‐ Newt Gingrich’s aides seem to be leaving him for a younger, more attractive candidate.
‐ American forces have routed the Taliban in its traditional strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south over the last year. This is the fruit of the surge of 30,000 additional troops that President Obama ordered in 2009. Astonishingly, the White House is now debating whether to hand these gains back to the Taliban with a large, premature troop withdrawal beginning next month. Obama will probably feel obliged to bring out some troops, since he foolishly promised to begin a drawdown in July 2011. But it would be a mistake to make it more than symbolic. The Taliban is trying to fight its way back, with little success so far. If we repel them, we will have a chance to consolidate our gains. The public is understandably fatigued with the war. As critics point out, it has lasted ten years. But for much of that period we were not heavily engaged. The current counterinsurgency campaign got fully under way only last year. Afghanistan will always be a mess of a country. But it need not be governed or partially controlled by Islamic militants allied with international terrorists. President Obama should see through what he began.
‐ Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum announced their bids for the Republican presidential nomination. Romney is generally considered the frontrunner, and even his worst critics acknowledge that he is an intelligent, capable, and determined man. But the sincerity of his convictions is widely doubted; and the more attention conservatives have paid to the health-care law he signed when he was governor of Massachusetts, the less they have liked it. Santorum, in his two terms as a senator from Pennsylvania, combined the political courage of an outsider with the savvy of an insider. But his self-confidence sometimes crossed the line into brashness, and in the Republican nadir of 2006 he lost reelection by a margin unusually large for an incumbent. Let the best man, or woman, beat Obama.
‐ The tires came off Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign — along with the chassis, the doors, and the rumble seat, as half a dozen top aides quit, followed by another half dozen Iowa staff. It was a quarrel over ways and means: Gingrich says he wants to run a “solutions-oriented campaign” (i.e., an ideas gusher); the ex-aides wanted boots on the ground too. N.B.: Two of the exes, Dave Carney and Rob Johnson, have worked for Texas governor Rick Perry, who may run himself. Campaign professionals are a self-important lot, and it would be fun to see them shown up. But they rightly demand a politician who takes his candidacy seriously enough to commit to the necessary grind, and to make no more than the usual number of gaffes. Newt Gingrich is a considerable figure in American political history, and still worth listening to. But he may be too erratic to run for president, let alone to hold the office.
‐ Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) was an aggressive liberal, like his mentor, Sen. Charles Schumer, but with an immature, uncontrolled edge: He thought yelling on the House floor was rhetorically forceful. The Twitter scandal that engulfed him showed him to be a restless pervert, trolling social media for admirers and sending them pictures of what were once called private parts. He lied, directly to his colleagues, in bulk to the left-wing bloggers and journalists (Kossacks, Chris Matthews) who defended him. He lied to his wife, Huma Abedin, pregnant with their child. Every subsequent gesture of contrition or reform, from partially admitting his guilt to announcing that he would seek treatment, seems bogus: the latest maneuver of a wretch clinging to a job that is his only justification for being. But Weiner’s self-immolation also casts a garish light on the media he used to make himself prominent, and to impress chicks. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee,” says Psalm 90, “our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” But that is the Almighty’s countenance, not the Tweetdeck’s or ours. Anthony Weiner brought his travail on himself, but not even he quite deserves his fate.
#page#‐ John Edwards was indicted for using illegal campaign contributions to hide Rielle Hunter, his pregnant mistress, during his 2008 presidential primary bid. Edwards funneled $925,000 from Bunny Mellon, a wealthy heiress, and Fred Baron, his campaign’s finance chairman, to keep Hunter incognito — not a typical campaign expense. Still, several experts opined that prosecuting Edwards under the campaign-finance laws is a stretch; surely the gifts of his supporters more blatantly violated the tax laws (did Mrs. Mellon declare “mistress protection” on her long form?). Meanwhile Edwards’s nemesis, the National Enquirer, reports that his late wife, Elizabeth, made a deathbed revenge video detailing her husband’s affair and cover-up. What a trail of destruction and self-destruction the Edwardses left in their wake. And to think that John Edwards came within one state of being John Kerry’s vice president in 2004.
