‐ Can’t blame Peter Orszag for wanting to spend more time with his families.
‐ The early stages of Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings were drearily predictable: She said, in essence, that judges should defer to Congress except when they should not, and that it would be improper to tip her hand any further. All the evidence we had before the hearings began suggested that she is likable, intelligent, and a conventional liberal — with everything this implies about her view of the judicial role. Senators should do what they can to draw out the defects of that view, and vote accordingly.
‐ House Republicans have begun to force votes on obnoxious elements of Obamacare — starting with its requirement that all people buy an insurance policy that meets with the approval of the government. Twenty-one Democrats voted with almost all the Republicans to repeal that requirement. In the Senate, Orrin Hatch has introduced a bill to repeal it and another to repeal the job-killing mandate that employers provide insurance. Good moves. Liberals should be kept on the defensive, especially about indefensible legislation.
‐ Never mind selling his Big Government agenda to Americans, President Obama can’t even sell it to the Europeans. Underscoring the odd fact that the American administration is now to the left of most of Europe’s governments, President Obama went into the recent G-20 meeting arguing for a new round of global stimulus spending. The Europeans, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, argued instead for fiscal discipline, namely a deficit-reduction schedule nearly identical to the one Germany has adopted. Merkel carried the day, and now we’ll see whether President Obama is serious about that commitment to “international standards and institutions” he has famously talked up — or whether he’ll go it alone and spend the nation into penury.
‐ After June’s G-8 meeting outside Toronto, the G-20 met in the city, where they were greeted by riotous demonstrators who torched four police cars and smashed shop windows as Canadian cops stood by. One of the protesters complained, “A bunch of pimply faced teenagers trashing shops and burning cars does not help anyone.” Why didn’t the cops agree? The next day, as if to compensate, police rounded up and roughed up lawbreakers (and a few journalists). Riot control is an art. Letting things go too long and then cracking down hard are both signs of the lack of it. Toronto, a city now known as much for smugness as it once was for ordinary peace and quiet, is clearly out of the habit of maintaining law and order. But in the future no city should have to deal with the floating anarchist riff-raff that is attracted to G-8/G-20 meetings. Let them meet on Mustique.
‐ The new left/right counterpoint of cable TV? Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, courtesy of CNN. The first reason we won’t watch is Spitzer. Parker called her new partner “one of the nation’s most brilliant, fearless and original thinkers.” Forget his troubles. Spitzer won the governorship of an ultraviolet state, and then won the hatred even of its Democrats because he was a bullying, power-mad jerk (he characterized himself, more or less, as a “futzing steamroller”). The first-and-a-half reason we won’t watch is Parker. Her writing as a “rational conservative” (her words) graced NRO, as it graces the Washington Post today. But how will she stand up to the steamroller once it gets rolling? Bluster, charming ripostes, flattened charming ripostes. No thanks.
‐ David Weigel blogged for the Washington Post, covering conservatives — until some of his e-mails to the liberal media listserv JournoList were leaked to Fishbowl DC and the Daily Caller. He thought Matt Drudge should “set himself on fire,” and joked about Rush Limbaugh’s dying after a heart attack. He advised his peers not to link to the Washington Examiner, and urged them to help Democrats avoid “unreasonable panic” over Scott Brown’s election. Concerning which, a few observations. Why did the Post hire Weigel to report on conservatives? He worked at Reason. Aren’t there any other qualifications — like fairness, or good sense? This not being the first scandal involving JournoList, Ezra Klein, its founder, has shut it down, and good riddance. But the rump-sniffing of D.C. media liberals will continue by other means. Weigel wrote a mea culpa, admitting to haste, pride, ill-temper, and vanity. True enough, but it’s all curable. Time will tell.
‐ Senate majority leader Harry Reid continues to struggle to come up with the votes he needs to pass a package that would extend certain provisions of the February 2009 stimulus bill beyond their expiration dates. Chief among these are benefits for the long-term unemployed and aid to state governments that can no longer meet their financial obligations. If the economy is recovering, as President Obama continues to insist, the “extenders” package is not necessary; and in any case, thanks to previously enacted extensions, New York State, to pick one example, now provides up to 99 weeks of unemployment assistance, which should be more than enough. If the economy is not recovering, then perhaps it is time for Obama to admit that his first stimulus failed to achieve its stated ends. The Republicans (and a few Democrats) blocking the extenders package ask only that it be paid for by using unspent funds from Obama’s first stimulus. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
It is estimated that 670 million people will watch the final of this year’s World Cup. Spectatorship is almost as impressive during the preliminary rounds, as entire nations put their business on hold to root for their national squads.
