Saturday, October 15, 2011

Young ‘Occupiers' share grandparents' assumptions

The agitators for "American Autumn" think that such demands are reasonable for no other reason than that they happen to have been born in America, and expectations that no other society in human history has ever expected are just part of their birthright.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
October 14, 2011

When the think-tank chappies ponder "decline," they tend to see it in geopolitical terms. Great powers gradually being shunted off the world stage have increasing difficulties getting their way: Itsy-bitsy colonial policing operations in dusty ramshackle outposts drag on for years and putter out to no obvious conclusion. If that sounds vaguely familiar, well, the State Department reported last month that the last Christian church in Afghanistan was razed to the ground in 2010. This intriguing factoid came deep within their "International Religious Freedom Report." It is not, in any meaningful sense of that word, "international": For the past decade, Afghanistan has been a U.S. client state; its repulsive and corrupt leader is kept alive only by NATO arms; according to the World Bank, the Western military/aid presence accounts for 97 percent of the country's economy. American taxpayers have spent the best part of half a trillion dollars and lost many brave warriors in that benighted land, and all we have to show for it is a regime openly contemptuous of the global sugar daddy that created and sustained it. In another American client state, the Iraqi government is publicly supporting the murderous goon in Syria and supplying him with essential aid as he attempts to maintain his dictatorship. Your tax dollars at work.

As America sinks into a multitrillion-dollar debt pit, it is fascinating to listen to so many of my friends on the right fret about potential cuts to the Pentagon budget. The problem in Iraq and Afghanistan is not that we are spending insufficient money, but that so much of that money has been utterly wasted. Dominant powers often wind up with thankless tasks, but the trick is to keep it within budget: London administered the vast sprawling fractious tribal dump of Sudan with about 200 British civil servants for what, with hindsight, was the least-worst two-thirds of a century in that country's existence. These days I doubt 200 civil servants would be enough for the average branch office of the Federal Department of Community Organizer Grant Applications. Abroad as at home, the United States urgently needs to start learning how to do more with less.

As I said, these are more or less conventional symptoms of geopolitical decline: Great powers still go through the motions but increasingly ineffectually. But what the Council of Foreign Relations types often miss is that, for the man in the street, decline can be very pleasant.

In Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands, the average citizen lives better than he ever did at the height of Empire. Today's Europeans enjoy more comfortable lives, have better health and take more vacations than their grandparents did. The state went into decline, but its subjects enjoyed immense upward mobility. Americans could be forgiven for concluding that, if this is "decline," bring it on.

But it's not going to be like that for the United States: unlike Europe, geopolitical decline and mass downward mobility will go hand in hand.

Indeed, they're already under way. Whenever the economy goes south, experts talk of the housing "bubble," the tech "bubble," the credit "bubble." But the real bubble is the 1950 "American moment," and our failure to understand that moments are not permanent. The United States emerged from the Second World War as the only industrial power with its factories intact and its cities not reduced to rubble, and assumed that that unprecedented pre-eminence would last forever: We would always be so far ahead and so flush with cash that we could do anything and spend anything, and we would still be No. 1. That was the thinking of Detroit's automakers when they figured they could afford to buy off the unions. The industrial powerhouse of 1950 is now a crime-ridden wasteland with a functioning literacy rate equivalent to West African basket-cases. And yes, Detroit is an outlier, but look at the assumptions its rulers made, and then wonder whether it will seem quite such an outlier in the future.

Take, for example, the complaints of the young Americans currently "occupying" Wall Street. Many protesters have told sympathetic reporters that "it's our Arab Spring." Put aside the differences between brutal totalitarian dictatorships and a republic of biennial elections, and simply consider it in economic terms: At the "Occupy" demonstrations, not-so-young college students are demanding that their tuition debt be forgiven. In Egypt, half the population lives in poverty; the country imports more wheat than any other nation on the planet, and the funds to do that will dry up in a couple months' time. They're worrying about starvation, not how to fund half a decade of Whatever Studies at Complacency U.

One sympathizes. When college tuition is $50,000 a year, you can't "work your way through college" – because, after all, an 18-year-old who can earn 50-grand a year wouldn't need to go to college, would he? Nevertheless, his situation is not the same as some guy halfway up the Nile living on $2 a day: One is a crisis of the economy, the other is a crisis of decadence. And, generally, the former are far easier to solve.

My colleague Rich Lowry correctly notes that many of the beleaguered families testifying on the "We are the 99%" websites have real problems. However, the "Occupy" movement has no real solutions, except more government, more spending, more regulation, more bureaucracy, more unsustainable lethargic pseudo-university with no return on investment, more more more of what got us into this hole. Indeed, for all their youthful mien, the protesters are as mired in America's post-war moment as their grandparents: One of their demands is for a trillion dollars in "environmental restoration." Hey, why not? It's only a trillion.

Beneath the allegedly young idealism are very cobwebbed assumptions about societal permanence. The agitators for "American Autumn" think that such demands are reasonable for no other reason than that they happen to have been born in America, and expectations that no other society in human history has ever expected are just part of their birthright. But a society can live on the accumulated capital of a glorious inheritance only for so long. And, in that sense, this bloodless, insipid revolution is just a somewhat smellier front for the sclerotic status quo.

Middle-class America is dying before our eyes: The job market is flat-lined, college fees soar ever upward, the property market is underwater, and Obamacare is already making medical provision both more expensive and more restrictive. That doesn't leave much else – although no doubt, as soon as they find something else, the statists will fix that, too. As more and more middle Americans are beginning to notice, they lead more precarious and vulnerable lives than did their blue-collar parents and grandparents without the benefit of college "education" and health "benefits." For poorer Americans, the prospects are even glummer, augmented by ever-grimmer statistics on obesity, childhood diabetes and much else. Potentially, this is not decline, but a swift devastating downward slide, far beyond what post-war Britain and Europe saw and closer to Peronist Argentina on a Roman scale.

It would be heartening if more presidential candidates understood the urgency. But there is a strange lack of boldness in most of their proposals. They, too, seem victims of that 1950 moment, and assumptions of its permanence.


Friday, October 14, 2011

The scapegoat strategy

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Ocotber 14, 2011

What do you do if you can’t run on your record — on 9 percent unemployment, stagnant growth and ruinous deficits as far as the eye can see? How to run when you are asked whether Americans are better off than they were four years ago and you are compelled to answer no?

Play the outsider. Declare yourself the underdog. Denounce Washington as if the electorate hasn’t noticed that you’ve been in charge of it for nearly three years.

But above all: Find villains.

President Obama first tried finding excuses, blaming America’s dismal condition on Japanese supply-chain interruptions, the Arab Spring, European debt and various acts of God.

Didn’t work. Sounds plaintive, defensive. Lacks fight, which is what Obama’s base lusts for above all.

Hence Obama’s new strategy: Don’t whine, blame. Attack. Indict. Accuse. Who? The rich — and their Republican protectors — for wrecking America.

In Obama’s telling, it’s the refusal of the rich to “pay their fair share” that jeopardizes Medicare. If millionaires don’t pony up, schools will crumble. Oil-drilling tax breaks are costing teachers their jobs. Corporate loopholes will gut medical research.

