Brickbats

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• The historic Carter Energy Bill, all five super-sections of it, was signed into red tape on November 9, 1978. It was hailed by President Carter as "60 percent" of what he wanted.

On December 17,1978, the OPEC leaders, in a high-level summit meeting, agreed to raise the price of oil by 14.5 percent. This action was denounced by the president's so-called inflation fighter, Alfred Kahn, who declared that he was "shocked" and "very, very disappointed" at OPEC's "unwarranted" decision.

It might seem strange that the administration's colossal energy program, which was designed to lower the burden of our extortion payments to the Arab cartel, has signaled the oil exporters that a healthy price hike is in order. But not so strange to those in the know, as revealed in the January Harper's by Craig Karpel ("Ten Ways to Break OPEC"): "An official from the Department of Energy suggested to me, not altogether facetiously, that the most effective way of breaking OPEC would be to eliminate the Department of Energy. 'Aside from OPEC there's no real energy problem,' he said. 'If OPEC were out of the picture there'd be no need for an energy department. We manage to get along without a steel department, after all. The existence of the DOE means that 17,000 hungry, cunning people in this town depend directly on OPEC for their livelihood.'"

• The notorious GSA scandal, which could send several dozen civil servants to new government offices in Fort Leavenworth, has prompted AFL-CIO vice-president Ken Blaylock to dispense emergency legal advice to some 300,000 unionized jobholders of the federal government. Blaylock, who is president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), has advised his minions to "invoke the Fifth Amendment" when obnoxious federal prosecutors come knocking. News commentators have noted that this has long been a legal tactic of the Mafia, but the thought of the AFL-CIO borrowing strategies from the Cosa Nostra hardly seems like "news" anymore.

• Another successful government program has managed to lift millions out of poverty and into the tax-paying middle class. Small Business Administration chief A. Vernon Weaver has testified that an amazing 30 minority businesses given special SBA loans have proven to be successful entrepreneurial enterprisesâ€"that is, successful enough to pay back the loans. Unfortunately, the other 5,570 recipients of the government subsidies were not "able" to settle their accounts with the federal taxpayers.

• The Sierra Club notwithstanding, brace yourself for another gallant intrusion by the feds, this one to combat the dangerous menace of what Rep. Harry Waxman (D-Calif.) calls "innocent looking poisonâ€"the household plant." The eminent Jack Anderson warns that elephant ears and castor bean are among the most fearsome toxins, and a full-scale congressional investigation of indoor greenery is surely expected.

• The first three living Western journalists were allowed to tour Cambodia in December 1978â€"two of them actually managed to return alive. The unlucky third was Malcolm Caldwell, "a 47 year-old British scholar and journalist," who was shot dead while relaxing at a government "guesthouse." Professor Caldwell's treatment was rude, particularly in the light of his undying (until now) allegiance to his humanitarian hosts. According to his traveling companion, Elizabeth Becker of the Washington Post, Caldwell was a "Marxist economist who had written favorably of the Cambodian Communist administration, [and] had been treated throughout our stay as a special friend of the government."

• An outstanding suggestion with broad implications for public policy has come from Czechoslovakian expatriate Eugen Loebl. All economists, he says, should be given "five years of solitary confinement." Loebl, now a professor of economics at Vassar College, has solid background for his view, having done five years of solitary in Prague at the request of the Kremlin and having spent a total of 11 years behind bars. Originally a Marxist, Loebl claims to have "reconsidered" his theoretical prejudices during his term, in which, coincidentally, he saw 11 of his 13 "co-conspirators" executed. Now he theorizes, "The problems of a mature society cannot be solved by Marx." As for his colleagues being given a similar sentence? "Half of them might radically rethink their ideas, and the other half would at least be out of circulation where they could do no harm."

• The days of "relevance" and "revolution" continue to slip into the abyss of history. At the once notoriously radical University of Wisconsin, the newly liberated student government has abandoned community action in favor of the so-called Pail and Shovel Party. The "self-proclaimed hedonists" called upon their constituents to lower their expectations when casting ballots, as revealed by their catchy campaign slogan: "We care about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. We don't care about you."

• Close tax loopholes for the poor? That might be the motto of the state of Massachusetts, the quintessential progressive paradise, where a government survey reveals that poor people (defined as a family of four making $7,500 annually) are more heavily taxed than anywhere else in the union. Where do they tax the rich? New York was highest in taxing families with 50 grand annual income.

• The Library of Congress has reported that the 95th Congress, just terminated, had more members honored with federal indictments than "any other Congress in our history." At least it's nice to see politicians with convictions.

• Convictions such as…Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich) was sentenced to jail on 31 counts of fraud and bribery. The trip to the pokey was ordered, surprisingly, even after the judge heard the statesman's undeniable plea that he "belonged" in the US House of Representatives. His Honor told Mr. Diggs to pack a lunch anyway, probably figuring that his chances for rehabilitation would be much better away from the source of temptation and shielded from undesirable companions.

• About our dedicated postal carriers, it appears as though we will not be having a postal strike this year. Negotiations dragged on last fall, and all sorts of threats and wildcat strikes popped up, but the busy Christmas rush came and went and all was normal. Or so it seems. The problem with a postal strike, of course, is much like the problem H.L. Mencken had when informed that Calvin Coolidge had died. "How can they tell?" Mencken inquired.

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