‐ Even if the new law does not work against illegals, maybe it will keep liberals out of Arizona.
‐ Is the new Arizona immigration law more like the March on Rome or Kristallnacht? More like apartheid or Selma 1965? Critics are answering All of the Above, in the greatest freakout of the chattering class since last month, when it was warning the tea partiers to eschew all overheated rhetoric. Arizona made it a state crime for an alien not to have documents on his person proving his legal status, which has long been a federal offense. The new law says that if a police officer develops a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an illegal alien in the course of a “lawful contact,” then “a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.” This hardly constitutes budding fascism. As a practical matter, the law will be in play mostly during traffic stops; and if the motorist has a valid state license, it will be the end of the matter. Arizona has become the main thoroughfare for illegal immigrants into the country as other points along the border have become better secured. The law is an attempt to make the state as inhospitable as reasonably possible to illegals, in the absence of a serious federal effort to police the border and places of employment. Critics insist that the law is an unconstitutional usurpation of federal immigration policy. But the liberal Ninth Circuit upheld Arizona’s 2008 crackdown on employers hiring illegals when it was challenged on similar grounds. President Obama blasted the new law and called for comprehensive immigration reform, by which he means an amnesty with as much of a fig leaf of enforcement as is necessary to pass it. Which means it would leave Arizona in the same place it is today: on its own.
‐ Bill Clinton spoke at a commemoration of the 15th anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Did he say that the tea-party movement might encourage such acts? No: “This tea-party movement can be a healthy thing if they are making us justify every dollar of taxes we raise,” Clinton said. But maybe also, Yes. “But when you get mad, sometimes you end up producing the exact opposite result of what you say you are for.” Counsels of thoughtfulness are always in season. “Get[ting] mad,” however, is too elastic a term of rebuke. Maybe present administration policies are in fact maddening. Unlike Timothy McVeigh, tea partiers are not loners dieting on hate literature, but Americans assembling (see the First Amendment) to influence the political process. Mr. Clinton doesn’t like their politics. So let him address a rally.
‐ Faced with an $11 billion deficit in a $30 billion budget, New Jersey’s new Republican governor, Chris Christie, has so far been unsentimental, but fair, in making the painful cuts necessary to get the Garden State’s fiscal house in order. As Josh Barro explains on page 21, this included trimming about 5 percent from the budgets of New Jersey’s public schools. Cue the teacher unions’ rage and entreaties to “think of the children!” Yet when Christie suggested he would restore funding in districts where teachers agreed to forgo raises for a year and pay a nominal portion of the cost of their hitherto gratis benefits, the result was mostly silence — but for one union official who circulated an e-mail praying for Christie’s death — and a spate of local school budgets that attempted to recoup the losses by increasing the property-tax burdens of the most overtaxed populace in the Republic. On April 20, New Jerseyans were afforded an opportunity to weigh in on Christie’s cuts, and the unions’ response, via the annual school-budget votes. The results could not have been more definitive: Nearly two in three tax-raising budgets were defeated, the largest such proportion to fall at the polls in over 30 years.
‐ As we go to press, Florida governor Charlie Crist is considering whether to run for Senate as an independent after swearing he wouldn’t, a couple of weeks after vetoing the education-reform bill he said he’d sign. Crist is that most dismaying political spectacle — an opportunist running out of opportunities. The out-of-the-blue veto of the bill instituting merit pay and ending teacher tenure was Crist’s provisional declaration of independence from his party after he dropped 20 or 30 points behind rising conservative star Marco Rubio in the primary. Crist has never recovered from his support for the Obama stimulus, although in characteristic fashion he has denied that he ever supported it. He tried to claw back in the primary with personal attacks on Rubio, to no avail. If he runs as an independent, he’ll very likely finish last (he’s unlikely to command much sustained Republican or Democratic support) and bring his career to an appropriately woeful end.
