Mark Steyn

Steyn on America

Insufficiently Independent to Hold an Independence Day Parade

So, no, since you ask, I didn't have that Glorious a Fourth. I almost wrote about it yesterday, but was too sad to find the appropriate tone. I'm still very sad, so if you want to cut to the chase and get on with your day, the takeaway is America might as well hang a sign on its door saying, "Final Three Days! Everything Must Go!!! Ultimate Storewide Blowout!!!!!"

As readers may know, the Steyn worldwide corporate headquarters is located in Woodsville, which is part of the township of Haverhill, New Hampshire. Actually, the only reason readers would have any cause to know it at all is that an hilariously inept attack poodle called Bernie Quigley wrote in The Hill that I had no idea what the real, authentic America was like and to demonstrate the point plucked three real, authentic, entirely random American places off the map (well, two off the map and one off his LP collection) and said that Steyn would "would get a rash in real places like Tobaccoville, N.C., Haverhill, N.H. or Luckenbach, Texas".

What are the odds of that? Of all the bazillions of pinpricks on the American map, Quigly takes a blind stab and hits mine.

So, on Saturday morning, I was in Haverhill, NH working on my rash. I'd had to swing by Steyn Global HQ in Woodsville for one reason or another and got there about 9.45, and already the elderly veterans and widows and spinsters were camped out in their lawn chairs holding their miniature flags in readiness for the 11 o'clock parade. Gotta get there early and grab a good spot. But I figured I could get the work wrapped up at the office and still skedaddle back to the main drag and catch the Fourth of July observances. For decades, Woodsville has joined with Wells River across the bridge in Vermont to host one of the biggest Independence Day parades around. Between them they have a population of about 1,500, but folks come from neighboring towns because they seem to like the whole twin-state vibe. So the parade always starts in Woodsville, marches down Central Street, and over the Connecticut River into Vermont where it wraps up on Main Street, Wells River.

Anyway, one thing led to another and I had my head stuck in some rather tedious materials from my upcoming trial of the century when I heard the sound of the band approaching. So I thought, whoops, the festivites are underway, I better get up to Central Street. And by the time I got to the front door and out of the building, I didn't need to hurry along to the parade because the parade had hurried along to me. Instead of heading straight on and over the bridge to Vermont, all the beauty queens and 4-H floats and fire trucks had hung a left and come straight past my office door.

Which struck me as weird. Because they'd never done that before. And judging from the thin knot of people out on the street to watch no one else had been expecting it. So the parade went down the hill and petered out at the community field.

And afterwards I found out what had happened. Over on the Vermont side at 10.15am - 45 minutes before the parade was due to start - the one-man police department, Constable Glen Godfrey, had noticed that the "detour" signs had not been posted on the roads. I wouldn't want to make this sound more complicated a problem than it is: By "roads", I mean that Wells River basically has two of them - an east-west road and a north-south road. And Constable Godfrey had three-quarters of an hour to use his wit and ingenuity to find a workaround, to show a little bit of - oh, what's the word? - "independence" of mind.

Instead, with 45 minutes to go, a part-time village constable canceled the Independence Day parade.

As he told the local reporter:

"You're supposed to have the right signs out on the road," Godfrey said. "They just did not have the signs up. By law, I cannot let them have the parade without the signs."

Boy, if only George III had thought to try that line with that Boston tea-party thing, we could have skipped the whole revolutionary unpleasantness entirely.

Incidentally, who is this "they" to whom Constable Godfrey refers? It's not the responsibility of the parade organizers to put signs up on Vermont streets. It's the responsibility of another agency of officialdom - the same officialdom that the part-time constable represents. So it would have been more correct to say: "We just did not have the signs up."

As I said, it would have required three signs - one to the south, one to the north, one to the west. Or, if he'd deputized two volunteers to join him, three men raising their hands to halt whatever very minimal traffic approached the village during the parade. Instead he called the Orange County Sheriff's Department who, with the classic brain-dead cover-your-ass attitude of the bureaucracy told the local copper to make sure that Uncle Sam shall not pass and to "prohibit the parade from entering Vermont". Constable Godfrey was the Paul Revere of the hour: Instead of yelling "The British are coming!", he'd called the Sheriff's office and yelled, "The loyal patriotic flag-waving Americans are coming!" After 240 years that's what it's come down to. Happy Independence Day! Pin the flag to your ass and Shelter in Place!

