To be fair, Obama is right: Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Congress has to declare kinetic military action.
The Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the president’s budget. It projects that the last budget of this presidential term will feature a deficit of $1.2 trillion. Obama will be the first president to run trillion-dollar deficits four years in a row. Federal debt as a share of the economy will rise remorselessly. (It hits 80 percent by 2016.) President Obama is not responsible for enacting the entitlements that are driving these trends. But instead of constructively reforming them — and imposing steeper price controls on Medicare does not count as such — Obama has in recent weeks been lecturing state governments on the need to avoid painful budget cuts. No sale: The states have to balance their budgets.
For fiscal year 2011, White House figures show that mandatory federal spending (i.e., entitlements) will exceed total federal revenues. In other words, even if discretionary spending — stuff like defense, law enforcement, transportation, parks, and imposing race and gender quotas — were cut to zero, there would still be a deficit. What is most impressive is how quickly this has happened: Just four years ago, revenues exceeded mandatory spending by $1.1 trillion. The old joke was that entitlements were going to make the federal government a senior-citizens’ program with a couple of tanks. Increasingly it looks as though we cannot afford the tanks.
Two longshots signaled their interest in becoming the next Republican presidential nominee: Donald Trump and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Trump is taking positions well to the right of where he stood the last time he dabbled in presidential politics. So far the themes of his campaign are that President Obama may not have been born in the U.S. and that we can revive our economy by cracking down on Chinese imports. Bachmann is a much more serious figure. Her vigorous critiques of Obama have won her conservative support across the country. Our preference in presidential candidates is for people who have shown that they can win a statewide election, or a world war. We suspect that Republican primary voters, whatever else they think of these candidates’ merits, will share that preference.
The reelection campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) hit turbulence over her private jet. First, Politico reported that the senator had dropped $76,000 of taxpayer money on jaunts on a plane she partially owned. After McCaskill reimbursed the Treasury, muckrakers discovered that she had used the jet for political purposes — a big no-no in congressional ethics books. Then the senator confessed that she owed $287,000 in property taxes on the plane. Three days later we learned — whoops, sorry — she meant $320,000, including interest and penalties. Now McCaskill has resolved to sell “the damn plane.” But Republicans are gleefully reminding her of her remarks during the 2006 campaign, when she styled herself the Mrs. Clean candidate: “If my walk doesn’t match my talk, then shame on me and don’t ever vote for me again.” If you say so, senator.
An ABC/Washington Post poll found that 53 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. But don’t believe it. For one thing, respondents seem to tell interviewers that they favor same-sex marriage because they think it’s what they are supposed to say. Their answers are more negative when voting or responding to robo-polls. The question was also flawed: “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?” Of course nobody is proposing to throw same-sex couples in jail for getting a friendly Unitarian minister to hold a ceremony for them, or for calling themselves married in social settings. We do not think that this behavior should be “illegal” or, to use another misleading word bandied about in this debate, “banned.” What we oppose is official recognition of these unions, since such recognition would undermine the core purpose of marriage law, which is to link procreation to stable households. The poll is not evidence that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. It is, however, evidence that its supporters have succeeded in setting the terms of debate.
Target, the retail chain, tries to be good, it really does. But it has gotten crossways with gay activists. To quote from a news report, “Last summer, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized for one of the company’s campaign contributions, which benefited a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who supported economic growth and job creation but opposed same-sex marriage.” Heaven forfend. Last month, Lady Gaga, the entertainer, pulled out of her marketing deal with Target, because, in her judgment, the company was not “LGBT”-friendly enough. Target responded that it “remains committed to the LGBT community as demonstrated by our contributions to various LGBT organizations” and other actions. Also last month, the company sued gay activists in San Diego, because those activists have been harassing shoppers about same-sex marriage. Target pleaded that it merely wanted shopping to be “distraction-free.” “Target has taken similar action against a number of organizations, including churches.” The company can protest its innocence all it wants. It touts its “domestic partner” benefits, and its thousand-member “LGBT Business Council,” which advises it about “LGBT” employees and customers. None of that matters: When the activists decide you’re bad, you’re bad. So Target is a target.
