‐ The stimulus did create at least one job in the private sector, soon to be filled by Evan Bayh.
‐ A year ago, Rick Santelli, CNBC business-news reporter, asked from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade “when the tea party is.” He was reacting to the stimulus agenda of the Obama administration, and he hit a nerve. Tea parties sprang up around the country. Anderson Cooper slimed participants as “tea-baggers,” liberals called them racists who couldn’t tolerate a black president. In fact, they were ordinary Americans, some of them Obama voters (see “The Coming Tea-Party Election,” National Review, February 22), alarmed by the tide of red ink and desperate to resist. This January, the spirit of the movement sent Scott Brown to the Senate and stopped Obamacare in its tracks — quite a twofer. A National Tea Party Convention in Nashville talked of future plans, and was addressed by Sarah Palin. Leaving an institutional legacy will be devilishly hard work, but the tea parties have already made a point. America may slide into social democracy run by a Chicago machine and decorated by an Ivy League overclass. But not without a fight.
‐ Recall the thinking of Barack Obama and Joe Biden about the Iraq War. Obama opposed President Bush’s surge in Iraq, saying it would make things worse. He wanted to declare the war lost and come home. Biden proposed essentially splitting the country into three: a Sunni land, a Shiite land, and a Kurdish land. John McCain remarked that you would have to draw lines through a lot of Baghdad bedrooms, because Iraqis intermarry. In any event, the Bush administration had the war pretty much won by the time of the Obama inauguration. And, the other night, Biden went on television and said, “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Chutzpah is a popular Yiddish word. Schmuck is another.
‐ President Obama invited congressional Republicans to a “health summit” to discuss their positions, while his legislative allies continued to seek ways to enact health-care legislation that Republicans and the public have already rejected. Republicans have accordingly concluded that he has no sincere interest in negotiation, but believe that the public wants to extend him the benefit of the doubt. His goal will almost surely be to portray them as unreasonable: attached to unworkable proposals, devoid of ideas, or bent on obstruction. Their best bet is not to emphasize his bad faith but to point out the flaws in his proposals and defend their own, contrasting their targeted solutions to specific problems with his sweeping overhaul. Can they win that debate? So far, they already have.
‐ Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) released an updated version of his “roadmap” for fiscal reform, and this time he got a lot of attention — in part because it serves the interests of Democrats to say that his plan proves that Republicans want nothing more than to slash Medicare and Social Security. Ryan’s plan would indeed reform those programs in the interest of solvency. Seniors would get vouchers to purchase health care, and workers would be able to invest payroll taxes in personal accounts. The tax break for employer-provided health insurance would be extended to people who purchase insurance for themselves. A new tax system, simpler and optional (you could continue to use the old one), would be implemented. The charge that these proposals would leave senior citizens out in the cold ignores their transformative potential: Would health-care costs rise so rapidly, for example, if people were not relying on third parties to pay for them? The plan is not perfect. As we have observed before, Representative Ryan’s reforms inadvertently make the taxation of parental investments in children more onerous. He could easily fix that flaw. The deeper problem with the plan is that it envisions a sort of legislative Big Bang in which conservative ideals are forever achieved. A roadmap requires more than an attractive destination.
#page#‐ Republican Senate prospects continue to brighten. Democratic senator Evan Bayh of Indiana — popular with constituents, owner of a $13 million campaign war chest — announced that he will not seek reelection this year. Former GOP senator Dan Coats had made plans to come out of retirement and challenge Bayh. Coats will now become a strong favorite. Democrats were already reeling from Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts and an earlier decision by Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) not to run again. Even so, a Republican majority in the Senate looks like a long shot. Six GOP incumbents are stepping down and these seats must be defended, to say nothing of the long string of victories that Republicans will need in other contests. Much can change between now and Election Day. At the moment, however, conservatives are gaining momentum in unexpected and welcome ways.
