Magazine | August 16, 2010, Issue

The Week

‐ Congress has an 11 percent job-approval rating. Who knew there were so many trial lawyers?

‐ Midterm elections are generally referenda on the party in power, and that is especially appropriate when the ruling party has as much power as the Democrats do and has deployed it with such sweeping unwisdom. Some Republicans believe that they therefore need no agenda of their own, which does not follow. An agenda, they fear, would give the Democrats an opening to attack them. Besides, they are not sure they can agree on a program. But a forceful critique of applied liberalism makes no sense without an alternative, and voters are bound to notice if Republicans all flounder about as pathetically as Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions, the heads of the Republican congressional campaign committees, did recently on the Sunday shows when asked to offer their ideas. Worse, Republicans will continue to flounder after the elections if they have not put forward any ideas. The country needs smarter and better policies: tax reform, spending cuts, a ban on federal funding of abortion . . . The list could go on, if Republicans remember that the point of politics is governance.

‐ A few Democrats are breaking ranks on taxes: Some moderates, and a few liberals from wealthy districts, do not think that tax rates should be allowed to rise while the economy remains weak. The Obama administration’s view is that Bush’s tax cuts on the middle class should be extended but tax cuts on high incomes, capital gains, and dividends should lapse. Even if we needed to hike taxes on the rich to cut the deficit — and spending cuts would be far preferable — this would be just about the most economically destructive way to do it. Republicans should hold firm while the Democrats negotiate with one another.

‐ Decades ago NR’s Joe Sobran called liberals “the hive.” They all swarmed at once, as if on cue. The JournoList scandal is an ethologist’s trove of bee behavior. Ezra Klein, Washington Post blogger, ran a listserv of several hundred journalists and academics, many of them overt lefties writing for The Nation or Mother Jones, but some — Jeffrey Toobin, Joe Klein — with mainstream-media outfits. The list was revealed, and shut down, weeks ago. But Tucker Carlson’s website, The Daily Caller, has been doling out threads from 2008, when the goal was to help Obama. What stands out? The unity of purpose, assumed, but also affirmed with ritual chest thumps. “We need to throw chairs now” (Michael Tomasky, Guardian). The witless wrath of online rhetoric. “Find a rightwinger’s [?] and smash it through a plate glass window” (Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent). The rare demurral. “I am really tired of defending the indefensible” (Katha Pollitt, The Nation). But quotation does not do JournoList justice. Read it all, and weep. Bees? No — flea circus.

‐ The outfit called WikiLeaks managed to tell us what we already knew about the Afghan War, while endangering our sources on the ground and revealing information about our tactics in the process. Access to the massive dump of classified documents was provided first to the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel so they could run simultaneous “scoops.” The last two of these left-leaning papers adopted the storyline favored by the anti-war founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who claims the documents support war-crimes charges (apparently we hunt down and kill top-level members of the Taliban). The document’s tales of the frustrations of the war from 2001 to 2009 aren’t new and haven’t been denied by military or civilian officials. They are precisely why President Obama ordered this year’s surge to reverse the war’s trajectory. Needless to say, the war effort remains beset by serious problems, including the duplicity of the Pakistani secret service that is highlighted in the leaks, but there was no need to splay sensitive documents across the Internet to establish it.

‐ Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) had a lot going for him: Forty years in the House; old-fashioned oily charm; and race, which guaranteed him a safe Harlem seat and protection from the shafts of unfriendly scrutiny. Two years ago, however, the magic lost its spell. Rangel had not paid taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic, nor declared hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets; he gave a tax break to an energy company whose CEO pledged a million bucks to a collegiate institute named for him; and he was found to be occupying four rent-controlled apartments (ordinary New Yorkers get only one — if they’re lucky enough to find it). For months, House Democrats have been negotiating to let him off easy, in return for an apology. He admits to sloppy bookkeeping regarding his villa and his assets but won’t concede anything about the fundraising or the apartments. “I’m in the kitchen,” he said at a Harlem press conference, “and I’m not walking out.” If he doesn’t, Democrats can look forward to his September trial before a bipartisan House ethics subcommittee — a fine warm-up for November.

#page#

The Deregulation That Wasn’t

As we approach the election, one of the key Democratic talking points is the assertion that the economic mess we are still in was caused by unwise Republican deregulation.

