Sometimes it takes somebody to step back from the tactical morass of the pending primaries and presidential elections and take a look at the significant issues. I am referring to actual decision trees that must be traversed to establish policies that affect the United States, as opposed to emotional and class-divisive issues that are used for political short-term electoral positions.

Now political pundits will say that there is nothing other than the tactical political position — after all, the goal is to get elected and you can’t resolve real issues if you aren’t in a position of power or authority. But candidates mired in the short term tactical issues — addressing irrelevancies for a point here or there against their opponents — can become intellectually bankrupt of vision. Then, even if elected, they cannot address the real issues, or perhaps have compromised their political capital to the extent they are totally ineffective.

By and large, I want to address issues that can be managed in some concrete fashion, not issues that parties believe should be managed. Party issues that are litmus test issues, such as abortion, cannot have a resolution in the current political system. 40% of people oppose abortion, 40% are “pro-choice”, and the rest either don’t care or have mixed positions. Given this distribution, any executive is not going to be able to generate a policy that has an immediate impact on the United States. One might be able to create an environment where one position or another might be enabled in a future act, but such environments are very fragile. The issue of stem cells is a case in point — for all the posturing, the issue became irrelevant when Japanese scientists persuaded ordinary skin cells to transform back into undifferentiated stem cells (and with the added benefit that they were donor specific.)

So enumerated below are some issues and my tags:

AbortionAbortion — (easy since I’ve already addressed it in brief) Doesn’t matter. Can’t be resolved in the current system. Trying to make this a plank is a waste of time. Yes, there are moral and ethical issues on both sides and the current treatment is inconsistent and there are deep feelings on both sides. Doesn’t matter. Irrelevant.

ImmigrationImmigration — The United States needs to get its act together here. We have two contradictory processes at work that need to be reconciled. Our food supply is dependent on manual labor imported from outside. To increase the pay scale to the point compatible with a job an American Union Worker would take will increase the cost of food. Economically we are chained to cheap imported labor. The presence of people in the country who exist outside the legal system creates massive economic costs, yet it still somewhat to our benefit to educate and care for a certain number of these people — the cost of not doing so may be greater still.

Further, much of America’s growth is due to legal immigration, its innovation due to contributions from immigrants. From the technological and innovative point of view, why would be want to train and educate students from other countries, and rather than employ them here with a H1B, send them back to India, or China, or Pakistan where they can use what we have taught them to develop competing businesses.

The current set of immigration policies are horrible with no consistent underlying vision or plan. We need to restore the United States to that land of opportunity that calls people from all walks of life to participate in achieving their dreams, and makes them want to be legal participating citizens in the American democratic process.

The Plank: Recognize that America is built on immigration and adjust policies to reflect this fact. Increase or eliminate H1B visa limitations. Devise a guest worker program as a means to satisfy our current economic dependency while at the same time requiring such workers to exist within our legal framework (i.e., valid driver licenses, auto insurance, immunizations, etc.). Finally, enforce the subsequent laws.

BusinessBusiness Investment — The current governmental bureaucracies (both State and Federal) have created an environment where investment is going elsewhere: London, China, Russia. Our policies and laws like Sarbanes-Oxley have made the hurdle of listing in the United States financially onerous. The FDA has made developing new drugs near-impossible with the result that corporations are being fined millions of dollars for reporting their research protocols to doctors (off-label touting is a crime); deciding drugs need not be approved because existing drugs are already available (competition anyone?); and generally making the process so complex and lengthy that the evil pharmaceutical companies have to charge an arm and a leg to break even of the research and development. The Justice department obtains some of its own budget from the fines levied in actions. (oops)

These, and many more government bureaucracies have to be checked, reduced or eliminated. The government can and should regulate commerce so that the playing field is level, but by and large, issues such as who can compete should be left to the market to decide.

