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Ben Stein's Diary

The Down Side of Life in Beverly Hills

By 10.13.14

Sunday

If you were to drive by our home in Beverly Hills, you would think that the people who live there have it made. The lawn is green. The trees are tall and leafy. The flowers are vibrant and the paint is clean and white.

But in fact, my wife and I are under more or less constant attack.

Someone hacked my Citibank MasterCard starting a few months ago. He started charging things on my card while I was in North Idaho. He charged over $30,000 worth at local stores in Southern California while — at the same hours — I was charging groceries and gasoline in Sandpoint, Idaho. Somehow, this never triggered any suspicion by Citi. It took me weeks and days on the phone with Citibank to get this cleared up. I am not at all certain it’s cleared up yet.

Last summer, my wife got an AT&T “smart phone.” The services she signed up for were supposed to cost about $100 a month. Instead, her bills were $1,500 a month. When we inquired about this, we were told it was because of all of my wife’s business downloads, videogames, sports apps, and international calls.

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Enemy of the Week

The President’s Search for a New Beginning

By 10.13.14

Leon Panetta was the flavor of last week, not only because he allowed Joe Biden to come across as profound, when, at his usual haunts at Harvard, Joe observed, “At least give the guy a chance to get out of office.” So our veep calls his boss “the guy.” Talk about “inappropriate,” which is how he characterized Leon’s dismissive remarks about our still-serving president.

Leon responded in kind. “I don’t think you put history on hold,” he noted. But it also sounds to us he’s put it in reverse. Overlooked has been his comment that the president’s ineptness and lack of fire stem from self-doubts about his legitimacy, which, as the New York Times described Leon’s thinking, “has been challenged more than any of his predecessors by accusations like the unsubstantiated claim that he was not born in the United States.” So now we have anti-Obama Democrats hiding behind the so-called birthers. Out of long-suppressed guilt for not having vetted their “guy” in the first place?

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The Right Prescription

What’s the Matter With Milton Wolf?

By 10.13.14

It has occasionally been claimed that the Civil War began not at Fort Sumter in South Carolina but on the banks of a small creek in Kansas, where John Brown and his sons murdered five men in what later became known as the “Pottawatomie massacre.” Today, a less grisly civil war is being fought throughout that state between disgruntled supporters of Tea Party candidate Milton Wolf and “establishment” Republicans working to reelect Senator Pat Roberts, who defeated Wolf in a hard-fought GOP primary. This internecine conflict may well prevent the Republicans from regaining a majority in the U.S. Senate.

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Special Report

A Conflation of Viruses

By 10.13.14

Is anyone surprised that after Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan succumbed as the first victim of the Ebola virus to die on American soil his demise would become a cause célèbre for the race-hustling Left?

Of course not. The only surprise was that it was Jesse Jackson, whose exploits in racial demagoguery have of late been plagued by a relative lugubriousness in comparison to more ebullient contenders like Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, who commandeered the train by insinuating himself among Duncan’s family members to accuse Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of bigotry for the sin of not saving its most high-profile patient.

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Loose Canons

Open Season on Leader Barack

By 10.13.14

ISIS is about to conquer Baghdad while the Kurds are begging for arms and American airpower to prevent the massacre of the people in Kobane. Joey Biden accidentally told the truth about Turkey’s placid approach to ISIS but apologized quickly. Ukraine has gone quiet for the moment but Kim Jong-un remains missing and — given his five weeks’ absence — intelligence analysts are trying to figure out if the North Koreans are about to go off the rails again. And TSA’s experts are screening passengers at some airports, including JFK, to ensure our borders remain open to anyone who will not die of Ebola before they go through customs inspection. The rest of the world is in about the same shape.

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The Charlie Watch

Win One For the Gaffer?

By 10.10.14

Friday the 13th comes on Monday this month, which will confuse a lot of people. But not as many as Joe Biden will likely confuse Monday in Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), Florida when he campaigns on behalf of Charlie Crist, a pretty confusing guy himself.

