Commentary Magazine


Topic: cent

The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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Memo to Congress: Do Nothing!

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

How could Rep. Joe Sestak think he was supporting Israel when he called for a “fair” UN Human Rights Council investigation of the flotilla incident? The UNHRC has appointed its kangaroo court. (The identities of the marsupials matter not at all.) The Israeli response: “In response to the UN’s decision, a foreign ministry official said that the UN Human Rights Council’s made its decision in haste, and that it was ‘part of the Rights Council’s obsession against Israel.’ ‘The Israeli probe, conducted with transparency, makes the organization’s probe completely unnecessary,’ the [Israeli] official added.” I think a lawmaker who is really pro-Israel would understand that.

How low can Obama’s approval ratings go?

How long before Democrats throw in the towel on Blanche Lincoln? “Republican John Boozman holds a 25-point lead over Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race.”

How unhappy are they in West Virginia? “Residents of Hawaii led the nation in wellbeing in the first half of 2010, holding onto their 2009 top spot and delivering the highest Well-Being Index score on record for any state since Gallup and Healthways began tracking scores in 2008. West Virginia had the lowest Well-Being Index score, as it did in 2008 and in 2009.” Gosh, money — billions from Sen. Robert Byrd’s handiwork — really doesn’t buy you happiness.

How badly do the Democrats want to get rid of the Charlie Rangel story? “Thursday’s unexpected announcement that the House ethics committee would begin a trial on ethics charges leveled against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) came after a secret, months-long effort to settle the case fell apart, according to several sources close to the situation. The negotiations were designed to avoid the spectacle of a trial by his peers for Rangel, but talks apparently broke down. … One source close to Rangel suggested a compromise still may be reached next week before the opening steps in the trial get under way.”

How negatively have liberal economic policies impacted young Americans? “Today marks the first anniversary of Congress’s decision to raise the federal minimum wage by 41% to $7.25 an hour. But hold the confetti. According to a new study, more than 100,000 fewer teens are employed today due to the wage hikes. … Minimum wage laws are especially detrimental to black workers, who tend to be less experienced or have been trapped in failing public schools. The overall teen unemployment rate in June was 25.7%, versus 39.9% for black teens.” Imagine how Obama would be carrying on about this if he weren’t in the White House.

How in the world are Democrats going to defend this economic record? “New estimates from the White House on Friday predict the budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. The government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. That’s actually a little better than the administration predicted in February. The new estimates paint a grim unemployment picture as the economy experiences a relatively jobless recovery. The unemployment rate, presently averaging 9.5 percent, would average 9 percent next year under the new estimates. The gaping deficits are of increasing concern to voters.”

How about a moratorium on apologies in the Shirley Sherrod incident? None of them behaved well, and we’ve really heard enough from all of them for a good long time.

How could Rep. Joe Sestak think he was supporting Israel when he called for a “fair” UN Human Rights Council investigation of the flotilla incident? The UNHRC has appointed its kangaroo court. (The identities of the marsupials matter not at all.) The Israeli response: “In response to the UN’s decision, a foreign ministry official said that the UN Human Rights Council’s made its decision in haste, and that it was ‘part of the Rights Council’s obsession against Israel.’ ‘The Israeli probe, conducted with transparency, makes the organization’s probe completely unnecessary,’ the [Israeli] official added.” I think a lawmaker who is really pro-Israel would understand that.

How low can Obama’s approval ratings go?

How long before Democrats throw in the towel on Blanche Lincoln? “Republican John Boozman holds a 25-point lead over Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race.”

How unhappy are they in West Virginia? “Residents of Hawaii led the nation in wellbeing in the first half of 2010, holding onto their 2009 top spot and delivering the highest Well-Being Index score on record for any state since Gallup and Healthways began tracking scores in 2008. West Virginia had the lowest Well-Being Index score, as it did in 2008 and in 2009.” Gosh, money — billions from Sen. Robert Byrd’s handiwork — really doesn’t buy you happiness.

How badly do the Democrats want to get rid of the Charlie Rangel story? “Thursday’s unexpected announcement that the House ethics committee would begin a trial on ethics charges leveled against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) came after a secret, months-long effort to settle the case fell apart, according to several sources close to the situation. The negotiations were designed to avoid the spectacle of a trial by his peers for Rangel, but talks apparently broke down. … One source close to Rangel suggested a compromise still may be reached next week before the opening steps in the trial get under way.”

How negatively have liberal economic policies impacted young Americans? “Today marks the first anniversary of Congress’s decision to raise the federal minimum wage by 41% to $7.25 an hour. But hold the confetti. According to a new study, more than 100,000 fewer teens are employed today due to the wage hikes. … Minimum wage laws are especially detrimental to black workers, who tend to be less experienced or have been trapped in failing public schools. The overall teen unemployment rate in June was 25.7%, versus 39.9% for black teens.” Imagine how Obama would be carrying on about this if he weren’t in the White House.

How in the world are Democrats going to defend this economic record? “New estimates from the White House on Friday predict the budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. The government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. That’s actually a little better than the administration predicted in February. The new estimates paint a grim unemployment picture as the economy experiences a relatively jobless recovery. The unemployment rate, presently averaging 9.5 percent, would average 9 percent next year under the new estimates. The gaping deficits are of increasing concern to voters.”

How about a moratorium on apologies in the Shirley Sherrod incident? None of them behaved well, and we’ve really heard enough from all of them for a good long time.

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Millions for Defense, Not One Cent for Tribute

Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

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Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

As we go forward in this shifting security environment, we need to keep two conceptual touchstones in mind. One is that our dominance can wane meaningfully even if no other navy is a symmetrical rival to ours on a global scale. To confound us effectively, navies like China’s or Russia’s need only be able to enforce unilateral ukases locally, particularly in the easily threatened chokepoints through which trillions of dollars in global trade pass every year.

China, for example, would prefer to gradually establish maritime preeminence in the South China Sea until the point is reached at which the U.S. must either provoke a confrontation or accept China as the dictator of policy there. And China’s policy would not entail keeping the seaways of Southeast Asia free for all nations’ commerce, as ours has. Favoritism and political extortion would be the new norm under Chinese hegemony.

Our Pacific alliances could not survive China’s assumption of de facto maritime hegemony in Southeast Asia. And that leads to the other conceptual touchstone: the efficient use America has long made of maritime dominance and alliances in preserving our own security between the great oceans. Alliances and naval deterrence are difficult and expensive to maintain, but they are far less costly in every way than fighting repeated land wars in the Eastern hemisphere. They are particularly suited, moreover, to our national preference for consensual relations abroad rather than Roman- or colonial-style imperialism.