‐ Many Wall Street watchers believe the government’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs to be remarkably weak, but most agree that it is lucky timing for Democrats, who are using the investigation to append a sense of moral urgency to the passage of Sen. Christopher Dodd’s financial-reform bill. The Goldman Sachs case will no doubt prove an embarrassment to the financial sector, if not for any actual lawbreaking then for the cavalier pronouncements of Goldman trader Fabrice Tourre, who boasted of turning a profit as the world burned: “The whole building is about to collapse anytime now. . . . Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab, . . . standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!” [Sic!!!] The courts will have their say on whether Goldman broke the law, but if this clinquant corporate villain is wondering why it is the most hated firm in America, it will not have far to look.
‐ In a series of astonishing ads, and an op-ed by its CEO Ed Whitacre, General Motors boasts that the government-dependent automaker has “Paid Back in Full” its bailout money ahead of schedule. In order to make that case, GM engages in accounting shenanigans worthy, if not of Enron, then at least of GM’s patrons in the Obama administration. The government’s relief for GM took the form of a small infusion — $6.7 billion in cash — and a large infusion — the government’s $40 billion equity investment. GM is paying back the little piece, and even that it’s not doing with its own money: It is tapping billions in escrowed TARP funds that it has not yet used. Why? GM got a great deal on its $6.7 billion government loan — 7 percent — but there’s a better deal to be had: $10 billion in “green technology” financing at 5 percent. As Forbes put it: “GM is using government money to pay back government money to get more government money.” And the other $40 billion? How about some free floormats?
‐ Andy Stern is leaving his $306,388-a-year position fighting against the nation’s fat cats on behalf of the working stiffs at the Service Employees International Union, an organization that shook enough change out of its sofa cushions to throw down $60 million to put Barack Obama in the White House. Among the candidates vying to replace Stern are Change to Win president Anna Burger ($252,724/year) and SEIU executive Mary Kay Henry ($231,348 per annum). SEIU executive and Democratic Socialists of America leader Eliseo Medina ($242,286) is strangely absent from the running. Maybe he is weary of the endless self-sacrifice that being a modern labor leader entails.
‐ Unlike some liberals, we do not begrudge Obama his time on the golf course. (The less time he spends governing, the better.) But an unfortunate choice was made in mid-April. Obama was to go to Poland’s state funeral, but the Icelandic volcano, which disrupted air travel for days, prevented him. On the day of the funeral, having sudden free time, he went to play golf. People noticed — including Poles. This was bad form. President Bush, whom liberals accused of being a clod in international relations, would never have done it.
‐ Though we’ve had our differences with both, we have no reason to doubt the good faith of either Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) or Defense Secretary Robert Gates. But the two have very different opinions about how the government should go about prosecuting Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan for the Fort Hood massacre and putting policies in place to stop another incident like it from happening. Lieberman, along with his committee’s ranking Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, wants access to the Defense and Justice Departments’ papers and witnesses related to the shooting right away, and has filed subpoenas to get them. Gates, meanwhile, says that providing access now would compromise both the Defense Department’s internal review and the prosecution of Hasan; even after a subpoena, his department refused to release Hasan’s personnel file. Without knowing what exactly the documents contain or who the witnesses are, it is difficult to say who is in the right. Since Lieberman’s investigation is important to our national security, however, decisions to impede it should not be taken lightly. It will reflect poorly on the department if it turns out to have held back documents to protect not the investigation, but itself.
‐ In his Uriah Heepish testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Goodwin Liu — who, if confirmed, will accomplish the near-impossible feat of shifting the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals even farther left — asked the senators to essentially ignore everything he’s ever said: “As scholars, we are paid, in a sense, to question the boundaries of the law, to raise new theories, to be provocative . . . [but] the role of a judge is to faithfully follow the law. . . . Whatever I may have written . . . would have no bearing on my role as a judge.” Fine words — yet Liu has explicitly called for judges to create constitutional rights to education, shelter, subsistence, and health care, and to rule based on “how a judicial decision may help forge or frustrate a social consensus.” He has advocated gay marriage, reparations for slavery, racial quotas, and the use of foreign statutes to discover the meaning of U.S. laws, and he thinks standard constitutional law is “aggressively built in the image of conservative ideology.” Professor Liu is polite and well-groomed, and he knows a lot of impressive words; but if we are permitted to judge him on anything beyond that, he is a hard-core leftist who thinks the Constitution means whatever he wants it to. This is a nomination the Republicans could possibly defeat, and should definitely fight.
