If Geronimo had a great-great-great-step-granddaughter once removed, she’d look like Elizabeth Warren.
If you have heard about the Obama campaign’s social-media offering “The Life of Julia,” you have likely heard of it via mockery. The online slide show tracks a woman from age 3 to age 67, showing how she benefits from big-government policies and would suffer from GOP cuts (e.g., at age 18, college-bound, she gets a Pell grant; at age 27, her birth control is covered by Obamacare). Julia is a lifelong suckling at the teat of the state, with minimal initiative and commitments: At age 31, she “decides to have a child,” evidently by parthenogenesis (no mate is indicated). Ominously for her creators, she is also dull as dirt, a public-service announcement from a Fifties middle-school film strip. In 2008 Obama was triumphantly marketed as too cool for school — author, hoop-shooter, man of many cultures. This time around, if the sheen doesn’t shine, he will have to rely on the dirty ground game of politics as usual. Buckle down.
Vice President Biden may have been saying that he supports same-sex marriage, or he may have been saying that the federal government should treat same-sex couples as married whenever state law does. Obama strategist David Axelrod insisted on the second interpretation — as near as we can tell from his own somewhat confusing statement. The next day Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said more forthrightly that he supports same-sex marriage. The administration as a whole cannot speak clearly because it favors same-sex marriage but evidently regards open advocacy of it as politically harmful. That’s why a thread of dishonesty runs through everything it says on the subject. By speaking his characteristic gibberish, Biden may have emerged as Obama’s perfect spokesman on marriage.
President Obama talks a big game when it comes to money and politics, and he was ostensibly so vexed by the Citizens United decision that, complaining about what he would later call the “corrosive influence of money in politics,” he took the unusual step of berating the members of the Supreme Court in his 2010 State of the Union address. Yet nobody has taken more advantage of this allegedly corrosive system than he. While running for president in 2008, Obama abandoned his promise to opt for public funding of his campaign, freeing himself to raise as much as possible. That he did, ending up with twice the war chest of his opponent, John McCain. Nor is he squeaky clean when drawing the line between presidential business and political campaigning: In late April, the Republican National Committee lodged a complaint with the Government Accountability Office that the president, with his frequent Air Force One trips to swing states, seemed to have rediscovered his ardor for public funding of campaigns. Given such a record, it will be no surprise to learn that, per a new book on the subject by Brendan J. Doherty, Barack Obama has already held more reelection fundraising events (124) than every elected president since Richard Nixon — combined (94).
The Obama administration has settled on “Forward” as its campaign slogan, which has a nice midcentury-totalitarian ring to it. As slogans go, it has a mixed history. It is the motto of Wisconsin, a lovely if lefty state, and the name of a great Jewish newspaper once edited by Seth Lipsky. Vorwärts is a Marxist newspaper in Germany that once lost a libel case brought by Adolf Hitler. (The paper had claimed he was financed by American Jews and Henry Ford; both claims were false, but one was more plausible than the other.) In some ways, “Forward” is the perfect slogan for the Obama administration: Having brought the country to the edge of fiscal ruination, the president plainly intends to move forward into the abyss. “Forward” suggests the inevitable march of capital-H History. In November voters will have a chance to stand athwart it yelling “Stop!”
The Romney campaign hired Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for John Bolton, to speak for it on foreign policy. Some social conservatives complained because Grenell is openly homosexual, others (including Matthew Franck at National Review Online) because he has agitated for same-sex marriage. Liberals, meanwhile, raised eyebrows at his history of personally abusive tweets toward liberal women. He ended up quitting. A few principles recommend themselves after the fact. There is and ought to be no test of chastity for campaign aides. The candidate’s views on policy matter far more than an aide’s, especially when that aide’s work has little to do with the policy in question. And those who would speak for candidates should be as judicious on Twitter as elsewhere.