It’s crude. It’s Manichaean. And the left loves it. As a matter of math and logic, however, it’s ridiculous. Obama’s most coveted tax hike — an extra 3 to 4.6 percent for millionaires and billionaires (weirdly defined as individuals making more than $200,000) — would have reduced last year’s deficit (at the very most) from $1.29 trillion to $1.21 trillion. Nearly a rounding error. The oil-drilling breaks cover less than half a day’s federal spending. You could collect Obama’s favorite tax loophole — depreciation for corporate jets — for 100 years and it wouldn’t cover one month of Medicare, whose insolvency is a function of increased longevity, expensive new technology and wasteful defensive medicine caused by an insane malpractice system.

After three years, Obama’s self-proclaimed transformative social policies have yielded a desperately weak economy. What to do? Take the low road: Plutocrats are bleeding the country, and I shall rescue you from them.

Problem is, this kind of populist demagoguery is more than intellectually dishonest. It’s dangerous. Obama is opening a Pandora’s box. Popular resentment, easily stoked, is less easily controlled, especially when the basest of instincts are granted legitimacy by the nation’s leader.

Exhibit A. On Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed punitive legislation over China’s currency. If not stopped by House Speaker John Boehner, it might have led to a trade war — a 21st-century Smoot-Hawley. Obama knows this. He has shown no appetite for a reckless tariff war. But he set the tone. Once you start hunting for villains, they can be found anywhere, particularly if they are conveniently foreign.

Exhibit B. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin rails against Bank of America for announcing a $5-a-month debit card fee. Obama echoes the opprobrium with fine denunciations of banks and their hidden fees — except that this $5 fee is not hidden. It’s perfectly transparent.

Yet here is a leading Democratic senator advocating a run on a major (and troubled) bank — after two presidents and two Congresses sunk billions of taxpayer dollars to save failing banks. Not because they were deserving or virtuous but because they are necessary. Without banks, there is no lending. Without lending, there is no business. Without business, there are no jobs.

Exhibit C. To the villainy-of-the-rich theme emanating from Washington, a child is born: Occupy Wall Street. Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters denounce corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over.

These indignant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees have decided that their lack of gainful employment is rooted in the malice of the millionaires on whose homes they are now marching — to the applause of Democrats suffering acute Tea Party envy and now salivating at the energy these big-government anarchists will presumably give their cause.

Except that the real Tea Party actually had a program — less government, less regulation, less taxation, less debt. What’s the Occupy Wall Street program? Eat the rich.

And then what? Haven’t gotten that far.

No postprandial plans. But no matter. After all, this is not about programs or policies. This is about scapegoating, a failed administration trying to save itself by blaming our troubles — and its failures — on class enemies, turning general discontent into rage against a malign few.

From the Senate to the streets, it’s working. Obama is too intelligent not to know what he started. But so long as it gives him a shot at reelection, he shows no sign of caring.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Today's Tune: The Raveonettes - Recharge & Revolt

Can Occupy Wall Street give progressives a lift?

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
October 13, 2011

The Tea Party’s splendid successes, which have altered the nation’s political vocabulary and agenda, have inspired a counter-movement — Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Conservatives should rejoice and wish for it long life, abundant publicity and sufficient organization to endorse congressional candidates deemed worthy. All Democrats eager for OWS’s imprimatur, step forward.

In scale, OWS’s demonstrations-cum-encampments are to Tea Party events as Pittsburg, Kan., is to Pittsburgh, Pa. So far, probably fewer people have participated in all of them combined than attended just one Tea Party rally, that of Sept. 12, 2009, on the Mall. In comportment, OWS is to the Tea Party as Lady Gaga is to Lord Chesterfield: Blocking the Brooklyn Bridge was not persuasion modeled on Tea Party tactics.

Still, OWS’s defenders correctly say it represents progressivism’s spirit and intellect. Because it embraces spontaneity and deplores elitism, it eschews deliberation and leadership. Hence its agenda, beyond eliminating one of the seven deadly sins (avarice), is opaque. Its meta-theory is, however, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.

Unfortunately for OWS, big government’s scandal du jour, the Obama administration’s Solyndra episode of crony capitalism, does not validate progressivism’s indignation; it refutes progressivism’s aspiration, which is for more minute government supervision of society. Solyndra got to the government trough with the help of a former bundler of Obama campaign contributions who was an Energy Department bureaucrat helping to dispense taxpayers’ money to politically favored companies. His wife’s law firm represented Solyndra. But, then, government of the sort progressives demand — supposed “experts,” wiser than the market, allocating wealth and opportunity by supposedly disinterested decisions — is not just susceptible to corruption, it is corruption. It is political favoritism with a clean (even green) conscience.

Demands posted in OWS’s name include a “guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment”; a $20-an-hour minimum wage (above the $16 entry wage the United Auto Workers just negotiated with GM); ending “the fossil fuel economy”; “open borders” so “anyone can travel anywhere to work and live”; $1 trillion for infrastructure; $1 trillion for “ecological restoration” (e.g., re-establishing “the natural flow of river systems”); “free college education.”

And forgiveness of “all debt on the entire planet period.” Progressivism’s battle cry is: “Mulligan!” It demands the ultimate entitlement — emancipation from the ruinous results of all prior claims of entitlement.

Imitation is the sincerest form of progressivism because nostalgia motivates progressives, not conservatives. Tea Party Envy is leavened by Woodstock Envy — note the drum circles at the Manhattan site — which is a facet of Sixties Envy. Hence, conservatives should be rejoicing.

From 1965 through 1968, the left found its voice and style in consciousness-raising demonstrations and disruptions. In November 1968, the nation, its consciousness raised, elected Richard Nixon president and gave 56.9 percent of the popular vote to Nixon or George Wallace. Republicans won four of the next five presidential elections.

Perhaps things will go better for progressives this time. Barack Obama feels their pain — understands their “frustration.” America’s median income has declined even faster since the recovery began three Junes ago than it did during the recession, students are graduating into a jobless “recovery,” African Americans and Hispanics have unemployment rates of 16 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively, but Obama is on the case: He wants corporate jets to be taxed more. OWS must still, however, raise the consciousness of backsliding congressional Democrats who have decided that, unlike the president, they do not believe that “the rich” begin at household incomes of $250,000.

Tahrir Square Envy also motivates America’s Progressive Autumn, the left’s emulation of the Arab Spring. Of course, some lagoons of advanced thinking, such as Montgomery County — it is a government workers’ dormitory contiguous to Washington — were progressive before OWS’s drum(circle)beat became progressivism’s pulse. The Montgomery County town of Takoma Park is a “nuclear-free zone,” meaning it has no truck with nuclear weapons.

Responding to peace activists, some Montgomery County Council members sponsored a resolution to instruct Congress to slash defense spending. The idea died as Virginia was inviting the county’s second-largest private-sector employer, Lockheed Martin, to move across the Potomac. To OWS, this proves the power of the plutocracy. To the Tea Party, it proves the virtue of federalism.

