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Scary Music

On our latest podcast, Mona Charen and I have a guest: Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal. He has written a book, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. There is enough in this subject for 100 podcasts, but we make do with approximately half a one.

In our second half, Mona and I traverse many subjects, including the Obama administration’s hostility to Israel (or at least to its current prime minister, the virtual antithesis of Obama). We also, of course, talk about the elections. I’m very excited about them, as a feverish Republican partisan. Mona is the cooler and more intellectual influence in our show. But even she’s kind of eager.

Wednesday morning, however, I’ll start fretting about 2016, because the presidency is the big enchilada. Senate, Schmenate. I may even start fretting on Tuesday night. (Hell, I started in early 2013, once the trauma of the November election wore off, sort of.)

Our ending music is Halloweeny: the Danse macabre of Saint-Saëns. The other pieces turned to at Halloween are The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas), Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (Rachmaninoff), and Totentanz (Liszt). You could also throw in there the Suggestion diabolique (Prokofiev). Readers may have other favorites, too.

Race Trumps Gender

Charlie, your excellent piece on the cat-calling video reminded me of something. Years ago, during the O.J. Simpson trial, we published a piece by (the great) Gertrude Himmelfarb. (When I say “we,” I mean The Weekly Standard, where I was working at the time.) I am going from memory, but I think I remember . . .

She said that there used to be a holy trinity on the left: race, class, and gender. But class had been dropped, really. And race and gender were kings.

Actually, race was king, with gender in a distant second place. (Forgive me for saying “gender” instead of “sex,” but modern ways will wear you down.)

What was the Left going to do about the O.J. Simpson case? Yes, an ex-husband had murdered an ex-wife, and her companion. Yes, the ex-husband had beaten the ex-wife, while they were married. But, awkwardly, the murderer was black — and the ex-wife and her companion were . . . not.

What happened is that race trumped gender. (Indeed, I believe that was the title of the piece: “Race Trumps Gender.”) No, race smashed gender. It was far more important to the Left that O.J. was black than that Nicole was a woman, who had been battered by the murderer while married to him.

Well, couldn’t we regard them both as human beings, for good or ill? Don’t be ridiculous. This is America.

In your piece, Charlie, you have given ample evidence that race is trumping gender still.

P.S. Hang on, Professor Himmelfarb’s piece turns out to be on the Internet: here. I should have Googled before writing my post. And I should change my post now, but I’m too lazy to. Professor Himmelfarb’s piece was titled “The Gender Card Loses.” Its opening line is “Race trumped gender” — she is quoting a professor of government.

P.P.S. When you have Gertrude Himmelfarb write a short piece for your magazine, that is what we call, in the opera world, “luxury casting” (even if she is the mother of the editor).

November 1, 2014

Campaign Manager Caught in O’Keefe Video Resigns

Guerrilla filmmaker James O’Keefe has prompted investigations into political operatives he caught on camera advising non-citizens they could vote. The North Carolina Board of Elections is looking into whether they broke state law.

Meanwhile, Greg Amick, the campaign manager for the Democratic candidate for sheriff in Charlotte, N.C., has left his position. Amick told an O’Keefe investigator that her non-citizen status was no problem: “As long as you’re registered to vote, you’ll be fine.”

Despite Amick being caught red-handed, the spokesman for sheriff candidate Irwin Carmichael tried to downplay the incident. “It is unfortunate that a social media virus has added noise and sometimes confusion to an election in our community,” Rob Brisley said in a statement.

Brisley’s description of attempts to encourage voters to cast ballots as a “social media virus” has given new meaning to the concept of political spin.

One of the action items for state legislatures around the country next year should be to follow the example of Kansas and Arizona, both of which have put in requirements that people registering to vote provide evidence that they are U.S. citizens.


Are Horror Movies Liberal Or Conservative?

The best movie advice for this or any Halloween is: Don’t watch Friday the 13th on AMC. Friday the 13th may be hallowed by time and a million sequels, but it is a lousy movie and it gave birth to a lousy franchise. The only reason to watch it is to see some very fine special makeup effects work by one-time master of practical effects Tom Savini, including an axe in the face, a through-the-neck impalement, and a beheading. Yet when it airs on AMC, which has no qualms about removing half of Giancarlo Esposito’s head or showing detailed zombie snuff every Sunday, the film’s gore scenes (along with some okay nudity featuring all-natural Carter-era bods) are cut to ribbons, leaving it with no attractions at all.

The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, in his article “Here’s Why Your Favorite Horror Movies Are So Left-Wing,” posits the “boobs-and-blood-filled” slasher film as the only conservative sub-genre of horror movies. “These largely apolitical movies—packed with exploitative carnage and sex—nonetheless have a common theme that Moral Majority types can get behind: If you’re a kid who has premarital sex, does drugs, binge-drinks, and parties like a fool, you will be severely punished,” Suebsaeng writes.