‐ Senate majority leader Harry Reid, facing imploding support in his reelection bid in Nevada, scrapped a bipartisan “jobs bill” and cut the price tag from $85 billion to $15 billion. The centerpiece of the new bill, a tax credit for businesses that hire new workers, would be unlikely to stimulate much hiring: Business owners typically add workers only if they see the economy getting stronger, and the startling size of Obama’s projected deficits and sweep of his agenda have given them reason to fear that large tax increases will weigh upon future growth. A small, temporary tax credit today is not enough to trump such concerns; it would mostly reward businesses that were planning on adding workers anyway. The public is warming up to the idea that government spending does not “create” jobs — only 6 percent believe the first stimulus did, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll. Let Reid own the idea that we can and should spend our way out of this recession, and let voters in Nevada and elsewhere render a verdict on that strategy this fall.
‐ Is it hypocritical to vote against a spending bill and then praise particular projects in the bill? That is the charge that Barack Obama and other Democratic partisans have leveled at Republican lawmakers who opposed the stimulus and the omnibus spending bill yet have appeared at ribbon-cuttings in their districts when the funds were delivered. This is pure sophistry. Lawmakers are frequently forced to vote on large bills containing many provisions, and one may praise some provisions even while concluding that a bill is not on balance supportable. One might conclude, for instance, that the top line of a defense-appropriations bill is too high, and vote against it hoping to send it back to the drawing board. That doesn’t mean one wishes to disband the Army.
‐ Frank Rich of the New York Times calls Sen. John McCain “unpatriotic” for criticizing President Obama. Forty years ago, McCain was getting his teeth broken off in a North Vietnamese prison while Rich reviewed avant-garde theater for the Harvard Crimson, but never mind; Obama is The One, McCain has criticized him, therefore McCain is unpatriotic. A few days later John Brennan, a deputy national-security adviser, said that “politically motivated criticism” of the administration’s anti-terror policies will “serve the goals of al-Qaeda.” Now even Bill Nye the Science Guy has chimed in, applying the term “unpatriotic” to climate-change skeptics. It wasn’t so long ago that Hillary Clinton declared herself “sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic”; Al Gore and John Kerry, among many others, expressed similar sentiments. The slogan “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” turns out to have been the lowest form of opportunism.
‐ Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama paid tribute to a Navy corpsman — only he said “corpse-man,” each time he got to the word. We all make mistakes, and even brilliant, Nobel Prize–winning presidents might tell an Austrian reporter, “I don’t know what the term is in Austrian.” (Obama probably doesn’t know the term in German, either.) A hot book in the 1980s was Reagan’s Reign of Error, which was supposed to prove what a doofus the president was. Humility on all sides is called for: even when Reagan is in office; even when Dan Quayle or George W. Bush is in office.
#page#‐ After a devastating blow from Hurricane Katrina and years of mismanagement courtesy of departing mayor Ray Nagin, New Orleans has taken some important steps forward. Across racial lines, voters in the city’s mayoral election united behind Mitch Landrieu (brother of Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu and son of former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu), giving him 66 percent of the vote — no mean feat for the politician, considering that the majority-black city is known for its racial tensions, especially in politics, and he is white. Meanwhile, black candidates won down-ballot races with white support. There is still considerable work to be done in New Orleans: The police force and schools are broken, and the city has still not fully recovered from the hurricane. But fixing these problems will require competent leadership, and this time, the city’s voters have put competence above race. New Orleans residents and officials have our best wishes as they continue the rebuilding — and building — process.
‐ It could be entertaining to hear Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D., R.I.) talk. For example, he spoke in January about the state of the nation and its politics: “One thing the Democrats have done wrong? We haven’t kept the focus on this disaster [and] on the Republicans who brought it upon us. We’ve tried too hard to do the right thing, and that’s to fix it, as opposed to spend more of our time and energy pointing the finger at who got us [here] in the first place.” That has long been the Democrats’ problem: a strange, almost constitutional unwillingness to blame the Republicans. Kennedy is now retiring after eight terms in Congress. Those years have been marked by rehab, “incidents,” more rehab — and unswerving adherence to the liberal-Democratic line of the moment. Has there been a truly interesting Kennedy, politically and personally, since RFK? The press has noted that there will be no Kennedy in Congress for the first time in more than 60 years. But Patrick has said, “I wouldn’t count us out for good, you know.” He has suggested that he himself might return to politics, after a “kind of sabbatical.” We consider ourselves warned.