[UPDATE: I now learn that no deputizing was necessary as two Sheriff's deputies were already present in Wells River to police the parade. But of course they decided to side with the useless jobsworth constable - because it's easier just to pick up your salary for doing nothing than making a human decision and risking be in violation of Rule 4,731(b) iii.]

At 10.15, the Wells River side was just like the Woodsville side - the l'il ol' ladies had carved up the prime sidewalk real estate with their folding chairs - but with the additional complication of the reviewing stand, where the parade announcer, the five float judges, and the singer of the national anthem were already in position. But, instead of doing anything to make the parade happen, Constable Godfrey instead told them that, if they wanted any red-white-and-blue and "You're A Grand Old Flag", they needed to scram over to the New Hampshire side of the river 'cause it ain't happening here.

And that too is poignant and symbolic on Independence Day. Don't you find increasingly that this is a society where no one can make anything happen? That people can give you a thousand reasons why something can't happen but can no longer figure out a way to ensure that it can.

And so the citizens of Wells River meekly shuffled over the Connecticut River bridge to the designated parade-holding area in the adjoining state. By the way, consider that: if this hadn't been a twin-state parade and the Granite State portion thereof not within Constable Godfrey's jurisdiction, there would have been no Independence Day observances at all. He would in effect have canceled the entire national holiday over failure of signage compliance.

As effete and enfeebled as post-"Live Free Or Die" New Hampshire is, Granite Staters are not quite as thoroughly castrated as are the heirs to Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys. So, on the eastern bank of the Connecticut, the organizers decided the Woodsville-Wells River Fourth of July parade would go ahead without the Wells River part and hastily improvised a new route. Which is why they wound up detouring down my road and past my office window.

Now here's the thing: Obviously, as it had never been intended to be part of any parade route, my road had no official signs up on it, and in fact, unlike the flat even plain on which Wells River's Main Street is located on, the grade drops steeply and very dramatically down to the community field. And yet, clinging on for dear life as the floats plunged down the incline, all the cute little gradeschoolers and tiara-clutching beauty queens somehow managed to survive.

Yet, while I salute the New Hampshire end for declining to let some jumped-up Vermont twerp rain on their parade, I don't think that was quite the ideal solution. When someone like Constable Godfrey tells you are no longer sufficiently independent to hold an Independence Day parade, the correct response is: Sorry, pal, we're coming through. You can stand in our path, and we'll let the 4-H-ers plow you into the asphalt. Or you can call for back up from the Sheriff's Department and tase us into submission. But you're gonna have to tase us all. Because isn't that what the Declaration of Independence was all about? George III thought this was the King's highway and freeborn Americans told him, get lost, creep, it's the people's highway. And on this Independence Day the people are coming through!

I like to think that's what the late Ray Burton, longtime NH Executive Councillor for the North Country, would have done. He marched at the head of the parade for years alongside his car (license number "1") , and I find it hard to imagine him meekly consenting to be turned away. But lots of other folks wouldn't agree to it, either. Had, say, the Dearborn Ramadan Parade or the West Hollywood LGBTQWERTY Parade taken a wrong turn, like Bugs Bunny at Albuquerque, and wound up on that Connecticut River bridge, do you think they would have submitted to Constable Godfrey's diktat? Not at all. They would have brushed him aside and poured through. And their willingness to do that is why the gays and the Muslims win everything they want - and compliant losers don't.

And, in fact, try telling those despised "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" in France that Bastille Day's off because of insufficient signs - or Quebeckers on St-Jean-Baptiste Day. This prostration before irrational, capricious but deeply totalitarian officialdom is unbecoming to a supposedly free people.