As with most such efforts to justify ones fanboyism by finding political meaning in popular art, Suebsaeng’s argument is a self-contradictory muddle. The standard post-motive slasher film (not including precursors like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, neither of which is a fully codified slasher picture) was invented by John Carpenter with 1978’s Halloween. As Suebsaeng (correctly) points out, Carpenter is a nominal liberal whose movies are replete with anti-authoritarian themes. Yet he invented the by-turns leering and puritanical language of the slasher film, including the damnation-causing flashes of sexiness. (You’ll always be Number One in this writer’s world, P. J. Soles.)

The question of whether horror is a conservative or liberal genre is an old one. Stephen King’s non-fiction study Danse Macabre includes a long and fascinating consideration of whether the genre is essentially Dionysian (in the sense that it’s about upsetting the natural order) or Apollonian (in the sense that it posits, and nearly always invites the audience to root for, a normal world that must be preserved against an unnatural threat). The King of Horror himself, of course, is a political lefty who calls Maine governor Paul LePage a “stonebrain,” but his work is shot through with hard-headed pragmatism and traditional morality that, if viewed from a certain angle (i.e., directly), seem clearly conservative. Few horror creators (Clive Barker being an occasional exception) ask us to root for the devil.

Nonetheless, Suebsaeng is to be praised for singling out George A. Romero’s 2005 Land of the Dead as a great movie about class struggle — though here too I think he misses the movie’s real significance: Land of the Dead is the best statement Hollywood has made about the 21st-century real estate bubble, and it came out a year before the correction began. All zombie films are about real estate at some level, but if you see this overlooked gem — which includes some grimly beautiful images that also got overlooked because the movie isn’t one to linger artily — you’ll see that it’s more directly so than most. The conservative film critic Michael Medved declared Land of the Dead “Not just a flesh-eating zombie film but the Citizen Kane of flesh-eating zombie films.” (Speaking of overlooking, why hasn’t our do-nothing Congress declared a national day of respect for Romero? As Jonah Goldberg notes today, American culture today is zombie everything, and Romero created the genre. But have they ever given him a lifetime achievement Oscar?)

Suebsaeng is also correct in placing Carpenter’s 1988 They Live on the left. Because, as noted above, deep-thinking fanboys are always trying to make their favorite movies line up with their political views, there have been attempts to posit They Live as a libertarian or small-government picture. These just won’t wash, but who cares? Politics don’t explain the madcap qualities that make it a great movie, in particular the hilariously drawn-out street fight between Keith David and Roddy Piper, which by my conservative estimate goes on for about half the movie’s running time. Sadly, They Live was also the end of a Carpenter streak beginning with 1976’s Assault On Precinct 13 (a generally pro-police movie, by the way), which saw several masterpieces, many very good movies and only one out-and-out dog (1987’s Prince of Darkness).

The people who do these best-of-whatever movie articles are nearly always ignoramuses who haven’t seen anything made before they were born, so take the wayback machine to the early seventies and enjoy Horror Express — a Lee-Cushing science fiction/horror vehicle with a wonderful supporting role by Telly Savalas and a dynamite setting on the trans-Siberian railroad — at full length and for free. Completing the political theme of this post, it was produced in Franco’s Spain by the commie screenwriter Bernard Gordon, whose autobiography Hollywood Exile is one of the best memoirs of the blacklist.

Tags: Movies

Virgin Galactic Space Plane Crashes in Mojave Desert, One Pilot Dead

SpaceShipTwo, the experimental private spacecraft operated by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, crashed in California’s Mojave Desert on Friday, killing one test pilot and seriously injuring another in the second major setback for the American commercial space industry in a week.

Designed to take well-heeled tourists into space, the craft was expected to take customers willing to shell out a quarter million dollars into suborbital altitude by 2015. But that dream is likely shattered, as California High Patrol officers pour over pieces of the craft littered across the Mojave scrubland.

SpaceShipTwo was reportedly testing a new type of fuel when the “serious anomaly” occurred. It’s not yet clear whether the aircraft broke up in flight or upon impact.

The crash follows on the heels of Tuesday’s explosion of an Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station. The rocket was operated by Orbital Sciences, a private space company contracted by the U.S. government. 

Rounds Spokesman: DOJ Is Politicizing Crucial Visa-Fraud Investigation

The FBI’s public acknowledgment of an ongoing investigation into South Dakota’s management of a federal visa program was part of a larger political move to damage GOP Senate candidate Mike Rounds, says a spokesman for the Rounds campaign.

The investigation into the program’s management during Rounds’s tenure as governor was revealed for the first time in the final weeks of his campaign for Senate. Wadhams, a Republican consultant in the state, says he thinks FBI Minneapolis Division chief counsel Kyle Loven, who first acknowledged the ongoing investigation, was told to do so by his superiors. 

“I do think this is pure politics by the Department of Justice and they’re trying to affect the outcome of this election,” Wadhams tells National Review Online. The FBI, meanwhile, has declined to answer NRO’s questions on the matter until next week. The investigation involves the EB-5 program that awards green cards to immigrants who invest large sums of money in businesses that create jobs for American citizens.

Former FBI officials told NRO that the FBI, the South Dakota United States Attorney’s Office, or both groups, must have approved the FBI’s decision to announce the ongoing federal investigation last week.