Pulled Together in the Web
In 2001, University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein predicted that the Internet would increase the political polarization of America. If conservatives congregated at conservative websites, and liberals at liberal sites, then it would reduce the “unplanned, unanticipated encounters” that are “central to democracy itself.” With sites like Daily Kos, Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post becoming almost mainstream, many observers have echoed his observation. A new paper by economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro suggests that Sunstein’s prediction has not come true.
The authors begin by pointing out that since the Internet reduces the cost of reaching a news source, it can increase the diversity of one’s reading by increasing its quantity. They go on to analyze data from comScore, a company that tracks Internet traffic, to calculate the number of users on 119 news and politics websites. They combined the usage figures with data reflecting the political outlook of 12,000 panelists who participated in an electronic survey and classified themselves as conservatives, moderates, or liberals.
The authors then investigated how the Internet usage of conservatives and liberals differed. For each of the sites in their analysis, they calculated the average percentage of conservative users, and then looked to see if conservative and liberal users tended to concentrate their viewing on sites that shared their views.
For the most part, their data confirmed what we already know about websites. For example, 88 percent of the visitors to foxnews.com are conservative, whereas 40 percent of the visitors to nytimes.com are. Fully 98 percent of visitors to glennbeck.com are conservative, while only 6 percent of those visiting thinkprogress.org are.
But the results also suggest that Internet users are voracious readers who flit from site to site with abandon. In the end, that means that the typical conservative visits many sites that are more liberal than he is, and the typical liberal visits many sites that are more conservative than he is.
The authors capture these movements with something they call the “isolation index,” which is plotted in the nearby chart. If conservatives visit only sites with all conservative visitors, and liberals visit only sites with all liberal visitors, then the index is 100. If there is no political pattern to site visits, then the index is 0.
The chart shows the isolation index for different types of media. In the case of the Internet, the average conservative viewer visits websites with a viewership that is 60.6 percent conservative. The average liberal visits websites with a viewership that is 53.1 percent conservative. The difference between those two, 7.5 percent, is the isolation index for the Internet. That figure is distinctly higher than the index for magazines, broadcast news (the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, or the BBC), cable television (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, or Bloomberg), and local newspapers. But it is lower than for national newspapers (the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal), and for random face-to-face interactions within one’s zip code.
The authors also explore viewing habits, and they find that individuals who frequent more extreme sites tend to offset that usage with visits to less extreme ones; visitors to extreme conservative websites are more likely to visit nytimes.com than the average user.
The Web may be increasing the attention paid to screamers, but it has also made it costless for people to try out other points of view as well. Politics may be increasingly polarized, but don’t blame the Internet.
‐ The Supreme Court struck down a law that banned “crush videos”: commercially produced videos depicting the sexualized torture and killing of animals. Justice Alito was the only dissenter. The decision is in keeping with the Court’s expansive “free expression” jurisprudence, which assumes that the Court has the authority and indeed duty to block the censorship even of things that both common sense and common morality suggest have no value or negative value. The justices claimed that the statute could make the sale of certain depictions of hunting illegal, too. That interpretation is implausible, as Alito argues, but it leaves open the possibility that a more narrowly drawn statute would meet the Court’s approval. Congress should move, for the well-being of animals and human beings alike.
‐ President Obama’s executive order requiring hospitals to extend visitation rights more broadly has been hailed by gay organizations while drawing little criticism from social conservatives. Might there be a lesson here? An oddity of the debate over same-sex marriage is that the practical difficulties its proponents say it would solve for gay partners can, for the most part, easily be solved without it. In this case, the government has not granted formal recognition to same-sex romantic relationships. A patient may have designated his lover (of either sex) or his friend to have visitation rights; there is no need for the government to inquire or make assumptions about the relationship. Nor has the government damaged the institution of marriage in any way: Nobody supposes that it is morally important that hospital visitation rights be tied tightly to marital status, or that many people marry in order to enjoy these rights. Gay activists should continue to take this constructive approach — but we warn them that as they do so they will find the emotional appeal of their argument for redefining marriage dwindling.
