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October 2012 Archives

October 1, 2012

Homework Assignment: "Won't Back Down"

Won't Back Down is a message movie and message movies usually don't play well. That's a shame in this case because Won't Back Down humanizes a growing national awareness that some teachers unions are standing in the way of improved education. This reality now persuades enough liberals that a group called Democrats for Education Reform has become a powerful ally of candidates in both parties who are willing to buck the teachers unions in supporting school choice.

In recent decades the teachers unions, drawing on the mandatory funding of members, have exerted more clout in state races than any other lobby and can defeat any reforms from any source. So it is notably that at last some wealthy supporters of school reform are prepared to come to the obvious conclusion: the only way to defeat the union-backed candidates--the ones who talk about reform, but never deliver it--is to match or exceed the campaign contributions of the unions, regardless of the party affiliation of the real reform candidates. Furthermore, the reform groups have to be single-interest, just as the teachers unions are.

Usually the unions still win. in addition to direct campaign funds they can provide campaign workers to get out the vote. That's why even the school reform forces in Chicago, with the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, had to compromise in the recent strike. That's why the unions have been successful in preventing school choice in Washington, DC, dashing the hopes of poor black families there--the supposed rock bed of the Democratic base. But reform is succeeding in certain California locals and other places, and the willingness of pro-reform liberals to run candidates in Democratic primaries and to back pro-reform Republicans in final elections is a large part of the reason.

Won't Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, tells a human interest story set in this public policy issue. The story is credible and while the villain is the teachers union that fights to prevent a failing elementary school from being turned over to a group of teachers and parents who want to start a charter school, the characterization of the union is not the unfair stereotype that liberal critics charge. Union leaders do get to make their case, it's just that the case is not about the well-being of kids but the will-being of the teachers, or rather the union.

Continue reading "Homework Assignment: "Won't Back Down" " »

The Tiger in Your Think Tank

Tony the Tiger.jpg

The missus wouldn't allow him on any wall or floor at home, so "Tony" is now behind my desk at Discovery Institute--eleven feet, four inches from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. Story is that he was a gift from the Dowager Empress of China to Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1905. But, no, he does not have papers.

(Remember me?)Thumbnail image for Tiger in your tank.jpg

Photo Credit

October 2, 2012

Riots are Almost Always Planned


Can we please get past the argument over whether the attack on the Benghazi consulate was premeditated? Of course it was, and that obvious as soon as it was known that the attackers had such weapons as grenade launchers. Now we are having anguished investigations over what the people in the White House knew and when they knew it. Yes, the intelligence may have been bad, but that's not the point.

Here is the point: demonstrations, let alone riots and assaults, almost never happen "spontaneously". Oh, I suppose it is possible that people in a crowded scene get excited and destructive after some event, such as a police raid or auto accident. But political demonstrations (in supposed response to Danish cartoons or a US-based video) are planned by somebody.

Think of the WTO demonstrations in Seattle in December, 1999. Even before the events, the plans for peaceful demonstrations were well known, but so were plans by anarchists in Oregon, California and British Columbia to come to Seattle to engage in agitprop. The only question was how much damage did they intend and how will far would they get with it?

Likewise, the supposed anti-video riots in Cairo and elsewhere didn't just happen. Some group, likely Salafists, took advantage of the video (which had been out for some time) as an excuse for organized mayhem. The more violent and consequential attack in Benghazi, as the government there recognized at once, was something beyond propaganda--terrorism. Even the initial Arab Spring demonstrations in Tunisia were the product of local leaders. The self-immolation of a vendor harassed by officials sparked anti-regime resistance that already existed.

Why is this so hard to fathom?

Well, one reason why the US Government didn't fathom it in Libya is because someone didn't want to fathom it. As others have noted, the truth ran against the quixotic White House "narrative" that with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden Al Qaida has been put to rout. That was untrue before, and is glaringly untrue now. But if one recognizes that the narrative is not accurate, then questions have to be asked about our policy failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Syria, etc. The Obama Administration is like a sleeper who has heard the alarm go off, but wants to press the snooze button and get a bit more shut eye--at least until the election.

There is an added reason why the truth was covered up. Somebody screwed up at the State Department in not providing adequate security protection for Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff in Libya. It now seems that repeated requests were made. Surely, if there is one part of the world where the bureaucrats and their budget masters should not skimp on security it is in the Middle East, Arab Spring or not. However, the embarrassment would be rather less if the failure was seen in the light of a "spontaneous" riot caused by an anti-Islamic video than in the light of a planned attack.