As Cropsey’s articles suggest, we are at present reworking our national-security strategy and force doctrine. Our choices about defense capabilities today will dictate our political responses in the future. There is no question that waste, pork, service infighting, and bureaucratic inertia make our navy cost more than it needs to, but merely shrinking it to save money is not the answer. Nor is it wise to dismantle the essential tool of maritime deterrence — a navy capable of dominating any other in the regional confrontations that several nations are currently preparing for — in favor of “down-tooling” our force to deal symmetrically with pirates. Somali piracy is the least of the maritime problems we will face in the next two to three decades. Other navies have proven effective at attacking Somali piracy head-on. But there is only one navy that can shoulder aside the challenges from nation-state rivals and keep the world’s vulnerable tradeways open to all. If we do not do it, it will not be done.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

But it was supposed to help the Democrats: “Gallup’s most recent polling of the generic ballot shows a net five-point bounce for the Republicans, post-health care passage. The poll of registered voters now shows a lead of 47%-44%; Republicans had trailed by a similar 47%-44% margin in the first and second weeks of March, and by a 47%-45% margin in last week’s tracking results.  The loss for the Democrats comes mostly from independent voters; the gain for Republicans comes from Republican and Democratic voters turning toward the GOP.”

But it hasn’t, explains Jeffrey Anderson: “The Democrats had optimistically claimed that turning a deaf ear to the American people and passing their unpopular bill would make it popular. But Scott Rasmussen observes that ‘the overriding tone of the data is that passage of the legislation has not changed anything. Those who opposed it before now want to repeal it. Those who supported the legislation oppose repealing it.’ Unfortunately for the Democrats, the former number is a lot bigger than the latter one.”

But Obama said voters would learn to love it once it passed: “In addition to sharing Republicans’ and Democrats’ concerns about the bill’s failure to address healthcare costs, and sharing Republicans’ concerns about government intervention and costs, the majority of independents agree with Democrats that the bill doesn’t do enough to regulate the healthcare industry. As a result, independents concur with four of the five critiques tested, one more than members of either political party do.”

But Obama said voters didn’t care about “process”: Gallup asked “whether Americans believe the methods Democratic leaders used to secure passage of the bill represented ‘an abuse of power’ or ‘an appropriate use’ of the majority party’s power in Congress. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans see it as abuse of power, whereas a smaller majority of Democrats (70%) call it an appropriate use of power. The majority of independents agree with most Republicans on this question.”

But the Republican insiders told us that Charlie Crist was the “safe” choice: “Former FL GOP chair Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation after an audit showed he may have profited from party activity, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. … Under pressure from major donors and party elders, Greer announced in early Jan. he would resign in Feb. Donors had been upset with his stewardship of party finances, and with spending many saw as beneficial to Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Greer’s major backer when he became chair. Greer is supporting Crist in the primary against ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R), which did not sit well with the state’s activist base.”

But don’t they know that Henry Waxman will haul them in front of his committee to read them the riot act? “Boeing Co. will take a charge of $150 million due to the recent health care overhaul legislation, the aircraft maker said Wednesday. The charge will hurt earnings by 20 cents per share in the first quarter of 2010. In 2013 Boeing will no longer be able to claim an income tax deduction related to certain prescription drug benefits for retirees. Accounting rules require that the company take the charge during the period the legislation is enacted. Several other companies have said they will take accounting charges due to the health care reform bill including AT&T, AK Steel Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and 3M Co.”

But what about the rest of the country? “The top House Republican says the White House’s decision to begin offshore drilling across huge expanses of ocean is a ‘positive step,’ but he’s still blasting the Obama administration for keeping areas on the West Coast closed to such exploration. House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that the administration ‘continues to defy the will of the American people,’ who he says supported a 2008 congressional decision to allow oil exploration off the Pacific Coast and Alaska.”

But Obama was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent and “pivot” from ObamaCare to job creation: “Private-sector employers unexpectedly shed 23,000 jobs in March, according to a measure of private-sector employment released this morning, reminding us of the very choppy nature of this recovery.”

But it was supposed to help the Democrats: “Gallup’s most recent polling of the generic ballot shows a net five-point bounce for the Republicans, post-health care passage. The poll of registered voters now shows a lead of 47%-44%; Republicans had trailed by a similar 47%-44% margin in the first and second weeks of March, and by a 47%-45% margin in last week’s tracking results.  The loss for the Democrats comes mostly from independent voters; the gain for Republicans comes from Republican and Democratic voters turning toward the GOP.”

But it hasn’t, explains Jeffrey Anderson: “The Democrats had optimistically claimed that turning a deaf ear to the American people and passing their unpopular bill would make it popular. But Scott Rasmussen observes that ‘the overriding tone of the data is that passage of the legislation has not changed anything. Those who opposed it before now want to repeal it. Those who supported the legislation oppose repealing it.’ Unfortunately for the Democrats, the former number is a lot bigger than the latter one.”

But Obama said voters would learn to love it once it passed: “In addition to sharing Republicans’ and Democrats’ concerns about the bill’s failure to address healthcare costs, and sharing Republicans’ concerns about government intervention and costs, the majority of independents agree with Democrats that the bill doesn’t do enough to regulate the healthcare industry. As a result, independents concur with four of the five critiques tested, one more than members of either political party do.”

But Obama said voters didn’t care about “process”: Gallup asked “whether Americans believe the methods Democratic leaders used to secure passage of the bill represented ‘an abuse of power’ or ‘an appropriate use’ of the majority party’s power in Congress. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans see it as abuse of power, whereas a smaller majority of Democrats (70%) call it an appropriate use of power. The majority of independents agree with most Republicans on this question.”

But the Republican insiders told us that Charlie Crist was the “safe” choice: “Former FL GOP chair Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation after an audit showed he may have profited from party activity, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. … Under pressure from major donors and party elders, Greer announced in early Jan. he would resign in Feb. Donors had been upset with his stewardship of party finances, and with spending many saw as beneficial to Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Greer’s major backer when he became chair. Greer is supporting Crist in the primary against ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R), which did not sit well with the state’s activist base.”

But don’t they know that Henry Waxman will haul them in front of his committee to read them the riot act? “Boeing Co. will take a charge of $150 million due to the recent health care overhaul legislation, the aircraft maker said Wednesday. The charge will hurt earnings by 20 cents per share in the first quarter of 2010. In 2013 Boeing will no longer be able to claim an income tax deduction related to certain prescription drug benefits for retirees. Accounting rules require that the company take the charge during the period the legislation is enacted. Several other companies have said they will take accounting charges due to the health care reform bill including AT&T, AK Steel Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and 3M Co.”

