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Kate O’Beirne, RIP

Kate O’Beirne, RIP

If you never had a chance to meet Kate O’Beirne, you really missed out.

Before I knew Kate, when I was a politically wonky polliwog in the 1990s, I watched her on CNN’s Capitol Gang. It’s easy to forget how good television news debate programs used to be, before the stage was turned over to interchangeable telegenic bobble-heads who aren’t really into reading. On Capitol Gang, the panelists had to be journalists, published regularly in print publications, who knew their stuff and could think on their feet. And on screen, Kate O’Beirne seemed like a cross between Katharine Hepburn and a velociraptor.

The late Robert Novak described Kate in his autobiography, The Prince of Darkness:

Tall, blond, New Yorker-feisty, and exceptionally well-informed… Kate auditioned for the Gang for the first time on June 24, and she was dynamite. My decision was quickly made. Kate O’Beirne was a tremendous asset to the program, informed and able to charm the socks off [liberal panelist Al] Hunt. I think Boston Irish [Mark] Shields was less susceptible to the charms of an Irish lass from New York, and Kate always felt Mark resented a strong conservative woman. But Kate radically improved the program.

Watching her vivisect the arguments of the liberal panelists over the years, I was more than a little intimidated when I first met her. I joined National Review full-time in 2004, and in a circumstance where she had every reason to say or imply, “keep your mouth shut and learn, rookie,” she bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and an important contributor to the magazine as a whole. I recall at Democratic convention in Boston 2004, my first big event as new guy on National Review’s team, she asked me in front of my new co-workers, “how did you learn so much about politics?” I’m sitting in front of a Murderer’s Row of political journalism — Ramesh Ponnuru, John J. Miller, Jonah Goldberg, Byron York — and she’s asking what I think. More than a few folks inside and outside of National Review have those stories — where Kate made you feel like a big deal, even when you weren’t.

As merciless as she could be on air and in print, she was as gracious and kind in real life. When she hosted a party, she made sure every guest felt at home. She gushed about her sons, serving in the military and law enforcement, two success stories of parenting. She sent gifts when my children were born.

Every once in a while, she left you with the feeling she could see around corners. In 2009, I remember her chatting, in one of her seemingly ever-present clouds of cigarette smoke, after a group of editors had met with some young no-name state legislator. This guy, who looked like he wouldn’t be able to buy booze without his ID, was named Marco Rubio and was talking up a long-shot bid against Charlie Crist in next year’s GOP Senate primary. Impressed, Kate speculated that this kid could be Romney’s running mate in 2012 (this was when the idea of Romney running again was considered unlikely) and that Rubio would run for president someday. Not quite on the nose, but in the ballpark.

You’ll want to read the remembrances from Ramesh, Jonah, Rich, John J. Miller, John O’Sullivan and Mona Charen.

William Kristol accurately observed, “Kate was a stalwart of the conservative movement who never manifested the stodginess or self-importance that one associates with stalwarts.”

She is dearly missed already.

Should Tax Dollars Finance Broadway Shows?

Apparently one argument in favor of continuing taxpayer funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is that it frequently gives grants to Broadway productions. Some have argued that without the NEA, there wouldn’t be Hamilton, even though as CNBC’s Jake Novak pointed out, “this successful private-sector project was backed and funded for real by private investors all the way.”

The roundabout way of crediting the NEA for Hamilton stems from the endowment providing $30,000 “to support New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Season in 2013, an eight-week residency on Vassar College’s campus. Theater artists live and work together to develop new plays and musicals, one of which was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster.”

This is the blockbuster Hamilton, where tickets began at $175 per ticket and then went to $850 per ticket. Please stop telling me that this show would not exist without a check from the taxpayers. By last year, it was making $600,000 a week in profit and depending on how long it runs, it could be the first Broadway production to make $1 billion. (Is it too much to ask that they pay back the NEA for that early help? It’s not like they can’t afford it. The total annual budget for the NEA is $148 million; that’s about what Broadway grosses in a month.)

The average cost of a ticket for a Broadway show is more than $100 per seat. Some of the shows supported by grants from the NEA charge a bit less than that for the cheap seats, but none of them are “affordable” in the eyes of the average American.

