Politics & Policy

Window on the Week – 04/28

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Window on The Week” acts as our weekly, quick-and-punchy, “between-the-issues” survey of the hot topics of the day. “Window on The Week” gives you a sense of what “The Week”–a popular feature that appears fortnightly in National Review–looks like.

#-# And we thought the GOP was the party of free markets. Not this week. Instead, Republicans were jumping over each other to denounce the oil industry. Even President Bush–who should know better, having worked in that industry–promised to look for “illegal manipulation or cheating related to the current gasoline prices.” There have been calls for price controls, anti-gouging laws, and windfall taxes on oil companies. (Shall we tar and feather Exxon executives while we’re at it?) The reality is that gasoline is expensive right now because of a spike in crude-oil prices that American companies have done precisely nothing to cause. These companies’ profit margins are comparable to those of other sectors, and the proposed “solutions” would simply discourage domestic oil production by reducing the return companies can expect on future investments. Only slightly less absurd is the idea of a federally funded $100 rebate to every taxpayer. (Even Manhattanites who ride the subway? And where will the money come from, if not taxpayers?) One of the few sane voices has been that of Rep. John Shadegg, who noted that Congress could reduce the price of gas if it lifted protectionist tariffs on ethanol, a gasoline additive. Ethanol could be imported cheaply from Brazil and other cane-growing countries, but Congress has preferred to keep it expensive to favor Midwestern corn-growers, from whose crops it is also made. Only basic economic illiteracy–or cheap political pandering–can explain the Republican leadership’s gaseous rhetoric.

#-# Tony Snow is a welcome addition to a White House long on battle-weary veterans but short on fresh talent. The conservative columnist and Fox News host will be a more articulate, self-assured presence at the podium than his predecessor. But we suspect he might have an even greater effect behind the scenes. As former editorial editor of the Detroit News and the Washington Times, he is well versed in policy and understands his fellow conservatives. He wouldn’t have been blindsided by the outcry against Harriet Miers or the Hill revolt over the Dubai ports deal. He shares conservatives’ frustration with expansions in the government’s size and scope. And he will bring important perspective to Bush aides, who at times appear out of touch with their supporters’ sentiments, and have been unable to tell which criticisms of the president would have resonance and which wouldn’t.

#-# Can we all agree that Mary McCarthy, the fired CIA analyst, is not a hero? Whether she was fired for simply talking to reporters, as her supporters contend, or for “knowingly and willfully shar[ing] classified intelligence, including operational information,” with the media, as the CIA contends, she certainly deserves no praise. And if she is guilty of the allegations leveled against her by the CIA, she might well deserve a jail sentence. Her case redirects attention from Valerie Plame Wilson to two other leaks–the “secret prisons” story published in the Washington Post and the “warrantless surveillance” story published in the New York Times–that, unlike the Wilson affair, have done great damage to our national security. Kudos to the CIA for sending a message to those would violate the trust they have been given to safeguard the nation’s secrets. May they keep going; there are more leakers to be found–and punished.

#-# President Bush spoke on immigration this week in California, repeating some of the misconceptions that have led him astray on this issue throughout his presidency. Chief among them was his insistence that we a face a choice between legalizing and deporting our illegal-immigrant population: “Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It’s just not going to work. You can hear people out there hollering it’s going to work. It’s not going to work.” In fact, no one seriously proposes mass deportation, which our jalopy of an immigration bureaucracy couldn’t carry out even if it wanted to. The alternative to mass legalization is rather a policy of attrition, reducing the illegal population over a period of years through vigorous enforcement of the immigration laws, something we’ve never attempted. Only after making that effort would the White House and Congress have the credibility to discuss what to do about the remaining illegals. As former House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote on NRO this week, “There has to be a sequence of reestablishing trust.” Enforcement first.

