If only Rahm Emanuel could fire the president.
Indiana governor Mitch Daniels now says he is “open” to seeking the Republican presidential nomination, a change from his previous position. Daniels has been a problem-solving, government-reforming governor, and was willing to endure temporary unpopularity while getting the state’s budget under control. In 2012 the electorate may be ready to choose competence over charisma; and in any case Daniels’s presence in the race will lend it an extra measure of seriousness and intelligence.
Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, addressing CPAC, sketched a political and cultural map of America. “When you listen to the elites and the pundits talk about the tea-party movement . . . implicit in their comments [is:] They didn’t go to the Ivy League schools. . . . They don’t hang out at our Chablis-drinking, Brie-eating parties in San Francisco.” Pawlenty photoshopped Barack Obama’s crack about small-town folk who cling to God and guns, and reversed it, with equal stupidity. A lot of people in blue states, and a lot of Brie-eating Ivy Leaguers, are red; a lot of blue voters can be reddened. But to notice that and profit by it, you have to be smart and attractive. If Pawlenty believed his demagoguery, that would be one problem. Worse, he seems to believe that conservatives will swallow demagoguery even when it is manifestly insincere. If T-Paw doesn’t want his nickname to be “Velveeta,” he’d better find a new line of talk.
A group of prominent conservatives released a “Mount Vernon statement” recommitting themselves to “the ideas of the American Founding.” They rededicated themselves, that is, to limited government, the rule of law, free enterprise, and a “firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.” Naturally we agree with these sentiments, and restating them is never out of season. Conserving the inheritance of the Founders is a nice ostensive definition of the conservative enterprise. But what conservatism needs is an explication of what that enterprise demands in practice right now. How are we to go about relimiting government after decades in which restraint has been cast off? Why should the many Americans who have grown dependent on the welfare state sympathize with that goal? What do we have to say to non-conservatives who consider themselves pro–free enterprise and pro-Constitution but do not agree with, or even recognize, the conservative program? Lurking in the background of the statement is the fear that conservatives are forgetting their “first principles.” We see many encouraging signs that this fear is misplaced. But principles are not self-executing; they must be applied to circumstances, or be placed on a shelf to gather dust.
Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass. — well, that was fun to write) voted for a $15 billion Democratic jobs bill that few observers believe will create many jobs. Conservatives should disapprove but not be disappointed: Brown never said he was a down-the-line conservative. Voting for crummy bills may even make it possible for him to stay in office to vote down monstrosities such as the health-care bill. That sort of reasoning can of course be taken too far, and frequently is by senators. Brown is still on track to be the best senator from Massachusetts in a long, long time.
Economists seem to have settled on a name for the economic calamity we have just lived through. They call it the “Great Recession.” As bad as the economy has been at the aggregate level, for minorities it has been much worse. It was a Great Recession for whites. It has been a Great Depression for blacks.
The nearby chart depicts the sorry truth that the latest experience is a statistical regularity. However bad the unemployment rate is for the general population, it is always worse for black Americans. On average, the black unemployment rate has been 6.6 percentage points higher than the white unemployment rate since 1972. According to the most recent data, the unemployment rate for blacks is 7.8 percentage points higher than the rate for whites.
The climb during the latest downturn is par for the course. In times of recession, when the probability of being unemployed increases 1 percent for whites, it increases 1.5 percent for blacks.
There is a vast academic literature studying the causes of high black unemployment. A number of factors have been found to contribute to the disparity, such as skill levels, location, and the fact that blacks may have been disproportionately harmed by the decline of the Rust Belt manufacturing economy. But studies tend to find that a large share of the variation is unexplained by things we can measure. This suggests that discrimination may well still be a factor in the American labor market.
One recent study by economists Yusuf Baskaya and Isaac Mbiti of Brown University went to Olympian lengths to explain the differential employment results and found that they could not, then concluded that employment differences “may stem from discrimination by employers who lay off black workers disproportionately during economic downturns.” While it is possible that there is some other omitted variable, Occam ’s Razor suggests that discrimination is alive and well.
This might surprise many readers who live and work in well-integrated communities. Baskaya and Mbiti can explain the surprise, too. They found that there appears not to be any sign of discrimination against higher-skilled workers, those in the highest quartile of the wage distribution.
