January 15, 2015

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Joel Kotkin writes on the country’s continuing racial divide. 

The election of Barack Obama six years ago was hailed as a breakthrough both for minorities, particularly African Americans, and for his being the first “city guy” elected president in recent history. Both blacks and urbanistas got one of their “own” in power, and there were hopes that race relations and urban fortunes would improve at a rapid pace.

Instead, the recent controversies over police killings of African American men have revealed a shocking deterioration of race relations not seen in a generation. Since the racial euphoria that accompanied the president’s election, views of race relations held by blacks and whites, according to Pew, have become decidedly less optimistic. Nearly half of whites and roughly two in five blacks, according to a recent Politico poll, say race relations have worsened under Obama. Only 4 percent of whites and 13 percent of African Americans thought relations had improved. Another recent survey, this one by Bloomberg, finds 53 percent of Americans opining that race relations have declined under Obama.

For the most part, the current racial discord has been traced largely to the long, uneasy relationship between minorities, notably African Americans, and the police. The disparity in perceptions between whites and blacks are most notable here, says Pew, with 70 percent of African Americans, but barely 25 percent of whites, disputing that police do a good job treating the races “equally.”

Here’s the real tragedy: Some 50 years after the passage of sweeping nationwide civil rights legislation, the institutionalization of affirmative action and billions poured into addressing urban poverty, many African American youth remain well outside the mainstream, unmoored to the economy and far too liable to get into confrontations with law enforcement. This is clearly connected with such factors as the preponderance among African Americans of 70 percent single-female-headed households, nearly half of which are poor. …

… The resurgence in racial animus remains arguably the biggest surprise – and one of the greatest failures – not only of Obama, but of our society. In this respect, neither conservative attempts to blame increased racial discord on the president and, now, attempts by his progressive claque to absolve him of any responsibility, really address the more serious issues behind the widening of the racial divide. Cities and communities, divided against themselves by race and class, cannot thrive in the long run, no matter how many publicists and pundits proclaim the battle for urban America already has been won.



Noemie Emery has more on Scott Walker.

In 1990, Scott Walker left MarquetteUniversity before graduation. He is reportedly hoping to complete his degree now, but if he doesn’t, he could become the first president since Harry S Truman to enter the White House without a college degree.

Some think his lack of degree could cost him his chances to get there, but we tend to think otherwise. Considering the current state of most colleges (and of their graduates) this could be a point in his favor. It might even make his career.

As institutions, colleges have been going downhill since the late 1960’s, but in recent years they have seemed like asylums run by the inmates, with their passion for courses in race and gender studies, free speech suppression, and the Duke Lacrosse scandal, the Penn State pedophilia disaster, the Rolling-Stone-gang-rape fiasco at the University of Virginia, …

… But Bubba and Dubya pale before Barack Obama, son of not one but two academics and a college professor himself. Another double-dip Ivy League graduate, he was called by one historian the most intelligent man to ever be president. Perhaps it was this that led him to make two of the worst unforced errors in history — the decision to push health care against public opinion (which some in his party admit was an error) and to pull all of our troops from Iraq.

Our best-known academics today are Obama, Jonathan Gruber, and Hillary — who as Hillary Rodham made Life magazine as her class valedictorian, and who had been told by her teachers that SHE should be president, long before Bill had arrived on the scene. With this in mind, Walker should wear his state proudly. He could win by acclaim as the un-academic. Run, Scotty, run!



David Harsanyi thinks we should stop pretending terrorism has nothing to do with islam.

Guess what? An idea isn’t a human being. Neither is a sacred cow. And those who confront, dismiss, debunk, sneer at and fear them aren’t necessarily bigots.

Not long ago, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy. His first 50 lashes will be publicly administered this week. Taking them all at once would kill the guy. But, then again, Badawi might be fortunate to be alive at all. The theocratic monarchs of Saudi Arabia don’t need the terrorists to punish their satirists, they can get the job done in-house.

I don’t know about you, but I’m lash-phobic.  I tend, as a matter of principle, to have a low opinion of people who dispense lashes. Religion, of course, is merely incidental to Badawi’s fate–as it is in the massacre of journalists in Paris or the bloodbath in Nigeria, where Boko Haram may have killed 2000 people this week. Or so I’m told. All of these instances of violence are perpetrated by random people, who by some happenstance share the same religious affiliation.

And to bring this up–according to Vox and other some outlets–may be Islamophobic. Islamophobia is defined, at least by Wikipedia (and it’s fair to say it’s a pretty decent reflection of how we use the word), as a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim.

Only half of this definition should be true. Most often, only half of it is. The late Christopher Hitchens never actually said “Islamophobic is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons,” but he did call it a “stupid neologism” that “aims to promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offenses associated with racism.” …

… What is less obvious to me is why liberals aren’t more inclined to defend the right of people to be critical of all religions. Why aren’t they more interested in why Islamic ideas so often manifest in violence? Why do the practitioners of these ideas find themselves in clashes with every culture they touch (Jews, Hindus, Christians, and all others)? Seems like a tolerant liberal would be phobic about the stoning of gays or the institutionalized dehumanization of women that’s rampant in “moderate” Muslim nations – forget radical Islam. Instead, they expect people to cower from one of the “stupidest neologisms” to be concocted in years.



Also from David Harsanyi is the Federalist’s interview with Thomas Sowell.

Thomas Sowell recently released the fifth edition of his classic book, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. Along with Free To Choose, Economics in One Lesson, and The Road Serfdom, it offers perhaps the best distillation of free-market economic ideas. In the new edition, at least twice the size of the first, Sowell writes a new chapter on global inequality (think of it as a response to  Thomas Piketty) and touches on a number of other contemporary political issues with his refreshingly clear style.

Sowell talked to The Federalist about today’s conservative reform efforts, the politicization of economics, his disagreement with mentor Milton Friedman, the complexities of immigration policy, and some of the government’s most destructive economic intrusions in everyday life.

The Federalist: The first edition of Basic Economics came out around 15 years ago. Do you sense that the public’s understanding of economics, generally speaking, has improved since then?

Thomas Sowell: Well, I would hope that the ones who read the book now have a better idea. People indicate that they do. Sales of the book, and the many translations, also indicate that there are people more interested in learning about economics. But in general, I don’t really think so. So, I guess, I’m not sure it’s worse than it was 30 or 40 years ago, but I’ve seen no visible improvement.

The Federalist: As policy becomes more complex, do you believe that economic ignorance is more likely to translate into bad politics?

Sowell: People in the political world have every incentive to say things that lead voters away from a clear economic understanding of issues. What has happened more and more is that organized groups have more and more reasons to say things that don’t make any economic sense. I am always appalled at people who come out, for example, and say: we need to have higher minimum wages so that the poor can have higher incomes. Well, of course, that just ignores the fact that increasing the minimum wage increases the level of unemployment among lower-income people. Among blacks for example, 16 or 17 year old blacks back in 1948 had an unemployment rate just under 10 percent. It has never been under 20 percent in last 50 years. And that’s simply because in 1948, the minimum was in effect repealed by inflation. And once you started escalating the minimum-wage level to keep up with that inflation, you priced more people out of the market. And now we have gotten used to black teenagers having an unemployment rate of 30 percent in good times and maybe 40 percent in bad times. …



According to Investor’s Business Daily, there might be an economically ignorant pope, but at least the Church’s Venezuelan Bishops appreciate free markets.

In a refreshingly powerful and direct statement, Venezuela’s bishops Monday blamed “Marxist socialism” and “communism” by name for the horrors and chaos gripping their country, according to a story in El Universal.

The bishops said the long lines of people trying to buy food and other basic necessities and the constant rise in prices are the result of the government’s decision to “impose a political-economic system of socialist, Marxist or communist,” which is “totalitarian and centralist” and “undermines the freedom and rights of individuals and associations.”

The Venezuelan bishops specifically stated that the private sector was critical for the well being of the country. The document, read by Monsignor Diego Padron in Spanish, said the country needs “a new entrepreneurial spirit with audacity and creativity.”

So not only did these bishops diagnose the cause of the misery correctly; they also warned that communism harms the poor most of all.

They sounded positively like readers of Investor’s Business Daily, matching the content of this editorial here.

More interestingly, the timing comes just as a certain former colleague of theirs from another part of South Americacontinues to denounce free-market economies

The Venezuelan archbishops make the useful observation that if capitalist economies have problems, socialist alternatives are far worse for the poor and needy. Could it be the pope’s Latin American colleagues on the ground in the cesspool of communism are the ones who can get through to the holy father on economics? Stay tuned.

