‐ The good news: At long last, Saudi women can vote. The bad news: They’ll have to show a valid driver’s license.
‐ Gov. Rick Perry is falling in the polls following a dismal debate performance in Orlando. One lowlight was his claim that opponents of his policy of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants have no heart. Another was an attempted shot at Romney as a flip-flopper that left doubt as to whether English is Perry’s native language. All is not lost for Perry, but he needs to sharpen. Republicans like his conservative record in Texas, but they are also looking for someone who can best Obama in the debates of 2012 — and right now, Perry is failing that test.
‐ Before Wisconsin, there was Chris Christie in New Jersey — a Republican governor taking on public-sector unions with Garden State Parkway pugnacity. Assorted low-pressure fronts in the Republican presidential contest have caused a gust of interest in Christie’s belatedly entering the race. Our general view is, the more the merrier (it keeps interest on the GOP, and forces Obama’s attack machine to hang fire). Our word to Christie and his boosters is, expect the storm. He will have been governor for three years in 2012 — almost as much executive experience as the incumbent will have, but still on the slight side. He has a string of statements about his reluctance to run, including some expressing unreadiness for the office, that he would have to swallow. Every candidate has displeased some of the base somehow: Christie is pro-gun-control, and ostentatiously unconcerned with what might be called sharia creep. Is he, finally, too big for the job? The last big guy to get elected was William Howard Taft, and that was 103 years ago. Tastes change, and so do concerns: Imagine the chatter about the importance of Christie’s vice president. Still, he is smart, tough, and articulate. America could do a lot worse, and has.
‐ Obama is ready to take on the Republicans — or at least a handful of boors in the audience at Republican debates. A few people, perhaps three, booed a gay soldier who submitted a question about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a question about someone who chose not to get health insurance — “Are you saying that society should just let him die?” — a few people yelled, “Yeah!” Naturally, the same press that showed no interest in Obama’s connections to Bill Ayers has decided that these people are the dark heart of the Republican party. Which is absurd: The candidates have not lost any support from Republicans as a result of criticizing these eruptions. Republican-debate attendees should remember to be on their best behavior, because journalists and Democrats will not be.
‐ There was a time when Joe McGinniss was witty and stylish. “Unquestionably a work of art” — William F. Buckley Jr. But that was a long time ago: The McGinniss book WFB was praising was McGinniss’s first, The Selling of the President 1968. Eleven election cycles later, comes McGinniss with The Rogue, a damp smack at Sarah Palin. McGinniss moved next door to the former governor, squabbled with her about moving next door, trolled anti-Palin bloggers for rumors and gossip, then wrote it all up, especially the part about moving next door. The thesis underlying McGinniss’s book — that politics has become pure celebrity, dancing with the candidates — is at least half true, yet it has been blunted in this instance by Palin’s apparent decision to bow out of politics for a career in celebrity and commentary. There’s room for her: Celebrity commentary is pretty thin these days, if McGinniss’s latest is the best on offer.
‐ Ever since the Tea Party sprang up, a constant refrain from the left has been that the Tea Party is racist. As conservatives, what else could they be? The night before the Florida straw poll, actor Morgan Freeman went on CNN and denounced the Tea Party as racist. For good measure, he tarred Republicans at large with this brush. Their attitude, he said, is “Screw the country. We’re going to do whatever we [can] to get this black man out of here.” The next day, the Republicans and tea-party activists of Florida voted overwhelmingly for Herman Cain for president. Evidently, they want to replace one black man with another. More evidently, they care about what a man thinks, rather than what his skin color is.