Journalist David Maraniss, whose new book, Barack Obama: The Story, was excerpted in Vanity Fair, found and interviewed the hitherto unnamed white girlfriend Obama met in New York City when he was 22 (she is Genevieve Cook, an Australian). Obama’s account in Dreams from My Father showed why he and a white woman could not stay together, though to write it he wove in details of another failed interracial relationship. Smoothing the crooked timbers of experience into insights is an old practice of memoirists. More important are the insights that Cook and other New York friends of Obama had into his psyche: “coolness,” “wariness,” “guardedness,” “the most deliberate person I ever met in terms of constructing his own identity.” Young Obama was deciding to create himself as a black American; only so could he feel at home, and advance politically. Say what you will about the man, he knew his market.
Regular readers will no doubt have heard the basics about Texas’s Ted Cruz, who hopes to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate, from one of his many fans here. But to review: The 41-year-old Houston native was a Princeton debate champion, a standout at Harvard Law, and a clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He advised George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign on domestic policy and served in his administration in both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Once back in Texas, he was an able and busy solicitor general from 2003 to 2008, playing pivotal roles in Supreme Court decisions that kept the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, affirmed the individual right to bear arms, and held off an attempt by the International Court of Justice (and the Bush administration) to meddle with Texas’s legal system. To borrow a phrase from baseball, Cruz is what one might call a five-tool candidate: He is excellent on the Constitution, on the economy, on social issues, and on foreign policy, and he possesses the intellect and rhetorical gifts to combine these views into a cogent and compelling vision. We urge Texans to vote for Ted Cruz in the May 29 primary, to vote for him in a runoff, should there be one, and to send him to the Senate.
After 36 years of representing Indiana in the Senate, Dick Lugar went down to defeat against state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Lugar has served the country well in his six terms, but the times call for a more consistently conservative voice, and it’s healthy to remind the brood in Washington that their positions aren’t lifetime appointments. Lugar didn’t help his cause by making juvenile attacks against Mourdock — e.g., alleging that the treasurer was playing hooky by sending staff to certain meetings instead of appearing in person. And Lugar’s refusal to say during the primary whether he would support Mourdock in the general election indicated a childish pride beneath a man widely considered a statesman. The Left will call this election an instance of right-wingery run amok, but Mourdock, soft-spoken and self-assured, is no bomb thrower. His call to cut spending, end government support of ethanol, and cast a more suspicious eye toward Russia resonated with Indiana voters. We congratulate him on his victory.
From 1986 to 1995, Elizabeth Warren, now a Harvard law professor and Democratic senatorial candidate in Massachusetts, listed herself on a directory of law-school profs as a minority, by which she meant a Native American. Warren explained she did it hoping “that I would be invited to a luncheon . . . with people who are like I am.” Meaning, academic greasy-pole-climbers looking to game the system? Warren is at most 1/32 Cherokee: A great-great-great-grandmother was listed, with what accuracy we do not know, as such on an application for a marriage license in 1894. In the service of social mobility, institutions should look for smart hires from the reservation (and the ghetto, and Appalachia). But once the task is codified into rules and numbers, it becomes liable to lobbying and abuse. Affirmative action is a haggard system, of a piece with Warren’s dirigiste blue-model worldview. N.B.: If Warren wins, will she attend next year’s Jefferson/Jackson Day dinners?
The April employment numbers, like the March ones, were disappointing. Non-farm payrolls increased by only 115,000, and the unemployment rate dropped only because the labor force shrank. Ever since the economy fell into a pit, there has been a debate about how much of its trouble is “cyclical” and how much “structural.” The persistence of high unemployment is making the debate moot. The longer people stay unemployed, the more they lose their skills, including the habits of work. Many of them become demoralized and drop out of the labor force altogether (an especially dangerous development when demographic trends are already shrinking our work force). At that point they become immune to even the best countercyclical policies — which, in any case, we do not have. The recession may have officially ended two years ago, but its consequences will be ramifying for years.