Wadhams, who was the architect behind Senator John Thune’s victory over then–Senate minority leader Tom Daschle in 2004, sees the fingerprints of South Dakota’s U.S. attorney Brendan Johnson all over the FBI’s announcement. A spokesman from South Dakota’s U.S. attorney’s office responded to requests for comment in an e-mail saying, “The United States Attorney’s Office did not have any role in the FBI’s statement regarding the EB-5 program.” The spokesman did not comment about the substance of the ongoing investigation, and Wadhams says the Rounds campaign believes Johnson is remaining silent about it in order to make it appear as though more will come out.

Johnson, the son of South Dakota’s Democratic senator Tim Johnson, may have political aspirations of his own, but Wadhams thinks his role in the controversy will reflect badly on him. “I think Brendan Johnson is going to be in a real awkward position after the election,” Wadhams says. “I hope there is some public pressure that’s brought to bear on him after this election’s over with.” Wadhams says he hopes Johnson suffers some “political fallout” after the election ends when he is forced to “come clean.” Wadhams predicts Rounds will win the Senate seat, and Johnson will emerge shortly after the election and say that the investigation is complete and the Justice Department will take no further action.

“Why won’t they just tell the people of South Dakota what they have?” Wadhams says. “And the reason they don’t is because they don’t have anything, and they’re trying to convey the impression that there is something out there. And as long as that vague impression is there, it feeds into the Democrats contention, ‘Oh there’s more to come after the election. That’s why you cannot elect Mike Rounds.’ ”

Rounds is not the only GOP candidate running for election this fall who has been scrutinized for his proximity to a federal investigation. Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s former chief of staff and current campaign adviser, David Kensinger, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI too. Whether Rounds’s candidacy will be affected by the announcement of an investigation in South Dakota remains to be seen, but Rounds is leading in recent polling by as much as 14 percentage points over his Democratic opponent.

Fed Communication Complexity

From the St. Louis Fed:

Over the years, the Federal Reserve has developed numerous communication tools aimed at increasing transparency. One tool in particular has evolved significantly—post-meeting statements by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the body within the Federal Reserve in charge of setting monetary policy. The FOMC began releasing these statements in February 1994. Initially, the statements provided a brief summary of policy decisions and were released only if there was a change in the policy stance. Since the May 1999 meeting, the FOMC has issued a statement after every regularly scheduled meeting. Today, the statement details the FOMC’s views on the current and future state of the economy, current policy choices, and the likely course of future policy decisions. …

The figure shows the reading grade level (bubble height) and the length (bubble size) of each FOMC statement since 1994. In the early 1990s, the statements ranged from about 50 to 200 words, with reading grade levels from 9 to 14. (That is, they were accessible to individuals with an education ranging from the first year of high school to two years beyond high school.)

During Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan’s tenure, which lasted until January 2006, FOMC statements averaged 210 words with a reading grade level of 14. The statements continued on this track with Chair Bernanke from March 2006 until the end of 2008, when they started to change dramatically with the onset of the financial crisis and the beginning of so-called unconventional monetary policy. By January 2009, the statements were over 400 words with reading grade levels around 16.

Under Chair Yellen, the FOMC issued five statements from March to September 2014. The first four exceeded 800 words and had reading grade levels of 18 or 19, suggesting that readers would require an education level of about three years beyond a four-year college degree to understand them. The September statement was over 900 words but scored a 14 reading grade level because it used shorter sentences.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at

There’s Something About Mary

Mary Landrieu has represented Louisiana in one form or another since 1980. So it is amusing to see her suddenly discover that the state is a sexist sort of place at the exact moment that she has run into political trouble. It is even more amusing that she was immediately criticized for her insistence that “the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans” by a dark-skinned Louisiana governor who has twice won by large margins and who won almost none of the minority vote. The South is “more of a conservative place,” Landrieu later suggested. Perhaps that might be why the polls are tight?

Student Group Says UNC’s Student-Athlete Fraud Is Actually a Result of White Supremacist, Heteropatriarchal Capitalism

An enormous academic scandal is not sitting well with some students at the University of North Carolina — but not for the reasons one might think. On Wednesday, UNC student group The Real Silent Sam hosted a “Rally Speaking Back To The Wainstein Report,” expressing disappointment with the recent investigation that found that at least 3,100 students over 18 years were enrolled in “paper classes” in the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies — that is, courses that effectively did not exist. Why are these students up in arms? Per the event notice on Facebook:

The Wainstein report and the administration’s handling of what has been labeled an “academic scandal” reveals ways in which our university participates in the “American” system of white supremacist, heteropatriarchal capitalism and brings our understanding of what it means to be a Tar Heel into question. This report is only the most recent example of the onslaught of continued assault and commodification of bodies of color that is integral to the inception and continued practice of our institutional bureaucracy. 

