It’s not the first time the words “Anthony Weiner” and “hack” have been associated in our minds.
We’re not sure whether we have rising food prices, the budget mess, or the tea parties to thank, but suddenly ethanol subsidies seem to be losing some of their political power. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, announcing his presidential run in Iowa — a state he needs to win, and a state where ethanol subsidies were previously considered sacrosanct — called for ending them. As governor he had supported them. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who is also considering running for president, although with less attention to Iowa, also opposes the subsidies. Sarah Palin came out against ethanol subsidies too. Mitt Romney still supports the subsidies: He took that position in 2008, when he ran hard in Iowa, and apparently does not want to add to his list of flip-flops. The policy has never been justified. We’re glad that Pawlenty took the risk of acknowledging its rising costs.
The War Powers Act is a constitutional absurdity enacted in 1973. It requires the president to withdraw troops from any foreign engagement between 60 and 90 days after it begins, unless Congress has voted to authorize the conflict. No president has recognized the constitutionality of the act’s restrictions on the powers of the commander-in-chief: All have acted “consistent with” but not “pursuant to” the law. President Obama says he is doing the same thing with his Libya intervention, but is in truth flouting the act. What makes this performance slightly galling is that supporters of the intervention have sometimes claimed that the act authorizes presidential action within its two-month window. But Congress may not constitutionally delegate away part of its power to declare war. The perversity of the act is that it both theoretically limits and practically augments presidential power, and in both cases without constitutional justification. If a president oversteps his bounds, the practical remedies open to Congress are to cut off funding for the military action, however politically difficult that may be, or to generate political pressure to constrain the president. No statutory shortcuts are licit, or effective. All of which is to say that whatever else may come out of the Libya intervention, it has at least had the salutary effect of making it clearer that the War Powers Act is a dead letter.
Eric Cantor in the House and Rob Portman in the Senate released complementary jobs agendas for the Republicans. The renewed attention to the need for growth is welcome. Americans are concerned about the economy above all other issues, and they are right to be concerned: Subpar economic growth is bad for American workers — a lastingly high unemployment rate is a social disaster — and bad for American power. An economic program consisting solely of spending cuts implies a message of austerity, which is not a winning message. The Cantor and Ryan plans recommit Republicans to tax reform and deregulation. But this return to supply-side politics, though needed, is still insufficient. The policy mix of the Bush years produced growth in the GDP without raising the middle-class standard of living. Middle-class families will not have faith in any growth agenda that offers them no tax relief — or, worse, threatens to raise their taxes in the name of cutting the top tax rate. Republicans have succeeded in the past with pro-growth policies only when they remembered the middle class, and this is no time to break with tradition.
Texas governor Rick Perry, who has long played down expectations that he may run for president, opened the door just a crack, telling a reporter that he’d think about the proposition after wrapping up what has turned out to be a brutal legislative season dominated by a bruising budget-balancing fight. Texas under Perry has a particularly attractive record on the question that matters most to Americans at the moment: jobs. Since Perry has been governor, Texas’s low-tax, flexible-regulation model has enabled the state to add 732,800 private-sector jobs. The next-best-performing state during that time has been Arizona, with fewer than 100,000, and California has lost 623,700 private-sector jobs. Harris County, which encompasses Houston, today has a higher median household income than does New York City. Texas, like almost every state, suffered from a loss of tax revenues as a result of the recession; and, having no income tax, Texas is more prone to cyclical fluctuation than many others. But Perry resisted intense pressure to raise taxes to enable projected spending, and insisted on budget cuts instead. He is the state’s longest-serving governor, and, while his tenure has not been without missteps, his insistence on budgetary discipline and his keen appreciation of federalism make him a favorite of many conservatives.
The NFL has its Lombardi Trophy, and European soccer has the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. Almost 1 million Spanish fans danced the night away in late May to celebrate FC Barcelona’s acquisition of the cup after its stunning victory over Manchester United in the Champions League finale.
The victory was Barcelona’s third since the 2005–06 season. This soccer excellence is not explicable by a change in strategy or training regimen. It serves, rather, as one more piece of evidence in support of supply-side economics.
