‐ Bad news for the Democrats: It turns out some of those people who cling bitterly to their religion are Orthodox Jews in Queens.
‐ The great strength of the conservative is to prepare for the worst; the great temptation is to expect it. There was worry, ahead of time, that the 9/11 commemorations in Shanksville, Washington, Virginia, and New York might be too austere — no clergy, no firemen: the naked public square incarnate. In the event those worries blew away in the early-autumn breezes. At the climactic ceremony at Ground Zero, President Obama read Psalm 46 (“Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed”). Former president George W. Bush read Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the bereaved Mrs. Bixby (“the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom”). If the musical program was not perfect, it included “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the pipers of the Bravest and the Finest skirling “The Minstrel Boy.” Thy songs were made for the pure and free / They shall never sound in slavery.
‐ Is President Obama going through a Carter-like meltdown? Republicans won two special elections for House seats: one in New York, where Anthony Weiner (D.) had to resign in disgrace, and one in Nevada, where Dean Heller (R.) was elevated to the Senate after John Ensign (R.) had to resign in disgrace. Opposition to same-sex marriage, support for Israel, the tenacity of the Republican candidate, the charmlessness of the Democrat, and the declining popularity of President Obama yielded the New York result. The large margin of victory in Nevada, in a district that had been moving to the Democrats, offers further evidence that Obama is dragging his party down. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was reduced to saying of the New York race, for a seat last held by Republicans in 1923, “It’s a very difficult district for Democrats.” There seem to be an increasing number of those these days.
‐ In search of an activist supplement to the traditional conservative economic prescription of low taxes, light regulation, and the rule of law, Mitt Romney is campaigning against China and promises on his first day in office to begin the process of imposing economic sanctions on Beijing. China, Mr. Romney argues, is an impenitent currency manipulator, seeking to privilege its exporters at the expense of its global competitors. This is undeniably true — of China, of Japan, of Europe, and, to a lesser degree, of the United States, where Ben Bernanke’s currency manipulation is oriented more toward raising spending at home than toward bolstering exports. That manipulation is called “monetary policy,” and China, being a police state whose currency is not freely traded on the foreign-exchange markets, is an unusually robust practitioner of that and other dark arts. But the effects of China’s currency manipulation are mixed, with the costs overstated: U.S. consumers benefit from low prices, while U.S. exporters do not compete that much with Chinese firms in overseas markets, since Americans specialize in airliners and iPhones, while the Chinese specialize in shoes and plastic toys. The Chinese regime is to be faulted for many things — mass murder, torture, and repression spring to mind — but the policies that are undercutting American competitiveness originate mostly in Washington, not Beijing.
#page#‐ Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor running for the Republican presidential nomination, debuted a tax plan that eliminates almost every tax deduction and credit and lowers the rates. He won plaudits from the Wall Street Journal, and the general thrust of his plan indeed deserves praise. But with housing markets weak, is this really the right time to end the mortgage-interest deduction? And the child tax credit, which Huntsman would eliminate, is no more a distortionary tax break than are the low taxes on capital he favors. The credit partly offsets the double taxation of parents contained in our entitlement system, to which they contribute through both payroll taxes and the raising of children. Any flat tax that aims to raise roughly the same amount of revenue as the present system is likely to raise taxes on the middle class. By opting for a version of the flat tax that ends the child credit, Huntsman ensures that the burden will be borne disproportionately by middle-class parents, who are also known as the Republican base. Huntsman has not found the solution to the problems in our tax code, or to his low poll numbers
‐Robert P. George, the Princeton constitutional scholar, surprised the presidential candidates at a debate by asking them whether they believed, first, that the Fourteenth Amendment gives the elected branches of the federal government the power to protect unborn life, and second, that those branches should exercise that power despite the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling. Governor Romney balked, expressing fear of a “constitutional crisis.” This fear is overblown. When the Supreme Court declared partial-birth abortion a constitutional right, Congress defied it by passing a federal ban. The Court, wiser for the replacement of Sandra Day O’Connor by Samuel Alito, reconsidered its earlier decision. (There was a face-saving pretense that the new ban was actually compatible with that earlier decision, but everyone understood the game.) Abraham Lincoln, as Professor George’s question noted, had it right: For Congress and the president to accept the infallibility of the Supreme Court would be the real constitutional crisis.