January 14, 2015

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Smithsonian Magazine reports the creation of new antibiotics that can kill drug resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics are trusted weapons against many types of bacterial disease, but growing resistance to the drugs is a major problem. “Pathogens are acquiring resistance faster than we can introduce new antibiotics, and this is causing a human health crisis,” says biochemist Kim Lewis of NortheasternUniversity.

Lewis is part of a team that recently unveiled a promising antibiotic, born from a new way to tap the powers of soil microorganisms. In animal tests, teixobactin proved effective at killing off a wide variety of disease-causing bacteria—even those that have developed immunity to other drugs. The scientists’ best efforts to create mutant bacteria with resistance to the drug failed, meaning teixobactin could function effectively for decades before pathogens naturally evolve resistance to it.

The 20th century’s “antibiotic era” introduced a widely successful, targeted effort against disease-causing bacteria. Drugs like penicillin and streptomycin became household names, and millions of people benefited from them.

But widespread use—and misuse, such as patients not taking the drugs properly—meant that bacteria began working overtime to develop resistance to antibiotics. …



Jonathan Tobin posts on the Romney/Bush race for the 2016 GOP nod.

… So where does that leave the GOP?

Having Romney and Bush both in the race will make it harder for anyone else to run in the hidden establishment primary, meaning that a Chris Christie candidacy is looking like even more of a long shot than it did a few weeks ago. It also ought to encourage conservatives to jump in since it will mean there will be no repeat of the 2008 and 2012 races where a single well-funded moderate was able to overwhelm a split conservative faction. The presence of Romney makes the race even more unpredictable and should tempt figures like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who combines Tea Party support with stands that endear him to the establishment to think that perhaps 2016 will be a year in which a non-establishment candidate who is not considered a bomb-thrower can win.

But most of all, the entry of Romney into the race will mean a tremendous struggle for the hearts and minds of the GOP center. Having gotten in first and with his family’s network behind him as well as having the support of many other establishment types, Bush must be considered as having the edge until proven otherwise. But he must also worry that the two will ultimately knock each other off and let someone new, whether or not they are more electable, have a chance.



Speaking of Walker, Nate Cohn of the NY Times thinks he would be a promising candidate. It’s a scary thing when we agree with the Times.  

Jeb Bush had a good month. He struck first in the invisible primary — the behind-the-scenes competition for the support of donors, officials and operatives. And for all of the talk about the depth of the Republican field, the opposition to Mr. Bush remains unclear and underwhelming.

That is in part because many of the high-profile potential Republican contenders — like Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Rand Paul — are factional and flawed candidates with tough routes to the party’s nomination.

Nonetheless, there will be demand for an alternative to Mr. Bush, even from within the so-called Republican establishment. Since Friday, attention has focused on Mitt Romney, who said in a meeting of top advisers and donors that he was considering a third run.

But the more compelling challenger may be Scott Walker, the battle-hardened governor of Wisconsin. He has made moves toward running, and on paper, he’s the type of candidate who should deeply concern Mr. Bush.

Unlike the flawed but better-known conservatives, Mr. Walker has the potential to have broad appeal throughout the Republican Party. Mr. Walker, born in Colorado Springs, is an evangelical Christian who defeated public employee unions in a high-profile battle over collective bargaining rights and who made big budget cuts in a state that has voted for Democrats in seven consecutive presidential elections. …



Seth Mandel outlines how de Blasio got crossways with the police.

Bill de Blasio has just completed his first year in office, but his press clips are starting to make him sound like a lame duck. Today’s New York Times story on de Blasio’s deteriorating relationship with the police is based on “dozens of interviews in recent weeks” with police officers and “senior police leadership.” But in a classic sign of a political team already looking to shift blame, the most damaging anecdote is the one that begins the story, and it clearly signals discomfort within the mayor’s team.

The story is headlined “In Police Rift, Mayor de Blasio’s Missteps Included Thinking It Would Pass,” which really does sum up the in-depth piece quite well. But it also signifies a sense of frustration from those around the mayor that too many of his errors are unforced, and that his lack of focus is materially damaging the administration’s image. Here is how the story opens:

Not long after Mayor Bill de Blasio sat beside the Rev. Al Sharpton at a July summit meeting on police reform, a political adviser gave the mayor a blunt assessment: You have a problem with the cops.

Rank-and-file officers felt disrespected by the mayor, the adviser explained, and were dismayed to see Mr. Sharpton, a longtime critic of the New York Police Department, embraced at City Hall.

But Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, rejected the notion that officers disliked him. His message, the adviser later recalled, was clear: Everything was under control.

Everything was not under control, …



PJ O’Rourke thinks we should let fraternities run the country.

Everyone hates fraternities, and everyone hates Congress. Perhaps we’d be better off if they just switched places.

Sixty-four “freshman” U.S. senators and representative were sworn in this week. And “Spring Rush” is beginning at many universities.

College fraternity houses have come under a lot of criticism lately. So have the houses of congress. Perhaps the two sets of institutions should switch places. Road trip!

(And who wouldn’t like to see 64 congressmen paddled during Hell Week?)

Certainly legislation in Washington would be more interesting with fraternities in charge—“H.R. 4932 Keg Stand on the Supreme Court Act of 2015.” Everybody running around Capital Hill, drunk as all hell, and keeping lookout as Antonin Scalia vomits behind a dumpster.

Plus campus behavior would be more decorous—“Nancy Pelosi Gone Wild” won’t be the kind of thing people order on Pay Per View. …



Andrew Malcolm with late night.

Conan: Obama is doing a speaking tour to preview his State of the Union. Pretty exciting— Obama rushes out on stage and shouts, “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME STUFF THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN?”

Fallon: Harry Reid is recovering after his exercise resistance band snapped, causing him to fall. The good news is he’s fine. The bad news is there’s no video.

Conan: Bill Gates has released a video of himself drinking water filtered from human excrement. No word yet on whether Gates got into the fraternity

January 13, 2015

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Max Boot posts on the flawed “Yemen” model for dealing with terrorists. 

Back in September, when President Obama was announcing his strategy for coping with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, he eschewed sending U.S. combat troops. Instead, he said, “This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

This caused many commentators, including me, to do a double take. As I wrote at the time, “The president’s analogy to Somalia and Yemen is not an encouraging one. Obama may be one of the few people around who thinks that the U.S. has achieved so much success in those countries that it is a model worth emulating.”

Now the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris brings further evidence of how flawed the Yemen model actually is. Considerable evidence has emerged of links between al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the gunmen who murdered 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices. Said Kouachi, one of the two brothers involved, was said to have visited Yemen in 2011 for training, and before launching the assault either he or his brother told bystanders, “Tell the media we are Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” …



Jonathan Tobin wants to know why the president can’t call the Paris market attack anti-Semitism.

… The president did well to express solidarity with France as our oldest ally as well as condemnation of the actions of the terrorists that he characterized as standing for “hatred and suffering.” But the sensible reluctance on the part of Western leaders from casting this conflict as one between all Muslims and the rest of the world is no excuse for his determination to ignore the fact that these crimes are rooted in a form of political Islam that is supported by tens if not hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Pretending that these armed killers are not connected to a worldwide movement, even as information about their connections to such groups continues to trickle out, does nothing to avoid antagonizing those who already hate Western values and culture. It also serves to help unilaterally disarm both Muslims and non-Muslims who understand that we must directly confront the corrupt and evil source of this violence within the spectrum of Islamic belief.

Just as wrongheaded was the president’s conspicuous omission of a mention of anti-Semitism. …



Readers will remember we have included many items about the Air France flight that vanished over the South Atlantic five years ago. Now it appears the Air Asia flight that fell out of the sky might also have been the victim of pilot error. A Daily Beast article wonders if modern jets are too automated.

Too many computers and not enough ‘hands-on’ flying mean most pilots would have fallen victim to the weather that brought down AirAsia 8501.

As searchers close in on what appears to be the main wreckage of AirAsia Flight 8501 the retrieval of the airplane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders should soon follow. The wreckage lies no more than around 100 feet down in the JavaSea. Although there are strong currents and poor visibility, compounded by the high seas generated by stormy weather, divers should be able to locate the rear end of the fuselage where the flight data recorder, the black box, is located.

The black box and the cockpit voice recorder will together be able to give a highly detailed second-by-second account of what now seems of primary interest to investigators: how the two pilots responded to a sudden and violent cell of weather within a thunderhead cloud that engulfed them, probably reaching more than 20,000 feet above their cruise height of 34,000 feet.

Investigators will focus on whether the sudden emergency was so extreme that no degree of pilot skill would have helped. Or did the pilots, once more, lack not only the experience of meeting such a challenge, but also whether they, and thousands of other pilots around the world, were ever trained to handle this specific combination of challenges?