‐ After the defenestration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the subsequent fuss over the seating of Sen. Roland Burris, we have had a year’s respite from grimy political news from the Land of Lincoln. Might the day soon arrive when the phrase “Illinois politics” could be uttered without everyone in the room snickering? Not quite yet. In the early-February Democratic primaries for this year’s gubernatorial race, sitting governor Pat Quinn won nomination after a tough fight. The separate primary for a lieutenant-governor nominee was won by businessman Scott Lee Cohen, who is said to have spent $2 million of his own money campaigning. Then, while the victory champagne was still fizzing, stories about Cohen’s past came trickling out: tax troubles, illegal steroid use, domestic violence, arrears of alimony, holding a knife to the throat of his girlfriend, who turned out to be a prostitute. Cohen has now stepped down. Amid the general disgust, commentators are debating whether their state needs a lieutenant governor. Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan has proposed a constitutional amendment to do away with the office altogether. In the event of a gubernatorial vacancy, next in line would then be the state attorney general, who is . . . Speaker Madigan’s daughter. Ah, Illinois!
‐ While the economy founders, government grows, and therefore lobbying thrives as a recession-proof industry. The K Street crowd spent a record sum last year — $3.47 billion — which sounds like a lot but is not even peanuts (subsidized to the tune of $3.5 billion in the last farm bill) when one considers what is at stake in this era of trillion-dollar federal boondoggles. Predictably, the insurers and pharmaceutical firms spent millions to shape Obamacare to their liking, while stalwart General Electric spent lavishly to hitch its wind turbines to the green-energy gravy train and to win antitrust permission to unload Rachel Maddow and the rest of its NBC Universal broadcast empire on Comcast. Cheap rhetoric aside, there is nothing inherently unseemly about lobbying: In a free society, we have the right to petition the government in the pursuit of our interests. But a political class that has a finger in every pie — picking winners and losers in the marketplace while conferring trillions of dollars upon favored constituencies — invites abuse, rent-seeking, and activities that at their worst constitute something akin to bribery. The Gucci Gulch gang is easy to vilify, but the problem is the unlimited growth of the state and its power — not the lobbyists, but Leviathan.
#page#‐ It wasn’t long ago that President Obama called Wall Street bonuses “shameful.” But in the cases of Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, the president says those multimillion-dollar paydays are just “part of the free-market system.” We’re glad to see that the president is coming around to the view that executive compensation is an issue for the boardroom and not for the Oval Office. Now if only he would extend his newfound tolerance beyond recovering bailout recipients that also happen to be multimillion-dollar contributors to Democratic campaigns.
‐ On nuclear power, President Obama has put our money where his mouth is, committing $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees for two Southern Company nuclear plants in Georgia. The president’s openness to new nuclear power is to be celebrated. What is not to be celebrated is that the nuclear-power industry remains, in effect, a ward of the state, so encumbered by government restrictions that it cannot survive without federal financial assistance: The right hand overregulates, and the left hand subsidizes. Worse, Obama expects Republicans to requite this important but modest progress by knuckling under on billions of dollars’ worth of green-jobs shenanigans and sundry environmental pork — a deal the GOP should treat as radioactive.
‐ The first lady is a cultural figure as much as a governmental one, so it is perhaps appropriate that Michelle Obama has adopted the cause of fighting childhood obesity — which is a growing (sorry) problem for many people and perhaps also for society, but not a legitimate object of government action. If corn subsidies promote obesity, as many observers believe they do, then ending them may, at the margin, reduce it. If governments seek to go beyond such steps, we should keep at least as watchful an eye on them as we do on our waistlines.
‐ New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who took office on January 19, has one of the less enviable jobs in American politics. The list of maladies plaguing his state — onerous taxation, unsustainable government spending, high unemployment, anemic private-sector job creation, substantial out-migration, and an almost comically pervasive “culture of corruption” — is well known. So far, the Republican ex-prosecutor has shown an impressive willingness to make unpopular but necessary decisions. In an effort to stabilize Trenton’s parlous finances and avoid a complete meltdown, Christie has declared a fiscal state of emergency, announced major spending cuts (including a $475 million reduction in school aid), and called for reining in excessive public-employee benefits. He has also pushed to expand charter schools and tapped former Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler, a brainy conservative reformer, to be his education chief. While these early initiatives are highly encouraging, Christie will face stubborn resistance from the phalanx of entrenched interests (unions, public authorities) and ideological forces (such as the state supreme court) that have gained a stranglehold over New Jersey politics and turned the state into an economic basket case.