As it turns out, terrorists are jerks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammedand his fellow 9/11 conspirators are making a mockery of their trial: refusing to answer questions, grandstanding, throwing paper airplanes (nice image, guys), etc. At one point, one of the accused partially disrobed while the others were flipping through back issues of The Economist. Their lawyer, a blonde American woman named Cheryl Bormann, wore a full-length abaya and suggested that members of the prosecution dress more modestly. (The courtroom drawings do not suggest that the chief prosecutor, Brigadier General Mark Martins, was dressed like a tramp.) More than a decade afterwards, the nation still has not quite figured out whether what happened in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, was an act of war or a crime spree, and our hybrid response to it — drones over Pakistan, but lavish due process for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — is at best schizophrenic. We had better figure it out; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not the last of his kind.
The response of most former officials of the Bush administration to the enduring controversy over its interrogation techniques has been to hide under their desks. Not Jose Rodriguez. The former head of the CIA’s clandestine service has written a book called Hard Measures defending the interrogations and has taken his blunt plain-spokenness on a media tour. He explains how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would recite passages of the Koran in response to questions, and how sleep deprivation was crucial to breaking him. The terrorist knew we weren’t going to kill him and counted off the time of the ten-second pours during waterboarding. Eventually, KSM began to cooperate. If the situation in the aftermath of 9/11 hadn’t been so urgent, we could have waited for a softer approach to win him over. But everyone understood the stakes. In his characteristic way, Rodriguez says top government officials put on their “big boy” pants to authorize the CIA program. In contrast to the likes of Nancy Pelosi, who now likes to pretend she never heard of the program at the time, Rodriguez has never taken them off.
Thanks to the trials and tribulations of book touring, I missed my main shot at opining on Julia, the two-dimensional darling of the Obama administration. Still, now that everyone has had his say, more or less, I would like to dissent, somewhat, from the prevailing conservative reaction to Julia.
The common response is to note how Julia is the perfect symbol of the “cradle-to-grave welfare state.” And yes, like nearly everyone else on the right, I find the whole thing poignantly sad, creepy, and more than a little Orwellian. Julia’s life seems oddly joyless for a woman who, we are supposed to believe, has been made happy and fulfilled by the president’s sagacity and munificence.
Well, happy and fulfilled isn’t quite right, is it? There’s remarkably little happiness in the story of Julia. “Under President Obama: Julia decides to have a child” reads the PowerPoint version of her life. Not exactly the sort of birth announcement one breaks out the champagne and cigars for. That has all of the humanity to it of “The spring wheat harvest in the Ukraine was in accordance with Year Three of our Five-Year Plan,” or maybe “It puts the lotion in the basket.”
The vision here is one in which the government keeps a watchful eye over Julia, a bit like Sauron deep in Mordor. James Scott in his book Seeing Like a State lays out how this is simply what states do. They try to make their populations “legible,” i.e. visible to the state. This process has manifested itself in all sorts of fascinating ways, from the widespread imposition of last names four centuries ago in Europe to the doling out of Social Security numbers in the United States today. Like a woman in a one-act play, Julia crosses the state’s field of view, in the Obama campaign’s telling, as she benefits from government largesse (without ever seeming to pay for it).
And this is where I dissent. While all of the complaints my friends on the right have raised ring true to me, the creepiest part of “The Life of Julia” isn’t all the places where the government “sees” Julia, but the long stretches where it doesn’t. From the age of 23, when it provides her with “free” birth control, to the age of 42, the state is doing almost “nothing” for her save forcing employers to pay her as much money as a man would allegedly make for the same job. Then, at the age of 42, she gets a small-business loan (which presumably she has to pay back — the outrage!). From then until 65, when she qualifies for Medicare — as if that will still exist in Obama’s fiscal universe — she is living in a veritable desert of government indifference.