Conservatives often object, correctly, to crude Democratic policies that target these issues, such as affirmative action. One should not, however, deny that discrimination exists. It is the simplest explanation for the data we see. It also argues for conservative policies.
If, for example, blacks with higher skills are unlikely to experience discrimination, then let’s improve minority education with charter-school initiatives. If the economy suffers because marginal tax rates rise, then blacks will feel it the most. If blue-collar wages and employment respond favorably to corporate tax rates, then lowering them will disproportionately benefit black workers.
In last year’s election, 96 percent of black Americans voted for President Obama. Since then, they have suffered immeasurable harm, harm that could have been eased by these and other conservative policies. If conservatives want to appeal to black Americans, they can start by admitting there is a problem.
Do Toyotas suffer an electronic glitch that causes them to accelerate, rapidly and dangerously? So three congressional committees have heard, from a clutch of witnesses, mostly soi-disant safety experts, and a couple who said their Lexus zoomed to 100 mph. It sounds like the set-up for big-time litigation: Congress, to courts, to payday. Disturbing in a different way was the testimony of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said that many Toyotas “are not safe.” “I want anybody that has one of [the models in question] to take it to their dealer and to make sure it gets fixed.” Whatever you think of such advice — meddling, proper — you think differently of it when LaHood’s employer, Uncle Sam, effectively owns two of Toyota’s competitors, GM and Chrysler. That’s a nice little car company you got there. Shame if anything happened to it. So overregulation corrupts regulation itself.
The cover essay of our last issue, by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, engendered a great deal of commentary on the Web. A post by Damon Linker of The New Republic became the proxy response for many liberals. Linker did not — could not? — contest the main thesis. He complained that Lowry and Ponnuru’s definition of American exceptionalism is too comforting for conservatives, quoting their description of the American creed as “liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics.” But that formulation comes not from the authors or any conservative but from the late sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset; and Lipset was no chauvinist either (one of his books was titled American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword). Linker goes on to string together a series of straw men, non sequiturs, and irritable mental gestures in the form of an argument: Lowry and Ponnuru cannot abide criticism of America — even though their essay described religion-infused reform movements as part of the fabric of the country and “a source of self-criticism and renewal”; they don’t care about the poor — evidence for which isn’t forthcoming; they suggest that Jane Addams, Herbert Croly, and Stuart Chase drew on innovations from European dictatorial movements — never mind that it’s true; they never acknowledge that the American creed wasn’t initially open to all — even though they wrote favorably of abolition and civil-rights movements; they say Obama wants “to change the country fundamentally” — again, never mind that he said as much in the 2008 campaign. On Linker goes, wildly swinging and missing. His piece amounts to one long evasion of the undeniable fact that conservatism wants to preserve uniquely American traits that liberalism hopes to efface. No wonder he’s so defensive.
Elevated to the governorship of New York by the sexcapades and resignation of Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson spent two years warning of the state’s groaning deficit while doing nothing much about it. No one feared him, few even respected him. The final straw was a New York Times story detailing his efforts to save an aide from an order of protection, sought by the aide’s girlfriend: The state police leaned on her, and Paterson himself talked to her on the phone. So the governor abandoned his election campaign, leaving the Democratic field to state attorney general Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is energetic, not to say abrasive, but he personifies the status quo. “Cuomo’s gotten bucketloads of money from some of the most powerful special interests that control Albany,” said possible Republican opponent Rick Lazio. “How [can he] take them on?” Without some tea-party spasm, who in crippled New York can take anything on?
New York’s problems are not confined to its state officeholders. Rep. Charles Rangel (the last living New Yorker to pronounce his nickname “Cholly”) was rapped by the House Ethics Committee for taking corporate-sponsored Caribbean trips in 2007–08. Rangel’s aides knew about the corporate backing, said the committee, and Rangel should have known too. (Maybe he did — the meeting rooms were plastered with corporate logos.) Rangel is still being probed for having four rent-stabilized apartments, not paying taxes on a Dominican villa, and leaving half a million bucks in assets off his financial-disclosure forms. In the face of bipartisan scorn, Rangel asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “a leave of absence” from his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee; Pelosi granted it, even though she had defended him and said he didn’t knowingly violate the rules. It’s the last defense of New York, and House Democrats: If we knew what we were doing, we would be even worse.