‐ Another GOP presidential candidates’ debate a couple of days later was moderated by Brian Williams of NBC and John Harris of Politico. Well, most of it was. Halfway through the scheduled time, Williams introduced Jose Diaz-Balart from the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo. Mr. Diaz-Balart proceeded to ask the candidates questions about immigration policy, and about nothing else. We don’t doubt that Mr. Diaz-Balart (American-born, to Cuban parents) is a thoroughly professional journalist and a credit to his network, but . . . why was this particular person brought in to help moderate this particular topic? Do Spanish-speakers now “own” immigration policy? If so, why? Did Messrs. Williams and Harris not feel competent to deal with immigration issues? Are the nation’s policy discussions now to be allotted by ethnic interest, with Hispanics owning immigration, blacks owning poverty, Muslims owning religious accommodations, and so on? Are the rest of us to be permitted no opinion? Who gets to own agriculture — the Amish?
#page#They Live Among Us
For quite a long time now the New York Times crowd — you know of whom I speak — has talked about red-state America as if it were another country, one that, in cultural terms, is much farther away than London or Paris, never mind L.A. or Seattle. The shorthand to make this point usually includes mention of Pauline Kael’s endlessly quoted — and misquoted — 1972 line that she can’t believe anyone voted for Nixon because she didn’t know anyone who voted for Nixon (the actual quote is less damning, but you get the point). But the trend is much older than that. Back in the 1920s, The Nation ran a regular series, “These United States,” where the sophisticates would mock the inhabitants of the American interior. That renowned equine posterior Sinclair Lewis remarked of his native Minnesota: “Scandinavians Americanize only too quickly!
Of course, Minnesota was a reliably liberal state back then. But in recent decades, geographic snobbery had melded with political snobbery. Manhattan liberals still look down on flyover country, but they also consider Republican voters as a class to be the sort of people who use their sleeves as napkins as they eat their lunch on the back of a turnip truck.
Well, there’s good news for Maureen Dowd and others who are eager to disparage those whackadoo wahoos inhabiting the hinterlands but find the trek out to quote-unquote America so exhausting. The hinterlands are getting closer.
New York’s 9th congressional district, the most Jewish district in America, just turned into a mini–red state. It’s a 20-minute drive to Forest Hills from the Times’s midtown offices. Just tell your car service where you’re going, he’ll know where it is. Heck, your driver probably lives nearby. NY-9 has been in the hands of Democrats since the 1920s. It’s sufficiently liberal to have sent Geraldine Ferraro, Chuck Schumer, and, most recently, Anthony Weiner to Congress, and to have given Al Gore 67 percent of the vote. Barack Obama got 55 percent.
Now, I’m not trying to gloat excessively here. Sufficiency is all I’m going for. Just a couple of years ago, a very nice and smart fellow at the Times wrote a book called The Death of Conservatism that, as its name suggests, argued that the jig was up for the Right. Now poor Mr. Tanenhaus is like one of those Roman poets getting news that the Goths have set up shop in Marcianopolis. I mean, it was one thing when one of the barbarians captured Senator Kennedy’s seat, since for many New Yorkers, Massachusetts remains something of a provincial backwater. But this is looking like a trend. They’re in the city limits! And — oh, dear Lord — they’re . . . Jews!
As one wag on Twitter put it, if this continues, the Republican party is in danger of becoming a regional rump party — in the Northeast.
Yes, yes, one can over-read all of this. It certainly doesn’t spell the end of the Democratic party or the “Death of Liberalism” or anything of the sort.
