May 20, 2012

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April 14th Pickings had a review of Escape from Camp 14 – a view into North Korea’s GULAG. Now Jeff Jacoby has more.

… Harden’s book is gripping, and enlightening. Yet not even the most gifted writer can fully convey what it means to grow up in a Camp 14 — a realm in which “love and mercy and family were words without meaning,” in which betrayal was routine and compassion unknown. How does a human being overcome such damage? Grisly physical scars mark Shin’s body, Harden writes, but there are severe psychological scars too. He struggles to show affection and to trust other people; to be capable of sympathy and sadness.

How could it be otherwise? After a lifetime of dehumanization and institutionalized cruelty, Shin can hardly be blamed if he wrestles with emotional paralysis.

But what excuse do we have? We who know what freedom and civilization mean, who live with law and justice and decency, who intone “never again” to accounts of genocide and holocaust — how do we justify our emotional paralysis?

There is no cruelty so depraved that people cannot be induced to do it, or to look the other way while it is being done. “Escape from Camp 14″ reconfirms what we have known for years: North Korea’s rulers brutalize their people with unparalleled and bloody barbarity. Why do we find it so easy to look the other way?


Kimberley Strassel gives the real story behind the company featured in the Obama attack on Bain Capital.  

This week the Obama campaign debuted its attack on Bain Capital, the private-equity firm Mitt Romney founded. Its two-minute ad purports to tell the story of GS Technologies, a Kansas City-based Bain investment that went bankrupt in 2001.

To hear the Obama campaign, this is a tale of greed: GST was a healthy, happy, quality steelmaker until Bain plundered its worth and stripped its 750 workers of their due. “It was like a vampire,” laments one former employee in the ad. “They came in and sucked the life out of us.”

GST is a tragic tale, though in a different way. The real story of GST is that of a private-equity firm trying to spark some life into a uncompetitive, over-unionized industry. Bain’s crime here—if that’s what you call it—was giving a dying steel plant an unexpected eight-year lease on life.  …


More understanding of the value of private equity firms can be gleaned from Guy Sorman, in City Journal.

The 2012 presidential race will be, in part, a showdown between two different models of economic growth. President Barack Obama and his Democratic administration will defend the once-discredited and now-resurgent theory that government must act as the economy’s “tutor” and use public funds to stimulate it. The Republican nominee, presumably Mitt Romney, will advance the free-market argument that the main source of new growth is the innovative energy of American entrepreneurs and that government needs to get out of the way.

An essential part of the free-market argument is “creative destruction,” a theory proposed by the great Austrian economist and Harvard University professor Joseph Schumpeter. If you don’t understand Schumpeter’s insight—expressed most powerfully in his classic 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy—you’ll have a hard time understanding why free markets work so well to generate prosperity. Yet creative destruction is a complicated concept, poorly understood by the general public and not always easy to defend. As November nears, the Republican nominee will have to figure out a way to show voters how essential it is to American prosperity.

Schumpeter believed that progress in a capitalist economy requires that the old give way constantly to the new: production technologies in a free economy improve constantly, and new products and services are always on offer. But this creative transformation also has a destructive side, since it makes earlier products and services—and the workers who provided them—obsolete. Today’s consumers have little reason to buy an oil lamp instead of a lightbulb, or a Sony Walkman instead of an iPod—which can be bad news for the people who manufacture the oil lamp and the Walkman.

Looking back at the history of Western capitalism, we can see how the discovery of new energy sources, new communications systems, and new financial instruments regularly demolished old ways of doing things. …


Abby Thernstrom, one of Pickings favorites, was the WSJ interviewee this weekend.

… She notes that suburban America has been dramatically altered by the changes in immigration law in 1965. “You’ve got Asians. You’ve got Hispanics. And none of them are residentially clustered enough so that you can draw neat little lines around them and create reserved seats for members of minority groups. Residential integration is not in the interest of voting rights advocates.”

Besides, she says, racially tailored districts leave ambitious black politicians (and political discourse generally) worse off, insofar as they eliminate the need to build multiracial coalitions capable of winning broad support. It’s not unusual for the entire Congressional Black Caucus in a given year to sport a more liberal voting record than the average white Democrat, which can limit the appeal of a black candidate to white voters. Republicans have tended to play along with racial gerrymandering because concentrating minority voters in a few districts can result in other districts with large concentrations of nonminorities, where GOP candidates believe they have a better chance of winning.