With workers watching instead of working, there will likely be a tiny blip down in world GDP, which might well be offset by increases in beer consumption. But to economists, by far the most interesting aspect of this summer’s distraction is the popularity of the tournament itself.
The fact is, good drama requires uncertainty, and as sporting events go, the World Cup is about as predictable as they come. Since 1930, there have been 18 World Cups. Five have been won by Brazil, and four by Italy, which means that those two countries account for 50 percent of total wins. Germany has won three cups, which means that the top 3 countries account for 67 percent of the total. Add Uruguay and Argentina to the list, and these five countries have won 89 percent of all championships.
The nearby chart contrasts this result with major American sports. In the NFL, the least predictable of the leagues shown here, 18 different franchises have won at least one of the 44 Super Bowls. And even the Lakers and Celtics are unable to tilt the statistics to make the NBA as predictable as the World Cup.
So why do the countries that don’t win the World Cup care so much about it? It might be that fans believe history is a poor indicator of current success probabilities, just as historical mortgage-default rates suggested in 2008 that a financial crisis could never happen. But economists Erin LeAnne Spenner and Aju J. Fenn of Colorado College and John Crooker of the University of Central Missouri recently provided empirical evidence supporting an alternative explanation: Sports spectators are a little like heroin addicts, and behave as if they were addicted to sports.
To show this, the authors investigate attendance at NFL games and attempt to predict attendance with a number of variables that should correlate with fan interest, such as ticket price and team performance. They find that such variables matter, but that a surprisingly important predictor of current attendance, after controlling for all the fundamentals, is past attendance and expected future attendance. In this way, sports-attendance patterns resemble addictions: Once a fan has a whiff of the spectator’s joys, he can’t keep away.
While the results are for the American style of football, they likely extend to soccer. The World Cup begins with qualifying matches that include a whopping 204 countries. Spectators in such out-of-the-way places as East Timor probably catch a peek of their team’s match against New Zealand and get hooked, even though East Timor has about as great a chance of winning the World Cup as the National Review coed soccer team.
#page#‐ A very strong case can be made that the Second Amendment was intended to protect an individual right to own guns. A good case can be made that the Fourteenth Amendment, by requiring states to respect the privileges and immunities of American citizenship, gives the federal government the power to force states to recognize the right. Not much of a case can be made, though, that federal courts were meant to be the instrument by which the right to own guns would be protected from the states. The Supreme Court has nonetheless struck down Chicago’s gun ban. That is good news for law-abiding Chicago citizens who want to keep up in the arms race with criminals, and one can certainly understand the temptation that faced the conservative justices: Why should the Second Amendment remain the only part of the Bill of Rights that the federal courts do not protect from the states? But this decision is very likely to have the unfortunate consequence of making the Supreme Court a legislative review board passing minute judgment on every gun regulation in the land. Conservatives ought not to cheer this expansion of the Court’s role as micro-manager of local government.
‐ The Obama administration is celebrating its greatest diplomatic victory to date: having pressured Beijing into revaluing China’s currency. This is a fine thing, with two caveats: 1) China is not going to revalue its currency; 2) China’s depressed currency is not a major problem for the U.S. economy. American politicians have complained loud and long that China’s manipulation of its currency makes its exports artificially cheap, exacerbating the U.S.-China trade imbalance. That’s true so far as it goes, which is not very: No amount of monkeying with the renminbi is going to bring the world’s low-wage work to the United States, and that’s a good thing — in the great global division of labor, the most grueling and scantly remunerated jobs will not go to Americans, who have better things to do. Being masters of the just-adequate gesture, China’s rulers probably will allow only a modest increase in the renminbi’s valuation, and so we’ll probably be having this conversation again in a few years, and it still will be a dead end: What ails the U.S. economy is not the policies being pursued in Beijing, but those being pursued in Washington, where the powers that be are strangling American-dominated industries, such as finance and chemicals, while threatening to disrupt the international trade that channels goods, capital, and innovation into our economy. China has an economic reckoning in its future, to be sure, but we should let Beijing sort out its own problems — sufficient unto the capital is the evil thereof.