So, as ridiculous as Constable Godfrey's behavior was, the bovine acceptance of it by the citizenry is far more disturbing. In my Fourth of July rerun of an old Telegraph column, I noted how the regulatory bureaucracy was crushing the spirit of independence. That was back in the Nineties when "safety" was being used to hyper-regulate anything involving children. Two decades on, we are all children. When you can have your Independence Day cancelled by bureaucrats on 45 minutes' notice, you are not citizens, you are not even subjects - you are wards of the state, a state that no longer recognizes you as capable of functioning adulthood.

Incidentally, in previous years the parade organizers had never applied for any permit in the State of Vermont. Hitherto, it was known to all that they'd be holding the parade on July 4th, and they went ahead and held it. This time, for the first time ever, they were prevailed upon to apply for a permit, and they were entered into the system - and then the system failed. That too is a perfect distillation of the way it goes in the Republic of Paperwork: you play along with the system, and then the system screws you over anyway. Right now, the local constable, the county sheriff and the state agency of transportation are all referring questions on who should have done what back and forth to the others. That's three different agencies of government, which is two more than it would be in any functioning society:

"Me and the sheriffs, today, it's all our fault," Godfrey said. "But it's not our fault if the sign's not up."

Glen Godfrey has been constable for 20 years. It's an elected position, and it would be heartening to think the burghers of his community would toss him out on his ear. But, given the mind-numbing invocations of "safety" and "security", I expect they'll return him to office with an increased vote. His plaintive whine of "it's not our fault" does, however, suggest that, as in so many other areas of the bureaucracy where human judgment and sense of proportion are no longer required or indeed permitted, he might just as well be replaced by one of those prototype Japanese robots who can be programmed to perform simple tasks.

But you can't replace everyone - from Godfrey to the Sheriff's Department to the Vermont Agency of Transportation to the citizenry to the J-school newspaper reporters who wrote up the story as some kind of cute small-town foible: "Red (Tape), White And Blue: Lack of Safety Signs Stymies Parade"... "Sign Glitch Detours Woodsville-Wells River Parade"... "Two-State Parade Whittled To One Because Detour Signs Not Up"...

But it's not cute at all, it's pathetic. The Caledonian Record's story has a choice (but paywalled) passage:

Godfrey, who has served 22 years as constable, said it was an unfortunate situation but he stood by his actions.

"We hated to do it," he said, "but we didn't want to see anyone get hurt."

In the past he put out parade detour signs. Now only AOT employees can put signs on state highways, he said, and those signs must meet federal guidelines for size, color, dimension and lettering, according to state highway officials.

"In the past we put [the signs] up. But you can't do that anymore," said Godfrey. "The law says you have to have certain kinds of signs."

This is the wretched passivity of a supine people. The local government can't do anything unless it's got permission from the state government and the state government can't do anything unless it complies with the national government (there's nothing "federal" about a sign law that prevents a village holding a parade). But "we didn't want to see anyone get hurt" - so just stay at home and shelter in place until a federally-approved sign can be installed by a state-credentialed official. For this you threw off a king?

Such a generation could not have won the Revolutionary War - and indeed such an attitude is not unconnected to why we don't win any wars today. A people that lack sufficient independence to hold an Independence Day Parade mocks the very meaning of the day. As some old dead guys once said:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...

But on Independence Day, on the bridge to Wells River, it's not looking all that self-evident anymore. Any other self-evident truths?

That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.

But as the Declaration also notes:

All experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

And so in Wells River they suffer the evils of the Commissar of Parades. In my very prescient (if I do say so myself, which I do) bestselling book After America (personally autographed copies of which, etc, etc) , I quote Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and the very definition of a sober, respected, judicious paragon of torpidly conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, musing on American decline, he observed:

The country's economy, infrastructure, public schools and political system have been allowed to deteriorate. The result has been diminished economic strength, a less-vital democracy, and a mediocrity of spirit.

That last is the one to watch: A great nation can survive a lot of things, but not "a mediocrity of spirit". And I'm afraid on Independence Day, that's the tattered banner Wells River, Vermont chose to wave.

from Steyn on America, July 6, 2015


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Democrats find their issue, in a binder

So the other morning a reader emails me a picture of a handful of women demonstrating outside the headquarters of the Ohio Republican Party – in what we expert analysts round about this point in the quadrennial election cycle like to call the critical battleground of the Buckeye State. The women each wore two giant pieces of cardboard, front and back. Ah, I thought, a timely protest...