‐ Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat seeking to replace Scott Brown (R., Mass.) in the U.S. Senate, has been doing her best impersonation of a villain from an Ayn Rand novel, declaring that entrepreneurs, industrialists, and other fat-cat types have no unique claim on their own wealth because “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.” Because the factory owner benefits from such government-provided goods as roads, a workforce trained in public schools, and the like, she argues that the “underlying social contract” demands higher taxes on “the rich.” She needs to think her argument through: The “social contract” may indeed be used to justify the imposition of taxes to pay for true public goods — law enforcement and national defense, public sanitation, etc. — but there is nothing in that to justify, for instance, a steeply progressive system of income taxation, which is simply a preference of Mrs. Warren’s and Mr. Obama’s. Still less does the “social contract” imply bottomless financial support for the failing public schools, which today in many cases constitute a public nuisance rather than a public good. And still less does it imply an open-ended claim upon the wealth of anybody and everybody who produces something of value and thereby builds a large or profitable enterprise. Public goods are by nature available to everybody, but not everybody builds a Boeing, a Google, an Apple, or a Caterpillar. It may be true on some level that “nobody in this country got rich on his own,” but it’s also true that those factories didn’t build themselves.
The Confidence Game
Consumers have been in the doldrums throughout this weak recovery, but the mood has gone from sour to despairing in recent months. The numbers have been so bad that the relatively obscure “Index of Consumer Sentiment” constructed by the University of Michigan has begun to receive the attention of political handicappers.
While President Obama’s job-approval rating is terrible, at only 40 percent, he has still not plumbed the depths explored by Jimmy Carter, whose own approval rating 970 days into office was 33 percent. But when it comes to consumer confidence, the story is worse. Throughout history, consumers have been a relatively confident lot. As the accompanying chart indicates, they are not so now. Consumer confidence is currently as low as it has ever been under any president after 32 months in office, going all the way back to 1953, the first year the University of Michigan began constructing the index.
One can see why political scientists might think that this observation is noteworthy. Indeed, two out of the three presidents under whom consumer confidence was below the average did not win reelection, and the fellow who won, Richard Nixon, saw confidence that was only a smidgen below the mean. But the economic implications of the bad sentiment might concern the average citizen as well. Does low consumer confidence mean that consumption is about to dive?
The answer may surprise. Consumption is certainly important, making up about 70 percent of GDP. If consumption tanks, we would certainly have a recession. But consumer confidence is of little use in predicting consumption. One might even say that consumer confidence is the most talked about and least meaningful indicator out there. Consumers go on spending sprees because they are happy, but they also go on therapeutic spending sprees when they are depressed, and entertaining spending sprees when they are bored.
There has been a large amount of research into the role of consumer confidence in the determination of consumption. A recent study by economists Ali Al-Eyd, Ray Barrell, and E. Philip Davis found that once one accounts for variables that should affect consumption, such as income and interest rates, consumer confidence is essentially irrelevant. In another study, economist Jeffrey Fuhrer found that 70 percent of the variation in Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment can be explained by variation in national income, the unemployment rate, inflation, and real interest rates — suggesting that the index has little independent information to add. Recent months have yielded new evidence that consumer confidence does not predict consumer behavior. Even though it has been declining since May 2011, retail sales climbed 0.5 percent in July, the biggest increase since March.
One thing consumer confidence may predict is consumer confidence elsewhere. A recent European Central Bank working paper by economists Stéphane Dées and Pedro Soares Brinca found evidence of a “confidence channel” that transmits shocks from the United States to Europe: When consumer confidence is low in the United States, it can lead to lower consumer sentiment in the euro area. Depressing sentiments spread like swine flu from country to country. They just don’t seem to result in actual depressions.
‐ Recently, someone asked John Boehner whether he would be interested in being the GOP vice-presidential nominee next year. He said, “It’s hard enough for me to go to funerals of people I know.”
‐ As part of a politician’s online strategy, debunking websites (such as Obama’s 2008 FightTheSmears.com) must be used with care. If insufficiently vigorous, they may spread more purported misinformation than they counter; if too vehement or detailed, they can come across like that guy with the stack of photocopies that everyone avoids at your local diner. In the latter category is AttackWatch, an official site of the Obama campaign that, upon its mid-September debut, made 1950s-era propaganda look tame by comparison. Site users were invited to report attacks on the president by disloyal citizens, who were depicted in unflattering photos with red tints, as the site pushed risibly implausible lies (“The Obama administration has strengthened our borders while making our immigration system smart and fair”) and labeled all claims to the contrary “smears.” The crudely designed and worded site launched a thousand jokes, and, as with Nixon’s enemies list, critics soon were complaining about being omitted.
