FT. WILLIAM, Scotland -- The power of television to shrink the world has always amazed me. Eating lunch on the road to Ft. William, a man at the next table recognizes me and introduces himself.
Keith Farrington says he spent 15 years working as an assistant director of finance for the South East Thames Regional Health Authority, part of the National Health Service. He has strong warnings for the U.S. about Obamacare.
The Bradley Foundation, a private, independent grant-making organization based in Milwaukee, recently handed out its annual Bradley Prize to four men who have, in the words of the organization's mission statement, "(preserved and defended) the tradition of free representative government and private enterprise that has enabled the American nation and, in a larger sense, the entire Western world to flourish intellectually and economically."
Among the winners at the Kennedy Center event in Washington, D.C., was Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, the bete noire to the broadcast networks and other media elites.
In 1998 when President Clinton signed the bipartisan Internet Tax Freedom Act, which prohibited state and local taxation of Internet access and Internet-only services, the purpose was to promote the commercial potential of the Internet, especially for start-ups and small businesses. Congress extended the bill three times, the latest until 2014.
Now there's the Marketplace Fairness Act, which, writes the Washington Post, "would allow states and local governments to require large Internet retailers and other 'remote sellers' with sales over $1 million annually to collect sales taxes and send the revenue to the appropriate location." This bill, which the Senate voted 69-27 to approve, would undo the protections Republicans and Democrats once felt necessary to promote e-commerce.
"Mainstream media" are alarmed by reports that billionaires Charles and David Koch are considering the purchase of Tribune Company's eight daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.
When Warren Buffett spent $344 million to purchase 28 newspapers, there were mostly sighs of relief from journalists glad to keep their jobs. However, reaction to reports of the Koch brothers' interest in buying the Tribune papers was quite different. Charles and David Koch, you see, are conservative libertarians, not liberals. Will the Kochs, gasp, force their conservatism on readers? Will they sully journalism's good name? Truth is, no one knows what the Kochs plan to do.
Addressing a meeting of Planned Parenthood last Friday, President Obama accused pro-lifers of wanting to "turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century."
Like any decade, the '50s had its problems -- racism, discrimination, sexism -- but I'll defend the '50s on other grounds, if the president will defend the decade that followed. In the '50s, for much of mainstream America drugs were something you bought at a pharmacy with a prescription; living together meant getting married first, then having babies; abortion was not legal; our culture wasn't the enemy; metal detectors were instruments one took to the beach to find loose change and schools and the streets were mostly safe.
The last time there was a terrorist attack on America, we got the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Each entity has spent billions to keep us safe, but neither could stop two brothers, Tamerlan, a permanent resident, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a newly minted U.S. citizen, who lived in America and, reportedly, became radicalized jihadists, from killing and maiming innocent people at the Boston Marathon last week.
According to Dana Priest and William M. Arkin of The Washington Post, "Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. ... An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. ... In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings -- about 17 million square feet of space."
MANCHESTER, England -- There is a story about Margaret Thatcher, which is probably apocryphal, but speaks volumes about the strength of Britain's first female prime minister, who died Monday at age 87.
Following her election in 1979, the story goes that Thatcher took her all-male cabinet out to dinner. The waiter asked what she would like. "I'll have the beef," she said. The waiter asked, "What about the vegetables?" "They'll have the same," Thatcher replied.
In 1983 when President Reagan ordered the deployment of missiles in Europe as part of his "peace through strength" strategy to counter the Soviet Union, the very liberal town of Takoma Park, Md., declared itself a "nuclear free zone." City officials passed an ordinance known as The Takoma Park Nuclear Free Zone Act, which said, "...work on nuclear weapons is prohibited within the city limits..."
If North Korea follows through on its threat to nuke the United States (or had Russia in the '80s launched a nuclear attack), Takoma Park would not be "nuclear free" for long, but the ordinance made some people feel as though they were doing something constructive, something meaningful, about the nuclear threat, and wasn't that their point?
My first question after reading about seven teachers in an Atlanta, Ga., public school accused of altering standardized test scores to make it appear students performed better than they actually did was: How could they!?
The seven were nicknamed "the chosen" and, according to Georgia state investigator Richard Hyde, the less than magnificent seven sat in a locked room without windows, erasing wrong answers and inserting correct ones. It's one thing for a child to cheat on a test; it's quite another for teachers to do it.
"If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it." -- Abraham Lincoln
History is full of warnings about what happens when people follow public opinion instead of standing by their principles. In its most extreme manifestation, public opinion might well become mob rule when vigilantes take the law into their own hands.
The Maryland legislature recently voted to abolish capital punishment in the state, making Maryland the sixth state in the last six years to eliminate the death penalty.
The primary argument for repealing the law is that our justice system is imperfect and it's possible an innocent person could be condemned. Indeed, anti-death penalty activists presented Kirk Bloodsworth, a former death-row inmate, convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. His conviction was overturned on appeal after the court found the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. However, Bloodsworth was retried and sentenced to two life terms, a conviction later upheld on appeal. In 1993, Bloodsworth was exonerated after DNA linked someone else to the crime.
The Broadway musical "Annie" is enjoying another revival on Broadway. The show opened during the Carter administration when America was in need of some optimism. "The sun'll come out tomorrow," sang Annie, and with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, for a while, it did.
Now we're back in "Hooverville," the name given to shanty towns that popped up during the Great Depression. It isn't that bad yet, though the Obama administration is forecasting gloom and doom if Republicans don't cave on another tax increase.