We’re not fans of the mainstream media either, but Scott Powers, an Orlando Sentinel staffer who was covering a $500-a-head Democratic fundraiser as a pool reporter, did not deserve the treatment he received at the hands of Vice President Joe Biden’s staff. To keep him from bothering the high-income lefty guests — and from munching on the fancy appetizers — the staff set Powers up in a storage closet, guarding the door and letting him out only to watch the VP’s speech. If the goal was to avoid embarrassment to the Democrats, surely the instructions should have been reversed?
The currents of stupidity in the U.S. corporate-tax regime run deep and wide: We set the rate very high — 35 percent, highest in the developed world — and then fill the code with special offsets to encourage particular kinds of business — manufacturing, say, or “green energy.” And then we complain when companies in those industries make use of the favors we have offered them. We are the only major country to impose that high national rate on all the international earnings of domestic companies, and then we complain that companies keep those profits overseas to avoid punitive taxation. Exhibit A at the moment is G.E., the manufacturing/green-energy behemoth whose CEO currently heads President Obama’s competitiveness council. G.E. paid no corporate-income tax last year, a fact that has produced particularly loud keening among the same progressives and would-be industrial planners who have long supported the very tax policies that firms such as G.E. use to reduce or eliminate their tax bills. If this situation is unsatisfactory, and it is, blame the people who wrote the tax laws rather than those who comply with them.
The Return of Rosy Scenario
On March 18, the Congressional Budget Office released its preliminary review of President Obama’s budget request for the next fiscal year. They estimate the deficit embodied in the budget to be $9.5 trillion over the next ten years, a whopping $2.3 trillion more than the Obama administration claimed when it presented the budget in February.
According to the CBO report, approximately $1.3 trillion of the difference is due to “differences in the underlying projections of what would happen under current law,” meaning that the OMB chose assumptions about economic performance that were overly optimistic. On the White House OMB blog, budget director Jack Lew defended the administration’s choice of assumptions, describing them as “more cautious than the consensus forecast for 2011” and “well within the range of the Federal Reserve’s assumptions in all years.”
The remaining $1 trillion of the $2.3 trillion difference between the two agencies is due to differing estimates of the impact of the president’s proposals. The two largest discrepancies are due to so-called magic asterisks, where the administration estimates savings from programs that are not specified.
The relative silence over the Obama administration’s astonishing budget chutzpah is deafening, especially in comparison with the treatment received by Republican presidents. Ronald Reagan’s first budget was pummeled so effectively by the American media in 1981 that people used to joke that Rosy Scenario was the highest-ranking member of the Reagan administration.
Today, Rosy is well over 300 pounds and clothed in a revealing dress made of magic asterisks, and she couldn’t get an ounce of media attention if her life depended on it.
Source OMB & CBO. Note: The chart depicts the average over each president’s term of the CBO “Correction” to the OMB’s five-year deficit projections.
Reagan’s forecasts were not ridiculed because they were wrong. Since they were forward-looking, who could tell? They were ridiculed because they were “unconventional,” differing markedly from the forecasts of that ultimate arbiter of convention, the Congressional Budget Office. More recently, President George W. Bush also was often accused of dishonest budgeting.
So who has been most dishonest? Each year, a president puts out a budget forecast by his own economic team, and that same set of policy proposals is then scored by the CBO. The accompanying chart looks at the difference between the presidents’ scores and the CBO scores. It is based on five-year forecasts, since the George W. Bush administration did not release ten-year numbers.
If one accepts the view that the CBO is a paragon of honesty and virtue, then the height of the bar is a measure of which president is the most dishonest, and President Obama is the clear winner. On average over his first three budgets, the CBO has corrected his estimates by increasing the deficit estimate by more than $500 billion.