The sub-prime/securitization/derivatives financial liquidity crisis is providing another opening for government to over-regulate. The market is already sorting out (in the British SAS sense of the phrase) the people who were stupid. Banks are moving assets back to their balance sheets. Hedge funds are unwinding and assets are being marked to real market value. Government interference here is what created the mess. Let’s not multiply the problems.

The plank: The Government’s role should be to provide transparency. Hold hearings, investigate processes and systems but without moralizing and demonizing the industries. And then do nothing while the system, now aware of the problems, corrects itself.

In general, any law passed by Congress establishing a regulatory or oversight mission (and its associated bureaucracy) needs a sunset provision and a requirement for periodic review to determine whether its still needed. Establish a goal to cut by 10% annually both the budget and employee count of every major department. (The Jack Walsh method.)

TaxA Rational Tax Policy — The current situation is not sustainable. The class-based tax warfare must stop. Now we have the situation where the top 1% of the country’s earners pay 39% of the Federal income tax; and that 60% of the people pay less than 1%, if any. And what do we hear from Congress: “Taxes need to be more progressive.” and “We can’t have executives making $30 million dollars.” and (of course) “We have to ensure that the rich pay their fair share.” So what occurs when 0.1% of the earning population pays 99% of the income tax? What happens if they get pissed off and leave? (oops!)

Also, it is unconscionable that a PhD in accounting and mathematics, let alone a typical citizen can’t read their tax return instructions. The entire system (and the IRS) needs to be abolished and replaced with a simplified taxation system that requires no more than one page to fill out. And keep Congress out of it. Their attempts to “fix” things got us into this mess. Remember the AMT, supposedly legislated to insure that 140 people who paid no tax forty years ago, never ever got a free pass again? And now 30 million Americans have to figure their taxes twice and pay because they are now “rich”!

The Plank: Set up a commission to oversee the collection of taxes — ten members max — like the Fed. Make any revision to the code require a supermajority of 80% Congress. Make it flat or at most two tiered with no exclusions. Most people would pay a higher rate just to not fill out the forms ( or pay their tax accountants to do it for them — they would save money.) Dump the AMT, eliminate capital gains tax or any reinvestment double taxation. Simplify — forbid social reform and manipulation via taxation.

WarThe War in Iraq — Doesn’t matter. We are there, we can’t leave until its stable. Why beat a dead horse. We kill more teenagers on the highways than in the armed forces. Fix foreign policy and this will go away. Irrelevant

Foreign PolicyForeign Policy — Which one? The White House, The State Department, The Trade Office, the CIA?

The Plank: Downsize the bureaucracies and reduce the competing agendas. Let’s get some consistency in the message America sends to the rest of the world. Like Patrick Swayce in Roadhouse: Be nice, be nice, be nice until it’s time to stop being nice. Let’s treat Russia and China and other countries with respect and some understanding that they have legitimate concerns. America, for better or worse, is a superpower and is likely to remain so.

Castle RomeoNuclear Proliferation — Doesn’t matter. The first world knows this through detente. The third world has to learn. And it’s not as if we can really do anything about it — any physics grad with some practical engineering experience can do it.

Few alive today have an understanding of the effects of these weapons. If a state uses one against another state, that state is toast. Self-correcting problem. Irrelevant.

JudicialThe Judiciary — At first I was going to assign this a ‘doesn’t matter’ but I rapidly came to the conclusion that it does in the long term. Two things:

Any president should have the right to select and should have the expectation that his selection be confirmed unless there are really significant problems with the choice. By problems, I mean competency, legal and qualification problems, not fundamental philosophical differences. When the people select a president through an election, they are (hopefully) voting for a vision and a philosophy and they expect that that vision will have its day in the sun. Selecting like-minded people is an executive’s prerogative. This includes judges and attorneys-general. This is part of the implementation of the vision (and philosophy). Using the confirmation process as a weapon deprives the People of the United States of their choice of a vision. Conflicting visions each deserve a chance so confirmation should be competency-driven instead of philosophically-driven.