But what it should do is deal a significant blow to “endism,” or the tendency to take a given moment and draw an infinitely straight line into the future. In 2008, the air was thick with bloviation about the unstoppable liberal realignment. Young people were now permanently in the Democratic camp. Hispanics were forever lost to the GOP. Conservatism was dead. “Their coalition no longer works in the changing demography of the day, and is dangerously old; their Southern strategy . . . has become a relic of the past; their tech and media tools have not kept up with the times; their ideas have become spent and discredited. . . . They are an aging and frayed bunch, living off the fumes of a day and politics gone by,” proclaimed Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg in 2008. This wasn’t analysis, it was wishful thinking on steroids.
The NY-9 election is just one data point among a large number of data points. Does it signal the long-anticipated rightward shift of American Jews? Does it foretell the doom of the Obama administration? Yes! No! Maybe! We’ll just have to wait and see, because if a Republican can win in Forest Hills, anything is possible.
#page#‐ John Bolton flirted with the idea of running for president, then decided against it. The good news is that he will be available to write for publications such as this one. And the bad news? He would have added both spice and heft to the Republican primaries. If the Republican nominee happens to win in November 2012, he or she could do worse than to have Bolton as secretary of state, much worse.
‐ Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa Jr., warming up a Labor Day crowd for President Obama, urged unions to “take these son-of-a-bitches [i.e., Republicans] out” in 2012. There has been altogether too much fretting about the ordinary combative rhetoric of American politics — “target,” “crosshairs,” etc., etc. But literary critics since Aristotle have pointed out that rhetoric is shaded by the character of the speaker. When a Teamster and a Hoffa says he wants to take you out, better ask where you are going first (hint: not the Meadowlands).
‐ The Obama administration had been contemplating intrusive new rules on ozone emissions but suddenly reversed itself. The news came as a surprise to the president’s environmentalist buddies — and, more significant, to the EPA, which was not involved in the decision-making process and whose chief administrator was informed of the decision less than 24 hours before it was announced. That the Obama administration, which fancies itself a post-ideological, technocratic outfit guided by experts and “the science,” did not bother to consult with the experts at the agency in charge of the regulation suggests that the White House is running scared from its own policies and their deplorable economic consequences. This is an excellent thing.
‐ New details continue to trickle out regarding Operation Fast and Furious, the sting operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives allowed Mexican drug cartels to buy thousands of firearms at American gun shops — and then let the guns and their new owners “walk.” It recently came to light that Fast and Furious guns were tied to at least two crime scenes in the U.S. The congressional committee investigating the program is having limited success, and President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder still maintain that they knew nothing about the operation. If indeed they didn’t, why didn’t they? This is one of many questions the government has yet to answer about this confusing, dangerous program.
‐ The week preceding Labor Day is designated National Labor Rights Week. It naturally fell to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to kick off the festivities. She did so by signing “partnership” agreements with ambassadors from a group of Latin American nations: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador. Similar agreements have been signed this past year with Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. “I’m very proud of this,” the lady said. The purpose of these agreements is to protect the labor rights of “migrants” from the represented nations. What, including illegals? Definitely: “No matter how you got here or how long you plan to stay, you have certain rights.” Does Madam Secretary have anything to say about, you know, American workers? Why yes: Just two days later she was talking up her government-issued SUV, a Chevy Equinox, government purchase of which is meant to “send a signal that we are for supporting our American workers, [and] American-made products.” Turns out the Equinox is made in Canada. How we miss the quiet competence of Elaine Chao.
‐ Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar panels, is bankrupt, which is inconvenient for the Obama administration, which extended half a billion dollars’ worth of loan guarantees to the firm as part of the president’s stimulus effort. The inconvenience extends to the 1,100 Solyndra employees who have just lost their jobs and to the U.S. taxpayers who may be on the hook for the bankrupt firm’s loans. The project was indeed “shovel ready,” as the president likes to put it; unhappily, in this case, the shovel belongs to the gravedigger. Perhaps the gravestone could read: “Another project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”
#page#‐ The Obama administration sued to stop AT&T from merging with T-Mobile, fearing diminished competition and thus higher prices in the wireless industry. The administration’s analysis of the market suggests that the industry is already too concentrated — which suggests that the analysis is wrong. There is an enormous amount of innovation and investment in this sector, which is not what we should see if the analysis were right. The best thing the government can do to ensure the health of the industry is to let phone companies lease spectrum from broadcasters, and then get out of the way.