‐ In a speech at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in mid-April, President Obama retreated a few steps from his proposals of a few weeks earlier to hand off all manned-space-flight development to private firms. Those earlier proposals had met stiffer-than-expected congressional opposition from states and districts heavily invested in NASA. Now the president wants to proceed with development of an escape capsule for emergencies on the International Space Station — picayune stuff by comparison with former grand plans for new rockets and shuttles, but probably enough to damp down congressional grumbling. Obama sweetened up the deal further with some talk about manned interplanetary exploration “early in the next decade” — which is to say, years after he has left office. Uh-huh.
‐ A group of retired military officers, calling themselves Mission: Readiness, is agitating against a new “threat to our national security”: fat teens. The military is having to turn down more and more applicants because of their weight. But the numbers are less alarming than most news reports have conveyed. Daniel Engber, writing in Slate, points out that excess weight causes an average of 10,000 potential recruits to fail their physicals each year; if they did not, enlistment classes would be only 3 percent larger. And the military just had a record recruiting year. Nor is it at all clear that the group’s favored policy, healthier school lunches, would do much to improve the numbers. None of this is to deny that kids should eat better or that a reform of school-lunch policy might be worthwhile. But we’re pretty sure that misjudging threats and pursuing ineffective strategies isn’t what they teach at the military academies.
‐ The Institute of Medicine has recommended that the salt content of prepared foods — store-bought or ordered in restaurants — be reduced, and the Washington Post reported that the FDA will begin to use its authority to force gradual reductions. New York City is debating a ban on the use of salt by restaurant chefs. High salt intake is associated with hypertension, so such regulations might improve people’s health (although probably not as much as persuading them to, say, get checked out and treated for high blood pressure would). Experts who favor the rules acknowledge that developing low-salt foods that taste good will be a challenge. They are confident that you will be satisfied with the trade-off. Their presumption ought to raise Americans’ blood pressure all by itself.
‐ You might think that nobody would try to link the recent eruption of a volcano in Iceland to global warming. Slight and disputable increases in average air temperature worldwide . . . mighty heavings of molten rock miles below the earth’s crust . . . How can the two be connected? They can’t; but never underestimate the dogged ingenuity of the monomaniac. The key here is something called a “blocking event,” which is when the jet stream, which carries stratospheric winds eastward across the northern hemisphere, is forced to slow down suddenly. Then anything in the upper atmosphere — such as, oh, ash from a volcano — will linger instead of dispersing. So if the eruption itself can’t be pegged to global warming, at least the consequent inconveniences can. And of course: “We predict that the frequency and length of blocking events will increase in a warmer climate,” says French climatologist Christophe Cassou. To exaggerate is to weaken, wrote one of M. Cassou’s countrymen. We commend this observation to the Church of Global Warming.
‐ A notable bank has failed in Chicago, notable because it is owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer who proposes to take Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. Chicago Democrats being impervious to shame, the treasurer’s Senate campaign continues without pause, and he now blames the bank failure on — you knew this was coming — George W. Bush. His latest ad, more vaguely, says the bank is just another family-owned business fallen victim to the recession caused by . . . Republicans, or whomever. If Illinois voters are not left permanently agape at this display of chutzpah, they might recollect themselves long enough to appreciate that the real victim here is the public fisc, which will take a $400 million hit as the FDIC bails out Giannoulias’s depositors.