“So you end up with these black districts in which only blacks run for office,” says Ms. Thernstrom. “The turnout is fairly low, and those who tend to win are the most strident, the most left, the most race-conscious. They’re those who play the race card best. Is it true in every one of these districts? No. There are some exceptions. But there aren’t enough exceptions.”

What suppresses minority turnout, she says, is not voter-ID laws but racial gerrymandering. “Turnout is very low in these safe black and Hispanic districts. And why shouldn’t it be? There’s no real competition.”

Ms. Thernstrom says that the evolution of the Voting Rights Act fits a familiar pattern. “This is the usual civil rights legislation story. It starts out being about opportunity and ends up being about results. We see that in any corner of the civil rights picture that you want to zero in on.”…

“America in Black and White,” the masterful 1997 tome that Ms. Thernstrom co-wrote with her husband, is by and large a good-news story of racial progress in America. It bothers her deeply that so many black leaders have a vested interest in playing down the socioeconomic advancement that has occurred among blacks over the past half-century.  

“They have a whole list of ways in which America hasn’t changed” for blacks, she says. “For their policies to make any sense, they have to pretend that progress isn’t being made or that it’s too little progress to matter.”

Most of the Voting Rights Act is permanent, which means that, notwithstanding Mr. Holder’s scaremongering, elimination of outdated provisions like Section 5 will not threaten the black franchise or leave the U.S. on the cusp of a return to Jim Crow. Asked why the administration of the first black president is so keen on keeping racial issues on the front burner, Ms. Thernstrom replies that “they obviously think it’s good politics. If they looked at the data, though, they would see that it’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ The picture is so heartening, even in the South. In fact, the South is in some ways the vanguard.”

Ms. Thernstrom believes that the administration’s identity politics may be a miscalculation if Mr. Obama’s race is no longer foremost on voters’ minds. “My sense is that when Americans look at the president today, they look at a man who has not exactly solved our economic problems, who has gotten us deeply in debt, and who used up a tremendous amount of time and political capital on legislation—ObamaCare—that Americans don’t want,” she says. “But I don’t think they look at him as a black man who has done these things.”


Marc Thiessen says the creepy Obama minions who have inserted The One into biographies of former presidents have missed the boat.

President Obama is being criticized for inserting himself into the official biographies of his predecessors on the White House website. The RNC and the conservative blogosphere have had a field day with this, pointing to it as yet further evidence of Obama’s enormous ego. I disagree. If anything, Obama was being too modest—leaving out some of his administration’s truly historic accomplishments.

Here are a few suggestions for additions to presidential bios that Obama might want to consider:

In the bio on President Bush, he could say:

•    Under President Bush, the national debt increased by $4 trillion over eight years. President Obama succeeded in increasing the national debt by the same amount in just three years—and in his first term racked up almost as much debt as all previous American presidents combined. …

Howie Carr says it’s time for Elizabeth Warren to tell the truth.

The Globe has finally come clean. The cover-up has crumbled. The New England Historic Genealogical Society threw in the towel a few hours later.

Now it’s Granny Warren’s turn. She needs to cop a plea to being a fake Indian, because it’s way beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unless, of course, she wants to stick with her very believable story about her pappaw having “high cheekbones — like all the Indians do.”


Karma time. One of the many ways Chris Matthews made light of Sarah Palin was to suggest she would be an awful Jeopardy contestant. Last week Matthews was on the show during its visit to DC. It is hard to overstate how poorly he did. NewsBusters has the story.

… Quite comically, the MSNBC anchor’s first gaffe came when he couldn’t even correctly request an answer to a question.

“Let’s go back to, what is ‘Crossword Clues E?’ I mean, I’m sorry, let’s go $200 for the category ‘Crossword Clues E.’”

Matthews appeared to have his Joe Biden thinking cap on.

Host Alex Trebek finally read the answer, “At ____, soldier! Four letters.”

“At ease, soldier,” Matthews responded. “What is ‘At ease, soldier?’”

Although the correct response was “Ease,” host Trebek graciously accepted Matthews’ offering.

A bit later, the answer to another question was, “Full name of the U2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.”

Matthews responded, “Who is Gary Powers?”

Trebek prompted, “We need the full name.”

Again channeling Biden, Matthews actually just repeated the same thing saying, “Who is Gary Powers?”

Trebek said, “No,” and the audience burst out laughing. The full name of course was Francis Gary Powers.

And that’s when things really got ugly for the arrogant Matthews. …

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