‐ The Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, Md., has set a new record in wasteful government spending by putting up twelve homeless people in a brand-new apartment building — at a cost of $4 million for one year. The Washington Examiner reports that the “permanent supportive housing” facility, located in Bethesda, Md., will offer six studio and six one-bedroom apartments, as well as a gym, a computer room, and an “outdoor enclosed courtyard.” You might ask who would pay for such a thing, but you already knew the answer to that: you. Yes, the project received $1 million in stimulus money, as well as over $900,000 from the county’s housing department and $2.1 million in state tax credits. That amounts to an average cost of about $333,000 per person — which is more than the nationwide median price of a new single-family home ($221,800). At the risk of sounding heartless, we might propose that it would be cheaper for the commission to buy each person a new house. We might also suggest it would have behooved the commission not to place twelve recovering addicts in a building across from a liquor store.
‐ The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, unable to reach a contract agreement with the EGT Terminal at the Port of Longview near Seattle, has resorted to mayhem. The facility in question is still a union shop, but it has transferred its business to a different union. In response, the longshoremen’s union dispatched an armed militia numbering 500, which attacked the terminal, destroyed property, threatened police, disrupted operations, and, incredibly, went so far as to take hostages. The union already was under a federal restraining order that followed prior assaults and death threats. Perhaps some labor bosses misunderstand the meaning of the phrase “the right to strike”?
‐ When federal agents raided the Gibson guitar factory in Nashville for the second time in less than two years, they disrupted the company’s business so severely that you would almost suspect Fender was a big Democratic donor. The stated explanation was that they were seizing ebony guitar parts that had been imported illegally; the company denies any irregularity and says it has been buying from the same source for 17 years. If the parts were mislabeled, as the Department of Justice alleges, Gibson disclaims any knowledge of it. Still, given the state of the world’s hardwood forests, perhaps Holder’s Raiders can be forgiven their excess of zeal: Anything to save the environment, right? Well, not exactly. According to the New York Times, an affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant “maintains that unfinished fingerboard blanks that are more than a centimeter thick cannot be exported under Indian law; only finished pieces of veneer, about half as thick, can be exported. The intent of the law is to protect woodworking jobs in India.” The American law that DOJ has invoked, the Lacey Act, was enacted in 1900 to regulate milliners’ imports of bird feathers. So a law designed to protect feathers is now protecting featherbedding.
‐ The notion that solar fluctuations might have something to do with warming and cooling on earth is hardly new. But just recently a group of scientists from CERN, the prestigious European physics-research institute, published a paper with experimental data detailing how this happens (solar cosmic rays, which vary with the number of sunspots, promote the formation of clouds) and how much of an effect it has (nearly half of all observed warming, they estimate). Before publication, however, CERN’s director warned the researchers “to present the results clearly but not interpret them” and to avoid “the highly political arena of the climate-change debate” — even though scientists who believe in anthropogenic global warming have never hesitated to interpret their results. Any scientific question, particularly one with such great importance to the world, can be resolved only with vigorous inquiry and debate, and muzzling scientists will merely delay the process of understanding how human activity and natural cycles affect global temperatures.
#page#‐ Returning to their desks for the fall semester, the public-school students of New Jersey find themselves under a new anti-bullying regime, thanks to a law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in January. The law is extraordinarily comprehensive. It defines the offense of bullying thus: “any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act . . . that is reasonably perceived as being motivated . . . by any actual or perceived characteristic” of a person. So should child A call child B “Fatso,” and should child B report this outrage to the school authorities, an investigation must be launched. All schools must employ an anti-bullying specialist to carry out these investigations, and all incidents must be logged with an anti-bullying bureaucracy in Trenton, the state capital. As the New York Post observed, the measure “doesn’t just outlaw childhood, it criminalizes it.” Count this law as a mark against Governor Christie.