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Step Aside, Reporters — Poets Take On The Debate

(AUDIO) Pundits and reporters, step aside — we have poets with their thoughts on Wednesday night's presidential debate. One from the right, Mark Steyn, and the other from the left, Calvin Trillin.

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Will Big Bird ever leave the government nest?

Apparently, Frank Sinatra served as Mitt Romney's debate coach. As he put it about halfway through "That's Life":

"I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly ... ."

That's what Mitt did in Denver. Ten minutes in, he jumped right on Big Bird, and then he took off – and never looked back, while the other fellow, whose name escapes me, never got out of the gate. It takes a certain panache to clobber not just your opponent but also the moderator. Yet that's what the killer Mormon did when he declared that he wasn't going to borrow money from China to pay for Jim Lehrer and Big Bird on PBS. It was a terrific alpha-male moment, not just in that it rattled Lehrer, who seemed too preoccupied contemplating a future reading the hog prices on the WZZZ Farm Report to regain his grip on the usual absurd format, but in the sense that it indicated a man entirely at ease with himself – in contrast to wossname, the listless sourpuss staring at his shoes.

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The President of Tomorrow, and the wreckage of today

One of the reasons why Barack Obama is regarded as the greatest orator of our age is that he's always banging on about some other age yet to come – e.g., the Future!

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'Barack & Hillary at the movies'

I see the Obama campaign has redesigned the American flag, and very attractive it is, too. Replacing the 50 stars of a federal republic is the single "O" logo symbolizing the great gaping maw of spendaholic centralization. And where the stripes used to be are a handful of red daubs, eerily mimicking the bloody finger streaks left on the pillars of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as its staff were dragged out by a mob of savages to be tortured and killed. What better symbol could one have of American foreign policy? Who says the slick, hollow, vapid marketing of the Obama campaign doesn't occasionally intersect with reality?

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Choice not part of this future

According to Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, invited to address the Democratic convention and the nation, America faces a stark choice this November...

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Racist dog whistles and the men who hear them

American racism is starting to remind me of American alcoholism. At the founding of the republic, in the days when beer was thought of as "liquid bread" and a healthy nutritional breakfast, Americans drank about three-to-four times as much as they do now. Today the United States has a lower per capita rate of alcohol consumption than almost any other developed nation, but it has more alcoholism support groups than any other developed nation...

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War on women? The real war is on children

The Democratic Party, never inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth, does have a tendency to flog him to death. So it is with a fellow called Todd Akin, a GOP Senate candidate who unburdened himself of some ill-advised thoughts on abortion and "legitimate rape," and put Missouri back in play for the Democrats. Less-ambitious political parties would be content with that little windfall, but the Dems have decided to make – what's his name again? Oh, yeah – this guy Akin the face of the Republican Party...

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Half-wit demagoguery, hard truths

Americans, according to a Winston Churchill quote of uncertain provenance, always do the right thing after they've exhausted all other possibilities. More verifiably, Sir Winston, upon being asked if he had any criticism of the United States, replied tersely: "Toilet paper too thin, newspapers too fat." But that was then. Today, America is a land of two-ply toilet paper and one-ply newspapers...

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Obama the great disabler

The other day, I passed a Republican Party county office here in my home state, its window attractively emblazoned with placards declaring "Believe in America. Romney 2012" and "New Hampshire Believes. Romney 2012."

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Obama builds roadblocks, not roads

On the evidence of last week's Republican campaign events, President Obama's instant classic – "You didn't build that" – is to Mitt Romney what that radioactive arachnid is to Spider-Man: It got under his skin, and, in an instant, the geeky stiff was transformed into a muscular Captain Capitalism swinging through the streets and deftly squirting his webbing all over Community-Organizerman. Rattled by the reborn Romney, the Obama campaign launched an attack on Romney's attack on Obama's attack on American business. First they showed Romney quoting Obama: "He said, 'If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.'" And then the Obama team moved in for the kill: "The only problem? That's not what he said." Indeed. What Obama actually said was: "If you've got a business, you, you didn't build that. [Interjection by fawning supporters: "Yeeaaaaah!"] "Somebody else made that happen."

