Magazine | July 9, 2012, Issue

The Week

‐ Not that those work permits are going to be of much use . . .

‐ During a press conference, President Obama said that the private sector was “doing fine.” Republicans hooted, and Democrats claimed the words were taken out of context. Obama was expressing his theory of the economy perfectly clearly: The main drag on the economy is cutbacks in state and local government. In a speech in Cleveland, he elaborated on his views. Governor Romney, he said, wants to slash regulations, cut taxes on the wealthy, and “strip down government to national security and a few other basic functions.” This platform, he argued, amounts to repeating the policies of the George W. Bush administration: policies that led to wage stagnation and then an economic crisis. Now of course Romney will not, and Bush certainly did not, try to create a night-watchman state. No sane person believes that Bush’s tax cuts caused the financial crisis, although Obama skillfully seeks to foster that impression. The vast majority of job losses have come from the private sector. Obama’s argument, it should be immediately clear to anyone paying attention, is equal parts caricature, non sequitur, and spin. Lucky for him a lot of people are not paying attention; even luckier for him how many of them are journalists.

‐ Obama has through executive fiat enacted a law rejected by Congress: the DREAM Act, which would confer legal status on certain illegal immigrants and provide them with work permits. As policy, this is unwise; as process, it is unconstitutional. The president does not have the power to create an amnesty program under his own authority: Congress writes the laws, and the president enforces them. We have the president’s own word on that, of course: A year ago he told the Spanish-language TV network Univision that he did not have the power to act on his own in such matters, and “that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” He knew better then. He knows better now. Congress was right to reject amnesty earlier, but even those in Congress who support the underlying policy should not let this arrogation of power stand.

‐ Mitt Romney responded to President Obama’s lawless suspension of immigration laws by lamely complaining that it had blocked a long-term legislative solution. He is speaking softly because his team wants to court Hispanics and accepts the view that the way to do that is to moderate on immigration. It’s a reductive way of looking at Hispanics, and treats them as an interest group rather than fellow citizens. It’s also short-sighted, since those Hispanics who think of themselves as part of an ethnic interest group are the ones least likely to vote Republican. We think the best policy is to reduce the illegal-immigrant population through enforcement at the border and the workplace, and only after security is established to tackle the question of what to do about those illegal immigrants still here. The policy question is, however, somewhat beside the point right now. What Romney should have said — should still say — is that the president has a constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws, that this president has abandoned his post, and that the next president won’t.

#page#‐ Jeb Bush appeared to suggest that today’s Republican party would not nominate Ronald Reagan — a claim previously made most prominently by Barack Obama — and praised his father’s tax-hiking budget deal of 1990. A few days earlier he had urged Republicans to stop pledging to oppose all tax increases, reasoning that this pledge would block even a budget deal that included ten dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of new taxes. For Republicans to take Bush’s advice on taxes would be to adopt a strange negotiating strategy. The time to think through a response to a budget deal with 10:1 spending cuts for tax increases is when such a deal is actually on the table: which is not now, and not any time in the foreseeable future. Bush’s line about Reagan is perverse, treating Reagan’s success in pulling the Republican party rightward as a repudiation of him. And just a few weeks ago the party gave its presidential nomination to a man whose record is less conservative than . . . that of Jeb Bush, come to think of it. It is Bush’s impressive record that will keep conservatives thinking highly of him even as we disagree with his recent remarks.

‐ Whoever is leaking about President Obama’s national-security programs should be tapped to write the president’s authorized biography. When reports appeared in the press about secret programs during the Bush administration, they usually had a disapproving tone. The sources were identified as discontented insiders. If the Obama leakers are discontented, it is only because they want the president to get more political credit for what they consider his tough-minded effectiveness. Bipartisan outrage at the revelation of so much classified information forced Eric Holder to ask U.S. attorneys serving under him to hunt down the leakers. Good luck. Republicans including Mitt Romney are calling for a special prosecutor. They don’t trust Holder’s picks. They also know that the best way to cut a swath of destruction through an administration is to subject it to the tender mercies of a special prosecutor. As Andy McCarthy argues elsewhere in this issue, such prosecutors — accountable to no one and standing outside the executive branch — are an offense against the constitutional order. In the end, there is only one condign punishment for the president’s destructively boastful team: to chase the lot of them out of Washington in November.