Ross Douthat is absolutely correct when he writes in the New York Times that, as a policy matter, “The Life of Julia” is “essentially a defense of existing arrangements no matter their effectiveness or sustainability.” We cannot afford to give Julia the life Obama promises without reforming or eliminating the very things Obama promises.
But that is how we conservatives look at this thing. If President Obama — who is something like president-for-Julia’s-life — has his way, future progressives will one day look back at these long lacunas where poor Julia is left to swim the social-Darwinist currents without the government’s looking out for her, and shudder.
As the solicitor general demonstrated in his arguments before the Supreme Court defending Obamacare, the people behind “The Life of Julia” cannot even articulate a “limiting principle” on the scope and depth of government’s “help.” In other words, the terrifying part of “The Life of Julia” is how it spells out for progressives just how much more work needs to be done.
Liberals have been attacking House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) as a bad Catholic because his proposals supposedly depart from his church’s social teaching. In advance of a lecture he was giving at Georgetown, almost 90 members of the faculty wrote a letter purporting to instruct him in that teaching. In his lecture, Ryan took the criticisms head-on. His work in government, he said, is a good-faith attempt to apply Catholic teachings, not those of Ayn Rand, which he has recently criticized. His budget does not “gut” programs that help the poor, as the letter claimed, but rather reforms programs that are supposed to help the poor but often fail at that task. (Ryan might have noted that health outcomes for people on Medicaid are not statistically different from those for people who have no insurance.) Georgetown has since announced that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who resisted all restrictions on abortion when she was governor of Kansas and now wishes to force Catholic institutions to violate their consciences by providing insurance coverage for abortion drugs, will be a commencement speaker this year. Faithful Catholics may agree or disagree with Ryan about the best way for a society to help the poor. Sebelius, on the other hand, does not merely disagree with the Catholic Church on how to protect the right to life of unborn children; she disagrees with the goal itself. Which goes some way toward explaining why liberal Catholics on the Georgetown faculty, as elsewhere, are being taken less and less seriously by their co-religionists.
Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is working on his own version of the DREAM Act, which deals with young people who were brought to this country illegally as minors. The previous version of the bill would put them on a path to citizenship if they went to college or joined the military. Rubio’s bill would merely give them legal status. The original bill is a dress rehearsal for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants generally. Rubio’s seems designed to be a precedent for an alternative favored by many Republicans: no path to citizenship, just legal status. But the offer of legal status sounds just as bad in most respects as the offer of citizenship, and in some respects worse. Offering legal status to yesterday’s illegal immigrants and their children is a magnet for tomorrow’s. And we should not want to have a large group of second-class laborers without the full rights of Americans. The political logic is also questionable. Will Hispanic voters really be attracted to a party that says it wants more Hispanics to work in this country, but not to participate in its politics? Our enthusiasm for Senator Rubio is a matter of record, and we appreciate his evident desire to overcome conservative divisions. The bill as described improves on the original by withholding legal status from the minors’ family members. But from the sound of it, Rubio should stay at the drawing board.
In April, Leviathan left its natural home in the big city, beat down the dusty track, and declared the farm at the end of it to be an anachronism. The Department of Labor proposed to prohibit those under 16 from working in the “storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials” — i.e., doing almost anything. It also sought to replace 4-H and Future Farmers of America safety classes with a government-run training course. Furious critics warned that the move would end the operation of family farms and ranches as we have known them. This pushback was ultimately enough to convince the Labor Department to reverse its position, but the original intention to intervene raises some questions nonetheless. First among these is, “Why act?” If there is a crisis with what is emotively termed “child labor” on America’s family-owned farms, then it has somehow managed to escape the notice of almost everybody. The average age of a farmer is now 55, and those on the ground explain that it’s much more difficult to get people enthused if they come to the profession late. In America we used to leave these decisions up to parents.