It's a safe bet that most conservative Republicans would rush to support a political leader with the following record, especially in a traditionally Democratic state:
-- Reversed a $2.2 billion deficit and brought it into balance without raising taxes, largely by reduced spending and eliminating wasteful and unaffordable programs, allowing for a projected fiscal 2014 budget surplus of $300 million.
At the end of 1995 and stretching into January 1996, the federal government "shut down" because of an impasse between President Bill Clinton and House Republicans led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The issue was increased taxes vs. less spending. Sound familiar? The government re-opened when a bipartisan agreement was reached to balance the budget by 2003. It wasn't for reasons that included, but were not limited to, two wars. Now the national debt is racing toward an unsustainable $17 trillion.
This time around it isn't about closing government. It's about "sequestration," which President Obama, the Democrats and their big media toadies are styling as economic Armageddon.
Just as Lenin's body remains on public display in Russia, because one never knows when he might be useful to rally the masses, so, too, does the ghost (but thankfully not the body) of the late Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) remain a useful symbol for Democrats in Washington.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are the latest to summon McCarthy's ghost. After Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), asked defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel whether he had been compensated by foreign interests hostile to the United States for speeches he made in which he seemed to favor their aspirations, Boxer said of Cruz's tenacious questioning, "It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, 'I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,' and of course nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times."
President Obama's approach to so-called "climate change" appears to include recycling old ideas.
In his State of the Union address, the president recycled the idea of spending more on education, though we are still getting unsatisfactory results. A fact he inadvertently acknowledged by saying we're not keeping up with other countries in science and math. He maintained there are tens of thousands of jobs available but companies can't fill them because public schools aren't teaching students what they need to know. We spend huge sums on education already, so money and achievement must not be related.
An unsigned and undated Justice Department white paper, obtained by NBC News, reports The New York Times, "...is the most detailed analysis yet to come into public view regarding the Obama legal team's views about the lawfulness of killing, without a trial, an American citizen who executive branch officials decide is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies."
The proviso is they must pose "an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." If "an informed, high-level official" of the government decides they are a threat, the paper says, and if capture is not feasible, they may be killed.
Under pressure from religious and conservative groups, the Obama administration has offered another compromise on the issue of birth control coverage within the Affordable Care Act. While exempting churches and some religiously affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and universities, from supplying the coverage, the new proposal calls for their employees to receive stand-alone private insurance policies providing birth control coverage at no cost. Insurance companies will foot the bill, but only the naive can possibly think the cost won't find its way back to the institution in the form of higher health premiums.
Numerous lawsuits filed against this and other portions of "Obamacare" will proceed and for good reason: the federal government seems intent on setting rules on matters of conscience and worse, defining what constitutes a church, or religious institution.
In the days of the late Mike Wallace, "60 Minutes" was known for hard-hitting, aggressive journalism that asked the questions viewers wanted answered and held the powerful accountable.
The Jan. 27 program on which Steve Kroft interviewed President Obama (at his request, no less) and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell far short of that high standard. It was the kind of softball toss you might have expected if Oprah Winfrey or Barbara Walters had conducted the interview.
HONG KONG -- We read about famous people like French film star Gerard Depardieu, who moved to Belgium to avoid a 75 percent income tax on millionaires proposed by France's Socialist government (a measure rejected last week by a French council, though French leadership has vowed to resubmit a similar proposal). Then there is Eduardo Saverin, who took the extreme step of giving up his U.S. citizenship and could see a savings of $39 million on his Facebook investment, according to the research firm Wealth-X. He says business reasons, rather than high taxes, were his primary motivation.
I had read about financially motivated expatriates but never knew one who had taken the ultimate step until I visited with my longtime friend "Sam" (I'm withholding his real name to protect his current employment). Sam works for a large investment firm. He has lived here for the last 25 years.
Everything that everyone loathes about Washington was present in the "fiscal cliff" bill just passed by Congress. It is 153 pages long; most members probably hadn't read all of it before voting on it; it was delivered in the middle of the night; it was loaded with pork -- the mother's milk (to mix a metaphor) of politicians -- and while the country is already swamped with massive debt, it contains massive giveaways to satisfy interest groups and campaign contributors. Did I mention the bill raises taxes on top of the coming Obamacare taxes, but does nothing -- nothing -- to address the debt problem?
As with previous congresses, this one (again) delayed the debt issue for two months and will have to face it again, along with what to do about the debt ceiling. Only expletives that can't be printed in a family newspaper accurately characterize this bunch, so I'll have to settle for pathetic, unprincipled and irresponsible.
HANOI, Vietnam -- It has been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy ordered U.S. "advisers" to South Vietnam to help battle the communist North and 37 years since the end of that divisive war and the country's unification under Communism.
Most people who haven't finished their shopping are starting to worry about what gifts to give a friend, relative or spouse. Quick, what did you give or receive last year? How about two years ago? Most of us can't remember, unless it was a big-ticket item.
What if you could give a gift that mattered; one that literally kept on giving and improved the life of another person? Would you buy that gift?
Trying to explain an evil act like the one that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is on a par with explaining how the universe was formed.
The natural human reaction after extending sympathy and prayers for the victims and their families is to ask what actions might have been taken to prevent the massacre. More gun laws? Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Those laws did not prevent a man with evil intent from carrying out his heinous act.
SINGAPORE -- While the U.S. unemployment rate "dropped" to 7.7 percent last month -- a figure even The Washington Post acknowledged was due "...in large part because the labor force fell by 350,000..." -- here in this modern and prosperous city-state of slightly more than 5 million people, unemployment is practically nonexistent.
A taxi driver tells me, "Everyone here works." With unemployment at an astonishingly low 1.9 percent, he is nearly right.