‐ The first round of the Solyndra scandal was bad enough: The Obama administration, in contravention of standard practice, shoveled a half-billion dollars’ worth of loan guarantees to a wobbly solar-energy firm, backed by Democratic donors, which then went on a spending spree before declaring bankruptcy and wiping out 1,100 jobs. Now, a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service suggests that there were deep problems with Solyndra that should have been apparent from the beginning, and might have been caught if the review process had not been short-circuited by politics: Solyndra’s product was unsuitable for residential uses and large-scale solar facilities, it was more expensive than that of its competitors, it was facing new and more intense competition. Rather than helping the firm, the politically expedited injection of public funds may have hastened its demise: “After we got the loan guarantee, they were just spending money left and right,” former Solyndra engineer Lindsey Eastburn told the Washington Post. “Because of that infusion of money, it made people sloppy.” While the firm spent $340 million on a new factory, it spent some $660 million on things such as a flashy new conference center and high-dollar lobbyists to keep the public funds flowing. The firm is now under investigation both by Congress and by the Justice Department, and its executives have made a spectacle of themselves by pleading the Fifth. In the hands of the Obama administration, “clean” energy is anything but.
‐ The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lived up to its name by rescuing Senate Democrats from a potentially humiliating defeat over federal funding. The Republican-led House had already adjourned for recess after passing a continuing resolution funding the government through November 18 (at the fiscal year 2012 levels both parties have agreed to) and providing about $1 billion in emergency disaster relief to FEMA, which Democrats insisted was on the verge of insolvency. But Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and his colleagues chafed at the Republicans’ plan to actually pay for the new disaster spending by cutting “green” programs like the one that helped finance Solyndra. Never mind that Democrats had previously supported cuts to these programs to finance their “Cash for Clunkers” boondoggle and bailout of the teachers’ unions. Reid et al. denounced the cuts as “job destroying.” But with the House gone, and the most recent continuing resolution set to expire on September 30, an unceremonious retreat seemed Reid’s only option. Enter FEMA, which somewhat miraculously announced that it could do without the emergency funding, allowing Reid to strike it (and the spending offsets) from the House bill. Senators approved the measure and went home. Both sides declared victory, but the overwhelming winner was FEMA, proving it can provide “disaster relief” for politicians.
‐ Six years after Kelo v. New London — the Supreme Court decision allowing state and local governments to take private property and give it to other private parties — the controversy still hasn’t died down. Only recently, Connecticut state-supreme-court justice Richard N. Palmer personally apologized to Susette Kelo, the woman who sued to prevent the seizing of her property, for voting against her when the case was before him. It’s debatable whether the Fifth Amendment’s requirement that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation” is enforceable against state and local governments. But regardless, it is wrong for any government to take property from one private party and give it to another. Today, that fight has been taken up in the legislative branches of lower governments — and getting that ball rolling is a worthy result of Ms. Kelo’s battle.
‐ Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. Twenty years ago, he was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, a 27-year-old police officer working nights as a security guard to support his young family. On the fateful 1989 evening, Davis, then 20, fired a handgun at a passing car, wounding a passenger. He later met an acquaintance, who was arguing with a homeless man. Officer MacPhail intervened when Davis started pistol-whipping the man. Davis shot MacPhail in the face and the heart. Over two decades, his death sentence became a cause célèbre for anti-capital-punishment activists (and reliables like Jimmy Carter) who, whenever the killer is black and the victim white, see conclusive proof of racial animus in the death penalty’s imposition. But Davis received a fair trial (the court actually suppressed important evidence against him), his case was exhaustively reviewed by state and federal courts, and clemency was denied by the governor after an independent review. Though some eyewitnesses recanted, the courts found them suspect — hardly enough to overcome the other witnesses and ballistics evidence tying the two shootings to the same gun. There have been capital cases where compelling demonstrations of innocence give us pause. This is not one of them.