Al Armendariz, a muckety-muck at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Texas operation, has resigned after video surfaced of him explaining the EPA’s approach to the energy industry: “Like when the Romans conquered the villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into little villages in Turkish towns and they’d find the first five guys they saw and crucify them.” Armendariz protested that the remarks did not reflect EPA practices, and the White House press secretary echoed him. The fact is that the EPA does attempt to make examples of companies that come into its crosshairs. Armendariz’s office accused Range Resources, the Texas firm that first showed the potential of drilling for gas in the Marcellus shale, of polluting groundwater, and put it through nearly two years of legal hell and ghastly expense before a federal court threw out the case as baseless, with the judge pointedly suggesting that the EPA might want to have some evidence before bringing similar actions in the future. Whether they want it or not, those who seek more power for regulatory agencies are asking for more crucifixions.
In 2008, Candidate Obama said he would not “circumvent state laws” permitting the medical use of marijuana, because his Justice Department would focus on violent crime and terrorism instead. Yet the feds have shut down 200 dispensaries in California alone during the Obama years, provoking complaints from Nancy Pelosi (D., San Francisco), as well as Ron Paul and Barney Frank. Medical marijuana is a small-bore issue that commands the attention only of afflicted (and putatively afflicted) patients and a handful of lawmakers. Voters regularly support it in state-level referendums, but that does not budge the inertia of Washington. Two baby-boomer presidents have come and gone, without changing matters. Barack Obama, the post-boomer, who admitted to non-medical pot use in his first memoir, seems content to follow in their footsteps.
One might say that Occupy and the Tea Party are opposites. The latter has a particular talent for being labeled as a hate group despite all evidence to the contrary, and the former a gift for adding criminal acts to an ever-growing police blotter without its reputation being tarnished one whit. On May Day, Occupy added a few more “isolated incidents” to its sordid tally. In Seattle and San Francisco, members of the movement’s “Black Bloc” smashed and paint-bombed the windows of stores, cars, and a police station; while in New York City, fellow criminals smashed and seized journalists’ cameras and sent white powder and threatening letters to three Manhattan-based Wells Fargo branches. But the Occupiers saved the best for Ohio, in which state five self-described members of Occupy Cleveland planned to blow up a bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park with C-4 that they had obtained from an FBI infiltrator. Ed Needham, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street, complained that the alleged plot “goes against the very fabric of the Occupy Movement.” The Cleveland Five disagreed, participating vigorously in their local chapter and arguing that their blow would be struck for the “99 percent.” One of the bombers, Anthony Hayne, signed the lease for a warehouse in which a group of Occupy Cleveland protesters lived; another, Brandon “Scabby” Baxter, had been arrested protesting foreclosures and was the architect of the “Occupy the Heart Festival” event; and a third, Josh Stafford, registered “Occupy” as his profession on Facebook. Radicals used to decry “the violence inherent in the system.” It certainly seems to be inherent in their movements.
Soon after the Trayvon Martin killing garnered national headlines, a variety of activists advocated vigilante justice. In particular, filmmaker Spike Lee tweeted what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address, and the New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 “dead or alive” bounty. Zimmerman himself remains unharmed — and yet around the country, though the media have been a little shy about reporting them, a variety of incidents reveal that the urge toward private retribution remains strong. In Gainesville, Fla., a group of five to eight black men allegedly jumped a white man who was walking home and beat him while yelling, “Trayvon.” In Oak Park, Ill., two black teenagers reportedly attacked a white teenager; police say one of the perpetrators claimed he was upset by the Martin case. In Toledo, Ohio, a 78-year-old white man was apparently beaten by a group of black youths who said, “This is for Trayvon” during the assault. In Mobile, Ala., an ongoing, racially charged neighborhood dispute culminated in the brutal beating of Matthew Owens, who is white, by a large group of black men, one of whom reportedly announced, “Now that’s justice for Trayvon” as he was leaving. The legal system should dispense to all these thugs a lesson in what justice really means.