In the second presidential debate of 2008, Candidate Obama remarked, “[Regulation] is a fundamental difference that I have with Senator McCain. He believes in deregulation in every circumstance. That’s what we’ve been going through for the last eight years. It hasn’t worked, and we need fundamental change.”

Republicans, the story goes, are in bed with greedy capitalists and eager to pollute the earth, air, water, and financial markets if it helps their wealthy buddies turn a profit.

To be sure, Republican politicians since Ronald Reagan have often talked a good game when it comes to deregulation. But did they really deliver?

It is difficult to know exactly how large the cost of regulation is for society, but one useful measure is simply the amount of government resources dedicated to supporting the regulatory structure. An invaluable recent report by Susan Dudley and Melinda Warren (published by George Washington University and Washington University) tracks recent trends in regulation.

While the study considers many measures, the nearby chart focuses on one in particular, plotting the number of people employed by the main federal regulatory agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Energy, Labor, Transportation, Agriculture, and Commerce, as well as the Federal Reserve.

Over the past half century, the number of government regulators has more than tripled, from approximately 40,000 in 1960 to 124,000 in 2009. It increased at a fairly steady rate except for two notable periods. The number declined under Ronald Reagan, from 111,000 in 1980 to a trough of 95,000 in 1984. George H. W. Bush reversed all of Reagan’s progress, but then, surprisingly, Bill Clinton’s attention to reducing the deficit took a toll on regulators as well.

Source: Dudley & Warren, “A Decade Of Growth In The Regulators’ Budget: An Analysis Of The U.S. Budget For Fiscal Years 2010 And 2011.” Note: Does Not Include Department Of Homeland Security Employees.

Under George W. Bush, the number of regulators increased from 115,000 to 119,000, hardly a Reaganesque outcome. If we include homeland-security personnel, the number of regulators increased under George W. Bush from 176,000 to 249,000.

Economist George Stigler taught us that the problem with regulation is that regulators tend not to be successful, in part because they get captured by the firms they are supposed to be policing. An unsuccessful regulator can lead to a bigger crisis than might happen absent any regulation, because unwary private individuals are lulled into complacency.

Given that Bush handed Obama a regulatory work force that was at least 3.3 percent larger than the one he inherited from President Clinton, there is very little evidence that Bush did much to reduce intrusive regulation during his term. And given the growth in regulation over the period leading up to the financial crisis, it is also difficult to support the view that deregulation had anything to do with it. The next time you hear someone blame deregulation, your answer should be: “What deregulation?” 

 

#page#‐ The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) issued a tough rebuke of the Obama administration’s foreclosure-relief program, which has been funded using TARP money. The program is intended to help underwater homeowners stay in their homes by putting them in pilot programs to see if they can make lower payments, with the government subsidizing lenders for part of the loss. The problem is that lenders already have incentives to work out deals with borrowers who are good candidates for loan modifications. The administration’s program is helping the bad candidates stay for a few more months in homes they cannot afford while helping the lenders get a few extra payments they might not otherwise have gotten, but cannot prevent an inevitable correction in the housing market. The program “has not put an appreciable dent in foreclosure filings,” the IG’s report stated, and the American people are “being asked to shoulder an additional $50 billion in national debt without being told . . . how many people Treasury hopes to actually help.” Hmm . . . can we ask China for a loan modification?

‐ The new health-care law establishes federally funded high-risk pools that cover people whose preexisting conditions make it hard for them to get private insurance. Officials in Pennsylvania and New Mexico suggested that the pools would cover abortions. After pro-lifers objected, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement saying that abortion would be covered only in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life. Pro-abortion groups howled, pointing out that the text of the health-care law contains no such restriction. They are right about that; and until the law is modified or repealed, there is always a chance that the courts or the executive branch will fund abortions on a large scale in this or some other portion of Obamacare. The supposedly pro-life Democrats who voted for the law have chosen to spin it as a pro-life triumph rather than to try to fix it. They would rather keep the peace in their party than keep faith with their stated convictions.

‐ Unable to find the votes in the Senate for strict caps on carbon emissions, Senate majority leader Harry Reid has decided to drop the restrictions in favor of an energy strategy that always finds plenty of ready “ayes”: a grab-bag of subsidies for wind, solar, and biofuels, plus maybe a few tax hikes on Big Oil. Don’t celebrate just yet: For one thing, the Democrats could try again during a lame-duck session of Congress, even though it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the votes that weren’t there before November suddenly become available. For another, Obama’s EPA is moving ahead with unilateral restrictions on carbon emissions, a Supreme Court decision having cleared the way. We won’t be able to breathe free until a sufficiently empowered Congress can put an end to the EPA’s advances.