Joe Stack was a terrorist employing an all-too-familiar tactic: flying an airplane into an office building full of civilians. He targeted the IRS building in Austin, but his list of hatreds was long: the health-care system, the Catholic Church, capitalism, etc. The man Stack killed in his attack was a different and better kind of American: Vernon Hunter, a 20-year military veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam and who leaves behind three children and seven grandchildren. Those on the left who have seized upon Stack’s rhetoric as an excuse to tar tea-party activists and other small-government and anti-tax forces are behaving shamefully — New York Times poison-crayon columnist Frank Rich stands out in this category — but no more shamefully than those such as Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) who have used the episode as an occasion to publicize their own anti-tax views, as though the graveside were a proper place for a stump speech. Opportunists who seize upon murderous acts for their own purposes should repent of it.
Many of the lawyers making the administration’s anti-terrorism policies spent the years after 9/11 representing America’s enemies — the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. That work was strictly voluntary: Enemy combatants are not entitled to counsel to challenge their status, and in proceedings (such as military-commission trials) in which they are entitled to counsel, military lawyers were provided. Given Attorney General Eric Holder’s purported commitment to “transparency,” Republican senators have acted reasonably in demanding details about which DOJ lawyers have represented detainees and what the current responsibilities of those lawyers are. Holder is stonewalling. The senators should keep pressing. With the Justice Department assuming a central role in our security, Americans are entitled to know who is making policy.
Under widening criticism after the Christmas bomber invoked Miranda protections and halted his interrogation, Holder touted the guilty plea of Najibullah Zazi — who plotted to bomb New York City on the anniversary of 9/11 — as a shining example of the courts’ effectiveness against terrorism. He rebuked critics for trying to “take this tool out of our hands.” It was an absurd performance. The Zazi investigation was no model: Investigators jumped the gun and questioned a source who double-crossed them by tipping off Zazi, inducing him to flee to Denver (where he was later arrested) while other terrorists scattered before agents could identify them. Because he was handled as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant, Zazi was able to plea-bargain for six months before finally agreeing to cooperate. And no one has argued that the “tool” of civilian prosecution is not crucially important to our security. If we are to prevent another 9/11, aggressive law enforcement is a must against, for example, those who materially support terrorists. The point is that, in wartime, war criminals should be detained indefinitely and tried by military commission, not endowed with the rights of Americans.
Congressional Democrats quietly retreated after rattling their sabers against the Patriot Act, three important provisions of which were due to expire absent reauthorization. With no fanfare, a one-year extension was granted for laws empowering national-security agents to use “roving wiretaps” on terror suspects (obviating the need to go back to a judge every time the suspect changes phones), to compel the production of business records (though not as easily as agents investigating even minor crimes can), and to surveil “lone wolf” terrorists (evidence connecting whom to known terrorist organizations is sparse). These provisions are common sense and ought to be permanent. That the Obama Democrats were unwilling to give more than a grudging one-year extension tells us everything we need to know about their national-security seriousness.
The American government has a new climate-change office, and Thomas Karl has been put in charge of it. Unfortunately, he is one of those scientists whose work has been called into serious question. Moreover, he is one of those scientists who seem to have been intolerant of dissent: of the expression of second, and third, scientific opinions. There is good news to report, however: Scientists who published in Nature Geoscience, an important journal, have withdrawn a flawed study. This was a 2009 study predicting rising sea levels as a phenomenon of global warming. The authors now say there were serious mistakes in their work, mistakes that undermine their conclusions. They will go back to the drawing board, because science is a “complicated game” involving “checks and balances.” That’s the spirit.
President Obama has named his appointees to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a.k.a. the Presidential Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Oh My Goodness Look at the Size of That Deficit! One of Obama’s picks is consummate corporate insider Ann M. Fudge, who was formerly CEO of advertising giant Young & Rubicam and a member of all the right boards: Harvard, Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, General Electric, etc. Another is David Cote, the Honeywell CEO who acted as corporate-cheerleader-in-chief for Obama’s stimulus and whose company subsequently helped itself to millions of dollars of stimulus funds for “energy infrastructure” projects in California. A third is SEIU kingpin Andy Stern, the president’s personal envoy to the ACORN wing of the Democratic party. Together the three form a sort of Obama administration in miniature: government-dependent corporate interests allied with the space-cadet Left, pretending to address a problem that the administration has neither the will nor the imagination to solve.