‐ California governor Jerry Brown has undergone many transformations over the past four decades, from Governor Moonbeam to populist presidential candidate to law-and-order mayor of Oakland, and he continues to evolve. “Not every human problem deserves a law,” he wrote in early September of his decision to veto a bill that would have required minors to wear helmets on the slopes of California ski resorts. The Democratic governor explained to a baffled legislature that while he “appreciate[s] the value of wearing a ski helmet,” he’s “concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state.” In the land of the banned Happy Meal, such concerns aren’t theoretical. Californians should hope that Brown’s latest incarnation as a libertarian proves lasting.
‐ A New York Times exposé revealed that video-game companies can take advantage of a variety of tax perks: They can claim to be software developers, entertainment companies, and online retailers, and, in addition, governments often give game companies special deals to lure jobs. The video-game industry is a lot of things — some of them good (profitable and creative), some of them unfortunate (prone to revel in the violent and antisocial). One thing it is not, however, is deserving of government largesse: Leaving aside the question of whether taxpayers should ever subsidize arts or entertainment, this particular industry is above average in its ability to make its own profits and below average in its cultural value.
‐ Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is recommending keeping only about 3,000 troops in Iraq after this year. He’s contradicting the senior U.S. commander on the ground, who wants roughly five times that. Panetta’s rump force would be good for little except protecting itself, although even that is doubtful. We would kiss goodbye to counterterrorism and keeping a lid on Arab–Kurdish tensions. Every malign force still competing for Iraq’s future, including the Iranians, must be pleased. After all the years and blood and treasure, we are preparing simply to quit. Disgraceful.
‐ On Friday night, September 2, at 11 o’clock, American soldiers scaled the walls of a compound in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Soon they shot dead Sabar Lal Melma, described by NATO as a “key affiliate of the al-Qaeda network.” He had once been in U.S. control: held at Guantanamo Bay until 2007. Then he was released back to Afghanistan, where he rejoined the fight. Two years ago, the Pentagon said that 61 former Gitmo inmates had rejoined the fight. There are now 171 inmates in this prison. Maybe they should stay there.
‐ While pooh-poohing the prospect in public, financial authorities in Brussels and Berlin are preparing for a sovereign default by Greece, the possibility of which is now placed by economic forecasters at 98 percent in the next five years. Greece’s deficit in the first half of 2011 is 22 percent larger than in 2010, even after spending cuts and tax increases. In early September, Athens imposed a new national property tax and a 7 percent cut in government workers’ salaries, but these emergency measures have done little to quell bondholders’ concerns, and Germany’s economy minister, Philipp Roesler, has broken the taboo and spoken publicly of “an orderly bankruptcy of Greece.” The Europeans will be lucky if it is only that: On a recent bond issue, Italy found itself forced to pay the highest interest rates it ever has, as investors recognized the symptoms of la maladie grecque. If Greece is forced to leave the eurozone, Italy almost certainly will be frog-marched out, too, sparking a financial crisis in France, where the banks are heavily exposed to Italian debt. Spain’s finances are teetering as well. All these events and possibilities have the thrifty Germans, the Uncle Moneybags of Europe, wondering what’s in it for them. Which is an excellent question.
#page#‐ A grim night of violence in Cairo almost had explosive repercussions throughout the Middle East. Mobilized by the extremist Muslim Brothers, thousands of demonstrators marched to the Israeli embassy to protest about a recent clash: Palestinian terrorists from Gaza had killed eight Israelis, and, in an exchange of fire, Israeli troops had mistakenly shot five Egyptian border guards. Here was the pretext to manipulate anti-Israeli sentiment that the Muslim Brothers believe will bring them success in elections due at the end of the year. Armed with iron bars and sledgehammers, protesters broke into parts of the embassy. Six armed Israeli security guards were preparing to do and die. Egyptian police stood aside. Desperate telephone calls between Washington, Tel Aviv, and the generals of the Egyptian military council coordinated a rescue. Egyptian commandos took control. An Israeli military aircraft arrived and immediately flew out the Israeli ambassador, the security guards, and some 80 members of the staff with their families. It doesn’t bear thinking about the consequences had any of the Israeli diplomatic mission either been killed or else been obliged to defend themselves by using their weapons. The Israelis had the misfortune to be caught up in the crucial test of strength that will determine whether the future of Egypt belongs to the Muslim Brothers or to the generals of the military council. In Cairo, the Arab Spring has left power waiting to be picked up in the streets.