As Mark Twain said, difference of opinion is what makes a horse race. It is also what makes elections necessary and entertaining. So: OWS vs. the Tea Party. Republicans generally support the latter. Do Democrats generally support the former? Let’s find out. Let’s vote.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Egypt, a new pogrom

By Jeff Jacoby
Boston Globe Columnist
October 12, 2011

An Egyptian relative of one of the Copts who were killed during clashes with the Egyptian army late sunday, mourns over his coffin outside the morgue of the Copts hospital in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. Egypt's Coptic church blasted authorities Monday for allowing repeated attacks on Christians with impunity as the death toll from a night of rioting rose to more than two dozen, most of them Christians who were trying to stage a peaceful protest in Cairo over an attack on a church. (AP)

THIS IS what a pogrom looks like: “The Coptic Hospital tried its best to deal with the sudden influx of casualties,’’ wrote Sarah Carr, a Cairo-based journalist and blogger, in her firsthand account of Sunday’s deadly attack on Christian protesters by the Egyptian military. “Its floors were sticky with blood and there was barely room to move among the wounded.’’

In one room of the hospital morgue Carr counted the bodies of 12 people, some of whom had been killed when soldiers in armored personnel vehicles charged the crowd, firing at random and crushing the protesters they ran over. One of the victims was “a man whose face was contorted into an impossible expression. A priest . . . showed me the remains of the man’s skull and parts of his brain. He too had been crushed.’’

What happened in Egypt on Sunday was a massacre. Government security forces assaulted Coptic Christians as they marched peacefully to the headquarters of the state TV network. They were protesting the recent burning of St. George’s, a Coptic church in the Upper Egypt village of El-Marinab. Yet broadcasters loyal to the ruling military junta exhorted “honorable Egyptians’’ to help the army put down the protests. “Soon afterward, bands of young men armed with sticks, rocks, swords, and firebombs began to roam central Cairo, attacking Christians,’’ the Associated Press reported . “Troops and riot police did not intervene.’’ Graphic video of the violence was quickly uploaded to the Internet. So were even more graphic images of the murdered protesters.
Back during the Tahrir Square demonstrations against strongman Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military was widely praised for not using force to crush the protests and keep Mubarak in power. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates , for example, declared that Egypt’s military had “conducted itself in exemplary fashion’’ and “made a contribution to the evolution of democracy.’’ Popular, too, was the notion that the uprising could catalyze a new era of interfaith solidarity . “Egypt’s religious tensions have been set aside,’’ reported the BBC in February , “as the country’s Muslims and Christians join forces at anti-government protests.’’
But the “spirit of Tahrir Square’’ has ushered in neither liberal democracy nor a rebirth of tolerance for Egypt’s ancient but beleaguered Christian minority.
One of the country’s leading liberal reformers, Ayman Nour , said Monday that with the latest bloodshed, the military has lost whatever goodwill it accrued last spring. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces almost surely doesn’t care. In the eight months since Mubarak’s ouster, the military has tried and convicted some 12,000 Egyptian civilians in military tribunals, often after using torture to extract confessions. The country’s hated emergency laws, which allow suspects to be detained without charge, not only remain in force, but have been expanded to cover offenses as vague as “spreading rumors’’ or “blocking traffic.’’ And just as Mubarak did, the generals insist that government repression is all that stands between Egypt and social chaos.
As for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, their plight has gone from bad to worse. Post-Mubarak Egypt has seen “an explosion of violence against the Coptic Christian community,’’ the international news channel France 24 was reporting as far back as May. “Anger has flared up into deadly riots, and houses, shops, and churches have been set ablaze.’’
With Islamist hardliners growing increasingly influential, hate crimes against Christians routinely go unpunished. Copts, who represent a tenth of Egypt’s population, are subjected to appalling humiliations. The mob that destroyed St. George’s had first demanded that the church be stripped of its crosses and bells; after the Christians yielded to that demand, local Muslims insisted that the church dome be removed as well. For several weeks, Copts in El-Marinab were literally besieged, forbidden to leave their homes or buy food unless they agreed to mutilate their nearly century-old house of worship. On Sept. 30, Muslim thugs set fire to the church and demolished its dome, pillars, and walls. For good measure, they also burned a Coptic-owned shop and four homes.
Many Copts are choosing to leave Egypt, rather than live under this intensifying anti-Christian persecution. The Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations calculated last month that more than 90,000 Christians have fled the country since March 2011. At that rate, estimated human-rights advocate Naguib Gabriel, one-third of Egypt’s Coptic population will have vanished within a decade.
Or maybe sooner - maybe much sooner - if Sunday’s anti-Christian pogrom is a sign of things to come.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.

America’s Worst Wind-Energy Project

Wind-energy proponents admit they need lots of spin to overwhelm the truly informed.

By Robert Bryce
October 12, 2011

The more people know about the wind-energy business, the less they like it. And when it comes to lousy wind deals, General Electric’s Shepherds Flat project in northern Oregon is a real stinker.

I’ll come back to the GE project momentarily. Before getting to that, please ponder that first sentence. It sounds like a claim made by an anti-renewable-energy campaigner. It’s not. Instead, that rather astounding admission was made by a communications strategist during a March 23 webinar sponsored by the American Council on Renewable Energy called “Speaking Out on Renewable Energy: Communications Strategies for the Renewable Energy Industry.”

During the webinar, Justin Rolfe-Redding, a doctoral student from the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, discussed ways for wind-energy proponents to get their message out to the public. Rolfe-Redding said that polling data showed that “after reading arguments for and against wind, wind lost support.” He went on to say that concerns about wind energy’s cost and its effect on property values “crowded out climate change” among those surveyed.

The most astounding thing to come out of Rolfe-Redding’s mouth — and yes, I heard him say it myself — was this: “The things people are educated about are a real deficit for us.” After the briefings on the pros and cons of wind, said Rolfe-Redding, “enthusiasm decreased for wind. That’s a troubling finding.” The solution to these problems, said Rolfe-Redding, was to “weaken counterarguments” against wind as much as possible. He suggested using “inoculation theory” by telling people that “wind is a clean source, it provides jobs” and adding that “it’s an investment in the future.” He also said that proponents should weaken objections by “saying prices are coming down every day.”

It’s remarkable to see how similar the arguments being put forward by wind-energy proponents are to those that the Obama administration is using to justify its support of Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar company that got a $529 million loan guarantee from the federal government. But in some ways, the government support for the Shepherds Flat deal is worse than what happened with Solyndra.

The majority of the funding for the $1.9 billion, 845-megawatt Shepherds Flat wind project in Oregon is coming courtesy of federal taxpayers. And that largesse will provide a windfall for General Electric and its partners on the deal who include Google, Sumitomo, and Caithness Energy. Not only is the Energy Department giving GE and its partners a $1.06 billion loan guarantee, but as soon as GE’s 338 turbines start turning at Shepherds Flat, the Treasury Department will send the project developers a cash grant of $490 million.

The deal was so lucrative for the project developers that last October, some of Obama’s top advisers, including energy-policy czar Carol Browner and economic adviser Larry Summers, wrote a memo saying that the project’s backers had “little skin in the game” while the government would be providing “a significant subsidy (65+ percent).” The memo goes on to say that, while the project backers would only provide equity equal to about 11 percent of the total cost of the wind project, they would receive an “estimated return on equity of 30 percent.”

The memo continues, explaining that the carbon dioxide reductions associated with the project “would have to be valued at nearly $130 per ton for CO2 for the climate benefits to equal the subsidies.” The memo continues, saying that that per-ton cost is “more than 6 times the primary estimate used by the government in evaluating rules.”