The presidential campaign’s dog days continued with a report from House Republicans that Nashville’s health department, which received a $7.5 million Obamacare grant, spent part of its budget on free spaying and neutering of pets. The rationale: Neutering would reduce the population of stray dogs, which deter people from jogging, and would thereby improve their health. Other localities used Obamacare money to post signs marking bike lanes, promote “urban gardening,” and lobby for increased taxes on soda and cigarettes. The principle at work seems to be that everything has something to do with health, and promoting health is the federal government’s job, so the federal government can do whatever it wants. Dang, this Obamacare is better than the Commerce Clause! But never mind the Rube Goldberg chain of reasoning, the slush-fund aspect, and even the budget deficit. Why on earth is the federal government sterilizing dogs in Tennessee? Answer: Because it makes the feds look generous, while the state gets a “free” program. The only point in sending taxpayers’ money on a detour through Washington is to obscure whose pockets it comes from and who is responsible for spending it.
If the National Endowment for the Arts is to exist at all, it should support worthy programs such as broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. But the agency recently announced 2012 grants that will cut support for these traditional high-culture efforts and refocus on more modern initiatives. These include a video game based on Thoreau’s writings (no word if it’s single-player); “Power Poetry,” an application that encourages teenagers to write poems via text message; and an “augmented reality” computer game called “HERadventure” featuring a black science-fiction heroine. An NEA representative explained that “as a federal agency . . . it’s imperative that we assume a leadership role and help move the field forward.” We would prefer “upward,” if we trusted the bureaucracy to know which way that is.
If he didn’t spike the football, President Obama at least twirled it on the ground in the back of the end zone over his killing of Osama bin Laden. He deserves praise for ordering the raid, but he couldn’t help overplaying his hand. In an Obama reelection ad, Bill Clinton emphasized the political downside for the president had the raid gone wrong, as if that were a more important consideration than the fate of the SEALs on the mission. In a bit of cheap point-scoring, the ad questioned whether Romney would have ordered the hit. The president capped the week of none-too-subtle messaging with a trip to Afghanistan on the anniversary of the terror leader’s death. He signed a security agreement with the Afghans that is an important step toward a long-term relationship with them, while giving a speech to the nation that sounded as if victory is already at hand. But the rapidity of our drawdown risks the real gains we’ve made on the ground. In the case of the war, the president would be well advised to focus on achieving success before boasting about it.
Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu has just mounted a political coup that greatly strengthens his position as Israeli prime minister. He sprang his first surprise by calling for a general election to be held in September, though one was not due until next year. Polls have been showing that his Likud party would gain seats. One good trick deserves another, however, and behind the scenes, Netanyahu had struck a deal to take an opposition party, Kadima, into the governing coalition. In the old days Ariel Sharon had split Kadima away from Likud, and it makes for national unity that they come together again. Kadima’s leader, and now deputy prime minister, is Shaul Mofaz, Iranian born, and a level-headed military man. The proposed general election will now not take place. A number of domestic reforms are in the air, but more obviously this is a government much better placed to carry the country with whatever decision emerges concerning Iran’s nuclear program.
On one side: Chen Guangcheng, the charismatic, blind, self-taught lawyer and protester of forced abortions; his family and friends; a network of dissidents, in China and abroad. On the other: the officials of Shandong Province who put him in jail, then house arrest; the goons who threatened and beat him and his loved ones if they tried to move; behind them, the might of the largest despotism in history. Last month Chen managed to scale the wall of his house, breaking his foot in the process, and make his way to the American embassy in Beijing, on the eve of a visit from Secretaries Clinton and Geithner. The embassy let Chen out, under a deal whereby he could live in China unmolested; then Chen feared the deal would not be honored; a new deal apparently will let him study overseas (New York University is offering Chen a berth). What awaits his helpers is repression, what the Chinese, with grim understatement, call “settling of accounts” after “the autumn harvest.” The pettiness and cruelty of the Chinese state is matched only by the bravery of those who resist it. Lincoln said it long ago: “They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other is the divine right of kings.”