‐ The rift between Turkey and Israel is serious and growing. The two countries had been allies, with military and defense agreements, and $3.5 billion in overall trade last year. There are no real grounds for hostility, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fabricated them. In power for a decade, he is experimenting with an Islamist foreign policy. To gain leverage with Arab and Muslim countries, he has to hold off the United States and openly break with Israel. Last year, the perfect opportunity arose. The Turkish government backed Islamists sailing a ship, the Mavi Marmara, from Anatolia to Gaza carrying what was described as humanitarian aid. Fearing that the ship was gun-running, the Israelis boarded it, and nine Islamists were killed in the fracas. Erdogan peremptorily demanded an apology. The United Nations appointed Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former New Zealand prime minister, to investigate this incident. The report, just released, concludes that Israel acted within its legal rights. No apology is necessary or forthcoming. An enraged Erdogan expelled the Israeli ambassador and canceled all military agreements. He threatens to send warships into the eastern Mediterranean and prevent Israel from developing its newly discovered deposits of natural gas in that area. It’s an astonishing display of enmity from the erstwhile friend of the Jewish state.
‐ Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has been in Cuba, trying to see Alan Gross. The Cuban authorities have not let him. Gross is the American aid worker who has been held prisoner by the Castros since December 2009. He is their pawn, a tool for the extraction of (further) concessions from the Obama administration. Richardson, in a burst of candor, referred to him as “an American hostage.” The administration should make it clear to the Cuban dictatorship that there are consequences to what it has done to Gross. If America is seen to be a pitiful, helpless giant, it will be bad for Americans wherever they roam
‐ It famously took Richard Nixon to go to China. Now, perhaps, it has taken John Cleese to go to London. The British comic, who has lived in the United States for more than two decades, recently lamented that “London is no longer an English city,” suggesting that, while diversity was a generally positive thing, “when the parent culture kind of dissipates, you’re left thinking, ‘Well, what’s going on?’” Cleese is a noted liberal, and has made a series of party political broadcasts for the Liberal Democrats over the years. For a man of the Left to make such a statement is notable, and provided clear opportunity and cover for a discussion about London’s cultural atomization. As usual, however, his comments were met with immediate condemnation: Multiculturalism has not gone too far, and London’s diversity should be “celebrated,” came the immediate retort. Who said this, missing the golden opportunity with which he had been provided? None other than a spokesman for London mayor Boris Johnson. Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year” competition was obviously held 40 years too early
#page#‐ The World first heard that Thomas Jefferson had fathered a family by his slave Sally Hemings in 1802, thanks to a disgruntled former associate, James Callender. Over the centuries the story generated laughs (Jefferson, wrote the poet Thomas Moore, “dream[ed] of freedom in his bondsmaid’s arms”) and some earnest work, notably by Fawn Brodie and Annette Gordon-Reed, though most historians rejected it. Then in 1998 a DNA study showed a Jefferson-family chromosome in the genes of descendants of two of Hemings’s children, and the old tale became the new orthodoxy. Case closed? Not yet. Thirteen scholars – including several familiar to NR readers: Charles Kesler, Harvey Mansfield, Forrest McDonald – examined the evidence in 2001, and again more recently. The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy (ed. By Robert F. Turner, Carolina Academic Press) summarizes their conclusions, which are not unanimous: One scholar, Paul Rahe, still finds Jefferson guilty as charged. The rest, however, suspect Jefferson has gotten a bum’s rush. Case closed now? Not yet. But this is how history, and historians, are supposed to work.