The media are having a hard time parsing all this and even the best are failing to say what, again, should be obvious: riots are almost always planned, not spontaneous. That doesn't mean they don't represent some public sentiment (or take advantage of it), only that knowing that they are planned should lead us to find the source, not just the excuse.

US, the Venezuela of the North

Hugo Chavez is running for re-election in Venezuela, but recently he paused long enough to endorse the re-election campaign of US President Barack Obama. To date, President Obama has not returned the favor.

However, there are certain qualities in oil-rich Venezuela's government (or Putin's Russia) that must resonate in Washington, D.C. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The question is, who is imitating whom?

In Venezuela, the economy's fundamentals are in terrible shape, but there is a blush of prosperity caused by the government's printing money. In the US, the stock market rally may be getting wrinkled and tired, but there is no doubt that the Fed's decision to pump up the money supply has added some rouge to the old gal's cheeks.The bill for the cosmetics will come due in both countries, but not until after the election.

Meanwhile, the opposition in both countries point to records of unfulfilled promises. Mr. Chavez has failed to improve the housing stock in bulk, but he has an exciting program to provide condos and even furnishings to a few lucky, well-publicized households of supporters who win a kind of lottery. You enlist in a program called "Grand Housing Mission Venezuela", reports the Wall Street Journal, "and are given a receipt and put on a waiting list. The slip reminds recipients that "Only in socialism are you guaranteed the right to a worthy home."

That doesn't mean you actually get a worthy home, of course, but you do get a "guarantee". In the U.S. we have a whole host of new programs that have taken effect just before the election, from immigration to housing.

Likewise, in Venezuela the government is proud of its voting system, relying as it does on fingerprint ID. Some voters think that the fingerprints make the ballots traceable. In the U.S., the government frowns on voter ID, but also has been slow to get ballots out to servicemen for some reason.

Huge amounts of oil money have poured into the Venezuela government and out to favored programs. The promised improvements in infrastructure and education haven't happened, however. But the nightly news carries thrilling stories of happy Chavez backers who are doing very well. For the others there is a receipt and a guarantee.

The Venezuela election is coming right up, October 7.

October 4, 2012

A Good Debate Format at Last

The huge crowd (50 million plus) that watched the Obama-Romney debate last night heard lots from the candidates, little from the moderator, Jim Lehrer, and nothing from the usual cast of supposedly impartial reporters whose strongest ambition is to ask zinger questions that will move the spotlight to them. There was no audience of partisans vying for attention.

If it was not the Lincoln-Douglas or Oxford Union debate formats, it was as close as we have come in a generation or more. It was dignified, meaty and dramatic. Each candidate got to say what he wanted and the 90 minutes never dragged.

Lehrer has been attacked for allowing both candidates to take advantage of timing, but the complaint assumes that watching the clock is more important than getting the arguments out on the table. Democracy was served.

October 9, 2012

Debate Prep: Don't Forget Iraq

The decision of the Obama Administration to move out of Iraq on a timetable established, essentially, in the 2008 US election, has left Iraq with a wobbly democracy susceptible to traditional Arab sectarianism and intrigue. The case of arrested doctor Ryadh al-Adhadh, a Sunni and democrat, is another in a string of actions that display a dangerous Shiite revenge mindset. The success of Iran in using Iraqi airspace to service its client in Syria is a still more ominous sign of deterioration. And today comes news of Iraq spending $4.2 billion (where did that come from?) to buy arms from---tadaaa!--Russia. America right now, having been seen as irresolute, is more useful to the Iraqi government of Nour al-Maliki as a foil than as a friend.

How to explain this in the current electoral season is tough, however, because, deep down, many Americans are probably willing to let Iraq go--despite the American blood spilled there. It has been said the the United States has only two gears in its foreign policy engine, fourth and reverse. A nice use of second gear might be best advised now. If it is crucial that Iran's nuclear threat be stopped, Iraq cannot be allowed to become an Iranian ally.

The Real Heart of America

This gentleman comes from Little York, IL, near where I grew up. He shows what all of us should honor in the sacrifices of our military.

October 12, 2012

Behind Latest Peace Prize Controversy

(NOTE: EU Parliamentarian Daniel Hannan will speak next Monday, October 15 at a Washington Policy Center dinner at the Bellevue Hyatt Regency in Bellevue, WA.)

The choice of the European Community to receive the Nobel Peace prize is attracting praise and condemnation, depending on the quarter.

