A Down-Home Kind of Greatness

Today we take a break from our usual grumblings about politics, economics, and the gradual decline of civilization to note the passing of one of the great men of American culture. Earl Scruggs died Wednesday at the age of 88, and the nation is vastly poorer for the loss.

Scruggs wouldn’t have minded a bit that most of the obituaries will describe him as a banjo player, but anyone who ever heard him play that much-maligned instrument knows that he was much more than just another picker. He was a extraordinary virtuoso who revolutionized the way his instrument is played, became a key figure in the development of an important American musical genre in the process, and influenced musicians in fields ranging from country to rock ‘n’ roll to jazz. Just as important, he was widely respected for his character, helped bridge the musical generation gap of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and stood as an example of the democratic greatness of American music.

Born to a poor but loving family of talented musicians in the hills of North Carolina, Scruggs was a child prodigy who began to develop his own three-fingered technique for playing the five-string banjo by the age of 4. Passionate about the music, and free of the modern distractions that have doubtless derailed many young talents in a more affluent age, Scruggs was single-mindedly devoted to music and given to a legendarily rigorous practice regimen. By his teens he was ready to change the course of American music history, although he was probably only hoping to make a living.

He first came to prominence by joining Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, a crack outfit that was beginning to attract attention with an innovative style of traditional rural music. Scruggs replaced the beloved David “Stringbean” Akeman, a capable banjoist of the old claw-hammer school whose main role in band was to provide cornball comedy between songs, and the change transformed the band. Although his shy, taciturn, and rigidly dignified personality made him ill-suited to the comedian’s role, Scruggs had a fast, flowing, propulsive style of playing — known to fans everywhere as “the roll” — that sped the band into a brand new style of music that became known as bluegrass.

Having played the pivotal role in creating bluegrass, Scruggs joined forces with fellow Bluegrass Boy Lester Flatt to do more than any other musicians to popularize it. The pair and their outstanding band introduced the music to the folk-crazed college students of the early ‘60s at numerous festivals, serenaded an audience of millions every week with their “Beverly Hillbillies,” and gave millions of others their very first taste of bluegrass by providing the soundtrack for “Bonnie and Clyde” with their signature tune, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

Bill Monroe had been famously hostile to the hippies who were already taking over his musical creation by the late ‘60s, but the easy-going open-minded Scruggs had a more accepting attitude than his old boss. When he formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, featuring his long-haired sons, both fine musicians in their own rights, Scruggs added songs by Bob Dylan and The Byrds to his repertoire and welcomed the tie-dyed set to his shows. We had the privilege of hearing Scruggs play at the old Henry Levitt Arena in Wichita on a bill with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dave Bromberg, and a little-known comedian named Steve Martin back in the early ‘70s, and we vividly recall that everyone in attendance seemed to agree that the quiet, middle-aged hillbilly in the non-descript suit was by far the hippest cat they’d ever seen.

Scruggs has been a constant musical companion ever since, his finest recordings taking their place of honor our shelf along side those the other truly great musicians of the American tradition. In addition to the hours of happy listening, he also provided us with a cheering reminder that true greatness can come from anywhere, and in any form. Scruggs proved that greatness can be learned through family traditions as well as an academy, that it can be honed out behind the barn as easily as in a classroom, and that it can happen in the Grand Ole Opry as well as the fanciest opera halls.

Rest in peace, Earl, and may your music always roll on.

— Bud Norman

The Long and Short of Obamacare

Obamacare might yet survive the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, but the consensus of informed opinion seems to be that the oral arguments on its behalf have not gone well. By the end of Wednesday’s session arch-liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was openly musing about what portions of the law the court might “salvage,” arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia retorted that forcing his clerks to rummage through the law’s 2,700 pages in search of something worth salvaging would be a violation of the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and the pundits had moved on to talking about the political ramifications of it all.

One view, put forth by various commentators, holds that Obama finds himself in a “lose-lose” situation. The argument is that if the law is struck down Obama will be blamed for spending two years of congressional time and most of his political capital on a bill that proved unconstitutional, and if the law is upheld he’s stuck with a very unpopular policy and a newly re-energized opposition. Another view, put forth by former Clinton advisor and current CNN spinner James Carville, holds that a victory in the case would vindicate Obama but that a defeat “will be the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party…” He argues that health care costs are going to continue rise, and that Democrats will be able to blame their opposition if the law isn’t in effect.