The Obama administration’s loan guarantee for the now-bankrupt Solyndra has garnered lots of attention, but the Shepherds Flat deal is an even better example of corporate welfare. Several questions are immediately obvious:
First: Why, as Browner and Summers asked, is the federal government providing loan guarantees and subsidies for an energy project that could easily be financed by GE, which has a market capitalization of about $170 billion?

Second: Why is the Obama administration providing subsidies to GE, which paid little or no federal income taxes last year even though it generated some $5.1 billion in profits from its U.S. operations?

Third: How is it that GE’s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, can be the head of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness while his company is paying little or no federal income taxes? That question is particularly germane as the president never seems to tire of bashing the oil and gas industry for what he claims are the industry’s excessive tax breaks.

Over the past year, according to Yahoo! Finance, the average electric utility’s return on equity has been 7.1 percent. Thus, taxpayer money is helping GE and its partners earn more than four times the average return on equity in the electricity business.

A few months ago, I ran into Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy. I asked him why Duke — which has about 14,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity — was investing in wind9energy projects. The answer, said Rogers forthrightly, was simple: The subsidies available for wind projects allow Duke to earn returns on equity of 17 to 22 percent.

In other words, for all of the bragging by the wind-industry proponents about the rapid growth in wind-generation capacity, the main reason that capacity is growing is that companies such as GE and Duke are able to goose their profits by putting up turbines so they can collect subsidies from taxpayers.

There are other reasons to dislike the Shepherds Flat project: It’s being built in Oregon to supply electricity to customers in Southern California.
That’s nothing new. According to the Energy Information Administration, “California imports more electricity from other states than any other state.” Heaven forbid that consumers in the Golden State would have to actually live near a power plant, refinery, or any other industrial facility. And by building the wind project in Oregon, electricity consumers in California are only adding to the electricity congestion problems that have been plaguing the region served by the Bonneville Power Authority. Earlier this year, the BPA was forced to curtail electricity generated by wind projects in the area because a near-record spring runoff had dramatically increased the amount of power generated by the BPA’s dams. In other words, Shepherds Flat is adding yet more wind turbines to a region that has been overwhelmed this year by excess electrical generation capacity from renewables. And that region will now have to spending huge sums of money building new transmission capacity to export its excess electricity.

Finally, there’s the question of the jobs being created by the new wind project. In 2009, when GE and Caithness announced the Shepherds Flat deal, CNN Money reported that the project would create 35 permanent jobs.
And in an April 2011 press release issued by GE on the Shepherds Flat project, one of GE’s partners in the deal said they were pleased to be bringing “green energy jobs to our economy.”

How much will those “green energy” jobs cost? Well, if we ignore the value of the federal loan guarantee and only focus on the $490 million cash grant that will be given to GE and its partners when Shepherds Flat gets finished, the cost of those “green energy” jobs will be about $16.3 million each.

As Rolfe-Redding said, the more people know about the wind business, the less they like it.

— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, was recently issued in paperback.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Obama’s Blame Game

Everything except the president’s own policies is to blame for the economy.

By Victor Davis Hanson
October 11, 2011

We are told there are lots of reasons why borrowing $5 trillion in less than three years and federalizing health care have not yet restored prosperity.

The residents of George Orwell’s Oceania daily screamed at the infamous visage of arch-enemy of the people Emmanuel Goldstein. In the same way, almost every week for the last 140, Americans have been reminded just how nefarious and lasting was the work of George W. Bush. Now ensconced somewhere in Texas, Bush, in insidious ways, somehow still blocks our collective recovery.

Wall Street likewise continues to conspire to thwart Americans. “Fat-cat bankers,” “millionaires and billionaires,” people who fly in “corporate jets,” and those who “don’t pay their fair share” and who junket to Las Vegas or jet to the Super Bowl “on the taxpayers’ dime” have all ignored the president’s warnings. Did they not hear that “now is not the time for profit” and “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money”?

There are other guilty parties. The president also reminded us that there are fewer bank-teller jobs because of ATMs. And he added that online ticketing has meant that there is likewise far less employment for travel agents. Such accelerated automation after January 2009 apparently helps explain why unemployment is still over 9 percent.

And if technologically induced instability were not enough, there is the culpable Republican-controlled House. Until November 2010, a considerable Democratic majority in the House and a super-majority in the Senate were supposedly allowing the president to make headway. But then, for still poorly understood reasons, the people foolishly voted in a Republican majority in the House. The new Congress that was seated in January stopped the Obama success of the prior 24 months in its tracks. Since then, for the last nine months, the president has had to “fight Congress” in a way he had apparently not had to in his first two years of triumph. “They need to do their job,” the president remarked of the mysterious congressional ennui that started in January of this year.

The president also noticed that sometimes even the gods conspire to derail the expected recovery. In August, in a series of speeches, Mr. Obama outlined the perfect storm that had hit us — a veritable quadrafecta of unexpected bad news. First there was the Arab Spring, which created global uncertainty. Then oil prices spiked and sidetracked the nascent recovery. To top that off, the Japanese tsunami did its share to halt the president’s plans for economic restoration. Nor, he reminded us, should we forget the financial uncertainty in Europe.

Former top Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee best summed up the weird alignment of the stars: “Earthquakes, tsunamis, revolutions in the Middle East, financial crisis, and now we even have earthquakes outside of Washington, D.C.” Other administration spokesmen noted the deleterious role of Hurricane Irene, which interrupted the president’s vacation and paralyzed the East Coast. Earlier they had noted the damage done by BP and the seemingly unending oil spill. In other words, if Republicans in Congress and ATMs were not enough, we also had Arabs, Japanese, Europeans, and the angry earth shaker and tidal-wave maker, Poseidon, all in league against this administration.

But Bush, Republicans, foreigners, high tech, and divine retribution do not alone explain the continued economic stagnation. Most recently, a reflective President Obama told us he now thinks our problems are even more existential. We, the American people, he concluded, are also the problem: “The way I think about it is, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft, and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades.” Apparently, our lackadaisical natures have been eroding even more since 2009, and so they also do their part in preventing us from restoring economic growth.

Note that the president believes that citing such extraneous causes is not blame-gaming. That’s why, not long ago, he warned high-school students that “It’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame.”

There are four factors that explain why the amorphous “they” do all sorts of strange things to convince President Obama that our problems are not historic deficits, huge increases in entitlements, a vast new health-care program, anti-business rhetoric, federal interventions against private enterprise, and new government regulations, which collectively have terrified the private sector, demoralized consumers, and put us on the path to European-style stagnation.

First, much of the Obama blame-gaming is apparently sincere. The president and his economic advisers, most of them now departed, really did believe that too little government spending and not enough taxes accounted for the sluggishness. In almost religious fashion, they believed that near-zero interest rates, trillion-dollar-plus deficits, exploding government spending, greater regulation, and more entitlements would ensure recovery.

This religion was based on a misreading of the 2008 meltdown that put blame solely on Wall Street, rather than including federal lending agencies that, with their guarantees and mandates, warped market reality by encouraging risky home loans. Obama and his advisers also mistakenly thought Republicans were tax-cutting free-marketeers in need of Keynesian correction. In fact, a statist government grew enormously under President Bush. Millions of Americans were excused from the tax rolls, and vast new entitlements went unpaid for. In other words, Obama was a reactionary who vastly expanded what already was growing dangerous. He is not yet to the point of accepting that his worldview results in collective impoverishment — and he will continue to blame any and all until he faces that unpalatable reality.