Since certain judicial positions are life positions, judicial appointments establish long-term trends and enable conditions for follow-on legislation by establishing the interpretative environment for that legislation. When the judicial system is strictly constructionalist, this does not matter, but whenever judges use their authority to bypass legislative strictures, and have become ‘activists’, different concerns arise. For those who believe that certain positions are warranted and have an intrinsic value independent of that determined by the will of the people (as expressed by a majority of the legislative body), judical activism is a key component in achieving these positions. Consequently, judicial appointments become critical in preserving this channel of change, and this is reflected in the acrimonious confirmation process of today.

I note in passing that a conservative position of strict construction with regard the the US Constitution is not inherently an adverse position. At most it is a neutral position with respect to ‘active change’. At most, supporters of changes currently enabled via judicial activism have only to assure that their laws pass Constitutional muster. Of course, the entire reason for judicial activism is not for reviewing laws, but for circumventing the legislative process in the first place. If they could get their laws passed, there would be no need for judicial activism. This activism is also not the exclusive province of the left. In the early 20th century, laissez-faire courts blocked Federal regulation of interstate commerce on the basis of the ‘santity of private commerce’, an appeal beyond any reasonable Constitutional interpretation.

The Plank: Confirm presidential appointments on the basis of competency and not philosophy. Develop policy to prevent and avoid judicial activism. Let the process work by confirming presidential selections, and let Democracy work by reducing judicial activism.

[Many thanks to AOC for his erudite analysis and review.]

This article is the second in a 52 part weekly series on the United States of America. It’s a chance to celebrate the diversity of our nation, and to educate ourselves about the members of our union, both the States and the Territories. We encourage you to comment and share you thoughts on the States, and hope you learn something new about each of the valuable members of our wonderful Union.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men


Last time, we covered Indiana, a state that does just about everything right, but doesn’t quite clean up enough for a fancy party. This week my cross hairs are lined up on Florida a state that does just about everything wrong that is imaginable, but the weather.

Quick Facts about Florida
NameFlorida
Admission to UnionMar 3rd, 1845
Population18,089,888(4th)
Population Density309/sq mi (8th)
Area65,795 sq mi (22nd)
Gross State Product$713 billion (4th)
Tax Burden+0.02




Florida, a nice place to visit, but like so many nice places to visit, you wouldn’t want to live there. First visited by the Spanish in 1513 who, in a well thought out plan, decided it would be just peachy to build some settlements in the path of every major hurricane. Florida was ceded to the United States by the Spanish in 1819 for $5 million dollars, and the promise that the US would renounce all claims to Texas (yeah… like that was going to happen). Unfortunately we accepted, and from that day forward Florida was known as “America’s Wang”.

Throughout most of its history (until the middle of the 1900’s), Florida was the least populous state in The South. Following the advent of air conditioning, Florida experienced a massive population boom, peaking in the 60’s with growth rates of nearly 80%. Now you would certainly think that such massive population growth, and the influx of all of the tourist dollars would result in a healthy sustainable economy. Yep, you would certainly think that, but no, you’d be dead wrong. Despite having a GDP on par with Australia’s, Florida manages the horrible sin of being a tax burden on the rest of the country (for every $1.00 Floridians pay in taxes, the Government hands them back their whole dollar, and then chips in an extra $0.02 of the rest of our money). Hey Florida, maybe you should start collecting an income tax, before you start asking the rest of us for handouts!

What Florida does right: Well… um… they have nice weather! Except when Hurricanes are obliterating their major cities, that is. Well they do have Disney World, and everybody likes going to Disney World! Yeah, sadly, that’s all I’ve got. Florida has a decent education system, but it’s nothing to write home about. They don’t have an income tax, which is nice if you’re greedy and want the rest of us to foot the bill (and if you don’t mind the fact that the state rolls your estate for money when you die). You would think, as one of the most populous state they’d have more going for them than just being “The Pretty One”, but as we’re about to see, this “Pretty One” has been riding the short bus for a long, long time…

What Florida does wrong: Just about everything. Let’s face it. The state has it’s own Fark tag. For those of you who don’t know, Fark.com is a website which lists various interesting, amusing, and downright stupid news stories everyday. They have tags like “Interesting”, “Cool”, and “Hero” for stories which are impressive and good. For those which outline human stupidity they have tags like “Asinine”, “Stupid”, and “Dumbass”. The site founder, however, noticed that most of the really and truly bizarre news, usually involving people acting dumber than bricks, came from Florida. Thus, there is also a tag on Fark called “Florida”. That’s right, Florida is the only state which is so dumb, that news stories about it need special labeling.