At issue is the “Beckham law” that was enacted on June 10, 2005. Spain, in an effort to lure high-priced athletes, artists, and executives, passed a law that allowed these individuals to reside in Spain and pay a low flat tax of just 24 percent. Soccer star David Beckham was one of the first to take advantage of the law, hence its nickname.
Of course, the income tax is not the only tax rate that is relevant. When one combines the top marginal rates on all taxes of labor earnings (including social-security and VAT taxes), Spain is still more desirable than its high-tax neighbors.
Subsequently, high-priced stars from around the world have converged on Spanish clubs, and talented Spaniards have had an increased incentive to play at home. Conversely, clubs in high-tax countries should have to pay enormous sums in order to offer a star player a competitive salary.
If Spain were the only country observed, it would be impossible to ascertain whether taxes are responsible for soccer success. But tax rates differ considerably across European countries, giving economists enough variation to conduct a rigorous investigation.
A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the link between taxes and soccer performance is more than just a coincidence. Economists Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, and Emmanuel Saez gathered data on club performance in the top leagues of 14 European countries going back to 1980, and explored the extent to which changes in tax rates explained player mobility, and the extent to which player mobility explained performance.
Using sophisticated statistical techniques, they found strong evidence that taxes matter a lot. Indeed, the impact of taxes is so powerful that it is visible to the naked eye.
The accompanying chart from the study illustrates its most remarkable finding. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) ranks teams according to a point system that grants two points for a win, one point for a draw, and extra points for advancing in tournaments. These rankings are a standard metric of team performance. The chart plots top domestic-earnings tax rates against the total UEFA points for teams in each country.
The countries with high tax rates are soccer cellar-dwellers, while the countries with low tax rates dominate international competitions.
One objection might be that the big winners tend to be larger countries with more teams, but the authors found large tax effects even when they analyzed average points per country, a measure that should control for size. Other specifications controlled for country characteristics that do not change over time and found large tax effects, again suggesting that size is not driving the result.
The high responsiveness of soccer performance to tax rates is no surprise, given how easy it is for a player to change countries. But companies can change countries too. One hopes that at least a few Democrats will learn this before our economy ends up in the second division.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s admission that he fathered a child with a housekeeper 14 years ago — eleven years into his marriage with Maria Shriver — was the grotesque coda to a disappointing political career. When Schwarzenegger became governor of California in a special election in 2003, he looked like a libertarian-ish white knight, coming to a dysfunctional political system from the outside and using his star power to shake it up. Serious people suggested amending the Constitution to allow the foreign-born to serve as president. In the event, the entrenched powers of the California legislature shook him down. His personal life now turns out to have been as great a failure as his public life. All that remains to him is acting, though his post-gubernatorial projects went on hold thanks to the scandal. His political career will be remembered as the answer to a trivia question.
In the depths of the 2008–09 economic crisis, the federal government loaned Chrysler $13 billion to tide it over. Last month, amid great fanfare, Chrysler finished paying it all back. Well, that’s not “all” as in all; some $1.9 billion of the total was simply written off, and another $1.5 billion that was lent to Chrysler’s suppliers has gone where the woodbine twineth. Now it turns out that Fiat, Chrysler’s effective owner, has done its part in the transaction by buying a large block of overpriced Chrysler stock — after the Department of Energy eased the way by loaning Chrysler $3.5 billion to develop a fuel-efficient vehicle. Word is that in next year’s elections, the Democrats plan to make Chrysler’s “successful” “repayment” a symbol of the Obama economic recovery. It certainly is that.
Bailout enthusiast Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) protested that those mean Republicans, left to their own devices, would have let GM and Chrysler fail. The horror. “We would be driving foreign cars!” she warned. One wonders how much time elapsed between the uttering of those words and the firing of the synapses that reminded the gentlelady from Florida that she does, in fact, drive a foreign car, and a rather swanky one, at that: an Infiniti FX35, $42,850–$59,000. (Want to place a bet on whether she bought the base model?) Perhaps as an aid to her memory, that fine automobile is adorned with customized license plates bearing her initials. How Wasserman Schultz spends her own money is her own business, but how she spends our money is ours, and she’s done poorly: The price Uncle Sam paid for GM was about four times the company’s current market value — which means that the GM corporation has depreciated even more rapidly than its cars do.
Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) has confirmed what was widely assumed for years: that in 1991 he got his lover, Herb Moses, a job as assistant director for product initiatives at Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance behemoth — all while Frank sat on the House committee with oversight of that agency. Frank says he let Fannie’s executives know that Moses would be a good choice for the job but didn’t tell them to hire him, a distinction that in Washington is virtually nonexistent. On the list of Frank’s rakish boyfriends, however, Moses is above average — better than James Ready, the incumbent, who was fined for growing marijuana four years ago, and way less dangerous than Stephen Gobie, on whose behalf Frank interceded repeatedly with probation officers and traffic courts, for which Gobie paid him back by using Frank’s Washington apartment to rent himself out as a prostitute. It’s an age-old question why certain types of lovers keep falling for bad boys; equally mysterious is why Massachusetts’s citizens keep voting for them.
The Obama administration’s regulations czar, Cass Sunstein, has just wrapped up one of those periodic reviews of federal regulation that the federal government requires the federal government to do as an act of meta-regulation. (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Custos custodum ipsorum, et cetera.) Out of the millions of lawyerly words of regulation extant, Sunstein’s committee has identified a relative handful of regulations as candidates for reform — while the administration he serves inflicted 43 new major regulations on the nation last year, with many more on the way. Of note, firms that package and ship milk will no longer be regulated like oil tankers (milk fat is a natural oil, you see) if Sunstein has his way. Of greater note is the fact that milk trucks were required to maintain spill countermeasures worthy of the Exxon Valdez in the first place. While much federal regulation is penny-ante stuff, in the aggregate it weighs heavily on the nation: Regulatory compliance costs Americans more than they pay in personal income taxes. Sunstein has not lacked ambition in his life’s other pursuits — it’s a shame he has suddenly discovered moderation when its opposite is needed, and sorely.
The anti-war Left and a faction of tea-party-backed lawmakers failed to block reauthorization of three Patriot Act provisions. The measures are patently constitutional and necessary; the only controversy ought to be the continuing reluctance of Congress and President Obama to make them permanent. Renewed for four years, under the supervision of a specialized court, were roving wiretaps, which allow investigators to continue eavesdropping when a terrorist suspect changes phones; the collection of business records in terrorism investigations; and the surveillance of “lone wolves” (those who are engaged in terrorist activity but for whom investigators lack evidence of a connection to a known terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda). The rationale for the Left’s opposition is obvious: They want terrorism to be treated as a crime rather than a national-security concern. But that makes opposition from the Tea Party’s Rand Paul wing all the more bizarre. Protection against foreign threats is the principal responsibility of the federal government designed by the framers. Moreover, if these provisions were scrapped, Leviathan wouldn’t shrink; the same powers would be transferred to prosecutors and grand juries with less judicial oversight and less capacity to combat foreign powers.
The president signed the extension — not in person; by autopen. He was in Europe, and the old legislation was about to expire. He had only 15 minutes to sign the new: which he did, or sort of did. He directed that the legislation be signed by the autopen, which is now the most famous piece of presidential equipment after the teleprompter. One conservative congressman, Tom Graves (R., Ga.), is arguing that this use of an autopen is unconstitutional: The president must sign a bill, with his own hand, as in olden times. We think that this use of the autopen, though strange, and even unseemly, is kosher — but only in emergencies. Presidents should not make a habit of it.