It’s feeling more like 1994 every day: Our Democratic president, struggling in his attempt to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, recently announced his intention to ban “assault weapons.” Evidently, Obama has forgotten the leading role that gun laws and the National Rifle Association played in the Democrats’ thumping 16 years ago, and the proposed ban is even worse as policy than it is as politics. As the National Academy of Sciences and the (typically anti-gun) Centers for Disease Control have concluded, there is no evidence that the 1994 ban, which expired in 2004 and which Obama hopes to reenact, saved lives. Despite a decades-long effort by the anti-gun lobby to convince the public otherwise, “assault weapons” are not machine guns, and are not much more dangerous than common hunting rifles. They fire once for each pull of the trigger, and use bullets that are not abnormally large or lethal. The difference between an “assault weapon” and any other gun is mostly cosmetic: Assault weapons have militaristic-looking features such as pistol grips and flash suppressors. But criminals prefer easy-to-conceal handguns over bulky long guns. When a government bans “assault weapons,” it restricts its citizens’ freedoms without making them safer.
The Navy has announced that female officers will soon be deployed on some of its submarines. The main problem here is mixing the sexes in extremely cramped quarters. Even in the Navy’s largest subs, and even assuming modifications — many of them difficult and expensive — to lavatories, showers, and sleeping quarters, the forced intimacy and lack of privacy will cause much greater problems than they do on surface ships. The isolation of being submerged for ten weeks at a time, and having very limited communication with the outside world, will only compound them. The burden of discipline on commanders will increase. If this new policy were merely an experiment, it could be evaluated before a final decision was made. But in today’s military, where “diversity” sometimes seems a higher priority than war-fighting, the Navy is sure to expand the program, if only to give female sub officers a career track. The old restrictions are neither sexist nor outdated.
President Obama wants gays to be able to serve openly in the military. So does Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And public support for open gay service has grown. In light of the zeitgeist, it was interesting to hear the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He expressed support for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And he said that the issue should be looked at militarily, not socially: “My personal opinion is that unless we can strip away the emotion, the agendas, and the politics and ask . . . ‘Do we somehow enhance the war-fighting capabilities of the United States Marine Corps by allowing homosexuals to openly serve?’ . . . we haven’t addressed [the issue] from the correct perspective.” Conway is set to retire this summer, so perhaps he is in a particularly candid mood. In any case, we appreciate his service, and his candor.
The United States is to have a new embassy in London. There are grumbles about the cost — $1 billion — and grumbles about the design. About the design, the grumblers have a point: Does the world need one more vast cube, even an “eco-cube,” as our embassy is to be? But the grumblers have less of a point about cost. This is something the federal government should spend money on, even big money. We need an embassy in London befitting our status as a superpower, and befitting the Anglo-American relationship. Let the embassy be grand and glorious (as well as secure). And if we need to save taxpayer dimes — which surely we do — we can save elsewhere.
Good neighbors make good fences; bad neighbors make virtual fences. Several years ago the Department of Homeland Security contracted with Boeing to deliver a high-tech surveillance system that was meant to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States. The system, based on radar, motion sensors, and high-definition cameras, worked great — in the laboratory. In the real world of Arizona’s desert heat, torrential rains, and ever-present sand, it has malfunctioned constantly. Even when it does work, it’s easy to get around, just like the Maginot Line. The Border Patrol boasts of having made 5,000 arrests in the two years the initial 28-mile section has been in service, but that works out to only about seven per day. While the Obama administration has laudably decided to reduce funding for the project, there seems little chance that they will spend the savings on a more effective barrier, let alone increased enforcement against illegal aliens who are already in the country.