But what about the rest of the country? “The top House Republican says the White House’s decision to begin offshore drilling across huge expanses of ocean is a ‘positive step,’ but he’s still blasting the Obama administration for keeping areas on the West Coast closed to such exploration. House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that the administration ‘continues to defy the will of the American people,’ who he says supported a 2008 congressional decision to allow oil exploration off the Pacific Coast and Alaska.”

But Obama was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent and “pivot” from ObamaCare to job creation: “Private-sector employers unexpectedly shed 23,000 jobs in March, according to a measure of private-sector employment released this morning, reminding us of the very choppy nature of this recovery.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Andy McCarthy explains: “After months of delay, DOJ officials released what they claim is the back-up for Attorney General Holder’s oft-repeated and outlandish claim that there are ‘hundreds’ of convicted ‘terrorists’  incarcerated in federal prisons, which ‘fact’ supposedly shows that civilian justice processes are our best method of trying, convicting and securely detaining terrorists.” Most of the 403 supposed cases aren’t really terrorism cases at all.

The latest ObamaCare victim: AT &T, its shareholders, employees and retirees: “AT&T Inc. will take a $1 billion non-cash accounting charge in the first quarter because of the health care overhaul and may cut benefits it offers to current and retired workers.”

And then there is 3M, which announced that “it expects to record a one-time non-cash charge of $85 to $90 million after tax, or approximately 12 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2010, resulting from the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including modifications made in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 passed by Congress on March 25, 2010.”

You wonder whether anyone in the White House pays attention to headlines like this: “Is Economy’s Momentum About to Hit a Wall?” And, that was before ObamaCare hit.

The White House gloats: “Best week we’ve had in a long damn time.” Yes, it was quite a week — taking over 1/6th of the economy and beating up on Israel. Nothing quite thrills the Chicago pols like the display of brute political force.

You knew this was coming: “Michigan Right to Life has always endorsed Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) and was backing him for re-election this year. But after his pivotal vote for health care reform without the inclusion of legally binding language banning taxpayer funding of abortion, the group has rescinded its endorsement and pledged to support his Republican challenger, Dan Benishek.”

John Noonan, on the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit: “President Obama’s stewardship of the special U.S.-Israel relationship has been nothing short of shameful. But, beyond that, his behavior towards Netanyahu doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s no quantifiable end game here. Obama is either so caught up in his own personality cult that he honestly believes he can drive a wedge between the Israeli electorate and Netanyahu’s fragile government (unlikely), or he’s just that infantile — throwing a temper tantrum over an ill-timed settlement announcement. . . . This is just another example of the White House’s lean towards ideology over pragmatism, and how smart power has proven to be anything but.”

David Axelrod to speak to the National Democratic Jewish Council on April 22. Here’s the time for choosing: are they simply flunkies for the administration or will they protest and condemn the shameless treatment of Israel? Well, I’m under no illusions.

Andy McCarthy explains: “After months of delay, DOJ officials released what they claim is the back-up for Attorney General Holder’s oft-repeated and outlandish claim that there are ‘hundreds’ of convicted ‘terrorists’  incarcerated in federal prisons, which ‘fact’ supposedly shows that civilian justice processes are our best method of trying, convicting and securely detaining terrorists.” Most of the 403 supposed cases aren’t really terrorism cases at all.

The latest ObamaCare victim: AT &T, its shareholders, employees and retirees: “AT&T Inc. will take a $1 billion non-cash accounting charge in the first quarter because of the health care overhaul and may cut benefits it offers to current and retired workers.”

And then there is 3M, which announced that “it expects to record a one-time non-cash charge of $85 to $90 million after tax, or approximately 12 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2010, resulting from the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including modifications made in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 passed by Congress on March 25, 2010.”

You wonder whether anyone in the White House pays attention to headlines like this: “Is Economy’s Momentum About to Hit a Wall?” And, that was before ObamaCare hit.

The White House gloats: “Best week we’ve had in a long damn time.” Yes, it was quite a week — taking over 1/6th of the economy and beating up on Israel. Nothing quite thrills the Chicago pols like the display of brute political force.

You knew this was coming: “Michigan Right to Life has always endorsed Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) and was backing him for re-election this year. But after his pivotal vote for health care reform without the inclusion of legally binding language banning taxpayer funding of abortion, the group has rescinded its endorsement and pledged to support his Republican challenger, Dan Benishek.”

John Noonan, on the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit: “President Obama’s stewardship of the special U.S.-Israel relationship has been nothing short of shameful. But, beyond that, his behavior towards Netanyahu doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s no quantifiable end game here. Obama is either so caught up in his own personality cult that he honestly believes he can drive a wedge between the Israeli electorate and Netanyahu’s fragile government (unlikely), or he’s just that infantile — throwing a temper tantrum over an ill-timed settlement announcement. . . . This is just another example of the White House’s lean towards ideology over pragmatism, and how smart power has proven to be anything but.”

David Axelrod to speak to the National Democratic Jewish Council on April 22. Here’s the time for choosing: are they simply flunkies for the administration or will they protest and condemn the shameless treatment of Israel? Well, I’m under no illusions.

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Not Only Orwellian but Also Disingenuous

The Obama budget proposes to raise $291 billion over ten years from limiting the benefit of deductions to families in the top tax bracket — and justifies the proposal as a response to a “disparity”:

Currently, if a middle-class family donates a dollar to its favorite charity or spends a dollar on mortgage interest, it gets a 15-cent tax deduction, but a millionaire who does the same enjoys a deduction that is more than twice as generous. By reducing this disparity and returning the high-income deduction to the same rates that were in place at the end of the Reagan Administration, we will raise $291 billion over the next decade.

John Hinderaker at Power Line calls this reasoning “Orwellian.” The “disparity” results from the fact that the “millionaire” (defined in the Obama budget as any family with income of $250,000) would pay tax at a rate nearly three times as high (39.6 percent) — and thus obviously receives a 39.6 percent benefit from a deduction. Obama proposes to return to the Reagan rates for deductions (28 percent), but not the Reagan rates for income tax (28 percent). He wants to create a disparity to reduce a disparity.

It is actually even more Orwellian than that, because the Obama proposal is not really designed to address a “disparity” but to transfer huge revenues from charities to the government. If tax rates increase by 13 percent (from 35 percent to 39.6 percent), charitable contributions would presumably increase by at least that amount, since taxpayers could donate 13 percent more at the same after-tax cost. The result would be significantly more aid for charities as taxpayers responded to the increased incentive.

By limiting the deduction to 28 percent, Obama would not only take away the incentive for increased charitable contributions, but reduce the incentive for the current level of contributions, and result in less revenue to charities and more to the government. As the pseudonymous tax lawyer Gregory V. Helvering concluded in “Obama, Charity and Fairness:”

The government needs as much money as it can get to fund its new expanded goals, and Obama has found a way to get a large chunk of it from charities — while justifying the massive transfer of funds to government as something required for “fairness” … George Orwell, call your office.