The state government of California runs its prisons as badly as it does everything else these days. The overcrowding puts prisoners at risk of receiving deficient medical care, a risk that five justices of the Supreme Court have just ruled constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” Tens of thousands of prisoners could be released. The conservative dissenters pointed out that prisoners have not been harmed unless they have actually been denied needed medical care: Merely being at risk of it cannot be a cruel and unusual punishment. They also pointed out that the justices had chosen to impose the most sweeping possible solution, in violation of a statute passed during the Clinton years to block extravagant prison litigation. Justice Scalia’s dissent opened with a burst of exasperation: “There comes before us, now and then, a case whose proper outcome is so clearly indicated by tradition and common sense, that its decision ought to shape the law, rather than vice versa.” Quite right.
Arizona, in 2007, required all employers in the state to use the federal E-Verify system to screen out illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court has just upheld the Arizona law against a challenge that baselessly claimed that Arizona was trespassing on a federal prerogative. When largely Democratic city councils proclaim “sanctuary cities,” they really are attempting to interfere with federal law enforcement. Arizona sought only fuller compliance with the law of the land. That the argument against Arizona had “no basis in law, fact, or logic” was duly noted by Chief Justice John Roberts, but that did not stop three of the Court’s four activist liberals from pretending to discover one and proceeding with what amounted to a party-line vote. (The Court’s fourth liberal, former solicitor general Elena Kagan, recused herself.) House Republicans plan to introduce a federal E-Verify mandate, but the same miscreants who fought the Arizona law — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief among them — will work tirelessly against it, subordinating the rule of law to their short-term financial interests. Now that Arizona has secured its right to conduct law enforcement, perhaps the federal government can discover the will to do so.
Senate Republicans successfully filibustered President Obama’s worst judicial nominee to date (and that’s saying something), blocking Cal-Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu from appointment to the Ninth Circuit appeals court. Liu was the full package of unfitness: support for the judicial imposition of the “social justice” agenda (gay marriage, racial quotas, reparations for slavery, wealth redistribution, other assaults on property rights, etc.); dishonesty and intemperateness in his sly responses to Judiciary Committee questions about his record and partisan critiques of Bush judicial nominees (particularly John Roberts and Samuel Alito); and inexperience (he is a 40-year-old academic with only two years’ experience practicing law). Plainly, Obama wanted him on the court not for his legal acumen but to use the bench as a political tool. Democrats predictably decried the “hypocrisy” of Republicans who had condemned the filibuster of Bush judicial nominees. But one can surely question whether, on a clean slate, such filibusters are constitutional or, better, prudent, while recognizing that we don’t have a clean slate. Republican restraint won’t stop Democrats from filibustering worthy conservative nominees. Say no to unilateral disarmament.
On the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City, an inscription reads, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” But bankruptcy might. After losing $2.2 billion in 2011’s first quarter alone, the United States Postal Service has notified Congress that it will face ruin if that august body should fail to act. That’s because the USPS has been losing money for years — $20 billion since 2007, in fact — and keeping itself afloat with a $15 billion line of credit from the Treasury, which runs out by September. (Keep in mind that the amount of mail sent through the post office plummeted by 36 billion pieces between 2006 and 2009, and the USPS cut 105,000 full-time jobs over the past two years.) Now the post office is taking a page out of Congress’s book and trying to skip its annual $5.4 billion prepayment to its retiree health-benefit program and adopt a pay-as-you-go system like California’s. If the post office is taking bookkeeping advice from California and asking Congress for help, we’d say its days are numbered.
By now, the pattern is clear: If it’s hot outside, the Left says global warming is to blame. If it’s cold outside, that’s global warming, too. Hurricanes? Global warming. And the recent spate of tornadoes is most definitely the result of rising global temperatures. In the Washington Post, environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote sarcastically that “it is vitally important not to make connections” between such phenomena as global warming and tornadoes — but offered no evidence that there is a connection between the two, and proceeded to rant about his other hobby-horses instead. Newsweek science columnist Sharon Begley wrote that “even those who deny the existence of global climate change are having trouble dismissing the evidence” of a single bad tornado season. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed elsewhere. The New York Times’sAndrew Revkin noted that while greenhouse gases can have a subtle effect on just about any weather event, there is “scant evidence” that global warming is a significant factor when it comes to tornadoes. Greg Carbin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there is “no scientific consensus” about a link in an interview with Fox News. And most interestingly, in the Wall Street Journal, Donald Boudreaux proposed to bet any “climate-change doomsayer” $10,000 that weather-related deaths would continue their long decline. McKibben and Begley should take him up on it.