The NEA provided $30,000 for the production of Can You Forgive Her?, a Gina Gionfriddo play at the Vineyard Theatre that’s “an exploration of privilege and class in America” featuring “incendiary conversations about the differences between haves and have-nots in America.” Tickets are $79 per seat, meaning that very few have-nots will be attending those incendiary conversations.

The NEA provided $60,000 for the production of Gloria, a play that “chronicles the experiences of an ambitious, culturally diverse group of young people working as editorial assistants at a renowned New York magazine who experience an unexpected act of violence and are confronted with questions of authorship as it relates to identity, race, class, and privilege.” Seeing the play was indeed a privilege, as tickets ranged from $79 to $100.

The NEA provided $50,000 to the world premiere of Oslo, a “comic fiction that imagines the secret negotiations among a coalition of Palestinians and Israelis that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords” at the Lincoln Center Theater. The cheap seats in the balcony are $87, the good seats up front are $187.

Put aside all gripes about any heavy-handed political messages in these shows or their quality. Live theater can be wonderful, but there is no getting around the fact that it is an entertainment choice for the very wealthy, particularly on Broadway. The latest survey finds that the Broadway audience is 67 percent female, 77 percent white, 81 percent college graduates, 47 percent with post-graduate education, with an average household income of $195,000. About 40 percent of attendees report a personal income of more than $150,000.

Considering all the other indisputably important and costly priorities our government has, should taxpayers be underwriting entertainment that is priced so it can only be enjoyed by the wealthiest Americans?

If extremely expensive entertainment for an extremely wealthy audience deserves government subsidies, then everything deserves government subsidies.

The Hard Truths about Foreign Aid That We’ve Been Ignoring

Speaking of wasteful spending, anthropologist Tom Dichter says it’s time to radically change the approach to foreign aid — and that while the Trump administration might be cutting it for the wrong reason, any cuts will not be the tragedy that “the aid establishment” will claim it is:

Aid has resulted in remarkably few significant shifts in economic growth and poverty reduction. The truth is much of aid’s promise has come up empty.

It is striking that the aid establishment has not dug deeper into the reasons why. It has not listened to four decades of trenchant critiques, many of them by insiders. Countless articles and at least thirty widely read books about aid (such as Michael Maren’s 1997 The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, or William Easterly’s 2006 The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, or Dambisa Moyo’s 2009 Dead Aid), have pointed out that outsiders cannot “nation build,” that development must be led by the people in the poor countries themselves, that dependency has been one of the few tangible results of the trillions we have spent, that the complexity and the context-specific nature of each country’s politics, social structure, and culture cannot be easily understood by outsiders and thus the short term three to five year aid “project” is a wildly inappropriate vehicle for aid, and so on. Moreover, a number of highly respected historians and economists like David S. Landes and J.K. Galbraith have pointed out that aid simply cannot produce development…

The main reason there is so little change is that aid has become an industry, and is rapidly moving towards what a present day Eisenhower might call an “aid-industrial complex,” an interlocking set of players (NGOs, government agencies, and private contractors, among others) who have largely closed off outside criticism and internal learning and become self-referential and entrenched. The main goal of this complex is to keep the money flowing…

If the aid industry were to listen to its critics, it would have to conclude that development aid ought to be less about money and more about collegial discourse, with “us” admitting that we really have very few answers. By far the most important conclusion to draw is that if the goal of development aid to poor countries is to be met, our agencies need to become smaller, not larger; we need to take a back seat and “do” less. Indeed someday soon, we need to prepare to go out of business. No industry wants to hear this, but aid is not like the auto industry. It was meant not to last.

ADDENDA: The latest pop culture podcast didn’t get uploaded until late Friday, so if you missed it that day, you can find it here.

Why do Americans choose to live and work in countries with hostile regimes? Yes, there are great humanitarian needs, but at any given moment, you can be arrested on bogus charges, imprisoned and turned into a human bargaining chip. North Korea arrested a third American citizen this weekend on unspecified charges. The U.S. State Department already “strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to North Korea/the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”

Can we get these people to sign waivers or something? “I, the undersigned, realize the risk, and do not expect my government to make any concessions to get my foolish tush out of a Nork hellhole prison”?


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