The Obama proposal affects not only charitable contributions but mortgage deductions (reducing the value of homes) and the burden of state taxes: taxpayers would have to pay their state tax liability but not receive a full deduction of that amount against their federal tax liability. The total effect is to push the nominal 39.6 rate into the mid-40s.

Obama cannot seriously believe this will pass Congress, which rejected it when he first proposed it last year. It would create a huge tax inequity, cause significant damage to charities and home values, and makes no sense. But it enables Obama to present a budget with “only” a 1.3 trillion deficit, instead of the record 1.6 trillion it would be without it. So it is not only Orwellian but also disingenuous.

The Obama budget proposes to raise $291 billion over ten years from limiting the benefit of deductions to families in the top tax bracket — and justifies the proposal as a response to a “disparity”:

Currently, if a middle-class family donates a dollar to its favorite charity or spends a dollar on mortgage interest, it gets a 15-cent tax deduction, but a millionaire who does the same enjoys a deduction that is more than twice as generous. By reducing this disparity and returning the high-income deduction to the same rates that were in place at the end of the Reagan Administration, we will raise $291 billion over the next decade.

John Hinderaker at Power Line calls this reasoning “Orwellian.” The “disparity” results from the fact that the “millionaire” (defined in the Obama budget as any family with income of $250,000) would pay tax at a rate nearly three times as high (39.6 percent) — and thus obviously receives a 39.6 percent benefit from a deduction. Obama proposes to return to the Reagan rates for deductions (28 percent), but not the Reagan rates for income tax (28 percent). He wants to create a disparity to reduce a disparity.

It is actually even more Orwellian than that, because the Obama proposal is not really designed to address a “disparity” but to transfer huge revenues from charities to the government. If tax rates increase by 13 percent (from 35 percent to 39.6 percent), charitable contributions would presumably increase by at least that amount, since taxpayers could donate 13 percent more at the same after-tax cost. The result would be significantly more aid for charities as taxpayers responded to the increased incentive.

By limiting the deduction to 28 percent, Obama would not only take away the incentive for increased charitable contributions, but reduce the incentive for the current level of contributions, and result in less revenue to charities and more to the government. As the pseudonymous tax lawyer Gregory V. Helvering concluded in “Obama, Charity and Fairness:”

The government needs as much money as it can get to fund its new expanded goals, and Obama has found a way to get a large chunk of it from charities — while justifying the massive transfer of funds to government as something required for “fairness” … George Orwell, call your office.

The Obama proposal affects not only charitable contributions but mortgage deductions (reducing the value of homes) and the burden of state taxes: taxpayers would have to pay their state tax liability but not receive a full deduction of that amount against their federal tax liability. The total effect is to push the nominal 39.6 rate into the mid-40s.

Obama cannot seriously believe this will pass Congress, which rejected it when he first proposed it last year. It would create a huge tax inequity, cause significant damage to charities and home values, and makes no sense. But it enables Obama to present a budget with “only” a 1.3 trillion deficit, instead of the record 1.6 trillion it would be without it. So it is not only Orwellian but also disingenuous.

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D.C.’s Boggling Bag Tax

This week, the District of Columbia began charging shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag. Consumers and grocery-store clerks are in for a headache.

A nickel might not seem like much. But anyone who has lived recently in Hong Kong and experienced their 6-cent bag tax knows how burdensome that levy makes commerce. There, grocery-store clerks must cram as much as possible into a single, side-split reusable bag – or face a perturbed customer. (Never underestimate the public’s desire to save a buck.) Milk, butter, and eggs become Tetris blocks; and consequently, the checkout lines grow longer and longer as clerks painstakingly pack for maximum space efficiency.

But that is not all. Customers once re-used their grocery bags to dispose of trash; now, in Hong Kong, they buy trash bags. This suggests the tax is not effective in reducing bag consumption; it certainly doesn’t encourage conservation of resources. But it does, evidently, cause delay and hassle for everyone.

The nice thing about living in Washington is that voters choose all of their city-council members, unlike Hong Kongers. Next time they’re voting, the harried shoppers of D.C. might remember this lesson in the unintended consequences of government meddling.

This week, the District of Columbia began charging shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag. Consumers and grocery-store clerks are in for a headache.

A nickel might not seem like much. But anyone who has lived recently in Hong Kong and experienced their 6-cent bag tax knows how burdensome that levy makes commerce. There, grocery-store clerks must cram as much as possible into a single, side-split reusable bag – or face a perturbed customer. (Never underestimate the public’s desire to save a buck.) Milk, butter, and eggs become Tetris blocks; and consequently, the checkout lines grow longer and longer as clerks painstakingly pack for maximum space efficiency.

But that is not all. Customers once re-used their grocery bags to dispose of trash; now, in Hong Kong, they buy trash bags. This suggests the tax is not effective in reducing bag consumption; it certainly doesn’t encourage conservation of resources. But it does, evidently, cause delay and hassle for everyone.

The nice thing about living in Washington is that voters choose all of their city-council members, unlike Hong Kongers. Next time they’re voting, the harried shoppers of D.C. might remember this lesson in the unintended consequences of government meddling.

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Olmert & Assad, Strange Bedfellows

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

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Olmert the Etrog?

John wrote about this already, but I want to put in my two cents. Less than a day has passed since the Israeli Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Ehud Olmert’s bid to stay out of jail, by ruling that Israeli Police may take a deposition from the New York businessman who allegedly bribed him–and now we have the Prime Minister’s Office making a dramatic announcement that peace talks are under way with Syria.

Coincidence, you say? Unlikely. One of the most disturbing aspects of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Prime Minister was the bizarre tendency for his criminal investigations to disappear from the public eye every time it seemed like he was about to do something that could be seen as leading to peace–especially the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. It has become something of an open secret in Israel that both the justice system and journalists bend for its leaders’ peace initiatives, and that a peace-seeking Prime Minister becomes, in the words of one commentator, an “etrog”–a beautiful fruit that must be handled with care and protected at all cost.

But there is reason to think that what worked for Sharon will not work for Olmert. Sharon knew how to cultivate his image, and he was far more respected by both the Israeli elites and the general public than is Olmert, whose popularity has dropped way below even Sharon’s lowest point as Prime Minister. But more importantly, Sharon’s government was, by all appearances at the time, far more likely to pull off the disengagement from Gaza than Olmert is to sign a peace accord with Syria. First, disengagement was a unilateral move, whereas a treaty with Syria will require that the Assad regime abandon the central cause it has rallied around for a generation: War with Israel. Second, the Golan Heights, which would be the necessary price Israel would pay for any peace deal, is seen by a far greater number of Israelis as an inseparable part of the Jewish state than the Gaza strip ever was. And third, Sharon always carried with him the mystique of a man who can be counted on to follow through with his plans, regardless of whether you agreed with him; while Olmert has proven time and again the triviality of his promises.

