquid. When he realized he was wiped out financially, he hanged himself.

The rabbis’ response was to caution the public not to drip oil on wine barrels.

Another story involves a dinner party in which the adult guests were given a special dish the children of the family were not permitted to share. Some of the guests felt bad for the little boy coming in and out of the room looking longingly at their food, so they slipped him a few pieces. The father was not privy to these transactions so when he spotted the kid with the goodies in his hand he gave him an angry whack. Somehow the blow caught him the wrong way and the boy was killed. The distressed father could not face what he had done, so he killed himself. The mother, broken by her sudden loss, jumped off the roof as well.

Ben Stein's Diary

Two Hours From Beverly Hills

By 3.26.15

Let me tell you why Big Wifey and I love Rancho Mirage, and the whole Coachella Valley, roughly the area from Palm Springs east to Indio, so much.

We started living here on a semi-permanent basis, which is to say we bought a condo at Mission Hills CC, in about 1979. It was a small two bedroom overlooking a grassy lawn and then a billion tennis courts. At that time, the desert was different from what it is now. There were immense empty spaces where I would walk my Weimaraner dog, Mary, and practice target shooting.

There were blocks and blocks of small houses with bougainvillea all around and no traffic. My wife and I would ride our bicycles for hours. There were no shopping centers of any size east of downtown Palm Springs.

The air was dry and clear. The sky was always blue. Once in a while there would be romantic lightning storms.

In downtown Palm Springs there was a Saks and maybe (I am not sure) a Bullock’s Wilshire and a few other luxury stores.

Other than that, there were a plethora of date shake stands, the Ocotillo Inn, La Quinta, and endless vistas.

Political Hay

Two Rematches for 2016

By 3.26.15

Statewide ballots in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin next year will look awfully familiar.

First-term Republican Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are likely to face off in 2016 against the same Democratic opponents they defeated in the 2010 tea party-fueled GOP wave. That would be former Rep. Joe Sestak and ex-Sen. Russ Feingold, respectively.

Of the rematch pair, Feingold stands the better chance of getting his old job back. The three-term senator, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law School grad, was among the most prominent casualties of the 2010 GOP electoral romp.

In his Senate days Feingold was an iconoclast. Though generally a reliable liberal vote for the Democratic leadership, he tended to annoy his party colleagues at inopportune times. Feingold was the only Democratic senator voting to extend the early 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Two-and-a-half years later Feingold cast the sole lone vote against the Patriot Act, defying post-9/11 concerns about national security. And Feingold was always somewhat of a deficit hawk, zeroing in on colleagues pork projects with zeal.

Another Perspective

United States of Arabia

By 3.26.15

The new king of Saudi Arabia has been bestowing gifts — lots of gifts. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has given an estimated $32 billion to students, government workers, soldiers, and retirees.

Those not directly receiving cash payouts are still expected to reap profit.  Shop owners reportedly filled their shelves with luxury items as eager beneficiaries of the King’s largesse sought to spend their “bonuses” on the latest gadgets, fashions, and luxuries. Others, seeking the Saudi version of the “gift that keeps on giving,” have set aside their money for a second or third wife.

Out of the five million people in the Saudi workforce, three million are expected to directly benefit from these cash outlays. And those not lucky enough to be direct beneficiaries may still get a “bonus” if the company they work for is among the many in Saudi Arabia taking its cue from their King and honoring his reign with gifts of their own.

The Obama Watch

The Worst Negotiators Ever

By 3.26.15

We’ll start with a quote from the weekend from the Times of Israel

Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei called for “Death to America” on Saturday, a day after President Barack Obama appealed to Iran to seize a “historic opportunity” for a nuclear deal and a better future, and as US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed substantial progress toward an accord.

Khamenei went further and said if there were to be a nuclear deal with America and our partners it would have to be a very limited one…

“They insist on putting pressure on our dear people's economy,” he said, referring to economic sanctions aimed at halting Iran's nuclear program. “What is their goal? Their goal is to put the people against the system,” he said. “The politics of America is to create insecurity,” he added, referring both to US pressure on Iran and elsewhere in the region.