I say “once more” because since the loss of Air France Flight 447 on June 1, 2009, a serious deficiency has been exposed in how pilots are trained—and how their acuity is regularly tested—to handle modern jets with state-of-the-art cockpit automation.

Some background is useful here. …

… By the first decade of this century the most frequent cause of serious accidents had been narrowed down to—and still is—“loss of control.” This might seem a very loose term, but it has emerged in a very specific environment during the course of airline operations all over the world.

Two paths converge: human skills and automation. Cockpits have become “de-manned.” Computers are flying a modern commercial airliner for most of the time, and flying it well, with a finesse that human reflexes cannot match. …

… Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who in 2009 made the now legendary emergency landing on the Hudson river in an Airbus A320—identical to that in AirAsia Flight 8501—has said, commenting on the AirAsia event, that very few pilots flying either modern narrow body or wide-body jets today have ever experienced a stall in those jets. (They do get stall training in elementary initial flying lessons, but it is nothing like what they’re more likely to experience in today’s modern jets.)

This is almost certainly true of Captain Irianto, the 53-year-old pilot of the AirAsia A320, and his copilot, 46-year-old Remi Emmanuel Piesel. The fact is that five years after the Air France Flight 447 catastrophe, only now are computerized flight simulators used in training pilots being rewritten to replicate loss of control scenarios. This is why it is virtually meaningless to cite the fact that Captain Irianto had 20,000 hours of experience as a pilot and that 6,100 of those hours were on A320s. Unless he had faced in a simulator what he probably faced in that thunderhead over the JavaSea, he would not have been ready for it. Even then, as the Airbus tests showed, old habits die hard. …



Scientific American published a good piece on how to raise smart kids. A more correct title might be how to raise accomplished kids.

… A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son’s confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork, their son maintained, was boring and pointless.

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” (consisting of personal effort and effective strategies) rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life. …

January 12, 2015

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Time for Pickings to say goodbye to Tom Coburn. John Fund is the first to pay homage to a man who actually went into public service rather than public narcissism. In a just world someone like Coburn would lead our country instead of the existing example of excrement expletive.

Dozens of members of Congress will be retiring next month, and some should be missed. But there is only one Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma senator the Christian Science Monitor has dubbed “a rabble-rousing statesman.”

Those two qualities together are rare in politicians, but they found a happy union in the 66-year-old obstetrician who is leaving the Senate early next month to battle prostate cancer. On the one hand, Coburn never retreated on his core values: He is staunchly pro-life, for traditional marriage, and resistant to all manner of fads from climate-change regulation to mindless intervention overseas. As the Senate’s “Dr. No” from 2004 to today, he held up hundreds of special-interest boondoggles and end-runs around common sense. At the same time, he maintained a standard of honest dealing and integrity that many more in Congress should aspire to.

This month, he took to the Senate floor to make his farewell remarks. He reminded his colleagues that they take an oath to “protect the United States of America, its Constitution, and its liberties.” What’s not included in that oath, he warned, is any mention that senators have a duty to provide benefits to their state.

“It’s nice to be able to do things for your state, but that isn’t our charge,” he said. “Our charge is to protect the future of our country by upholding the Constitution and ensuring the liberty that’s guaranteed there is protected and preserved.” …



Coburn kudos from Andrew Ferguson at the Weekly Standard.

“In any election,” Tom Coburn often says, “you should vote for the candidate who will give up the most if they win.” All things being equal, we should prefer politicians who have accomplished something in their lives beyond government work—and who are willing to sacrifice it, at least temporarily, to serve the country at a cost to their convenience and comfort. During his 6 years in the House of Representatives and 10 more in the Senate, Coburn has embodied his own principle. He went to medical school after a successful career in business and became an obstetrician when he was 35. He built a lucrative practice in his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma. He waited until he was 46 to seek public office, after he’d delivered 4,000 babies. First things first. 

Coburn retires from the Senate at the end of this Congress, and we’ll miss him. His résumé makes him an increasingly rare bird in the Washington aviary. Among “antigovernment” Republicans no less than Leviathan-loving liberals, our political ranks brim over with men and women whose careers began in second grade with their first campaign for hall monitor and went on from there, with perhaps a brief detour to law school offering them their closest view of the push and pull of normal commercial life. Coburn calls himself a “citizen legislator,” and the archaic title fits. Single-handed, he restored the phrase “public service” to good repute in Washington, at least for his admirers. …



Kimberley Strassel has more. 

… The real key to Mr. Coburn’s success was a skill too little valued in Washington today: hard work. He was an accountant and then an obstetrician before coming to D.C., and never lost that belief that he needed to earn his paycheck. He was in the office every morning by 7:30. He’d read every word of every report his staff gave him—and send it back with typos circled. He read every bill and objected if he wasn’t given the time to do so before a vote. He’d dive into monstrous sections of the federal government—the budget, veteran affairs, disability payments, the tax code—and not re-emerge until he knew it front to back. He was a policy innovator, in particular on health care.

Many was the time this reporter would stumble across some government outrage, and call Mr. Coburn’s office for his take—only to discover he’d written a bill to fix the problem a year earlier. That knowledge was power; he was a formidable opponent because he knew more than the appropriators, the negotiators, the bills’ authors. An all-time favorite line came from one of his staffers who, in the middle of a Coburn budget fight with Congress, wryly commented: “I don’t know why they bother. Fighting with Coburn over the budget is like waging a land war in Asia. You can’t win.” …



KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, who wrote the book on the Duke Lacrosse debacle, compare it to recent events at UVA.

Depressing similarities link the two highest-profile allegations of campus sexual assault in recent years — the fraudulent gang rape claims against Duke lacrosse players in 2006, and Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Erdely’s multiply discredited portrayal in November of a sadistically brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity.

Even more depressing is another comparison between the two cases. While campus journalists and many other students at Duke were refreshingly open to evidence and critical thinking as the case there unfolded, the vast majority of U-Va. students have been sheep-like. They have emulated — or at least tolerated — the anti-male prejudices of U-Va. academics and administrators. Some have even called for secret criminal trials in rape prosecutions.

As to lacrosse case similarities, the most obvious was the initial mob-like rush to judgment at U-Va. by left-leaning faculty, administrators, and news media in embracing the now-infamous claim by “Jackie” of being gang-raped on a bed of shattered glass. By presuming the guilt of college men accused of implausibly barbaric crimes against women and minorities, these academics were oblivious to the lessons from Duke.

Not unlike the 88 Duke professors who signed a public statement in 2006, which included a thank-you to protesters who had urged the team captains’ castration, those U-Va. professors who individually spoke up immediately after the Rolling Stone article were eager to see it as exemplifying a campus “rape culture” of which there is little hard evidence.

Then there is the lamentable performance of school President Teresa Sullivan, who has rivaled the shameful indifference to due process shown by Richard Brodhead, who is, alas, still Duke’s president. Sullivan’s sins include using the Rolling Stone article as an excuse to accuse seven unnamed fraternity members of “evil acts” and to suspend all U-Va. fraternities both before and after the accuser’s story unraveled. …


… the nation’s most prestigious universities, including U-Va. and Duke, have pushed such ideologies of resentment — in their reeducation-camp-style “orientation” sessions for new students, in the extremist race/class/gender teachings that dominate many humanities courses, and in the kangaroo-court disciplinary systems that have censored expression of “offensive” political views as well as railroading dozens of students on rape charges that appear to be based on flimsy evidence.

In such an environment, it might be understandable that few students would risk being branded as “rape apologists” by defending due process. In this respect, the U-Va. student response may evidence a troubling trend over the last eight years. In any event, it surely illustrates a poisoned campus culture that has implications far beyond Charlottesville.

January 11, 2015

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The amazing thing about today’s Pickings is that all the written selections come from the Washington Post. It is heartening to see one of the former standard bearers of the liberal media turn out to have columns and blogs fit for our readers. Two blogs we followed before they associated with the Post are Jennifer Rubin’s and The Volokh Conspiracy. Rubin was part of Commentary’s Contentions and Volokh was on his own.  The cartoons are a hoot today, especially the last one.


The first item is by Charles Krauthammer in which he calls for a one dollar per gallon increase in federal gas taxes with a corresponding decrease in social security taxes. So, don’t worry he’s not proposing to give more to the jerks in DC. 

For 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.

The only time you can even think of proposing a gas tax increase is when oil prices are at rock bottom. When I last suggested the idea six years ago, oil was selling at $40 a barrel. It eventually rose back to $110. It’s now around $48. Correspondingly, the price at the pump has fallen in the last three months by more than a dollar to about $2.20 per gallon.