The view here is that both arguments have some validity. In the short term Obama is likely to suffer politically regardless of how the court rules, while in the long term whichever side loses the case will ultimately reap a political benefit.

Obamacare’s popularity is such that Obama only mentions it “on occasion,” and not on such occasions as the anniversary of its passage, and it cannot help the president’s popularity to have the bill once again in the headlines. There’s already been a controversy over the law forcing the Catholic Church and other religious institutions to act against their beliefs, and a Congressional Budget Office report saying that the law is far more expensive than promised, so if the court rules that the law is also unconstitutional it will be very difficult for the media cheerleaders to find some good news to cheer about. If the law is upheld, on the other hand, it will serve as a timely reminder of the bill’s existence to the millions of Americans who desire its repeal.

Over time, though, whichever sides loses the court case should be able to gain an advantage.

Carville is quite right that health care costs will rise if the law is struck down, of course, and all the other imperfections of the pre-Obamacare system will also be back in place. There will be no way to positively disprove the claims that have been made for Obamacare, meanwhile, and those claims will grow increasingly extravagant. Within a few years a mythology will become commonplace that Obamacare would have given everyone futuristic medical for free, all dispensed by kindly doctors and comely nurses, and that grandma would still be alive and kicking at age 150 if not for the darned Republicans.

If the courts and the electorate allow the law to go into effect, on the other hand, health care costs will continue to rise and there will be other problems. At worst all of the predictions ventured by the Republicans will continue to come to true, with national bankruptcy at the end, and at the very best it will not be the perfection the Democrats have promised. Nostalgia for the good ol’ days will inevitably result, with all the imperfections of the past forgotten, all the problems of the present very much in mind, and no doubt about who’s to blame for the current system.

The only question, then, is whether the short term stretches into next November.

— Bud Norman

Reductio ad Broccoli

The reviews are in on Tuesday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court over Obamacare, and the government’s lawyer is being panned by almost all the critics. The typically star-struck Associated Press conceded that “The fate of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was cast into deeper jeopardy” by the proceedings. The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, who can usually be counted on to rave about the president and all his works, called the oral arguments a “train wreck for the Obama administration.” Even the hippies at Mother Jones dubbed it a “disaster.”

In fairness to Solicitor General Donald Virrilli, however, it should be noted that he was working from a bad script. The questions that had Virrilli coughing, stumbling, and stuttering concerned what limits on governmental power would still exist if Obamacare were found constitutional, and it’s not easy to ad lib an answer. We haven’t heard a good one yet from the many politicians, writers, activists, and acquaintances who have given it a shot, and they weren’t being peppered with questions by members of the Supreme Court.

If the government can compel a citizen to purchase health insurance, what can’t it do? At various points in the proceedings Virrilli was asked if the government could also mandate the purchase of cell phones, automobiles, or burial insurance, and on at least three occasions the question of government-mandated broccoli arose. The example of broccoli was apparently intended as a reductio ad absurdum argument, according to press reports, but it doesn’t seem so very far-fetched when one considers the healthy eating fetish of the First Lady or the militant veganism of some people we know.

Virrilli gave the broccoli question a brave effort, answering that the health insurance market and the food market differ in that the local grocery store “is not a market in which you don’t know before you go in what you need, and it is not a market which, if you go in and — and seek to obtain a product of service, you will get it even if you can’t pay for it.” Perhaps the keen legal minds of the Supreme Court will be able to parse that sentence successfully, but most observers sensed that at least several of the Justices were not finding it convincing.

Virrilli was handicapped, perhaps, by an inability to answer honestly. He might well have preferred to answer that yes, the government would be able to mandate the purchase of cell phones, automobiles, burial insurance, broccoli, or anything else it chooses, and what of it? In several private conversations we have heard people state frankly that they see no reason the constitution should restrain the president — the current president, at least — from doing anything he might want to do, and while the argument is frightening and ridiculous at least they weren’t coughing, stumbling, and stuttering when they said it.

Such frankness doesn’t play well with the mass audience, however, and thus poor Virrilli is left groping for other arguments. This is a difficulty not just for Obamacare but for the entire liberal project, whose advocates know that it wouldn’t do to come right out and say that they know best and should therefore have all the power, at least not in front of the yokels, and then head down the most circuitous rhetorical trails in search of a more palatable way of putting.