‐ A certain Mr. Obama Onyango was arrested on August 24 outside a fried-chicken shop in Framingham, Mass. He had narrowly avoided colliding with a patrol car, and when breathalyzed, he registered twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. On further investigation Mr. Onyango was found to be in the U.S. illegally, having overstayed a student visa, then ignored a 1992 deportation order. But wait: What’s that name there? Yes, this is another twig on our president’s colorful family tree. Mr. Onyango — referred to as “Uncle Omar” in the president’s autobiography — is in fact the brother of Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyango, who was discovered living in Boston public housing shortly before the 2008 election, having herself ignored a deportation order in 2004. A pliant judge granted Aunt Zeituni legal-resident status in 2010. The same grace will undoubtedly be extended to Uncle Omar: He has already been released from custody. House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith voiced the general indignation: “Why should citizens and legal immigrants be threatened by drunk-driving illegal immigrants when the administration can deport them?” Why? Because we are now a nation not of laws but of men: That’s why.
‐ To the older cohort of our readers, the name Doris Day can evoke nothing but pleasant nostalgia. Her careers as singer and movie actress spanned the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and a little more at both ends. During those decades her lovely voice, pretty face and figure, and considerable acting skills endeared her to her countrymen and made her an icon of American womanhood to tens of millions of people worldwide. Miss Day is still with us, aged 87. She has just released an album of songs with the title My Heart. In the United Kingdom the album has already entered the Top Ten, making her the oldest artist ever to attain that distinction with an album featuring new material. (Some of the songs are from studio recordings not previously issued.) We offer our heartfelt congratulations to this great American lady — and lifelong Republican! — and hope that we shall continue to be blessed with her presence for many, many more years.
#page#‐ The situation calls out for a modern-day Emily Post: What do you call a half-sibling who was conceived through artificial insemination with the same donor as you? Sister-in-sperm? Baster-brother? The question has more than linguistic interest, since, according to a recent news report, one industrious donor has sired more than 150 children. That’s an extreme case of turning your hobby into a job, but less-heroic sperm vendors can still have scores of children, most of whom usually live in a single region. Children of the same donor (sometimes known only by a number) form online communities and organize gatherings; a father of 70 keeps track of his multifarious offspring with a spreadsheet. What will the notion of family mean to these children? And how can we make sense of the donor’s status, having supplied a common inheritance to so many children, yet legally excluded from any responsibility for them? It all goes to show what happens when you turn the sacred and mysterious processes of life into a matter of commerce. Limiting sperm donors to, say, ten children, might be a sensible reform.
‐ For centuries, ships transported goods in small units, which were loaded and unloaded by laborers. But in the 1950s, an engineer named Keith Tantlinger invented a way to ship cargo in more efficient units: the modern metal shipping container. The innovation allowed hundreds of containers and tens of thousands of tons of cargo to be stacked on one ship, and the goods to be moved from ship to rail to truck almost without manual labor. Tantlinger’s invention changed the world. First, it encouraged one of the most important waves of globalization: As the cost of shipping goods around the world dropped dramatically, ordinary consumers gained access to international goods while American industries had to face new competition from abroad. Second, there was no longer a need for nearly as many longshoremen and stevedores to unload the cargo. The container marginalized their unions, which were infamously portrayed in On the Waterfront and represented the worst of organized labor, known for corruption, intimidation, and violence. Tantlinger’s invention evinces the dramatic progress and destruction that technological and commercial innovation encourages. A revolutionary engineer, dead at 92. R.I.P
If $900 billion in fiscal stimulus did not deliver us from high unemployment, perhaps another $450 billion will do the trick: That was the theory underlying President Obama’s speech. The same as before, but less impressive — which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad summary of this stage of his presidency
Obama’s familiar hectoring tone, condescension, and pose of post-partisanship should not be allowed to obscure the fact that every so often he mentioned a good idea. A simultaneous reduction in corporate tax rates and corporate tax breaks was one. Extending the payroll-tax cut enacted last year was another. Enacting trade agreements would count as a third if the main obstacle to their enactment were not Obama himself and his congressional allies
If President Obama were not so inflexibly liberal, there would be much more he could do to promote job growth. He claimed, for example, that his existing regulatory policy already balances economic goals with safety and environmental protection. On this point he was quite strident, pretending, for example, that Republicans had proposed to eliminate most regulations on the books. The fact is that the number of regulations, their cost, and the size of the workforce at regulatory agencies have all increased substantially under this president, and that regulatory activism shows no signs of abating. A moratorium on new regulation until unemployment returns to a tolerable level would have cost the president no permanent ideological ground, but he was unwilling to propose it.