‐ Attorney General Eric Holder is facing new calls for his resignation, along with a House vote to hold him in contempt of Congress, for failing to turn over documents that could assist an investigation of Operation Fast and Furious. That’s the program in which agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives deliberately allowed drug cartels to traffic more than 1,000 guns into Mexico, and made no attempt to track the weapons as they changed hands. Two of the guns from Fast and Furious were later found at the scene of a Border Patrol agent’s murder. For a brief while, Holder negotiated with Representative Darrell Issa, who is leading the investigation, to avoid contempt charges. Then President Obama invoked executive privilege to shield the documents. Operation Drag Out and Dissemble continues.

‐ Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, stood up for political participation and against the Obama administration’s attempts to silence its critics with tactics the senator rightly described as Nixonian. “The campaign has rifled through one donor’s divorce records,” he said in a pre-speech interview. “They’ve got the IRS, the SEC, and other agencies going after contributors, trying to frighten people and intimidate them out of exercising their rights to participate in the American political discourse.” Obama strategist David Axelrod recently echoed Nancy Pelosi’s call for undercutting First Amendment protections for political speech. The Democrats are particularly exercised by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave generously to Newt Gingrich’s campaign and who promises to fund nonprofit groups critical of the president and his agenda, and by Charles and David Koch, the libertarian philanthropists who have supported worthy projects ranging from the Cato Institute to FreedomWorks. Senator McConnell specifically defended the Koch brothers, and Adelson deserves praise for his commitment to public affairs as well. A republic needs active citizens — and politicians are looking to silence some of them when they speak balefully of the influence of “big money.”

#page#‐ When the conference of Catholic bishops opposed Obamacare because it would provide taxpayer funding for abortions, the Catholic Health Association (CHA) enthusiastically endorsed the law. CHA, which tends to prioritize “social justice” over spiritual orthodoxy, also reacted warmly to the president’s proposed accommodation (really an accounting trick) on Obamacare’s contraception and abortifacient mandate. But all CHA offered was encouraging statements; it never accepted the “accommodation,” and has now officially rejected the proposal as “unduly cumbersome” and “unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns” of its members. With this, even the most liberal of formal Catholic institutions has denounced the mandate. Of all President Obama’s accomplishments, bringing Catholics together across the political divide has to be the unlikeliest.

‐ It’s no longer cool to call Obama cool, says Angela Rye, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus: “The term cool could in some ways be deemed racial.” She cited as evidence the new American Crossroads ad, “Cool,” which juxtaposes Obama’s celebrity status with his administrative incompetence. Rye, of course, did not mention that the Obama team has spent the last four years cultivating exactly this “cool” image — whether in the pages of Ebony, where Obama was hailed as one of the “25 Coolest Brothers of All Time,” or in the mansions of Hollywood stars such as George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker. Earlier this month, the first lady called Obama “a pretty cool dad.” Do not judge Mrs. Obama too harshly: These code words can be awfully tricky.

‐ Sometimes the mask slips, or falls thuddingly to the ground — and we are better off for it. In the first week of June, Les Moonves, the head of CBS News, attended a fundraiser for Barack Obama in Beverly Hills. He said that “ultimately journalism has changed” and that “partisanship is very much a part of journalism now.” The rest of the mainstream media shares Moonves’s politics, just not his candor.

‐ To poetically inclined members of the Occupy movement, T. S. Eliot’s 1925 prediction that the world would end “not with a bang but a whimper” must seem apposite. After all of the rhetoric and the repeated promise of a spring return, the vanguard of the revolution has hit the north side of the karmic cycle. Declaring its own movement dead, the Canadian anti-capitalist group Adbusters addressed an open letter to the “wild cats, do-gooders and steadfast rebels out there,” in which it labeled Occupy a counterrevolutionary force, “seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash, and minor celebrity status”: “There has been a [sic] unfortunate consolidation of power in #OWS.” Adbusters hopes that “the next big bang to capture the world’s imagination could come not from a thousand encampments but from a hundred thousand ephemeral jams.” This could be the stuff of parody, but it’s legit, and it points to a deeper truth: The movement is not yet ready to face the fact that the American public is not interested in what it has to sell.

‐ The federal government’s quota on imported sugar raises prices for consumers — Americans pay nearly twice the global price — for the benefit of well-connected producers. The Senate narrowly rejected a bill to end the quota, with 16 Democrats voting for it and 16 Republicans against. Senator Marco Rubio, disappointingly, was one of the Republicans against. Forced to decide between old-style Florida politics and the values of the Tea Party, he made the wrong choice.

