All Is Proceeding

by Dave Schuler on November 22, 2014

As I have been predicting since it was enacted, the patch that Illinois’s legislature attempted to put on the state’s public pension system has been struck down by the court:

Strikeout: Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz has ruled Illinois’ pension reform law unconstitutional.

“The Act without question diminishes and impairs the benefits of membership in State retirement systems,” he wrote in a firm, six-page ruling released Friday.

And the import of that? Illinois law, Belz wrote, clearly states that “any attempt to diminish or impair pension rights is unconstitutional.” He said Illinois courts consistently have held that the protection “is absolute and without exception.”

Notice the phrase “pension rights.” In essence Belz is saying that whatever benefits were in force the first day of a worker’s employment are in force until the moment of his or her death.

Now it’s on to the Illinois Supreme Court where I have little doubt the state’s case will suffer the same fate.

The Illinois legislature needs to stop wasting time and actually address this pressing problem. They created the problem and it’s up to them to solve it.


The Only Living

by Dave Schuler on November 22, 2014

Can you name the only living top box office silent movie star? Don’t look it up. You may know the answer if you’re a movie buff but otherwise you probably won’t.

Diana Serra Cary, whose real name was Peggy Montgomery and who became a star as “Baby Peggy”, is 96 now. She appeared in her first comedy short in 1921 and became a major star in the silent era, the only child actor to compete for the title with “the Boy King”, Jackie Coogan. Later she appeared in vaudeville and I wonder if she and my mom ever crossed paths. There is something indefinable about Mrs. Cary that reminds me of my mother. A certain poise or flair.

Last night my wife and I managed to catch a documentary on her, Baby Peggy, the Elephant in the Room. It’s not available streaming or I’d give you a link. If you have the opportunity to catch it, do so. It’s illuminating and heart-rending.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it mentioned before but several of Shirley Temple’s vehicles were in fact Baby Peggy movies remade as musicals.

I’d seen Mrs. Cary in a previous documentary some years ago and one thing that struck me was that she seems to have come to terms more peaceably with her childhood over the last decade. I wish her all the best.


Mike Nichols, 1931-2014

by Dave Schuler on November 22, 2014

The comic, writer, and director Mike Nichols has died:

Mike Nichols, who emerged in the late 1950s as half of a groundbreaking satirical comedy team and found his true calling in the next decade as director of the landmark films “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Graduate,” has died. He was 83.

Nichols, who was married to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, died Wednesday night, ABC News President James Goldston announced. His representative, Leslee Dart, told The Times that Nichols suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in New York.

Along with Elaine May, Nichols created two-person character sketches that deftly ridiculed the neuroses and pretensions of American life during the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras. Their Grammy Award-winning partnership peaked in a 1960-61 Broadway run of “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May,” then the duo parted ways and he changed course.

As a director over the next five decades, he won an Oscar and multiple Tony and Emmy awards while amassing a string of movie credits that includes “Catch-22,” “Carnal Knowledge,” “Silkwood,” “Working Girl” and “The Birdcage.”

Many of the obits mention that Mr. Nichols was a member of a select club: people who’d won a Grammy, and Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy. Too infrequently when mentioning others who are among that number one name is not mentioned so I’ll do it here: Rita Moreno.

The first time I ever heard of Mike Nichols was from my mom and dad. Every week my mom and dad made a point of getting away from the house and children and going on a real date. Sometimes they went out to dinner. Sometimes they went to a movie. Other times they went to see live acts at Gaslight Square, a nightclub district in St. Louis now long gone, which I’ve written about before.

One night they came home from an evening at Gaslight Square raving about the wonderful comedy team they’d just seen: Nichols and May. These were Mike Nichols and Elaine May. They were cerebral, funny, incisive, and not blue, as even back then live comedy was increasingly becoming.

I have seen plays directed by Mr. Nichols on stage (Luv, Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, all of which I still quote), his movies on the screen, and heard his records but, sadly, I never saw him perform live. Here’s a video (I think from the Jack Paar show) of Nichols and May:


Buy on the Rumor; Sell on the News

by Dave Schuler on November 21, 2014

If Rasmussen’s daily presidential approval tracking poll is any gauge, there is no notable upswing in presidential approval as a consequence of the president’s immigration announcement last night. Rather, more along the lines that I predicted, what happened was a very mild uptick before the announcement and a return to trend afterward.