‐ The report of the Sustainable Defense Task Force empaneled by Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) is a defense-policy document masquerading as a budget document. Charged with finding savings in our behemoth national-security budget, the committee instead has recommended sweeping changes in our military posture and repackaged them as penny-pinching measures. Among the report’s suggestions: $1 trillion in total military-spending cuts, $113.5 billion in savings from diminishing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, $147 billion in savings from reversing the growth in the Army and Marine Corps that accompanied the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, $126.6 billion in savings from reducing the size of the Navy’s fleet. Missile defense is in the crosshairs as well — a reliable sign of ideological bias (the economic value of removing the possibility of a missile strike on New York City, Washington, or Los Angeles considerably exceeds the cost of implementing appropriate defenses). It may be the case that the naval fleet should be reduced, or that we have too many Marines — but those are broad strategic questions that must be considered on their own merits, not sneaked in under the pretense of budget-balancing.

#page#‐ We didn’t have to wait long to see the first unintended consequence of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Democrats’ financial-regulation overhaul. Due to a last-minute change in the laws governing legal liability for the ratings agencies, bond raters such as Moody’s and Fitch asked bond issuers not to use their ratings until they got a “better understanding” of their legal exposure. This shut down the bond markets until the SEC was forced to temporarily suspend requirements that all bond offerings come packaged with credit ratings. “No one will know until this is actually in place how it works,” Sen. Chris Dodd famously said of the bill that bears his name. That is one thing he got right.

‐ The Justice Department quietly announced that there would be no prosecutions based on President Bush’s firing of eight district U.S. attorneys. This should be no surprise. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, who requires no cause to dismiss them. These firings, however, were relentlessly demagogued by Democrats and their media helpers, who conveniently forgot that, in one fell swoop, President Clinton had fired almost all sitting U.S. attorneys — an unabashed exercise in partisan patronage. The Bush Justice Department turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators and made top officials available for interview and testimony. Yet there was no calming the ginned-up furor, which prompted multiple investigations, baseless allegations that Justice had been “politicized,” and the resignation of overmatched attorney general Alberto Gonzales, whose cluelessness made his mishandling of the controversy easy to portray as sinister. With Democrats now controlling the White House, the Justice Department has become better known for stonewalling on its actual politicizing of enforcement. Somehow, though, lawmakers have lost interest in their vaunted oversight function. Funny how that happens.

‐ Vice President Biden says the problem with the stimulus is that it wasn’t big enough — and the Republicans are to blame. In support of this proposition, he cites “Nobel laureates like Paul Krugman, who continues to argue it was too small.” We’re sure Nobel laureates Barack Obama, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and maybe even the Dalai Lama agree, and the evidence is certainly clear-cut: Amount of stimulus, $862 billion; result, nothing much; conclusion, stimulus too small. The beauty of this theory is that it works equally well with any number. That’s damn fine economics; but regarding who gets the blame for Congress’s stinginess, Biden explains that “in order to get what we got passed, we had to find Republican votes.” It’s just like this administration to use the three Republican votes they did attract as evidence of “bipartisan support,” then turn around and blame them for everything that’s wrong with the economy.

‐ One of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats is open, and real-estate billionaire Jeff Greene is running in the late-August Democratic primary. Recent news out of Belize may have cost him the green vote. Belize has a fine, carefully conserved coral reef; Jeff Greene has a large luxury yacht. Five years ago the yacht — Greene not aboard — dropped anchor on the reef, causing much damage, then sailed away without making restitution. Belize claims $1.87 million in fines and damages. In other billionaire-Democrat-yacht news, John Kerry, senior senator from Massachusetts, has been docking his own $7 million luxury sloop in Rhode Island to avoid nearly half a million in Bay State taxes. That’s a pittance for this plutocrat, and Kerry eventually offered to pay it — after initial responses that were evasive and testy. Don’t they know who he is?

#page#‐ Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren is apparently a very good teacher. Last year, she won the law school’s teaching award for the second time in her career. Her scholarship on bankruptcy has won her acclaim among liberals and made her a favorite to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But her positions on consumer finance indicate that putting her in charge of this agency would be a dangerous thing to do. Warren holds the view that Americans need to be protected from themselves when it comes to borrowing money, and we have every reason to think she would move swiftly to curtail many forms of credit that are welfare-enhancing when used responsibly. In advocating the new agency, Warren famously compared certain kinds of variable-rate loans to defective toasters, inviting the obvious reply that a defective toaster is always defective whereas a variable-rate loan blows up only if used to gamble on the housing market. Warren should stick to the classroom, where her misguided ideas can do less damage.