‐ Remember Rep. Eric Massa? You may not want to, but when the ticklish Democrat resigned from Congress March 8, he left the residents of New York’s 29th congressional district with no representation in the U.S. House. Temporary vacancies are normal, but for some strange reason, seven weeks have passed and Gov. David Paterson has not scheduled a special election. The district might not have any representation until the new Congress takes office in January 2011. Officially, the delay stems from worry that New York State and the district’s counties can’t find the $700,000 or so to pay for the special election. But others in the district suspect that the real factor is Republican Tom Reed’s healthy chances of victory: Reed, the mayor of Corning, was running strong even before Massa started telling tales of shower-time showdowns with Rahm Emanuel, and would be favored in any special election. Paterson’s dawdling could leave these voters without a congressman for more than 300 days, generating cries that partisan concerns are blocking free elections. Perhaps when you have been accused of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice, as Paterson has, complaints that you are obstructing the democratic process are a minor concern.
‐ The New York City public-school system’s “rubber rooms” — in which teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct wait, sometimes for years, for their cases to be decided, with nothing to do but play board games and watch their salaries and pensions accrue — have long been a symbol of bureaucratic dysfunction. On April 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he had reached an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers to shut them down and expedite the process by which the teachers’ cases are decided. “What a relief,” we can hear you say. “Under the new system, firing decisions will be made in a matter of months, not years!” Not necessarily. The old systems had reasonable deadlines, too, but they were frequently extended, or simply disregarded. “Well, at least the 550 teachers currently awaiting arbitration will be out of the system by the end of the year.” So Bloomberg says, but his timeline depends on arbitrators’ packing multiple hearings into each working day between now and then; it is a rare day when the arbitrators achieve such a pace. “But surely this will save us money.” Not in the short term, no, given how heavily the Education Department will have to lawyer up for its arbitration blitz. Catharine Davis, formerly of Intermediate School 302 in Brooklyn, had this to say about the impending closure of the rubber room in which she spends her days: “To tell you the truth, it doesn’t matter where we wait, it’s the process of waiting.” A straight-talking pragmatist! No wonder the New York public-school system wants to get rid of her.
‐ As we go to press, with ten days to go before Britain’s election, the average results from the most recent 25 polls were as follows: Tories 33 percent, Liberal Democrats 30 percent, and Labour 27 percent. Compare these figures with the results of the last election: Tories 32.4 percent, Lib-Dems 22 percent, and Labour 35.2 percent. For most of the intervening five years the Tory leader, David Cameron, has pursued a highly conscious policy of wooing centrist/Lib-Dem voters with “progressive” policies and liberal rhetoric. He has been prepared not only to alienate natural conservative voters in this endeavor but even to make a fetish of doing so in order to signal to centrists that the Tories have been “detoxified.” Well, the intermediate verdict on this strategy is that the Tories have increased their support by 0.6 percent at a time when Labour’s support has fallen by 8.2 percent. Admittedly, the surge in Lib-Dem support since their leader, Nick Clegg, performed well in two three-way election debates partly explains this weak Tory performance. Yet this Lib-Dem surge was always a risk of the Cameron strategy. By loudly embracing “progressive” politics, Cameron’s Tories validated left-wing arguments and so managed to appear both reactionary and inauthentic. Even so, given the mathematical complexities of a three-way election, Cameron might still scrape a narrow victory. The nightmare scenario is for the Tory vote to rise but for the insurgent UKIP to win enough votes from discontented toxic Tories to put Labour or the Lib-Dems in power. When a governing party collapses, the main opposition party should win handily if it is doing things right. Cameron may yet win, but Cameronism has already lost.
‐ Greek bond yields hit 13.4 percent as S&P lowered the nation’s sovereign credit rating from near-junk to BB+, or, in layman’s terms, to “You Have Got to Be Kidding Us.” Portugal got a downgrade, too, though it is in better shape than Greece, for now. A sovereign default in the eurozone would cause a monetary earthquake, so Europe’s grown-ups — Germany, France, the United Kingdom — are scrambling to avert it. But with Spain, Ireland, and Italy on the same slippery slope, to say nothing of the fragile economies of Eastern Europe, it’s not clear that there are enough adults on the scene to reform all the juvenile delinquents, and Britain’s decision to forgo the euro looks more and more like sterling judgment.