Obamacare might yet survive the challenges in the court, but it seems to have already lost the argument in the court of public opinion, and Tuesday’s proceedings won’t likely change many minds.

— Bud Norman

Sex Strike in Kansas

One of those pesky e-mails recently brought us on a rare visit to our Facebook page, where we noticed a brief announcement that a sex strike has been scheduled in Kansas.

The message did not make clear who was organizing the strike, but it did explain that it was “in response to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s proposal that doctors be allowed to lie to pregnant women about potentially life-threatening complications.” We took this to be a reference to a bill Brownback has proposed which would require women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, and we assume that the potentially life-threatening complication is childbirth, but the note did not explain how that bill would allow doctors to lie to pregnant women, so it might well be referring to some other dastardly scheme that Brownback has devised. Perhaps there’s an “Allowing Doctors to Lie to Pregnant Women” bill out there that has somehow escaped the attention of the state press.

Of greater interest than the bill, however, is the unusual tactic being deployed against it. The idea of a sex strike dates back at least as far as 411 B.C., when Aristophanes penned “Lysistrata,” a rather bawdy comedy about the women of Athens withholding sex until the men stop waging war, but it’s unclear how such a plan might be applied to abortion politics in contemporary Kansas.

If Brownback is at all the puritanical curmudgeon his critics portray, he’s unlikely to be dissuaded by the prospect that people aren’t having sex. There might be some economic repercussions, such as a precipitous decline in the sale of cocktails, lobster dinners, and prophylactics, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to rattle the governor. The point might be to have Brownback inundated with angry phone calls and letters by men who blame him for their sudden celibacy, but we can’t foresee many Kansas men publicly admitting that they aren’t getting any action, and in any case the striking women are probably depriving men who already share their enthusiasm for abortion.

Besides, the strike is only scheduled to run from precisely midnight on April 28 to precisely midnight on May 5. That might be harrowing for the youngsters, but the older married men should manage the duration without breaking a sweat.

The sex strike plan apparently originated with a Texas-based group calling itself Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, and is being promoted here in Wichita by the local affiliate of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. We know little of the former group, except that they’re liberal, ladies, and like to eat lunch, all of which sounds like something we could easily do without for a week or more, but we’ve seen enough of the local “Occupiers” to be confident that the strike won’t affect activities here.

— Bud Norman

Seeking Justice, Not Revenge

All we know about the death of Trayvon Martin is what we read in the news, and much of what appears in the news often turns out to be wrong. The only pertinent facts known with any certainty are: That on Feb. 26 Martin was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., by a man named George Zimmerman; Martin was unarmed; Zimmerman was not arrested at the scene; and it was tragic.

These few facts clearly warrant an investigation by the proper local and state authorities, perhaps even federal law enforcement officials, and if the results of that investigation prove damning to Zimmerman he should answer to whatever charges are called for and face whatever punishment is proscribed by law. A lynch mob is not warranted, even by the additional facts that Martin was a young black man and Zimmerman is not.

Given the unhappy state of race relations in America, however, it was predictable that something akin to a lynch mob would develop. The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose incendiary rhetoric preceded the murderous pogrom in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section in 1991 and a fatal fire at a Harlem clothing store in 1995, has led rallies demanding an arrest and conviction. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has “tweeted” to his followers that “Soon and very soon, the law of retaliation may very well be applied,” adding that “You must get up and do it for yourself.” Taking the advice to heart, the New Black Panther Party has reportedly offered a $10,000 payment for the “capture” of Zimmerman. Anyone seeking to collect the reward can consult the “tweets” of filmmaker Spike Lee, who posted Zimmerman’s address and asked his followers to pass it along through the Internet. Several did, adding threats with explicitly racial language.

In each case the calls for revenge are couched as a demand for justice, but mobs and intimidation are never conducive to justice.

Justice can only be based on the truth, and at this point none of these men can possibly know all the relevant facts. The infamous Tawana Brawley hoax that Sharpton helped to perpetrate, the rush to convict the Duke University lacrosse team on rape charge that were later disproved, and countless other racially-charged controversies that turned out to be something very than what was originally reported should serve as caution against premature conclusions. Already stories are appearing the press that mention a witness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, and physical evidence corroborating that the claim, as well as friends who vouch that Zimmerman had no animus toward any race and was on good terms with black family members. Even if true those stories don’t necessarily exonerate Zimmerman, but they could lead to a lesser charge than murder, and at this point it will take a courageous prosecutor to bring charges that fail to satisfy the growing mob.