‐ The “Cordoba Initiative” would erect a $100 million mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, where nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on 9/11. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the project’s face, says it’s about interfaith tolerance. Cordoba, though, was the caliphate that marked its 711 a.d. conquest of Spain by converting an ancient church into a huge mosque complex. Rauf, who urges America to become more sharia-compliant, wrote a 2004 book called What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America — except overseas, where it was provocatively titled A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. Sometimes called “stealth jihad,” dawa is the aggressive promotion of Islam by which influential Islamists promise to “conquer America.” Rauf’s book was reissued by two American arms of the Muslim Brotherhood: the Islamic Society of North America and the International Institute of Islamic Thought. The Brotherhood was at the center of the government’s recent prosecution of a charitable front, the Holy Land Foundation, for sending millions of dollars to Hamas. It identified ISNA (which housed and directly funded Holy Land) and IIIT as participants in its “grand jihad” aimed at “destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house.” The Ground Zero mosque is a very bad idea.

‐ Lynne Stewart, the 69-year-old radical lawyer, was convicted in 2005 for material support to terrorism, specifically, for helping her former client, Omar Abdel Rahman (the notorious “blind sheikh” behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), pass directions to his Egyptian terrorist organization from jail. Though she was facing 30 years in prison, a sympathetic Manhattan federal judge absurdly sentenced her to less than 30 months, and added insult to injury by permitting her to remain free on bail for years while she appealed — even though, apart from the ludicrously light sentence, the case presented no serious issues. In 2009, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals finally ordered her to prison and, more important, ordered the trial judge to reconsider the sentence. He has now imposed a ten-year term. It is significantly less than what the government was seeking, but at least it approximates justice for her crimes.

‐ Back in April, following an episode of South Park that depicted the prophet Mohammed in a bear costume, Virginia resident Zachary Adam Chesser suggested, on the website Revolution Muslim, that the cartoon series’s creators should fear for their lives. Coming from Chesser, it turns out, this may have been no idle threat: On July 10, he was detained while trying to board a plane to Uganda and charged with providing material support to al-Shabaab, a terrorist group based in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda. We of course hope that the federal government gets to the bottom of Chesser’s case, and that it tries, within the confines of the law, to press him for any important information he has. The arrest underscores the bravery of the South Park team in confronting Islamic radicalism — though we cannot say the same for the show’s cable network, Comedy Central, which censored a subsequent episode in the wake of the threat.

#page#‐ D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee has fired 241 teachers, 165 of them for being rated “ineffective” under DCPS’s brand-new teacher-evaluation system. For perspective: In 2006, the year before Rhee took over, the number of DCPS teachers fired for incompetence was zero. The Washington Teachers’ Union is suing, of course, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has condemned Rhee for “adhering to the destructive cycle of ‘fire, hire, repeat.’” Here’s hoping she does adhere to it, with emphasis on repeat.

‐ Arizona passed a law telling police to check the identification of suspected illegal aliens. Mexico objected. The Obama administration thinks this should be enough for a judge to throw out the Arizona law on grounds that it interferes with the executive branch’s ability to make foreign policy. This contention must rank high on the list of the perversities of the federal lawsuit against Arizona. If taken seriously, it would give foreign powers a veto over our immigration laws. For the original sinner here is not Arizona, but the United States Congress, which passed the laws in the first place that Arizona is only trying to help enforce (over the fierce resistance of the federal government, bizarrely enough). If the Obama administration is so fearful of offending Presidente Calderón, it can petition Congress to revise immigration law in a more liberal direction. In the meantime, Phoenix needn’t take dictation from Mexico City.

‐ In the past several years, many immigration restrictionists have embraced the idea of “attrition through enforcement.” If we simply enforce our immigration laws, the logic goes, it will be hard for illegals to live a normal life here, and they’ll head back home, no “mass deportation” needed. Arizona’s new law — which allows police officers to demand immigration paperwork in the course of a lawful stop or arrest, and makes it illegal for day laborers to solicit work from roads and sidewalks if doing so slows down traffic — provides some evidence that this strategy could work: Even before the law went into effect, illegal immigrants began to leave the state. Of course, many of those who left simply went to other states, and it might be harder to get them to leave the country entirely. But this does show that law enforcement affects behavior. We should try it on a nationwide scale.