British prime minister David Cameron is suffering a bad case of midterm blues. His poll numbers have never been lower. He and his circle of friends and advisers are widely mocked as “posh boys.” The government is pursuing left-wing economic and social policies designed to placate its coalition partners from the minority Liberal Democrats, while at the same time bound to drive Conservative backbenchers to protest. Local elections have thrown up condign punishment, as is only to be expected. Out of about 5,000 contested council seats, the Tories lost more than 400, about a third of those they previously held. Numbers for the Liberal Democrats are even more dire. Making these huge gains, the opposition Labour party claims to be recovering the electorate’s trust. Against the trend, Boris Johnson was reelected mayor of London, but this may alarm Cameron as much as console him. Outspoken, consistent, and witty as well, Mayor Johnson is undoubtedly the most popular Conservative in the country, and there is much muttering that he ought to be prime minister. Coalition government is looking ever more like a poisoned chalice.
Pity poor Portugal. It hit its peak five centuries ago and ever since has grown increasingly marginal in Europe, geographically and politically. Once a great sea power, it clung to a few of its colonies well into the 20th century, but now even those are gone. And while EU membership provided an initial boost, membership in the euro and the single market is becoming more of a straitjacket than a lifeline. Meanwhile those old African colonies are dripping with oil wealth. The result, writes the British journalist Allister Heath: “Five hundred years after Vasco de Gama first landed in Mozambique, impoverished Portuguese are turning up in droves, begging for work permits. . . . 100,000 Portuguese have moved to Angola, four times more than the traffic in the opposite direction.” (Angola has about twice Portugal’s population.) From prosperous Western economy to supplier of cheap labor to the Third World: They did always say the EU would transform the country.
Delegates to the convention of the United Methodist Church recently voted down two proposals to divest from several American companies that supply the Israeli military. A few weeks earlier, speaking for the Episcopal Church, its presiding bishop said the church does not endorse divestment even from Israel itself. Can it be that the leadership of the mainline Protestant churches is finally catching up with the faithful in the pews? Most American Christians support Israel. For decades, church elites have talked over them, blithely mouthing faculty-club rhetoric about apartheid and waving the flag of the DBS (divestment, boycott, sanctions) movement against the only reliable democracy in the Middle East. But the persistence of the quiet majority appears to be paying off.
“A Rose in the Desert” was how Vogue described the “glamorous, young, and very chic” Asma Assad in a fawning profile of the Syrian dictator’s wife last March. The timing of the piece proved embarrassing for the magazine, as it coincided with the beginning of Bashar Assad’s ongoing slaughter of Syrians, which has so far claimed the lives of well over 9,000 men, women, and children. An initially defensive Vogue (a senior editor insisted the piece was “a balanced view of the first lady”) later scrubbed the 3,200-word article from its website without explanation. In an interview with NPR last month, the author of the piece, Joan Juliet Buck, mused that in retrospect she wished a different title had been chosen for the piece and that it was “horrifying to have been near people like that.” Judging from the piece, any horror Ms. Buck felt at the time was evidently overcome in admiration for Asma’s “long-limbed beauty,” her “Syrian-silk Louboutin tote,” and her professed commitment to engaging Syrian children in “active citizenship.” Appropriately, Vogue’s attempt to quietly erase its shameful paean to the Assads has been thwarted by an employee of the Syrian state-run news agency who has reprinted the article on a fan-page titled “In Bashar Al-Assad We TRUST.”
Al-Qaeda spokesman Azzam al-Amriki, a.k.a. Adam Pearlman of Riverside County, Calif., was terribly upset about MSNBC’s firing of Keith Olbermann. (Keith Olbermann, if you have forgotten, is a sports commentator who used to shout incoherently about politics on MSNBC.) “I used to think that MSNBC channel may be good and neutral a bit,” he wrote, “but it has lately fired two of the most famous journalists — Keith Olbermann and Octavia Nasr the Lebanese.” In the case of Octavia Nasr, Mr. Pearlman has confused MSNBC and CNN, which is admittedly easy to do, but otherwise he shows that he is every bit as good a media critic as he is a political analyst. Could somebody get this guy a talk show? Or a drone?