Reports the AP, "'First Al Gore, then Obama, now this. Parody is redundant,' tweeted Daniel Hannan, a euroskeptic European lawmaker - yes, such things exist - from Britain's Conservative Party. President Barack Obama won the peace prize in 2009, less than a year after he was elected, while Gore, a former U.S. vice president, was the 2007 recipient for his campaign to fight climate change."

The reality is that the Nobel Peace prize, largely unlike other Nobel prizes for science and arts (which are chosen in Sweden), is awarded every year by the Norwegian Parliament. That is how it is set up. And these days the Parliament is left wing. The parliamentarians undoubtedly are seized with their own importance.

Thus we have the power of a supposedly objective body that, in reality, is not objective at all.

Imagine how little interest a prize from the "Parliament of Norway" would attract. But that effectively is what the Peace Prize is. Until abut seven years ago, with different leadership, you got more reasonable decisions. The proper way to report this would be to tell people who the selection committee represents as part of the main story.

So Much for Civility in Politics

Have you ever noticed how selective is the issue of "civility in politics"? David Boze of KTTH radio in Seattle makes the following observations at that, I suspect, are right. However, only time will tell how the Biden tactics of interruptions, smirking condescension and general rudeness went over with previously undecided voters (as opposed to partisans on both sides) who watched last night's Vice Presidential debate:

"I was reading some columns in Slate and Politico this morning in which liberals were ecstatic that "Joltin Joe Biden" wiped the floor with Paul Ryan. Roger Simon opined, "Biden smirked, sneered, and openly laughed at many of Ryan's responses. It could have looked rude, but Biden made it look tough."


"I thought it made him look childish, small, rude, and diminished his office. It was as though he watched the infamous Gore vs. Bush debate and thought, "That big sigh behind Bush was a master stroke!"

"Columns on the left are relishing in the attacks on Ryan because it's how they feel. They WANT him attacked. They want a big fight. They believe this is the kind of thing that Obama should have been doing last time around.

"They're wrong.

"I can't imagine non-political voters--those not engrossed in the horse race, but endure it to perform their civic duty every 2 to 4 years--will see this rudeness as a plus.

"In 2008 the Obama promise was of a new era of Hope and Change that would herald a new tone in Washington. If the 2008 campaign were a fruit it would be a fruit from Eden, promising paradise. Four years later, the fruit has proven that while it was beautiful to look at, it was poor to consume. And Biden's performance exposed a rotten core with his rude laughter like the buzzing of flies around the carcass of what might have been."

(Michael Medved also was quick with an analysis, available here. It was, as he said, very odd the way V.P. Biden attempted to bully Ryan and make him wobble--which he did not. On the contrary. A debate bully, especially if enabled by the moderator, can score points with people unused to normal debate decorum. But Michael makes the sage comment that there are people in the undecided column, who have had very bad experiences with bullies.)

October 17, 2012

Debate Two a Bad Format

Thumbnail image for jpg

Long experience in politics and campaigns convinces me that debates are the most important way voters can ponder the competing arguments of candidates, but I'm also convinced that there should be as little intervention by a debate moderator as possible. Also, candidates should be at podiums or seated, not roaming the venue like TV talk show hosts (the classic "Phil Donahue" role). The theatrics of potential physical intimidation are just too great to allow candidates to get into each others' faces.

Last night's second presidential debate was valuable in letting viewers hear how the two candidates respond directly to each other's criticism and records. However, the involvement of Candy Crowley of CNN should have been limited in advance to asking the questions and keeping the contestants to their time limits--and preventing interruptions. A moderator can stop interruptions, by the way; but it takes real determination and the stakes are so high that you can't blame the candidates for trying to get their licks in whenever possible.

Crowley is a journalist and an able one. However, mindful of her vocation as journalist, she shrewdly refused to be bound by the candidates' own agreement that she was not to interject herself with follow-up questions or other observations. They had agreed between themselves, but she had not signed onto any such agreement. Obviously, if they wanted a truly neutral moderator, the organizers should have hired a professional debate instructor and given him or her a contract that stipulated non-involvement in such testy matters as fact-checking. They also could have done that with a journalist, too. That, in fact, is what happened with Jim Lehrer in the first debate.

The whole Libya imbroglio was an example of my overall point. Different sides on a contentious issue have different interpretations of what the facts are, let alone what the facts mean. (Did Mr. Obama describe the consulate killings as a "terror attack" the day after it, or was his terror reference only indirect and was is it not the main thrust of the Administration's position that a private, online video had provoked a violent demonstration in Benghazi?) You have to sympathize with Ms Crowley for doing her best to referee on that subject, but her difficulties (which have consequences, as she acknowledged later) show why it should have been settled going in that she was not to be a fact-checker or validator.