‐ The housing market — remember that? — collapsed (again) in May upon the expiration of the Homebuyers Tax Credit. Perhaps you saw the ubiquitous ads featuring Uncle Sam handing a smiling young couple an envelope of cash to help them buy a new house? Those ads were misleading. For one thing, Uncle Sam should have been handing the envelope to the seller of the house, not the buyer: Prior to declining in May, housing prices spiked in April as buyers rushed to “cash in” before the credit expired, meaning that sellers pocketed most of the cash. For another, the ads did not show Uncle Sam taking the money out of the neighbor’s pocket before handing it to the smiling young couple: Taxpayers shelled out around $13 billion for the program, most of which, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, went to subsidize home purchases that would have happened anyway. If you see an old codger with a white beard and a star-spangled hat lurking around your neighborhood, do not be fooled: The guy’s a predatory lender.
#page#‐ The U.S. Department of Labor has a new program called We Can Help. In a promotional video on the department’s website our secretary of labor, Hilda Solis, assures us that “every worker in America has a right to be paid fairly, whether documented or not.” Her department will hire 250 new field investigators to make sure that standards are enforced. So, as unemployment nudges 10 percent and the numbers on the national-debt clock spin ever faster upwards, the administration is hiring new staff to ensure that illegal immigrants are not underpaid. This must surely be intended as a preface to the “20 million new Democratic voters!” amnesty the president’s party yearns for. It may backfire, though. Employers hire illegals because they are cheap and don’t complain. If the Labor Department enforces minimum-wage and overtime laws for illegals, and encourages them to complain, what then will be the advantage in hiring them? Perhaps fans of immigration-law enforcement should rally behind this program. We can help!
‐ The village of Port Chester, N.Y., is governed by a six-member board of trustees. Elections for the board were conducted on an at-large system — every voter looking at the same list of candidates — until 2006, when the Justice Department sued Port Chester under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. No, the village had not tried “to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” No citizens had been barred from voting, nor had unfair qualifications been imposed. What had aroused the Justice Department’s ire was that the wrong people were being elected. Half of Port Chester’s population is Hispanic, yet no Hispanic board members had won election. Town officials pointed out, with supporting data, that some large portion of their Hispanic population was ineligible to vote, not being citizens, and that voter turnout among the rest was low. Resistance was of course futile. A new, more complex voting system was imposed, along with the notoriously leaky “early voting” rule, and a Hispanic trustee has now been elected. Civil-rights law enforcement marches on, under increasingly bizarre interpretations of civil-rights law.
‐ We can’t imagine what President Obama was thinking when he nominated Connecticut district-court judge Robert Chatigny to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. If Chatigny were a character on Law & Order, his softness on ruthless criminals would seem overdone, his incompetency in handling the case of rapist and serial killer Michael Ross exaggerated. Ross was sentenced to death in 1987. Chatigny reviewed a motion on Ross’s behalf in 1992, while in private practice; he then presided over the case after Ross’s death warrant was signed in 2004, despite his conflict of interest. In the proceedings that followed, he tried to stay the execution twice (he was overruled both times), and claimed that Ross suffered from “sexual sadism” — which is, to Chatigny’s mind, “clearly a mitigating factor” that renders one undeserving of execution. When Ross decided to stop the appeals process and accept his fate, Chatigny called Ross’s attorney, instructing him to override his client’s request and threatening that otherwise “I’ll have your law license.” The Ross case was not an isolated incident: Chatigny has routinely given minimal sentences in child-pornography cases, and even banned public access to the sex-offenders registry created under the Connecticut version of Megan’s Law (he was overruled). The Obama administration needs to admit it made a mistake, withdraw the nomination, and try again.
‐ Six Senate Republicans have joined the Democrats in supporting the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, which will impose unions on the 21 states that currently do not offer collective bargaining to their public-safety workers. It’s no surprise to see Democrats cultivating the bureaucrats’ unions, but the Republicans supporting this power grab should think again. Government employees already are overpaid and overpensioned, and the bill would transform 21 states’ police officers and firefighters into the same kind of rapacious lobby that unionized teachers have become. Like teachers, the men and women who do this dangerous work are sympathetic and sometimes heroic figures — which is precisely why the union bosses choose to hide behind them. Lacking the evolutionary finesse that keeps most parasites from killing their host organisms, the American labor movement has driven the private firms that once employed its members offshore or into bankruptcy. Consequently, the only growth market remaining for the union movement is government. Republicans should be looking to limit this harmful influence on American public life, not to fortify it.