‐ The Egyptian government loathed President Bush and his democracy agenda. They are much happier with Obama. He has slashed funds to aid democracy groups in Egypt — at a time when such groups are under major attack. Every other day a blogger or human-rights advocate is arrested and jailed. Egyptian democrats are in obvious agony over the rude shift in the American posture. The head of an election-monitoring group said, “Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change.”
‐ The Israelis say that Syria has secretly delivered Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia that has a lock on Lebanon and likes to boast that it is massively rearming for another war against Israel. Hezbollah already has an arsenal of a reputed 50,000 lesser missiles, but the Scuds can be fitted with chemical and biological warheads and have the range to hit anywhere in Israel. Their installation would destabilize the whole region, with Israel and Lebanon, not just Hezbollah, facing off. The border between Syria and Lebanon is a smuggler’s paradise of unmarked roads, and the transfer of Scuds that way is all too possible. The Syrians as usual are playing the injured party, saying that they’d never do a thing like that, and they accuse the Israelis of beating war drums in the hope of spoiling the beautiful new friendship developing between Washington and Damascus. After a diplomatic break these past five years, Robert Ford has been designated to reopen the U.S. embassy there. The truth or otherwise about the Scuds has got everyone in the administration scratching their heads. “Do we actually have a policy toward Syria, and is it in our best interest?” asks Democratic representative Eliot Engel. Smart question.
‐ The Goldman Environmental Prizes are sometimes called “the green Nobels.” Like the real Nobels, they are often interesting and sometimes gag-making. At least one Goldman has been a pure inspiration. Among the 2010 winners was Humberto Rios Labrada, for what the Associated Press describes as his “campaign to let Cuban farmers choose the crops and seed varieties best for their lands.” The report further said, “Rios wants to make Cuban farms more sustainable by giving farmers more autonomy — a radical notion in what has long been a strictly top-down planned economy where officials tell producers just what to grow, even if it isn’t quite right for the soil.” Those officials know perfectly well the danger of letting a little freedom take root.
‐ French president Nicolas Sarkozy has called for legislation to ban the burka. “The ban on the full veil must be total in all public places because women’s dignity cannot be watered down,” a government spokesman said. France banned “ostentatious” religious symbols, including headscarves, from public-school classrooms in 2004. That law reflected the secularist streak of French republicanism, as well as the fact that the state controls state schools. Banning the burka, even on the Champs-Élysées, reflects the totalitarian streak of French republicanism — Robespierre, not Voltaire. Burkas do negate women’s dignity, locking them in portable prisons. But since it is impossible to prove that the marginal woman was forced to wear one, she must be assumed to have made the choice; it is not the state’s to make for her. The battle against fundamentalist sharia should be fought elsewhere.
‐ Just as we don’t favor stripping off burkas, neither do we want them forced over us. South Park, Comedy Central’s raunchy cartoon series, ran an episode that showed Muhammad in a bear suit. (This recalled a 2006 episode from which Comedy Central purged a scene showing Muhammad undisguised.) A New York–based Muslim website threatened Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park’s creators, with murder. “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh [the Dutch filmmaker slain by an Islamist]. . . . This is not a threat, but a warning of . . . what will likely happen to them.” The threat (which of course is what it was) was accompanied by a picture of Van Gogh’s corpse. Comedy Central’s response to this incitement was to bleep and blank out Parker and Stone again. Can they find less craven employers? And can the website’s authors and organizers be put behind bars, or at least under surveillance?
‐ The blogger Julian Sanchez has a thesis about the Right. “One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement,” he recently wrote, “is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure.” What is “epistemic closure”? you ask. Here is Sanchez’s next sentence: “Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.” So what he wants to say is that we have become closed-minded. His comment launched the Great Epistemic Closure Debate of 2010, with pundits left and right adopting the term. But if any professors of analytic philosophy — whence Sanchez appropriated it — were paying attention, they must have smiled: for “epistemic closure” does not mean anything like closed-mindedness. Formulations of the epistemic-closure principle vary, but here is a simple and idiomatic one: “If I know that p, and know that p entails q, then I also know that q.” Ah yes, Fox News and its damnable belief that knowledge is closed under entailment!