Second, blaming is always a symptom of first-time responsibility. As a gifted rhetorician, Barack Obama charmed and talked his way into the Ivy League, law school, and a lectureship, and reinvented an unexceptional and brief Senate career as a mythical bipartisan achievement. He ran for president on grand talk about Bush’s nefariousness from Guantanamo to Iraq. Now, for the first time in his life, he is responsible for something other than soaring platitudes and easy invective. He clearly is uncomfortable with that newfound responsibility and so blames others for his novel “buck stops here” predicament.

Third, Obama has picked up a lot of technocratic data but little common sense, or even the sorts of basic facts that most people acquire in the workplace. Only a hothouse plant would think that inflating tires and getting “tune-ups” are a substitute for greater petroleum production. “Millions of green jobs” is the sort of pie-in-the-sky theorizing one hears in the faculty lounge among tenured apparatchiks, but which means little to a small businessman who must meet a payroll. No business or household off the subsidized campus or government dole could run the way Obama runs the government — and it shows in his naïveté about what is ruining the recovery.

Lastly, there are no consequences for Obama’s blaming his failed economic policy on someone else. The media long ago gave up their role as presidential watchdogs and became invested in Obama’s success. Obama knew that he could golf far more with exemption than George W. Bush could. He could renounce public campaign financing and shake down Goldman Sachs and BP for record donations — and still demagogue Wall Street greed. Polls suggest that the public has finally grown tired of Obama’s finger-pointing and his embarrassing contradictions. No matter — Obama himself knows that those who deliver and shape the news will never hold him to account.

George McClellan telegraphed President Lincoln weekly to tell him how other people and things had stalled the Army of the Potomac — in a way Ulysses S. Grant never did. Douglas MacArthur blamed the surprise Chinese invasion of Korea on the Truman administration, Congress, Communists, his Pentagon overseers, and other officers — in a way unknown to his successor, Matthew Ridgway. William Westmoreland thought the politicians and the Sixties lost him Vietnam — in a way foreign to the thinking of his successor, Creighton Abrams. Before David Petraeus, U.S. generals in Baghdad blamed their civilian overseers, Iraqis, someone else’s strategy, Washington neo-cons, or enemy terrorists for their failure to secure Iraq.

Attention, Mr. President: History is not kind to blame-gamers.

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of the just-released The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ryan Adams is out of the fire

The singer-songwriter quit music two years ago. But his new album, 'Ashes & Fire,' symbolizes his rebirth.

By August Brown, Los Angeles Times
October 9, 2011

DRAWING A LINE: Adams sings of the realization he's loved on "Ashes." But he's reluctant to discuss his wife, Mandy Moore. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Ménière's disease is an inflammation of the inner ear. Specifically, a swelling in the tubes of the ear canal that control the body's balance. No one knows its cause, but stress, exhaustion and substance abuse are among the factors thought to contribute. Its symptoms include nausea, physical disorientation and occasionally debilitating bouts of tinnitus and the loss of hearing at certain frequencies. There is no known treatment.

For an average person, Ménière's is irritating. For musicians, it can be the end of a livelihood, even a loss of their identity. Sounds actually disappear.

For the singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, who was diagnosed with the condition five years ago and crested during the final tours with his former backing band the Cardinals in 2009, it was a literal threat to his career. His new solo album "Ashes & Fire," out Tuesday, is proof he beat it, and his Oct. 10 show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery sold out in minutes. But at the time, the illness was a metaphor for the many ways he was losing balance.

After a run in the mid- to late-2000s when the famously productive yet erratic singer got sober, formed a steady band and made some of the most respected albums of a long career, everything unwound.

"You can go on steroids, painkillers or speed to treat the symptoms," Adams said, smirking at his own loose-cannon reputation (he's been drug- and booze-free since late 2005). "I tried one of those."

In 2009 he found himself without an outside record deal, and would soon be heartbroken from the death of a close grandmother and his band's bassist, with a hole in his hearing that wouldn't go away. He announced he was quitting music, which for a 36-year-old singer with 16 full-length records to his name, was akin to retiring from dinners.

But "Ashes & Fire," released on his own Pax AM label in partnership with Capitol, is a valediction for the time when he was one of the most famous screw-ups in music. It's an intimate, emotionally nuanced exploration of what it means to have a career seem to dissolve in self-abuse and self-doubt, and the humbling shock of finding a verdant home in Los Angeles in spite of it.

His new album is perhaps his sonically gentlest yet most emotionally strafed since his solo debut "Heartbreaker." Produced by veteran Glyn Johns, who worked with artists like the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Eagles, "Ashes & Fire" is a return to the powerfully intimate delivery style that made his reputation. It was all recorded live with few overdubs, with virtuoso low-key guests takes from Norah Jones and keyboardist Benmont Tench, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

A walk around Adams' Hollywood recording studio is clear proof. Adams, notoriously irascible to journalists, greets guests amiably, dressed in red plaid and exquisitely mussed bangs. He bounds downstairs to show off the small rooms packed with vintage analog recording gear — a tape machine sourced from Motown's manufacturing unit; Fairchild compressors made famous by the Beatles and the studio reference monitors that recorded Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and Dokken's "Under Lock & Key," two of his many, many favorite records.

"He's older now, he's in a good place," said Jones, who sings on "Ashes" and has been a frequent Adams collaborator since 2005's "Jacksonville City Nights." "All these songs are very live and warm, and he's a never-ending well of ideas."

Its first single "Lucky Now" starts with one of his finest melodies to date atop a modest, perfectly recorded acoustic guitar. A lament for lost youth — and a quiet, subtle ode to his friend, Cardinals' bassist Chris Feinstein, who died in 2009 — it eventually inverts into a grateful message for the chance to feel anything deeply: "The night will break your heart, but only if you're lucky now."

Some tracks, like album leadoff "Dirty Rain," have a plain-spoken eloquence worthy of his hero and onetime collaborator Willie Nelson; others like "Invisible Riverside" have a gentle L.A. canyon-country psychedelia.

"These were real, complete songs — lyrics that surprise you, strong melodies, and great performances centered around a voice and guitar," Tench said. Playing together was "an immersion process. If a song's about loss or loneliness, his melodies will call that forth from you."

Recording the album was, in a way, Adams' test of faith in his own talents. "Long distance runners, they just do that, they prepare but they have to go on a journey with no control," Adams said. "I just keep running. I don't play golf, I don't have a pastime. Music is golf."

Its best moments are when Johns puts Adams close to a microphone and lets his voice — defiant yet chastened, like a seasoned punk rocker begging for quarters — do the heavy lifting. Album-closer "I Love You but I Don't Know What to Say" feels like a statement of devotion to his wife, the actress and singer Mandy Moore, a vow to protect their L.A. home together — and a sad prayer to his grandmother's death from stomach cancer — where "the night is silent and we seem so far away."

But this stable musical home base seemed impossibly distant just a few years ago.

