April 23, 2012

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Some thoughts about the Space Shuttle flying over DC from Charles Krauthammer

As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.

The shuttle was being carried — its pallbearer, a 747 — because it cannot fly, nor will it ever again.

It was being sent for interment. Above ground, to be sure. But just as surely embalmed as Lenin in Red Square.

Is there a better symbol of willed American decline? The pity is not Discovery’s retirement — beautiful as it was, the shuttle proved too expensive and risky to operate — but that it died without a successor.

The planned follow-on — the Constellation rocket-capsule program to take humans back into orbit and from there to the moon — was suddenly canceled in 2010. And with that, control of manned spaceflight was gratuitously ceded to Russia and China.

Russia went for the cash, doubling its price for carrying an astronaut into orbit to $55.8 million. (Return included. Thank you, Boris.)

China goes for the glory. Having already mastered launch and rendezvous, the Chinese plan to land on the moon by 2025.

They understand well the value of symbols. And nothing could better symbolize China overtaking America than its taking our place on the moon, walking over footprints first laid down, then casually abandoned, by us.

Who cares, you say? …


Joel Kotkin, who is in these pages frequently, was the WSJ Interviewee of the week by Allysia Finley.

‘California is God’s best moment,” says Joel Kotkin. “It’s the best place in the world to live.” Or at least it used to be.

Mr. Kotkin, one of the nation’s premier demographers, left his native New York City in 1971 to enroll at the University of California, Berkeley. The state was a far-out paradise for hipsters who had grown up listening to the Mamas & the Papas’ iconic “California Dreamin’” and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.” But it also attracted young, ambitious people “who had a lot of dreams, wanted to build big companies.” Think Intel, Apple and Hewlett-Packard.

Now, however, the Golden State’s fastest-growing entity is government and its biggest product is red tape. The first thing that comes to many American minds when you mention California isn’t Hollywood or tanned girls on a beach, but Greece. Many progressives in California take that as a compliment since Greeks are ostensibly happier. But as Mr. Kotkin notes, Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere.

Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.

The scruffy-looking urban studies professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., has been studying and writing on demographic and geographic trends for 30 years. Part of California’s dysfunction, he says, stems from state and local government restrictions on development. These policies have artificially limited housing supply and put a premium on real estate in coastal regions.

“Basically, if you don’t own a piece of Facebook or Google and you haven’t robbed a bank and don’t have rich parents, then your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak,” says Mr. Kotkin.

While many middle-class families have moved inland, those regions don’t have the same allure or amenities as the coast. People might as well move to Nevada or Texas, where housing and everything else is cheaper and there’s no income tax. …


You’ll love what Mark Steyn does to the guys who should know how to be secretly serviced.

Unlike the government of the United States, I can’t claim any hands-on experience with Colombian hookers. But I was impressed by the rates charged by Miss Dania Suarez, and even more impressed by the U.S. Secret Service’s response to them.

Cartagena’s most famous “escort” costs $800. For purposes of comparison, you can book Elliot Spitzer’s “escort” for $300. Yet, on the cold, grey fiscally conservative morning after the wild socially liberal night before, Dania’s Secret Service agent offered her a mere $28.

Twenty-eight bucks! What a remarkably precise sum. Thirty dollars, less a federal handling fee? Why isn’t this guy Obama’s treasury secretary or budget director? Or, at the very least, the head honcho of the General Services Administration, whose previous director has sadly had to step down after the agency’s taxpayer-funded, public-servants-gone-wild Bacchanal in Vegas.

All over this dying republic, you couldn’t find a single solitary $28 item that doesn’t wind up costing at least 800 bucks by the time it’s been sluiced through the federal budgeting process. Yet, in one plucky little corner of the Secret Service, supervisor David Chaney, dog-handler Greg Stokes or one of the other nine agents managed to turn the principles of government procurement on its head. If the same fiscal prudence were applied to the 2011 Obama budget, the $3.598 trillion splurge would have cost just shy of 126 billion. The feds’ half-a-billion to Solyndra would have been a mere 18 million. The 823-grand GSA conference on government efficiency at the M Resort Spa & Casino would have come in at $28,805.

Chaney-Stokes 2012! Grope … and Change! Red lights, not red ink.

Alas, young Miss Suarez, just 24 and with a nine-year-old son and a ravenous pimp to feed, didn’t care for the cut of her Secret Service man’s jib. He made the fairly basic mistake – for an expensively trained government operative – of attempting to pay a prostitute in the hotel corridor and Dania caused an altercation, whose fall-out has brought the Secret Service to its knees; which isn’t how these encounters usually go. …

… “Some are saying they were women at the bar.”

Amazing to hear government agents channeling Dudley Moore in Arthur:

“You’re a hooker …? I thought I was doing so well.” It turns out U.S. Secret Service agents are the only men who can walk into a Colombian nightclub and not spot the professionals. Are they really the guys you want protecting the president? …


Now he tells us! VA senator Jim Webb says Obama did the health care thing all wrong. So where was Webb and the other “independent” VA senator when they could have done some good? Webb didn’t have any problem being tough on W. Too bad he declined to run so we won’t have the pleasure of throwing this bum out. Karen Tumulty has the story.

President Obama’s new health-care law will be his greatest liability as he attempts to once again win the critical swing state of Virginia, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) warned Wednesday.

“I’ll be real frank here,” Webb said at a breakfast organized by Bloomberg News. “I think that the manner in which the health-care reform issue was put in front of the Congress, the way that the issue was dealt with by the White House, cost Obama a lot of credibility as a leader.

Webb voted for the law, but also for more than a dozen GOP-offered amendments to it.

“If you were going to do something of this magnitude, you have to do it with some clarity, with a clear set of objectives from the White House,” added Webb, who opted not to run for a second term this year. “…It should have been done with better direction from the White House.” …


Is there anything it can’t do? More wonderful news about aspirin. Theodore Dalrymple has the story.

… Three recent papers in The Lancet propose the benefits of low-dose aspirin both in the prevention of certain cancers and in their spread once they have developed. Professor Rothwell, of Oxford University, was the main author of all three papers, but this should not affect their validity or otherwise.

The first of the papers compared the rates of cancer deaths in those who took part in randomized controlled trials of daily low-dose aspirin to prevent cerebrovascular events (strokes). The risk of cancer death was reduced by something like 15 percent in those who took long-term aspirin. The longer the aspirin was taken, the stronger the protective effect. …

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