‐ Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen took little time to develop a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s campaign-finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The Democrats’ proposal is a hodgepodge of populist regulation, and many of the proposed “fixes” are unlikely to survive in the courts. The law would force government contractors and TARP-fund recipients to give up the First Amendment right to political speech that Citizens United confirmed. The high court has been hostile to such dubious conditions on doing business with the government. Similarly, a requirement that broadcasters that sell airtime for corporate political ads also give preferred advertising rates to the candidates at issue in those ads sounds like a mini “fairness doctrine,” and is unlikely to survive a First Amendment challenge. Other proposals are unnecessary and unwise. The law would prohibit foreign-controlled U.S. corporations from election-related activities, but current law already prohibits even indirect foreign influence in federal elections. In its irrelevance to any actual problem facing the country, the new legislation is a perfect distillation of the spirit of campaign-finance reform.
#page#‐ Craig Becker, the extremist union lawyer Obama attempted to install on the powerful National Labor Relations Board, has been stopped — for now. Becker, an attorney for one of President Obama’s most powerful labor patrons, the Service Employees International Union, holds extraordinary opinions that would tilt the NLRB even more heavily in favor of the unions than it already is. Among other things, he seeks to strip workers of the right to a secret ballot in union-organizing elections and to severely restrict the First Amendment rights of employers to argue against setting up unions. He has been less than forthcoming about his association with another element of Obama’s coalition, ACORN, with which SEIU is so closely allied that the organizations are scarcely distinguishable at the operational level. Republicans put a hold on Becker’s nomination, and the Democrats were unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to overcome it. But the president is said to be considering a recess appointment to circumvent normal Senate procedure. Becker is an extreme choice, and for Obama to go to such extremes to secure his appointment would be a disturbing indicator of the clout the SEIU wields in this administration.
‐ A study suggested that abstinence-education programs delay and reduce sexual activity among teenagers. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation argues that they therefore also have some beneficial side effects that are not obvious: “When an abstinent teen is matched against a sexually active teen who is identical in gender, race, parental education, family income and structure, educational aspiration, and self-esteem, the abstinent teen is . . . nearly twice as likely to attend and graduate from college.” The federal government spends twelve times more on nonjudgmental but tacitly permissive sex education than it does on abstinence programs. Our preference would be for it to withdraw from the field altogether, but self-restraint is a message that seems to go over easier with teenagers than with the feds.
‐ Gen. Stanley McChrystal says the Afghan War has stabilized, checking the slide in conditions prior to the surge. Marines launched a major offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand Province. They brought in their train what McChrystal calls a “government in a box” — a plan to hold and govern the ground we take — in contrast to the “clear and leave” approach that had failed. Meanwhile, in another sign that the Pakistanis have become more aggressive against the Taliban on the their side of the border, they captured top Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Second only to Mullah Omar in the command structure, Baradar is a big get, and his capture should disrupt Taliban operations and provide an intelligence bonanza. All is not lost in Afghanistan.
‐ The Iranian regime had a good day on February 11: Its preemptive arrests and crackdown on social media and other means of communication kept protests under control during the celebration of the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Republic. Repression might be the most appropriate way to celebrate “Revolution Day,” but President Ahmadinejad also declared Iran a “nuclear state” and said it would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, a step toward nuclear breakout. Iran’s bluster and intransigence have rallied the rest of the world against it, and the Obama administration might be able to get new sanctions out of the Security Council, although China remains a question mark. What we don’t know is whether any level of economic pain will stop Iran’s march to a bomb. If not, and if a democratic revolution isn’t imminent, the choices narrow considerably: either military force to disrupt the nuclear program and delay its progress, or acquiescence in a nuclear Islamic Republic, whose wonders will be fulsomely celebrated on some future Revolution Day.
‐ Something strange happened: The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip expressed regret for harming Israeli civilians in rocket attacks. But then the government took it back, saying the apology had been a mistake. We are glad to know that all is well with the world.