I'm not saying that journalists can't be good moderators, just that the role of dispassionate moderator contradicts how most reporters these days see their vocation. Something may be lost by having a moderator who isn't given any room for taking sides, but the refreshing opportunity to let the candidates speak for themselves--and in front of each other--more than compensates for the loss. We aren't electing a moderator.

Try to imagine the Lincoln-Douglas debates if a journalist had taken part to ask questions and serve as on-the-spot fact-checker!

Romney Needs to Complete the Sale on Taxes

Mitt Romney's indictment of the Obama record on the economy is convincing, polls show, but he has trouble selling his tax plan. It doesn't add up, Democratic critics and their friends in the media say. However, a simple short statement might help Mr. Romney explain what he expects to happen.

Tax cuts give people more money to spend and invest; tax increases give them less, and the economy reflects the difference. However, Democrats and the Congressional Budget Office use a "static analysis" to chart the effect of tax cuts and tax increases on the budget. They calculate wrongly that people's spending and investment behavior is not affected by tax changes. The Romney plan does anticipate how tax policy will affect the economy and therefore the budget and debt. That is why Romney is right to refer back to John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Their lowering of the tax burdens in their times led to enormous economic growth.

Let's see, that takes about 40 seconds; an easy sound byte. I wish I'd heard it last night.

October 18, 2012

Public Employees Are More Than Their Unions

The new movie Argo tells a somewhat close version of the way five American diplomats evaded capture in the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and, thanks to the courage and nerve of the Canadian government and the wily imagination of a CIA officer, survived to escape back to the United States. Coming on the heels of the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American civil servants in Libya we are reminded anew of the risks carried by American officials abroad.

Meanwhile, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with unemployment figures that seemed flattering to the Obama Administration recently, some suggested that the numbers had been "cooked". An effort was even made, with scant results, to show that BLS employees had contributed to the Obama re-election campaign.

Continue reading "Public Employees Are More Than Their Unions" »

October 20, 2012

Missing Issue: "Climate Change"

Four years ago President Obama promised that this was the moment (his election) "when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." That was then. Now, at least in campaign ads, he is championing coal production.

Gov. Romney in the past also has talked about climate change as an important issue. Now, hardly at all. His "all of the above" energy menu is distinctive chiefly because he doesn't want the government to keep investing in loser green companies the way it has under Obama and because he wants to end the Obama policies that have slowed oil and gas production.

David Brooks of the New York Times recently made the startling point that Al Gore, after he lost for Presdient, was worth $2 million, but today "his wealth is estimated to be around $100 million." The government makes insiders rich, even when their ideas fail.

Somehow, the constituency for green energy has been absent in the current presidential campaign and the media have neglected the climate change issue, too. Wonder why? Someone should ask the candidates at Monday night's foreign policy debate. After all, it's called "global warming."

October 30, 2012

Why is Nakoula Still in Jail?

If the First Amendment means anything it means that even people whose views we dislike have the right to express them. But that right seems to have been violated flagrantly in the case of the YouTube video-maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is still in jail several weeks after his anti-Islamic video was castigated by the top officials of the United States, from the President on down.

Continue reading "Why is Nakoula Still in Jail?" »

October 22, 2012

Missing Foreign Policy Topics ran an article by me today. Their site is down at the moment, so here's the text:

The Commission on Presidential Debates selected six subjects for the foreign policy debate: America's role in the world; Afghanistan and Pakistan; Israel and Iran; Changing Middle East (two segments, "I and II"), and China. These are topical, all right, but they do not begin to exhaust the vital issues that face the U.S. presidency. Instead, they remind us again how even a campaign of unparalleled length can focus too much on the transient (e.g., who screwed up on Libya security?) and avoid large structural issues.

Here are some questions I'd like to ask. Maybe some of them might leak into the campaigns in the next two weeks. If they do, whoever wins certainly would have a stronger governing mandate on these matters, at least.

Are American businesses and workers competitive enough today to thrive in an inevitably globalized economy? Progress toward free trade with the European Union and Asia has been burdened by bureaucratic and nationalistic red tape. If you are not satisfied with American competitiveness, what would you do about it?

Whatever happened to the national alarm about climate change, formerly known as global warming? Neither of you talk about it much on the campaign trail. In 2008, Mr. President, you announced that this was going to be the time "when the rise of the oceans began to slow." Is climate change no longer such a problem and no longer such a priority, and, if not, why?

