Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 6, 2011

Competition: The Engine of Success

Good ideas inevitably spread. Arabic numbers and the zero, liberty, the Gregorian calendar, democracy, free markets, Darwinian evolution, pizza, have conquered the world despite all attempts to prevent them from doing so.

And despite a bitter and well-financed campaign by teachers’ unions and the educational establishment, the techniques of charter schools are spreading to the public schools they were set up to compete with. The New York Times reports today that “In the first experiment of its kind in the country, the Houston public schools are testing whether techniques proven successful in high-performing urban charters can also help raise achievement in regular public schools.”

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Good ideas inevitably spread. Arabic numbers and the zero, liberty, the Gregorian calendar, democracy, free markets, Darwinian evolution, pizza, have conquered the world despite all attempts to prevent them from doing so.

And despite a bitter and well-financed campaign by teachers’ unions and the educational establishment, the techniques of charter schools are spreading to the public schools they were set up to compete with. The New York Times reports today that “In the first experiment of its kind in the country, the Houston public schools are testing whether techniques proven successful in high-performing urban charters can also help raise achievement in regular public schools.”

“We can’’t sit idly by and let parents think only the quality charter schools can educate poor kids well,” said Terry Grier, Houston’’s hard-charging superintendent. “If you see something good, why not try to replicate it?”

This, of course, was the very idea of charter schools to begin with: to provide educational alternatives outside the public school monopoly that could explore other pedagogical techniques. Those successful techniques are now spreading to the old-fashioned public schools.

Here we have a textbook example of why free markets work: they foster competition, and it is competition that fosters good ideas. The reason why government is always so stultified and inefficient is that governments are always monopolies. It is the instinct of all monopolists to strangle new ideas in their cribs–not foster them.

 

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What the UN’s Flotilla Inquiry Says About Western Attitude Toward Military Force

As Michael has noted, the UN inquiry into Israel’s raid on last year’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza largely exculpated Israel. Yet the fact an otherwise balanced report found it necessary to accuse Israel of “excessive and unreasonable” force says a lot about the warped fashion in which the West now views any use of force.

After all, as the report itself acknowledged, Israeli soldiers “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded.”

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As Michael has noted, the UN inquiry into Israel’s raid on last year’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza largely exculpated Israel. Yet the fact an otherwise balanced report found it necessary to accuse Israel of “excessive and unreasonable” force says a lot about the warped fashion in which the West now views any use of force.

After all, as the report itself acknowledged, Israeli soldiers “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded.”

Specifically, the first 14 soldiers to land on the ship were attacked by dozens of passengers “armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives.” Passengers later seized some of the soldiers’ guns, and two soldiers were shot; while it isn’t certain they were shot by passengers, “there is some reason to believe” they were, and certainly, the soldiers thought so at the time.

Nevertheless, the report declared the “loss of life and injuries resulting from the [soldiers’] use of force” to be “unacceptable,” insisting there was “no satisfactory explanation” for “any of the nine deaths,” and particularly for the fact “most of the deceased were shot multiple times.”

This begs an obvious question: How were the soldiers supposed to subdue this much larger group of heavily armed opponents, whom the report itself admits posed a threat to their own lives, without causing any injuries or deaths? The report provides no answer, because in reality, it’s simply not possible.

Moreover, as any soldier knows, a wounded opponent can still kill. Shoot a man in the leg, for instance, and he can still kill you with his iron bar, stave, chain, knife or gun. The Israelis also had no way of knowing what other weaponry passengers might have – whether, for instance, some might have wired themselves with explosives, as Islamic fanatics (which by this point the soldiers knew they were facing) often do. Under such circumstances, no soldier worth his salt shoots once and hopes for the best; he keeps shooting until he’s sure his opponent is out of action. In a fight of this kind, the unpleasant truth is shooting someone multiple times is often a necessary precaution to make sure your opponent doesn’t kill you first.

Granted, the soldiers might never have been in this situation had the raid not been so poorly planned and executed. But once they were attacked in a way that required them “to use force for their own protection,” nothing they did was “excessive and unreasonable”; they did what was necessary under the circumstances to protect themselves.

Thus the report’s implication is that injuring or killing another is never acceptable, even in self-defense; it’s always “excessive and unreasonable.” But if soldiers on a legitimate mission – which the report says enforcing the Gaza blockade was – can’t use lethal force even to save their own lives, then something is badly wrong with the West’s attitude toward the use of military force.