‐ Assembling a montage of angry talk-show hosts without including MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann would be like assembling a dream team of basketball players without including LeBron James. So MSNBC personality Donny Deutsch, in a segment on bilious bloviators, risked the boss’s ire and threw Olby into the montage. Retribution was swift: Deutsch’s week-long anchoring stint was canceled after two days. When a New York Times reporter asked Olbermann if he had played a role in canning Deutsch, Olbermann stated that “[Network president] Phil Griffin phoned me yesterday enraged at what was on that show and I didn’t disagree with him.” Unsurprising, given what we know about Griffin’s obeisance to his star ranter (see “Olbermann Broadcast Corporation,” Sept. 15, 2008). “Ventriloquist agrees with dummy” isn’t exactly news, but it’s worth noting the enforced conformity of views at a left-wing network in light of all the recent chatter about the Right’s closed-mindedness.
‐ Matthew Kachinas was one of the few OB-GYNs in Florida willing to perform late-second-trimester abortions. No longer; Dr. Kachinas has lost his medical license. He performed a selective-reduction procedure for a woman carrying twins — a boy, who appeared from genetic testing to have Down syndrome and possibly a heart defect, and a girl — and mistakenly ended the latter’s life. The woman sued Dr. Kachinas for aborting the “wrong” fetus; a second procedure aborted the “right” one. On April 9, the Florida Board of Medicine held a hearing on the matter and decided to revoke Dr. Kachinas’s license. Reflecting on the situation, Kachinas told a reporter that he was going to kill himself and was involuntarily hospitalized. His sorrow is understandable.
‐ Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke revealed a new $100 bill, due out next February. Poor Ben Franklin. First his head was swollen to monstrous size. Now the old gray green of his surround has been tarted up with a colored security strip and a metallic inkwell with a Liberty Bell on it. It is supposed to be hard on counterfeiters; it is certainly hard on the eye. This isn’t money; it is an Austrian train ticket; a pass to a mid-level lounge at a Macau casino; a stock certificate for a government-run South American mining company. Gangstas were already abandoning C-notes for euros; this will make them flee in droves. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Offer it to the Taliban as toilet paper. Did we say we didn’t like it?
‐ A lawsuit has recently been filed over the 2008 Gay Softball World Series, in which a San Francisco team called D2 was stripped of its second-place finish for having three bisexuals on its roster. The rules allow no more than two straight players per team, and in the middle of the championship game, D2 was angrily charged (by a team it had previously defeated) with insufficient gayness. After the game, the accused were taken to a conference room and asked a series of rather personal questions in an attempt to nail down their exact preferences. The ruling: Instead of adding up to one and a half heterosexuals, the fence-sitting trio were considered to be three “non-gays,” thus exceeding the quota. All three were suspended from gay softball for at least a year; it was not made clear how they might reestablish their eligibility.
‐ Or in limerick form:
In the world of gay softball, it seems,
They take regulation to extremes.
Although here’s the big picture –
It boils down to one stricture:
You simply can’t play for both teams.
‐ Cue the Friday Night Lights theme: Allen, Texas, a prosperous suburb near Dallas, is spending nearly $60 million on a new high-school football stadium — one that will seat 18,000 spectators. While much has been made of Texans’ obsession with high-school football, less remarked upon is the fact that Allen is spending another $60 million, from the same bond issue, to build a lavish performing-arts center: Government-school excess is not restricted to athletics, nor is it a uniquely Lone Star phenomenon — Newton, Mass., is about to open a $200 million high school, while Milwaukee’s public schools spend $100 apiece on pencil sharpeners. In Allen, the financial incontinence takes the form of $120 million in high-school infrastructure for a city of 77,000. And to think, Plato made do with an olive grove.