‐ The DREAM Act, reintroduced in Congress last year and currently languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, provides a path to amnesty for persons illegally resident in the U.S. who came here as minors, provided they have graduated from high school and are of good moral character. Trying to get some movement on the bill, several hundred activists showed up on Capitol Hill the other day. Two dozen of them squatted in the Hart Senate Office Building. Asked to move, they refused and were arrested. All were illegal immigrants, and proudly declared the fact in hopes of attracting the attentions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE of course did nothing. The squatters were given court-appearance dates, then released. Their spokesman told the press they were disappointed not to have been turned over to federal officials because it would have dramatized their actions. We share the disappointment, though for different reasons.

‐ The Democrats are waging a scorched-earth campaign against jobs for teenagers. The effects of the 2007–09 increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 are being felt, and here’s the shocking new development in economics: Demand curves still slope downward. As the price of labor has gone up, employment has gone down among those most likely to earn the minimum wage: teenagers seeking part-time jobs. Youth unemployment, which had been going down for years, is up, to 25 percent. Researchers at the Employment Policies Institute calculate that the hike in the federal minimum wage has reduced teen employment by 6.9 percent in those states where the federal minimum exceeds the state minimum. Milton Friedman, who understood the effects of an artificial wage floor on marginal workers, called the minimum wage the “most anti-black law on the statute books” — a fact illustrated by the current unemployment rate for black youths: 45 percent. The real value of a first entry-level job isn’t the wages earned by flipping burgers for a summer, but the experience of being in the work force and developing needful skills. Which is to say, the real value of a first job is a second job. A higher minimum wage means that first summer job never happens for too many young Americans.

#page#‐ Sen. James Webb (D., Va.) wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege,” that places him alongside the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a racial heretic in his party. “Present-day diversity programs,” Webb argues, have “expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.” Webb argues that the twin curses of slavery and Jim Crow still justify affirmative action for black Americans. But recent non-white immigrants get help they do not need. At the end of the last century, over 60 percent of young Chinese- and Indian-Americans had college degrees, as compared with less than 20 percent of white Baptists. “Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.” The clause before the comma will spare Webb a primary challenge in 2012. But the rest of the sentence still leaves him in Coventry.

‐ When the House Natural Resources Committee considered an amendment to end the Gulf drilling moratorium, 22 representatives voted in favor and 21 voted against. Yet the amendment failed — because five delegates, representing assorted U.S. territories, voted no. (Delegates can vote in committees but not on a bill’s final passage.) Of the five, one represents Puerto Rico, which, as a Caribbean island with 4 million people, perhaps deserves some voice in the matter. But the others were from Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a combined population short of 500,000. That’s considerably fewer than a congressional district — yet these four delegates cast deciding votes on a vital question of national policy. The practice of giving micro-territories a voice in Congress is questionable in any case, since it is essentially representation without taxation; but having four members on one committee from flyspecks that amount to Democratic pocket boroughs, each with a full vote, makes a joke of the strict democracy that the House of Representatives is supposed to stand for.

‐ The southern-California town of Bell has a median household income of $40,000, compared with a statewide figure of $61,000. There was therefore general astonishment when the Los Angeles Times revealed the annual salaries paid to municipal officials in Bell: $787,637 to the city manager, $376,288 to the assistant manager, $457,000 to the police chief. Most city-council members were paid $100,000 or more for their part-time positions. State attorney general Jerry Brown (who is running for governor) has launched a full investigation, with prosecutions threatened. The highest-paid officials have resigned. All well and good; but how long has this been going on without the citizens of Bell noticing? How could they not have noticed?

‐ Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, is a cheeky freshman congressman. In January, during a Republican retreat in Baltimore, at which the president was the guest of honor, he confronted Obama for some broken promises: no lobbyists in senior administration jobs, for example. And he has now taken a stand against sports resolutions: resolutions honoring athletes and institutions for various achievements or milestones. Congress was honoring the Saratoga race course in New York at the start of its 142nd season. And Chaffetz said, in effect, Oh, come on. “It’s an absolute embarrassment,” he declared. What about the kids in the gallery? If they went back home and were asked whether Congress had debated war and peace, taxation and debt, they would have to reply, “Oh, no, they were honoring a race course.” Chaffetz does not like frivolous bills of any type. But he is taking a stand on sports resolutions because athletes already get “more than their fair share of accolades.” We would rather have Congress honor athletes and race courses than do many of the things they do. But we grin at the freshman’s cheek.