‐ The Federal Reserve’s latest attempt to manipulate interest rates in the service of higher economic growth — a trade of short-term for long-term Treasuries modeled on its 1961 “Operation Twist” — could be pronounced a failure on its first day. Stocks, oil, and gold fell while the dollar rose and the yield curve flattened: all signs that the Fed inadvertently took a deflationary step rather than a reflationary one. The chief contribution the Fed can make to the economy is to stabilize expectations about the future path of inflation and nominal income. If it adopted this modest conception of its role it would be less likely to twist itself in knots.
‐ One would hope that, if there were a way to ensure that illegal immigrants stood no chance of gainful employment in America, it would be universally adopted. But such a system, E-Verify, exists, and has been repeatedly challenged: A bill to limit the program has just passed California’s legislature, and its use has been hindered elsewhere. Federal standards on immigration are inconsistently enforced, but this may be about to change: A bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, which looks likely to pass the House, would implement these standards across the nation. Weakening the prospects of employment for illegal immigrants would do far more than any fence to reduce the flow across the border.
‐ That sound you didn’t hear over the last several months was the masses rushing to join La Raza (“The Race”), a Hispanic-supremacist “community activist” group, in boycotting Arizona for its supposedly harsh immigration-enforcement law. Sympathizers were asked to avoid traveling to Arizona, but tourism revenue increased; the group tried to get baseball’s All-Star Game moved from Phoenix, but nobody paid attention. So La Raza decided to declare victory and go home. The organization has ended its boycott, maintaining that it was a triumph “because it successfully discouraged other states from enacting similar laws,” though in fact four states have already done so, and two dozen more are likely to consider such measures next year. It all goes to show that “The Race” is not too swift — though they would have our sincere congratulations if they could succeed in persuading illegal immigrants to boycott Arizona.
‐ A report from the Arizona Republic makes depressing reading. “Facing a possible civil-rights lawsuit, Arizona has struck an agreement with federal officials to stop monitoring classrooms for mispronounced words and poor grammar from teachers of students still learning the English language.” Monitors had found that some teachers had “unacceptably heavy accents that caused [them] to mispronounce words,” and that some used “poor English grammar.” (“Examples of concerns included a teacher who asked her English learners ‘How do we call it in English?’ and teachers who pronounced ‘levels’ as ‘lebels’ and ‘much’ as ‘mush.’”) In such cases, “state officials would suggest helping the teacher take additional English-language classes or work with a fluency coach.” Nobody was fired or lost pay. But apparently it would be a violation of civil rights to help poor kids assimilate. The federal government may have no accent, but it is frequently incomprehensible.
‐ The CLASS Act, a new entitlement to insurance for long-term care, was passed alongside Obamacare. The program was structured to take in taxes before paying out benefits and thus made the overall legislation appear to save money. But it has long been clear that the program will quickly become insolvent: “Totally unsustainable” is the way HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described it. The program’s chief actuary sent out an e-mail saying that HHS was closing the office tasked with implementing the program and reassigning its staff. HHS promptly denied that the office was being closed down. The fate of the program itself is unclear: It seems to both exist and not exist, in a state of quantum indeterminacy. Just like the savings from Obamacare.
‐ A story recently broke that the Department of Justice spent staggering amounts of money on refreshments at a conference: A government auditor found that $32 was spent per attendee to provide a snack consisting of candy bars and Cracker Jack, and muffins cost $16 each. It turns out that these findings were based on averaging the cost of food at the conferences across all items, and to no one’s surprise, the government did not actually pay $16 for each muffin. But they did spend an average of $49,000 on food and beverage per conference, and $121 million on conferences overall in 2008 and 2009. The incident is reminiscent of the $640 Navy toilet seat and $600 Pentagon hammer in more than one way: Sloppy accounting may explain the shocking numbers, but the reality of government waste should still scandalize.