Whatever happened in Sanford on Feb. 26, both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman deserve justice, the kind that comes from reason and the rule of law rather than the emotions of an angry mob. Let us hope that wiser leaders will seek to calm the situation rather than aggravate it.

— Bud Norman

A Pregnant Per Se

A most interesting quote from President Barack Obama appeared in the news on Thursday.

Asked by the host of National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” program about Solyndra, the cylindrical solar panel manufacturer that received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal loans and was touted by the president as a “model” for the new “green economy,” Obama replied that “Obviously we wish Solyndra hadn’t gone bankrupt. Part of the reason they did was the Chinese were subsidizing their solar industry and flooding the market in ways Solyndra couldn’t compete. But understand, this was not our program per se.”

The statement is remarkable in part because it was prompted a tough question from someone at National Public Radio, a famously genteel news organization usually disinclined to bring up such embarrassing matters to this president. The question was framed as delicately as possible, delivered with that soothing public radio voice, and there was no derisive snort at the answer, but by NPR standards it was a remarkable act of lese majesty nonetheless. We wish the host much luck with his next employer.

It is obvious that Obama wishes Solyndra hadn’t gone bankrupt, given that even Jon Stewart couldn’t resist mocking him about it, and not at all surprising that he would blame the Chinese. What’s striking about the statement, however, is that “per se” affixed to the end.

“Per se” is one of those phrases that immediately arouses the suspicion of an alert listener. One usually hears it at the end of such sentences as “I don’t think you’re fat, per se,” or “I didn’t run over your dog, per se.” Some clarification of what the speaker means by “per se” should always be demanded, except apparently by members of the news media.

Obama helpfully explained that “Congress, Democrats and Republicans, put together a loan guarantee program because they understood, historically, when you get new industries, it’s easy to raise money for start ups, but when you want to take them to scale oftentimes there’s a lot of risk involved, and what the loan guarantee program was designed to do was help get start up companies to scale.” So he apparently means by “per se” that it was actually a program of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and they should be the ones that even Jon Stewart is ridiculing. He might as well have noted that it was also a program of the Department of Energy, an agency established during the administration of Jimmy Carter, and that his already much-maligned predecessor should therefore bear the blame.

Such a “per se” obscures a few key points. The funding for the Solyndra loans came not from some long-ago act of Congress but from the stimulus package that Obama was once eager to claim as his program, a point that he reiterated when he gave a much publicized speech at the Solyndra factory in happier times and told the adoring crowd that “Through the Recovery Act, this company received loans and expanded its operations. This new factory is the result of those loans.” The funding was also approved by Obama’s appointees at the Department of Energy, over the objections of the career civil servants there, and had been wisely rejected by the previous administration. Also, while it might not have been his program, per se, those were definitely his campaign bundlers who were getting the loans.

There’s no wondering why Obama would want to distance himself from the Solyndra fiasco, but it remains a mystery why he stubbornly clings to the rest of his failed “green jobs” policies. Solyndra is but one of several heavily-funded “green” projects hat have gone bust, from Ener1 to Beacon Power to the Chevy Volt, and it’s going to take a lot of per se to revise that history.

— Bud Norman

Oklahoma Crude

There’s no telling what the White House’s internal polls are saying, but the travel itinerary says the president is schedule to appear today for yet another energy policy speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, and that says he’s getting very nervous about the recent rise in gasoline prices.

Obama is not popular in Oklahoma. He lost Oklahoma by the widest margin of any state in the last election, a proud distinction that rebuts every dumb Okie joke ever told, and in the most recent voting he lost 15 counties in the Democratic primary. As frequent visitors to the Sooner State, we can attest that there’s even a good deal of loathing toward the president there.

It is safe to assume that Obama feels no particular affection for Oklahomans, either. Aside from their annoying habit of not voting for him, Oklahomans tend to cling to their guns and religion, although not at all bitterly, and have a strange preference for relying on themselves rather than the government. Many of them also work in the oil fields, rather than in a non-profit advocacy group or government-subsidized solar panel factory, and one gets the impression that Obama would find that yet another example of how very gauche they are.