After first earning attention in the proto-alt-country band Whiskeytown, Adams vaulted into international fame with two solo albums of bourbon-sodden, bummed-out folk-rock — 2000's "Heartbreaker" and 2001's "Gold" — that cemented his promise as one of country-rock's finest new voices. He was sideswiped by fame, taking on celebrity girlfriends, a publicized drug habit and a reactionary rock album, 2003's "Rock N Roll," written as a middle finger to his label, Lost Highway, which claimed that he was getting morbid and needed an editor (2002's odds-and-sods album "Demolition" was compiled from several label-rejected album sessions).

He confounded critics with several jokey rap and heavy-metal mix tapes released online, which toyed with the press' assumptions that he was a humorless, "authentic" alt-country troubadour. "I'm into clairvoyance and UFOs and ghosts. I'm a huge dork," he said. (In 2010, he released a sprawling full-length sci-fi-metal album "Orion.")

But leading up to 2005's "Cold Roses," he assembled the Cardinals, a band of session aces that would carry him through five albums worth of material often inspired by the Grateful Dead's rustic explorations. He even jammed on-stage with Phil Lesh.

The band gave him his most consistent group of collaborators and won him back many critics and fans. But tensions rose within the Cardinals on tours, leading to the departure of Adams' close friend, bassist Catherine Popper in 2006. The band dissolved after a 2009 show in Atlanta on bad terms.

"I'd make a suggestion, and they'd say I was complaining," Adams said. "We started playing with in-ear monitors and it just wasn't the same. Our friendships were [ruined], and I realized I didn't have to do this. After that last show, I just exhaled."

After the breakup, Cardinals' drummer Brad Pemberton told the website Stereokill that "you can't fix the engine while the car is speeding down the road, ya' know? Everyone was a bit fried, so it was the right time to step back for a minute. I encouraged Ryan to go and get married, and have a life and find some peace."

Adams now tours alone, with just an acoustic guitar for two-hour sets from his deep catalog. Meanwhile, Adams wrapped up his deal with Lost Highway, which famously shelved (and bisected into EPs) the tracks that became his 2004 album "Love Is Hell" as too commercially difficult. The relationship remains a raw spot for him.

"I'd had such a long spell of negative press," he said, leaning deep into a rolling chair. "[The label] were spineless losers. They abandoned me when the press did."

In a statement to The Times, Luke Lewis, the chairman of UMG Nashville and Lost Highway, said, "Ryan was with us for almost 10 years, and after fulfilling his contractual obligations to the label he decided to move on. I have many fond memories of those years and will always think of Ryan as an amazing artist who I am happy and proud to have known and been associated with. We continue to wish him the best and look forward to hearing more of his great work."

Suddenly Adams was in the same position as when his career started. Adams writes songs at a rate unseen since the Brill Building (he cut three full-lengths, including a double-album, in 2005 alone). After years in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in late 2008. Quitting music was a kind of detox session for a creative setting that he felt left him physically and psychically ill.

He availed himself of Los Angeles' myriad alternative medicines — including one therapy that will shock those who still mistakenly imagine him cracking a bottle of Maker's Mark, writing a couple of albums by breakfast and not seeing sunshine for a week — hiking in L.A.'s mountain vistas.

"I did a lot of alternative therapies, acupuncture and hypnosis," Adams said. "I'd walk the trails up to Dante's Peak in Griffith Park. I quit smoking, started taking vitamin D. California healed me up."

It seemed to work for him, and the Ménière's subsided. But writing still refused to come easily. Songs started and halted; others followed clichéd paths. He wondered if his particularly generous muse had finally changed the locks on him, and his streak of self-loathing renewed.

But on a couch in his studio's mixing room, he cited a new source for inspiration — the sense he'd been one-upped. This time, by the young English singer-songwriter Laura Marling, whose 2010 album "I Speak Because I Can" left him reeling.

"I did feel competitive with Laura and the seriousness of her writing," Adams said. "I had the pieces but no puzzle, and had to get back to an earlier truth."

Still, the time off and the insecurity of his new solo setting left him uncertain about recording new songs. It took Johns — father of producer Ethan Johns, who recorded Adams' first solo albums and 2005's "29" — to talk him back into recording.

"He performs from the heart and believes everything he's written," Glyn Johns said. But "he's a very complex character, one of the funniest people I've ever met and always a consummate gentleman. On one hand, as a producer, personal lives are none of your business, but it's all about presenting an artist in the best light, and should you be invited to do so, that sometimes falls in your jurisdiction."

In a way, "Ashes & Fire" is an album of L.A. domesticity — "I Love You But" is the closest he'll come to writing an "Oh Yoko!" The album's title and lyrics are rife with images of Los Angeles and its perpetual habit of rebirth by fire — a subject Adams knows well.

In 2001, around the time of "Gold," his city of possibility and potential was New York — he shot his video for the song "New York, New York" mere days before 9/11, just as his turn in the mainstream spotlight was beginning. But on "Ashes," L.A. is a stand-in for the better place he's found himself, both musically and physically. The album follows an arc that ends with him finally accepting that, in spite of everything and for reasons he doesn't fully understand, he's loved.

But it's also the one thing Adams won't talk about. In the middle of a conversation, he checks his phone and frantically texts back to Moore. "It's the what-time-are-you-going-to-be-home-for-dinner text," he says, sounding like any husband in America.

But when asked about how he values his home life amid a musical reinvention, it's the one topic — unlike black metal, narcotics or vintage compressors — that he still keeps a protective edge over.

He demurs, and briefly raises those old hackles of suspicion — "I feel like you're trying to answer that question for me" — before giving an answer both obvious and yet humbly insightful at once.

It's as if the possibility of a life in a real home is a frequency he's just now learned to hear.

"When a young man or a woman are wise, they find a balance early on," Adams said. "I was not one of those people. But I'm learning."

It’s Never Really Dead in Zombieland

The New York Times
Published: October 6, 2011

THE production offices of “The Walking Dead” do not resemble the burned-out remnants of civilization struggling to survive an undead holocaust, but they don’t exactly feel like the headquarters of one of the most popular shows on cable television either. Tucked away in a spacious but spartan Kodak building in Hollywood, the workplace is an array of cream-colored walls, olive carpets and fiberglass ceiling tiles that Robert Kirkman, the big, bearded writer of the “Walking Dead” comic books and a producer of the AMC series, seemed mildly embarrassed to be showing off a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s not as cool as you’d think,” Mr. Kirkman said. “It’s like a bank office, but people are expecting, like, animatronic zombies.”

Taking his seat in a conference room ringed by photographs of “Walking Dead” characters living and deceased (as well as, for some reason, a photograph of Charlie Sheen digitally altered to look like a zombie) Mr. Kirkman joined a small team of colleagues, including Gale Anne Hurd, an executive producer, and Glen Mazzara, the recently appointed show runner, to put the finishing touches on Season 2 of “The Walking Dead,” which will have its premiere next Sunday.

Missing from the scene was Frank Darabont, the “Shawshank Redemption” and “Green Mile” filmmaker who developed “The Walking Dead” from the popular Image Comics series.

Although Mr. Darabont ran the show’s first season and was widely credited with its success, AMC made the surprising announcement that he was stepping down from “The Walking Dead” in late July, days after he appeared at Comic-Con International in San Diego to promote the series and weeks after Season 2 started shooting. The news was bookended by a tense and public contract renegotiation between AMC and Matthew Weiner, the creator and show runner of “Mad Men,” and a similar face-off with the producers of “Breaking Bad.”