#-# The national Democratic party has more or less stopped campaigning on gun control. The consensus is that more federal regulations will neither win votes nor decrease gun violence. But this doesn’t mean the gun wars are over: A coalition of 15 big-city mayors, led by New York’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Thomas Menino, recently met at Gracie Mansion and set their crosshairs on guns and the gun industry. “Gun violence is a national problem that needs a national response,” said Menino. “If the White House isn’t going to do it and Congress isn’t going to do it, the mayors have to do it.” This will be accomplished, apparently, by lobbying for stricter federal gun laws and by filing lawsuits against the gun industry (New York already has one pending). If only there were a silver bullet to end the tired demagoguery that politicians resort to when talking about guns.

#-# The FDA has proclaimed that there is no scientific support for the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Yet the pronouncement appeared to be driven more by politics than by science. The FDA’s statement conflicts with earlier studies, most notably one done in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine, a non-profit medical advisory group. And then there are experts such as Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine who says of the FDA’s claim: “I think it’s ridiculous. The fact is there are circumstances where smoked marijuana may be helpful to patients who are desperately ill.” Such sparring may be interesting, but in the end it is tangential to the policy question: If some suffering patients believe they can find comfort in smoking dope, and they don’t interfere with anyone else, what legitimate interest does the state have in prosecuting them?

#-# Reluctant though we are to flog the dead mule that is the United Nations, we can’t resist commenting on its bestowal of a “Champion of the Earth” award to Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s erstwhile vice president and head of the department of environment. Miss Ebtekar was rewarded for her commitment “to protect life on earth,” primarily by introducing clean production technologies into Iran’s petrochemical industry. She is better known to Westerners as “Screaming Mary,” the sobriquet she earned as main spokesman for the hostage-takers of 1979. Asked at that time whether she would be willing to shoot the captives herself, she responded, “Yes. When I’ve seen an American gun being lifted up and killing my brothers and sisters in the streets, of course.” She remains an adamant defender of the mullahs’ regime, which is furiously trying to build a nuclear arsenal. Ah, yes: There’s nothing quite like a commitment “to protect life on earth.”

#-# A scathing criticism of the World Bank’s efforts to fight malaria was published on The Lancet’s website Tuesday. The paper mainly faults the Bank for reneging on its monetary commitments and misrepresenting data to give its initiatives the appearance of success. In a separate piece, the editors of The Lancet point out that 500 million people are affected by malaria, and more than one million–most of them African children–die each year from this treatable, usually preventable disease. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the World Bank is unable to fight malaria efficiently and effectively, given how far that task is removed from its main activities. The authors of the article urge the Bank to give its money to other institutions better suited to such efforts. Instead, it has disputed the criticisms and paraded a new plan. If it insists on going forward with this plan, the least it could do is cease its misguided avoidance of DDT. DDT is the cheapest, most effective means of preventing malaria, yet, because of irrational fears about its supposed harm to the environment and possibly to people, it is seldom used. One thing is for sure: DDT, unlike malaria, doesn’t kill a child every 30 seconds.

#-# Jane Jacobs was not a conservative in the conventional sense–a native of Scranton, Pa., she opposed the Vietnam War and moved to Toronto in 1968–but there was something positively Burkean about her love of neighborhoods. Her most influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is a bracing and witty attack on central planners who level urban communities with wrecking balls to make way for large-scale government projects. (Several years ago, an NR panel named Death and Life one of the hundred best non-fiction books of the 20th century.) She was a lifelong critic of eminent domain; two years ago, she put her name on a brief that unsuccessfully urged the Supreme Court to curtail abuses in the Kelo case. Yet her vision of the modern city always carried a whiff of utopianism. An advocate of densely packed populations, she abhorred the suburbs even as many Americans came to prefer big backyards and safe streets. When she didn’t like something, she asserted, sometimes abrasively, that nobody else should like it either. Despite these faults, she possessed a keen understanding of what makes cities tick and how to keep them livable. She died on April 25 at the age of 89. R.I.P.

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