‐ Republicans “want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally — and very transparently — block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates,” says Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Allow us a lesson in proper usage: Representative Wasserman Schultz literally doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
‐ Sarah Palin once was flummoxed when asked which newspapers and magazines she prefers. Michele Bachmann, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, learned from that example: Asked by the Wall Street Journal about her economic reading, the gentlelady from Minnesota said she was bringing along Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action and Bureaucracy to the beach this summer. Other thinkers who make the Bachmann cut are Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams. Michele Bachmann may not be elected president of the United States, but it would be a tragedy if she failed to become president of the congressional book club.
‐ Reporters converged on Juneau to inspect 24,199 pages of e-mails that Sarah Palin wrote as governor, released by the state in response to media requests. Preliminary eyeballing revealed nothing damaging to Palin and, indeed, almost nothing of any significance whatever. There was, however, the full text of an e-mail she sent to friends before the birth of her youngest child, Trig, written in the form of a letter from God: “I put the idea in your hearts that his name should be ‘Trig,’ because it’s so fitting, with two Norse meanings: ‘True’ and ‘Brave Victory.’ . . . He’ll show you what ‘true, brave victory’ really means as those who love him will think less about self and focus less on what the world tells you is ‘normal’ or ‘perfect.’” Look past the media overlay of fascination and loathing, and you can see someone human, interesting, and in this case altogether admirable.
‐ In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has made a national name for himself, and become a conservative hero, by confronting budgetary reality. He has called for sacrifice — necessary and painful sacrifice — from one and all. Recently, he took a state helicopter to watch his son’s baseball game. Democrats are having a field day, of course, saying that the governor’s attitude is “Do as I say.” The Christie camp initially pointed out that the helicopter ride cost taxpayers absolutely nothing: because such flights count as pilot training. Still, it looked bad. He was right to reimburse the state. Now keep on cutting.
‐ Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, says that if elected president he will hire Muslims only if they take an oath of loyalty. This position may not formally violate the Constitution’s ban on religious tests for office, but it surely contradicts its spirit. It is also naïve about the Islamist threat. Asking people whether they wish to overthrow the government and impose an alien system of law is not the professionally recommended approach to ferreting out sleeper agents. “This nation is under attack constantly by people who want to kill all of us, so I’m going to take extra precaution,” Cain says. If presidential candidates took some precaution, they would say fewer foolish things.
‐ In a speech at Chrysler’s Toledo plant celebrating his administration’s “successful” bailout of the company, the president invoked the multiplier effect by pointing out that saving the plant had helped Chet’s Restaurant, a Toledo institution since the 1920s, to stay open. A few days later, Chet’s announced that it was closing; the owner laid equal blame on the current hard times and Ohio’s 2006 enactment of a smoking ban. When dirigisme meets the nanny state, the results are not good for old-school greasy spoons, and while Obama may envision a future of highway rest stops filled with subsidized Tofu Huts, the demise of Chet’s shows the usual relationship between government activism and business success.
In the 1990s comedy sketch show In Living Color, they had a bit where a news reporter covers the first annual Heterosexual Pride Parade. Back in those days the premise itself was funny because it seemed like everyone was turning out to be gay — and I don’t mean festive and jovial. Indeed, part of the joke was that the parade was so sparsely attended.
As the reporter says, “Not since the Kennedy brothers has the world seen such a tremendous concentration of rampant heterosexuality,” David Alan Grier, decked out like a groupie for the Village People, marches up carrying a sign: “I love my straight son.” He tells the reporter, “My son is straight and I don’t care who knows it.”
We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve made more progress in that direction than I realized. On June 12, the author of the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus was outed — not as gay, but as Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old career student from Georgia. He said he assumed the lesbian-Muslim persona in order to be taken seriously in online discussion groups. One such forum was Lez Get Real, an online lesbian forum whose creator helped expose MacMaster’s hoax.
I wrote a column about it, noting how MacMaster’s fake Muslim lesbianism represented the triumph of identity politics. A straight male left-wing peace activist couldn’t just denounce George W. Bush, Israel, and Western imperialism, he had to pretend he was lesbian behind a hijab in order to get a hearing.
But then, less than 24 hours after I filed my column, it was revealed that Paula Brooks, the lesbian editor of Lez Get Real, that lesbian website by and for lesbians, was in fact Bill Graber, a 58-year-old retired construction worker living in Ohio. And, just in case you’re understandably confused, he was not the ugliest lesbian you’ve ever seen; he, too, was a man.