‐ Was there any doubt who would win when two of the Left’s causes — the sick and poor, and the environment — came into conflict? As of the end of 2011, it will be illegal to sell over-the-counter asthma inhalers, simply because those inhalers contain CFCs. Those who rely on these inexpensive devices will instead be forced to turn to prescription models, which cost more and of course require a doctor’s appointment. And even those inhalers aren’t the same as they used to be; several years ago, the EPA required manufacturers to use CFC-free propellants, which, some users report, makes the medication less effective. Reducing the use of CFCs is a valuable goal, as they have been shown to damage the ozone layer, and laws mandating such reductions may be justified in some circumstances. But this policy change makes asthma medication less available to the poor, and it should be reversed before it can begin causing real harm.
‐ The Palestinians took their bid for a state to the U.N. As Turtle Bay theater and posturing for a domestic audience, it was a masterstroke. But the push was so poorly conceived that it immediately stalled in the Security Council. As Elliott Abrams wrote on National Review Online, the Palestinians succeeded only in further alienating the two parties on which their statehood project most depends, the Israelis and the Americans. The Obama administration gave every sign of having finally shelved its obsession with the Israeli settlements and its grudge match with the Israeli government of Bibi Netanyahu, both of which only fueled Palestinian intransigence. We hope this reflects a genuine chastening of an Obama team that believed forging a peace deal was merely a matter of willing it and of scolding Israel. But Barack Obama sounds markedly more pro-Israel with a periodicity that happens to track the U.S. election cycle.
‐ Adm. Mike Mullen, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dropped a farewell bombshell at a Senate hearing when he accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, the ISI, of being behind a spate of attacks by the Haqqani network on targets, such as the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, that have high propaganda value. He says he has credible intelligence to back him up. Put another way, a supposed ally is secretly supporting a deadly enemy. Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, his sons, and his extended family — Islamists long devoted to violence — form a freelance militia close to the Taliban, called a network for want of a better term. Admiral Mullen’s reference to the Haqqani network as the ISI’s “veritable arm” has outraged the Pakistani top brass, all the more because it is almost certainly true but supposed to be invisible to outsiders.
‐ Russia is due to hold presidential elections next March, but there is no point, as Vladimir Putin settled the matter long ago. To resort to a sinister phrase of his own invention, he has set up “managed democracy,” and this means that absolute power stays in his hands. From 2000 to 2008 he served as president, and the constitution specified that nobody could hold that office for more than two four-year terms. It was child’s play for Putin to devise a way around that: Nothing prevented four terms as president so long as they weren’t consecutive. Putin duly exchanged places with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, a cipher who lacks character and can’t conceal what may well be justified fear of Putin. At a mass meeting of United Russia, their party, Putin and Medvedev announced that they are once more going to exchange places. In the finest Soviet tradition, 11,000 delegates gave them a standing ovation. Putin has successfully neutered opposition parties, arrested challengers, bought or broken oligarchs, taken control of almost all media outlets, and arranged to extend the term of office from four to six years, taking his presidency to 2024. It shouldn’t be necessary to fix the ballot, as Putin made sure to do in previous elections.
‐ As the eurozone’s turmoil grows worse, its options dwindle to three: inflation, bailouts, or breakup. If Europe’s distressed economies still had their own currencies, they would depreciate and thus bring their wages and prices to competitive levels. The European Central Bank could accomplish something similar if it inflated the euro. Prices and wages in the region’s healthy core would rise faster than those in its troubled economies, and thus the peripheral countries would become competitive again. If European elites are unwilling to give up on the euro, and unwilling as well to allow inflation to rise, then their only alternative is to persuade reluctant electorates to approve massive bailouts — assuming they have enough money. The euro was a political project of elites who thought it would foster a European unity that itself did not enjoy much popular support. They no longer have good choices, and will on past performance probably pick the worst.