As a result, some in Congress are talking about a 10- or 20-cent hike in the federal tax to use for infrastructure spending. Right idea, wrong policy. The hike should not be 10 cents but $1. And the proceeds should not be spent by, or even entrusted to, the government. They should be immediately and entirely returned to the consumer by means of a cut in the Social Security tax.

The average American buys about 12 gallons of gas a week. Washington would be soaking him for $12 in extra taxes. Washington should therefore simultaneously reduce everyone’s FICA tax by $12 a week. Thus the average driver is left harmless. He receives a $12-per-week FICA bonus that he can spend on gasoline if he wants — or anything else. If he chooses to drive less, it puts money in his pocket. (The unemployed would have the $12 added to their unemployment insurance; the elderly, to their Social Security check.) …



Jennifer Rubin says there’s more to De Blasio’s stupidity than his mistakes with the NYPD.    

In case you thought New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s worst misstep was his dealings with the police (starting with his opposition to stop and frisk), consider what he has done to welfare.

Robert Doar of the American Enterprise Institute and Fried Siegel of the Manhattan Institute explain:

“From 1994–2009, work rates for single mothers rose from 43 percent to 63 percent. Overall labor force participation rose from under 55 percent to more than 60 percent (during a period when labor force participation nationwide declined). In 2011, even after the Great Recession, child poverty in NYC was almost 10 percentage points lower than in 1993, the year before welfare reform started.

Now de Blasio is proposing to replace these successes. Reviving the hoary notion of entry-level work as representing “dead-end jobs,” de Blasio suggests that, from the get-go, welfare recipients are owed more than an opportunity to work.” …



Richard Cohen says violence is working quite well for the radical islamists.

As sometimes happens, Jon Stewart is wrong. He said the other night about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, “There is no sense to be made of this.”

Ah, but there is. There is an inescapable logic to violence. Killing your enemies silences them. Killing your enemies intimidates others. Just look at how the New York Times went about deciding whether to publish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that, among others things, outraged so many traditional Muslims. The Times polled some of its various foreign bureaus to see whether anyone felt threatened by the possible publication of the cartoons. None did, we are told. Yet the Times did not publish.

The Washington Post’s editorial pages — as opposed to the quite separate news staff — did publish. They did so out of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and because it was newsworthy. Journalistically, The Post did the right thing; the Times did not. The famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams called the Times’s decision “regrettable.” I call it appalling. …



Jennifer Rubin asks now that France’s nightmare is over, is there any chance the delusions of the West will end?

… Will the events of the past few days be sufficient to end the perverse refusal to comprehend this and to persistently dismiss conservatives’ warning that we are engaged in a battle for civilization itself? 

If Israel didn’t build homes in its Jewish neighborhoods . . . if the United States closed GuantanamoBay . . .  if we had not waterboarded terrorist leaders  . . . if we had not become involved in Middle East wars . . . if Europeans did not insult Islam . . . what, what would be different? The jihadists would still seek to slaughter Jews, Christians and Muslims who don’t subscribe to their brand of jihadism. Iran would still sponsor terrorists and seek a bomb. Boko Haram will still kill and murder innocents. There is no action on our part that provokes the sort of barbarism we have seen. There is no way we can cease giving “offense.” Our existence is sufficient to spur the Islamist terrorists. And the only solution is to defeat and destroy the jihadists, their networks and their ability to gain access to more and more deadly weapons. (What if, for example, the French suspects had chemical weapons and not simply guns?)

And yet I doubt we will see President Obama (or critics of U.S. antiterrorism efforts) agree on an enhanced national security budget, adopt a new approach to ending Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, throw away the timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, deploy without limitations on their scope and duration a contingent of U.S. troops sufficient to eradicate the Islamic State swiftly or cease releasing jihadists from Guantanamo Bay. …



Eugene Volokh points out muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression. 

“Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.”

So writes “a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia,” Anjem Choudary, in a USA Today op-ed. USA Today has performed a valuable public service here — I mean this entirely sincerely — in reminding people that there is a very dangerous religious denomination out there, which is willing to teach the propriety of murder of blasphemers, which supports the death penalty for apostasy, and which would more broadly suppress the liberty of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

To give one more example, a survey touted by CNN as showing that “Around the World, Muslims Heralded Religious Freedom” actually showed that, though “Ninety-seven percent of Muslims in South Asia, 95% in Eastern Europe, 94% in sub-Saharan Africa and 85% in the Middle East and North Africa responded positively to religious freedom, according to the poll,” in many countries huge percentages of Muslims favor “the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.” For instance, in South Asia, death for apostates is favored by 79% of Afghan Muslims, 75% of Pakistani Muslims, and 43% of Bangladeshi Muslims. In the Middle East and North Africa, the numbers were 88% in Egypt, 83% in Jordan, 62% in the PalestinianTerritories, 41% in Iraq, 18% in Tunisia, and 17% in Lebanon. …



Also in Volokh, David Post calls attention to a David Brooks column which suggests many of the same people with crocodile tears for Charlie Hebdo would have shut it down if it showed up on a campus in the US.

David Brooks has a very thoughtful and important op-ed in today’s New York Times, linking our reactions to the horror at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the campus speech codes.

“The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.”

Spot on, and pretty disturbing when you think about it – not to mention hypocritical on the part of many who are now so vociferous in their apparent support for untrammeled free expression. …



If we’re spending time at the Post, we won’t ignore George Will who writes on climate changes through the ages.

We know, because they often say so, that those who think catastrophic global warming is probable and perhaps imminent are exemplary empiricists. They say those who disagree with them are “climate change deniers” disrespectful of science.

Actually, however, something about which everyone can agree is that of course the climate is changing — it always is. And if climate Cassandras are as conscientious as they claim to be about weighing evidence, how do they accommodate historical evidence of enormously consequential episodes of climate change not produced by human activity? Before wagering vast wealth and curtailments of liberty on correcting the climate, two recent books should be considered.

In “The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century,” William Rosen explains how Europe’s “most widespread and destructive famine” was the result of “an almost incomprehensibly complicated mixture of climate, commerce, and conflict, four centuries in gestation.” Early in that century, 10 percent of the population from the Atlantic to the Urals died, partly because of the effect of climate change on “the incredible amalgam of molecules that comprises a few inches of soil that produces the world’s food.”  …



Turning our attention to the 2016 race, Jennifer Rubin has some advice for our hero - Scott Walker.

… The digs on Walker are well known — not charismatic enough (often compared to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty), not a college graduate, no foreign policy experience and an insufficiently robust national fundraising network to compete with Bush or Christie. But none of that will matter if he can:

1. Become the pugnacious but reasonable Republican, tough enough for the base and sane enough for the establishment. His lack of a college degree, if not a selling point, can at least shape the image of a scrapper who had to educate himself and rise on sheer tenacity.

2. Put together a succinct and emotionally compelling stump speech. He should take to heart American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks’s admonition — state your mission in moral terms, be for people, not against things, and do it fast (people make snap judgments in less than a minute). Something like: “I’m going to fight for every American’s opportunity to rise, chance to earn success and security from enemies of liberty and tolerance who threaten Western civilization.”

3. Do some foreign travel, meet with top-flight advisers, develop a comfort-level with national security and present a tough-minded national security policy that contrasts with years of weakness, equivocation and shocking inability to support friends and confront enemies. …


Don’t forget, the cartoons are very good today.

January 8, 2015

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Jennifer Rubin posts on our “feckless” Cuba policy. Feckless gets tossed around a lot when thinking of this administration. The word is defined thus; weak, ineffective worthless, irresponsible. Fits perfectly.

… In a letter to the president today Rubio observed, “While I believe that the entirety of your new Cuba policy is overwhelmingly one-sided in the Castro regime’s favor and based on the flawed premise that giving it more legitimacy and money will result in a freer Cuban people, the least your Administration can do now is hold the regime accountable for fully freeing these 53 political prisoners as well as those who have been detained in recent weeks.” He urged the administration to “to cancel the travel of Administration officials to Cuba to further discuss the normalization of diplomatic relations at least until all 53 political prisoners, plus those arrested since your December 17th announcement, have been released and are no longer subjected to repression that often takes the form of house arrests, aggressive surveillance, denied Internet access, forced exile and other forms of harassment.”

With answers like the ones given by the State Department on Monday, I see no chance of any ambassador to Cuba being confirmed or any change in U.S. law getting through Congress. This is another instance of weakness and embarrassing lack of diplomatic prowess. Congress should do nothing to enable the administration’s folly.



Craig Pirrong posts on the continuing decline of commodity prices. He sees the cause as weak Chinese demand and notes that traders are trying to discern Chinese intent.