‐ Antony Flew was a distinguished practitioner of the British school of philosophy, which begins in empiricism and sometimes ends in wordplay. Flew was a bit of a winger politically, attacking egalitarianism and neo-statists like John Rawls. But he was most famous for his polemical atheism — until six years ago, when he announced that he had come to believe in God. “The almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life,” Flew argued, shows “that intelligence must have been involved.” He died in the bosom of the Prime Mover, not the bosom of Abraham. “I want to be dead when I’m dead and that’s an end to it.” Christians hope he will change his views on this too. Dead at 87. R.I.P.
A Subprime Bill
Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd’s financial-reform bill is a hodgepodge of new restrictions on Wall Street offset by a hearty dose of sweeteners to keep financial-industry cash flowing to Democrats. For every measure that would cut into Wall Street’s profits, another would subsidize its operations. Other provisions would give a new federal bureaucracy the power to micromanage individual financial decisions. Still others would federalize a part of corporate law traditionally left to the states, so that unions may have a bigger say in the boardroom. The bill could be fixed, but leading Democrats do not seem interested in changes. Some Senate Republicans are nervous about insisting on changes, fearing they will be labeled tools of Wall Street. They should stiffen their spines and hold out for a better bill.
Republicans have focused a lot of firepower on the $50 billion fund mentioned above, and with good reason: As structured, this fund would allow the government to bail out non-bank creditors, and worse, to play favorites among them, just as we saw when the Obama administration gift-wrapped large stakes in the automakers for its union allies at the expense of secured creditors. The bill’s authors appear to have cut-and-pasted the resolution language that authorizes the FDIC to wind down banks, in which one class of creditors — the depositors — are entitled to a bailout. The sophisticated creditors of non-banks, however, neither need nor deserve a bailout. The Dodd bill would not require the FDIC to impose losses on these creditors; it only expresses a “strong presumption” that such losses would be imposed.
The debate over resolution authority is merely academic, however, if the Dodd bill retains language that would give the FDIC clear authority to engage in loan guarantees during a crisis — authority it does not currently have, but that federal policymakers have been exercising anyway. In addition, the Fed would retain the power to make loans accepting the shadiest of assets (such as subprime-mortgage-backed securities) as collateral. This is the architecture of a permanent bailout authority, and it needs to be dismantled. If the power to offer such extraordinary assistance is truly necessary in the event of a liquidity crisis, regulators should have little trouble convincing Congress to give it to them. But Congress should not preemptively hand the keys to the fisc to a group of unelected officials who, though well-meaning, have precious little incentive to look out for the taxpayers’ best interest when they believe the sky to be falling.
The Dodd bill would also create a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau inside the Fed. For Republicans, the politics of the CFPB may seem tricky: Democrats have been gleefully painting them as opponents of “consumer protection,” and the public is understandably hostile toward credit-card companies. But the GOP should remind Americans of two underlying truths: 1) The main causes of the pre-2007 housing bubble did not include a lack of muscular consumer-protection rules. 2) To the extent that existing consumer safeguards need strengthening, the task can be accomplished without launching a massive new bureaucracy that would negatively affect credit access and economic growth.
Under the guise of bolstering shareholder rights, the legislation would greatly expand Big Labor’s influence over American corporations. The vehicle would be “proxy access” — allowing stockholders to have their preferred candidates in corporate-director elections included on a company’s official proxy card. While this idea has been sold as a means of promoting “shareholder democracy,” its chief beneficiaries would be large and politically powerful shareholders, such as union pension funds. Proxy access has been a liberal rallying cry for many years. Its inclusion in the Dodd bill underscores the degree to which that bill represents a Democratic wish list.
Until these and other deficiencies are addressed, Republicans should oppose the legislation. Journalists will warn of the political risks (as if they’re suddenly concerned about GOP electoral fortunes) but Republicans should ignore the chatter. Rather than let Democrats claim the mantle of populism, the GOP should emphasize that Dodd’s bill would keep Bailout Nation alive while hurting the very people — middle-class consumers — it claims to be protecting. The public wants smarter, more efficient regulation of Wall Street, and there is still a possibility it could get it. But only if Republicans stay united.