‐ Ireland’s fiscal-austerity measures had no greater enemy than Paul Krugman, the economist turned New York Times attack dachshund. Such austerity measures were undermining the Irish economy, driving away investors, eroding confidence, sending incomes plunging, hindering growth, etc. He compared the austerity measures to medieval bloodletting, called them “savage” and their architects superstitious. Suffice it to say, he was not a fan. And then came the Irish economic-growth numbers: considerably stronger in the past two quarters, with GDP up 1.6 percent, exports strong, and domestic demand rising. Professor Krugman, rather than admitting his error, claims to be vindicated: “Standard Keynesian models,” he says, helped him see it all coming, even when he was denouncing it in articles with headlines like “A Terrible Ugliness Is Born.” Krugman has come in for some gentle chiding from his fellow economists. Comparing economists’ forecasts to the Irish facts, economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University wrote: “It ain’t a pretty picture, and I’ll be the first to admit (and apparently I am) that my predictions were incorrect.” No such admission is forthcoming from Krugman. Alex Massie, writing in The Spectator, sees what is really going on: “When Paul Krugman spends a summer writing about Ireland’s enforced austerity, he’s not really writing about Ireland at all. He’s arguing about the United States, and never mind what the hell happens to the poor, miserable Irish. The worse things go for them, the better they go for the Krugman school.”
‐ It would be too much to say that King Abdullah is an acolyte of John Stuart Mill. And yet he seems inclined to grant women in Saudi Arabia the right to vote and even to submit their candidacy for municipal office “in accordance with sharia.” Abdullah justified this shift thus: “We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society in every field of work,” leaving the unsettling implication that marginalization will continue in other areas. One of these will be behind the wheel of a car, where women are prohibited from sitting, hindering their ability to reach polling centers. So long as this wider “marginalization” (known outside the Wahhabi realm as subjugation) persists, equality under the law will remain a fantasy. And so long as the electorate at large is unable to elect — and dismiss — its leaders, universal suffrage will continue to be a mirage.
‐ The London riots are over, the dust has settled, and eventually questions are being asked: Who did this, why did they do it, and how do we prevent them from doing it again? Well, one way might be to look at the criminal records of those involved. The London Telegraph reports that “the average London rioter had 15 previous offences on his record — but only a third of those had ever been to prison.” These figures were correctly interpreted by the British justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, as confirmation “that existing criminals were on the rampage.” Criminality: still and always the real root cause of crime.
‐ A woman in Canada will serve no jail time for strangling her newborn son and leaving his body in a neighbor’s yard. The court’s rationale for giving a mere suspended sentence for infanticide — which, even in a nation with no restrictions on abortion, is still a crime — was a simple extension of its justification for abortion, which is that Canadians “generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support.” In the words of one of the judges, “Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother.” Someone should grieve for Canada.
‐ A British consultant named Anne O’Connor makes a living advising local school authorities on their use of colors. She’s not an interior designer, but rather a diversity counselor who explains the many subtle ways that reactionary color choices can poison children’s minds. One very common example is white paper: Since paper conveys power and authority (presumably with an exception for the loo), nursery-school pupils should be given green or lavender sheets to draw on, so they won’t consider whiteness to be the norm. But that’s just the beginning, reports the Telegraph: “Staff should be prepared to be economical with the truth when asked by pupils what their favourite colour is and, in the interests of good race relations, answer ‘black’ or ‘brown.’” When witches are shown dressed in black, the message is that black equals evil; to remedy this, the consultant says they should wear pink instead. Rather oddly, Ms. O’Connor has nothing to say about ghosts; but applying her principles, we would say that Casper should be black, Marley’s ghost off-white, and the ones that just knock over lamps and chairs sort of beige. Matters like these are crucial in children’s early development: After all, you’ve got to be carefully taught to believe in political correctness.