To the students’ credit, this is a paragraph of which Michael Eric Dyson would be proud. It is a prose gem of pseudo-intellectualism, from words such as “heteropatriarchal” to phrases such as “commodification of bodies of color” to provocations such as putting “American” in scare quotes. It is precisely what one would expect from a liberal-jargon-spewing automaton — which, of course, is a good description of many college students.

Especially those who spend their four (or, increasingly, five or six) years in academic departments that exist mainly to salary ex–Haight Ashbury types with a passion for Foucault or Derrida or Malcolm X. Consider Omolulu Babatunde, a UNC senior who spoke to Campus Reform:

“I guess what motivated me was my raw emotions when I first heard about the scandal,” Babtunde said. “I was angry. . . . It’s happening because our society doesn’t understand and doesn’t value black studies so much so that it can be scapegoated. . . . Society, which is reflected in the media, understands blackness in such a discredited way that it’s able to corrupt something that is much broader than one site.”

But the chronology here is wrong. It is not that the academic fraudsters searched about for the ideal department in which to perpetrate their scheme — one with, say, low academic standards and minimal oversight. Rather, UNC’s AFAM department was guilty of these things already, which caused it to hire and promote the type of people who were more than happy to commit large-scale academic fraud.

The myriad “-studies” programs that cropped up over the last half century were created to give an academic patina to political activism on behalf of this or that aggrieved identity group — which means that departments so conceived, cart preceding horse, had already violated any reasonable principle of intellectual integrity. Who can be surprised, then, that it finally led to this?

Wanted: Tech Workers at $1.21 an Hour

Last week’s revelation that Electronics for Imaging, Inc. (EFI) had paid imported Indian workers $1.21 an hour to install computer systems in its Silicon Valley headquarters generated a good deal of outrage. The workers were apparently brought here from the firm’s offices in India on visitor visas that do not permit employment, and were paid their Indian salaries, in rupees, for the several months they were here.

But the outrage missed two importantt points. First, in the words of computer-science professor Norman Matloff, “the industry lobbyists themselves, especially those representing the Googles, Facebooks, Intels and so on, LOVE such cases.”

Why?  Because it gives them a chance to say, “Yes, isn’t it terrible?  Congress should allocate more money to the Dept. of Labor for enforcement of the law — which the record shows that WE strictly adhere to” — deftly distracting attention away from the law itself, which is full of huge loopholes that the lobbyists put there so that their firms could stay legal while abusing the program.

In other words, the big tech companies prefer that attention be focused on “bad apples” rather than the harmful consequences from tech-visa programs themselves, even when users comply fully with the rules. In this vein is a new series from the Center for Investigative Reporting on how workers are exploited by Indian firms using the H-1B visa program.

But the justified anger at the EFI story also missed a second, broader point: What’s wrong with importing foreign workers and paying them $1.21 an hour? Yes, it’s a violation of our minimum-wage laws, but conservatives make a strong case against such laws, especially because they price out of employment people whose productivity doesn’t justify $7.25 an hour — teenagers, people with cognitive disabilities, ex-cons or recovering addicts trying to put their lives back together, et al.

The problem is that if you combine the elimination of minimum wage laws with the kind of open immigration that too many economics-uber-alles free-marketers call for, the inevitable result is what we saw at EFI. (George W. Bush put this position most clearly, calling for the unlimited admission of “willing workers” to take any job in the U.S. at any legal wage.) The two leading ideologists of open immigration in the U.S. policy debate, Alex Nowresteh of the Cato Institute and Bryan Caplan of George Mason University, explicitly welcome the idea of paying imported tech workers an hourly wage of $1.21.

In fact, for less-skilled work, there are scores of millions abroad — perhaps hundreds of millions — who’d work for room and board, without any pay at all, if only they could set foot in the United States. ​Needless to say, the Republic would not survive the immigration policy recommendations of the Cato Institute.

Such doctrinaire libertarianism is blind to the way human societies actually function, which is why open, unlimited immigration will always remain a dystopian fantasy. People are different from goods, something recognized by University of Chicago free-trade pioneer Henry Simons decades ago, when he wrote that ”Free trade may and should raise living standards everywhere. . . . Free immigration would level standards, perhaps without raising them anywhere.” 

But this does present free-market conservatives with a challenge. Since a free market in labor cannot be permitted if our nation is to survive, the question is not whether, but how, to limit immigration. Corporate lobbyists are correct in complaining that the means we use now, especially regarding labor migration (both permanent and “temporary”), are convoluted and excessively bureaucratic. I actually reject the need for any labor migration in a modern society (though the admission of genuine Einsteins can indeed benefit us). But if you think we do need continued labor migration, I’d opt for something like what Reihan Salam suggested on Twitter (here and here): relax numerical caps (he was specifically talking about H-1B visas) but require that those foreign workers hired be paid double the prevailing wage for their positions. If they’re truly the “best and brightest,” as the lobbyists keep telling us, then they’d be worth it, right?

Nothing Creepy at All About the NYS Democratic Committee

As John Fund reports, the New York State Democratic Committee has sent menacing letters to registered Democrats who haven’t voted recently. The letters state pointedly that “we will be reviewing voting records . . . to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. . . . If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.” It was mailed out statewide, though most of New York State’s Democrats are concentrated in the New York City area.