It’s not hard to see why either. Despite having been given one of the largest government installations (Kennedy Space Center), theme parks out the wazoo, and the lion’s share of the citrus industry, it still manages to draw more coins out of the Federal purse than it puts in. Are you seriously telling me that with the fourth largest population in the Union, and the fourth largest economy in the Union, you still need the rest of us to help you pay the bills?!?! BAD FLORIDA!, no cookie for you! The people of Florida need to go sit in the corner, in timeout, and think about how the rest of the top five states manage to pay their bills. Florida gets a D for economy, and that’s being generous! You guys are lucky that I’m saving the F for Arkansas and Mississippi!

Look Florida, you need to realize that you didn’t mature as fast as your population boom would seem to indicate. You’ve got the population, and the income, but like a teenager with her first credit card, you’re living beyond your means, and not properly investing in your future. It’s time to grow up, get a better education, and stop living in our basement.

-Angry Midwesterner


It’s official: there’s a health care crisis in America. When all of the major candidates for President spend time talking about it, you know some solution is just around the corner. But, tragically, most of the common wisdom on what the problem actually is and how to fix it is 180° off course.

To understand that this true, why this is true, and how we came to be here, we first need to make a critical—but often forgotten—distinction:

What we care about is access to health care, not access to health insurance.

We shouldn’t give two cents about access to health insurance, except as a means to health care. Listen carefully to what all the politicians actually say: nearly all of the verbiage about universal coverage, universal access, etc. is focused on access to health insurance. Why? Because that’s something that government can actually promise, unlike access to health care. Short of enslaving all doctors, chaining them to desks, and scientifically distributing them around the country, there’s simply no way to ensure universal access to health care.

If you live in the middle of nowhere, for example, all the health insurance in the world does you no good if there aren’t any doctors for 500 miles. This is a problem in a surprising number of areas. In some regions the only neurosurgeons (for example) may be in large cities. The high cost of medical malpractice insurance has combined with natural market forces to increasingly limit specialists to lucrative big city markets. A growing problem in an age of increasingly effective but highly specialized medicine.

Or again, if the government’s brilliant solution to your lack of access to life-saving medicine reduces the available providers by capping what they can earn without capping their expenses (such as the aforementioned malpractice insurance), how exactly will that help you? What good does it do you to have every right to have some procedure only to find that no doctor is willing to perform it?

Or consider the dilemma for many in Canada. There, you have not only universal coverage, but the “right” to free comprehensive care. Unfortunately, you have no right to decide just what “comprehensive care” might be for any given condition. So, in some cases, you will be told to take some pain killers, shut up, and wait to die. In others, your operation may be scheduled in weeks to months due to shortages of facilities or personnel. All the problems, in short, of the worst possible HMO with absolutely no independent legal recourse.

The sad truth is that universal health insurance coverage will not solve our problems. Nearly universal health insurance coverage already exists in our system. (In fact, it’s part of the problem.) Out of 300+ million people in the United States, under 30 million citizens lack health insurance. That’s a 90%+ coverage rate, but somehow I suspect we don’t have anything like a 90% satisfaction rate with health care. In part because all of that health insurance actually makes decently priced quality health care harder to get. If you ever want to verify that for yourself, shop around for doctors offering to pay in cash, off the system. You’ll be surprised at the deals you’ll find, especially for routine things like office visits—which account for the bulk of most people’s health needs.