#page#‐ The pending European bailout of Greece — which Andrew Stuttaford examines in depth on page 26 — offers a neat summary of what’s wrong with the EU: Brussels already has committed to intervening, but the theoretically sovereign national governments that will be obliged to finance the bailout are balking. The Dutch already have passed a law forbidding the use of their public revenues to prop up a neighbor that has never met its spending and deficit-control obligations (and hardly even pretends to try), and the German Bundestag is considering similar restrictions. A majority of Germans say they would rather see Greece expelled from the eurozone than receive a bailout. The relatively frugal Germans and Dutch are not happy underwriting Mediterranean excess — and, with Spain, Italy, and Portugal all in agony, Greece probably will not be the end of it. The European project is premised on the belief that technocrats and accords can supplant cultures and histories in the shaping of nations, and this rather touching article of faith is about to meet its first serious test.
‐ Viktor Yanukovich has won the presidential election in Ukraine, which means that the Kremlin has advanced on the geopolitical chessboard. For Russians, Ukraine is part of the homeland, and its independence since the breakup of the Soviet Union is unnatural; they want that huge country back under their thumb. Yanukovich is their man. In Communist days he earned a criminal record and a reputation pretty much that of a gangster. In the last election, held five years ago, he tried to steal the presidency. Ukrainians took to the streets in protest, the Orange Revolution was born, and Yanukovich fled the country. But the Orange leaders, Viktor Yushchenko as president and Yulia Timoshenko as prime minister, were so eager to sabotage each other that they more or less gave up on governing. The national stew of incompetence, unemployment, debt, and corruption has given Yanukovich a second chance, and he came back to seize it. The moment his victory was declared, an invitation arrived from President Medvedev to visit the Kremlin. Ukraine will not be joining the European Union or NATO anytime soon. Russia will acquire a stronger hold on pipelines supplying natural gas across the country’s territory, and its Black Sea fleet will have continued access to Ukrainian naval bases. The Kremlin knows how to play the long game.
‐ Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has been leaderless since last November, when the ailing president, Umaru Yar’Adua, booked himself into a clinic in Saudi Arabia. Now the country’s parliament has elevated Yar’Adua’s vice president to the office of acting president. This new chief executive has the mellifluous name “Goodluck Jonathan.” Mr. Jonathan will need more than good luck in taking on his country’s problems. Though Nigeria is a major oil producer (ranked 15th in the world), its oil-rich region is plagued with insurrection and sabotage. Other national afflictions: gross inequality of wealth, out-of-control crime, rampant tropical diseases, chronic and violent Muslim–Christian conflict, life expectancy of a wretched 47 years, and sensational levels of corruption. Also something of an image problem: The currently most famous Nigerian is Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. We note in passing that Mr. Jonathan’s wife is named “Patience.” We wish the country’s new first couple well, and hope that with good luck and patience, its long, slow decline to failed-nation status may somehow be arrested.
‐ In our January 25 issue, The Week reported on the busy domestic life of 67-year-old South African president Jacob Zuma, who boasts three wives, two former wives, a fiancée, and (best estimate then) 19 children, including one by the aforementioned fiancée. Since that bulletin, President Zuma has admitted paternity of a 20th child, born last October. The mother is none of the three Mrs. Zumas, nor even the prospective fourth, but the 39-year-old daughter of a close friend. This in a nation with the world’s highest number of HIV/AIDS deaths and government campaigns promoting fidelity and condom use. And how does President Zuma support so many dependents? He has never had a job outside politics. Discontent with Zuma is rising. It does not help that supporters are building him a $9 million palace while South Africa’s economy is sunk deep in recession. Meanwhile the president has a conundrum to resolve. In early March he goes to England on a state visit. There will be an audience with H.M. Queen Elizabeth. Which wife should he take? Multiculturalism ain’t easy.
#page#‐ General de Gaulle famously said that France had 246 cheeses and nobody could govern a country as anarchic as that. Alors, mon général! A keen investigative journalist from the Associated Press reports that French fromageries and small family farms have been declining for so long that they are almost extinct. Why, in the French Alps, dozens of families have given up making a traditional cheese called “persille de Tignes”; it is now made by only one lady with 30 cows and 80 goats, and if she were to cease production for any reason . . . Apparently it’s all the fault of the Americans, who have made the French go in for pasteurized, mass-produced, plastic-wrapped cheeses sold in capitalist supermarkets rather than small stores. The dwindling number of cheeses doesn’t appear to make government any easier, but at least General de Gaulle’s antipathy to President Roosevelt survives to preserve some basic notions just as he implanted them in the French psyche.