“Mexican-American studies” is part of the curriculum in the public schools of Tucson, Ariz., in defiance of a state law passed last year to ban such ethnic boosterism. Among the texts used by Tucson schools is Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, which proposes that the U.S. southwest become a “Chicano nation” and quotes without disapproval Hispanic activist José Angel Gutierrez saying that “we have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him.” Back in April the Tucson school board, in a bold stand for the common national culture, proposed that the so-called Raza Studies be downgraded from an optional part of the core history requirement to a simple elective. A mob of activists stormed the school-board meeting, bringing business to a halt. Now the Tucson schools superintendent has piled disgrace on humiliation by apologizing to the demonstrators, telling them in a letter that “your input as students is extremely valuable.” For now, the status of Raza Studies will remain unchanged, the desires of a leftist mob apparently trumping state law in Arizona, and the job requirements for school superintendents in that state apparently including total absence of spinal vertebrae.
In a major speech on Middle Eastern policy at the State Department, President Obama stressed the importance of restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks, especially in light of a forthcoming push at the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state. He kicked a hornet’s nest, however, when he said that “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” should be “the basis” of talks. Israel’s borders before 1967 were the bad old days — a nine-mile-wide chokepoint north of Tel Aviv, a divided Jerusalem. Friends of Israel, including Democrats, erupted. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington the following day for talks, kept the pressure on, calling the 1967 lines, in a joint press conference with Obama, “boundaries of repeated wars.” So Obama, in a speech to AIPAC, changed his tune. In an aria on the words “mutually agreed swaps,” he explained that “Israelis and Palestinians will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed [in] 1967. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means.” That’s what it means now, and at least until Election Day 2012.
In September 2007, Israel bombed and destroyed Syria’s nuclear facility. Now, four years later, the International Atomic Energy Agency, always quick on the uptake, is saying that the Syrian facility was “very likely” a nuclear reactor. The IAEA is supposed to be the U.N.’s “nuclear watchdog.” Israel did the world a favor when it bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facility in 1981. It did the world another favor when it bombed the Syrian reactor. When it comes to supplying global public goods, Israel is outpacing the U.N. by quite a distance.
The hopes and promises of the Arab Spring are fading into fears of what comes next. All eyes are on Egypt, the Arab country that influences all the others. The former president, Hosni Mubarak, clamped down hard on Islamists — including Hamas in Gaza — and made sure to be on good terms with Israel. His successors, who are, like him, military men, are instead encouraging Islamists, and have removed border controls over Gaza. First to suffer are the Coptic Christians, a number of whom have been killed in riots and have had their churches burned out. The Israelis are about to discover the effects on them of major policy reversals of this kind, one of which is likely to be the supply of advanced weaponry to Hamas in Gaza, and perhaps from there to West Bank Palestinians. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, is without effective order or government. To other Arab rulers, anarchy seemed to be the inevitable end of what was happening, and they have preferred the traditional alternative of tyranny, at which they are anyhow experts. In Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, several thousand protesters in total have been shot dead, and tens of thousands arrested and tortured. Nobody died when the Berlin Wall fell, and any comparison to that moment of genuine liberation is specious. Quite possibly, a grim fate awaits rulers like Bashar Assad and Moammar Qaddafi, who are responsible for murder and tyranny, but in the meantime those who want power are gaining ground over those who want freedom. No reform, indeed no good, can come of it.
The relationship between free-world high-tech companies and the Chinese dictatorship is a longstanding and troubling one. Ethan Gutmann brought this relationship to light in his 2004 book, Losing the New China. He mentioned, among other companies, Canada’s Nortel, which presented to Beijing an Internet-surveillance mechanism “specifically designed ‘to catch Falun Gong.’” When Falun Gong practitioners are caught, of course, very, very nasty things happen to them, including murder-by-torture. Last month, the Human Rights Law Foundation filed suit against Cisco Systems, one of the jewels of Silicon Valley. The foundation filed the suit on behalf of a group of Falun Gong. They charge that Cisco, like Nortel, worked hand-in-glove with the dictatorship to track and catch “undesirables.” Some of Cisco’s marketing materials make for sickening reading: about how to clamp down on the “evil Falun Gong cult and other hostile elements.” The suit has been filed in San Jose under several statutes. Cisco pleads its innocence, and we hope that plea is true.