#page#‐ Conrad Black, the media magnate and National Review contributor, sits in a federal prison. But a recent Supreme Court decision has brought him a step closer to exoneration. In a unanimous opinion, the Court ruled that the amorphous “honest services” law federal prosecutors often use to bolster white-collar fraud cases was unduly applied in Black’s trial. The decision stops short of overturning Black’s conviction, but sends the case back to the appellate court that originally upheld it, with instructions to reconsider. Mr. Black deserves credit for keeping up the fight when others would long ago have surrendered.
‐ It is so hard to keep up with environmental correctness. We all know by now that plastic shopping bags are instruments of Satan. The California state assembly is actually mulling a bill to ban grocery, liquor, and drug stores from providing the evil things for free. The goal is to get shoppers to use reusable fabric bags, explains the Sacramento Bee. California today, the U.S. tomorrow! Hold on there just a minute, though. Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They found “a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled.” The researchers recommend government action: a public-education campaign to get people washing and disinfecting their bags after each use, and laws requiring printed instructions on them. Just leaving people alone has apparently not yet occurred to anyone.
‐ Within ten days of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, more than a dozen foreign countries and companies had conveyed offers of aid — skimmers, booms, technical expertise — to the U.S. State Department. On May 5, spokesman P. J. Crowley predicted that decisions on those offers would be made “in the next day or two.” What optimism; many of those offers are still, at this late date, “under consideration.” Among other hurdles, there is the Jones Act, a protectionist law from 1920 that restricts the use of foreign ships in U.S. waters (no foreign-flagged ships allowed, unless it’s for oil-spill cleanup, but then only if the on-scene coordinator determines that U.S. vessels can’t handle the job in an “adequate” and “timely manner,” and the foreign ships have to stay three miles offshore, and . . .). The Jones Act can be waived, as it was after Hurricane Katrina, but so far the administration has not waived it. And then there is the EPA, which has been most zealous about requiring that all deployed skimmers — which collect oily water, “skim” the oil, and pump out the water, usually with some oil left in — meet environmental standards for how many parts per million of oil remain in their water discharge. (If they can scoop up any oil, won’t we come out ahead?) All in all, it wasn’t until May 23 that BP was able to purchase three sweeping arms from the Dutch, a fraction of the original equipment offered. At least these bureaucrats are equal-opportunity foot draggers: The administration is neglecting plenty of domestic equipment, too. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires that every coastal region retain a certain number of skimmers and booms on hand, just in case. Having noticed these untapped resources, Adm. Thad Allen said on June 25 that “how we might free those up” is “a work in progress inside the administration right now.” Where have we heard that line before — and how long ago did we hear it?
‐ On the subject of oil spills, the EPA is ready to go beyond petroleum, and has set its beady administrative gaze upon an unexpected threat to the environment: “Milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil,” says a recent EPA finding. “Thus, containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Program rule.” What this means is that dairy farmers are now to be regulated under the same rules that apply to deep-sea oil rigs, and will be obliged to build emergency storage tanks and to develop oil-spill contingency plans, among other things. Leave it to the regulators to have a cow over a product so safe that we feed it to babies.
#page#‐ Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, made a pointed, even a bitter, comment to Robert Gates, his American counterpart: “A million and a half people are living in Gaza, but only one of them is really in need of humanitarian aid.” He meant Gilad Shalit, the young soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas four years ago. No one knows where he is — no one in the civilized world, that is. And the “world community” has done very little to demand his release. The world community is more focused on the terror detainees in U.S. custody — who have their Red Cross visits regularly. Shalit, however, sits somewhere in darkness, enduring who-knows-what. In observance of the four-year anniversary, Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in Damascus, said, “We aren’t satisfied with Shalit only, and, God willing, the freedom fighters will succeed in kidnapping other soldiers.” Who will, we predict, also be ignored.
‐ In a number of European cities, it is not safe for anyone recognizably Jewish to be out and about. An experiment in Amsterdam proves the point. Wearing their give-away skullcaps, two young men and a rabbi walked in the city’s predominantly Moroccan neighborhood. A video shot for television by accomplices shows them being insulted and even receiving a Nazi salute from one man. Last year, reported instances of anti-Semitism in the city rose from 17 to 41, allegedly a response to what’s happening in the Middle East. To deal with it, Mayor Lodewijk Asscher proposes to send out undercover policemen wearing skullcaps, to be known as “decoy Jews.” Amsterdam is where Baruch Spinoza was born and Rembrandt painted portraits of Jewish elders of his acquaintance. The phrase “decoy Jews,” the very idea, shows how the city has come down since those days.