‐ At the University of California–Irvine recently, a group of Muslim students (members of the Muslim Student Union, reportedly) worked together to disrupt a speech by Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. One at a time, they heckled the speaker — shouting things such as “How many Palestinians did you kill?” — until they were escorted out. Eleven were arrested. The next day, school chancellor Michael Drake released a statement calling the disruption “intolerable.” We’re not sure which is more surprising: that Oren was invited to speak at a University of California school, or that an official of a University of California school expressed remorse at the way Oren was treated.
‐ As happens one Sunday evening in mid-winter every year, America was treated to the latest and most imaginative offerings from the makers of TV commercials, interspersed with brief clips of some people playing football. By common consent — among conservatives, that is — the most egregious of this year’s ad offerings was one for Audi automobiles. Citizens are shown being chased down, cuffed, and perp-walked by “green police” following various offenses against environmental correctness: asking for a plastic bag, using an incandescent light bulb, failing to recycle. Then we see the enviro-cops checking a line of vehicles for eco-compliance. The guy driving the Audi TDI gets a thumbs-up and a “You’re good to go, sir.” Fade to a simple message on the screen: “Green has never felt so right.” To many of us, eco-bullying never felt so unsubtle. If this ad sells cars, the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought in vain.
‐ The highest-paid municipal employee in Madison, Wis., is bus driver John E. Nelson, whose salary last year totaled more than $159,000. Half a dozen of his fellow drivers also earned in six figures. How is this possible? The Wisconsin State Journal explains: “A high base salary and other benefits for drivers were largely set in the 1970s and 1980s, when the city took over the bus company.” Combine that with generous, federally mandated leave provisions that make for lots of overtime, and it’s not unusual for a bus driver to out-earn the mayor (and with much better job security). In the 1950s, Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners was paid $62 a week by the skinflints at the Gotham Bus Company; he was constantly hatching schemes to strike it rich so he could quit. Today Kramden’s dreams of avarice would have been a lot simpler: get a government job and join a union.
‐ Atlanta has been the site of many important battles in the struggle for civil rights, not to mention a spot of trouble during the Civil War. Its latest racial crisis, however, was settled much more amicably. Last fall MARTA, the city’s rapid-transit system, renamed its rail lines using colors, and it so happened that the newly designated Yellow Line went through Doraville, an Asian neighborhood. The agency received a few objections from folks with job titles like “manager of equal opportunity and conflict resolution,” “director of advocacy and education,” and “executive director of the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity,” but none from any citizens who do not complain for a living. For the record, Wikipedia lists two dozen transit systems worldwide with Yellow Lines. Yet the grievance mongers were not to be denied, and after months of importunity, MARTA caved and renamed the route the Gold Line. Martin Luther King would be proud. We hear the protesters will now take their act to East Asia, where they will campaign for the renaming of the Yellow River and Yellow Sea.
#page#‐ The cafeteria at NBC’s New York headquarters observed Black History Month by serving fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, and black-eyed peas. A musician who calls himself “?uestlove” (and pronounces the “?” as a “Q”) took a photo of the menu and posted it online with a sarcastic caption; bloggers pounced; NBC apologized; and the invidious soul food was soon replaced with an innocuous grilled-chicken hero. Yet the matter was not so clear-cut. One black NBC employee commented, “Serving southern food isn’t racist . . . IT’S DELICIOUS!!” The cook, who is also black, said, “It’s not trying to offend anybody and it’s not trying to suggest that that’s all that African Americans eat. It’s just a good meal.” How could anything so yummy be derogatory? In the end, the musician gave the most succinct summary: “I’m simultaneously offended and hungry.”