GOP Consultants Become Campaign Issue

By 3.26.15

So Liz Mair is gone. The GOP consultant thrown under the bus that is the Scott Walker campaign. But before we get to the Mair story?

Once upon a time the people who worked for a presidential candidate were, believe it or not, longtime loyalists. Think JFK’s brother and campaign manager Bobby Kennedy. Ronald Reagan’s Ed Meese or Lyn Nofziger, Jimmy Carter’s Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, George W. Bush’s Karl Rove or, to go back even further in time, FDR’s Louie Howe.

The world changed. Long ago. Somewhere along the line the people working to elect candidates became “operatives.” In the vernacular “hired guns.” Racing around America and indeed the democracies of the world with a set of skills — good skills without question — with loyalty to no one except their own career and gaining professional reputations that in turn earned them a pretty penny. There was nothing necessarily wrong about this — the world turns.

Special Report

How Bibi Warded Off Obama: The Inside Scoop

By 3.25.15

The political season is upon us once again. Ted Cruz, who launched his career as the unelectable senatorial candidate from Texas has now announced as the unelectable presidential candidate from the Senate. After him the deluge. Candidates will come out of the woodwork and turn on the waterworks. This in turn will generate loads of legwork and footwork in support of the candidates’ handiwork — done by campaign strategists, analysts, and pollsters.

Where have these hardy souls been since November, when they were scattered across the country guiding governors and senators and representatives through the midterms? They have been in another country! A country that holds fair and open elections and has a vibrant political debate at the heart of its culture. A country that has maintained a special friendship with the United States and American People since its inception in 1948. A country named Israel.

Ben Stein's Diary

Don’t Compare Nixon to Hillary

By 3.25.15

So… Alex and I have been down here in Rancho Mirage, in what was once desert and is apparently about to be desert again if this drought doesn’t end. We drove down late Friday and were virtually comatose Saturday from the drive. When you are 70 years old, a high-speed drive on Highway 10, with thousands of other cars racing along next to you, is exhausting. Plus, when I got here, I had to watch “Cops” and “Lockup.”

These are important shows. They tell us there is a violent, anti-social criminal class among us, and we owe the police our lives, literally, our lives, for protecting us. There is a civil war going on in America. We have an immense criminal class, disproportionately nonwhite, committing terrifying crimes and even non-terrifying crimes, and the police are our first and last line of defense.

Special Report

Blowing Sunshine Up Their Skirts

By 3.25.15

TAMPA — At first glance, an amendment to Florida’s constitution obliging the state to promote solar power and allowing homeowners and businesses to generate solar power on their property, in cahoots with a solar power company, might not do much harm. But it easily could do harm if it leads to even more taxpayer-financed subsidies to an industry that is long on promises but short on kilowatt-hours generated. It could do harm if it leads to requirements that utilities buy more pricy solar power and pass the cost on to their customers. This is what has happened elsewhere — we’ve seen this movie before.

The beneficiaries of such an amendment, being pushed for the 2016 ballot by a group called Floridians for Solar Choice, Inc., would be the hard-left, anti-free market environmental movement, bent on putting an end to fossil-fuel generated power, and the solar power industry, seeking a larger share of the energy market and more of the tax breaks and subsidies without which expensive solar power could not exist. It’s hard to imagine how such an amendment would benefit Floridians with no grudge against fossil fuels or with no skin in the solar power game.

Campaign Crawlers

Does Rahmbo Get to Win This Time?

By 3.25.15

One wouldn’t think that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would still have a shot of winning a second term — especially after the hits he has taken since being forced into a runoff against little-known Cook County Commissioner Jesus (Chuy) Garcia.

Last month, on Election Day, Emanuel ran afoul of the Second City’s black residents and criminal justice reform advocates across the nation after the Guardian revealed that police officers were allegedly beating and torturing suspects they arrested at a warehouse on the city’s West Side. The news, coming on the heels of outrage over police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, and Cleveland, Ohio (where a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun was shot by a police officer within seconds of pulling up), likely contributed to Emanuel winning a mere 45 percent of the vote.