Biden, and the traveling retinue required to interpret what Joe just said at the podium and to send out initial apologies to the wounded, will croon in the name of Crist for governor in the Parkland home of a major Democratic Party fundraiser. Mirabile dictu, Biden fancies a run at the presidency in 2016 (he runs periodically, to no effect), and so will likely be tooting his own horn as much as Crist’s. Though it’s often hard to tell with Joe, who is a forensic unguided missile and a stranger to coherence.

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Special Report

A Brave People Withstanding SARS and Killer Bees Can Survive Ebola

By 10.10.14

Ebola, a disease especially contagious in its spread of panic, affects an overwhelming number of television journalists. Not since the associates of the Good Witch Glinda and Hermione Granger descended upon Salem has a scourge incited such mass hysterics. Cable news does now for Ebola what Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providence, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions did then for the vexing yet similarly elusive sorcerer problem.

A Dallas Morning News photographer recently captured the image of a man wearing a surgical mask crossing the street. Perhaps because of such vigilance just five cases of the disease exist among the 316 million people residing in the United States. A recent visitor to our country passed away on Wednesday from Ebola, the first recorded death from the disease on American soil. Cars kill about 4,400 pedestrians every year in the U.S. Just something for the masked man photographed outside of the crosswalk to think about.  

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Another Perspective

Reporter Won’t Pay Taxes Until IRS Truth Comes Out

By 10.10.14

Are you fed up with your tax money being misspent while the government that collects them tramples on citizens’ rights? When the IRS scandal broke, one man decided enough was enough — and he hasn’t paid taxes since.

Daily Caller reporter Patrick Howley has refused to pay taxes since the public learned about the IRS targeting conservatives. On the 500th day after the news hit, he reviewed what we’ve learned about what happened in the IRS (precious little) and what has happened in our country in the meantime. Here’s just a sampling:

The government shut down because of Obamacare and Republicans got blamed.… ISIS beheaded three Western journalists.… Vladimir Putin seized Crimea. Guatemalan children poured across the border. John Kerry let Iran keep having nuclear power plants. War raged between Israel and Hamas. Armed federal agents stole a rancher’s cattle and then it was all okay because the rancher said something racist. Ebola broke out. A Malaysian plane got lost. Racial tensions spilled over in Ferguson.

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At Large

Captain Harry Howden, Heir to Hornblower

By 10.9.14

I recently came across a photograph of myself, a good many years younger, sitting behind the wheel of a yellow postwar Austin convertible, the mudguard punctured with a line of bullet holes.

The car had been lent to me by Captain Harry Howden, former captain of HMAS Hobart, only survivor of Australia’s three modern cruisers in World War II.

Hobart had been the last ship out of Singapore as the Japanese stormed in. Howden, noticing the car abandoned on the docks, cocked a snoot at the enemy by stopping while it, and the British crest from over the dockyard gates, were hoisted onboard. Hobart’s quarter-deck 6-inch gun-turret cleared it with an inch to spare. Hobart and the Japanese infantry swarming in were dueling with machine-guns as the car was loaded and Hobart steamed out of the shattered harbor, ensigns flying.

Those who knew Harry Howden during his retirement might have been surprised to learn of this quietly spoken, self-effacing man’s heroic and romantic past.

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A Further Perspective

Marijuana’s Anti-Environmentalists

By 10.9.14

On California’s northern coast are three counties that marijuana aficionados call the Emerald Triangle. In their view, the growers there have perfected a strain of cannabis that has high potency and consistently high quality. Result: There are many growers, most tending their crops in remote corners of these mountainous, heavily wooded counties.

This produces serious environmental damage. In Humboldt County where the largest amount of Emerald Triangle marijuana is grown, the sheriff’s office conducted an aerial survey and counted 4,000 visible outdoor grows, nearly all of them illegal. (California was the first of 22 states to permit medical use of marijuana, so some grows were established to serve users who have permit cards.)

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