‐ Eight years ago, it was an open question whether Colombian democracy would survive. Drug-fueled violence between Marxist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries seemed unstoppable. Large chunks of Colombian territory were outside government control. The leading conservative presidential hopeful, a short, bespectacled lawyer named Álvaro Uribe, was nearly assassinated on the campaign trail. But Uribe persevered, won election, and set about transforming his country. His policies were so successful in boosting security and rejuvenating economic growth that Colombians amended their constitution to let him pursue a second term, which he won easily. When supporters launched a referendum bid to allow a third Uribe term, the Colombian high court rejected it, and Uribe gracefully accepted the ruling. “One dream inspires me,” he said: “that the country betters its path, but does not change it.” He will leave office a national hero, and be replaced by his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who romped to victory in a June 20 runoff election. For all his achievements, Uribe never convinced American Democrats to end their disgraceful stonewalling of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade pact. We wish Santos better luck.
‐ Oliver Stone’s new documentary, South of the Border, is a shameful piece of propaganda extolling the virtues of Hugo Chávez and other Latin American left-wing populists. That much was sadly predictable. But we were a bit surprised to see it brutally dissected in the New York Times. Larry Rohter, who served as South American bureau chief for the Times from 1999 to 2007, noted that the film is riddled with “mistakes, misstatements, and missing details.” Perhaps most embarrassingly, Stone “consistently mispronounces Mr. Chávez’s name as Sha-VEZ instead of CHA-vez.” The conspiracy-minded director told Rohter, “People who are often demonized, like Nixon and Bush and Chávez and Castro, fascinate me.” Yet Stone’s fascination with the Venezuelan ruler is apparently quite shallow. The man he praises as a well-intentioned “underdog” has effectively created a military dictatorship, sponsored narcoterrorists (the Colombian FARC), allied his country with a brutal, anti-Semitic theocracy (Iran), and inflicted economic devastation on his people. The true story of “Bolivarian socialism” could be turned into a fine film — but Oliver Stone stopped making those a long time ago.
‐ Harvard’s commencement exercises had something outstanding this year: a salutatory address by Mary Anne Marks, a student from Queens, N.Y. She had majored in classics and English. And her address was entitled “The Heart of Harvard, Our Heart.” She gave it in Latin — memorized — and she delivered it in a wonderfully confident, even exuberant, style. We daresay WFB would have liked it, a lot. She pronounced her v’s as w’s — so that words containing “Harvard” always came out “Harward”-something. A great show. You can treat yourself to it on YouTube. We also note that Miss Marks is to become a Dominican nun. In multiple respects, she is obviously outstanding in her class.
#page#‐ At a London museum called Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience, the giant photo above the entrance shows a familiar image — Churchill decked out in a military uniform and making his famous V sign. But a closer look reveals that his mouth is twisted in an odd grin. A private Churchillian joke? No, just a clumsy job of airbrushing out Winnie’s ever-present cigar. Churchill thus becomes the latest victim of the U.K.’s army of health zealots, who evidently fear that the original image would create a new generation of hardened smokers. Did Britain’s servicemen sacrifice life and limb so their country could be transformed into a nation of fusspots? If so, America’s servicemen did too, since a statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt at his memorial in Washington has quite clearly had FDR’s trademark cigarette holder censored out. Joseph Stalin, who smoked a pipe and wielded a mean airbrush himself, would no doubt be amused; and decades from now, if we’re still around, we won’t be surprised to see a giant image of our current president glowering over the entrance to Barack Obama’s America in Default Experience and popping a Nicorette.
‐ After the recent shifts in college athletic conferences, the Big Ten, which used to have eleven members, now has twelve, but it’s still the Big Ten; the Big 12, formerly the Big 8, now has ten members, but it’s still the Big 12; and the Pac-10, formerly the Pac-8, now has twelve members, but it’s still the Pac-10. There must be some government accountants involved.
‐ From our country’s revolution, Americans learned the paramount importance of protecting individual rights. From their revolution, the French learned that the best answer to any problem is to form a committee and hold a demonstration. The most recent example came in the World Cup, where the French squad responded to a player’s dismissal by issuing a manifesto, announcing a strike, and making angry demands on high-ranking officials. Vive la liberté! In between, they played a little soccer, but unlike Robespierre, the team proved sadly unable to execute, with a defense as full of holes as a slice of Gruyère. Result: two losses and a draw, good for last place and a quick trip back to Paris, where the footballeurs can joyously hit the streets with their fellow rioters in this year’s annual renewal of France’s real national sport.