#page#‐ The chilly little welfare state to our north, Canada, is running relatively tiny deficits, having engaged only in relatively sober stimulus measures. To no one’s great surprise, Canada’s freedom from heavy government debt and its comparatively liberal economic environment (the Heritage Foundation now ranks its economy as more free than that of the United States) have enabled a much stronger recovery — to the extent that Canada, which has about one-tenth as many people as the United States, added 10,000 more jobs in June: 93,200 to our 83,000. Canada has recovered 97 percent of the jobs lost in the recent economic turmoil. Say what you like about aping the European welfare states, the Canadians do a better job of it than do Obama, Pelosi, and Reid.

‐ The new Tory-LibDem government in Britain is getting written up as though it had disproven the conservative skeptics with its aggressive budget-cutting. Was it Prime Minister David Cameron or his Iron Chancellor George Osborne who said savagely that the cuts imposed by the Con-Lib coalition would be “deeper and tougher” even than those imposed by Margaret Thatcher? Actually it was neither; the words are those of Alistair Darling, the finance minister in the recent Labour government — about his own pre-election budget cuts in March this year. The clean little truth that all parties would like to deny is that the most of the Cameron government cuts are inherited from its Labour predecessor. As Jeremy Warner pointed out in the Daily Telegraph: “Even the apparently shocking 25pc cut pencilled in for un-protected departmental spending is not quite as bad as it looks. . . . The cut implied by Alistair Darling’s last Budget was already 20pc. In the scale of things, an extra 5pc over five years is neither here nor there.” The explanation for this hidden all-party consensus is TINA. Or, as Lady Thatcher used to say: “There Is No Alternative.” Britain’s national debt stands currently at 62.2 percent of GDP and is predicted to rise above 70 percent by 2014–15. In other words the government is still overspending — it’s merely overspending less. The markets demand restraint. Yet the price for ameliorating a crisis caused entirely by such overspending is a package in which, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, tax hikes provide 40 percent of the ready money. Unless, of course, the spending cuts don’t materialize — in which case tax hikes will contribute more. The tax hikes, incidentally, include a sharp rise in the capital-gains tax that will hit Britain’s already-reeling savers, small investors, and, er, Tory voters. Cameron justified this on the grounds that investing in second homes does not contribute much to the economy. Reports of Tory savagery are, alas, vastly exaggerated.

‐ President Obama’s Chicago friend, former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, has joined an array of leftists and Islamists in organizing another “peace flotilla” aimed at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The beneficiary would be Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules the territory Israel ceded in 2005 — assured that doing so would promote peace, though the cession has instead encouraged Hamas to continue its jihad. In late May, a similar flotilla was launched by a Turkey-based group tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Several of its “peace activists,” armed for hand-to-hand combat, carried out a premeditated attack on the Israeli force that denied them passage, provoking a lethal response in which nine were killed. A voyage launched from the U.S., however, could violate several American laws, including those barring material support to terrorist organizations and the furnishing of a vessel to cruise against a country with which the U.S. is at peace. Khalidi & Co. appear confident that they are immune from enforcement actions by the Obama Justice Department: The ship for the planned fall voyage is to be named The Audacity of Hope.

#page#‐ Who’s that in black leather, with sunglasses and fingerless gloves, revving up at a rally on his Harley-Davidson trike and boasting about it? Why, it’s Vladimir Putin, prime minister of Russia, in the Ukrainian city of Sebastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet likes to anchor. In case anyone missed the point that you don’t mess with him and his gang, that same day he revealed that he had met the ten spies just expelled from the United States. Speaking as a former colonel in the KGB, he opined that they had had a tough life undercover, living in New York, learning perfect English, passing themselves off as realtors, and all for the motherland’s benefit. Someone had betrayed them, and traitors finish in a ditch: “The special services live under their own laws, and everyone knows what they are.” Home again, the spies were guaranteed bright and interesting lives. Everyone celebrated the occasion by singing songs, including one dating from the 1960s, “What Motherland Begins With.” This is known as the unofficial anthem of Russian intelligence officers. Nostalgia for the Soviet Union in which he grew up is driving Putin to his version of the old Cult of Personality.