If we’re really serious about providing quality health care to as many people as possible, for the best possible price, we need to leave aside the rhetoric and actually look seriously at the real problems. So I propose to do just that over the next few weeks, examining the problems of consumer health insurance, high drug costs, malpractice insurance, and health care for the poorest Americans. If you’ll join me, I think you’ll be surprised at some of what you find, and I hope you’ll come to agree with me that our focus needs to shift to what really matters: the best health care possible for the most people at a reasonable cost.

George Washington, Feb. 22, 1732 – Dec. 14, 1799

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.

—George Washington (various sources)
 

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George Washington seems a strange choice for this series, which is (after all) about those forgotten greats. How can we include a figure so well known, so omnipresent, and so publicly venerated as George Washington: Founder of the Country, First President, First in Hearts of His Countrymen, etc.?

But fame is as a great a peril as obscurity if our goal is to remember the man and not the legend. And Washington is great precisely because he was a man—a man of his time and class—and not a myth. He was not the flawless saint of the classic “cherry tree” story. He deceived others from time to time (though perhaps only after deceiving himself). He was, at times, guilty of poor judgment, of jealousy, of passionate anger, of greed for wealth that lead to involvement with speculative schemes.

And for all his modest demurements, and socially correct (for the time) public rejections of ambition, he was certainly an ambitious man. One who took considerable pride in the good name he had won through his deeds, and one who could be jealous of his perquisites when challenged.

Indeed, that very ambition is one of the great things about Washington. He was a man who, in Britain, would have been doomed to obscurity by his relatively low birth. At best he might have risen to a modest career in the military, and perhaps eventually earned a minor peerage. But certainly he would not have risen to be ranked among the wealthiest men in his nation, nor risen to a role not only on par with the Prime Minster’s but above it in every way. But in America, his talent for being in the right place, at the right time, with the right plan; his noble good looks and regal bearing; and his upright moral character and sheer persistence allowed him to climb steadily up the ranks of society.

And so this, above everything else, makes Washington worthy of our praise: that after he had risen to the top of the heap, after his enemies domestic and foreign had been vanquished, when he was not only handed the laurel of victory but offered the imperial scepter, then he demurred. He who could have been King chose instead to be President.

And with a firm understanding that everything he did would be immortalized, and that his slightest act might become precedent for the office he held, this very ambitious, talented, and passionate man became the very model of restraint. A man who had bent the efforts of long years to rising in wealth and status now became almost passive, in order to ensure that nothing extravagant or unnecessary would attach to the office he was establishing each day by his actions.

This is not to say that he did not act, he did, and with force, when he felt it necessary. But he realized just how fragile the new nation was, and how fragile its rule of law was. If its first President had been a bad President, all might have been lost. Just as Pompey and Cesear had turned the offices of consul, dictator, and imperator into the trappings of tyranny, Washington could easily have hijacked the Republic and made it his. Not only be the crude method of being declared King, but by subtler methods: undermining Congress through direct appeal, having political enemies quietly eliminated, running for re-election until dying in office.

Any of those methods might have strangled the United States before it grew strong enough to survive them. And Washington understood this deeply, and bent all his intellect and will to ensuring that it did not happen. And he crowned those efforts with his greatest act: voluntarily stepping down and choosing not to run for election, and then lawfully handing over the office to a man who had publicly vilified his policies and privately vilified him. And then he took up station quietly on his farm and refused, largely, to engage in political debate for the remaining years of his life.

George Washington did many great things for this nation, and made many wise pronouncements about matters foreign and domestic. He was a force for moderation between extremes and for patriotism before party loyalty. He would have despised any notion that a man’s political affiliation should be more important than his principles or character. He crafted a foreign policy that sought, and ensured peace for a critical few decades as the country grew. He, and his administration, built many institutions that endure to this day, and without which we cannot imagine the nation.

But none of those were his greatest gift to the United States. His greatest gift was the incredible restraint which enabled him to do much, but not too much. To make sure that the nation would be shaped in We the people’s image and not simply George Washington’s image. And for that, we owe him eternal gratitude.