To put that correction in perspective, a 1981 article in The Atlantic reported that the first-pass, pre–Rosy Scenario estimate for the total Reagan deficit for 1982 was $82 billion. Even if the Reagan team had gone with that estimate, today’s typical annual CBO correction would still be bigger than the entire Reagan deficit.
To be sure, the story is less dramatic if we adjust for growth in the overall economy. Relative to GDP, the typical Obama correction is about five times as large as we saw for Clinton or George W. Bush, and about the same scale as Reagan’s.
But even by this measure, we are left with the question, if Reagan’s budgeting was so newsworthy, why isn’t Obama’s?
Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, wants to let companies based in the U.S. bring their profits back home at a temporarily low tax rate so they can invest the money here. The Obama administration says this tax holiday would be a “distraction” from a permanent tax reform. We would prefer a permanent reform, too: one that both lowers corporate tax rates to the developed-world norm and confines corporate taxes to activity that takes place on U.S. territory (which is the global norm). Tax holidays do not generate the long-term investment that a permanent reform would, and might lead CEOs to lose what interest they have in such reform. But the economy is still in poor shape, and congressional Democrats seem even less likely to agree to a long-term reform than to a holiday. Take the bird in the hand, Mr. President.
The fate of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s budget bill could be determined by an April state-supreme-court election. Justice David Prosser, a respected former GOP legislator, faces JoAnne Kloppenburg, an environmental lawyer. The once-sleepy contest has become a proxy battle for rage-swollen progressives. The governor has beaten them at the polls and in the legislature; to topple his signature law, they need a black-robed coup. An appellate panel threw up its hands in late March, so pressure has mounted on the seven-member high court to weigh in. For the moment, judicial conservatives hold a 4–3 edge. But that could flip if Prosser falls. Lefty activists, smelling blood, have poured millions into the effort, smearing Prosser as an enabler of pedophiles. With union dues on the line, anything goes.
AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile, merging the second- and fourth-biggest mobile-phone companies. Consumer groups are worrying that higher prices will follow the merger. What they ignore is the economies of scale in a network industry. Besides, T-Mobile wasn’t competing in 4G wireless. The merger, by boosting AT&T’s capacity, will actually make for more competition in this space. Let the phone companies lease spectrum from broadcasters, and we will be on our way to having capacity, and service standards, that can keep up with fast-rising demand.
“Detroit’s Population Crashes,” read the Wall Street Journal headline. “Census Finds 25% Plunge as Blacks Flee to Suburbs; Shocked Mayor Seeks Recount.” The population of Detroit is now under 714,000, the lowest since 1910. That was only two years after the introduction of the Model T. It was four years before Ford Motors’ famous, revolutionary “five-dollar day.” Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the judgmental said that “white flight” was caused by racism, not an unwillingness to live in a city where you had to be afraid. What do they say of black flight?
According to various leaks, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives knowingly allowed gun dealers to sell weapons to Mexican drug cartels. This was known as letting the guns “walk,” and it apparently began as part of a plan called “Project Gunrunner.” The idea was to let some guns go, track where they went, and take down the cartels. Problem is, the bureau persisted in this strategy so long that around 2,500 guns “walked,” despite protests from ATF agents and even the participating gun dealers. One of these guns, evidently, was turned on Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who died following a December 2010 shootout with a drug cartel. This story has simmered for weeks, and the ATF has yet to offer a full explanation for its behavior. Having walked, it needs to talk.
After a 36-day hiatus in Illinois, the Indiana House Democrats have returned. They claim their exile made for big wins. But in the end, all they won was the right-to-work legislation being taken off the table (a concession made a day after the Democrats initially left) and a reduction in the number of school vouchers, along with a compromise on a labor agreement. The cost of those concessions, which might have happened even without the Democrats’ flight? Over $400,000 in taxpayer money for maintaining a legislature unable to vote, and disapproval by two-thirds of voters for the Democrats’ decision to abandon their legislative duties. With numbers like that, the Indiana assembly may not even need Democrats to make a quorum after 2012.