… Commodity traders want to know. But given the opacity of the Chinese decision making process, it’s impossible to know. The signals are very, very mixed. No doubt there is a raging debate going on within the leadership now, and between the center and the periphery, and decisions are zinging and zagging along with that debate.

I see three alternatives, two of which are commodity bearish. First, there is a transition to a more consumption-based model: this would lead to a decline in commodity demand. Second, there is a crash or hard landing as the credit boom implodes due to the underperformance of past investments: definitely bearish for commodities. Third, the Chinese keep pumping the credit, thereby keeping commodity demand alive. The third alternative only delays the inevitable choice between Options One and Two.

In brief, for the foreseeable future, the most important factor in commodity markets will be what goes on in Chinese policymaking circles. And insofar as that goes, your guess is as good as mine.



Mark Steyn is profiled and his new book is reviewed in Canada’s National Post.

… Political correctness is not unknown to Steyn but he apparently hopes it will go away. He’s not afraid to be flagrantly disrespectful, even to the poor and allegedly downtrodden, if the occasion demands it. A few hours after Margaret Thatcher’s death he noted that “the snarling deadbeats of the British underclass were gleefully rampaging through the streets” with a banner that announced “THE BITCH IS DEAD.” Today, Steyn acknowledges, the Thatcher era may look like a magnificent but temporary interlude in Britain’s dissolution, but that’s no reason to apply gentlemanly prose to those who hate the memory of a magnificent accomplishment.

He’s a tough and uncompromising critic of everybody from political leaders to folk singers. He thinks the invention of the “faux-folk song” helped infantilize American culture. The folk songs are “nursery-school jingles, which is why they’re so insidious.” In another mood Steyn includes a marvelous magazine piece, “MoonRiver and Me,” a subtle evocation of the power of popular song and the best appreciation of Johnny Mercer’s great lyrics that I’ve ever read.

When growing anti-Semitism in the Arab states is the subject (as it often is these days) Steyn expresses his sympathy through a sharp and utterly unsentimental example. He mentions that in the 1920s a Jew was finance minister of Egypt. That man’s descendants now live in France — not just because a Jew in Egypt can no longer be finance minister but because “a Jew in Egypt can no longer be.”

When people praise H.L. Mencken, they often say we need someone like him in our time. Steyn is far from an echo of Mencken —for one thing, he has none of the ugly prejudices. But he’s the only writer today who sometimes brings the best of Mencken to mind.



Andy Malcolm didn’t think much of Gohmert’s challenge to Boehner.

The 114th Congress opens today with Republicans in full control for the first time since George W. Bush was hated.

Obama and Harry Reid can’t face the trans-continental rejection of their policies and procedures by midterm voters. But with that resounding voter endorsement producing an historic House majority and a workable Senate one, the GOP has a golden chance to show its governing prowess in these 670 days until the presidential election.

So, what does a clownish, rump posse of disgruntled House conservatives do? It launches a very public, very hopeless bid to thwart the will of colleagues, who already voted, and oust John Boehner as speaker.

Ah, that’s just what the media loves to cover — old conservative white guys squabbling over political spoils before they do a lick of work, if that’s what members of Congress do for their $172K.

Now, Boehner is a pragmatic politician. He’s nowhere near as openly conservative and confrontational as some vocal ideological purists. He doesn’t grandstand with long-winded denunciations that get tribe members in war paint all excited while Americans silently think, “WTH?”

A lot of people are unhappy with Boehner’s un-rabid demeanor. When hyperbolic Boehner critics say there’s no difference between him and the Dems, refresh your mental screen with the image of Nancy Pelosi. She engineered ObamaCare’s passage without reading it. …



But, Kevin Williamson did.

… Will Rogers famously joked: “I don’t belong to any organized political party — I’m a Democrat,” and there has long been a great deal of self-congratulatory myth-making among Democrats about the freewheeling nature of their party and the array of independent minds that compose it. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth: Congressional Republicans are in fact more likely to buck their leadership, and to vote against the majority of their party, than are Democrats. The Republican party is mainly organized by ideology; the Democratic party is mainly organized by the bundling of special interests — the Teamsters and the people who demand federal subsidies for sex-change operations are not obvious policy allies, but the Democrats offer sops to both, so they work together.

The Republicans, and conservatives at large, are a fractious bunch because values play a more outsize role in Republican politics than in Democratic politics. Republican voters are jurors weighing the evidence and deciding whether Boehner et al. should be charged with the felony of being too soft. Democrats are horse-traders, and they’ll stomach Barack Obama’s stand against gay marriage if they think that they can get something (e.g., federalized health care) out of it — or if they think he’s insincere, which is generally a safe bet.

Louie Gohmert probably should not be the speaker of the House. But his unsuccessful run was nonetheless a good thing for the party — a much better thing that the brute-force display of the Republican leaders who leaned on representatives who might otherwise have cast a protest vote — or more than that — for Gohmert. Papering over philosophical and political differences through a show of official might by the Republican leadership will not make the disputes within the party go away — it will only cause them to fester.

Tuesday was an excellent day to have that fight. Wednesday, it is time for a different one.



Here’s some fun as Jonathan Tobin posts on the Harvard profs who are upset about the costs of affordable health care. 

Liberal academics have always been among those who have been the most ardent supporters of ObamaCare. But the Harvard faculty is now discovering the joys of ObamaCare and, as the New York Times reports, are no more pleased with it than many other Americans. That this same group, many of whose members played prominent roles in promoting the passage of the Affordable Care Act, should now be experiencing its problems is cold comfort to fellow sufferers. But the outrage that Harvard professors are venting about being asked to pay more for fewer benefits is a delightful example of liberal hypocrisy at its worst.

The Harvard story is yet another example of the basic political problem with the ACA. Prior to its implementation, both its supporters and many of its critics believed that once in force it would become as popular as Social Security or Medicare and become politically untouchable. But that failed to take into account the fact that unlike those venerable government benefit programs that are viewed as harming no one (except, perhaps, the taxpayers of the future), ObamaCare is a scheme that creates winners and losers. …

… We may well mock liberals like the denizens of Harvard’s faculty lounges who blithely support huge changes that aimed at social transformation yet believed they could keep their own “Cadillac plans” without higher costs. But the problem here is that the entire nation was sold a bill of goods and is now being forced to swallow a bad deal in order to achieve gains that may not be commensurate with the pain that comes with them. That is why those who still blithely assume that the debate about this law is over are dead wrong.



Jim Taranto has fun too.

In one of his best-known aphorisms, the late William F. Buckley is reputed to have said that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. Although Buckley was famously a Yale man, this is generally understood to have been an expression of antielitist sentiment rather than intraleague antipathy.

But the New York Times reports that the Harvard faculty is unhappy about being governed by the Harvard faculty. Its headline, “Harvard Ideas on Health Care Hit Home, Hard,” invokes with irony not Buckley but Mencken: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” (We used the quote in 2012, in a not-unrelated context.)

“The professors are in an uproar,” the Times tells us, because ideas hatched by “Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy” are now being “applied to the Harvard faculty” thanks to ObamaCare. …

January 7, 2015

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An interesting convergence took place in the pages of The Jan. 12th New Yorker where the famed author Malcolm Gladwell reviews Steven Brill’s tome on health care and its reform. (Brill is the guy who started Court TV and the magazine American Lawyer.) Unfortunately, it uncritically accepts the premise the government should be trying to fix what has already been broken by government interference. That caveat aside, this long article is worth reading because he will introduce you to David Goldhill’s “Catastrophic Care” which asks the questions we might wish were more central to Gladwell’s piece and to the whole debate itself.

… Near-history, the journalistic reconstruction of contemporary events, has come to be dominated by two schools. The first is represented by Michael Lewis. Lewis wrote about the 1996 Presidential election through the story of a Republican candidate no one had ever heard of, the eccentric millionaire Morry Taylor. “The Big Short” was an account of the financial crisis told through the eyes of four obscure short-sellers. Lewis’s interest is psychological and moral. His books have won him many admirers (including me) because they offer deceptively simple narratives in the service of a grand canonical theme. “Liar’s Poker,” which recounts the young Lewis’s stint in the Wall Street of the nineteen-eighties, is Daniel in the lion’s den. “Money Ball,” about the strategies of small-market baseball teams, is David and Goliath. “The Blind Side” is the Good Samaritan. “The Big Short” is Noah’s Ark, and “Flash Boys” is Jesus casting the money changers out of the temple.