Yes, the creator and editor of Lez Get Real was not a real lez. He told the Washington Post that he had “adopted his wife’s identity” online to pass himself off as a lesbian. As far as I can tell from the published sources, however, Graber’s wife is not in fact a lesbian, even though Graber said he was she in order to pass himself off as one. When the Post tried to interview him, he said it couldn’t, because he was not only a lesbian, but a deaf lesbian with severe social-anxiety disorder. If only it had occurred to him to convert to Islam, he could have showed up at the interview in a hijab and simply pretended to be a woman. After all, being a Wahhabi drag queen requires only a black sheet and some eyeliner.
According to the Post, the 40-year-old MacMaster and the 58-year-old Graber had flirted with each other online, never knowing that the other one was also a dude, giving an almost M. C. Escher quality to the old joke about being a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.
I suppose there are some profound points one could make about all this, but res ipsa loquitur might just say it all.
#page#‐ Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has been a hate figure for the Left since his attempt to curb the power of public-sector unions in his state earlier this year. The governor is now seen by liberals as fair game for any kind of disruptive tactic. A new low point was reached in early June when two events occurred on the same day. One was the opening of the 2011 Wisconsin Special Olympics, marked by an address from Governor Walker to 500 assembled athletes outside the state capitol. The other was Zombie Day, declared by a student group at the University of Wisconsin to protest a voter ID law that, they said, will make it harder for students to vote. In the hyperbolic scale of leftist values, this renders students as good as dead. While the governor was addressing the Special Olympians, a group of students made up as zombies lumbered in line across the front of the crowd and turned to stand with their backs to the podium for the duration of Walker’s speech. If the hard Left has a case, is it too much to hope that it will make it with some regard to common decency? Yes, it probably is.
‐ The court challenge to the individual mandate should not be allowed to leave the impression that the rest of Obamacare is constitutional. The law also establishes an Independent Payment Advisory Board that is supposed to save money by cutting payment rates for medical providers and determining which treatments are too wasteful to be financed. The Obamacare legislation purports to allow this board’s rulings to become law unless Congress enacts alternative savings. It also purports to deny future Congresses the right to abolish the board. But no Congress can bind another, nor vest other bodies with the legislative power. The board is central to the legislation’s claims of cost control. It is also central to its unconstitutional, indeed anti-constitutional, project of rule by an administrative elite. Congress should abolish the board, and take pride as it does in ignoring the law’s command.
‐ Native English speakers rise fast in al-Qaeda, as evidenced by California’s Adam Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam al-Amriki, who recently gave a speech that was one part Osama bin Laden and one part Michael Bloomberg, exhorting Western Muslims to engage in freelance jihadism: “You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?” That bit about the “fully automatic assault rifle” is entirely false — fully automatic weapons are tightly controlled by federal licensure — but facts have never encumbered the anti-gun gang, and Gadahn’s claim was repeated as fact throughout the media and by Mayor Bloomberg. The New York Daily News went so far as to declare Gadahn “right on the facts,” a documentably false claim that 60 seconds of research would have prevented. When you’re getting your talking points from al-Qaeda, do a bit of fact-checking.
‐ The Department of Education recently sent a SWAT team to barge in on a California family to collect on defaulted student loans. Or at least, that’s the story that circulated on the Internet: The department itself claims that the officers were “special agents,” and according to the search warrant, the crime at issue was financial-aid fraud, not defaulted loans. But most important, the department has yet to explain why a paramilitary raid, as opposed to a normal search, was necessary. The case fits into a broader trend: American police forces too often rely on dangerous raids to serve warrants, typically with the justification that a suspect could destroy evidence when he sees police at the door. Paramilitary raids result in frightened families and dead pets — and in at least one case, a raid inspired an innocent homeowner to kill a police officer, thinking he was an intruder. Sometimes, as the journalist Radley Balko has highlighted for years, cops end up at the wrong house. The Department of Education needs to release more details on this case, and police in general should be more reluctant to knock down doors instead of knocking on them.
#page#‐ In his New York gubernatorial campaign, Andrew Cuomo talked tough to public-sector unions. It was pleasing rhetoric, but conservatives were skeptical — would this lifelong politico, son of Mario, creature of the public-sector establishment, follow through? As it turns out, the answer is yes, and Cuomo deserves note among the other well-known green-eyeshades governors, especially because he is a Democrat. As we go to press, Cuomo is successfully pushing pension reform. Under his plan, most public employees could retire with full benefits at 65 instead of 62, would be expected to contribute 6 percent rather than 3 percent of their salaries, and would have new restrictions in taking advantage of accumulated sick days. By some estimates, this could save New York $93 billion over the next 30 years. Being a Democrat has no doubt worked to Cuomo’s advantage in this. There is no screeching from Paul Krugman, there are no videos of Cuomo pushing granny off a cliff. Maybe only a Cuomo can take on Albany’s public sector.