In the Old West, or at least in old Westerns, bad guys used to fire their Colt .45s at an enemy’s feet while snarling, “Dance, pardner!” In today’s West, the guns and the dances are more sophisticated — at least in Clark Fork, Idaho, where a man said to have been using drugs (which seems entirely plausible) pointed an AR-15 semiautomatic at another man and ordered him to moonwalk. Not quite a Deliverance-level ordeal, perhaps, but scary nonetheless. The Bonner County Daily Bee’s conscientious reporter explains: “Late singer Michael Jackson popularized the moonwalk dance move, although a slew of other entertainers — from Cab Calloway and Ronnie Hawkins to David Bowie and Dick Van Dyke — have been credited for using a variation of the move.” The perp told police he was using an Airsoft pellet gun, but folks in Idaho know the difference, so he faced a stiff sentence until his victim asked that charges be conditionally dismissed (he remains jailed for violating his probation). Should have tried a dance-craze defense.
Dinosaurs get a bad rap. Their very name connotes obsolescence and fustiness; in abbreviated form, it is a pejorative term for Democrats who can do math. Now British scientists are blaming dinosaurs for global warming — not just today, by having had the poor judgment to rot into a rich brew of hydrocarbons, but in their own era, through the humbler route of flatulence, which filled the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Still, the poor extinct beasts deserve some sympathy, because Chinese researchers have found that they were plagued by large, parasitic insects — or as the Register, a British technology website, puts it, “Dinosaurs were DRAINED of blood by GIGANTIC HORROR FLEAS.” That excuses a little anti-social behavior now and then, doesn’t it?
France Turns Left
Francois Hollande has become the newly elected president of France more by luck than by any quality he might possess. Almost anonymous, he has no ministerial experience. His platform nonetheless raised expectations mightily that he would be able to find employment and entitlements where Nicolas Sarkozy had failed to do so. Voters could conclude that there are jobs for all, and that everyone richer than they would pay more taxes. France, Hollande likes to promise, is not doomed to austerity, because he still believes that socialism is the magic formula for growth, and can be ordered up, much as King Canute ordered the waves. (The difference is Canute got the joke.)
When originally elected, Sarkozy proposed what he called rupture, meaning reform of the centralized powers of the state so traditional in France. Nothing of the kind then took place. In the campaign for reelection, this habitually competitive and ambitious man found himself unable to claim convincing credit for achievements. Outbursts of spleen made him seem to be reacting to the programs of rivals rather than promoting his own. Close on his heels was Marine Le Pen of the National Front, and he could not make up his mind whether to condemn her or to steal her thunder for the sake of obtaining her party’s votes. Amid mutual recriminations, the Right is now split between Sarkozy’s conservative party and the National Front. Add together the National Front and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s outright Bolshevik party, and the extremes of Right and Left have a third of the votes cast.
Poor and insincere as Sarkozy’s campaign was, in reality the Euro-crisis left him without a chance. No present head of government can hope to win an election in a Europe irrevocably tied to the single currency and the political structure erected in Brussels to enforce it. In the gathering climate of economic and political disaster, Sarkozy is the eleventh in a succession of officeholders in one nation after another to go down in electoral defeat.
Germany sets the terms for Europe, and François Hollande now has to discover whether Chancellor Angela Merkel, the architect of austerity, is willing to permit a forlorn attempt at socialist-induced growth. She had let it be known that she wanted the like-minded Sarkozy to win. But then she herself has already lost regional elections, and until and unless something changes with Brussels and the euro, she too is likely to join the lengthening list of rejected European officeholders. European elites appear to be willing to give up almost anything except for their precious, disastrous euro.