Mr. Darabont declined to comment for this article, and neither the “Walking Dead” staff nor AMC executives would discuss why he left. An article in The Hollywood Reporter suggested that one point of contention had been the show’s budget, which was reduced after its first season but remains one of the highest for cable: one person with firsthand knowledge of the production said its per-episode budget was $2.75 million, while a second person said it was nearly $3 million. (These people were not permitted to speak for attribution about financial matters.)

Yet Mr. Darabont’s presence looms large on the show, where he worked on about half of the second season and is still credited as an executive producer, and at its offices, still decorated with posters for his film “The Majestic” and “Ferrari,” a movie Mr. Darabont was involved with on the HBO comedy “Entourage.”

Here producers pored over a map of a fictional farm and its environs that will be the epicenter for the latest adventures of a group of survivors in an American South overrun by cannibalistic ghouls. In a nearby editing suite, the producers reviewed footage of a surprise attack perpetrated by a not-fully-decapitated zombie whose head dangled perilously from his body.

Asked if a human character in this scene would stick around for subsequent episodes, Mr. Kirkman offered a sardonic chuckle. “I can’t say,” he replied. “She could die right here. Nice try.”

A similar and strangely fatalistic air hangs over the production of “The Walking Dead,” which exploded onto television in a six-episode arc last year, drawing six million viewers for its finale, a figure more than double the typical audience for prestigious AMC hits like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

But instead of marching triumphantly into a new 13-episode season, “The Walking Dead” sometimes feels as if it is lurching forward, burdened by its own success, the tremendous expectations of the audience it cultivated and a perception that it sheds creative staff members as abruptly as it dispenses with characters.

Discussing the intense scrutiny of the show he was placed in charge of barely two months ago, Mr. Mazzara said: “The microscope itself can be a distraction. It’s important not to listen to all of the chatter and just focus on making the best show possible. And by doing that, the microscope becomes less relevant because the work will stand on its own.”

One immediate effect of Mr. Darabont’s departure was that it brought together Mr. Kirkman, 32, who has no previous television experience, and Mr. Mazzara, 44, a veteran writer and producer who has worked on shows as disparate as the TNT hospital drama “Hawthorne” and the gritty FX crime series “The Shield.”

Having met only briefly during the writing of the first “Walking Dead” season (“Almost like ships passing in the night,” Mr. Kirkman said), it seemed as if the two men were trying to figure each other out while they figured out the series for which they are now responsible.

Mr. Kirkman, who in February moved to Los Angeles from Lexington, Ky., to contribute full time to “The Walking Dead,” said his work on the comics did not entitle him to any additional control over the screenplays of his colleagues.

“Everybody’s got a voice,” he said, “and the whole idea of a television show is to take everyone’s voice and use it.”

Mr. Mazzara, a goateed New York transplant with salt-and-pepper hair, said Mr. Kirkman’s voice was “the first among equals.”

Yet when he made his first freelance-writing contribution to the series, a Season 1 episode in which the human survivors regroup after a zombie attack on their camp, Mr. Mazzara said, he did not read Mr. Kirkman’s comics to prepare.

“I didn’t want the graphic novel to infect my writing,” Mr. Mazzara said, with Mr. Kirkman sitting next to him. “I wanted the story to reveal itself to me and say, ‘O.K., what would actually happen?’ ”

He added: “It was confusing because I didn’t really have a handle on a lot of the characters. But I felt if I could get inside that situation and let it unfold, that would be the right way to do it.”

Mr. Mazzara and Mr. Kirkman acknowledged that neither was in contact with Mr. Darabont. “I had some correspondence when things went down,” said Mr. Mazzara, who was rapidly promoted after Mr. Darabont hired him to be his right-hand man. “I didn’t know if Frank would give his blessing, but I did sympathize with the change.”

Mr. Kirkman said simply, “We’re all very busy.”

Some of that pressure has been self-imposed, as the modest five-person “Walking Dead” writing staff (and one freelancer) has been working since the winter to provide material for the cast and crew based in Atlanta, where the show will be filmed through November. The blistering summer months were especially challenging, filled with ticks, chiggers, leeches and at least one red-ant hill Mr. Mazzara almost stepped on.

While the “Walking Dead” producers say their primary storytelling goal this year is to build on the momentum from Season 1, there is an underlying sense that they also want to better distinguish their ensemble cast, led by Andrew Lincoln, who plays the stolid former police officer Rick Grimes.

Ms. Hurd, who has produced films like “Aliens” and the “Terminator” series, acknowledged that the show’s first season “didn’t have as much time, with only six episodes, to delve into each one of those characters and get to know them.” Season 2, she said, will find them “less on the road and on the run,” with more opportunities to distinguish themselves as individuals. (If Episodes 1 and 2 are any yardstick to measure by, the new season has hardly lost its appetite for vivid depictions of gore and innards, nor its willingness to put its young characters in as much danger as its grown-ups.)

The issue of character development was also a point repeated at the “Walking Dead” writers’ table, where Mr. Kirkman debated his fellow producers Evan Reilly and Scott Gimple on how Rick Grimes might handle his group’s demands to execute a living person. Mr. Mazzara ruled the room, firmly but subtly. When Mr. Mazzara says no he means no, though he is more apt to say, “I’ll think about it.”

At one point the conversation turned to whether a character might wet himself in terror. “I think it shows he’s quaking in his boots,” Mr. Reilly said.

Mr. Gimple added, “There’s already so much blood and brains and bile ——”

Mr. Kirkman interrupted, “But not enough urine.”

Leaning back in his chair Mr. Mazzara said, “I’ll think about it.”

The “Walking Dead” producers said they were not subjected to any extra scrutiny from AMC, which also produces the series through its AMC Studios, than their counterparts at other shows. (“They’re letting artists be artists,” Mr. Mazzara said of AMC. Mr. Kirkman said, “They know when to shut up and get out of the way.”)

Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vice president for original programming, did not deny that “The Walking Dead” represented a crucial part of that channel’s portfolio, particularly as series like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have announced plans to produce what will be their final seasons.

“When you’re not in the business of making 15 hours of prime-time television a week,” he said, “each show becomes exponentially that much more important.” He added it was “certainly nice to have something that is in its early seasons and, if we can pull it off, it’ll be around for a while.”

As if to reinforce this point, AMC recently announced that it had made Greg Nicotero, the Emmy Award-winning makeup effects artist of “The Walking Dead,” a co-executive producer of the series and signed him to a first-look deal. The network is also introducing a live “Walking Dead” after-show called — what else? — “Talking Dead,” that represents an inexpensive opportunity to retain its zombie-obsessed viewership for an additional half-hour a night.

Among the “Walking Dead” cast members there is excitement for what the new season holds, tempered by a sense of loss.

Norman Reedus, the New York actor who plays a hotheaded, crossbow-wielding survivor named Daryl, said that when he learned he had been cast on “The Walking Dead,” “I pretty much ran down the streets of Chinatown naked, screaming at the top of my lungs.”

“We all came here to work for Frank,” he added. “I’d do a tampon commercial with Frank Darabont.”

Even so, Mr. Reedus said that with Mr. Mazzara’s takeover of the series, “it’s not like some alien came in and started speaking a different language.” He added, “Glen picked it up right where Frank left it and Glen’s been doing an amazing job.”