‐ The Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill invests financial regulators with a wide range of arbitrary and capricious powers, which they are using arbitrarily and capriciously. The most recent example is the imposition of a price cap on “swipe fees,” which banks charge merchants for using debit cards. Swipe fees average 44 cents a transaction; the Fed plans to reduce them to 12 cents, which will cost the firms that maintain the debit-card network billions of dollars. Lawsuits are expected, lobbyists have been deployed, etc. That the Fed’s mandate has been so radically expanded is the sort of thing that could make one sympathetic to Andrew Jackson’s views on central banking. This is the United States of America: Surely you can use plastic to pay for your groceries down at the local Piggly Wiggly without Ben Bernanke having to arbitrate the transaction.
‐ Before the inauguration of Barack Obama, only one U.S. president had ever lived within the city limits of Chicago: Ronald Reagan. At the age of three, he resided for about a year in a first-floor apartment at 832 East 57th Street. The building still stands, but perhaps not for long. The University of Chicago recently acquired the property and may tear it down as part of a hospital expansion. Illinois is already home to a couple of more important Reagan sites: the birthplace in Tampico and the boyhood home in Dixon. So there is no reason to preserve the building in perpetuity. Yet the university should consider an appropriate commemoration, perhaps a bust of the 40th president with a plaque that recognizes the school’s special connection to him through the influence of Milton Friedman, its best-known free-market professor. Such a gesture would provide a fitting reminder that American presidents can rise from humble origins and that powerful ideas can propel them to greatness.
‐ Last month, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity or expression” by all purveyors of “public accommodation.” The bill’s effects are far-reaching, invading even restrooms. And its definitions are lousy: A person can prove his “gender-related identity” via methods as solid as medical history or as flimsy as “consistent and uniform assertion” of such an identity. In other words, a man who professes to be a woman can enter a women’s bathroom, no questions asked. Liberalism marches on.
‐ The state of Texas continues to wage war upon the plaintiffs’ bar: It has adopted a “loser pays” provision to discourage frivolous lawsuits. The lawyers howled about injustice, but the provision is narrowly tailored: If a plaintiff loses a motion to dismiss his claims, then he is responsible for the other side’s legal expenses. Which is to say, the loser pays only if his lawsuit is dismissed out of hand; if a case proceeds to full litigation, the provision does not apply. Under Gov. Rick Perry and a conservative legislature, Texas has insistently pushed back against the trial lawyers, most notably by capping non-economic damages in medical-malpractice cases and establishing a process to screen out meritless cases before they go to court. Texas’s legislature contains a greater proportion of lawyers than any other state legislature in the country, but even the lawyers understand that unwarranted lawsuits can be a substantial drag on the economy, particularly on small businesses, and that the tort system can be a source of injustice as well as a source of justice.
#page#‐ As a parting gesture before leaving his job as secretary of defense, Robert Gates read the riot act to members of NATO at a meeting in Brussels. There was a touch of real scorn in his words. The Europeans had done better than he expected in Afghanistan, but their shortcomings had been exposed nevertheless, particularly in military capabilities and political will. They could not get boots on the ground and did not have the right equipment. NATO’s other operation in Libya was worse. He made the point that only eleven weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime, the allies were beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S. to supply them. Europeans had to provide the resources for their own defense, otherwise this transatlantic alliance faced “a dim, if not dismal future.” The European media hardly bothered to report this speech — further evidence that Gates was saying what his audience did not care to hear.
‐ Sixteen hundred men, women, and (often) children have been shot dead in Syria protesting against the regime of Bashar Assad. The numbers are rising daily. Some 11,000 have been arrested and usually tortured, while thousands more have fled into neighboring Turkey and Lebanon. Those numbers are also rising daily. Assad has ordered the heavy shelling of at least two towns, Jisr al-Shoughour and Maarat al-Numan. What condemns the victims is that they are Sunni Muslims, like a huge majority of the population, whereas Assad and his regime are Alawis, a Shia sect that comprises so small a portion of the population that it stays in power only by means of pure force. Embittered by decades of tyranny, the Sunnis might very well establish a Muslim Brotherhood or Islamist dictatorship, and start with a general massacre of the Alawis, and perhaps the Christian minority too. Paralyzed by fear of any such outcome, those who might have influence are studiously standing aside. The United States imposes sanctions, but not on Assad, and leaves its ambassador in Damascus although Assad refuses to see him. Iran is reported to be supporting his troops in action. As the refugees pour across its borders, Turkey has begun to accuse Assad of being “inhumane,” a euphemism in the circumstances. Assad is left free to turn his country into a living hell, which is after all the family business.