‐ In one of his recent weekly radio addresses, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg saw riots in our future. “We have a lot of kids graduating from college [who] can’t find jobs. That’s what happened in Cairo. . . . You don’t want those kinds of riots here.” The main task of a mayor is preserving public order, and Mayor Bloomberg’s greatest achievement — though he may lose track of it when he noodles with trans-fats and bike lanes — was maintaining the sensible policing policies of his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. Bloomberg’s diagnosis of the causes of urban violence is inaccurate: The riots of the recent American past — Los Angeles in 1992, everywhere in the mid to late Sixties — were not caused by underemployed collegians. It is also a preemptive exculpation: Riot away, you have reason. The mayor should be embarrassed. But New Yorkers long ago learned that he, as Mick Jagger said of Marianne Faithfull, don’t embarrass easy.
‐ No branch of the services fought harder than the U.S. Marine Corps to keep “don’t ask, don’t tell” in place. That battle now lost, the Marines have swiftly regrouped, and are aggressively seeking homosexual recruits. The day after DADT officially ended, the Corps had a recruiting booth open at the “gay community center” in downtown Tulsa, Okla. They were the only branch of the services so represented. To judge from the New York Times report of the event, local media were more interested in it than were local homosexuals; and among the latter group, women were much more interested than men (which seems also to be the case with same-sex “marriage”). The Times reporter watched the Marine recruiters give interviews to five local TV stations, three print journalists, and an NPR correspondent. Meanwhile: “A trickle of gay women . . . came in to ask about joining the Marines.” If the end of all this is that there are lesbians among female Marine enlistees, we venture to hope that the status quo may be preserved after all.
‐ Forty-nine years ago, Tony Bennett first crooned that he’d left his heart in San Francisco. Considering his comments on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we’d say he left his head over there also. On The Howard Stern Show – of all places – the 85-year-old singer put on his pundit cap and analyzed the root causes of the War on Terror. “They flew the plane in, but we caused it,” Bennett told Stern. “We were bombing them, and they told us to stop.” He wondered, “Who are the terrorists? Are we the terrorists or are they the terrorists? Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Two days later, Bennett posted an apology to his Facebook page. “There is simply no excuse for terrorism,” he wrote. “I am sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of my love for my country, my hope for humanity and my desire for peace throughout the world.” Or, we might add, a lack of moral reasoning.
‐ Anyone inclined to doubt that Western civilization is in crisis need only contemplate the phenomenon of “reality TV.” Item: There has since 2004 been a series of shows on ABC around the idea of two households’ exchanging wives. The format has now advanced to Celebrity Wife Swap. We are told that an upcoming edition will feature a trade of partners between former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard and movie actor Gary Busey (who describes himself as a born-again Christian). Item: MTV is now in the third season of a show titled 16 and Pregnant, which follows the travails of 16-year-old mothers-to-be. One such from the show’s first season married her baby’s father, who then joined the Air Force. The couple, now both 19, has just been arrested in Arkansas for drug offenses and child endangerment; the infant, now aged two, is in state care. Contrasting the ancient Greek polis with post-war Britain, H. D. F. Kitto lamented that “the training in virtue, which the medieval state left to the church, and the polis made its own concern, the modern state leaves to God knows what.” If we are leaving it to reality TV, then we are doomed, and deserve to be.
‐ Malcolm Wallop was one of the most valuable conservative voices in the U.S. Senate: a full-throated, full-spectrum advocate for economic liberty and strong national defense. The blueblood cowboy — he was both a cattle rancher and a Yale graduate with family ties to the British aristocracy — represented Wyoming for 18 years, and was greatly respected by his Senate colleagues. He is perhaps best remembered for his strong advocacy of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was just one example of his forward-looking approach to national-security issues. Dead at 78. R.I.P.