‐ What do you say when a five-year-old asks you for condoms? If you’re a school nurse in Provincetown, Mass., you say, “How many?” Under a policy recently adopted by the town’s school board, condoms will be given on request to any student in any grade, K through 12, and the parents will not be notified. While the superintendent has said that school officials never actually intended to give condoms to kindergartners, and has promised to review the policy, even condom-distribution programs that are restricted to older kids make little sense: They require recipients to know in advance when condoms will be needed, and how many; they have no effect on the not-inconsiderable number of teenagers who actually want to get pregnant; they undercut attempts to teach abstinence; and, most of all, if the students must have condoms, they can go to the drugstore and buy some themselves. Advocates point out that those who request condoms will be offered counseling, but this may conflict with their parents’ values — and with no notification, the parents will have no opportunity to counter it. The issue boils down to this: If your teenager went to a birthday party, and condoms were given out as favors, wouldn’t you think it was creepy? Why is it less so when a junior-high-school employee does it?
‐ Robert Byrd was the longest-serving member of the Senate (51 years) and of Congress (57 years). His life had its admirable passages — hardscrabble youth (butcher, welder, grocery-store owner); an education in the classics, self-administered. But so much of those long years was wasted on fustian and pork (mountainous West Virginia had both Navy and Coast Guard HQs, thanks to its senior senator). Then there was his more-than-dalliance with the Ku Klux Klan. (Was he a kleagle or a cyclops? Klan hierarchy is hard for non-pointy-heads to untangle.) It was good to have a senator who cared about the Senate’s prerogatives and history, good too to have one who could compare it with its Roman predecessor. But that senator was willing to ignore tradition whenever his party wanted something, preferably something expensive, and he only fortified the popular suspicion that senators as a class are insincere windbags. Dead at 92. R.I.P.
#page#‐ José Saramago was an intellectual typical of his times. Portuguese, self-educated, he was a life-long Communist. Since he did not attack the semi-fascist Salazar regime that ruled the country for much of his life, this cost him nothing. When the Communists had a successful revolution in 1974, he became a newspaper editor and started purging, only to be purged himself in the democratic takeover two years later. As a full-time writer, he found ingenious ways of promoting Communist themes, and made sure to offend the Catholic Church as loudly as possible. His prose style was opaque, and made more impenetrable still by omission of the usual punctuation. What with these literary puzzles, and his nationality and his politics as well, he was a natural winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, duly awarded to him in 1998. He took advantage of this recognition to travel widely to gatherings of like-minded ideologues, in order to condemn capitalism and globalization with unrepentant kill-’em-all zeal. He specialized in attacking Israel, causing a scandal by accusing it of fulfilling the doctrines of Judaism by turning the West Bank into Auschwitz. In the belief that his government did not properly appreciate him, he lived in exile in the Canary Islands, where he died aged 87. R.I.P.
‐ Home-grown American radicalism had its high tide in the early 1970s, when the rage of the radicals had been inflamed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, by police suppression of riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and by the May 1970 shootings of student demonstrators at Kent State. This was the heyday of domestic terrorists like Kathy Boudin, Bernardine Dohrn, and Bill Ayers (with whom Barack Obama has never been acquainted in any way whatsoever). Bombs were set off at the Capitol, the Pentagon, and other targets. One of the biggest bombs destroyed Sterling Hall, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in August 1970, killing a young physics researcher, Robert Fassnacht. The building housed a military-funded research unit. Two brothers from Madison, Karl and Dwight Armstrong, were the moving spirits behind the bombing. Dwight was arrested at last in 1977. He served three years, then settled down to a career of petty crime and cab driving. He died the other day, aged 58. Karl, who served seven years for the bombing, is still with us. Neither is on record with anything but highly qualified remorse for the bombing.