The biggest reason, however, might come from the sea of police and justice officials who have been working on the most important criminal investigation of their lives. After massive leaks have suggested that an indictment is on its way, and Olmert has pledged to resign if indicted–maybe this ball has too much momentum to be stopped by the unlikely prospect of peace with a member of the Axis of Evil? Maybe the etrog has already fallen?

John wrote about this already, but I want to put in my two cents. Less than a day has passed since the Israeli Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Ehud Olmert’s bid to stay out of jail, by ruling that Israeli Police may take a deposition from the New York businessman who allegedly bribed him–and now we have the Prime Minister’s Office making a dramatic announcement that peace talks are under way with Syria.

Coincidence, you say? Unlikely. One of the most disturbing aspects of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Prime Minister was the bizarre tendency for his criminal investigations to disappear from the public eye every time it seemed like he was about to do something that could be seen as leading to peace–especially the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. It has become something of an open secret in Israel that both the justice system and journalists bend for its leaders’ peace initiatives, and that a peace-seeking Prime Minister becomes, in the words of one commentator, an “etrog”–a beautiful fruit that must be handled with care and protected at all cost.

But there is reason to think that what worked for Sharon will not work for Olmert. Sharon knew how to cultivate his image, and he was far more respected by both the Israeli elites and the general public than is Olmert, whose popularity has dropped way below even Sharon’s lowest point as Prime Minister. But more importantly, Sharon’s government was, by all appearances at the time, far more likely to pull off the disengagement from Gaza than Olmert is to sign a peace accord with Syria. First, disengagement was a unilateral move, whereas a treaty with Syria will require that the Assad regime abandon the central cause it has rallied around for a generation: War with Israel. Second, the Golan Heights, which would be the necessary price Israel would pay for any peace deal, is seen by a far greater number of Israelis as an inseparable part of the Jewish state than the Gaza strip ever was. And third, Sharon always carried with him the mystique of a man who can be counted on to follow through with his plans, regardless of whether you agreed with him; while Olmert has proven time and again the triviality of his promises.

The biggest reason, however, might come from the sea of police and justice officials who have been working on the most important criminal investigation of their lives. After massive leaks have suggested that an indictment is on its way, and Olmert has pledged to resign if indicted–maybe this ball has too much momentum to be stopped by the unlikely prospect of peace with a member of the Axis of Evil? Maybe the etrog has already fallen?

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Bookshelf

How exasperating can a very short book be? I give you Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger: A History (Yale, 141 pp., $22). Ozersky, whose official title is “Food Editor/Online for New York Magazine” (love that slash), has contrived in not much more than a hundred pages of heavily leaded text to cram in everything I find most irksome about the postmodern branch of semi-scholarship known as cultural studies: the jaw-breaking jargon, the sniggering coyness, the don’t-take-me-too-seriously irony.

The irritation starts on the second page:

Even before the hamburger became a universal signifier of imperialism abroad and unwholesomeness at home, it had a special semiotic power-a quality not shared even by other great American sandwiches like the hot dog, the patty melt, the Dagwood, the Reuben, the po’boy, or even such totemic standards as fried chicken and apple pie. At the end of the day, nothing says America like a hamburger . . . . Is it a sizzling disc of goodness, served in a roadside restaurant dense with local lore, or the grim end product of a secret, sinister empire of tormented animals and unspeakable slaughtering practices? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?

The Hamburger is like that from start to finish. Is the hamburger a Bad Thing? Well, yes, it must be, if only because it is an American Thing beloved of ordinary folk, and you know all about those pesky ordinary folk, right? But the damn thing still tastes good, so Ozersky writes about its cultural history in such a way as to suggest at all times his superiority to that which he nonetheless allows himself to enjoy–and the benighted Americans who continue to insist on enjoying it unselfconsciously. Like a limousine liberal of fast-food cuisine, he wanders in and out of both camps, nibbling his medium-rare cheeseburgers with just the right amount of ennobling guilt.

The have-it-both-ways trickery of The Hamburger is displayed at length in the chapter devoted to McDonald’s, which Ozersky calls “the most symbolically loaded business in the world,” one that “represents America to the world in a way no other business ever has or likely ever will.” We are simultaneously invited to admire the ingenuity with which the founders of McDonald’s contrived to automate the production of 15-cent hamburgers and to tremble at the larger implications of unleashing such a technology on an unprepared world–yet at no time does Ozersky ever commit himself to the loony leftism of the anti-McDonald’s fanatics who regard Ray Kroc as the source of all evil in the modern world. In describing the experience of Sandy Agate, one of the first McDonald’s franchisees, Ozersky assures us that his story “doesn’t end happily. (Arguably, the same could be said of the McDonald’s Corporation or for that matter America.)” That throwaway parenthesis says everything about The Hamburger.

Robert Warshow first anatomized Ozersky’s politico-literary technique in his 1947 Partisan Review essay on the New Yorker:

The New Yorker has always dealt with experience not by trying to understand it but by prescribing the attitude to be adopted toward it. This makes it possible to feel intelligent without thinking, and it is a way of making everything tolerable, for the assumption of a suitable attitude toward experience can give one the illusion of having dealt with it adequately.

Who could have predicted in 1947 that someone would come along six decades later who could write about the lowly hamburger in such a manner? Of such is the kingdom of cultural studies, where everything is permitted, even the consumption of ground beef on a white-bread bun–so long as you do it with the right attitude.

How exasperating can a very short book be? I give you Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger: A History (Yale, 141 pp., $22). Ozersky, whose official title is “Food Editor/Online for New York Magazine” (love that slash), has contrived in not much more than a hundred pages of heavily leaded text to cram in everything I find most irksome about the postmodern branch of semi-scholarship known as cultural studies: the jaw-breaking jargon, the sniggering coyness, the don’t-take-me-too-seriously irony.

The irritation starts on the second page:

Even before the hamburger became a universal signifier of imperialism abroad and unwholesomeness at home, it had a special semiotic power-a quality not shared even by other great American sandwiches like the hot dog, the patty melt, the Dagwood, the Reuben, the po’boy, or even such totemic standards as fried chicken and apple pie. At the end of the day, nothing says America like a hamburger . . . . Is it a sizzling disc of goodness, served in a roadside restaurant dense with local lore, or the grim end product of a secret, sinister empire of tormented animals and unspeakable slaughtering practices? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?