The second school is associated with the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Woodwardian history is kaleidoscopic. The reporter makes many telephone calls and office visits, and reads many documents. All key players are represented and events detailed. The approach is sociological: the great theme of the Woodward school is the interaction of institutions and vested interests. In a Lewis, if you remove the titles of the characters and simply identify them by their first names, nothing is lost: an individual’s character, not his position, is what matters. In a Woodward, the opposite is often true. Names may be irrelevant; titles tell you what you need to know. That is what makes Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men” a masterpiece: its great achievement was to show how the institutional power of the White House led to the President’s personal corruption. The Lewis brings drama to what we thought was prosaic. But when the underlying subject is inherently dramatic, and when the heart of the story lies behind doors that only dogged reporting can unlock, the Woodward is what we need. You don’t want Michael Lewis on Watergate. He’d get distracted by Rose Mary Woods and would never make it into the Oval Office.

“America’s Bitter Pill” is Brill’s attempt at a Woodward. …

… Brill devotes fifty pages to another Obamacare shortcoming, the early malfunctioning of the Web site. He originally thought that the site would be a showcase for what government could do. But, on the train back from his initial round of interviews in Washington, he glanced at his notes and realized that he had been given seven different answers to the question of who was in charge of the launch of the federal exchange, including an “incomprehensible” organizational chart with four diagonal lines crossing one another and forming a “lopsided” triangle:

“Should we be amazed, and disappointed, at how Obama treated the nitty-gritty details of implementing the law as if actually governing was below the pay grade of Ivy League visionaries?

Absolutely. This failure to govern will stand as one of the great unforced disappointments of the Obama years.” …

… It is useful to read “America’s Bitter Pill” alongside David Goldhill’s “Catastrophic Care.” Goldhill covers much of the same ground. But for him the philosophical question—is health care different, or is it ultimately like any other resource?—is central. The Medicare program, for example, has a spectacularly high loss ratio: it pays out something like ninety-seven cents in benefits for every dollar it takes in. For Brill, that’s evidence of how well it works. He thinks Medicare is the most functional part of the health-care system. Goldhill is more skeptical. Perhaps the reason Medicare’s loss ratio is so high, he says, is that Medicare never says no to anything. The program’s annual spending has risen, in the past forty years, from eight billion to five hundred and eighty-five billion dollars. Maybe it ought to spend more money on administration so that it can promote competition among its suppliers and make disciplined decisions about what is and isn’t worth covering. …

… Goldhill takes a far more radical position than the economic team at the White House does. He believes that most of our interactions concerning health care are actually no different from our transactions concerning anything else: if we trust people to buy cars and houses and food and clothing on their own, he doesn’t see why they can’t be trusted to do the same with checkups, tonsillectomies, deliveries, flu shots, and the management of their diabetes. He thinks that the insurance function—inserting a third party between patients and providers—distorts incentives and raises prices, and has such an adverse impact on quality that health insurance should be limited to unexpected, high-cost occurrences the way auto insurance and home insurance are. These ideas are unlikely to make their way into policy anytime soon. But, in elaborating the market critique of the health-care status quo, Goldhill helps us understand what the argument we’re having right now is about. It is not just a political battle over Obama. It’s a battle over whether health care deserves its privileged status within American economic life. …



Matt Lewis in Daily Beast wonders if Chris Christie will regret being in Jerry Jones’ box when watching Detroit lose to Dallas last Sunday. Next Sunday Dallas will be at Green Bay. Will Scott Walker sit in the cold with the folks, while Christie sits in a luxury box?

… Christie has problems, and they begin with the fact that photos and videos and memes can haunt us. You don’t have to go back too far to find examples … Joe Lieberman “kissing” George W. Bush or Barack Obama hugging Charlie Crist … or, for that matter, Chris Christie “hugging” Barack Obama. (Maybe the guy is just a hugger?)

In each scenario, it matters greatly whom you hug. And let’s be honest, while the Dallas Cowboys might represent America’s team, Jerry Jones represents the worst qualities about the one percent. I mean, if you were casting a villain, he’d be on your short list. This is a guy who has his son-in-law clean his eyeglasses, for crying out loud. The man makes Dan Snyder almost seem likable. In other words, being pictured hugging him—in the owner’s box—works to undermine Chris Christie’s Springsteen-esque image as a blue collar working man’s Republican. (The fact that he was celebrating another loss for the star-crossed city of Detroit only enhances the symbolism.)

Now, I don’t want to make too much of this. Christie may have his faults, but he oozes the everyman persona. His hero, Bruce Springsteen, is a gazillionaire, but he still manages to come across as a regular guy, so perception is reality. Mitt Romney seemed like a rich guy. Chris Christie seems like a Joe Sixpack. It’s really hard to undermine our perceptions about someone’s natural temperament, but it is possible—and that’s why this is potentially dangerous for Christie. The most dangerous attacks are those that undermine your perceived strength. …



When it comes to colds, turns out mom was right. Real Clear Science article shows that we’re more susceptible to cold viruses when we’re cold. Florida anybody?

If your parents or grandparents were like mine, you probably heard this as a child heading out to play in the snow: “Put your hat and scarf on. If you don’t, you’ll catch a cold.” Years later, all grown up with a microbiology doctorate hanging on my wall, I know that viruses cause colds, not chilly weather. Their admonitions, while well-intentioned, were based on nothing but folklore and superstition. Right?

Perhaps not. New research published in PNAS shows that colder temperatures may make your immune system more susceptible to rhinoviruses, the most common cause of colds. …

January 6, 2015

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Craig Pirrong looks at low oil prices and sees, not Machiavellian machinations, but simple supply and demand.

… Instead, the most likely explanation for the price decline is a decline in demand. The fall in price parallels quite closely declines in world GDP forecasts. Chinese manufacturing in particular has slowed. This has been reflected in other commodity prices which are driven by Chinese industrial demand, most notably iron ore, which has fallen almost 50 percent over the last year, and copper, which has fallen by about 15 percent since June. And somehow I don’t think the Australians or Chileans are attempting to punish their economic rivals or geopolitical enemies. They are just along for the ride on the demand train.

The biggest price daily oil price decline occurred the day after Thanksgiving, when OPEC announced it would not cut output. Prices have also declined on days when the Saudis or other Gulf states reiterated their intention to maintain output. But maintaining and increasing output are two different things. The Saudis didn’t announce that they were opening the taps, like they did in 1986. They are just saying they won’t shut them. And as I argued in an earlier post, given their market share and the elasticity of demand for oil, that’s a rational thing to do without having to resort to predatory explanations. …

… Recent academic research shows that most of the price variations in oil over the past decades have been demand driven, rather than supply driven. This most recent decline is just another example of that.

Conniving oil ticks and outlandish Texas oilmen make colorful copy , but usually the world is much more prosaic. Oil supply is very inelastic in the short run, so when demand declines even modestly, prices can plunge. This is counterintuitive to most: how can small changes in demand have such huge effects on prices? This leads to speculations about conspiracy, especially when the price changes can shake nations like Russia to their cores. But such speculations are idle. The normal operations of commodity markets routinely produce such price movements. Which is precisely why subjecting grandiose ambitions for geopolitical power to the vicissitudes of commodity prices is the strategy of fools.

And yeah. I’m looking at you, VVP. (Vladimir Vladirimovich Putin)

Putin may not be having a happy New Year, but I close this post by wishing all my readers all the best for 2015. Enjoy the schadenfreud!



Victor Davis Hanson explores the ironies of low price oil.

… The Obama administration never much worried about high energy costs. During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised that “under my plan . . . electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” Shutting down coal plants and using higher-priced but cleaner natural gas would pave the way for an even pricier mandated wind and solar generation.

In the vice-presidential debates of 2008, Joe Biden mocked Sarah Palin for the supposedly mindless campaign mantra of “Drill, baby, drill.” Biden intoned that “it will take ten years for one drop of oil to come out of any of the wells that are going to be drilled.”

The energy secretary-designate, the professorial Steven Chu, in 2008 had unwisely voiced a widely held but wisely unspoken progressive belief that “somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe” — or about $9 a gallon.

Just two years ago, when up for reelection, Obama reminded Americans, “We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.”

Obama ridiculed the Republican idea of lowering gas to $2 a gallon through new oil-recovery techniques. “They’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas,” Obama mocked.  “I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling.”

Such easy rhetoric was backed by action — or lack of it. The Keystone XL pipeline was put on permanent hold. New fracking leases on federal lands were postponed. Huge areas of oil- and gas-rich federal lands were put off limits. Some blue states stopped fracking. Money poured into solar schemes like Solyndra. …



Robert Samuelson writes on five economic stories to watch in 2015. Oil is first on that list. 

The start of a new year is a good time to take stock. For those of us in the news business, this suggests stepping back and asking what’s important. Here are five economic stories worth watching.