With due humility, I will take issue with one wise counsel given by President Washington:

We ought not to look back, unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors and for the purpose of profiting by dear bought experience.

I propose that there is another reason to look back, as good as these: to celebrate. Not to dwell in the past at the expense of the future, but to remember past victories as well as past defeats, and past wisdom as well as past error. In that spirit, let us remember our First President, who is truly worthy to be First in the Hearts of his Countrymen!

Happy Presidents Day Everyone!

This article is the first in a 52 part weekly series on the United States of America. It’s a chance to celebrate the diversity of our nation, and to educate ourselves about the members of our union, both the States and the Territories. We encourage you to comment and share you thoughts on the States, and hope you learn something new about each of the valuable members of our wonderful Union.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men


I’ve been planning this series of articles for a while now, and have been trying to decide which state to lead it off with. I could have gone alphabetically, but I thought it would be better to choose an order than meant something to me. I’ve chosen to lead with Indiana, as of all states in the Union, Indiana is the one which seems the most like home to me, even though I’ve never actually lived there. I’ve got a lot of family in Indiana, and spent a good deal of my summers in the state. Even though, in many ways, Indiana is the oddball of the Midwest, it’s still some place I always feel welcomed, and a place I think of fondly. As such, it seemed a natural state to introduce first.

Quick Facts about Indiana
NameIndiana
Admission to UnionDec 11th, 1816
Population6,313,520(15th)
Population Density169.5/sq mi (16th)
Area36,418 sq mi (38th)
Gross State Product$248 billion (16th)
Tax Burden-$0.03




Indiana was the 19th state admitted to the Union, and is solidly in the Midwest, which of course makes it one of my favorites. It resembles the other core Midwestern states culturally, and economically, having a population which is based in a few large cities, surrounded by little sprawl or suburban regions, and vast nearly flat country side. Due to the extremely fertile soil, almost every inch of the state is farmed. Like most of the Midwest, it industrialized early, and throughout most of the 20th century relied on manufacturing and other industrial jobs.

While many short sighted individuals have used the term “Rust Belt” to refer to parts of the North which suffered economically after the loss of American industry, the term really doesn’t apply to Indiana. As one of the few states to carry a tax burden (for every $1.00 paid in taxes in Indiana, only $0.97 are returned by the Federal Government), Indianans help the other states in this category to carry the slack from most of the USA. Their high Gross State Product puts them on par with such nations as South Africa, and Denmark, and actually higher than Argentina, Iran, or Ireland. Not bad for a bunch of rednecks, huh?

What Indiana does right: Quite a lot actually. Between a diversified economy which leads the nation in biofuels, and comes in second in pharmaceuticals, and a stellar education program which leads the nation in foreign applicants, Indiana is doing a lot to ensure their future success. They get an A+ for economy both for their booming economic sectors, their commitment to education, and more importantly because they don’t shoulder the rest of the Union with any economic burden. They’ve also managed to strike a nice balance between progress and the environment. The beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore rival those of the Mediterranean, with azure blue waters, and soft white sand. Parks and natural areas are spread in healthy measure across the state, and even in a city as big as Indianapolis it is easy to find a park in which the city itself seems to disappear. On the other hand, the state is home to Indianapolis, one of the largest and most dynamic cities in America, which features a rich cultural scene, museums, and a breathtaking canal district which features fountains, gondola rides, and numerous hanging gardens.

