The Week II

More like “The Month.”  I fell behind and so these GHs are from The Week in the most recent two issues of (biweekly) National Review.

“It’s a very funny magazine.”

Congress has an 11 percent job-approval rating. Who knew there were so many trial lawyers?

Diageo, like a lot of businesses these days, was having trouble finding the money to meet its pension obligations. Luckily, the company — which owns such brands as Johnnie Walker, Bushmills, and Lagavulin — found a creative solution: Instead of cash, fill the pension fund with whiskey. (Don’t laugh; a barrel of maturing Scotch is an appreciating asset.) Could state governments facing their own pension time bombs take a page from Diageo’s playbook? Alas, unlike fine Scottish distilleries, bloated bureaucracies do not produce enough of lasting value to pull off such a scheme.

The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) issued a tough rebuke of the Obama administration’s foreclosure-relief program, which has been funded using TARP money. The program is intended to help underwater homeowners stay in their homes by putting them in pilot programs to see if they can make lower payments, with the government subsidizing lenders for part of the loss. The problem is that lenders already have incentives to work out deals with borrowers who are good candidates for loan modifications. The administration’s program is helping the bad candidates stay for a few more months in homes they cannot afford while helping the lenders get a few extra payments they might not otherwise have gotten, but cannot prevent an inevitable correction in the housing market. The program “has not put an appreciable dent in foreclosure filings,” the IG’s report stated, and the American people are “being asked to shoulder an additional $50 billion in national debt without being told . . . how many people Treasury hopes to actually help.” Hmm . . . can we ask China for a loan modification?

Vice President Biden says the problem with the stimulus is that it wasn’t big enough — and the Republicans are to blame. In support of this proposition, he cites “Nobel laureates like Paul Krugman, who continues to argue it was too small.” We’re sure Nobel laureates Barack Obama, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and maybe even the Dalai Lama agree, and the evidence is certainly clear-cut: Amount of stimulus, $862 billion; result, nothing much; conclusion, stimulus too small. The beauty of this theory is that it works equally well with any number. That’s damn fine economics; but regarding who gets the blame for Congress’s stinginess, Biden explains that “in order to get what we got passed, we had to find Republican votes.” It’s just like this administration to use the three Republican votes they did attract as evidence of “bipartisan support,” then turn around and blame them for everything that’s wrong with the economy.

Following in the footsteps of such mighty predecessors as the National Abortion Rights Action League and Kentucky Fried Chicken, National Public Radio has changed its name to its initials: NPR. NARAL changed its name because it would rather talk about “choice” than about abortion, while the Colonel wants to downplay the amount of grease in his secret recipe. NPR wants to show that it has moved beyond radio, sort of like BP (formerly British Petroleum) has moved “Beyond Petroleum.” Here’s an idea: Now that the “public” has been removed from NPR’s name, how about we remove the public from its finances?

The chilly little welfare state to our north, Canada, is running relatively tiny deficits, having engaged only in relatively sober stimulus measures. To no one’s great surprise, Canada’s freedom from heavy government debt and its comparatively liberal economic environment (the Heritage Foundation now ranks its economy as more free than that of the United States) have enabled a much stronger recovery — to the extent that Canada, which has about one-tenth as many people as the United States, added 10,000 more jobs in June: 93,200 to our 83,000. Canada has recovered 97 percent of the jobs lost in the recent economic turmoil. Say what you like about aping the European welfare states, the Canadians do a better job of it than do Obama, Pelosi, and Reid.

“It would be outrageous and inhumane to take him against his will,” said the lawyer for Aziz Abdul Naji, a jihadist at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. But she wasn’t talking about taking him against his will to Gitmo, where he has been detained for several years. She was talking about taking him back to his country. Naji is one of six Algerians whom the Obama administration is poised to transfer from George W. Bush’s gulag — as a few remaining ineducable leftists still like to call it — to Algeria, the Islamic paradise on the Mediterranean’s south shore. The U.S. has already repatriated ten Algerians, and indications are that none has been persecuted. Yet the six holdouts claim that Gitmo is their only refuge from, yes, torture, and that it would be an unconscionable violation of their human rights to remove them from the naval base Obama is desperate to close because it purportedly stands as a symbol of human-rights abuses. We guess times change.