The rest of the speech was dismal. Obama wants a larger tax credit for companies that hire people who have been unemployed for six months or longer, which seems like an incentive for companies to fire some of their employees, replace them with eligibles, and pocket the credit. (It’s also an incentive for people not to take job offers if they are close to the six-month mark, in order to get a piece of the subsidy in the form of the higher wages employers would offer them.) In the deficit-reduction portion of the speech, the president returned to his familiar theme that the rich need to pay their fair share. We have no objection to asking those with high incomes to give up subsidies — but where was the president’s call for changing entitlement programs to achieve that goal? Instead he seeks to raise taxes on capital income, which can hardly help the country’s long-term growth.
“This isn’t political grandstanding. . . . This is simple math,” said Obama, a few sentences after denouncing “tax loopholes for oil companies.” Actually, what simple math tells us is that these loopholes are an infinitesimal part of the deficit, and that their elimination has nothing to do with creating jobs. The attentive reader can determine what this reference was doing in the president’s speech.
Obama concluded with a college-freshman stab at political philosophy: We need to do things together that we cannot do on our own, and therefore we need big government. This discussion grew especially senseless whenever it touched on education. Assuming that government must construct and maintain schools, for example, why should it be a federal responsibility? “While they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves.” What relevance the first datum had to the second was left unsaid. Are we to conclude that more teachers is always better? Or that unemployment among teachers — which is lower than the national average — is a particular tragedy? If so, why? Because the teachers’ unions are reliable foot soldiers of the Democratic party?
In one of the more ringing passages of the speech, Obama said, “The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months.” No, they don’t. But we suppose they are going to have to.
The Republicans’ Social Security Choice
Rick Perry has drawn a lot of criticism, not least from Mitt Romney, for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” but the fact is that it bears more than a passing resemblance to one. In both cases earlier participants can get their money back only if new participants join; in both cases no wealth is actually created; in both cases the earlier participants get a better return than the later ones; and in both cases the system is unsustainable. But of course there are also differences. Ponzi schemes are run to make their originators a profit. The federal government is running Social Security at a loss that is set to increase.
And Social Security, unlike a Ponzi scheme, can be reformed to be made sustainable. Slow the growth of benefits sufficiently, for example, and the program’s fiscal gap will disappear. Its disincentive effect on saving, and on delaying retirement, would also diminish. But neither Perry nor Romney has offered any specific proposals on Social Security in the course of the presidential campaign, and both of them run the risk of setting back the cause of reform.
In Perry’s case, the risk comes from the combination of rhetorical maximalism with policy vagueness. He says that the program is unconstitutional, a failure, and a lie. These claims would seem to imply that the program should be abolished. He has mused about the idea, and his spokesmen for a time refused to rule it out. Under criticism he clarified that he does not intend to abolish the program, and indeed would maintain benefits for current retirees and those about to retire. How would he do this? He does not say. And his ability to persuade the public to accept reform, notwithstanding its aversion to risk, has been compromised. Any reform he presents as president will be greeted by Democrats as a covert attempt to destroy the highly popular program, and his previous words will give their attacks credibility.
Romney correctly notes that the public, while aware that Social Security’s financing is unsound, remains extremely attached to the program. “Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security,” he says. But is he that man? He has expressed openness to raising the eligibility age, imposing a means test on the program, and instituting voluntary personal accounts. But unless he unveils his own plan, the effect of his attacks on Perry will be to strengthen the political taboo against candid and realistic discussion of the program’s flaws. Romney has a choice to make: He can run as a realistic reformer, or he can say “Me, too” to Democratic criticisms of conservatives.
As it stands, the feud between Perry and Romney is accomplishing nothing for anyone outside the White House.