‐ Hugo Chávez, strongman of Venezuela, has a thing for Simón Bolívar, Libertador of Latin America. He named his party the Bolivarian Movement. In power, he changed the name of Venezuela to include “Bolivarian Republic.” He has often left a chair empty at cabinet meetings, for Bolívar’s spirit. Etc. And now he has dug him up. Thor Halvorssen, president of the New York–based Human Rights Foundation and a descendant of Bolívar, explained all this in a piece for the Washington Post. “Shortly after midnight on July 16,” Chávez “presided at the exhumation of” Bolívar’s remains. Bits and pieces were removed for “testing.” Chávez implied to the nation that he and Bolívar were one: that he himself was the very reincarnation of Bolívar. Then the remains were reburied, in a new coffin with the Chávez government’s seal. As Halvorssen emphasized, Bolívar was an admirer of the American Founders and Adam Smith. We trust that the Libertador is rolling over in his (desecrated) grave.

‐ Remember the pet rock? Well, meet the politically incorrect rock. That would be serpentine, a greenish magnesium silicate. Serpentine is abundant in California, so much so that in 1965 it was designated the State Rock. Now, alas, serpentine has fallen into disfavor. Some varieties contain traces of asbestos, whose microscopic fibers cause lethal lung diseases when inhaled. Thus anyone suffering one of those diseases who might have had contact with serpentine — which is to say, well-nigh anyone in California — has a claim in law. Bank countertops, for example, are often made from polished serpentine, because its color resembles that of paper money. Which is exactly what trial lawyers want to get from the banks. With their backing, Democratic legislator Gloria Romero has a bill before the state senate to strip serpentine of its title. Geologists have rallied to serpentine’s defense. They don’t stand a chance.

‐ Conrad Black, once a media lord with a string of great newspapers including the Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times, is in the fight of his life, and he’s winning. Recent judgments in high courts mean that Black’s convictions for fraud have been set aside, and the lower court in Chicago responsible for his massive sentence of six and a half years must reconsider the case. In a Florida jail since March 2008, he’s out on a $2 million bail bond guaranteed by Roger Hertog, the New York financier and philanthropist. A smiling and self-confident Black tells everyone within earshot that he’s been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Prosecutors and their allies in the media were out to cut him down because he was a flamboyant conservative and capitalist. (He still writes for NRO.) He sees himself as an individual with an obligation to confront overweening power that the state simply took for itself. It’s unlikely but conceivable that the lower court might uphold his conviction, so his troubles are not yet over. But some of those who delighted in his conviction are already offering nervous apologies.

#page#‐ Daniel Schorr was always celebrated as a “journalist’s journalist,” a fearless, principled man who never hesitated to “speak truth to power.” He often appeared more a left-wing partisan: an I. F. Stone in establishment posts. For 23 years, he worked at CBS News, starting out as one of “Murrow’s boys.” A key moment in his life occurred during the Nixon years, when he landed on that president’s “enemies list.” Speaking to an interviewer last year, he said that he considered his presence on that list a “greater tribute” than his three Emmy awards. In the last 25 years of his life, he was senior news analyst for National Public Radio, fitting in perfectly. Conservatives of a certain vintage may remember him for a very low blow. In 1964, while working for CBS, he filed a report associating Barry Goldwater, then running for president, with Nazi holdovers in Bavaria. The report was false from top to bottom. Goldwater, disgusted beyond belief, banned CBS reporters from his campaign. A journalist’s journalist indeed, Schorr has died at 93. R.I.P.

POLITICS

Racial Charade

Shirley Sherrod’s more than 15 minutes of fame began when Andrew Breitbart’s website, Big Government, released a clip of her addressing an NAACP meeting. Sherrod worked for the Department of Agriculture; she was telling a story, from her pre-government career, about a white farmer in Georgia who came to her asking for help. Find a white lawyer, she thought. Members of her audience could be heard expressing approval. The blogs started buzzing, and the Ag Department asked her to resign. In the media flash flood that followed, everyone in political America (which is not quite America) knew what Shirley Sherrod had said.

Except she had not said it. In her actual talk Sherrod went on to explain that poor farmers, white and black, need help against their rich oppressors. So she is a class warrior, but not a race warrior.