1) What happens to oil? Saudi Arabia has helped drive down crude prices from roughly $100 a barrel to about $60 by refusing to cut its production in the face of a global surplus and the unwillingness of other producers to cut their output. The question is whether the Saudis will hold to this strategy until enough high-cost producers — including some U.S. shale oil operators — are driven from the market or whether they’re seeking some sort of production-sharing agreement with major exporters inside and outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. What’s clear is that Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to cut output unilaterally. …



David Harsanyi thinks we should thank gridlock for saving the economy.  

… if activist policies really had as big an impact on our economic fortunes as DC operatives claim, I only have one question: Which policy did Barack Obama enact that initiated this astonishing turnaround? We should definitely replicate it.

Because those who’ve been paying attention these past few years may have noticed that the predominant agenda of Washington was doing nothing. It was only when the tinkering and superfluous stimulus spending wound down that fortunes began to turn around. So it’s perplexing how the same pundits who cautioned us about gridlock’s traumatizing effects now ignore its existence.

Here, for instance, is a Paul Krugman column titled the “Obama Bounce.” The problem is that the author fails to justify his headline. It begins like this:

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

Suppose you tell us what the baseball represents? Because spending in current dollars has remained steady since 2010 and spending as a percent of GDP has gone down. In 2009, 125 bills were enacted into law. In 2010, 258. After that, Congress, year by year, became one of the least productive in history. And the more unproductive Washington became, the more the economy began to improve.

Krugman argues that the recession lingered because government hadn’t hired enough people to do taxpayer-funded busy work. The baseball bat. But then he undercuts this notion by pointing out that there was an explosion of public-sector hiring under George W. Bush – the man he claims caused the entire mess in the first place. Krugman also ignores the stimulus, because it screws up his imaginary “austerity” timeline. He then spends most of the column debunking austerity’s success in Britain. …



Adding emphasis to  Harsanyi’s above column, Jim Grant writes on the depression that was solved by the government doing nothing.

To combat the Great Recession and its long-lingering aftermath, leading central banks have pulled some $10 trillion out of thin air. Governments of the world’s principal economies have rung up almost $20 trillion in deficit spending. We often hear that the authorities have done too little. Perhaps they have done too much.

Not so long ago, the authorities did hardly anything. In response to the severe, little-known economic slump of the early 1920s, they virtually sat on their hands. It is an often forgotten episode that suggests the potential for constructive federal inaction—and underscores the healing power of Adam Smith ’s invisible hand.

Beginning in January 1920, something much worse than a recession blighted the world. The U.S. suffered the steepest plunge in wholesale prices in its history (not even eclipsed by the Great Depression), as well as a 31.6% drop in industrial production and a 46.6% fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Unemployment spiked, and corporate profits plunged.

What to do? “Nothing” was the substantive response of the successive administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. Well, not quite nothing. Rather, they did what few 21st-century policy makers would have dared: They balanced the federal budget and—via the still wet-behind-the-ears Federal Reserve—raised interest rates rather than lowering them. Curiously, the depression ran its course. Eighteen months elapsed from business-cycle peak to business-cycle trough—following which the 1920s roared. …

January 5, 2015

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Charles Krauthammer writes on the Narcissist’s Cuba feint.

Obama brought back nothing on democratization, a staggering betrayal of Cuba’s human rights crusaders. No free speech. No free assembly. No independent political parties. No hint of free elections. Not even the kind of 1975 Helsinki Final Act that we got from the Soviets as part of detente, granting structure and review to human rights promises. These provided us with significant leverage in supporting the dissident movements in Eastern Europe that eventually brought down communist rule.

If Obama insisted on giving away the store, why not at least do it item by item? We relax part of the embargo in return for, say, Internet access. And tie further normalization to serial relaxations of police-state repression.

Oh, what hypocrisy, say the Obama acolytes. Did we not normalize relations with China and get no human rights quid pro quo?

True. But that was never a prospect. The entire purpose was geopolitical and the payoff was monumental: We walked away with the most significant anti-Soviet strategic realignment of the entire Cold War, formally breaking up the communist bloc and gaining China’s neutrality, and occasional support, in our half-century struggle to dismantle the Soviet empire.

From Cuba, Obama didn’t even get a token gesture. Not even a fig leaf such as, say, withdrawal of secret police support in Venezuela. Or extradition of American criminals now fugitive in Cuba, including a notorious cop killer. Did we even ask?

Obama seems to believe that the one-way deal was win-win. A famous victory — the Cuba issue is now behind us. A breakthrough.

Indeed it is. You know how to achieve a breakthrough in tough negotiations? Give everything away. Try it. You’ll have a deal by noon. Every time.



Jennifer Rubin posts on the best of 2014.

… There is no shortage of cynical pols, biased journalists or incompetent government officials, so when we see genuine excellence and devotion to public service, we should give credit where credit is due:

Best primary preparation: Hands down, this goes to Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who studied, traveled, appeared countless times on TV, wrote op-eds on foreign policy and projected a serious demeanor. He handled his politicized indictment with aplomb and appropriate indignation. He showed uncommon humility. We won’t know whether he can sustain his momentum and overcome past impressions, but he and his staff set a standard for conscientious and self-reflective preparation.

Best interview: No interview this year compared to Diane Sawyer’s interrogation of Hillary Clinton. It was focused, substantive and aggressive — the first of many to reveal Clinton’s considerable shortcomings.



Power Line says the “Quote of the Year” came from President It’s All About Me.

Among the year-end lists compiled this year I have yet to see one that captures the quote of the year. Confining consideration to active politicians, I think that President Obama walks away with the honors this year.

Against all the odds in the run-up to the midterm elections in November, Obama said something useful and, even more improbably, something true (video below). In his speech at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management on October 2 — a speech larded with misleading factoids and excuses and falsehoods touting his record on the economy (including Obamacare) at Castroite length (White House text here) — Obama said: “Now, I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle is pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.”

With his approval substantially underwater, Obama thus reminded the voters in the sixth year of his presidency that this was their last chance to express their disapproval of him. What were Obama and his strategists thinking?

Obama’s statement undermined the campaigns of Democratic Senate candidates including Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, and Alison Lundergan Grimes, each of whom ardently advocated the proposition that the midterm elections were not about Obama or his policies. Obama stepped forward to step on their theme and proclaim: It’s all about me!



Heather Mac Donald explains De Blasio’s fateful anti-cop slander.

… Following the nonindictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the lethal arrest of Eric Garner last July, de Blasio said that Garner’s death and the grand jury’s failure to indict sprung from “not years of racism . . . , or decades of racism, but centuries of racism.” The mayor worries “every night,” he said, about the “dangers” his biracial son, Dante, may face from “officers who are paid to protect him.”

In other words, de Blasio thinks that his son is at risk of injury or death from an NYPD officer every time he steps outside at night. And he sees the officers who tried to arrest a resisting Garner as the culmination of centuries of racism, even though the shopkeepers in the area who had been urging the police to clear up lawlessness were mostly minorities themselves.

It is impossible to overstate how inflammatory and ignorant de Blasio’s statements are. De Blasio’s pronouncements were merely a wordier version of the protest chants against “killer cops” and belonged to the national frenzy of cop-bashing that provoked the assassination of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. …

… The real injustice occurred decades ago, when police officers across the country ignored crime in black neighborhoods. Today, the NYPD devotes the majority of its resources and energy to saving lives in poor communities. Any “danger” that Dante de Blasio might face comes overwhelmingly from black criminals, not the police, de Blasio should acknowledge.

In 2013, criminals committed 1,103 shootings, wounding or killing 1,299 victims. NYPD officers, by contrast, fired their guns 40 times, despite having been dispatched 80,000 times to investigate weapons reports and having encountered guns and other weapons in more than 30,000 arrests.

That firearms discharge number is the lowest since the department began collecting data. The police injured 17 people and killed eight — again, a record low. Almost all those victims had extensive and serious criminal records; most had threatened the officer with deadly force.

Whites were far more likely to be shot by the police than blacks when their crime rates are taken into account. …



Turning to another story that hangs around, Bacon’s Rebellion says it is time for UVA administrators to do some explaining.

… University of Virginia administrators were well aware of the gang-rape allegations long before they surfaced in the Rolling Stone article, going so far as to cite the incident in testimony to Congress. They accepted the veracity of the account and did not begin to check it until Rolling Stone’s Erdely started asking pointed questions.

Despite discrepancies between Renda’s version of the gang rape story and the Rolling Stone version of the story — which grew more detailed and horrific — UVa administrators never expressed skepticism of the narrative. Sullivan did once refer to the “alleged” gang rape when referring the case to the Charlottesville Police but proceeded as if the story was accurate.