Which is apparently why Obama chose such a far-flung locale for his latest attempt to prove how very pro-oil he really is. After blocking construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which proved wildly unpopular, Obama will announce in Cushing that he’s going to expedite the review process for construction of the southern part of the project that runs through Oklahoma. The construction of that portion is already slated to start by June, Obama’s intervention won’t speed its progress at all, and it still won’t reach halfway to the source of oil due to Obama’s edicts, but the fact that he went to Cushing to announce his new policy should convince a few gullible voters that he’s serious.

A sharp political operative should be able to round up a small hall’s worth of star-struck Obama supporters even in rural Oklahoma, and the president will no doubt get a cheer when he boasts that domestic oil production has increased during his term, but few other Oklahomans will be swayed. Even ABC News is forced to admit that “energy experts say his policies have little to do with those developments,” and most Oklahomans already know that from their friends in the oil business.

Still, we hope the president enjoys his time in Oklahoma. He should try the chicken fried steak, punch the numbers for some western swing music on the juke box, take in a prairie sunset, and enjoy the simple pleasures of a fine state, because he probably won’t be back for another visit.

— Bud Norman

Profiles in Budgetary Courage

The budget plan introduced Tuesday by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and his fellow House Republicans is imperfect, as are all human creations, but they deserve some credit for at least being daring enough to offer up anything at all.

No matter how much one might wish for another option, there are only four things that any budget proposal can do. It can continue to hurtle the country headlong toward the fiscal cliff, impose massive tax hikes on almost every citizen, make steep cuts in government spending, or concoct some combination of the three. All four of these ideas poll badly, of course, and most politicians therefore prefer to stand foursquare against all of the above.

One of the most revealing moments of the Obama administration came last year when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testified before a Senate committee. Sen. Jeff Sessions, speaking in a severe Alabama accent, asked Geithner his opinion of a particular budget proposal that would increase the budget every year of the next ten years by hundreds of billions of dollars, and Geithner agreed that “absolutely, it is an excessively high interest burden, it is unattainable.” Clearly flummoxed by the response, Sessions reiterated that he was referring to the Obama budget plan, which Geithner’s boss had recently delivered to the Senate. Geithner seemed slightly surprised that anyone in the Senate had bothered to scan the document, and explained with a shrug that it was up to the legislative branch to find a sustainable solution, adding that “we’ll be able to see from the House, from this body, whether you people can find the political will to go deeper.”

At this year’s hearing, Geithner made clear the administration is no more eager some political will of its own and is happy to leave the necessary but unsavory reforms to Congress. Questioned once again by the dogged Sessions about the latest Obama proposal, Geithner conceded that “Even if congress were to enact this budget, we would still be left with, in the outer decades, as millions of Americans retire, what are still unsustainable commitments in Medicare and Medicaid.”

Nor have the congressional Democrats shown any political will when it comes to budgets. The Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t passed any budget since April of 2009, voted down last year’s Obama budget by a convincing score of 97-0, and has yet to offer any new suggestions this year. Searching the internet for the House Democrats’ budget we found plenty of stories with such headlines as “Democrats ramp up attacks on House GOP budget proposal,” but nothing that spelled out an alternative plan.

The Ryan plan has no chance of passage, of course, and would be vetoed even if it were somehow passed by both chambers, which makes it all the more daring for them to expose themselves to the withering criticism that will surely come their way. They could have just as easily stayed quiet and run on the boast that at least they aren’t raising taxes, cutting spending, or doing some bi-partisan combination of the two. That would eventually lead to an economic catastrophe, of course, but that might not come until after the next election.

— Bud Norman

Brainwashed Blues

Politically obsessed readers of a certain age might recall that Mitt Romney’s father lost a chance to become president due to the injudicious use of the word “brainwashing.”

For those too young or too old to remember, George Romney had become a business legend by rescuing the American Motors Corporation from failure, parlayed his fame into the governorship of Michigan, and was successful enough in the job to be considered a leading contender for the presidency in 1968. Romney had come back from a fact-finding mission to Vietnam in 1965 as an outspoken supporter of America’s military efforts there, but had become a critic of the war by 1967, and he explained his change of mind by telling a television reporter that the generals had given him a “brainwashing” during his trip. Republican primary voters decided they didn’t want a candidate whose brain was so easily susceptible to washing, and thus Richard Nixon became president.