‐ Former congressman Charles Wilson (D., Texas) was a good-time Charlie and not ashamed of it. He vowed that, if caught with his pants down, “I won’t blame booze, and I won’t suddenly find Jesus.” Hollywood made a movie of his career and cast Tom Hanks to play him not because of his escapades, however (though they helped), but because he funneled millions of dollars, from his perch on the House Appropriations Committee, to buying weapons for the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahedin. Wilson had visited refugee camps in Pakistan shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and he decided to hit back hard. Some of the mujahedin he armed became Taliban, but sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Defeat in Afghanistan was an important catalyst for the Soviets’ late-imperial loss of morale. Charlie Wilson affected world history, and how many congressmen, drunk or sober, do that? Dead at 76. R.I.P.
‐ A year ago, Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.) told a local newspaper: “If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district.” He was, and he did. Murtha, who won his seat in 1974, soon fell afoul of Abscam, an FBI sting in which agents posing as Arabs offered bribes to congressmen. “You made an offer,” said Murtha on tape. “After we’ve done some business,” he suggested, he might take them up on it. Murtha’s colleagues on the House Ethics Committee cleared him. In later years, he steered clear of Arabs, seeding his district with earmarks instead. In 2005 he became famous for turning on the Iraq War. Maybe the publicity did him harm: When Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker, tried to make him House majority leader, her caucus revolted in favor of Steny Hoyer. The feds began nosing around Murtha’s earmarks too. This pork butcher was a brave man (Korea and Vietnam vet, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts) and a good husband and father. Dead at 77. R.I.P.
‐ New England college students seem to have been skimming disc-shaped pie tins through the air since well back in the 19th century, with tins from the Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Conn., especially favored. In 1948, after studying the relevant aerodynamics, and seeking to cash in on the flying-saucer craze, Walter Morrison of Richfield, Utah, had a plastic version made and sold it at local fairs. Design refinements and name changes followed, till in 1957 Morrison sold rights to the Wham-O toy company, which settled on the name “Frisbee.” Thus emerged one of the most successful playthings of all time, giving harmless pleasure to humans of all ages, and countless dogs. Hundreds of millions of Frisbees have been sold. The Frisbee-based sport Ultimate boasts 4.9 million U.S. players and several international tournaments. Walter Morrison died at his home in Monroe, Utah, on February 9, aged 90. R.I.P.
Spleen-venting by Obama officials over the administration’s mishandling of the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253 would be comical if the stakes were not so high.
Interrupting his vacation four days after the fact, President Obama described would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as an “isolated extremist.” By then, investigators already knew the 23-year-old Nigerian was anything but. In just 50 minutes of questioning, the FBI found out he had gotten months of training from al-Qaeda in Yemen, and that other terrorists were being similarly prepared. Yet the interrogation was shut down because the administration decided to treat him as an ordinary criminal defendant: After being given Miranda warnings, Abdulmutallab clammed up.
Public outrage sent officials ducking for cover. The White House ludicrously claimed the FBI had gotten all the necessary information. When that story didn’t fly, they floated another: that the terrorist had stopped talking before Miranda warnings were given. But this story contradicted their earlier accounts. Meantime, national intelligence director Dennis Blair testified that President Obama had ordered the creation of “HIG,” a special interrogation unit for high-value terrorist captives. But, “duh,” as Blair put it, no one thought to use it for Abdulmutallab. Perhaps that was because HIG turned out not to exist: Obama had merely ordered its creation, not actually created it — leaving nothing to replace the Bush CIA interrogation program the president celebrates himself for terminating.
Attorney general Eric Holder wrote Senate Republican critics, conceding that he had made decisions about Miranda warnings and prosecution but saying that he had done so after consultation with all national-security agencies — even though the heads of those agencies had just testified that they were not consulted. Holder sought refuge in Bush policies, claiming he had simply adhered to practices followed “without exception” since 9/11. But even his own letter showed that that wasn’t true, by discussing two exceptions — Jose Padilla and Ali Saleh al-Marri, whom Bush designated enemy combatants after their capture in the U.S. The attorney general made a complete hash of the history of the Padilla court case. He touted an appellate ruling against military detention without mentioning that it had been reversed by the Supreme Court; and he invoked his predecessor, Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey, who as a judge had ruled that Padilla was entitled to counsel — but did not mention that Mukasey had strongly endorsed military detention, had found that Padilla had no constitutional right to counsel, and had granted Padilla counsel only for the purpose of challenging his detention at some point, and not in a way that interfered with Padilla’s interrogation.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan soon groused that GOP criticism was “partisan” because four Republican congressmen he had briefed on Christmas Night raised no objections to the Mirandizing of Abdulmutallab. But it turned out he had not actually told them about it — he had merely said the terrorist was “in FBI custody.” Meanwhile, Holder and Obama maintained that more than 300 “terrorists” had been convicted under civilian justice procedures since 9/11, a laughable overstatement that counts hundreds of non-terrorism cases (real terrorist cases total 39, according to the ACLU).