The Hamburger is like that from start to finish. Is the hamburger a Bad Thing? Well, yes, it must be, if only because it is an American Thing beloved of ordinary folk, and you know all about those pesky ordinary folk, right? But the damn thing still tastes good, so Ozersky writes about its cultural history in such a way as to suggest at all times his superiority to that which he nonetheless allows himself to enjoy–and the benighted Americans who continue to insist on enjoying it unselfconsciously. Like a limousine liberal of fast-food cuisine, he wanders in and out of both camps, nibbling his medium-rare cheeseburgers with just the right amount of ennobling guilt.

The have-it-both-ways trickery of The Hamburger is displayed at length in the chapter devoted to McDonald’s, which Ozersky calls “the most symbolically loaded business in the world,” one that “represents America to the world in a way no other business ever has or likely ever will.” We are simultaneously invited to admire the ingenuity with which the founders of McDonald’s contrived to automate the production of 15-cent hamburgers and to tremble at the larger implications of unleashing such a technology on an unprepared world–yet at no time does Ozersky ever commit himself to the loony leftism of the anti-McDonald’s fanatics who regard Ray Kroc as the source of all evil in the modern world. In describing the experience of Sandy Agate, one of the first McDonald’s franchisees, Ozersky assures us that his story “doesn’t end happily. (Arguably, the same could be said of the McDonald’s Corporation or for that matter America.)” That throwaway parenthesis says everything about The Hamburger.

Robert Warshow first anatomized Ozersky’s politico-literary technique in his 1947 Partisan Review essay on the New Yorker:

The New Yorker has always dealt with experience not by trying to understand it but by prescribing the attitude to be adopted toward it. This makes it possible to feel intelligent without thinking, and it is a way of making everything tolerable, for the assumption of a suitable attitude toward experience can give one the illusion of having dealt with it adequately.

Who could have predicted in 1947 that someone would come along six decades later who could write about the lowly hamburger in such a manner? Of such is the kingdom of cultural studies, where everything is permitted, even the consumption of ground beef on a white-bread bun–so long as you do it with the right attitude.

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Bookshelf

Most Americans are at one and the same time moralists and latitudinarians, and from time to time these tendencies get out of sync and cause a collective convulsion. One of the most interesting and least well remembered of these convulsions took place in 1954, when public concern over the baleful effects of comic books on the juvenile mind reached such a height as to inspire a Senate hearing at which Bill Gaines, the publisher of Crime SuspenStories, assured a roomful of skeptical politicians that his product was “a work of art.” Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who had just published a book called Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that violent comics turned their readers into juvenile delinquents, begged to differ: “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger.”

I know about these hearings because Robert Warshow published an essay in COMMENTARY called “Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham” in which he described with a typically thoughtful blend of wit and moral awareness how his 11-year-old son had become a fan of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications:

Children do need some “sinful” world of their own to which they can retreat from the demands of the adult world; as we sweep away one juvenile dung heap, they will move on to another. The point is to see that the dung heap does not swallow them up, and to hope it may be one that will bring forth blossoms. But our power is limited; it is the children who have the initiative: they will choose what they want.

Fifty-four years later, David Hajdu, a historian of popular culture, has written a book called The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar Straus Giroux, 434 pp., $26) in which the clash between Gaines and Dr. Wertham is put in historical perspective. Hajdu’s point of view is fairly standard as these things go-he describes the 50′s as an age of “postwar paranoia” and believes that the comic books of the period deserve to be taken seriously as a species of popular art-but his discussion of the short-lived frenzy over the alleged effects of comics on their consumers is both well written and, for the most part, sensible. You don’t have to share Hajdu’s reflexive distaste for the buttoned-down cultural orthodoxies of the Eisenhower Era to read The Ten-Cent Plague with pleasure and profit.

That said, I was struck by a certain narrowness of perspective on Hajdu’s part. While he appears to know everything worth knowing about the comic books of the period, his suggestion that their critics were cultural McCarthyites fails to acknowledge that the comic-book scare cut sharply across political lines. Close readers of The Ten-Cent Plague will note that the liberal establishment of the day was no less concerned about the effects of comic books on American youth, a fact that Hajdu glosses over a bit too quickly. No less revealingly, he appears to be unaware of the existence of Warshow’s oft-cited essay on horror comics, an omission that makes one wonder what else he has overlooked in his somewhat starry-eyed attempt to portray the creators of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications as “cultural insurgents” who “helped give birth to the popular culture of the postwar era.”

I was no less struck by the fact that The Ten-Cent Plague contains only a handful of black-and-white illustrations, none of which gives a clear sense of what the horror comics of the 50′s were like. Mere verbal descriptions cannot convey their quality, though Warshow came close:

There is a picture of a baseball game in which the ball is a man’s head with one eye dangling from its socket, the bat is a severed leg, the catcher wears a dismembered human torso as chest protector, the baselines are marked with stretched-out intestines, the bases are marked with the lungs, liver, and heart, the rosin-bag is the dead man’s stomach, and the umpire dusts off home plate with the scalp.

Hajdu tiptoes cautiously past this particular example of the genre, describing it as “a baseball game played with human body parts.” I might have been more impressed by his broad-gauge indictment of 50′s culture had he been more willing to specify the exact content of the publications whose cultural transgressiveness he lauds so passionately.

Most Americans are at one and the same time moralists and latitudinarians, and from time to time these tendencies get out of sync and cause a collective convulsion. One of the most interesting and least well remembered of these convulsions took place in 1954, when public concern over the baleful effects of comic books on the juvenile mind reached such a height as to inspire a Senate hearing at which Bill Gaines, the publisher of Crime SuspenStories, assured a roomful of skeptical politicians that his product was “a work of art.” Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who had just published a book called Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that violent comics turned their readers into juvenile delinquents, begged to differ: “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger.”

I know about these hearings because Robert Warshow published an essay in COMMENTARY called “Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham” in which he described with a typically thoughtful blend of wit and moral awareness how his 11-year-old son had become a fan of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications:

Children do need some “sinful” world of their own to which they can retreat from the demands of the adult world; as we sweep away one juvenile dung heap, they will move on to another. The point is to see that the dung heap does not swallow them up, and to hope it may be one that will bring forth blossoms. But our power is limited; it is the children who have the initiative: they will choose what they want.

Fifty-four years later, David Hajdu, a historian of popular culture, has written a book called The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar Straus Giroux, 434 pp., $26) in which the clash between Gaines and Dr. Wertham is put in historical perspective. Hajdu’s point of view is fairly standard as these things go-he describes the 50′s as an age of “postwar paranoia” and believes that the comic books of the period deserve to be taken seriously as a species of popular art-but his discussion of the short-lived frenzy over the alleged effects of comics on their consumers is both well written and, for the most part, sensible. You don’t have to share Hajdu’s reflexive distaste for the buttoned-down cultural orthodoxies of the Eisenhower Era to read The Ten-Cent Plague with pleasure and profit.