‐ Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey since 2003, has just won a third term of five years. This came about mostly because of his undoubtedly successful management of the economy, but also because of the failure of the opposition to raise a proper debate about Erdogan’s intentions. Carefully and methodically he has been remaking Turkey, turning it into a state that fits the contemporary Islamist model, in foreign policy engineering the break with Israel and starting a warm relationship with Iran. On a patently absurd charge of conspiring to overthrow the state, he has arrested hundreds of senior army and navy officers who were defenders of the old secular democracy. The judiciary and the universities have been purged and over 60 journalists are currently in prison for their critical writings. In the recent elections, Erdogan hoped to gain a parliamentary majority large enough to allow him to rewrite the constitution and create a presidency with virtually absolute powers. His critics accuse him of trying to set himself up on the lines of a Muslim Putin. However, he and his party did not obtain the requisite majority and will need the consent of the opposition to carry out a measure that has the potential to replace Turkey as we have known it with the neo-Ottoman replica about which Erdogan appears to dream.
#page#‐ Vladimir Nabokov scoffed at official Soviet literature as “advertisements of a firm of slave traders.” Much of the cultural output of the Chinese People’s Republic can be characterized in the same way. Consider for example the movie Beginning of the Great Revival, premiered in Beijing on June 8. Produced by a state-owned movie studio, Beginning is a historical drama dealing with events that led to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921. The movie is being promoted as a prequel to the same directors’ 2009 blockbuster The Founding of a Republic, which covered the years 1945–49, culminating in the Communist victory over Chiang Kai-shek. Dealing as it does with an earlier period, Beginning will likely be less flagrantly mendacious than Founding, which presented Mao Tse-tung as an avuncular sage, and failed to mention (for example) the brutal 1947 murder, on Mao’s orders, of Communist writer Wang Shiwei, who had criticized the Great Leader’s womanizing. It is, though, sure to benefit from the same promotional advantages in China. Releases of new American films have been delayed, block ticket sales have been pushed on schools and colleges, and theater operators know what is expected of them.
‐ In Europe, not only humble citizens but cute animals can demand their rights through the justice system. An EU court has ordered France to protect the habitat of the Alsatian hamster, the last remaining wild hamster species in Europe. Proving that they’re no seed-eating surrender rodents, the hamsters (represented by the considerably less appealing European Commission) won an order requiring France to reverse the destruction of their breeding grounds and plant more crops that the finicky furballs like to eat; the court stopped just short of mandating exercise wheels. Bad enough that France faces chronic malaise, endless strikes, a loss of confidence in public institutions, and a continent-wide economic crisis; now the nation of Napoleon and Joan of Arc is getting pushed around by a bunch of pets from a second-grade classroom. The weary French must wish they had lost another war or two, so the Alsatian hamster would be Germany’s problem.
‐ The novelist Mark Helprin once described consumers of ideological literature as readers who, “like self-basting chickens, read to propagandize themselves.” Ben Shapiro has just returned from the henhouse with a new book on Hollywood’s political-indoctrination campaign, Primetime Propaganda. He found his subjects surprisingly open about the injection of liberalism into entertainment and about Hollywood’s habit of policing itself ideologically through ruthless discrimination against political nonconformists. Shapiro is making the interviews he conducted for the book available online, and they promise to be a hoot: Conservatives are described as “idiots” and “medieval thinkers,” backward bigots, etc. The producers of the defunct television series Friends confess that casting Newt Gingrich’s lesbian sister as a minister was intended as “a bit of f*** you . . . to the right wing.” Shapiro’s truth is considerably more interesting than many of Hollywood’s fictions.
‐ In September, Jill Abramson will ascend to the Olympus of her world: the top editorship of the New York Times. She is the journalist who, years ago, penned a book on the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, with Jane Mayer. The book gave essentially the anti-Thomas side of the story. When her elevation at the Times was announced, Abramson said, “In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion. If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth.” We will get our religion elsewhere. From the Times, we would settle for simple accurate reporting.