Religious persecution worldwide is on the rise. Seldom does a day go by without some story of a church that was bombed or a religious sect set upon by another. Most of the attacks are against Christians. Two-thirds of the Christians of Iraq have felt it necessary to flee that country, for example. Among Muslims in the Middle East, Shias persecute Sunnis and vice versa. Blasphemy laws seem to encourage violence rather than thwart it. What have you done or will you do to advance religious freedom in the world?

Latin America, in our own hemisphere, has not been the locus of foreign policy, let alone national debate, for decades. The rise of anti-American dictatorships and authoritarian governments in places like Venezuela and Argentina, plus the issue of war -- like narco-trafficking in Mexico and Central America -- are seen to damage the standing of the United States in the region. In 1994 Congress adopted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton championed. The results have been helpful to all countries involved, especially Mexico. But since then economic development as a key to Western Hemisphere progress has gained little attention (oddly) from political candidates. What will you do to improve relations with Latin America?

Public diplomacy, or the campaign to advance American ideals of freedom, constituted a sizable federal government commitment in the Cold War, especially under Ronald Reagan. But in the Clinton Administration, U.S.-financed broadcast media and the semi-independent U.S. Information Agency that ran libraries and cultural programs abroad, were largely integrated into the State Department, where some critics say they have languished. Anti-American propaganda is coming now from sources in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China. Do you believe that the United States and the West are losing the war of ideas in the world and that public diplomacy should be given more stature and attention in the U.S. federal government?

Do you believe that America's foreign aid program is a success or failure? Is it too large or too small? Is it too independent of the philanthropic sector's efforts? Is it too tied to military or political aims? Is it too supine in the face of foreign national governments and politics? What would you do improve or change American foreign aid to the rest of the world?

Most important, perhaps, is the issue of defense. The percentage of the federal budget going to defense has been cut in recent years and is slated to be cut again. President Eisenhower, a former four star-general, said going into the White House that he didn't want to spend one dollar less than necessary for defense or one dollar more than necessary. What do you consider the right size and scope of the American military in the next four years if American values and interests in the world are to be properly defended? What will you do to achieve that right size?

Well, that ought to keep them busy for another 90 minutes, just as soon as another foreign policy debate can be scheduled. However, I'm afraid that the real discussions will wait until after the election.

9/11 Commissioner Slams White House on Intel Blame

The federal 9/11 Commission included as one of its findings that the US intelligence agencies needed to do a better job of sharing data on terrorism with one another. Most observers, including Commission member Slade Gorton, former US Senator (R-WA), believe that they subsequently made major improvements. However, now we are being told that the intelligence community failed for weeks to understand that the a attack on the Benghazi compound was the result of terrorism, and that that's why the White House put out the line that a spontaneous demonstration against an online anti-Islam video was to blame.

Gorton, for one, isn't buying this new account. He tells us today, "This is excuse making by the President to prepare for the next debate tonight...It is so tardy that it is unbelievable."

The Obama position in the Second Presidential Debate was that on the day after the Benghazi attack he did describe it as an "act of terror" ("Candy, look at the transcript.") However, for days days on end thereafter, his Administration described the attack as the result of protests against an online video, Mr. Obama himself made six references to the video in his U.N. speech. Now, however, we are supposed to believe that there was a long failure to describe the attack correctly (and presumably a failure to recognize that the online video was not responsible) and that the fault lay with the intelligence community.

If the White House disguised the terrorist nature of the attack for political reasons (to preserve its narrative that Al Qaeda "is on its heels"), that's bad. On the other hand, if U.S. intelligence agencies--a decade years after supposed reforms following the 9/11 disaster--are unable for weeks to recognize a terrorist attack for what it is, then something has gone awry in America's intelligence agencies. That is a different, but at least as serious a problem.

It was publicly known within hours that Libyan officials characterized it a terror attack and that the attackers had employed rocket propelled grenades and other heavy weapons. What counter-evidence was there that it was a spontaneous demonstration against a video? The State Department--finally forced to testify to Congress--said that their intelligence found no evidence in Benghazi of a "spontaneous" demonstration against the video. If they knew it, why did the CIA not know it?

More likely, as Gorton suspects, the Administration is contriving a new story line that forces the intelligence agencies to cover up a political blunder.