‐ Almost every Congress passes a “miscellaneous tariff bill” to suspend duties on products that U.S. companies use when there is no American maker of those products and the duties raise little revenue. Senator Jim DeMint has objected to this practice not because he is a fan of tariffs but because it reminds him of earmarks: The direct benefits of lifting the tariffs go to specific companies. Some business groups have been concerned about DeMint’s stance. Senate Republican leaders have found an ingenious solution: Instruct the International Trade Commission to review its tariffs to find ones that meet the criteria for suspension — no domestic maker, not much revenue — and recommend that Congress suspend all of them. Abolishing those tariffs would be better than suspending them, but the bill is a good idea, and it has DeMint’s blessing.

#page#The Storm Approaches

With Greece in turmoil, Spain not much better off, and the rest of Europe on edge, the U.S. has been sitting on the periphery of a major European crisis in a manner that is reminiscent of the period preceding World War II. As then, many Americans seem convinced that European troubles will never spread across the Atlantic Ocean.

At its core, the crisis is one of investor confidence, and it comes in response to sober analysis of the finances of southern-European countries. Their deficits are large; their future looks bleak because so many of them have enacted entitlement programs that grow without bound, and because the recent financial crisis put overwhelming strains on their near-term budgets.

As economists struggle over the design of reforms to restore stability to international financial markets, their starting point is to define the problem. While there can be much debate about how to achieve balanced budgets, the question of how much balancing is needed — and in which countries — is a matter of arithmetic.

A recent series of papers from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) explores the relevant calculations. One study, by economists Rossana Merola and Douglas Sutherland, focuses on long-term projections for OECD member countries. The authors calculate fiscal gaps — the immediate and permanent changes in the governments’ financial position that are required to ensure that debt meets a specific target by a certain time. When assessing how much “fiscal consolidation” is needed, the authors estimate the potential effects of threats to smooth budgetary reform, such as unexpected shocks or rapidly aging populations.

Source: Merola, R. And D. Sutehrland (2012), “Fiscal Consolidation: Part 3. Long-run Projections and Fiscal Gap Calculations,” OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No.934, OECD Publishing

The nearby chart presents one of their scenarios, which takes into account an increase in spending on health-care programs and pensions but assumes that certain policies will be in place to control for these quickly rising expenditures. The chart shows the change required to stabilize debt at 75 percent of GDP in 26 OECD countries by 2050. Whether this target is high or low, it unquestionably represents a circumstance far superior to the current trajectory.

Take Japan. The Japanese government needs to permanently increase revenues or reduce spending by 10.5 percent of GDP in order to put its finances on a glide path to the target debt-to-GDP ratio. The authors’ assumption that the Japanese government will implement policies to contain spending on health care and pensions is particularly relevant, given Japan’s graying population.

Some European countries, such as Sweden and Switzerland, have already taken steps to curb their deficits and have little or no work to do. Others, such as those in southern Europe, do not expect dramatic increases in entitlement spending, so their long-run picture is not as bleak as might be expected.

Consider, finally, the United States. It is in a different situation from that of the Europeans, but not in the way we would hope for. Our fiscal gap is the third highest, following Japan’s and New Zealand’s. As bad as things are in Europe, the chart suggests that there is no European nation in worse shape than the United States over the long run. Not Spain. Not Italy. Not Greece. The crisis looks set on crossing the Atlantic after all.

‐ An Obama campaign ad claims that the president’s policies have resulted in the creation of 2.7 million green jobs. What exactly is a “green job”? At a recent congressional hearing, Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) got Labor Department officials to admit that the term includes, among other occupations, bus drivers, science teachers, bike-shop employees, and even, believe it or not, sellers of antiques and used clothes (it’s recycling!). This means the tally should be increased by two, since Obama created jobs for himself and Joe Biden by recycling worn-out economic theories. Unfortunately for them, just as was true with Solyndra and many similar fiascos, lavish expenditures of government cash may not be able to stave off the pink slips.

‐ James Lovelock is in bad odor with the environmentalist movement, and the smell is wonderful. The 92-year-old British scientist is the inventor of the Gaia theory and widely regarded as the father of modern environmentalism. He has long been a proponent of nuclear power. And he calls wind turbines “ugly and useless.” He has now made some interesting comments to the Guardian. “It’s just the way the humans are that if there’s a cause of some sort, a religion starts forming around it. It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion. I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use. The greens use guilt. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting CO2 in the air.” Lovelock is discovering another similarity: the condemnation of heretics.