‐ When victory over Japan was announced, Aug. 14, 1945, the 27-year-old nurse, dressed in hospital whites, left her job at Doctors Hospital in Manhattan and went to Times Square, where an unknown sailor grabbed her, bent her back, and kissed her. Alfred Eisenstaedt caught the moment; Life made it an icon. There would have been kisses on every winning side, even in the Empire of the Sun, if it had maintained the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But this kiss — public, insouciant, good-natured — was what these victors — the republic, so hard to mobilize, so pitiless when roused, so easygoing afterward — chose to celebrate. Edith Shain, the nurse in question, has died at the age of 91. R.I.P. To her and the sailor, for the moment; to all their colleagues and comrades, at home and overseas, for the effort: Well done. To their descendants, real and spiritual: Do as well.
A Test of Resolve
We have defined insubordination down. When Douglas MacArthur was cashiered by President Truman in 1951, secretary of defense George Marshall explained to Congress that the dismissal resulted from “the wholly unprecedented position of a local theater commander publicly expressing his displeasure at and his disagreement with the foreign and military policy of the United States.” That puts Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s making a joke about Vice President Joe Biden in perspective.
But in his cringe-making Rolling Stone interview, McChrystal embarrassed himself, offended his civilian superiors and colleagues, and overstepped his bounds as a servant of the U.S. government. Obama was justified in firing him, and he made a good choice in replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus, who is technically taking a step down from head of CENTCOM to command our forces in Afghanistan.
The pick was a sign of seriousness on Obama’s part. Petraeus has unmatched credibility, and will presumably be in a strong position to resist any politicized rush to the exits in Afghanistan. But Obama has to do more.
#page#He has been soft pedaling his July 2011 deadline for the beginning of our withdrawal lately, but he needs to walk it back entirely. No one sitting on the fence in Afghanistan will risk joining our fight against the Taliban if he thinks we are leaving in a year. President Karzai has been hedging his bets partly because he doesn’t trust our staying power.
One reason that the surge succeeded in Iraq was that General Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker worked together seamlessly. McChrystal and his team were unwise to air publicly their discontents with the civilian team, but they were basically right: Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke and Amb. Karl Eikenberry have alienated Karzai and rendered themselves irrelevant at best. Meanwhile, politicos in the White House led by Vice President Biden never liked the surge and want to unwind it as soon as possible.
All of this goes to Obama’s ambiguity about the war, which is evident to friend and foe alike. He’ll need to find his inner George W. Bush, and project resolve.
Is Afghanistan winnable? It is probably no more or less so than Iraq in 2007. Just as in Iraq, we are allied with a weak, uncertain leader; we have the complex task of both fighting insurgents and restraining the predatory elements — many of them embedded in the government — that fuel the violence; and we confront an insurgency with indigenous roots.
Prevailing in this conflict will require shrewdness and patience — in other words, the talents of a General Petraeus and the steadfast support of a president above him. No one doubts the former.
Trust Us! Really!
Congress has named the Democrats’ financial-regulation bill after its chief authors, House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.). Considering the content of the bill these men have cobbled together, we couldn’t imagine a better name. The legislation is just as dedicated to a flawed understanding of the government’s regulatory capabilities as its namesakes.
Its primary failure is that it assumes that policymakers are able to predict financial crises, which are as severe as they are because they upend widely shared assumptions. It would establish a new Financial Stability Oversight Council tasked with seeing the next crisis coming. The folly of this council is that it creates the impression that the government has its eye on the ball, which breeds laziness and incaution in the banking sector and gives the bankers someone else to blame when things go wrong.
The bill would also create a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, housed in the Federal Reserve, with nearly unlimited rulemaking authority and a funding mechanism that appears to involve taking whatever money it finds lying around Fed headquarters. Prepare for the prohibition of any form of credit that an irresponsible borrower might use unwisely.
Congress could have done better. Limits on leverage, for instance, could have been designed in a way that effectively limited bank size, reducing the damage they could inflict on the economy if they failed. Breaking up the rating agencies’ government-sponsored oligopoly would have encouraged smarter risk assessment on Wall Street. A new approach to housing policy — starting with a plan for dealing with Fannie and Freddie — would have removed an enormous distortion in the economy that contributed to the crisis.
But the bill that Congress has produced did not include any of these measures. As this issue goes to press, the opposition of several Senate Republicans to a bank tax that was surreptitiously added to the bill has forced House and Senate negotiators to reconvene, but the bill isn’t likely to be improved. With or without the tax, the bill would renew the government’s commitment to a regulatory approach that failed to prevent the last financial crisis and arguably made it worse. We’re glad that Congress named this bill the Dodd-Frank Act. When the next crisis hits, it will be much easier to hold these men accountable.