Stephen Lerner is a muckety-muck at Barack Obama’s favorite labor lobby, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He has a plan to wage economic warfare on the United States, which he managed to commit accidentally to audio, after speculating darkly to the audience about possible “police agents” in attendance. Mr. Lerner’s plan is to organize mortgage borrowers to default on loans from JP Morgan in order to destroy that bank and thereby, he hopes, spark a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. In the ensuing panic and economic disorder, he says, his organization and its allies have a good chance of stepping in to impose their own economic and political agenda on the country. Apparently the next crisis is a terrible thing to waste, too.
Under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), a railroad or airline union needs votes from a “majority” of the “employees” it seeks to represent. This means that if there are, say, 100 flight attendants at a given airline, 51 need to cast “yes” votes for the union to take power — even if only 80 of them vote in the election. This puts the onus on unions to get the word out and increase turnout. For the first 75 years of its existence, the National Mediation Board (which decides RLA disputes) interpreted the law to mean what it says. Last year, however, at the unions’ urging — and after President Obama tipped the board’s balance to 2–1 Democrat — the NMB changed its “interpretation” of the law, declaring by fiat that a majority of voters would now suffice for unionization. As of this writing, the House is set to consider a version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill that would reverse the ruling. There is no downside: Congress needs to reassert control over this issue, and there is no reason that a union should have the authority to represent a group of employees in which it lacks majority support.
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) made his liberal colleagues uncomfortable the other day. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was holding a hearing on the familiar incandescent light bulb, which Congress, in a 2007 law, has doomed to an unnatural death in 2012. “You busybodies always want to do something to tell us how to live our lives better,” Paul chided an official from the Department of Energy. “I find it really appalling and hypocritical . . . that you favor a woman’s right to an abortion but you don’t favor a woman or a man’s right to choose what kind of light bulb, what kind of dishwasher, what kind of washing machine [to use].” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) leapt to the mandarin’s defense: “I think it behooves us all to not engage in name-calling of those officials carrying out the work that Congress has asked them to do.” She’s right: Congress is the busybody.
Life imitated a bad sitcom for Joe Boardman, the CEO of Amtrak, who had to take a car to the ceremony dedicating Amtrak’s new Wilmington, Del., station because the train he was riding on broke down. As the blogger Doug Powers points out, though, the real irony is that the new station is named for “Joe Biden, the man charged with ensuring that every stimulus project comes in on time and on budget,” when “naturally this particular station came in $5.3 million over budget.” What’s not so funny is that Biden and his fellow railfans want the federal government not just to continue its wasteful subsidies for Amtrak — an average of $32 per passenger, and much higher outside the Northeast corridor, the only place the system makes a profit — but to build a vast new nationwide network of high-speed trains, at a cost of $500 billion or so (before cost overruns and future operating subsidies). Any way you look at it — technological, economic, environmental — the plan is absurd, yet a coalition of nostalgists and visionaries is doing its best to bring American transportation back to the 1940s.
Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department has ordered a change of policy at LAPD “sobriety checkpoints,” where drivers are pulled over to be checked for intoxication. Formerly a driver found to be unlicensed had his car impounded for 30 days, whether he was sober or drunk. From now on only U.S. citizens and legal residents will have their cars impounded. Illegal immigrants will be spared. The chief’s logic is that citizens and residents have the choice to get a license, while “undocumented immigrants” do not, and so cannot be blamed for their transgression. The chief’s new policy met with applause from at least one quarter. Said Mexican consul general Juan Carlos Mendoza: “We really support this initiative by Chief Beck because it’s in favor of the Latino community.” So it is, and what could be more important than that? Surely not the principle of equal protection under the law.