What is a NASA administrator’s job? Charles Bolden, the incumbent, informed Al Jazeera in a recent interview that President Obama had told him “perhaps [his] foremost” task was to “engage” with “Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.” This was greeted with cackles and snorts. What contribution, since the Middle Ages? And why is it NASA’s business to sing lullabies to anyone? Then Robert Gibbs uttered a curt denial: “That was not his task, and that’s not the task of NASA.” So whom do you believe? Suck-ups like Bolden try to know the mind of those up to whom they suck. For this administration, Muslims are the new Negroes, occupying the space that black people once held for liberals: totems of deprivation, and touchstones of one’s own broad-mindedness. Meanwhile, the place of math and science in the Muslim world is peculiar. Islam has made no advances in the centuries that it has been frozen in dogma and decadence. On the other hand, young Muslim men are steered to technical subjects like engineering, without moral or political substance, so they can be turned into trained cretins (they also become fodder for jihadi maniacs). A serious problem, but one outside the domain of NASA.

The Democrats are waging a scorched-earth campaign against jobs for teenagers. The effects of the 2007–09 increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 are being felt, and here’s the shocking new development in economics: Demand curves still slope downward. As the price of labor has gone up, employment has gone down among those most likely to earn the minimum wage: teenagers seeking part-time jobs. Youth unemployment, which had been going down for years, is up, to 25 percent. Researchers at the Employment Policies Institute calculate that the hike in the federal minimum wage has reduced teen employment by 6.9 percent in those states where the federal minimum exceeds the state minimum. Milton Friedman, who understood the effects of an artificial wage floor on marginal workers, called the minimum wage the “most anti-black law on the statute books” — a fact illustrated by the current unemployment rate for black youths: 45 percent. The real value of a first entry-level job isn’t the wages earned by flipping burgers for a summer, but the experience of being in the work force and developing needful skills. Which is to say, the real value of a first job is a second job. A higher minimum wage means that first summer job never happens for too many young Americans.

When the House Natural Resources Committee considered an amendment to end the Gulf drilling moratorium, 22 representatives voted in favor and 21 voted against. Yet the amendment failed — because five delegates, representing assorted U.S. territories, voted no. (Delegates can vote in committees but not on a bill’s final passage.) Of the five, one represents Puerto Rico, which, as a Caribbean island with 4 million people, perhaps deserves some voice in the matter. But the others were from Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a combined population short of 500,000. That’s considerably fewer than a congressional district — yet these four delegates cast deciding votes on a vital question of national policy. The practice of giving micro-territories a voice in Congress is questionable in any case, since it is essentially representation without taxation; but having four members on one committee from flyspecks that amount to Democratic pocket boroughs, each with a full vote, makes a joke of the strict democracy that the House of Representatives is supposed to stand for.

Son Jong Nam was a good, loyal North Korean: For ten years, he served in the “presidential security service.” But then something happened: His wife was accused of remarking on the famine that had spread throughout the land. Eight months pregnant, she was seized by the police. They kicked her in the stomach until the baby died. Son fled with his family to China. His wife died. He found Christianity, and began to evangelize among his fellow North Korean defectors. The Chinese caught him doing this and sent him back to North Korea: where he was tortured almost to death. Released, he sneaked back across the Chinese border, to see his daughter, who had been left in the care of a missionary. He decided to return to North Korea, seeing it as his duty to spread the Word there. He was caught with Bibles: and charged with spying for the United States and South Korea. He was sentenced to public execution by firing squad. But his brother, in South Korea, launched an international campaign to save him. According to a news report, the campaign apparently led the North Koreans “to switch to a less public method: torture.” The brother observed, “There are many ways to kill people in North Korea.” Son Jong Nam was at last tortured to death, age 50. A great man. An evil regime.

Decades ago NR’s Joe Sobran called liberals “the hive.” They all swarmed at once, as if on cue. The JournoList scandal is an ethologist’s trove of bee behavior. Ezra Klein, Washington Post blogger, ran a listserv of several hundred journalists and academics, many of them overt lefties writing for The Nation or Mother Jones, but some — Jeffrey Toobin, Joe Klein — with mainstream-media outfits. The list was revealed, and shut down, weeks ago. But Tucker Carlson’s website, The Daily Caller, has been doling out threads from 2008, when the goal was to help Obama. What stands out? The unity of purpose, assumed, but also affirmed with ritual chest thumps. “We need to throw chairs now” (Michael Tomasky, Guardian). The witless wrath of online rhetoric. “Find a rightwinger’s [?] and smash it through a plate glass window” (Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent). The rare demurral. “I am really tired of defending the indefensible” (Katha Pollitt, The Nation). But quotation does not do JournoList justice. Read it all, and weep. Bees? No — flea circus.

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