The committee points out that such letters are commonplace in other states (albeit usually without the idiosyncratic New York notion of tact). Still, New Yorkers are reacting with surprise and outrage, which suggests that the Democrats’ ground game may be no better than that of the Giants.

Anyway, speaking of shameless imitations, I have taken a cue from my colleague Charlie Cooke and rummaged through the trash bin outside NYSDC headquarters. Amidst the empty Starbucks latte cups, rusted Dukakis buttons, and aïoli-stained copies of The Nation, I found the following:



Yo, [insert name],

We got friends at the Board of Elections, and they tell us you’ve been shirking your friggin’ civic duty big time. Our connections say you haven’t cast a vote since that guy Pataki was governor. Not one goddamn vote.

You got a lotta chutzpah there, bro. Capisce? I mean, I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

(Oh, and don’t mind my buddy Frank here; he just likes to smack that nightstick into his hand. Helps him stay calm, know what I mean?)

Listen, we got a good what I like to call an arrangement going. Like, I’d sure hate to see your rent control revoked, but those state senators don’t work for peanuts. Be a shame if you suddenly had to pay market rate because the wrong guy got elected.

And that contract your company was awarded to satisfy the state’s gender quota? Someone could just happen to notice that the owner of record is your daughter, who’s still in high school. Like I say, pal, public information.

What’s that? You find it difficult to get out of the house on Election Day? Hey Frank, he says he finds it “difficult to get out of the house.” Well, in that case, I think we might just have to take you for a little ride . . . to the polls, I mean. Yeah, that’s right, to the polls. Good one, eh, Frank?

Look, buddy, I’ll cut to the chase here. On Election Day you got two choices: either get out and vote, or find an illegal alien to do it for you. Elsewise the city just might decide to shut down your entire block for pavement repairs — and you know those boys don’t work no overtime.

You got a problem with that?

Later, pal.

Your Friends at the NYSDC

Dems to Black Voters: You’re Idiots. Vote for Us

Democrat campaigns across the country are, once again, engaging in race-bating. This occurs every election cycle–usually under the radar of the mainstream media. This year’s version contains impressive historical and linguistic jiu-jitsu designed to stoke fear and loathing in an otherwise unmotivated black electorate:

The party that opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment is (according to the New York Times) distributing flyers in black communities throughout North Carolina suggesting Republicans support gun laws that specifically result in blacks getting killed.

The party that opposed the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing voting rights and that instituted black codes, poll taxes, and literacy tests is running ads claiming that voter-ID requirements are a Republican plot to prevent blacks from voting.

The party that filibustered or otherwise opposed more than a dozen anti-lynching bills during the 20th century is trying to turn out black voters by distributing flyers depicting a lynching and suggesting more Fergusons will spring from not voting for Democrats.

A senator belonging to the party of Bull Connor, George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and Orval Faubus contends that Lousiana voters reject Democrats because the voters are racist and sexist.

The party that has promoted policies contributing to the disintegration of the black family– resulting in 73 percent of black children being born into single parent (and, thus, usually poor) households — suggests voting Republican results in cute little black kids remaining poor and oppressed.

The party that encourages and promotes massive illegal immigration — a phenomenon that drives down black wages and has caused hundreds of thousands of low-skilled blacks to be thrown out of work — runs radio spots claiming Republicans want to keep blacks from earning a decent living.

Senator Barack Obama once sponsored a bill titled the “Voter Intimidation and Deceptive Practices Act,” the ostensible purpose of which was to prevent voters from being misled by false and deceptive campaign tactics. Presumably, then, Senator Obama would oppose the tactics described above, for they’re not merely deceptive, they’re despicable.

Maine Judge Overturns Nurse’s Mandatory Ebola Quarantine

A Maine judge reversed the mandatory 21-day quarantine of nurse Kaci Hickox following her return from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, rejecting the governor’s push to keep her confined while leaving in place other requirements.

On Friday Judge Charles LeVerdiere ruled that, since Hickox ”currently does not show symptoms of Ebola and is therefore not infectious,” the state’s intention to keep her confined violates her civil rights. The nurse will, however, be expected to allow officials to monitor her condition, coordinate travel with the state and alert authorities immediately should symptoms arise.

State troopers waiting outside Hickox’s house departed soon after news of the decision broke.

Speaking to reporters from her front porch, Hickox expressed gratitude over the decision. “I am humbled today by the judge’s decision,” she said, adding that she “completely understands” the judge’s admonition that she be “sensitive” to fears over Ebola in her community. “I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.”

“I am very satisfied by the [judge's] decision,” Hickox said. “The three points that he is still recommending that I abide by are three points that I believe are part of this good compromise we can make.”