October 23, 2012

The Horse Laugh About the Navy

One of the hardest things to do in politics is forgo a good joke, especially one at the expense of your opponent. For last night's debate President Obama probably prepared in advance to answer the Romney charge (made often in speeches) that the Administration is putting national security at risk by reducing the size of the Navy. But he should have held back the sarcastic dismissal.

Continue reading "The Horse Laugh About the Navy" »

October 24, 2012

The Fading of America's Voice

A Russian government crackdown on outside democratic influences and the announcement of layoffs at the American-financed Radio Liberty in Moscow bracket the crumbling of American public diplomacy. This breakdown has been going on for some years and has greatly accelerated in recent years. John Lenczowski, founder of the Institute of World Politics graduate school in Washington, DC, provides the background in Full Spectrum Diplomacy and Grand Strategy (Lexington Books, 2011).

Continue reading "The Fading of America's Voice" »

October 26, 2012

Upward Mobility Key to Economy & Society

If the Romney/Ryan ticket wins you will find a great deal of fresh media attention devoted to a speech by Rep. Paul Ryan this week at Cleveland State University. Everything is covered as politics at this point in the campaign, and for good reason (alas), so having a relatively substantive discussion of the nature of poverty and opportunity in America is a welcome relief.

Continue reading "Upward Mobility Key to Economy & Society" »

October 28, 2012

Ukraine & Georgia Slowing Putin's Drive

Some of the best reporting on Russia and Eastern Europe is coming from Voice of America's James Brooke. Thanks to the Internet, even we inside the US of A can read these reports, such as today's news that early returns from the Ukrainian elections indicate a broad spread of party support for the new parliament. This will complicate the current president, Viktor Yanukovych's hope for a governing majority. It also will hamper further the plans of Russia's Vladimir Putin to draw Ukraine and other former Soviet states back into a Russian-led confederation.

Continue reading "Ukraine & Georgia Slowing Putin's Drive" »

October 29, 2012

Strange Quiet in New York City

It's 2:30 pm in New York City and the place is closed down. Janine Dixon, a Discovery Institute colleague in the City for a visit, is stranded at a diner in the East Village. Evacuations are taking place just south of her location on East 10th. It is raining now but Hurricane Sandy has not hit land yet. That landfall is expected tonight in New Jersey.

Nonetheless, New York authorities closed down subway, train and air traffic last night at 7 pm. The tunnels were closed, too. But simultaneously people were being urged to leave the City. Does that make sense? Why eliminate exit possibilities over 24 hours before the storm actually hits?

October 30, 2012

Watch the Aftermath of the Storm

Sandy was a huge event in terms of disruption, so much so that most of the damage probably has not yet been reported. Meanwhile, eight million people are without power, including our colleague, Janine Dixon, in Lower Manhattan. Cell phone service is out, electricity and heat are off, all the stores--including diners and delis--are closed and other than a few entrepreneurial coffee carts, you have to go north of 30th Street to get something to eat.

Plenty of people are out on the street doing just that. As of this afternoon, Janine reports, the streets are clogged with cars and "cabs are impossible to get" (unless you are very lucky). Making it all worse, the traffic lights are out. Rumor is that trains and subways--and power--will come back the day after tomorrow."

It will take huge sums of money--some of it from Washington, DC--just to fix the subways and trains. It will take at least through election day to get things back to normal in commerce and communications.

Expect a big bill to Uncle Sam in time for the next session of Congress.

Election's Hidden Persuaders

The current presidential election campaign, more than usual, will be covered in news accounts long after the outcome is known. That is because of hidden currents of political activity that we only vaguely glimpse now.

Continue reading "Election's Hidden Persuaders" »

October 31, 2012

How is an Animal Like a Politician?

Ryan McPherson is a small city attorney who blogs at Richochet and mines his life to tell us about the real world of criminal law in a way silly crime programs on TV do not. Most of the people he deals with are real low life. They are guilty of crimes. Losers. Not figures of romance. Dreary, meancing, grey, like the reality of natural disasters.

But they are people and he can't help interacting with them and being affected by them. A young man who probably wants to do something else in life, "RyanM" is well read and reflective. His dissatisfactions with his current career serve to enliven his insights, reminding me of the arch humanity of British doctor-to-the-poor, Theodore Dalrymple.

On his daily commute RyanM listens to NPR, the station that informs, delights and deeply annoys--like a relative you enjoy and dread simultaneously. And poor NPR, a voice from the conventional left, thinks that human beings and their politics are somehow determined by nature the way that bees and baboons are. It isn't the case, however.

Well, maybe baboons.

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