Newfoundland, one of the ten provinces of Canada, has a prime minister, 60-year-old Danny Williams. Mr. Williams has a heart condition requiring surgery. Being immensely wealthy from a previous career in business (his nickname is “Danny Millions”), the PM could go anywhere he chose for his heart surgery. He chose Florida, to the deep consternation of those Obamacare advocates striving to make the U.S. health-care system more like Canada’s. Mr. Williams’s own countrymen were miffed, too, with many protestations about Canada’s excellent hospitals. It all sounded a bit hollow though, in view of Mr. Williams’s vote with his feet. Nor did it help a bit that just five years ago, Newfoundlanders had learned that shoddy diagnosing of breast cancer by local pathologists led to over 100 deaths. Mr. Williams is convalescing incommunicado as we go to press. We wish him a swift and full recovery, and thank him for the assist.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) has modified his plan to use financial-reform legislation to create a new “consumer protection” agency policing lenders. Instead of this independent regulator, Senator Dodd now proposes to create an identical entity within the Treasury Department. Apparently the senator is bewitched by the Washington illusion that rearranging federal office space effects a change in policy substance — that where a bureaucrat sits is where he stands. This maneuver doesn’t solve Dodd’s problem: The new entity within Treasury still would have the power to issue regulations certain to conflict with the many other mandates banks and financial-services firms already are subject to, and it would not be bound by the safety-and-soundness directives that govern other regulators. In other words, Dodd promises to create expensive new regulatory burdens that leave the banking system less stable than it already is. It is true that some Americans are taken in by unscrupulous operators. But the government already has means to police fraudulent credit-card and mortgage offers — for instance, putting offenders in jail.
“Pricing carbon is the key to energy independence, and the by-product is that young people look at you differently,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) in an interview with New York Times green zealot Tom Friedman. “Instead of being just one more short, white Republican over 50, I am now semi-cool.” These comments reek of desperate political salesmanship, but what exactly is he selling? Carbon already has a price — Graham means it should be more expensive. Yet the cost of achieving energy independence would be far higher than even Graham would be willing to tolerate, so he is either deluding us or deluding himself. If he actually believes his support for an energy tax makes him “semi-cool,” then it’s definitely the latter.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas beat off a primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, clearing the 50 percent mark to avoid a runoff in a race complicated by the insurgent candidacy of tea- party favorite Debra Medina. Governor Perry has been an across-the-board conservative, winning important victories on tort reform and spending while articulating an occasionally blistering critique of Washington’s overreaching ways. Hutchison has been a capable senator whose service in Washington is not diminished by her loss in Texas. And Medina put in a respectable showing, too: 17 percent is nothing to sneeze at for an independent, inexperienced candidate who is neither a billionaire dilettante nor a celebrity. The unreconstructed conservative, the establishment Republican, and the restive tea-party libertarian: If you want a quick summary of the state of the Right, the Texas primary offers one — and it bodes well for conservatives.
Perry is suing the EPA, which proposes to regulate carbon dioxide — the stuff you exhale when you breathe — as a pollutant: global warming and all that. Governor Perry is no environmental Luddite; he is if anything a bit overeager to pursue “alternative energy” funds, which in the case of Texas mostly means federal dollars blowing in the high-plains wind as it spins subsidized turbines. But Governor Perry is not so green that he would see his state’s farmers and energy producers hamstrung by overbearing EPA regulation, which is what will happen if the Obama administration gets its way on carbon dioxide. At issue are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the energy and agriculture industries — jobs that a wiser administration would be protecting jealously as unemployment lingers around 10 percent. President Obama talks a good deal about creating “green jobs.” Texas’s farmers and natural-gas producers already have them, and require only restraint from the administration to keep them.
Thirteen years of Blair/Brown misrule ought, you would think, to be enough. Yet if recent opinion polls are to be believed, there is a chance that Britain’s Labour party might yet eke out a narrow win in the country’s upcoming general election. That came as a rude shock to the currency markets — the pound plunged. So it should have done. The danger of another Labour term is real. All this has come as a nasty shock to the opposition Conservatives. Under the ostentatiously “modernizing” David Cameron, they had seemed to be coasting to victory on the back of a ruined economy, as well as their own carefully cultivated inoffensiveness and voguish, vague promises of “change.” That may still be enough, but the stakes are too high to risk it. The trick for the Tories now is to spell out more clearly how broke — and how broken — Britain really is, who is to blame, and what the Conservatives will do to put things right, but to do so in a way that does not frighten centrist voters away. This won’t be easy, but David Cameron cannot afford not to try.