Don’t Want More Higher-Ed Regulation? Then We Need More Transparency

Last week, the Pope Center’s George Leef offered a critical take on proposals to gather more data on higher education. Leef argues that federal efforts to make information like graduation rates, average earnings, and student debt loads available to the public will inevitably lead to even greater government interference in the market:

Data (on education and almost everything else) simply encourage more government meddling. They appear to identify “problems” and politicians and policy experts immediately jump in with proposed solutions. Such solutions, however, usually cause new problems and deepen the government’s interference in the workings of the free market. Therefore, it is better not to collect data at all.

In our view, Leef’s last sentence, in particular, misses a critical point: As we argue in a recent AEI paper, increased transparency can actually fend off calls for increased regulation by improving market function. After all, politicians tend to respond when their constituents complain about the cost of a particular good or service. And as we’ve just witnessed with Obamacare, popular discontent can quickly translate to a vast expansion of the government’s role.

While conservatives are right to point out that many of higher ed’s problems are rooted in existing government interventions, the sector’s troubles also stem from the fact that it’s so difficult for consumers to assess the quality of the product they’re purchasing. Concerns about college affordability actually boil down to questions of value — is the degree program I’m investing in going to provide a payoff large enough to justify the cost? The point of making outcomes data available is to empower consumers to make better decisions about which providers pass that cost-benefit test. In the aggregate, informed decisions create the market discipline that conservatives know and love so much — the discipline that empowers consumers, rather than regulators, to hold institutions accountable.

But do consumers really want this type of information? Leef continues:  

No one demands statistics about activities that the government has nothing to do with – gyms and health clubs, for example. Some consumers make great use of them and rapidly improve in whatever metrics most concern them – weight loss, stamina, lifting, and so on. Others rarely go, or fritter away their time when they do. Whatever statistics may be collected are collected by individuals for themselves. Policy wonks do not insist on data that might show which clubs are more “effective” than others.

Why not? Because no government money is spent on subsidizing health club memberships. Even the most interventionist politicians seem to understand that individuals will act as they think best with regard to fitness since they’re spending their own money. No health club data could make any difference.

Is it really the case that consumers never demand information about product quality in markets that the government doesn’t subsidize?  The popularity of services like Consumer Reports, Angie’s List, and Yelp seems to indicate otherwise.

And the success of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings suggests this demand for information carries over into the higher-education market as well.  But there’s a major difference between evaluating consumer goods and higher-education institutions: While PC Magazine can perform a relatively inexpensive battery of tests to evaluate laptops, for instance, it’s much more difficult for a private firm to systematically compile the data needed to calculate the likely return on postsecondary investments — like the earnings for a typical graduate from a particular program. Collecting such outcome data for all graduates requires access to wage records that are collected and maintained by the government for tax purposes. Private-sector efforts like have made great strides in collecting salary information from users who log onto their site, but these self-reported, un-verified data are far from perfect.

As a result, rankings like those published by U.S. News rely heavily on inputs — endowment size, faculty–student ratios, etc. – as a measure of quality, a process that creates many perverse incentives for institutions. Given that nearly 90 percent of students say they want their higher-education experience to help them get a better job, government collection and dissemination of labor-market-outcome data can help such private efforts give consumers the information they want.

Choosing a postsecondary program also involves higher stakes than purchasing a gym membership. The relative costs of making a poor decision about a gym membership are small, making it far less risky to experiment with a few different options in order to find the one that matches preferences. Investing in the wrong college can lead to sizable debt and nothing to show for it. And individuals only buy it once or twice over the course of their lifetime, leaving little room to learn from experience.  

Lastly, students are not the only stakeholders that can benefit from data. Private lenders can use data to help identify those programs which are serving students well and those that are not.  Helping private financing markets operate effectively is important to developing alternatives to government programs.

Data are not a panacea. The mere existence of data will not cure every market distortion created by government’s involvement in higher education. Those must be addressed through other reforms designed to rein in government’s role in the sector and expand the role of private markets. 

However, clear, objective outcome data will help consumers effectively unleash the kind of market discipline the sector desperately needs. A more competitive market will reduce, rather than increase, calls for the feds to take a more expansive role in micromanaging colleges and universities from Washington. 

— Kevin James is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Andrew P. Kelly is resident Scholar and director at the institute’s Center on Higher Education Reform.

Judging the Stance

I have seen a lot of discussion this week about the end of quantitative easing, with many commentators saying that Fed policy remains “loose” or “stimulative” (and some even denying that QE has come to an end). So it’s as good a time as any to note that it’s impossible to judge monetary policy should be judged as tight or hard without having a sensible baseline in mind. Which is another way of saying that it’s hard to divorce the characterization of the stance from an evaluation of it.

Most economists correctly regard Fed policy at the start of the Great Depression as disastrously tight, but if you judged it based on interest rates or the size of the monetary base you would have considered it loose — as, indeed, too many policymakers at the time did.

The most useful way to judge the stance of monetary policy would be to look at whether expected nominal spending (the total amount of dollars spent in an economy) is rising slower or faster than its previous trend, with slower suggesting tightness, faster looseness, and neutrality the right goal. We don’t currently have the tools to do that, though, so the best we can do is judge whether monetary policy has been loose or tight based on how nominal spending has performed relative to past trends. Using that standard, monetary policy was loose in the late 1960s and early 1970s (nominal spending growth accelerated), neutral on average during the Great Moderation, extremely tight in 2008–9 (nominal spending fell), and then fairly tight (nominal spending has increased but at a slower rate than during the Great Moderation) since then.