#page#‐ Vivian Schiller was president and CEO of National Public Radio, until she was forced to resign over a couple of controversial incidents: incidents that revealed (redundantly) a deep left-wing bias at NPR. Her resignation was supposed to show a Republican House that NPR would try to do better. Before rising to the top position at NPR, Schiller worked for the New York Times, as the general manager of its website. Now she has been hired by NBC News, to run its digital division. The Times, NPR, NBC: It’s all one club, really.
‐ According to researchers at North Carolina State University, it’s drawl over but the shoutin’ for the southern accent in Raleigh. Hours of recorded speech were run through linguistic software and revealed little trace of the city’s once-distinctive long vowel sounds (e.g. “bed,” two syllables), especially among younger generations. Is the southern accent dying? Don’t y’all fret. The same northern emigrants who give Triangle suburb Cary the backronym “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees,” who helped tip the state to Obama in 2008, and who sustain the local NHL franchise are probably the ones responsible for this linguistic devolution. Out beyond Research Triangle Park, the southern accent ain’t dead (two syllables) yet.
‐ June is Gay Pride Month. Private persons and institutions who wish to advertise their enthusiasm for gayness do so in various ways, commonly by flying the gay flag. (For readers so benighted as not to know that homosexuality has its own flag, the pattern is six horizontal stripes in the colors of the rainbow, top to bottom, indigo ignored.) Fair enough in the context of private activity by free citizens: but what was the gay flag doing on the flagpole of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, right under Old Glory? A bank spokesman told the press that the flag symbolized “values of being open and inclusive,” and showed that the bank is “a place that doesn’t discriminate.” As a government office, surely the Fed is forbidden by law to discriminate. What need to advertise the fact? Ah, counters the spokesman, but regional Federal Reserve banks are privately owned — which is true only in a very theoretical sense. We await with interest the event anticipated by Family Foundation president Victoria Cobb: “We hope there would be an even hand played when a Christian requests the Christian flag in September during Christian Heritage Month.”
‐ We learn in high-school chemistry that all the matter of the universe is made of a few score of elements; that the elements are numbered according to how many protons there are in the nucleus of one atom; and that the elements thus numbered can be laid out in a periodic table, those with similar properties grouped together. Few could name any element heavier than number 94, plutonium. Since WWII, however, physicists have been beavering away at generating heavier elements. Numbers 114 and 116 have now been officially admitted to the table, with the regrettably graceless names ununquadium and ununhexium. Dull stuff? No, things might soon get interesting in this field. All known elements beyond lead (number 82) are to some degree unstable, decaying spontaneously into lighter elements. However, many physicists believe there may be an “island of stability” in the zone above 110, some isotopes — same number of protons, different number of neutrons — lasting indefinitely, like normal calcium or iron. The isotopes of 114 and 116 so far spotted are unstable, but physicists live in hope of one day presenting us with a coffee mug made of ununhexium. Just don’t drop it on your foot.
#page#‐ Catholic University president John Garvey will reintroduce an old practice next fall: single-sex dormitories. On the pages of the Wall Street Journal he defended his move as a “slightly old-fashioned remedy that will improve the practice of virtue.” He pointed to studies showing that students in coed dorms have more alcohol binges, and sex; reverting to single-sex residences, he argued, would combat the prevailing, alcohol-fueled hookup culture. Garvey is standing athwart history; 90 percent of college dorms in the country are coed, and many are moving toward “gender-neutral housing” (i.e. coed bedrooms). Improving the practice of virtue is regarded as a quaint, archaic goal on all but the most religious campuses. The only hope for the rest is that progressive college administrators will realize that cohabiting coeds are unlikely to be gender-neutral in their behavior.
‐ Jack Kevorkian was “part of the civil-rights movement,” said Alan Dershowitz, his sometime legal adviser. That is one way to put it. A better way is to say that Dr. Death was a publicity-hungry ghoul who brought medical murder to the edge of respectability. Kevorkian claimed to have helped 130 people kill themselves to relieve end-of-life suffering. In fact he was obsessed with dying from his days as a pathologist, when he argued for performing experiments on the corpses of criminals. Fame came to him after his first assisted suicide in 1990; a conviction for second-degree murder came to him in 1999 when he filmed himself killing a patient for 60 Minutes. A Detroit Free Press story on his victims found that 60 percent weren’t terminally ill, while some were not sick at all. Kevorkian was paroled in 2007 after promising to kill no more. He was rewarded with an HBO biopic starring Al Pacino. Dead at 83.