That said, I was struck by a certain narrowness of perspective on Hajdu’s part. While he appears to know everything worth knowing about the comic books of the period, his suggestion that their critics were cultural McCarthyites fails to acknowledge that the comic-book scare cut sharply across political lines. Close readers of The Ten-Cent Plague will note that the liberal establishment of the day was no less concerned about the effects of comic books on American youth, a fact that Hajdu glosses over a bit too quickly. No less revealingly, he appears to be unaware of the existence of Warshow’s oft-cited essay on horror comics, an omission that makes one wonder what else he has overlooked in his somewhat starry-eyed attempt to portray the creators of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications as “cultural insurgents” who “helped give birth to the popular culture of the postwar era.”

I was no less struck by the fact that The Ten-Cent Plague contains only a handful of black-and-white illustrations, none of which gives a clear sense of what the horror comics of the 50′s were like. Mere verbal descriptions cannot convey their quality, though Warshow came close:

There is a picture of a baseball game in which the ball is a man’s head with one eye dangling from its socket, the bat is a severed leg, the catcher wears a dismembered human torso as chest protector, the baselines are marked with stretched-out intestines, the bases are marked with the lungs, liver, and heart, the rosin-bag is the dead man’s stomach, and the umpire dusts off home plate with the scalp.

Hajdu tiptoes cautiously past this particular example of the genre, describing it as “a baseball game played with human body parts.” I might have been more impressed by his broad-gauge indictment of 50′s culture had he been more willing to specify the exact content of the publications whose cultural transgressiveness he lauds so passionately.

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Today’s Yeshiva Massacre in Jerusalem

In case you hadn’t heard, there has just been a terror attack in Jerusalem: a gunman infiltrated a yeshiva and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers in the dining hall:

Witnesses said that only one terrorist had entered the building and that he managed to fire 500-600 bullets over the course of 10 minutes before he was killed.

It is unclear at the moment which of the myriad Palestinian terror groups perpetrated the attack, but Hamas thought it would be a good idea to get its two cents into the news coverage post-haste:

“We bless the (Jerusalem) operation. It will not be the last,” Hamas said in a statement.

It is safe to say in this regard that many Gazans share Hamas’ sense of good fortune:

Gaza’s streets filled with joyous crowds of thousands on Thursday evening following the terror attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in which eight people were killed. In mosques in Gaza City and northern Gaza, many residents went to perform the prayers of thanksgiving. Armed men fired in the air in celebration and others passed out sweets to passersby.

Note that this is the terror group, implacably devoted to bloodshed and murder, that a number of American foreign policy elites have been lecturing the Bush administration and the Olmert government to “diplomatically engage.”

And now we have Mahmoud Abbas making his Arafat-esque perfunctory denunciation:

“President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is a man in the habit of condemning specific acts of terrorism, but honoring and celebrating terrorism and terrorists generally–especially in Arabic. When George Habash died — the founder of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and an unapologetic celebrator of savagery against Jews — Abbas ordered the PA’s flags to half-mast for three days. Abbas’s state-run television station shows maps of “Palestine” with Israel eradicated, and he refers in speeches intended for domestic consumption to the glories of martyrdom. Abu Mazen has a long way to go before rivaling his predecessor in this kind of doublespeak, but he is certainly headed in the right direction.

In case you hadn’t heard, there has just been a terror attack in Jerusalem: a gunman infiltrated a yeshiva and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers in the dining hall:

Witnesses said that only one terrorist had entered the building and that he managed to fire 500-600 bullets over the course of 10 minutes before he was killed.

It is unclear at the moment which of the myriad Palestinian terror groups perpetrated the attack, but Hamas thought it would be a good idea to get its two cents into the news coverage post-haste:

“We bless the (Jerusalem) operation. It will not be the last,” Hamas said in a statement.

It is safe to say in this regard that many Gazans share Hamas’ sense of good fortune:

Gaza’s streets filled with joyous crowds of thousands on Thursday evening following the terror attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in which eight people were killed. In mosques in Gaza City and northern Gaza, many residents went to perform the prayers of thanksgiving. Armed men fired in the air in celebration and others passed out sweets to passersby.

Note that this is the terror group, implacably devoted to bloodshed and murder, that a number of American foreign policy elites have been lecturing the Bush administration and the Olmert government to “diplomatically engage.”

And now we have Mahmoud Abbas making his Arafat-esque perfunctory denunciation:

“President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is a man in the habit of condemning specific acts of terrorism, but honoring and celebrating terrorism and terrorists generally–especially in Arabic. When George Habash died — the founder of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and an unapologetic celebrator of savagery against Jews — Abbas ordered the PA’s flags to half-mast for three days. Abbas’s state-run television station shows maps of “Palestine” with Israel eradicated, and he refers in speeches intended for domestic consumption to the glories of martyrdom. Abu Mazen has a long way to go before rivaling his predecessor in this kind of doublespeak, but he is certainly headed in the right direction.

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Never a Dull Moment Over at the New York Post

My former place of employ, the New York Post, has endorsed Barack Obama in the New York Democratic primary over Hillary Clinton. So much for the dozens, even hundreds, of stories speculating that the paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, had made some kind of side deal secret arrangement to back Mrs. C. If I had a nickel for every reporter’s call asking me about that when I worked there, I would have at least 45 cents by now. An excerpt:

Obama represents a fresh start.

His opponent, and her husband, stand for déjà vu all over again – a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency.

Does America really want to go through all that once again?

It will – if Sen. Clinton becomes president.

That much has become painfully apparent.

Bill Clinton’s thuggishly self-centered campaign antics conjure so many bad, sad memories that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Suffice it to say that his Peck’s-Bad-Boy smirk – the Clinton trademark – wore thin a very long time ago.

Far more to the point, Sen. Clinton could have reined him in at any time. But she chose not to – which tells the nation all it needs to know about what a Clinton II presidency would be like.

Now, Obama is not without flaws….

 

My former place of employ, the New York Post, has endorsed Barack Obama in the New York Democratic primary over Hillary Clinton. So much for the dozens, even hundreds, of stories speculating that the paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, had made some kind of side deal secret arrangement to back Mrs. C. If I had a nickel for every reporter’s call asking me about that when I worked there, I would have at least 45 cents by now. An excerpt:

Obama represents a fresh start.

His opponent, and her husband, stand for déjà vu all over again – a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency.

Does America really want to go through all that once again?

It will – if Sen. Clinton becomes president.

That much has become painfully apparent.