Outside of “The Walking Dead” Mr. Kirkman and Mr. Mazzara lead different lives: Mr. Kirkman is a family man but is also focused on writing his comics and developing other series for film and television; Mr. Mazzara’s major extracurricular activity is coaching his 8-year-old son’s soccer team. (His assistant coach is the “Shield” creator Shawn Ryan; both were reprimanded recently for talking back to the referees.)

Yet the two are building a personal shorthand: a lexicon of phrases like “zombie gag” (meaning the weekly scene of undead mayhem) and “volcano of murder” (which they would not explain yet).

And if “The Walking Dead” survives for as many years as they would like it to, there is much the two might learn from each other.

Mr. Kirkman, who makes no effort to restrain his enthusiasm, sounds almost serious when he says he hopes “The Walking Dead” will run at least 20 seasons. “Zombies are the new ‘Simpsons,’ ” he said.

Mr. Mazzara, more seasoned in the ways of show business, is mindful of the considerable pressure but is not overwhelmed by it.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he said with a laugh. “I have worked on shows that have not done well their first season, and you don’t get the chance to try to make it up. It’s a high-class problem.”

‘Occupy' is anarchists for Big Government

Underneath the familiar props of radical chic that hasn't been either radical or chic in half a century, the zombie youth of the Big Sloth movement are a ludicrous paradox.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
October 7, 2011

Michael Oher, offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, was online Wednesday night when his Twitter feed started filling up with tributes to Steve Jobs. A bewildered Oher tweeted: "Can somebody help me out? Who was Steve Jobs!"

He was on his iPhone at the time.

Who was Steve Jobs? Well, he was a guy who founded a corporation and spent his life as a corporate executive manufacturing corporate products. So he wouldn't have endeared himself to the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd, even though, underneath the patchouli and lentils, most of them are abundantly accessorized with iPhones and iPads and iPods loaded with iTunes, if only for when the drum circle goes for a bathroom break.

The above is a somewhat obvious point, although the fact that it's not obvious even to protesters with an industrial-strength lack of self-awareness is a big part of the problem. But it goes beyond that: If you don't like to think of Jobs as a corporate exec (and a famously demanding one at that), think of him as a guy who went to work, and worked hard. There's no appetite for that among those "occupying" Zuccotti Park. In the old days, the tribunes of the masses demanded an honest wage for honest work. Today, the tribunes of America's leisured varsity class demand a world that puts "people before profits." If the specifics of their "program" are somewhat contradictory, the general vibe is consistent: They wish to enjoy an advanced Western lifestyle without earning an advanced Western living. The pampered, elderly children of a fin de civilisation overdeveloped world, they appear to regard life as an unending vacation whose bill never comes due.

So they are in favor of open borders, presumably so that exotic Third World peasants can perform the labor to which they are noticeably averse. Of the 13 items on that "proposed list of demands," Demand Four calls for "free college education," and Demand Eleven returns to the theme, demanding debt forgiveness for all existing student loans. I yield to no one in my general antipathy to the racket that is American college education, but it's difficult to see why this is the fault of the mustache-twirling robber barons who head up Global MegaCorp. Inc. One sympathizes, of course. It can't be easy finding yourself saddled with a six-figure debt and nothing to show for it but some watery bromides from the "Transgender and Colonialism" class. Americans collectively have north of a trillion dollars in personal college debt. Say what you like about Enron and, er, Solyndra and all those other evil corporations, but they didn't relieve you of a quarter-mil in exchange for a Master's in Maya Angelou. So why not try occupying the Dean's office at Shakedown U?

Ah, but the great advantage of mass moronization is that it leaves you too dumb to figure out who to be mad at. At Liberty Square, one of the signs reads: "F**k your unpaid internship!" Fair enough. But, to a casual observer of the massed ranks of Big Sloth, it's not entirely clear what precisely anyone would ever pay them to do.

Do you remember Van Jones? He was Obama's "green jobs" czar back before "green jobs" had been exposed as a gazillion-dollar sinkhole for sluicing taxpayer monies to the president's corporate cronies. Oh, don't worry. These cronies aren't "corporate" in the sense of Steve Jobs. The corporations they run put "people before profits": That's to say, they've figured out it's easier to take government money from you people than create a business that makes a profit. In an amusing inversion of the Russian model, Van Jones became a czar after he'd been a Communist. He became a Commie in the mid-Nineties – i.e., after even the Soviet Union had given up on it. Needless to say, a man who never saw a cobwebbed collectivist nostrum he didn't like no matter how long past its sell-by date is hot for "Occupy Wall Street." Indeed, Van Jones thinks that the protests are the start of an "American Autumn."

In case you don't get it, that's the American version of the "Arab Spring." Steve Jobs might have advised Van Jones he has a branding problem. Spring is the season of new life, young buds and so forth. Autumn is leaves turning brown and fluttering to the ground in a big dead heap. Even in my great state of New Hampshire, where autumn is pretty darn impressive, we understand what that blaze of red and orange leaves means: They burn brightest before they fall and die, and the world turns chill and bare and hard.

So Van Jones may be on to something! American Autumn. The days dwindle down to a precious few, like in whatever that old book was called, "The Summer And Fall Of The Roman Empire."

If you'll forgive a plug for my latest sellout to my corporate masters, in my new book I quote H.G. Wells' Victorian Time-Traveler after encountering far in the future the soft, effete Eloi: "These people were clothed in pleasant fabrics that must at times need renewal, and their sandals, though undecorated, were fairly complex specimens of metalwork. Somehow such things must be made." And yet he saw "no workshops" or sign of any industry at all. "They spent all their time in playing gently, in bathing in the river, in making love in a half-playful fashion, in eating fruit and sleeping. I could not see how things were kept going." The Time-Traveler might have felt much the same upon landing in Liberty Square in the early 21st century, except for the bit about bathing: It's increasingly hard in America to "see how things are kept going," but it's pretty clear that the members of "Occupy Wall Street" have no plans to contribute to keeping things going. Like Michael Oher using his iPhone to announce his ignorance of Steve Jobs, in the autumn of the republic the beneficiaries of American innovation seem not only utterly disconnected from, but actively contemptuous of, the world that sustains their comforts.

Why did Steve Jobs do so much of his innovating in computers? Well, obviously, because that's what got his juices going. But it's also the case that, because it was a virtually nonexistent industry until he came along, it's about the one area of American life that hasn't been regulated into sclerosis by the statist behemoth. So Apple and other companies were free to be as corporate as they wanted, and we're the better off for it. The stunted, inarticulate spawn of America's educrat monopoly want a world of fewer corporations and lots more government. If their "demands" for a $20 minimum wage and a trillion dollars of spending in "ecological restoration" and all the rest are ever met, there will be a massive expansion of state monopoly power. Would you like to get your iPhone from the DMV? That's your "American Autumn": an America that constrains the next Steve Jobs but bigs up Van Jones. Underneath the familiar props of radical chic that hasn't been either radical or chic in half a century, the zombie youth of the Big Sloth movement are a paradox too ludicrous even for the malign alumni of a desultory half-decade of Complacency Studies: they're anarchists for Big Government. Do it for the children, the Democrats like to say. They're the children we did it for, and, if this is the best they can do, they're done for.