Note that by this standard, Australia — with no QE and a smaller central-bank balance sheet but more rapidly rising nominal spending — has had a looser monetary policy than we have.

GOP Files FEC Complaint Against Kansas Dems For Helping Orman

The Kansas Republican party has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission regarding Democratic involvement in independent Senate candidate Greg Orman’s campaign. The complaint comes after numerous reports that national and state-level Democrats, or groups associated with Democrats, have worked to help Orman, who’s threatening to unseat Republican incumbent Pat Roberts.

“Harry Reid and the Democrats may have succeeded in circumventing Kansas primary voters and handpicking Greg Orman as their candidate but election gimmicks have consequences,” Kansas Republican party director Clay Barker said in a statement. “One of them is that the Democratic party is not allowed to work on behalf of Orman’s campaign, which they are clearly doing by assisting with his ground-game efforts.”

Republicans allege that Democrats and the Orman campaign have failed to report Democrats’ in-kind contributions to the independent candidate, including carrying his signs at a Democratic party headquarters. Under FEC regulations, political parties are exempt from reporting such expenditures when done for their own party, but if Democrats are contribute to Orman, they would have to comply with the $5,000 limit under state and local requirements.

The Republican party asks that the FEC investigate the complaint immediately “to determine the full extent of this unreported activity and potential violations of federal law.”

Every Day Is a Holiday for the Sugar Industry, Thanks to Our Insane Sugar Policies

Happy Halloween! According to the National Retail Federation, candy sales for Halloween are estimated to reach $2.2 billion this year, up from $2.08 billion in 2013; Halloween alone accounts for 4 percent of our candy consumption. That’s a bit irksome for some parents, but it’s great news for the sugar industry.

But here’s the thing: Thanks to federal subsidies, it’s almost like every day is Halloween for the sugar lobby. The U.S. has protectionist tariffs on imported sugar, federal loan guarantees, and government-planned production quotas, which combine to push sugar prices up quite significantly. Andrea Castillo and I have a piece today in Real Clear Market explaining how it works:

U.S. sugar prices have far exceeded world markets for decades. From 2000 to 2014, the U.S. price of sugar was, on average, roughly two times the world price. Such a large price discrepancy indicates a major inefficiency. The culprit? Our nonsensical domestic sugar policies that rival only the former Soviet Union in their inconsistency, corruption, and almost comical injustice.

How do these programs work? First, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs a complex loan program for private sugar producers to ensure guaranteed prices for processors and growers. Next, the USDA imposes trade restrictions on foreign sugar imports to prevent international competition, thereby raising U.S. sugar prices over world sugar prices. Last, the USDA actually determines how much sugar should be produced in the U.S. each year and divides “marketing allotments,” or production quotas, among chosen firms.

In short, the USDA centrally manages a protected sugar cartel and boosts incumbent profits from Washington. 

As you can see in this chart, our elaborate subsidy system keeps American sugar prices consistently above world prices:

The insanity of our sugar policies doesn’t stop there. As you can see in the chart, the price of sugar has been stubbornly fallen since 2011. In response, the federal government has been buying up surplus inventory to push prices back to the level the sugar lobby would like. Thanks to that, this year, your Halloween bounty is not only more expensive than it should be, it is also more expensive than last year. (I have more charts on the issue here.)

Finally, Nick Gillespie at Reason points to a conversation between Bloomberg View’s Virginia Postrel and Samira Kawash, the author of the delectably titled book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure. Kawash explains how and when candy became associated with Halloween:

Would you believe the earliest trick-or-treaters didn’t even expect to get candy? Back in the 1930s, when kids first started chanting “trick or treat” at the doorbell, the treat could be just about anything: nuts, coins, a small toy, a cookie or popcorn ball. Sometimes candy too, maybe a few jelly beans or a licorice stick. But it wasn’t until well into the 1950s that Americans started buying treats instead of making them, and the easiest treat to buy was candy. The candy industry also advertised heavily, and by the 1960s was offering innovative packaging and sizes like mini-bars to make it even easier to give out candy at Halloween. But if you look at candy trade discussions about holiday marketing in the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween doesn’t even get a mention.

The whole thing is worth reading here

But for now, enjoy your overpriced Halloween candy!

Treating Our Friends Like Enemies

The Obama administration’s foreign policy provides a kind of porcelain alliance for America’s allies across the world. Three telling cases in point over the last week brought things to a head.

First, a senior Obama official termed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu a “chickensh*t.” The administration reduced its most important Middle East ally (and the only robust democratic country in the region) to a barnyard vulgarity.

Second, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran have reached a détente. In a sign of foreign-policy desperation, the Obama administration seeks a signature “victory” on paper at the cost of allowing Tehran to retain the capability to build nuclear weapons.

