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.