What Indiana does wrong: Let’s face it. People from Indiana are Hill Billies . That’s right, I said it, Hoosiers (a term which folks from Indiana don’t even understand) are good old fashioned, rednecked Hicks. In fact, given the absence of hills, they’re not even hill billies. Better just call them Hick Billies and be done with it. When it really comes down to brass tacks, no matter how well they compare to the rest of America, in the Midwest they’re the red headed stepchild. They’re low on population, and despite their great education program (maybe they’re lacking enough iodine…) they’re a little low in other categories as well. Out of all the Midwestern states they are the single solitary one to speak with an accent. Thick, twangy, drawling accents, all of them. We love you Indiana, we really do, but you need to learn that there isn’t a single “R” in Washington, that “think” and “thank” do not sound the same, and that stream running through your back yard is a creek, not a crick. When it comes down to it, no matter how successful you are as a state, you just don’t clean up well. That’s why your neighbors Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio will never invite you to any fancy parties, so you always get stuck drinking whiskey with Kentucky, while you shoot cans off the broken down car you’ve got jacked up on cinder blocks in your front lawn.

Seriously Indiana, you’re so close to being a really high class state. You’ve got everything, education, beautiful vacation spots, a roaring economy, and one of the nicest, cleanest cities in the world. Just do us one favor. Leave the overalls at home?

-Angry Midwesterner


I’d like to kick off a new semi-regular feature here at the Angry Men, a celebration of Americans of all different stripes and backgrounds who have all, in their way, made America and the world a better place. They will be politicians, generals, entrepreneurs, scientists, and inventors; famous, and obscure; figures of history and thoroughly modern folks. But together they will remind us of the diversity and unity of the United States, of our greatest principles and of the great promise of America: you are free to pursue your dreams as best you can.

Without further ado, let’s raise a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to our inaugural Great American: Walter Elias Disney:

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The first few decades of Walt Disney’s life reads like an almost stereotypical American success story: born the son of an immigrant, growing up across the Midwest in big cities and small towns, sneaking off to World War I as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross, hustling to get started in his chosen career, getting breaks from his brother and returning the favor, and making and losing businesses and fortunes. All by the age of 33.

But in 1934, Disney did something destined to change American entertainment forever, and catapult him to new heights: he produced a full-length animated film featuring both realistic human characters and fantastic cartoon characters. This doesn’t sound like much these days, but back then it was “Disney’s Folly” because it had never been done, and conventional wisdom said it couldn’t be done. Disney bet the farm that conventional wisdom was wrong, and his competitors bet that he’d lose that farm.

Of course, as we know, Disney was right, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was wildly successful, playing to standing ovations and winning an Oscar (well, actually one large and seven small Oscars, in fact). More than a personal triumph, it ushered in the golden age of American animation, and set the stage for the staggering industry of animated features around the world. It also launched Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and bankrolled a skilled studio of master animators. Disney would go on to produce a whole cavalcade of classic animated films: Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (which brought the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Wind in the Willows to many for the first time), Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and many, many more. Many did not make much money, some were quite successful, but all have endured the test of time surprisingly well and stand as a tribute to Walt Disney’s vision that rich, complex stories could be told through animation.

After the Second World War, Disney brought his vision for a child’s fantasy amusement park to life in Disneyland, setting it on a huge lot and surrounding it by one of his favorite things in the world: a train. Throughout the 1950s Disney Studios worked on Disneyland and released major live-action and animated features. Disney also turned his eyes towards the stars and worked with NASA (and Werner von Braun) to promote space travel through films.

The 1960s saw Disney at the peak of his success, with Mary Poppins sweeping box offices and Disney debuting his vision of the future at the 1964 Worlds Fair. Not content with a one-time display of that vision, he laid the plans for an expanded and enhanced Disneyland known in development as “Disney World” and sited on 27,000 acres in Florida. Although plans included an expanded amusement park (to be known as the “Magic Kingdom”), resorts, and hotels, the centerpiece was to be Disney’s vision of the perfect future community, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). In Disney’s expansive vision, EPCOT was to be a working future city, whose residents would focus on innovative science and advanced technology.

Sadly, Walt Disney would never live to see the fulfillment of this vision, as he died from lung cancer in 1966, just two years after beginning the new project. His brother Roy came out of retirement to manage the project (and company) and open the first stage of the new park, now formally called “Walt Disney World Resort” in October 1971. By December of that year, Roy too was dead.