The world powers had set a November 24 deadline to end Iran’s illicit nuclear-weapons program. Obama has already agreed to gut six United Nations Security Council resolutions barring Iran from enriching uranium.

His inner circle of national-security officials seems to dismiss Iran’s jingoistic and expansionistic ideology.

Scott Modell, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the WSJ: “The Iranian regime is revolutionary and can’t get too close to us. So I’d be wary of any rapprochement. I think they are hell bent on pursuing a number of courses that run counter to U.S. interests.”

It is worth recalling Iran’s regime and its proxies murdered as many as 1,000 U.S. service personnel in Iraq in the years after 2003. As my FDD colleague Tony Badran notes, the Obama administration has simply airbrushed Iran’s role in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut from history. The joint Iranian-Hezbollah terrorist operation, which took place 31 years ago last week, killed 241 Marines.

Third, the Obama administration believes it can reach a nuclear deal with the rogue regime in Tehran, even though the latter does not keep its promises regarding human rights. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a 28-page report refuting the assertions that President Hassan Rouhani has introduced reforms. One small example from the catalogue of horrors listed by Shaheed: “At least 49 Protestant Christians are currently detained, many for involvement in informal house churches . . . In April 2014, security forces reportedly raided an Easter service in a private home in southern Tehran and detained six individuals.”

Keep reading this post . . .

On Cat-Calling

As someone who had several summer jobs in New York — foot-messenger (I didn’t deliver feet, I walked), ice-cream vender etc — never mind someone who grew up in New York City and now lives in Washington, D.C., I find it bizarre that anyone needs to argue that cat-calling is real. It is as much a fixture of urban life as panhandling and smoking outdoors. But I gather from Christine Sisto’s piece that even the phenomenon’s existence is controversial. In a world where “microaggressions” are being scrubbed from elite institutions, it is remarkable that it took this long for anyone to make a fuss about this cultural phenomenon.

It’d be nice to know if the practice is more common today than it was in years past. I’m not sure how one would go about investigating that. One data point might help. When I was a messenger, I worked for a company near the Flatiron Building. According to at least one legend, the term “23 skidoo” was born there. Men would congregate on 23rd Street in front of the Flatiron building, to watch the wind blow the skirts of women walking by. The police would periodically tell the men — who no doubt verbalized their appreciation of the female form — to vamoose, or rather, skidoo. Thanks to sartorial advances, the male gaze no longer needs the help of the wind.

Two things can be taken from this story, even if it’s not true that the phrase was born on 23rd Street. First, men have been pigs for a very long time (would that I were more of a classicist and could conjure a similar story about stiff Mediterranean breezes and togas). Second, we used to live in a country where even New York police considered such behavior worthy of, well, policing. Those days are gone, and on the whole that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t change the fact that men are often pigs. That goes for men who don’t catcall either. I wouldn’t dare deny that, on occasion, I like to look at pretty women on the street. But I would never dream of saying any of the things I’ve heard men say to women. Indeed, I can’t see myself ever saying anything at all to such women, and not just because I am happily married.

The video going around has come under criticism for not showing white men catcalling women. It’s a fair criticism, I think, because it’s absolutely true that white guys do it too. Do they do it less? Maybe, maybe not. But that discussion strikes me as a distraction. If white guys do it less in New York, that probably has more to do with the changing economics and demographics of New York. When I was a kid, most construction workers and similar trades were white. Their complexion didn’t stop them from raining “compliments” on female passers-by. 

 Christine tries to avoid the “elephant in the room” by talking about “socioeconomic status.” She writes:

And now to address the elephant in the room. It’s impossible not to notice that most of the men who shouted at Roberts seem, generally, to be of relatively low socioeconomic status. That’s judging by their speech, choice of clothing, and the fact that they don’t seem to be rushing off to work and have nothing better to do than shout at random women on the street. Most men who have harassed me on the street have been similar in appearance to Roberts’s harassers. It is very rare, if ever, that a man in a suit on his way to work has shouted obscenities at me.

Street harassment may be a side effect of poor urban culture, one that’s perhaps not surprising if you’re familiar with aggressive rap lyrics and videos that depict women as nothing more than sexual objects. Whatever the cause of cat-calling may be, it should stop, but it’s not clear how donating to a charity like Hollaback will help the problem. (What would the money even go toward?) A societal change is needed, one that can start with a guy not clapping his buddy on the back for telling some girl how much he enjoys her assets. Maybe, someday, we ladies can walk to work in peace. 

Again, I’d note that this practice pre-dates the rise of rap music by decades if not centuries or millennia. The issue isn’t race, it’s manners. Good manners are taught for the most part by good parents, good schools and good peers. I agree with Christine that Hollaback is spitting into the wind here. I also agree that catcalling should stop and that the only thing that can stop it is a societal change. But such a change would require a lot more than a few videos, no matter how viral. And it would also require the progressive Left to take on challenges much stiffer than bullying already well-mannered people to police their micro-aggressive grammar on elite college campuses or in obscure chatrooms. And that’s why I don’t think it will stop anytime soon.


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