Breitbart ran with the story out of a belief that liberals and leftists, including the NAACP, use charges of racism to stigmatize Barack Obama’s critics. Indeed they do. One of the tidbits of JournoList was an inflamed Spencer Ackerman, back in 2008, urging his colleagues to “take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.” Black congressmen made the charge this spring against tea-party protesters on Capitol Hill who allegedly called them the N-word. In this era of ubiquitous cellphones, not one video or audio recording of such an incident has surfaced. Breitbart has offered $100,000 for one; he is still waiting. Early in July the NAACP’s annual convention in Kansas City passed a when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife resolution asking the tea party to “repudiate the racist element and activities” within it. Breitbart wanted to hoist the racist-baiters on their own petard.

None of this justified airing the clipped clipping. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “It seems there is no God.” But he wrote a lot of other things that greatly qualified that statement. To quote it alone would be a distortion, even if the purpose were to show Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins applauding.

Mark Williams, a tea-party activist, also wanted to strike back at the NAACP. He blogged a mock letter from the NAACP to Abraham Lincoln, intending to satirize the politics of grievance and handouts. Instead, it exposed Williams’s tin ear and ham hands. “How will we coloreds ever get a wide-screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?” The tea party rightly bounced Williams from its ranks.

The tea party’s critics are less, well, discriminating; Sherrod turned from victim to victimizer, accusing Breitbart of nostalgia for slavery. The administration’s apologists blamed Fox News for inspiring her dismissal, even though it hardly covered the story until after she had been fired.

The truth is that Sherrod was thrown under the bus by Obama, joining the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s racist mentor, and Van Jones, the Communist 9/11 truther. Unlike them, she was innocent of the particular charge against her. Did the Obama administration skip to eject her because it knows it has a penumbra of extremists and crackpots, who trouble it only when they become inconveniently conspicuous?

The post-racial presidency has been anything but. Obama’s race, always a central part of his appeal, bulks larger as his policies falter. It will be a long two and a half years.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Sheriff McCain

As his fellow incumbents drown in a tea-party wave, Sen. John McCain somehow remains afloat. On August 24, McCain squares off against J. D. Hayworth, a former congressman, in Arizona’s ...

Features

Politics & Policy

A Clash of Opposites

Not long ago, two friends were talking about the current election season. Both of them are conservative, but one especially dislikes the McCain-Feingold law (which restricted campaign finance and political ...
Politics & Policy

Ban the Burqa

Istanbul – I moved here five years ago. In the beginning, I was sympathetic to the argument that Turkey’s ban on headscarves in universities and public institutions was grossly discriminatory. I spoke ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

The Drive to Create

In a castle in Newcastle, complete with reflecting pool, dappled woods nooked with marble sculptures, and pastures lowing with cattle, Matt Ridley, dean of British science writers and author of ...
The Straggler

On Thy Silver Wheels

The recent political ructions over the extension of unemployment benefits brought Norman Tebbit to my mind. Tebbit was Margaret Thatcher’s secretary of state for employment in the early 1980s. There ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

Acceptable Risk? In his article “Preferred Risk” (July 5), Iain Murray states that “the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which encourages building in high-risk areas, [exposes] taxpayers to huge liabilities.” I ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Congress has an 11 percent job-approval rating. Who knew there were so many trial lawyers? ‐ Midterm elections are generally referenda on the party in power, and that is especially ...
The Long View

Therapist’s Notes

Patient: Andrew Breitbart First Session: Therapist greets patient, who arrives with three BlackBerrys. Patient is pleasant and good-humored, seems aware of his surroundings, is able to carry on simple transactional conversations. Patient, ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

ADVERTISEMENT FOR “LET’S PRAY” Choreographed by Thandumzi Moyakhe, performed by Nqaba Mafilika and Bathembu Myira, Johannesburg, South Africa They dance there with outrageous zest, Kneeling and swaying without rest, White crosses painted on their chests. Hour after ...
Athwart

Captain Post-America

You can imagine the fist-pumping and broad grins that went around Hollywood when it was announced they were making a movie about Captain America — and the subsequent dismay when ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Blackface Party

I must have missed something: Was there some kind of all-hands white-people meeting at which we voted to kick the Democrats out? Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Dolezal, Beto O’Rourke — what’s up with all the ethnic play-acting? Isn’t cultural appropriation supposed to be a bad thing among progressives? Isn’t ... Read More
Film & TV

A Right-Wing Halloween

‘The world is not a dark and evil place,” insists an exasperated woman played by Judy Greer in Halloween. “It’s full of love and understanding!” I put the question to the class: Is she right? In the new film (not a reboot but a sequel that occurs 40 years after the events in the 1978 original and ... Read More