‐ Charles Barron, an aging black radical and demagogue, is on the verge of winning the Democratic primary for New York’s 8th congressional district. The retiring incumbent, Ed Towns, has endorsed him, and so have several of New York’s most powerful unions. If he wins the primary, it is almost certain he will win the general election in this safe Democratic district. Barron has a long history of hateful rhetoric: He has compared Israel to Nazi Germany, derided Jews in his own community, and supported Moammar Qaddafi and Robert Mugabe. Some local Jewish Democrats have condemned him, but the Democratic party’s leadership has remained silent. Prominent Republicans and the national GOP worked, with some success, to stop the rise of racist David Duke. Is it too much to ask Democrats to do the same with their own bigots?

‐ Representative Bob Turner (R., N.Y.) introduced legislation in June to rename the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Queens after former New York senator James Buckley. It would be a fitting tribute: Buckley co-sponsored the bill in 1972 that created the wildlife refuge and the entire 26,000-acre preserve it belongs to. Though Buckley is usually thought of as a stalwart political conservative, he was also what he termed a “conservative conservationist,” with a particular love for nature and bird-watching. In a 1979 speech, he defended his view of environmentalism by citing Edmund Burke’s admonition that we are but “temporary possessors and life-renters.” We join his six children in thinking a James L. Buckley Visitor Center would be a “wonderful and appropriate honor.”

‐ The fight for supremacy between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brothers will decide much else in the Middle East. They are the only organized forces in the country. The former is secular, the latter religious; and they are equal in the black arts of mobilizing power. The Muslim Brothers and their ideological allies won a majority in parliamentary elections. A special parliamentary committee looked about to draft a new Islamist constitution, and this would have broken forever the army’s grip. The first response of the generals on the military council was to try to railroad into office a president with powers superior to those of parliament. Having contrived reasons why popular Muslim Brother candidates could not run for election, they arranged what was supposed to be a foregone contest for the presidency between Muhammad Mursi, a rather colorless Islamist, and Ahmed Shafiq, one of their own. Just to be on the safe side, the military council has detected small illegalities and used them as a pretext for closing parliament altogether and threatening to arrest anyone who tries to enter its building. Should their man Shafiq emerge as president, he will have reserved executive and legislative powers enabling him to draft a constitution favorable to the military. Should the Muslim Brothers’ candidate Mursi, on the contrary, prove the winner, more craft and even stronger measures are bound to follow, up to and including civil war. One thing is certain: What has been celebrated as the Arab Spring turns out to be a classic exhibition of Third World power politics.

#page#‐ The Obama administration is working its way through various iterations of wishfulness on Syria. First, there was the Annan Plan, the handiwork of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had supposedly gotten Bashar Assad’s assent to a cease-fire. U.N. observers were last seen fleeing Syria because of the violence. Then there was the Yemeni Solution, premised on getting Russian support to ease Assad out of power but leave the governing structure intact, as occurred when President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in Yemen. Except the Russians are sending helicopters to Syria and show no interest in tossing Assad overboard — if that’s even in their power. Granted, there are no good, easy options in Syria. If Assad is overthrown, Sunni hard-liners may take power, and the country’s Christians have reason to fear their fate. Yet it is hard to see how anyone could be worse than Assad, in terms of both our interests and humanitarian considerations. He is part of a hostile Iran-Hezbollah-Russia axis, and has embarked on a murderous bout of repression that is on the verge of becoming a full-blown campaign of ethnic cleansing (he is an Alawite governing a Sunni country). Whether we like it or not, a proxy war is already raging in Syria between pro-Assad Iran and the country’s anti-Assad Sunni neighbors. We should seek to maximize our influence and empower the best elements of the chaotic opposition by training and equipping rebel fighters we consider worthy of our support. Ultimately, we should want to tip the scales against a dictator aligned with our enemies. FDR called Somoza “our son of a bitch.” Assad is theirs.

‐ In the People’s Republic of China, horrors occur daily, and quietly. But occasionally something leaks out. This is particularly true in the age of the Internet and social media. A woman named Feng Jianmei was discovered pregnant. Seven months. She already had a child. So she was obliged to pay $6,300 for this second. She did not have the money. So she was kidnapped, beaten, and dragged to a hospital, where she was given injections that killed and induced delivery of her baby. Photos made it onto the Internet showing the mother on her hospital bed with the corpse. Forced abortion and sterilization are routine in the PRC. This was the cause against which Chen Guangcheng, the “blind peasant lawyer,” crusaded. These horrors will not end until the Communist Party’s lock on power does.