Norway is a very beautiful and, in some ways, laudable country. But it has a serious problem: anti-Semitism. Some argue that it’s the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, which is saying something; and their arguments are plausible. Last month, President Obama made some pronouncements that unnerved many supporters of Israel. Some Jewish Democrats spoke of withholding campaign contributions to Obama next year. Aftenposten, the most important paper in Norway, reported the story with the following headline: “Rich Jews Threaten Obama.”
After Israel’s December 2008–January 2009 war in Gaza, the Scottish regional council of West Dunbartonshire resolved to succor racially oppressed Hamas militants by banning use of the Dunbartonshire purse for purchases from the Jewish state. But the Israelis, having failed to learn from the moral censure of the aged councilmen, chauvinistically defended themselves again in the May 2010 flotilla raid. Compounding the outrage, the wily and devious transnationals found a way around the boycott: Israeli books made it into Dunbartonshire libraries via collaborating English translators and publishers. So the council elders convened once more, and, going beyond mere Israeli manufactures, banned all new books written by Israelis from their libraries. Some ten neighboring councils followed suit. The first question that comes to mind is: What to do about Ecclesiastes? More to the point: When will the councils ban books by authors from Syria and Iran? Never, of course. This is partly because they are hypocrites, and partly because, unlike Israel, Syria and Iran don’t produce books worth reading — a fact that indicates where the actual repression in the Middle East lies.
During the Vietnam War, Canada was a haven for U.S. draft-dodgers, hippie flotsam, and the general riff-raff who made up the 1960s counterculture in which today’s progressivism is rooted. Perhaps that small injection of our nation’s worst elements had an inoculatory effect on our northern neighbors, just now reaching full strength: Canada has elected a solid conservative majority, and the Heritage Foundation ranks it many places above the United States in its annual index of economic freedom. While Leviathan’s familiars in Washington huff and chuff over minuscule trims to the federal budget, the Canadians just announced that they expect to eliminate their national deficit and pass a balanced budget, not at some distant remove in the theoretical future, but in 2014. This they plan to achieve by cutting government operating expenses by 5 percent annually. If Canada keeps on its current path and the United States keeps on ours, Ottawa is going to need to do something else Washington can’t quite manage: build a border fence.
Jane Austen observed that one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other. Nowhere is this more true than in the matter of foodstuffs. The Japanese eat rotted beans (natto), the Scots favor ground sheep’s entrails (haggis), the Bedouin enjoy a tasty eyeball, and so on. Britain is especially rich in culinary oddities. Let’s leave aside spotted dick, blood pudding, and toad-in-the-hole and just consider Marmite, a thick dark-brown paste extracted from the yeast used in brewing beer. Marmite is most commonly spread on toast, but can be dissolved in hot water for a savory beverage, or used to fortify soups and stews. In any application, Marmite is dear to the hearts of the British, a core emblem of the national identity. Imagine the outrage the other day, therefore, when it appeared that Denmark had banned the product. Danish regulations require that “fortified foods” be licensed before they may be sold. Marmite is enriched with certain vitamins, and the British manufacturers of the product had neglected to apply for the license. High-level Anglo-Danish negotiations are taking place as we go to press, and the chances are good that war can be averted.