Parents, teachers, and administrators everywhere have nightmares of a Columbine-style shooting at their school. How to prepare for such a dire event? Well, you might plan an exercise to see how emergency services respond. That kind of thing costs money, though. Will the federal Department of Homeland Security help out with funding? Only if your exercise clearly involves terrorism under the DHS definition. Having learned this, the emergency-management agency for Iowa’s Pottawattamie County, with DHS assistance, set up an exercise at the high school in the town of Treynor, pop. 919. Who were the fictional shooters to be? Why, young white-supremacist gun enthusiasts angry at an influx of illegal immigrants and other minorities — who else? From the printed plan for the exercise, which is apparently the work of the DHS: “Suspect 1 approaches a small group of minorities in the northeast corner of the cafeteria . . . begins blurting racial slurs . . . pulls a handgun from his waistband, shooting one of the minority students . . .” No mention in this exercise plan of the shooters’ clinging to their Bibles, but perhaps that is just a DHS oversight.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate the religious practices of their employees when doing so does not impose “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” The school authorities of Berkeley, Ill., considered that it would indeed impose undue hardship on them and their students if teacher Safoorah Khan, their only math-lab instructor, were to take 19 days’ leave at peak exam-preparation time. They accordingly turned down her request. Ms. Khan wanted the leave to perform her hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that pious Muslims are enjoined to take at least once in their lives. Ms. Khan took the leave anyway, resigned her post, and complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on grounds of religious discrimination. Eric Holder’s Justice Department is taking her side. Now little Berkeley — pop. 4,885, of which 59 percent are black and Hispanic — faces expensive litigation, likely leading to an expensive settlement. Who says Muslims aren’t assimilating?
One of the Democrats’ most ineffectual, and thus least harmful, innovations after taking over Congress in 2007 was to make the House of Representatives cafeteria “green.” Among other changes, plastic knives and forks were replaced with cornstarch-based utensils that, although able to cut nothing firmer than room-temperature cream cheese, had the virtue of being biodegradable — though in real-life landfill conditions, their biodegradability is as purely theoretical as the perfectibility of human nature. According to Rep. Dan Lungren (R., Calif.), the “green” regime actually increased the cafeteria’s energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions — not that it mattered, because, like so many “green” initiatives, this one was done for show and for self-love: Like the monastic practice of mortifying the flesh, the constant annoyance a “green” lifestyle imposes is a way to make oneself holy through suffering.
Portugal is headed for either a default or a bailout or both. Having failed to muster sufficient support for a last-ditch austerity package, prime minister José Sócrates has taken the political hemlock, and a new government is to be elected. But Portuguese law requires an interval of 55 days before holding the next election, which means that the country will be pressing up against a June deadline for redeeming a large package of bonds — which it does not have the money to do — before it has a new elected government to negotiate a bailout deal from the European Union or the International Monetary Fund. If, that is, any deal is in the making: Europe’s creditor nations are not so keen on stepping in to save a spendthrift basket case that just declined to save itself, and the mood of European electorates is positively hostile. Bond yields are rising along with the pressure on Lisbon. Portugal is so illiquid that an EU court has suspended a fine of a mere $5 million, handed down for Lisbon’s failure to comply with European government-contracting laws. As Washington considers some mild austerity measures of its own, the Portuguese show the price of putting off hard decisions.
In his time as president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak faced the Muslim Brotherhood as his main opposition. The Brotherhood aims to make Islam a universal movement and the secular Mubarak would have none of that. After his forced resignation, commentators began to speculate that the Brotherhood would have its revenge by forming the next government. A referendum in Egypt suggests that this might well be the case. Voters have approved constitutional changes. As a result of their vote, legislative elections are to be held in September, and the presidential campaign soon after. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders believe that this sped-up timetable will give them an advantage. They are organized already and can command their fans to turn out, while the secular or liberal parties are in despair because they are unable to get their act together in time. Previous elections in Egypt have all been rigged blatantly, and these look likely to be rigged insidiously.