‐ In July, the Canadian parliament voted to repeal Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, which bans “hate speech” on the Internet. The bill was brought forward by Conservative MP Brian Storseth, who argued that Section 13 directly contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the provision in Canadian law that guarantees freedom of speech. The bill passed by a slim majority. Repeal was just. As it stood, the Human Rights Act operated as a dangerous invitation for frivolous cases and warranted the intrusion of civil servants into an area that is properly served by judges and lawyers. But not everyone was happy with the outcome. Randall Garrison of the New Democratic party complained that to remove the provisions would strip the human-rights commission of its power to “educate” Canadians and to shut down undesirable websites. There could be no stronger case for repeal.

‐ An Economist reporter recently noted the existence of a United Nations body bearing the eclectic name of Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group of the General Assembly on the Integrated and Coordinated Implementation of and Follow-up to the Major United Nations Conferences and Summits in the Economic and Social Fields. Our first reaction on reading this was probably the same as yours: Good thing it’s Open-ended, because if the end were closed, it just wouldn’t work at all. (It’s times like these that make you wish you were Angela Merkel, because in German the name would all be one word.) Anyway, when this item made the Internet rounds (via blogs and e-mail; it’s too long for Twitter), U.N. hands rushed to defend the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group of the General Assembly on the Integrated . . . well, let’s just call it the OAHWGGAICIFM . . . ah, the hell with it. For brevity’s sake, we will adopt a friend’s solution for times when he had trouble remembering the names of obscure U.N. bodies: He simply called them all the Ad Hoc Committee for Screwing Israel.

#page#‐ A Russian court has upheld a law that bans gay-pride parades in Moscow anytime in the next 100 years. The term does seem excessive; surely 80 or 90 years would have done the trick. But setting that aside, along with those pesky freedom-of-speech issues, the ban is both bad and good for conservatism. On one hand, it’s bad, because there are few more effective arguments against gay marriage than a gay-pride parade: “We’re here, we’re queer, and never mind those lesbian bikers and whip-wielding transsexuals gyrating in bikinis to 30-year-old Grace Jones hits, we’re regular family-values types, just like you.” But to see the good side, consider this comment from an Atlantic blogger: “I can see the G8 meeting protest rallies, the UN General Assembly events, the websites taunting Putin and his judges, and more. The gay crowd will harrass [sic] and torment and undermine and prevail over those trying to repress them. This ban is a gift.” At last, we know what it takes to get the Left to condemn Russia. Better half a century late than never.

‐ In an eccentric anti-state outcry, a 70-year-old Scot wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper against the imminent passage of the Olympic torch through his area, suggesting that it was a fascist symbol and alluding to its Nazi origins. The irony is that his protest of a benign tradition actually incited an encounter with a more threatening species of government overreach: Two plainclothes police officers came to his home to inform him that he shouldn’t write things of that nature when the Olympics are involved. He simply laughed at them. “I just found it completely daft that a letter to the Courier had led to this,” he told the paper. He should be careful, talking like that.

‐ Like a divorcé who won’t stop talking about his ex, the folks at HBO are embarrassingly obsessed with Republicans. First HBO’s medieval fantasy show Game of Thrones included a scene in which George W. Bush’s severed head appears, fleetingly and obliquely (and with a bad haircut), impaled on a stick. The show’s creators admit that the head is modeled after the former president but explain that they needed a head for the scene and just happened to have a Bush model lying around. Meanwhile, Alan Ball, the creator of HBO’s vampire series True Blood, says this year’s story line was inspired by the Republican primaries, and he has added a character based on Rick Santorum. Ball says of Santorum: “What’s terrifying is how many people agree with him.” For a guy who writes about vampires all day, he sure is easily frightened.