Amnesty International is probably the world’s foremost human-rights organization. Cageprisoners is a group led by Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee and an Islamist. He is a staunch supporter of the Taliban. And he and his confreres contend that terror detainees and their ilk are human-rights victims. Amnesty formed an alliance with Cageprisoners — which disgusted Gita Sahgal, an Amnesty official. She went public with her disgust, and the organization suspended her. Salman Rushdie weighed in with a huge blast: “Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong.” Rushdie knows something about Islamist threats — and, in this matter, he has done well.
Anti-Semitism in Sweden? Surely not: Isn’t it the country par excellence of multicultural diversity and tolerance? Ask Judith Popinski. She’s an 86-year-old survivor of Nazi concentration camps who sought refuge after the war in Malmö, and one of only 700 Jews in a city with a population of 300,000. Industry there has been declining, however; Muslims have been building up a community now numbering 40,000; and the long-time mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, is an eager leftist. Last year, these factors fused into the present crisis. In the aftermath of Israel’s clash with Hamas in Gaza, Reepalu and the authorities decided that it would be provocative for spectators to watch the Davis Cup tennis match between Israel and Sweden. This duly took place in an empty stadium. Since then, leftists and Muslims have committed 79 hate crimes against Jews, double the number of the previous year, setting fire to the building used as a synagogue, shouting “Hitler” at Jews in the street, and the rest of it. One particular screaming mob threw bottles and firecrackers at a small pro-Israel demonstration while the police looked on. Popinski said, “It reminded me of what I saw in my youth.” The mayor thinks this is all an understandable consequence of Israeli policy. Not surprisingly, many Jews are leaving, most of them for Israel, not wanting to worry whether this is a step in Europe’s change into Eurabia.
Few leaders of the Free World have been such keen disciples of the climate-change cult as Australia’s leftish prime minister Kevin Rudd, whose first act after being sworn in two years ago was to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Then, in the depths of recession a year later, casting about for ways to “stimulate the economy” with “green jobs,” Rudd embraced a proposal by his environment minister, Peter Garrett, for massive government spending on a scheme to insulate Australian homes. Great sums — over $2.4 billion — were accordingly spent under the direction of Mr. Garrett. Private contractors eagerly signed up for the government money. Not all were competent, though. Foil-backed insulation was wrongly installed, causing electrical fires. After 93 burned-out houses and four deaths, Mr. Garrett has been demoted. Perhaps he will return to his previous job, as a singer in a rock’n’roll band, where he will pose fewer dangers.
The Olympics are supposed to be about sports, and sometimes they are. So congratulations to all the medalists in Vancouver, including especially Canada’s women hockey players, whom killjoys chided for sneaking onto the ice after their gold-medal win, in what they thought was an empty stadium, to swig champagne and smoke cigars. To the victors belong the hijinks. The Olympics also illuminate national traits. Congratulations again to the Canadian crowd that cheered America’s silver-medal women hockey players, with chants of U-S-A, U-S-A: fitting symbol of their grace and the fellow feeling of our countries. And pity the Russians: When Yevgeny Plushenko, star figure skater, lost the gold to American Evan Lysacek, he whined that he wuz robbed, and Vladimir Putin agreed. With less ability to bully than in Soviet times, they must rely on that other Soviet tactic, grandstanding.
For the first time since the U.K.’s smoking ban took effect in July 2007, someone has been sent to prison for the crime of allowing cigarette smoking on his property. Pub owner Nick Hogan was fined £10,000 for violating the smoking ban and sentenced to six months in prison when he refused to pay. Hogan remains undaunted: “This isn’t about smoking. It’s about freedom of choice, and I’m prepared to go to court to fight for what I believe in. This legislation is dictatorial, and I’m going to allow people the freedom to choose.” By way of contrast, a sentence of only two months in prison was handed down to a Brighton woman who terrorized a council house, slashing one of the tenants with a razor, and stole tenants’ money and property.