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Lights out for U.S.-style Big Government

...No advanced society has ever attempted Big Government for a third of a billion people – because it cannot be done without creating a nation with the black-hole finances of Stockton, California, and the recent Black-Hole-of-Calcutta fetid, airless, sweatbox utility services of Rockville, Maryland...

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A lie makes Obamacare legal

Three months ago, I quoted George Jonas on the 30th anniversary of Canada's ghastly "Charter of Rights and Freedoms": "There seems to be an inverse relationship between written instruments of freedom, such as a Charter, and freedom itself," wrote Jonas. "It's as if freedom were too fragile to be put into words: If you write down your rights and freedoms, you lose them."

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Earthly woes mount as Obama's rhetoric soars

Round about this time in the election cycle, a presidential challenger finds himself on the stump and posing a simple test to voters: "Ask yourself – are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

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Eternally shifting sands of Obama's biography

It used to be a lot simpler. As E.C. Bentley deftly summarized it in 1905: "Geography is about maps But Biography is about chaps." But that was then, and now Biography is also about maps. For example, have you ever thought it would be way cooler to have been born in colonial Kenya? Whoa, that sounds like crazy Birther talk; don't go there!

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America's Slow Suicide

Mark tells Charles Adler why he believes America is in the midst of a slow suicide.

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The Michael Graham Show

Mark joins Michael to discuss John O'Sullivan's upcoming appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire and more...

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Democrats should let sleeping dogs lie

A couple of days ago, Obama campaign top dog David Axelrod threw in the towel on the dog war. "I thought it was a little absurd to talk about what the President had done as a 10-year-old boy," he sniffed to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, which is as near as the suddenly sheepish attack dog will ever get to conceding that Barack Obama is the first dog-eating president in the history of the Republic...

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Buying 'Buffett Rule' makes you a fool

In the end, free societies get the governments they deserve. So, if the American people wish to choose their chief executive on the basis of the "war on women," the Republican theocrats' confiscation of your contraceptives, or whatever other mangy and emaciated rabbit the Great Magician produces from his threadbare topper, they are free to do so, and they will live with the consequences...

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Wait and see how flexible he'll be

As Bob Hope and Bing Crosby observed in "The Road To Bali": "He gets his shirts straight from Paris Cigarettes from the Nile He talks like a highbrow But he plays Chicago style..."

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Land of legalisms

ObamaCare is an affront to self-government: It's not just that the legislators who legislate it don't know what's in it, nor that citizens can ever hope to understand it, but that even the nation's most eminent judges acknowledge that it is beyond individual human comprehension.

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Gradual insolvency about to speed up

I was in Australia earlier this month, and there, as elsewhere on my recent travels, the consensus among the politicians I met (at least in private) was that Washington lacked the will for meaningful course correction, and that, therefore, the trick was to ensure that, when the behemoth goes over the cliff, you're not dragged down with it. It is faintly surreal to be sitting in paneled offices lined by formal portraits listening to eminent persons who assume the collapse of the dominant global power is a fait accompli. "I don't feel America is quite a First World country anymore," a robustly pro-American Aussie told me, with a sigh of regret...

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America's longest war will leave no trace

Say what you like about Afghans, but they're admirably straightforward. The mobs outside the bases enflamed over the latest Western affront to their exquisitely refined cultural sensitivities couldn't put it any plainer: "Die, die, foreigners!" And foreigners do die. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Loftis, 44, and Army Maj. Robert Marchanti II, 48, lost their lives not on some mission out on the far horizon in wild tribal lands in the dead of night but in the offices of the Afghan Interior Ministry. In a "secure room" that required a numerical code to access. Gunned down by an Afghan "intelligence officer." Who then departed the scene of the crime unimpeded by any of his colleagues.

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The all-you-can-eat salad bar of rights

CNN's John King did his best the other night, producing a question from one of his viewers: "Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?" To their credit, no Republican candidate was inclined to accept the premise of the question. King might have done better to put the issue to Danica Patrick. For some reason, Michelle Fields of The Daily Caller sought the views of the NASCAR driver and Sports Illustrated swimwear model about "the Obama administration's dictate that religious employers provide health care plans that cover contraceptives." Miss Patrick, a practicing Catholic, gave the perfect citizen's response for the Age of Obama: "I leave it up to the government to make good decisions for Americans."