‐ The New York Post covered a story emblematic of modern America — a story out of Coney Island, that iconic place. At P.S. 90, children in five kindergarten classes practiced for months to sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” at their graduation. (Whether kindergartners should have graduation is another matter.) It was to be their big finale. They were going to wave little American flags. But the principal “marched in on a recent rehearsal and ordered a CD playing the anthem to be shut off, staffers said. She told the teachers to drop the song from the program. ‘We don’t want to offend other cultures,’ they quoted her as explaining.” The principal substituted a Justin Bieber song, “Baby.” (“Are we an item? Girl, quit playing.”) After an uproar, the principal yanked that song, too. An America that will not permit kindergartners to sing “God Bless the U.S.A.” because it would “offend other cultures” is an America on very shaky ground. But there’s a silver lining to this story: Apparently, immigrant parents of P.S. 90 kids — men and women who hail from Pakistan, Mexico, Ecuador, and elsewhere — love the song.

#page#‐ Adidas likes to do oddball things with sneakers: It has attached puffy wings to them, applied giant logos in 216-point type, and collaborated with the avant-garde Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto on a line of high-style kicks. Ace race-hustler Jesse Jackson has of course found an angle on this, describing a pair of Adidas sneakers recently created by American designer Jeremy Scott as an exercise in human degradation. The offending sneaks feature a bright orange anklet connected to a thoroughly ugly purple shoe by a plastic chain. The Reverend Jackson regarded this as a racist evocation of slavery because . . . because black guys like sneakers, we guess. The shoes had nothing at all to do with slavery, but nonetheless have been driven from the market by the spurious campaign against them. Design is one of the few economic sectors in which the United States remains an undisputed world leader, and the farther away the icy finger of politics is kept from it, the better. (The fashion world would do well to return the favor, incidentally. Looking at you, Anna Wintour.) And it appears that the Reverend Jackson is losing his touch: The ethnic minority associated with Adidas is Asians, not blacks, yet somehow nobody thought to associate the shoes with debt peonage among 19th-century railroad coolies and the bitter memory of the Anti-Chinese League. Asians have managed without a Jesse Jackson of their own. So could everybody else.

‐ They say every guy looks handsome in a tuxedo — but that’s no guarantee that he’s a gentleman, especially if he’s a penguin. Recently revealed notes taken by George Murray Levick, the medical officer on Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910–13 Antarctic expedition, show him shocked to the bottom of his Edwardian soul by the penguins’ insatiable eagerness to mate, with their vigor matched by a lack of selectivity: “This afternoon I saw a most extraordinary site [sic]. A Penguin was actually engaged in sodomy upon the body of a dead white throated bird of its own species.” (Levick went on to provide a play-by-play description of the act.) Later he witnessed “another act of astonishing depravity,” the rape of an injured female who was unable to resist. Pedophilia, autoeroticism, homosexuality — Levick recorded it all, sometimes detailing the gamier bits in Greek. “There seems to be no crime too low for these penguins,” he lamented, then drew a moral lesson: “When nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.”A couple of decades later George Orwell wrote, “It is not easy to make love in a cold climate when you have no money.” Clearly he never went to Antarctica.

‐ Rodney King did a great deal of damage to the world before he became famous. He was a serial miscreant and a felon who led Los Angeles police on a freeway chase in order to avoid punishment for drunk driving and thereby suffering the revocation of his parole on an earlier robbery conviction. He resisted arrest, and the police beat him savagely. A videotape of the episode became an incendiary grenade in the hand of the grievance industry, and the officers’ acquittal resulted in riots that killed 55 people, injured thousands more, and destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of property. Enraged at an injustice suffered by a black man, at the hands, chiefly, of white police, rioters launched an anti-Korean pogrom, the reverberations of which are felt to this day among Koreans in Los Angeles. King would go on to a long career of substance abuse, vehicular chaos, and crime, among other things striking his wife with a car. His misdeeds were a personal disgrace; what followed them was a national one. Dead at 47. R.I.P.

‐ As a boy, Ray Bradbury went to a carnival, where a magician pointed an electrified sword at him and shouted, “Live forever!” That didn’t happen — Bradbury died on June 5 at the age of 91 — but the words he wrote in short stories such as “The Pedestrian,” “A Sound of Thunder,” and “All Summer in a Day” will survive as long as people read. (Before buying the latest iGadget for your kids, be sure to look over “The Veldt.”) The value of great literature was an important theme of his work. Fahrenheit 451, his popular early novel, is about firemen who burn books. In a commonly overlooked detail, the reason for the burning in Bradbury’s dystopia isn’t an overbearing government but rather an apathetic public. A villain explains what happened, in words that approach prophecy: “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. . . . No wonder books stopped selling.” Bradbury wrote to the end, and his latest piece appeared in The New Yorker just before his death. It was a brief memoir, in which the man who wrote The Martian Chronicles reached back to his boyhood, as he so often did, and recalled his fondness for the Tarzan and John Carter tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs: “I would go out to that lawn on summer nights and reach up to the red light of Mars and say, ‘Take me home!’” R.I.P.


