The debate over SOPA and PIPA, two bills intended to combat online piracy, was in the main an intra-Californian dispute: Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley won. (The pictures have indeed got small, Miss Desmond, at least compared with Google.) The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act were well intended but defective pieces of legislation, investing federal functionaries with broad discretionary powers to block websites and disrupt online commerce while doing relatively little to police the thievery of films, music, and other intellectual property. Those conservatives who oppose the legislation, Paul Ryan among them, are right to do so, and the bills, having stalled in Congress, should be quietly euthanized.
The national unemployment rate fell from 9.0 percent last September to 8.5 percent in December. Some states did better than the national rate: Alabama, for example, which went from 9.8 percent to 8.1 percent — a drop three times the national average. What accounts for Alabama’s sudden success in reducing unemployment? State officials are crediting Alabama HB 56, the nation’s toughest state law targeting activity by or on behalf of illegal immigrants. In spite of numerous legal challenges, including a full-court press by the Department of Justice, most provisions of the law went into effect at the end of September. Illegal immigrants have been leaving Alabama ever since — self-deporting, you might say — to the benefit of lawfully resident Alabamians. Not to worry, though: Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, continues to pursue action intended to annul or gut HB 56. With any luck, he will soon have Alabama’s unemployment rate back up above 9 percent again.
It doesn’t have the frenzied extravagance of the stimulus, or the obsessive control-freakdom of Obamacare. But in its way, the president’s proposal that all states make school attendance mandatory until a student graduates or turns 18 is a perfect example of the strain of grand-gesture liberalism he embodies: profligacy in the service of bossiness, with the fig leaf of technocracy and the real purpose of rewarding loyal Democratic interest groups — in this case, the teachers’ unions. It also exemplifies the liberal axiom that if X is good, more X is always better. In this case, however, more education would be worse, since it would keep unmotivated students in school to burden their teachers and classmates, not to mention the steep personnel costs involved. But a problem has been identified, and once laws are passed to address it and people are hired to put them into effect, the problem will ipso facto be solved. Or so the slow learners of Washington think.
The Obama administration and the countries of the European Union no doubt would like to stop the Iranian nuclear program, since it evidently has military purposes, but they cannot be accused of urgency. They are imposing new sanctions on banking and on the export of oil, Iran’s one economic prop. But these sanctions are to come into force only in July. In some quarters of the year, the EU accounts for 25 percent of Iranian oil sales. Greece and Italy, both sending economic distress signals, have favorable contracts with Iran. The oil minister in Tehran at once exploited this weakness, promising to stop the export of crude to “some” countries. Western and Iranian sanctions are therefore supposed to collide. He may permit himself the diplomatic equivalent of a belly laugh because India and China have made it plain that sanctions are of no concern to them. Together they buy about a third of Iran’s oil exports, rather more than Europe does.
Egypt’s current political arrangements are impenetrable. Protesters got rid of military rule a year ago, only to find that an identical military council holds power. This military council decreed elections that look like a fix because they were staggered, and truly complex in a country where half the population is illiterate. The majority of seats in a lower house have been decided by proportional representation on closed party lists. This arrangement has been an ideal opportunity for Islamists, long suppressed by the military and all the more popular for it. An Egyptian movement originally, the Muslim Brothers won virtually half the seats. The Al-Nour party, based on the even more extreme Islam of Saudi Arabia, won another quarter. Taken together, these Islamists are in a position to stack the parliamentary committee tasked with drafting a new constitution. This will determine the composition of the upper house, and the terms of the election for the presidency due in June. The various liberal or democratic parties have too few seats to carry weight. It’s a poor omen that the police have been cracking down on pro-democracy and –human rights groups. Hit with a travel ban, and fearing that arrest is the next step, six Americans working in this field have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy. The billion-dollar aid Washington gives the Egyptian military should perhaps be on the table.