‐ Oscar Handlin was America’s greatest historian of immigration, and the famous first line of his 1951 book, The Uprooted, has achieved a greatness of its own: “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.” Despite this ambitious observation, Handlin refused to romanticize the immigrant experience, a temptation that many of his peers failed to resist. The Uprooted is one part scholarship, one part elegy. It reveals that as immigrants moved from an old country to a new one, they often wound up feeling alienated from both. Yet they also contributed to America’s sense of self. Individualism, restlessness, creativity, entrepreneurship, disregard of status, and risk acceptance are traits of both the immigrant and the American. Or, as Handlin might have said, they are American because they are immigrant. Dead at 95. R.I.P.
Taxing Our Patience
President Obama is threatening to impose a massive tax increase to pay for yet another round of stimulus spending, the first half-dozen rounds having failed to do the trick. Further, the president says he wants to ensure that the very wealthy do not pay lower effective tax rates than the middle class does, and argues that families and businesses earning more than $250,000 in any given year should pay an additional $1,500,000,000,000.00 or so in taxes.
Mr. Obama and his favorite campaign underwriter, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, have tried to bring in a bumper crop of political hay out of the fact that Mr. Buffett alleges that he pays taxes at a lower effective rate than does his secretary. There is rather less to this claim than meets the eye: Mr. Buffett, the third-wealthiest man on earth, pays himself a salary of only $100,000 a year, and says his secretary earns around $60,000. (If his secretary has a spouse similarly employed, the couple may very well earn a combined salary higher than Mr. Buffett’s, as indeed do a number of police officers, nurses, and high-school principals.) Mr. Buffett pays no taxes on dividends accruing to the many shares of stock he holds in his company, Berkshire Hathaway, simply because the firm does not pay a dividend, while most of his personal wealth has been put into a trust. Each of those facts — the relatively low salary, the lack of dividend payments on Berkshire Hathaway shares, the trust — is part of a calculated strategy to avoid paying taxes.
Very wealthy people such as Mr. Buffett tend to earn their money in one of three ways: as investors, as entrepreneurs, or as executives in large enterprises. In each case, salary is a relatively small part of total compensation: Rather than getting a regular paycheck, investors, entrepreneurs, and top executives most often are rewarded with an ownership stake in their firms. As they work to increase the value of the business, they enrich themselves as well. This is a desirable arrangement to the extent that it aligns the financial interests of a company’s management with those of its shareholders. Because Congress has for decades sought to increase the incentives for Americans to invest — investment being where new businesses, products, and jobs come from — we tax long-term capital gains at a lower rate than we tax regular income such as salaries and cash bonuses. This reflects both the fact that investors are risking their capital and the fact that much of the money that flows into such investments already has been taxed once — as household income, in the case of Americans investing for their retirements, or as business income, in the case of large and small firms expanding their operations and product lines with new investments.
President Obama proposes to stop taxing investment income at lower rates than salaries and other cash income, and to raise tax rates generally on American families earning $250,000 or more. His approach is a deeply foolish one. For one thing, it probably would not raise the revenue he claims it would. Neither President Obama nor any act of Congress can force an investor to realize a capital gain at any given time, and compensation packages will simply be restructured in light of the new rates.
Worse, this tax hike would immediately devalue the investments of millions of American households, and would make investing in American firms, which already labor under the developed world’s second-highest corporate-tax rate, even less attractive. It would do so precisely at the time when we should be encouraging investment, which is the only real source of reliable long-term job growth.
While we believe that a tax increase is bad medicine for a country on the cusp of a double-dip recession and suffering from the weakest growth and worst job market in modern history, practically all parties — Republicans and Democrats, supply-side conservatives and their tormenters at the Brookings Institution — agree that a deep and fundamental reorganization of the U.S. tax code is highly desirable, and there are several excellent proposals for achieving this. President Obama’s preference for simply jacking up tax rates on families earning $250,000 and more is crude and childish in comparison with the proposals of thoughtful Democrats, to say nothing of those offered by more sensible conservatives.