‐ Giorgio Tozzi was one of the outstanding singers of our time. A kid from Chicago — born George — he went to DePaul University, and conquered the Metropolitan Opera and all the other important houses. He had a beautiful, rich, and shining bass, and an excellent musical head on his shoulders. A great many heard him in the movie version ofSouth Pacific: He sang Emil de Becque, acted by Rossano Brazzi. He went on to sing the role onstage himself. Whether singing Mozart, Verdi, Boris Godunov, or “Some Enchanted Evening,” he could do it. He added to the sum total of beauty and enjoyment in the world. The great Giorgio Tozzi has passed away at 88. R.I.P.
‐ We would have loved to be present at the pitch meeting: “Okay, you take a short prose extract, replace parts of it with blanks, ask people for words from broad categories like ‘plural noun’ or ‘liquid,’ and read back the extract using the answers they provide. It’ll be a riot!” Yet through the use of carefully crafted extracts, Mad Libs have been providing hours of low-tech amusement since 1958, thanks to Leonard B. Stern, a television producer (The Honeymooners, Get Smart), who invented the game along with Roger Price, a humorist best known for inventing Droodles. By teaching children to have fun with just a pencil and their imagination, and by helping keep the peace on untold numbers of family car trips, Stern created a category of his own and filled in a large blank space. Dead at 88. R.I.P.
The latest numbers on the economy are alarming. The unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent. Housing prices have dropped to a new low. Consumer confidence is down. The manufacturing index has taken a hit. GDP projections are being revised downward. Most people are dreading higher gas prices.
Some analysts make a case for optimism. The labor market, they say, is suffering from the crisis in Japan, and the numbers look worse because the labor force is growing. Hours worked in the private sector are up, and so are wages.
We’re not persuaded. Even at its best, this recovery has been weak. We have had a persistently high level of long-term unemployment: a social catastrophe with no end in sight. The higher taxes and increased regulation that Democrats in Washington are promising will, on the margin, further weaken the economy. But the spending cuts that Republicans are finally getting serious about, while welcome, will not by themselves return us to prosperity.
The country needs short-term measures to accelerate the recovery and long-term measures to increase our trend rate of economic growth. Yet even that will not be enough. During the last decade we have had periods of economic growth without wage growth. Middle-class prosperity — a big part of the American dream that Republicans rightly say they want to restore — requires more than growth, as important as it is.
We cannot claim to have a ready-made agenda to achieve these goals. Our hope is to stimulate conservative thought about how to reach them. But it seems clear that the tax code as currently structured is an obstacle to them.
The bipartisan tax deal enacted this winter temporarily cuts the payroll tax for employees. To assist job growth during the recovery, there should also be a temporary reduction in the employer side of the tax. Companies would then have a way of reducing labor costs per worker without cutting wages.
Reducing tax rates and eliminating tax breaks, as Republican candidates are increasingly proposing, would help the government raise whatever revenue is considered appropriate while doing less damage to the economy. Reform is especially needed in the corporate tax code, as members of both parties are coming to appreciate. Both our statutory and our effective marginal rates are higher than those of other developed countries, and the difference is starting to hurt.
To moderate the rise in health-care costs, the existing tax break for employer-provided health insurance should be altered so that its value stays the same regardless of the price of the insurance policy selected. Cheaper policies should yield savings for the insured. As Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru have argued, people who do not work for companies that offer health insurance should be able to use the credit to purchase insurance for themselves.
Middle-class parents pay too large a share of the tax burden because the tax code fails to recognize that the expenses involved in raising children are, in part, contributions to the future health of entitlement programs. Tax reform should remedy this defect of the code as well.
Doubtless there are other policies that could be changed to promote a widely shared prosperity. A substantial reduction in illegal immigration should relieve the wage pressure on the low end of the labor market, and a reform that increases the skill level of legal immigrants should promote growth. Monetary policy could provide better macroeconomic stability were the Federal Reserve to be guided by a clear and sound rule, preferably encoded in statute.
But again, the goals are more important than the precise means used to achieve them. Conservatives must offer policies that help the middle class thrive. If we do not, we are unlikely to have any other lasting achievements.