The university leadership used the horror of the gang rape story to mobilize university opinion behind the need to change the “culture” and practices regarding sexual assault. When the Washington Post debunked the story, Sullivan essentially said that it didn’t matter.

Rolling Stone has been rightly excoriated for its catastrophic failure in reporting. Out of an excessive sensitivity toward the feelings of “Jackie,” Erdely did not seek to confirm her account either with friends or the alleged perpetrators. In so doing, the magazine perpetrated a hoax. However, little attention has been paid to the University of Virginia administration for perpetrating and acting upon the same hoax to advance its ideological agenda.

Yes, Teresa Sullivan’s agenda is highly ideological, almost identical to the White House’s sexual assault agenda, which frames the problem in black-and-white terms as an epidemic of rape and a student culture of denial — as opposed to, say, a problem stemming from the drunken party hook-up culture that results in a spectrum of undesirable behaviors from sexual assault to regret sex. …



There is some good news; we have the year’s first collection of late night humor from Andrew Malcolm.

Meyers: President Vladimir Putin has been named Russia’s “Man of the Year.” Second place went to “or else.”

Conan: Putin was named Russia’s “Man of the Year” for the 15th consecutive year. Putin got 143 million votes and his opponent got killed in a mysterious boating accident.

Meyers: Vladimir Putin says it’s “too early” to decide on re-election in 2018. But he says it’s not too early to decide how much he wins by.

January 1, 2015

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Matthew Continetti writes on ubiquitous media bias.

On November 5, the morning after Republicans made historic gains in Congress, data guru Nate Silver issued a pronouncement. “The Polls Were Skewed Toward Democrats,” read the headline on his website, FiveThirtyEight.com. For much of the 2014 election cycle, Silver wrote, Democrats had griped that polls were failing to capture the minorities, millennials, singles, and other members of the “coalition of the ascendant” responsible for Barack Obama’s presidency.

It turned out that the Democrats were wrong. The polls hadn’t overestimated Republican strength. They had underestimated it. And while the polls might have misjudged Democratic numbers as recently as 2012, the polls in the 2014 election, like those in 1994 and 2002, misjudged the GOP. “This evidence suggests,” wrote Silver, “that polling bias has been largely unpredictable from election to election.”

Media bias, on the other hand, is remarkably predictable from election to election. It always favors Democrats—preferably liberal ones. Not only did Republicans in 2014 labor under the burden of skewed polls; they also had to compensate for a skewed media. And when the results came in, it was schadenfreude time. They may not have been on the ballot, but the media were among the biggest losers of 2014. …

… Who were the most exciting candidates of 2014? Ed Gillespie came astonishingly close to upsetting Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, and Larry Hogan won the governor’s race in Maryland. They were down in the polls heading into the election—way down. Since the press deemed them both long shots, they received hardly any coverage. Of course. Both Gillespie and Hogan are Republicans.

To some extent, the floating liberal cheering section—in Kansas one week, in South Dakota the next, in Georgia, in North Carolina—can be explained by faulty polls that deceptively showed Orman, Pressler, Nunn, and incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan as competitive. Skewed polls contributed to skewed media. …

… Another bogus storyline was that ObamaCare wasn’t a factor in the election. A writer for the Washington Post said in August that the health-care law was “not really a big voting issue heading into the final three months of the 2014 campaign.” U.S. News & World Report called the health-care law “the incredible shrinking issue.” The New York Times called the repeal of ObamaCare a “side issue.”

The Times piece led with an anecdote about Ed Gillespie, whose ObamaCare-replacement proposal has been widely praised. But, the Times said, “Almost no one took up the cause.” That depends on how you define “almost no one.” Enough people took it up to put Gillespie within striking distance on Election Day. Republicans ran more ads attacking ObamaCare than ads on any other issue in the closing weeks of the campaign. Every single Republican elected to the Senate supports repeal. Forty-seven percent of voters in the national exit poll said ObamaCare goes too far.

Republicans didn’t stop talking about Obama-Care. The media stopped listening. Their biases and parochialism were why they got the election entirely wrong. Losers. (The next item in Today’s Pickings is Pickerhead’s compilation of a month’s of media headlines providing a good example of the points Matt Continetti makes here.)



Here’s a sampling of Pickerhead’s Compilation of Media Cheer-Leading for Dems in the month before the election. The rest follow.

10/27   Yes, Texas Could Turn Blue – John Judis, The New Republic

10/29   There Are No Easy Wins for Republicans – Kirsten Powers, USA Today

10/30   Why the Polls May Be Undercounting Dems – Nate Cohn, New York Times

11/01   Early Voting Numbers Look Good for Dems – Nate Cohn, New York Times

11/02   Why 2014 is Actually Shaping Up as a Bad GOP Year – Nate Cohn, NYTimes



From time to time Thomas Sowell digs into his notes and brings to the surface thoughts that did not lead to a column. He gets a column out of a collection of them called Random Thoughts.

Now that Barack Obama is ruling by decree, he seems more like a king than a president. Maybe it is time we change the way we address him. “Your Majesty” may be a little too much, but perhaps “Your Royal Glibness” might be appropriate.

When Professor Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T. boasted of fooling the “stupid” American public, that was not just a personal quirk of his. It epitomized a smug and arrogant attitude that is widespread among academics at elite institutions. There should be an annual “Jonathan Gruber award” for the most smug and arrogant statement by an academic. There would be thousands eligible every year.

Every society has some people who don’t respect the law. But, when it is the people in charge of the law — like the President of the United States and his Attorney General — who don’t respect it, that is when we are in big trouble.



And now, the annual Dave Barry Year In Review.

It was a year of mysteries. To list some of the more baffling ones:

A huge airliner simply vanished, and to this day nobody has any idea what happened to it, despite literally thousands of hours of intensive speculation on CNN.

Millions of Americans suddenly decided to make videos of themselves having ice water poured on their heads. Remember? There were rumors that this had something to do with charity, but for most of us, the connection was never clear. All we knew was that, for a while there, every time we turned on the TV, there was a local newscaster or Gwyneth Paltrow or Kermit the Frog or some random individual soaking wet and shivering. This mysterious phenomenon ended as suddenly as it started, but not before uncounted trillions of American brain cells died of frostbite.

An intruder jumped the White House fence and, inexplicably, managed to run into the White House through the unlocked front door. Most of us had assumed that anybody attempting this would instantly be converted to a bullet-ridden pile of smoking carbon by snipers, lasers, drones, ninjas, etc., but it turned out that, for some mysterious reason, the White House had effectively the same level of anti-penetration security as a Dunkin’ Donuts.

LeBron James deliberately moved to Cleveland.

Of course not everything that happened in 2014 was mysterious. Some developments — ISIS, Ebola, the song “Happy” — were simply bad.

There was even some good news in 2014, mostly in the form of things that did not happen. A number of GM cars — the final total could be as high as four — were not recalled. There were several whole days during which no statements had to be issued by the U.S. Department of Explaining What the Vice President Meant to Say. And for the fifth consecutive year, the Yankees failed to even play in the World Series.

But other than that, it was a miserable 12 months. In case you have forgotten why, let’s take one last look back, starting with …


… Elsewhere abroad, NBA legend and idiot Dennis Rodman makes a fourth visit to North Korea to hang out with his misunderstood pal Kim Jong Un, who defeats Rodman 168-0 in a friendly one-on-one game refereed by the North Korean army, then celebrates by firing a missile at Japan. …

… In sports, the largest audience in American TV history tunes in to watch one of the most anticipated Super Bowls in years, pitting the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in a historic matchup so boring that the entire second half is preempted by Bud Light commercials. In other football news, Michael Sam, a defensive end for the University of Missouri, makes history by becoming the first college football player to openly declare that he actually attended some classes. …


… Russia, ignoring both the Stern Warnings and the Harsh Sanctions, continues its military intervention in Ukraine, leaving the United States with no choice but to deploy the ultimate weapon: Vice President Biden, who is sent to Kiev to deliver a Strong Rebuke, followed by dinner.

On the domestic front, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the rollout of Obamacare, resigns from the Cabinet to take a position overseeing e-mail storage for the Internal Revenue Service. …


… In sports, the month’s biggest event is the National Football League draft, which draws 32 million viewers, who tune in to witness the high-voltage excitement of Roger Goodell walking to a microphone every 10 minutes to read a name, kind of like a slower version of bingo. The Kentucky Derby is won by a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu that escaped the steering recall. …


… In sports, the top college football teams play in the traditional year-end bowl games, including the TaxSlayer Bowlthe Bitcoin Bowl, the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, the Duck Commander Independence Bowl and the Thunderous Bidet Bowl. All but one of these are actual bowl games. …