No Greek Rescue

European politicians in mid-June were rejoicing that stability had been restored both to international markets and to European Union politics by the Spanish “bailout.” That rejoicing lasted less than half a day. By the closing of Wall Street on the day after the Greek elections, the markets were again demanding punitive interest for lending to Spain.

The initial response to the Greek election results — a victory for the pro-euro-zone New Democracy party — was a modest rise in Europe’s stock markets and a slight rally in the bond markets, with Spanish, Italian, and Greek yields all falling slightly, in that last case to 25.38 percent. On arriving at a G20 meeting, Italy’s “technocratic” prime minister, Mario Monti, commented buoyantly: “This allows us to have a more serene vision for the future of the European Union and for the euro zone.” An hour later, the markets were demanding ever-higher interest rates from both Spain (the highest level so far at 7.1 percent) and Italy (6.1 percent and rising), and those paid to predict future trends were all saying that the news from Athens had changed nothing.

They were wrong. The Greek elections were the worst possible outcome for the euro and for financial stability. A victory of the left-wing Syriza party would almost certainly have forced Greece out of the euro. Its policy stance — staying in the euro, refusing to pay back loans, demanding more of them from Germany — was so plainly absurd that it would have enabled German chancellor Angela Merkel to maneuver Greece out (with or without a bribe to go). That exit would have strengthened the remaining euro, given German voters some excuse for Berlin’s continued shelling-out of subsidies to Spain, Italy, and other weak sisters, and — as a bonus — derailed the Euro-Left’s campaign, led by French president François Hollande but largely inspired by Syriza, to replace austerity with “growth” as the EU’s new economic “strategy.”

“Growth” in the mouth of the Left is a synonym for more public spending. It offers no real prospect of stimulating the greater productivity that alone causes growth without inflation. It cannot possibly surmount the barrier represented by the massive currency overvaluation of Mediterranean countries inside the euro. But when all the economic indicators are down, it would certainly be attractive to voters, and it might enjoy a brief illusory “success” before it ran into higher inflation and investor flight.

Syriza’s usefulness to conservatives is its candor. It voices the primitive instincts of Europe’s Left. As John O’Sullivan wrote in a recent issue of National Review, it translates into policy the fun-anarchism of Italian playwright Dario Fo: “Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!” No government within hailing distance of reality can endorse that. But Hollande, newly strengthened with a parliamentary majority, actually proposes a diluted and more respectable version of it. Others on the left — for instance, Labour’s Ed Miliband in Britain — are rallying to his banner. At best, therefore, the EU is likely to be divided and maybe paralyzed over broad economic policy for some time, probably until Hollande’s policy either collapses or is abandoned behind a smokescreen of cultural-Left gestures.

Meanwhile, the euro problem will remain unfixed while the Greek tragicomedy staggers on for a few more acts. Let us assume that a new multi-party government is formed under the leadership of New Democracy, which then negotiates a slight loosening of the terms of its relationship with Berlin — an extended debt-repayment schedule, perhaps. That would not even give it breathing space. Greece’s main problem is that its currency overvaluation within the euro is on the order of 30 percent or more. No new government — however successful at restoring the nation’s public finances — can possibly improve the productivity of Greek workers by one-third in any space of time. The more the EU softens the terms of its assistance, moreover, the less incentive Athens will have for trying. And the harder it tries, the more likely it is to provoke social unrest, to strengthen Syriza, and to weaken the commitment of the main center-left party, Pasok, to its governing partners and the deal with the EU.

None of these developments will make Greece more attractive to investors. So the euro-crisis will sputter along until Greece leaves the euro. Ideally, there would eventually be a managed departure not only of Greece but also of other Mediterranean countries suffering from overvaluation; maybe a neat split into “northern” and “southern” euros. Failing that, there could be a turbulent collapse of the whole system amid sovereign-debtor defaults, banking chaos, and a wider crisis for the EU. Those who are most committed to keeping the euro in its present state, with all its current members, in the name of “ever closer” union, are those most responsible for magnifying the risks.

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

In This Issue


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Law & the Courts

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Film & TV

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