A photograph to be seen on the Internet shows a Syrian soldier in uniform urinating on a portrait set into a wall of Bashar Assad, his president. That sums up the feelings of many, perhaps most, Syrians. Bashar has no shred of legitimacy. He is president only because his father seized power and contrived to hand it on to him. Father and son have kept in place an emergency law that allows them to do as they please. Like the masses in other Arab countries, Syrians have had enough. Protest began in the southern town of Deraa, but has since spread all over. Bashar’s natural instinct has been to order his security forces to open fire. So-called snipers have killed and injured unknown numbers. Bashar’s spokesmen say that armed gangs are doing this shooting but of course they are unable to identify who these gangs might be. At the same time, Bashar is hinting that he will give way to at least some of the protesters’ demands when clearly he has no intention of doing so. The only person who credits him as a “reformer” is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She could learn something from the photograph of that disrespectful Syrian soldier.
Bahrain is a small spot in the Arab world but a large problem. King Hamad al-Khalifa and other members of his family are the rulers. Some are considered open to change, others resistant to it, but in any case they and the island’s elite are Sunni. The poorer and excluded two-thirds of the population are Shiite, and their representatives have long been asking to meet the Sunni on equal terms. Inspired by protest in other Arab capitals, the Shiites took over a central square in Manama, the island’s capital. Several people were shot dead. For a moment, the al-Khalifas and Sunnis seemed about to be dispossessed. Then the army cleared the protesters away, and troops from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates entered — invaded, as the Shiites say. The hardliners have the upper hand for the moment. Opposition leaders and Shiite activists have been arrested, and even their few Sunni sympathizers shed crocodile tears. Emergency rule is to last three months. The al-Khalifas maintain that Shiite Iran is plotting to subvert and eventually swallow Bahrain. That’s also the Saudis’ belief, which is why they sent in troops. The Iranians reply that the entry of troops cannot be justified but otherwise they are suspiciously quiet — for the time being.
A rally of the Left got badly out of hand in London. For months trade-union leaders had been planning to hold a mass protest against cuts in government spending. Here was “class war,” in the challenge one of them threw down. An estimated 250,000 people duly assembled. In a speech to them, the new Labour-party leader, Ed Miliband, said that the proposed cuts went too far and were destroying “the fabric of our communities.” However, his party has a very comparable program to deal with the mounting national deficit. Worse was to come. Hijacking the rally, some hundreds of anarchists, many of them masked, set about smashing up totemic targets in London’s fashionable West End. They vandalized banks and ATMs, attacked the Ritz Hotel, occupied the luxury store Fortnum & Mason, and scribbled graffiti on Nelson’s Column, that proudest of historic landmarks in the city. They also set fires, and in the course of pitched battles with the police threw light bulbs filled with ammonia. Over 200 arrests were made. Embarrassed leftists are pretending that these masked thugs have nothing to do with them.
V. I. Lenin, né Ulyanov, had no children. But he had a niece, Olga Ulyanova, who has died in Moscow at 89. She is the last known living relative of the old monster. She lived her life as a chemist and a writer. (We assume that she was a real chemist, unlike the late Romanian first lady, Elena Ceausescu, whose husband’s regime promoted her as a chemist.) Ulyanova was a true believer, a keeper of her uncle’s flame. And of his body, in a way. When the country Lenin created died in 1991, Ulyanova was one of those insisting that his embalmed corpse remain in Red Square, encased in holy display. And so it does. The important thing is not that Lenin and his kinfolk die. The important thing is that Leninism, which has killed so many — as it is doing even now in North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere — die.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, have premiered a Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon. Terry Teachout, drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, noted that the TV scamps pride themselves on being “equal-opportunity offenders.” Yet “if the title of this show were The Quran it wouldn’t have opened.” On South Park they did try to make some anti-Muslim jokes, until Comedy Central shushed them, so perhaps Parker and Stone are not quite as hypocritical as Teachout says. What they are, are bullies. Mormonism has just a handful of adherents in New York City; it is the religion liberals can most safely mock. After a rough start, Mormons have obeyed the laws for over a hundred years. For this they get to be punch lines? American entertainment can be rip-roaring. It can also be coarse, stupid, and cruel. Count your gross, boys.