Much as I predicted. I wonder if those who predicted a 5 point improvement in the president’s approval rating after the announcement will feel chastened. I’m guessing not.



by Dave Schuler on November 21, 2014

Speaking of things that haven’t gone away just because we’re not looking at them, our bombing runs in Syria and Iraq may have slowed ISIS’s advance but they aren’t rolling it back. And we’re spending about a half billion a month doing it.

I wonder how long it will take before people figure out that you can’t coherently argue in favor of the Administration’s strategy in the Middle East and want to make dramatic cuts in defense spending at the same time? My guess is that, like the war they favor, it’s forever.

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Why Are the Beds Empty?

by Dave Schuler on November 21, 2014

Just as a reminder the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is far from over. There are signs that as it’s waning in Liberia, it’s gaining force in Sierra Leone.

There are two conflicting explanations for why so many of the beds put in place for Ebola patients in Liberia are empty. One is that there are fewer patients than there were. The other is that people who think they might have Ebola are hiding because they think that the new clinics are places of death.

Just because it’s not in the news doesn’t mean we should lose sight of it.

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Things Are Different

by Dave Schuler on November 21, 2014

While I’m perseverating on immigration is anybody more wrong about immigration than Paul Krugman? Unless your immigrant ancestors came over here illegally, today’s immigrants aren’t “the same as our parents and grandparents were”. That probably should be grandparents and great-grandparents nowadays. I think that Dr. Krugman is dating himself.

Did your immigrant grandparents phone Mama in the Old Country on a daily basis? How many Romanian immigrants to the United States cast votes in the Romanian elections in 1910?

Additionally, most of the Ellis Island immigrants had pretty high skill levels relative to the U. S. economy of the times. That’s a dramatic departure from today when the overwhelming preponderance of immigrants enter the country as workers with low skills.

The U. S. has changed a lot and its needs have changed. Our laws need to change to suit the times but the dialogue continues to be dominated by Ellis Island romanticism.


The WSJ Position on Immigration

by Dave Schuler on November 21, 2014

The editors of the Wall Street Journal who have long supported an open borders policy either de facto or in jure, have come out as opposed to the president’s announced policy change:

The polls show the American people are uneasy about Mr. Obama’s unilateral law-making, and liberals should be too. Mr. Obama is setting a precedent that Republican Presidents could also use to overcome a Democratic majority. How about an order to the IRS not to collect capital-gains taxes on inflated gains from property held for more than a decade? That policy would be broadly popular and also address a basic lack of fairness.

Mr. Obama’s rule-by-regulation has already been rebuked more than once by the Supreme Court. His “I, Barack” immigration decree is another abuse that will roil American politics and erode public confidence in the basic precepts of self-government.

I think there are only two likely explanations for their reaction:

  1. Either they think he’s done the right thing in the wrong way or
  2. They’re opposed to it because he’s doing it.

Just as a reminder, I’m in favor of increasing the number of work visas given to Mexican workers by a factor of ten or even a hundred, serious workplace enforcement with serious penalties, and increased H1B visas providing the jobs are advertised in a central clearing house well before the visa is received with draconian penalties for abusing the system. I also would not oppose some version of the DREAM Act as long as it were systematically and consistently applied and enforced.

That’s neither a conservative nor a progressive position but I think it comports with the realities of life in today’s United States rather than riding somebody’s political hobby. It’s a lot more liberal than the view of a majority of Americans but based on the polls it’s closer than what either Republicans or Democrats support.


Executive Discretion

November 21, 2014

I doubt that President Obama’s announcement last night that he will legalize millions of illegal immigrants via executive order will do much to mollify Republicans or build bridges towards a more collaborative approach to governing in the next term. I’m sure that two, contrasting views will be offered: that Republicans could never have been mollified […]

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The New Entrepeneurs

November 20, 2014

True or false: Most U.S. billionaires are entrepreneurs from modest backgrounds, operating in competitive new industries, suggesting the former. I think it’s false. I think that most of today’s entrepeneurs are canny readers and manipulators of the system. They don’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, forging fortunes out of nothing by creating new products […]

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