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Draining 9/11 of Meaning

Wilfred M. McClay, a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, has published an essay about the commemoration of 9/11 in National Affairs that is, in a word, magnificent. (It works in tandem with the wonderful Edward Rothstein essay in the New York Times to which I linked on Saturday.) Both concern the conversion of a crime, an act of war, and an act of mass murder into a meaningless “tragedy” drained of national or ideological or existential ramifications. McClay:

If one were talking only about the tragically lost lives of some 3,000 individuals and nothing else — as if their lives had been lost in a single giant plane crash or auto accident, or as the result of a random psychopathic act — there would be no way of justifying the lavish expense of or the political drama surrounding this memorial. What makes September 11th worthy of public memorializing is that it was not just a tragedy in the lives of these individuals and their families. It was an event that, like all great historical events, cannot be understood if viewed only through the eyes of those who experienced it. But when a spokesman for New York mayor Michael Bloomberg explained his decision to exclude all clergy from the tenth-anniversary observance, he emphasized the mayor’s view that the service should stay focused on the families of the victims. This view is sadly, and ominously, myopic.

Read McClay’s essay. And weep.

 

Wilfred M. McClay, a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, has published an essay about the commemoration of 9/11 in National Affairs that is, in a word, magnificent. (It works in tandem with the wonderful Edward Rothstein essay in the New York Times to which I linked on Saturday.) Both concern the conversion of a crime, an act of war, and an act of mass murder into a meaningless “tragedy” drained of national or ideological or existential ramifications. McClay:

If one were talking only about the tragically lost lives of some 3,000 individuals and nothing else — as if their lives had been lost in a single giant plane crash or auto accident, or as the result of a random psychopathic act — there would be no way of justifying the lavish expense of or the political drama surrounding this memorial. What makes September 11th worthy of public memorializing is that it was not just a tragedy in the lives of these individuals and their families. It was an event that, like all great historical events, cannot be understood if viewed only through the eyes of those who experienced it. But when a spokesman for New York mayor Michael Bloomberg explained his decision to exclude all clergy from the tenth-anniversary observance, he emphasized the mayor’s view that the service should stay focused on the families of the victims. This view is sadly, and ominously, myopic.

Read McClay’s essay. And weep.

 

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Rounds of Golf v. Number of New Jobs

During the president’s August vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, former PGA golf champion Paul Azinger offered what at the time seemed like a clever, mocking tweet of President Obama: “Potus [President of the United States] has played more golf this month than I have: I have created more jobs this month than he has.” But given the number of rounds of golf Obama played in August and the number of jobs created in August (0), Azinger’s comments may well be literally true.

When comments that are meant to (gently) ridicule a president turn out to be prescient, you know the chief executive has entered quite a bad patch.

During the president’s August vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, former PGA golf champion Paul Azinger offered what at the time seemed like a clever, mocking tweet of President Obama: “Potus [President of the United States] has played more golf this month than I have: I have created more jobs this month than he has.” But given the number of rounds of golf Obama played in August and the number of jobs created in August (0), Azinger’s comments may well be literally true.

When comments that are meant to (gently) ridicule a president turn out to be prescient, you know the chief executive has entered quite a bad patch.

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Liberal Civility Watch: Who’s Threatening Democracy Now?

Yesterday, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa said in a warm-up speech for an appearance by President Obama in Detroit that unions would serve as the Democrats’ army in a war against conservatives and Tea Party activists where they would “take these son-of-a-bitches out.” Also on Monday, Vice President Biden referred to his political opponents as “barbarians at the gate” who must be stopped. When asked about Hoffa’s remarks the next day on the “Fox and Friends” cable news program, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz refused to condemn or disassociate her party from such sentiments.

It seems as if it was more than just a year ago the main Democratic Party talking point was that Republicans and Tea Partiers had unleashed a wave of incivility that threatened the very foundations of American democracy. This was a frequent theme throughout the 2010 campaign and culminated with Democrats and liberal pundits blaming the GOP for the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic in early 2011. But since this attempt to demonize conservatives as both violent and anti-democratic failed, Democrats have begun to consistently resort to violent rhetoric of their own, as Monday’s barrage proved. This shift raises not only the obvious question of hypocrisy but also one about the liberal worldview in which those who disagree with Democrats can be dismissed as foes to be “taken out” rather than opponents to be debated.