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Sorry, Newt. Only the debt ceiling will reach the moon.

Had I been asked to deliver the State of the Union address, it would not have delayed your dinner plans: "The State of our Union is broke, heading for bankrupt, and total collapse shortly thereafter. Thank you and goodnight! You've been a terrific crowd!"

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GOP not so 'Grand'

VIDEO: The Republican primary process hasn't left Mark Steyn filled with hope for the near future. Find out why in this interview with Michael Coren on The Arena.

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Ron Paul beckons GOP to Fortress America

In the 2010 election the New Hampshire Republican Party took 298 out of 400 House seats, 19 out of 24 state Senate seats, and all five seats on the Executive Council. A little over a year later, in the state's presidential primary, the same (more or less) electorate gave over 56 percent of its votes to a couple of moneyed "moderates," one of whom served in the Obama administration and the other of whom left no trace in office other than the pilot program for Obamacare. Another 23 percent voted for Ron Paul.

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Politics trumps Left's empathy

Lest you doubt that we're headed for the most vicious election year in memory, consider the determined effort, within 10 minutes of his triumph in Iowa, to weirdify Rick Santorum

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Our Sick State

A couple of months back, I was with a friend of mine when she suddenly collapsed and I found myself having to run her to the emergency room. After a fairly harrowing 14 hours, the hospital released her, the doctor writing her a prescription for the still-very-intense pain she was in. So we stopped at her local Kinney Drugs in Vermont. Despite having been called in by the doc, the prescription wasn't ready. Come back in an hour. Heigh-ho. So we left it an hour and a half, and then, not wishing ...

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Ring in the same old same old

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Newt's world is one of more government, more bureaucracy, more dependency

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As the SS Spendaholic heads for the abyss, Steyn proposes a new national anthem



Steyn on Penn State: What's illegal, what's wrong, and what's the difference.

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...from the Superfriends' Supercommittee to the Social Security lifestyle glossy

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The grand convergence of the non-productive classes

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It's Awareness-Raising Day Awareness Day!

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The youth of "Occupy Wall Street" share the same assumptions as their parents and grandparents

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It's American Autumn ...and you know what comes after that: America's college kids demand more government-funded lethargy

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There was no due diligence on Obama in 2008, and the press has no plans to change that.

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'It's the end of the world as we know it," sang the popular musical artistes R.E.M. many years ago. And it is. R.E.M. has announced that they're splitting up after almost a third of a century. But these days who isn't? The eurozone, the world's first geriatric boy band, is on the verge of busting apart. Chimerica (Prof. Niall Ferguson's amusing name for the Chinese-American economic partnership that started around the same time R.E.M. did) is going the way of Wham!, with Beijing figuring it's ...

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The president has taken to the campaign trail to promote his American Jobs Act. That's a good name for it: an act. "Pass this bill now!" he declared 24 times at a stop in in Raleigh, North Carolina, and another 18 in Columbus, Ohio, and the act is sufficiently effective that, three years into the Vapidity of Hope, the president can still find crowds of true believers willing to chant along with him: "Pass this bill now!" Not all supporters are content merely to singalong with the ...

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Guest-hosting for Rush on Friday, I mentioned that, for a writer, one of the pleasures of doing the show is that a listener's call will start your mind heading to places it might never have got to if you were just sitting in a room typing away. One example of that occurred last year when I was hosting the show during the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, and my resulting riff attracted a lot of commentary. I subsequently expanded my thoughts in After America, and it seems appropriate to excerpt ...

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That thoughtful observer of the passing parade, Nancy Pelosi, weighed in on the "debt ceiling" negotiations the other day: "What we're trying to do is save the world from the Republican budget. We're trying to save life on this planet as we know it today." It's always good to have things explained in terms we simpletons can understand. After a while, all the stuff about debt-to-GDP ratio and CBO alternative baseline scenarios starts to give you a bit of a headache, so we should be grateful to ...

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