Here’s the latest from Hollywood: an MGM remake of John Milius’s 1984 cult classic Red Dawn, in which a group of American teenagers wage guerrilla war against invading Soviet and Cuban forces. Not a bad idea; but with the USSR long defunct, who are the bad guys in this remake? When MGM embarked on the project in 2009 they settled on Communist China as the invader, and shot the film accordingly. By the time they were through, though, China had acceded to a World Trade Organization ruling to allow in more foreign movies, and an already substantial market for our media companies looks set fair to become colossal. Some digital remastering was done, and the Red Dawn villains are now North Korean. Moviegoers at the National Review level of sophistication might find a North Korean invasion of the United States somewhat implausible, but presumably MGM’s attitude to its target audience is that of the Duke in Huckleberry Finn: “These country jakes won’t ever think of that.” Bearing in mind Google Corp.’s recent accommodations, the first rule of American commerce now seems to be that one must not offend the Chinese Communist party. There hardly seems any need for an actual invasion.
One of WFB’s subjects, in the early 2000s, was the pornification of our culture. He particularly examined Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothier, which, in its advertising, was a prime offender. Given A&F’s preference for skimpiness, maybe we should call it a non-clothier? But now the company is adding clothes, in a way. The spring line of its youth division, Abercrombie Kids, features the “Ashley,” an itty-bitty bikini. Abercrombie Kids is pitched to girls aged 8 to 14. The Ashley, in the words of one report, “comes complete with thick padding for breast enhancement.” For years, the squares have decried adults’ sexualization of children. The squares must keep decrying, because the barbarians don’t let up.
David Brock, founder of the left-wing watchdog group Media Matters, has been thinking of Fox News and how to combat it. “The strategy that we had had toward Fox,” he told Ben Smith of Politico, “was basically a strategy of containment.” Brock wants to move on to “guerrilla warfare and sabotage.” But come, sir, you will have to spread your pinions a bit. Try this: “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Or this: “What though the field be lost? All is not lost; the unconquerable Will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield.” Or this: “To the last, I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” (But beware of this: “‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep.’ ‘Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?’”)
Here is a true case study some business school might like to introduce into its Personnel Management course. Employee X tells her manager that employee W is a witch who has put a spell on her. To be precise, W’s hex caused the heater of X’s car to malfunction. (This is a northern town in a northern state.) What action should the manager take, other than of course to acquire for himself a protective garlic necklace and silver crucifix? Managers for the Transportation Security Administration at Albany International Airport in upstate New York fired — no, not burned, only terminated — the witch, one Carole A. Smith, who indeed describes herself as “a proud Wiccan.” There being no issue in the republic so infinitesimally trivial as to be of no concern whatever to the federal authorities, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is on the case. No doubt they will, after mighty legal labors, restore Ms. Smith to her former position, if a house doesn’t fall on her first. Calls for a new broom at the Albany TSA office have so far gone unheeded.
Rose Flynn DeMaio was not quite present at the creation, but almost: She came to National Review shortly after we were founded in 1955. She was a Queens girl; she has spent her adulthood in Long Island. And she has now retired — having worked at NR even longer than WFB did. She was on the business end of things, looking after money and other vital matters. Rose is vital herself: attractive, snappy, a bowler, a dancer. Someone here said the other day, “Rose has looked 39 for decades.” And may she keep her bowling scores over 200. Thanks for everything, sweet Rose.