It can hardly be denied that being president of the United States is a very stressful line of work. For a high-strung, somewhat introverted type like the incumbent, the temptations of self-medication are irresistible. It is therefore not surprising to learn that the president still likes a smoke and a drink. A recent report by his physician, just made public, urged Obama to “continue smoking cessation efforts” and show “moderation in alcohol intake.” Apparently Michelle does not wield the domestic authority of Rutherford B. Hayes’s wife, “Lemonade Lucy,” who banned all tobacco and alcohol from the White House. We do not begrudge the president his occasional lapse into minor vices, but wonder where he goes to enjoy his Marlboro Reds. The Truman balcony? — said to have been Laura Bush’s choice (though she smoked Kents). There may be an opportunity here for some enterprising paparazzo with a good telephoto lens.
The American Psychiatric Association has given us a peek into the forthcoming (2013) edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authoritative text for telling us when, and for what, we need the attentions of APA members. This new edition will be the fifth, the first having hit shrinks’ desks in 1952. As with previous editions, DSM-5 does nothing to fortify psychiatry’s claims to be a rigorous practice based in hard science. Much of it merely chronicles lifestyle fads. Fifty years ago you were a sexual deviant, suffering from a malady listed in the DSM; today you are “gay,” and no longer DSM-worthy. Fifty years ago you were a heavy smoker of no interest to psychiatrists; today you are afflicted with DSM-listed “Nicotine-Use Disorder.” There are of course real mental pathologies — varieties of madness — and we should strive to understand and treat them. Including eccentricity, unpopular habits, and everyday unhappiness in the mix can only vitiate the psychiatric enterprise and provide yet more rationalizations of irresponsibility to a populace already seriously addicted to the making of excuses (an addiction not listed in DSM-5).
The green enthusiasm has now reached into the opera house. The company in Cleveland has launched a “Green Opera Initiative.” They are “adding sustainability to the repertoire.” All of their productions are to be “green,” but Lucia di Lammermoor is to be especially so (somehow). Opera Cleveland has examined its “carbon footprint” and is asking patrons to give money for the purchase of “carbon offsets.” Will our descendants look on this period of greenery as lunacy or wisdom? In any case, we trust that Opera Cleveland will look after its sopranos, conductors, and stage directors, in addition to its “footprint” and “offsets.”
Sen. Harry Reid says unemployment causes men to beat their wives. We wonder what Reid would say about Ric Flair, the durable, semi-retired pro-wrestling superstar, and his spitfire of a wife, Jacqueline Beems. After returning from a convivial dinner, the couple had what Flair’s agent described as an “unfortunate disagreement,” which ended with Jackie punching her beloved several times and getting hauled off to jail. According to one news report, “police don’t know what the argument was about, but sources believe that alcohol was a contributing factor.” Could be. Flair, of course, did not hit back; he is a committed social conservative who would never strike a lady without getting paid for it. Still, his agent went on to say that “Ric finds this incident unsettling and is committed to correcting any issues in his personal life.” You mean issues like the 16-time world wrestling champion getting his butt kicked by a girl half his size and then apologizing? Whatever the upshot of that situation, Flair has announced his imminent return to the ring, which we are sure will dispel whatever malaise his recent lack of gainful employment may have caused.
Al Haig was a combat veteran (Korea and Vietnam), four-star general, supreme commander of NATO, and secretary of state. Yet so much about him was sharp-edged and small. He rose by marrying a general’s daughter, and by serving the right civilians as assistant: Robert McNamara, then Henry Kissinger. His two runs for president (the National Review Bulletin said you needed “bionic eyes” to spot his first, in the 1980 cycle) failed; so he decided that politics was “sleaze.” When Ronald Reagan was shot, he tried to reassure the nation by declaring (wrongly, and with obvious distress) that he was in charge at the White House. Yet, during one of the low points of the presidency, he served as Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, replacing the soon-to-be indicted H. R. Haldeman. No one ever nailed down all the details, but Haig helped persuade Nixon to go, and encouraged Gerald Ford, his successor, to pardon him. Right on both counts. Dead at 85. R.I.P.
An exchange at the health-care summit got to the root of the matter. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) said that the Democrats’ legislation would increase premiums for insurance policies bought by individuals rather than businesses. President Obama first insisted otherwise, then conceded the point while attributing the rise to the greater comprehensiveness of the insurance policies. This greater comprehensiveness would be mandated. During the summit, Obama insisted that bare-bones insurance coverage — insurance that protected only against financial catastrophe — was not insurance at all.
