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Loose Canons

Happy Birthday, Teufel Hunden

By 11.10.14

Two hundred and thirty-nine years ago today, they were born at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. The news of their birth traveled far more slowly than they did. A short time later, according to their lore, their first man reported for duty aboard a US Navy ship. The officer of the deck barked, “What the hell are you?” and said, “You go aft and sit down ’till I find out.” The Tripolitan pirates didn’t know who they were when a handful marched across five hundred miles of Libyan desert in 1805. Led by a fiddle-playing Irish-American lieutenant named Presley Neville O’Bannon, they attacked Derna under a fierce barrage from three U.S. Navy ships, overcame odds of more than ten-to-one. and seized Derna in less than three hours.

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Buy the Book

A Lady With the Spark of Wit

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

The Informed Air: Essays
By Muriel Spark
(New Directions, 352 pages, $24.95)

How do you do it?” asked Evelyn Waugh in a letter to Muriel Spark. He had just finished reading The Bachelors, her fifth novel, and was “dazzled” by it. “Most novelists find there is one kind of book they can write (particularly humorous novelists) and go on doing it with variations until death. You seem to have an inexhaustible source.”

How did Spark do it? Twenty-two novels and not a dud in the bunch. And then there are the critical biographies, plays for stage and radio, a children’s book, a volume of memoir, and collections of short stories and poetry. Spark, known for her wit, dark humor, and versatility, was the queen bee of the postmodernists, and arguably one of the most innovative British novelists writing in the second half of the twentieth century. 

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The Right Prescription

If Words Mean Anything, Obamacare Is in Real Trouble

By 11.8.14

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear a lawsuit challenging an arbitrary IRS decision to issue tax credits and penalties through federally created Obamacare exchanges. Two federal courts have already declared the regulation unconstitutional, but a third court ruled that the IRS has acted within its authority. It was this ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that prompted the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell to file an appeal with the high court. If the Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration in this case, it could well be the undoing of the much-reviled health care law.

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Think Twice About Illinois’s Crony Republican Governor-Elect

By 11.7.14

With Bruce Rauner’s election in Illinois, the Republican Governor’s Association has checked this bluer-than-blue state off its Democrat tick list. It must feel good—but I’m less than sanguine. 

For the better part of a year, powerful Chicago Democrats have been whispering in my ear, extolling Rauner’s virtues. I heard similar insider political “chatter” about Barack Obama from these same Democrats long before he ran for U.S. Senate. Even the left-leaning Chicago Sun-Times suddenly changed its no-endorsement policy to back Rauner — and only Rauner — without even the basic formality of a candidate questionnaire or interview.

You see, for decades, Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist and former chairman of private equity firm GTCR, donated millions to the Democratic Party to help defeat Republican candidates. That “investment” has paid dividends.

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The Nation's Pulse

The Few, The Loud, The Marines

By 11.7.14

The colonists who founded the United States Marine Corps in Tun Tavern 239 years ago Monday certainly understood their demographic. The launch of the USMC in a Philadelphia bar makes sense in a way that the founding of NAMBLA in an old church does not.

Uncommon valor is indeed a common virtue in taprooms, particularly in those moments before last call. Captain Samuel Nicholas didn’t possess a computer algorithm of the like Amazon employs to tell customers who bought The Audacity of Hope that they might also enjoy Mein Kampf. But he intuitively grasped that people who liked fighting also liked drinking.

Appropriately, Marines gather around the world in barrooms, or at least banquet halls with bars in them, to celebrate owing their existence, like so many of us do, to a meeting in a barroom. I have the good fortune to attend one such event this weekend.

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The Charlie Watch

Democrats Don’t Show in Florida

By 11.7.14

The Florida governor’s race was supposed to be about turnout. It was. And Republicans turned out just enough to give incumbent Rick Scott another four years in the governor’s mansion by 1.2 percent. Scott beat Democrat Charlie Crist by 67,000 out of 5.9 million votes cast. A marginal improvement over his 61,000 vote victory in 2010.

Floridians who’ve been out of the state for more than a couple of years might be surprised to learn Crist is now a Democrat. When they left, Crist was passing himself off as a Reagan Republican. And now, after a short spell as an independent, Crist describes himself as an Obama Democrat. Tuesday completed the political trifecta for him. Crist has now lost statewide elections as a Republican (U.S. Senate,1998), as an independent (U.S. Senate, 2010), and as a Democrat (governor, 2014). My sources tell me the Greens aren’t interested in him, and the Libertarians won’t return his phone calls.

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Another Perspective

How Republicans Can Win the White House

By 11.7.14

While it sounds simplistic, in order to win in 2016, the Republican Party must define its objective. That objective is to win the White House. It is not to embrace ideological purity for the sake of itself. With its taking of the Senate, the Republican Party now has the chance to redefine itself — otherwise it may remain a foraging dinosaur lost in contemporary times.

The Republican Party needs to be a party of rigid principle: its first principle should be flexibility. The GOP has allowed itself to be viewed as the party of insular, middle-aged white men — ensconced in country clubs playing liar’s dice in plaid pants, waiting to tee off at twilight golf. Some in the party have shown a remarkable willingness to drive off the proverbial cliff with their flag fluttering, heads held high with self-esteem — all in the name of values. The GOP has inflicted much damage on itself by becoming labeled as anti-immigration, anti-women and minorities, anti-planet Earth, and anti-gays and lesbians. Many Republicans are hardly like this and are embarrassed by such an unwise, unyielding, and unsuccessful marketing message.

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Special Report

Meanwhile, Europe Is (Still) Burning

By 11.7.14

In case anyone missed it, the sick man of the global economy is getting much sicker. And it’s not just “peripheral” economies like Greece asunder in a sea of stagnation. Some of the European Union’s biggest players are in serious economic trouble. What’s especially striking, however, is so many European governments’ continued inability, and often unwillingness, to respond appropriately.

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A Further Perspective

T’was a Famous Victory

By 11.7.14

So did anything change on Tuesday? Very likely not. The ability of Congressional Republicans to enact legislation is not much changed from last Monday. Before Tuesday they held the House. Now they hold the House and the Senate. But it takes three branches of government to enact a law, and there isn’t much difference between holding one and holding two branches, if you don’t have the third.

To which I’d add two caveats. First, there’s an important psychological difference. The House Republicans caved on the debt ceiling last January because they didn’t think they had the voters at their back. They had held out in 2011, and then got shellacked in 2012. Perhaps they’ll feel differently now. That’s important because their ultimate power is that of the purse, and that requires staring down Obama, as they did in the debt negotiations of 2011.

That implies a long-ball strategy, where the Republicans try to enact the sort of things on George Will’s wish list. Otherwise they’re just whistling in the wind.

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The #WaronWomen is over—and we won

By 11.7.14

Republicans are jubilant after their electoral victories Tuesday night — but it might be that Democratic losses tell a more complete story than GOP gains.

While voters almost uniformly backed conservative candidates, they also supported ballot measures out of sync with the traditional Republican party platform. Sure, marijuana legalization — which passed in the nation’s capital and in Oregon — can be chalked up to a rise in libertarians (me included), lurking at the margins of the GOP like the outsiders we’ve been since high school. But voters also approved non-binding hikes in the minimum wage in four states and three major cities. That’s hardly a hardline conservative position. So what gives? 

The easy answer is that Americans are, on the whole, idiots, who tune into elections at the last possible moment, when they simply can’t avoid it any longer. Hence the increase in television commercials the last two weeks, as the parties compete to see who can more effectively convince voters that the other guys are more likely to murder their grandmother, child, puppy, or cable television package — whichever they might find more important.

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