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Yesterday, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa said in a warm-up speech for an appearance by President Obama in Detroit that unions would serve as the Democrats’ army in a war against conservatives and Tea Party activists where they would “take these son-of-a-bitches out.” Also on Monday, Vice President Biden referred to his political opponents as “barbarians at the gate” who must be stopped. When asked about Hoffa’s remarks the next day on the “Fox and Friends” cable news program, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz refused to condemn or disassociate her party from such sentiments.

It seems as if it was more than just a year ago the main Democratic Party talking point was that Republicans and Tea Partiers had unleashed a wave of incivility that threatened the very foundations of American democracy. This was a frequent theme throughout the 2010 campaign and culminated with Democrats and liberal pundits blaming the GOP for the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic in early 2011. But since this attempt to demonize conservatives as both violent and anti-democratic failed, Democrats have begun to consistently resort to violent rhetoric of their own, as Monday’s barrage proved. This shift raises not only the obvious question of hypocrisy but also one about the liberal worldview in which those who disagree with Democrats can be dismissed as foes to be “taken out” rather than opponents to be debated.

We have just finished a contentious summer in which congressional conservatives who insisted the government must cut spending rather than raise taxes to curb the deficit were widely branded as “terrorists” by a host of Democrats including the vice president himself. Tea Party activists have been accused, without any proof, in the mainstream media of racism, simply because they oppose the policies of the first African American president of the United States. Having been chided by their base for being unwilling to be more combative, Democrats are now taking up the rhetoric of war while at the same time still blaming Republicans for the lack of civility in Washington.

The problem with this tactic is not only the blatant insincerity of a party which claims partisan rhetoric from their foes threatens democracy while at the same time claiming the right to speak of conservatives in even harsher terms. It is that it is a clear sign of weakness. While Tea Party anger at congressional big spenders and taxers may have seemed over the top at times, it was the product of a genuine grass roots effort to change Washington’s political culture. Bereft of serious policy alternatives and unwilling to engage them on the issues, the Democratic attempt to brand their political opponents as terrorists and barbarians is a reactionary reflex intended to suppress the speech of those on the other side of the aisle. If anything is a threat to democracy, it is this Bolshevik impulse to delegitimize conservatives.

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Obama and the “Focus on Jobs”

Yesterday the president began his newly aggressive push on “jobs” by saying everybody is on board with his program but Congress. It’s either wishful thinking—given that 59 percent of adults now say they disapprove of his handling of the economy, according to the new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll—or simply an effort to create the “do-nothing Congress” narrative Obama needs to use to get himself reelected in 2012. But it’s more striking to note how Obama now claims to be turning his focus toward jobs after a summer dedicated to the debt crisis.

The truth is, that for good or ill, the entirety of the Obama administration has been dedicated to jobs. He came into office vowing to create 3 million of them. The jobs problem was the justification for the $863 billion stimulus bill. “Jobs” was the primary reason given for the auto-company bailouts in 2009, structured as it was to benefit the United Automobile Workers. Even Obamacare was sold in part as a jobs creator, with then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declaring it would “almost immediately” create 400,000 jobs on its way to millions more.

There is no “pivot to jobs.” The Obama administration is and has ever been about “creating jobs.” It’s just disastrously bad at it and about understanding how to promote job creation, that’s all, and there’s every reason to believe Obama and his people remain committed to the same terrible ideas.

Yesterday the president began his newly aggressive push on “jobs” by saying everybody is on board with his program but Congress. It’s either wishful thinking—given that 59 percent of adults now say they disapprove of his handling of the economy, according to the new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll—or simply an effort to create the “do-nothing Congress” narrative Obama needs to use to get himself reelected in 2012. But it’s more striking to note how Obama now claims to be turning his focus toward jobs after a summer dedicated to the debt crisis.

The truth is, that for good or ill, the entirety of the Obama administration has been dedicated to jobs. He came into office vowing to create 3 million of them. The jobs problem was the justification for the $863 billion stimulus bill. “Jobs” was the primary reason given for the auto-company bailouts in 2009, structured as it was to benefit the United Automobile Workers. Even Obamacare was sold in part as a jobs creator, with then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declaring it would “almost immediately” create 400,000 jobs on its way to millions more.

There is no “pivot to jobs.” The Obama administration is and has ever been about “creating jobs.” It’s just disastrously bad at it and about understanding how to promote job creation, that’s all, and there’s every reason to believe Obama and his people remain committed to the same terrible ideas.

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