The truth is closer to the reverse. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Kenneth Arrow pointed out nearly five decades ago, using insurance to pay for routine and predictable expenses makes no sense. The market can provide catastrophic insurance. It cannot provide comprehensive insurance. If the government insists on comprehensive insurance it will have to interfere in markets again and again. This is why liberals are dead-set against letting people buy insurance from out of state. If healthy people can evade their states’ mandates that insurance provide comprehensive coverage by buying insurance in less regulated states, they will raise the price of that comprehensive coverage and thus make it unsustainable.
Ultimately, to make this system work, people have to be forced not to buy catastrophic insurance or forgo insurance altogether: They must be forced to buy comprehensive policies. Those who can’t afford them must be subsidized. Such policies come with built-in incentives for overconsumption, so eventually government experts must swoop in to ration care. The ineluctable logic of comprehensive coverage is why Obamacare so closely resembles Clintoncare and why its proponents are unwilling to make meaningful compromises. Some piecemeal health-care reforms may work; but reforms that attempt to block the market from evolving in its natural direction have to be systematic. All the exits must be locked.
The liberal vision of health-care reform cannot be attained without new taxes, without complicated and ambitious legislation, without the threat of government rationing, or without disrupting people’s existing insurance arrangements. These are some of the reasons for Obamacare’s unpopularity. The Democrats have decided to respond to this unpopularity not by rethinking their health-care policies but by muscling them through. They believe history will applaud them. (Candy and flowers, perhaps.)
Nancy Pelosi says that she is prepared for other Democrats to lose their seats over the issue. Democrats are saying that their difficulty in passing the legislation proves that our political system is broken. We think this too is backward. An ideologically intoxicated supermajority brought into being by the financial crisis is trying to push through changes that are sweeping, unpopular, permanent, and unrelated to that crisis. The Democrats have attempted to change the rules in midcourse toward this end. First they changed the law in Massachusetts so that an appointed senator could cast the decisive vote for their bill. Now they are using “reconciliation” in order to pass parts of the legislation over the opposition of all Republicans, most independents, and some Democrats.
It will be a mark against the political system only if they succeed.
A bill advancing through Congress with strong Democratic support would accomplish something peculiar for a liberal republic in the 21st century: It would partly disfranchise the majority of one state’s residents, create a parallel government for a minority of residents who satisfy a racial-purity test, and portend the transfer of public land and political power from those who fail to meet the racial standard to those who do. For these reasons and many more, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, a.k.a. the Akaka bill, richly deserves opposition.
Sen. Daniel Akaka’s legislation would apply the model of American Indian tribes’ formal sovereignty to people of native Hawaiian ancestry. But Hawaiians are not a tribe in the sense that American Indian polities are: Indians’ sovereignty does not derive from race; rather, those tribes are recognized as sovereign because each represents, however imperfectly, a continuous political tradition. Native Hawaiians do not and have not. (They are not even a majority of Hawaiians; the 50th state has more Americans of Japanese origin than Americans of Polynesian origin.) The United States cannot, as in the case of the Indian tribes, enter into an agreement with the Hawaiian sovereign, because no such sovereign exists. It is probably unconstitutional, and certainly unwise, for Congress to attempt to create a new sovereign people within the United States.
Why would they want to? The Akaka bill is as much about real estate as it is about race. For many years, those who were not native Hawaiians were excluded from voting in elections for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which controls a vast trust comprising millions of acres of Hawaiian real estate. But the Supreme Court ruled those voting restrictions unconstitutional in a 2000 decision, Rice v. Cayetano. The Court specifically rejected “the demeaning premise that citizens of a particular race are somehow more qualified than others to vote on certain matters,” arguing that such reasoning “attacks the central meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment,” which protects citizens’ voting rights from being restricted on racial grounds. The Akaka bill is a stealth attempt to use racial politics to undo that Supreme Court decision and secure one ethnic lobby’s control of those resources. But if Congress does not have the authority to restrict OHA voting to native Hawaiians, how are we to imagine that it has the power to create a new Hawaiian Nation, ex nihilo? Better to recognize that native Hawaiians, like the rest of us, are citizens of the United States of America, and damned lucky to be. Senator Akaka’s ethnic mania deserves not just opposition, but scorn.