EPCOT as envisioned by Disney never came to be, though the modern Epcot park does provide a showcase for future technologies, and embodies the spirit of international cooperation in its World Showcase. And Disney’s Celebration community, built by Disney Imagineering as a model planned community, comes closer to the original goal of EPCOT (though in a suburban rather than urban mode).

Of course, as we remember the man and his legacy we should not overlook the darker side. Walt Disney never trusted organized labor, and his prejudice led him to make unsubstantiated allegations during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. He spied on union activity for the FBI for years and may well have illegally intimidated union activists. He was, as many visionaries are, a notoriously difficult man to work with. In short, he was a man, with a full share of faults and limitations.

But he was also a visionary in the best American mode, with an optimistic and enthusiastic take on society, technology, science, and the future. He built places devoted to bringing joy to children and inspiring them to dream deeply. He gave the world the vast legacy of his dreams in film and concrete and has inspired millions around the world with a vision of pluralism, tolerance, kindness, optimism and joy. For all of these reasons, whatever his human faults and foibles, Walter Elias Disney is, indeed, one of the Best of Us.

UPDATE: Welcome Fark.com! After you read this, feel free to have a look around. You’ve probably already seen this and this, but check out this fine piece about the One Laptop per Child program, this one about that nutcase Chavez, and, of course, this classic challenge.

A very creative depiction of the United States prompted an interesting discussion among the Angry Men this past week. One of the most striking features of the map is the complete absence of our nation’s capital, which prompted our Angry Overeducated Catholic to rejoice that our nation is blessed by having an insignificant capital city. After all, a large capital suggests a large government, and a larger capital would have made it onto the map. As AOC put it, “All true sons of the Founding Fathers should rejoice that, despite the best efforts of socialist weenies like the Democrats, foreigners still don’t give a fig about our capital.”

As a long-time DC area resident (like the Angry Midwesterner, actually, no matter what he might tell you), I too noticed the conspicuous absence of our capital city. I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions about this particular map: Just like the word “anecdote”, the plural of the term “funny picture on the Internet” is not “data”. In reality, the large number of international tourists in DC suggests that foreigners actually care more about Washington than most Americans do. Every American I meet from outside of DC says something like, “Oh, yeah, I was there once in fifth grade,” and all they seem to remember is the oppressive summer weather and a lot of buildings with columns on the front of them.

However, I would agree with a complementary point to AOC’s, which is that sons of the Founding Fathers should rejoice when Americans don’t give a fig about our capital. Having pretty monuments that attract Japanese people with cameras does not suggest that our government is too powerful. However, having too many people and jobs in our capital city suggests that our government is too powerful, and in fact that’s exactly the situation that we are in. Relative to its humble beginnings (to paraphrase Monty Python, “When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a White House on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em. It was burned down by the British, then sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one, and that one stayed up!”) or even its recent past, the Washington area is growing like a Republican president’s budget deficit.

Of course, I now have to take that point about “small capital = good” and turn the political implication (“socialist weenie Democrats”) on its head. The Washington area (particularly Northern Virginia) has exploded over the past few decades, with millions of people and numerous businesses moving to the area. Besides triggering an automotive transit clusterf**k of Los Angeles proportions, this migration suggests that our government is growing too quickly. However, these people and businesses are not here because they want to work for the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Commerce or all of the Departments of Things That Even Well Educated Americans Can’t Be Bothered To Remember. Rather, they’re all here directly or indirectly because of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

As someone who has looked for a job in the DC area, I can tell you that you can’t do anything more than flip burgers without a security clearance in this town (and that’s not because you’re going to work for some Super Secret Welfare Program, either). I’m currently in the process of finishing a graduate engineering degree, and I’m planning to move away following graduation because I don’t want to work for the military and I don’t want to work for some three-letter agency that is in the business of spying on Americans. If I stay in Virginia, I simply won’t have any other choices.

So, I would agree that a big and thriving capital is a bad thing, though I would argue that it’s a bad thing because it represents the excesses of the American War Machine and not the excesses of an alleged welfare state.