The incident was brought to mind by a video from 1995, recently uncovered by the invaluable Brietbrat.com site, which features current Attorney General Eric Holder employing a far more troubling use of the term “brainwash.”

Holder, then a U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, is seen telling the Women’s National Democratic Club that the government should employ the news media, the entertainment, sports and advertising industries, the public schools, and all other available resources to inculcate in the public an attitude that it’s “not cool, not acceptable, that it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore.” Just when the more paranoid listener will be musing that what he describes sounds very much like brainwashing, Holder adds with no apparent embarrassment that “we need to do this every day of the week and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”

There is much to criticize in the speech, including Holder’s recommendation of famously crack-addicted Mayor Marion Berry as a possible star for the public service advertisements as someone who “has credibility with young people,” but his unabashed belief that the government should be in the business of brainwashing its citizens is outrageous.

All the more so because he was urging that the government do it in order to enforce a law that was later declared unconstitutional as a violation of the Second Amendment, but such enthusiastic use of relentless propaganda methods by the government for any reason is frightening. Holder will likely protest that he didn’t mean brainwashing as it is defined in our Random House Dictionary — “a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, esp. through the use of torture, drugs or psychological stress techniques — but the “informational campaign” he laid out precisely meets the secondary definition of “any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, esp. one based on repetition or confusion.”

Alas, similar techniques are consistently used by the presidential administration that Holder serves. From the Hollywood-produced advertising and pop star paeans of the campaign to the blatant attempt to use the National Endowment for the Arts to coerce the “arts community” into shilling for Obamacare and other initiatives, the constant staged events and television appearances, and the Hollywood-produced ads and pop star paeans of the present, something suspiciously akin to brainwashing is constantly at work. There has been widespread speculation that the infamous Fast and Furious Operation was meant to provide more anti-gun for Holder’s Department of Justice, and this video will do little to quell that suspicion.

The careless use of the word “brainwashing” cost George Romney a good job, and it should do the same for Holder.

— Bud Norman

Obama’s Green Lemon

Of all the financial fiascos that have resulted from the Obama administration’s “green” initiatives, the Fisker Karma might be the most hilarious.

The Fisker Karma, in case your other news sources have been too embarrassed to mention it, is an electric sports sedan developed with help from $193 million of federal money, part of a total $529 million loan package sanctioned by the Department of Energy. Anyone old enough to remember the post-war British car industry, the communist Trabant, or even the more recent Chevy Volt already knows the sorry history of state-run auto enterprises, but the Fisker Karma adds an especially strange chapter.

To begin the saga, the Fisker Karma sells for a bit more than $102,000, meaning that the same administration which egged on a protest movement against the wealthiest 1 percent and lectured Americans that “at some point you’ve made enough money” has decided to subsidize the creation of a toy for the super rich. Early buyers of the vehicle include movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, teen dream pop singer Justin Beiber, and jet-setting environmentalist Al Gore, hardly the sort of people who require the taxpayers’ assistance.

Gore is a senior partner, by the way, in the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, a major backer of the Fisker company and s big-time donor to the Democratic party. In another interesting coincidence, Fisker’s loan application was handled by the firm of Debevoise and Plimpton, whose employees donated nearly $200,000 to Obama’s campaign, a smart investment given the $1.8 million they charged Fisker for their services.

One might argue that the blue collared types who build the car should be able to draw on public funds, and Vice President Joe Biden made that very point when he was photographed with the workers at a Fisker Karma plant in his native Delaware, but shortly afterwards the company shut down the plant and moved the assembly of the vehicle to Finland. Not since President Obama visited the soon-to-be-bankrupt Solyndra solar panel company to proclaim that the company was the “model” for a new economy has a photo opportunity looked so retrospectively ridiculous.

The latest installment in the Fisker Karma tale is what truly raises it to the level of high comedy, however. Another early buyer of the vehicle was Consumer Reports, which forked over $107,000 for a brand new hybrid model and was unable to complete its tests when the thing completely broke down after less than 200 miles. The magazine tells its reader that “We buy about 80 cars a year and this is the first time in memory that we have had a car that is undriveable before it has finished our check-in process.”

Consumer Reports beat us to the “Bad Karma” headline, and concluded its unflattering review by noting that “so far, Fisker ownership is proving to be a bumpy ride.” Unless you’re a big Democratic donor, or Finnish, he brave world of the green economy seems to be stalled on the side of the road, as well.

— Bud Norman