Bill Clinton’s thuggishly self-centered campaign antics conjure so many bad, sad memories that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Suffice it to say that his Peck’s-Bad-Boy smirk – the Clinton trademark – wore thin a very long time ago.

Far more to the point, Sen. Clinton could have reined him in at any time. But she chose not to – which tells the nation all it needs to know about what a Clinton II presidency would be like.

Now, Obama is not without flaws….

 

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LIVE: Blogging the Republican Candidate Debate, Part One

Mike Huckabee is doing very well in this debate so far, which means he is winning it in a walk.

The worst question so far: “Mr. Keyes, what do you think?”

Rudy Giuliani and John McCain say climate change is real and Giuliani says we need energy independence to deal with it. Note he doesn’t use the term “nuclear.” Nor does Mitt Romney, who uses the term “new technologies.” “Nuclear” must poll really, really, really badly.

Fred Thompson refuses to be bullied by the debate moderator, who wanted candidates to raise their hands in answer to whether they believed climate change was the result of human action.

Tom Tancredo says we’re losing our sovereignty because Mexican trucks can cross our border without being checked.

Fred Thompson makes a commitment to free and fair trade.

Rudy Giuliani praises NAFTA. America should think about “free trade, global economy as things we want to embrace.”

John McCain, the world’s least pandering politician, attacks agricultural subsidies in Iowa.

Mitt Romney wants to create a “level playing field” on trade. In this way, as in so many others, you can see how a brilliant businessman has become a compulsively pandering pseudo-populist.

Ron Paul wants to open Cuba to the American market, which would, according to experts, contribute roughly 11 cents to the U.S. economy.

Duncan Hunter says he would finish the border fence with Mexico in six months when he is president, which is impressive, and in every respect, science-fictional.

John McCain says he has devoted his life to making our country safe. Claims responsibility for the surge. Has one “ambition: To keep America safe and maintain our greatness.”

Rudy Giuliani says he wants a flatter, fairer tax, reducing corporate taxes, and eliminate the inheritance tax (death tax).

Fred Thompson just said Mitt Romney was really rich. Romney essentially said, “Aw shucks.” Thompson said he’s becoming a good actor.

Mike Huckabee just said that his lunatic “fair tax” plan for a national sales tax might help “make poor people rich.”

Alan Keyes is literally ranting and raving.

Thompson “takes a risk”: He says we can’t afford entitlements at the level they are offered now. He’s going for the “I’m the truth teller” spot.

Quick first impression: Everybody is talking very softly, in measured terms. It’s said Iowans don’t like negative campaigning. The problem is that unless the candidates engage each other in debate, there will be no change in the dynamic of the race.

Ten minutes in. How to lower our debt? Giuliani says we need to restrain government spending, an important message for him to deliver in order to convince conservative voters that he is not a liberal. Giuliani uses the term “nanny government.” Ron Paul says we can cut government spending by looking to foreign policy: Isolationism as budgetary policy. Huckabee wants to reduce health care costs by moving to disease prevention rather than curing ills. Romney says he worked in the private sector, and wants to bring efficient methods of management to government — he’s trying to show his command of data about government waste. That’s good, but as usual, Romney is packing his answer with too much.

Five minutes in. So far, the debate indicates the degree to which the American economic debate has shifted toward protectionism. A question about the national debt has become the occasion for candidates to complain about foreign investment. Mike Huckabee claims the United States is no longer feeding itself, which is an astonishing thing to say about the world’s leading exporter of agricultural goods. John McCain says he will bring America to energy independence in five years, which suggests he will bring a magic wand to the White House. Alan Keyes is saying…what a minute, what on earth is ALAN KEYES doing here?

Mike Huckabee is doing very well in this debate so far, which means he is winning it in a walk.

The worst question so far: “Mr. Keyes, what do you think?”

Rudy Giuliani and John McCain say climate change is real and Giuliani says we need energy independence to deal with it. Note he doesn’t use the term “nuclear.” Nor does Mitt Romney, who uses the term “new technologies.” “Nuclear” must poll really, really, really badly.

Fred Thompson refuses to be bullied by the debate moderator, who wanted candidates to raise their hands in answer to whether they believed climate change was the result of human action.

Tom Tancredo says we’re losing our sovereignty because Mexican trucks can cross our border without being checked.

Fred Thompson makes a commitment to free and fair trade.

Rudy Giuliani praises NAFTA. America should think about “free trade, global economy as things we want to embrace.”

John McCain, the world’s least pandering politician, attacks agricultural subsidies in Iowa.

Mitt Romney wants to create a “level playing field” on trade. In this way, as in so many others, you can see how a brilliant businessman has become a compulsively pandering pseudo-populist.

Ron Paul wants to open Cuba to the American market, which would, according to experts, contribute roughly 11 cents to the U.S. economy.

Duncan Hunter says he would finish the border fence with Mexico in six months when he is president, which is impressive, and in every respect, science-fictional.

John McCain says he has devoted his life to making our country safe. Claims responsibility for the surge. Has one “ambition: To keep America safe and maintain our greatness.”

Rudy Giuliani says he wants a flatter, fairer tax, reducing corporate taxes, and eliminate the inheritance tax (death tax).

Fred Thompson just said Mitt Romney was really rich. Romney essentially said, “Aw shucks.” Thompson said he’s becoming a good actor.

Mike Huckabee just said that his lunatic “fair tax” plan for a national sales tax might help “make poor people rich.”

Alan Keyes is literally ranting and raving.

Thompson “takes a risk”: He says we can’t afford entitlements at the level they are offered now. He’s going for the “I’m the truth teller” spot.

Quick first impression: Everybody is talking very softly, in measured terms. It’s said Iowans don’t like negative campaigning. The problem is that unless the candidates engage each other in debate, there will be no change in the dynamic of the race.

Ten minutes in. How to lower our debt? Giuliani says we need to restrain government spending, an important message for him to deliver in order to convince conservative voters that he is not a liberal. Giuliani uses the term “nanny government.” Ron Paul says we can cut government spending by looking to foreign policy: Isolationism as budgetary policy. Huckabee wants to reduce health care costs by moving to disease prevention rather than curing ills. Romney says he worked in the private sector, and wants to bring efficient methods of management to government — he’s trying to show his command of data about government waste. That’s good, but as usual, Romney is packing his answer with too much.

Five minutes in. So far, the debate indicates the degree to which the American economic debate has shifted toward protectionism. A question about the national debt has become the occasion for candidates to complain about foreign investment. Mike Huckabee claims the United States is no longer feeding itself, which is an astonishing thing to say about the world’s leading exporter of agricultural goods. John McCain says he will bring America to energy independence in five years, which suggests he will bring a magic wand to the White House. Alan Keyes is saying…what a minute, what on earth is ALAN KEYES doing here?

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