Britain’s General Medical Council, which supervises ethical standards among that nation’s medical professionals, has reprimanded Dr. Richard Scott for discussing his Christian faith with a patient. The 24-year-old patient is described as having been “in a rut and in need of help.” Dr. Scott, a family practitioner, told him that faith in Jesus could give comfort and strength. This, said the GMC, distressed the patient and risked bringing the medical profession into disrepute. The doctor’s remarks came at the end of a full consultation, and the medical group he belongs to is known as — indeed advertises itself as — Christian-oriented. The patient’s distress was not great enough to induce him to change practitioners: He continued to seek Dr. Scott’s services. (It was his mother who lodged the complaint.) All in all it is hard to see this as anything but the imposition of petty dogmatic secularism on the citizens of what, within living memory, prided itself on being a Christian country and whose coins still describe the head of state as Fidei Defensor — Defender of the Faith. The British should either get back in touch with their tradition of Christian tolerance, or get new coinage.
Comes now the news that the Nazis ran a government program to teach dogs to speak. Jan Bondeson, a British academic, has published a book titled Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. It includes a chapter on what has inevitably been tagged the Wooffen SS, a corps of highly intelligent canines, one of whom reputedly “spoke” by tapping letters of the alphabet with his paws and was said to have speculated about religion and learnt poetry. (Let’s hope it was real poetry, not merely doggerel.) There is pretty general agreement that the Nazis were awful, but it is all too little appreciated that they were also deeply weird. Hitler himself was several different kinds of crank: food faddist, tobacco hater, and adherent of the World Ice Theory (which developed a cosmology based on colliding blocks of ice).
Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years, and though her career and her media empire will march on, it was a milestone. The form of the personal talk show never quite escapes its roots in sensationalism and gawkery, but Winfrey added a layer of self-improvement and uplift. She was the turn-of-the-century black female Poor Richard. Who else would (or could) have founded a mass-market book club? There were of course sunspots: her shilling for Barack Obama; the cultish fixations (WFB called her the woman “who is alternately fat and thin”). She passed through the American mind like a gale; with the current segmentation of the media market, it is hard to imagine a successor.
Republicans and Medicare
Republicans are quite right to point out that the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district, which they lost, was not entirely a referendum on Medicare. The Republican sex scandal that occasioned the election, the phony “tea-party” candidate, the Republican candidate’s missteps: All of these contributed to the loss. The New York Republican party is particularly hapless, and has now played a role in two special-election defeats too many by letting insider self-dealing determine the candidates.
But there is no denying that Medicare also played a role. The program is popular. People would prefer not to see it cut, and they are nervous about reform. And while Republican candidate Jane Corwin made some mistakes, the Republican party’s strategy cannot depend on all its candidates’ running flawless campaigns. It has to do what it can to foster a national political climate that helps not-so-great candidates win.
House Republicans almost all voted for Paul Ryan’s plan, which reforms Medicare for future senior citizens by giving each of them money toward the purchase of insurance. Because the amount of money spent would rise only with inflation, the program would be much easier for the federal government to afford than the unreformed version will be. The introduction of market forces into the program should also help restrain health-care costs generally. The reform is sensible, and voting for it was politically brave.
But the plan does fundamentally change Medicare, or, as the Democrats prefer to put it, “end Medicare as we know it” (sometimes they boil that down to two words). Congressional Republicans, having voted for this reform, cannot now undo their votes or play down the issue for political expediency. They will simply have to defend themselves. The best way to do so is to point out, as often as possible, that the alternative to their reform is not the maintenance as-is of a program Americans like. The alternative is a program “reformed” the Democratic way: with bureaucratic rationing and price controls. Under the Democratic plan, Medicare providers will be paid at lower rates than the ones that have already made Medicaid a crummy program for its beneficiaries. A board will decide which treatments to withhold to save money. Congressional Republicans can win an argument between the true alternatives.
They will, however, need help from their presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich’s recent attack on the Ryan budget, now retracted, was an example of what the Republicans need to avoid: a split between the presidential and congressional wings of the party, which would quickly lead to an every-candidate-for-himself rout. The Republican presidential candidates need not tie themselves to every detail of the Ryan plan, and should feel free and indeed encouraged to offer their own solutions to the entitlement mess. But they should defend the House budget from false attacks, support its broad outlines, and join in the attack on liberalism’s plans for Medicare.
Retreat is not really an option. Neither is standing still.