Finally, five weeks after his arrest, Abdulmutallab started talking again. Obama officials were quick to leak that fact (after asking top Republicans not to) and to brag that he was now providing vital intelligence — shredding their earlier claims that he had told us everything in the first 50 minutes. Did sleepers get into the country while Abdulmutallab stayed mum? Did cells we could have dismantled scatter? We do not know. We do know, though, that while intelligence agencies predict the enemy is “certain” to attempt another major strike in the next six months, we are countering with amateur hour.
Exaggeration and alarmism have been a chronic weakness of environmentalism since it became an organized movement in the 1960s. Every ecological problem was instantly transformed into a potential world-ending crisis, from the population bomb to the imminent resource depletion of the “limits to growth” fad of the 1970s to acid rain to ozone depletion, and there was always an overlay of moral condemnation for anyone who dissented. With global warming, the environmental movement thought it had hit the jackpot — a crisis sufficiently long-range that it could not be proved nonexistent and broad enough to justify massive political controls on resource use at a global level. Former Colorado senator Tim Wirth was unusually candid when he remarked in the early days of the climate campaign that “we’ve got to ride the global-warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing — in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.” (Not surprisingly, after Wirth left the Senate and the Clinton administration he ended up at the United Nations.)
The global-warming thrill ride looks to be coming to an end, undone by the same politically motivated serial exaggeration and moral preening that discredited previous apocalypses. On the heels of the East Anglia University “Climategate” scandal have come embarrassing retractions on an almost daily basis from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding some of the most loudly trumpeted signs and wonders of global warming, such as the ludicrous claim that Himalayan glaciers would disappear within 30 years, that nearly half of the Amazon jungle was at imminent risk of destruction from a warming planet, and that there was a clear linkage between climate change and weather-related economic losses. The sources for these claims turned out to be environmental-advocacy groups — not rigorous, peer-reviewed science. Then Phil Jones, the scientist at the center of the Climategate scandal at East Anglia University (he’s the author of the now-infamous phrase “hide the decline”), dropped several bombshells in a surprisingly candid interview with the BBC. He admitted that his surface-temperature data are in such disarray that they probably cannot be verified or replicated; said the medieval warm period may have been as warm as today; and agreed that there has been no statistically significant warming for the last 15 years — three points that climate campaigners have been bitterly contesting.
To be sure, these revelations do not in and of themselves mean that there is no anthropogenic global warming. But this is probably the beginning of a wholesale revision of the conventional wisdom on climate change. Al Gore and the climate campaigners cannot go on saying with a straight face that the matter is “settled science.” One of the central issues of Climategate — the veracity and integrity of the surface-temperature records used for our estimates of warming over the last few decades — is far from resolved. (The London Times ran a headline last week: “World May Not Be Warming, Say Scientists.”) The next frontier is likely to be a fresh debate about climate sensitivity itself. There have been several recent peer-reviewed papers suggesting much lower climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases than the IPCC “consensus” computer models predict. And alternative explanations for observed climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere, such as shifts in ocean currents and wind patterns, should receive a second look.
Dissenters who pointed out these and other flaws in the IPCC consensus were demonized as deniers and ignored by the media, but they are now vindicated. (The American media are still averting their gaze, though the British press — even the left-wing Guardian and the Independent — is turning on the climate campaigners with deserved vengeance.) The IPCC is mumbling about non-specific reforms and changes to the process by which it will produce its next massive climate report, due out in three or four years. It should emulate a typical feature of American government commissions and include a minority report from dissenters or scientists with a different emphasis. But the next report may not matter much: With the collapse of the Kyoto-Copenhagen talks and the likely rejection of cap-and-trade in Congress, climate mania may have run its course.