Was Geraldine Ferraro qualified to be Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984? She was a 49-year-old, three-term congresswoman from Queens. To inexperience, she added a liberalism as pure as Mondale’s own. And once she stepped into the klieg lights, her realtor husband, John Zaccaro, turned out to have had some dodgy tenants (a gambling den, a porn operation, and a Gambino capo). She was tapped to be the first woman on a national ticket so that she could be the first woman on a national ticket: the affirmative-action candidate. Ronald Reagan’s 49-state sweep kept her in the footnotes. As the years passed, she showed her better sides: When the supporters of another affirmative-action candidate flayed her for supporting Hillary Clinton in 2008, she stuck by her guns. She battled multiple myeloma gallantly. Dead at 75. R.I.P.
The life of Elizabeth Taylor, in ascending order of importance: For the last few decades, she was that most modern of celebrities, the wreck of herself: tabloid fodder for illness, weight gain, and her Madonna-and-child relationship with Michael Jackson. Her two causes were Israel (a liberal icon when she took it up, embattled now) and AIDS (a PR risk at first, later to become a religion); it is a tribute to her consistency that she stuck with both through their downs and ups. Her romantic life was a satire on romance. She could act, in several different styles: smoldering, comedy, and Albee. She was a phantom of delight. And: Oh those weepers, how they hypnotize. Dead at 79. R.I.P.
Whose War in Libya?
Not surprisingly, over the last two weeks President Obama has proven himself a highly ambivalent warrior. Bizarrely, he says he’s putting the U.S. military at the service of the U.N.’s mission in Libya (protection of the population) rather than at the service of his own goal as president of the United States (the ouster of Moammar Qaddafi). We have high tolerance for diplomatic mumbo-jumbo to win allied support and soothe political sensibilities, so long as we don’t fool ourselves that there’s any substitute for American leadership and don’t let form dictate substance. President Obama at times seems dismayingly sincere in believing that in the ramshackle Libyan coalition he’s forged an entirely different mode for America’s engagement in the world.
This is silly, and ultimately pernicious. The United States military is not an armed department of the United Nations, nor is it meant to be sent willy-nilly around the world preempting atrocities, as it would be under modish theories of the “responsibility to protect.” The most important reason to move in Libya was to preserve the rebellion there, toward the end of weakening Qaddafi and ultimately toppling him. He’s proven himself a menace to us, to the region, and to his people. We believe in redemption, but not in the case of a miserable little dictator whose conversion in recent years to more reasonable behavior was clearly driven by fear of George W. Bush. We should be actively seeking the end of his regime.
That means continuing to destroy his military on the ground. It means attacking his command-and-control operations, in the hopes that a lucky strike kills him. And it means reaching out through every possible diplomatic avenue to offer him an escape in the form of a one-way ticket out of Libya.
The only force available on the ground to move on Tripoli is the rebels from the east. We shouldn’t romanticize them. Not only are they highly disorganized, they will surely commit abuses of their own as soon as they have the upper hand. As can be expected in such a society, some of the fighters are jihadis whom we’d be seeking to kill in different circumstances. Their chief virtue is that they are anti-Qaddafi. But we should be gaining as much knowledge of the particular players on the ground as possible so we aren’t flying so blind.
Meanwhile, we should be engaging with the Transitional National Council in Benghazi and helping it build its capacities, so it can better govern the areas it controls and be better prepared to govern — or share in governing — the country in the event of Qaddafi’s fall.
But we should have realistic expectations for any post-Qaddafi Libya. It is a society much better primed for an insurgency and bitter division than for a functioning democracy. Since we are not going to send ground forces to police Libya if Qaddafi falls, have done no post-war planning, and have limited knowledge of the social and political terrain, our ability to control the ultimate outcome is very limited. As a practical matter, our goal is primarily the end of Qaddafi, a terrorist with the blood of Americans up to his elbows and a dictator so heinous even the club of Arab dictators could no longer abide him.
If his ouster is the final outcome, every diplomatic dodge will have been worthwhile, and President Obama will be able to claim victory in this “kinetic military operation.”