It’s in the Blood?


I first saw it in the news nearly five years ago, this stuff about linking one’s genetic make-up to one’s tendency toward liberalism or conservatism. The idea stuck with me. Do our politics really radiate from our cells?

Virtually all of my dearest friends are liberals. We have lots in common. We laugh together. We commiserate. In many ways, we connect. Unless you count politics, economic theory, and religion, we get along great. I make sure our conversations never get near these topics, but it’s hard to hide it completely. True friendship is rare enough, I say; let’s try to maintain it.

Comments on Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB


Lost in yesterday’s headlines about guns, guns, guns, and God vs. the University, was another important case, Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.  The PCAOB was created by the dreaded Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was just the last time Congress over-reacted to a financial crisis.  SARBOX, as it is lovingly known in the securities world, created a federal regulator of the entire accounting industry, the PCAOB, but didn’t want the President to control it — so SARBOX placed the power to remove the PCAOB members in the Securities Exchange Commission, and only then “for cause.”  The SEC’s commissioners cannot themselves be removed by the President except for cause too.  These types of Rube Goldberg-esque designs are sadly, all too common in the administrative state, which is designed to remove the basic policy decisions governing broad areas of the economy — think of the FCC and the internet, or the SEC and securities — out of the hands of Congress or the President.  Politicians don’t want to take political responsibility for hard and potentially unpopular policy choices, but they want the ability to pressure the bureaucrats, behind the scenes, to give out favors to their allies.  And politicians wonder why the electorate is frustrated with the lack of transparency and accountability.

The Supreme Court, this time, said enough was enough.  It has allowed the heads of independent agencies, like the FCC, FTC, SEC, you name it, to be insulated from direct presidential control, and even allowed the same with second-tier officers, like the independent counsel (remember Ken Starr).  Both earlier decisions, I think, were mistaken, and have created a destructive distortion on the purity of the Constitution’s original division of the government into three branches.  But at least this time, a 5-4 majority said that Congress couldn’t combine the two, and say that an inferior officer could be protected from removal from an independent commission itself insulated from presidential control.  This would, the Court, found, interfere with the President’s constitutional responsibility to see that the laws are faithfully executed.  Of course, under this logic, the independent agencies would be unconstitutional, as well as the independent counsel.  Let’s hope that the Court begins to move in this direction again — as it had in the early 1980s, until its terribly wrong decision in Morrison v. Olson upholding the independent counsel.

Hurricane Alex Beckons Me


How cool is it that a Ricochet contributor gets to ricochet all over the country!  At the moment, I’m getting a trailer full of hurricane supplies loaded on the beast and then making a run for the Brownsville, TX area later today.  I understand the forecast calls for continued breezes, and fair to partly hideous tomorrow. 

Did I mention that the facility where I am being loaded has a no idle policy for trucks?  Did I mention that the temperature is in the mid 90’s right now?  Of course, this policy was conceived from the comfort of a climate controlled office, where heat stroke is not against company policy. 

Pork With Guns


The War Is Making You Poor Act, explains E.D. Kain at NRO, would carve “$159 billion of pork from the defense budget and give 90 percent of that money back to taxpayers. The remaining 10 percent would go toward trimming the national debt. For fiscal conservatives,” Kain argues, “this should be a welcome piece of legislation.”

In fact, judging by the many reactions around the Web, it might actually be a semi-popular, bipartisan bill that would at once cut back the national debt and put more tax dollars in Americans’ pockets. Republicans have a chance to lead this effort in the Senate. Indeed, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is talking about scaling back the defense budget […]. America already spends far more than the rest of the developed world on its national security. Trimming some pork from that figure would not leave Americans defenseless.

The Summer of Discontent – A Caption Contest!


Riding in an over-crowded and under-airconditioned subway this morning, I realized that state and city budget cuts, combined with persistent high unemployment are making for an American version of Britain’s 1978 “Winter of Discontent,” which produced this brilliant, game-changing poster by Saatchi and Saatchi.

This poster helped propel the Tories to power (Claire: back me up here). It’s hard to beat “Labor isn’t working,” but let’s try. How about pictures of unemployed workers with the caption “Congress Isn’t Working, Either.” Or maybe Obama on a golf course (“Obama Isn’t Working.”) Or pictures of idled oil rigs with the caption “Your Tax Dollars At Work.”

Other People’s Money


Nil nisi bonum and all that, but when I read of the passing of Senator Robert Byrd all I could think was, “There goes one of the GREAT spenders of other people’s money of all time.” Possibly the greatest ever — is there a Guinness record for this?

And this brought to mind another observation: One of the great gulfs in the modern developed world is that between people who have to make do on what they earn or accumulate themselves — their own money — and those who derive their power or wealth from making use of other people’s money. The latter increasingly view themselves as the “elite;” the former, whether part-time fry-cooks or well-to-do neurosurgeons, are the “other people.” Politicians accumulate power and influence by spending other people’s money; i-bankers, hedge fund managers, and the like accumulate wealth by taking risks with other people’s money. No wonder they’re so cozy. I think you could take a good deal of what’s happened over the past 12-18 months — the Tea Party, the anger at Wall Street, the political upsets — and call it the Revolt of the “Other People.”

The Question of the Hour


Can we win in Afghanistan?  I’m not asking whether Petraeus will be able to take over from McChrystal without disrupting our operations on the ground or whether the Obama administration will give Petraeus the troops and the time he needs.  Even if the transition from McChrystal to Petraeus goes flawlessly and the administration, by some miracle, decides to pursue an unambiguous victory, can we win?

As he insisted on our podcast last week, Victor Davis Hanson believes we can.  Yet as he told me on a recent episode of Uncommon Knowledge, and as he argues again in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Fouad Ajami believes we cannot.

The Right to Bear Arms and the Mind of an Honest Judge


The Supreme Court decision yesterday to strike down the Chicago ban on handguns was based on a 2007 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That 2007 decision, the first important jurisprudence on the right to bear arms in some seven decades, was written by Judge Laurence Silberman.

On Uncommon Knowledge not long ago, Judge Silberman explained himself.

Comments on Bilski v. Kappos


Today in the world of patent law, all eyes were on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bilski v. Kappos.

The issue in Bilski was whether certain hedging devices against price fluctuation, and their mathematical representations could be treated as “eligible” for  patent protection as a “process” under the law.  The Supreme Court held in this case that it could not be so, and on the outcome it affirmed the decision of the Federal Circuit.  But read in context, Bilski’s loss was on exceedingly narrow grounds that do not undercut the general view, long established that business method patents can be regarded as patent eligible processes in most situations.  Instead the key move in Justice Kennedy’s argument was that this particular patenting formula should be treated as an abstract idea or mathematical formula—both classes that have long been held outside the scope of IP protection. 



Andrew Sullivan points out that the tan/muscle/visible boxer-briefs band vibe popularized by Jersey Shore is pretty much a wholesale adoption of “the steroid look perfected by gays in the early 2000s.” It wouldn’t be the first time that gay fashion had its delayed revenge on straight style. What strikes me most is how self-obsessed, how self-referential, and how self-objectifying it all is. Or really, self-alienating — a guy’s abs take on this semi-independent, alien character usually reserved only for that part of the male anatomy often accused of doing its thinking for itself.

When Andrew and others predict ‘the end of gay culture’ in a big sea of bourgeois normalcy, I look at something like this strange development and I think, hmm, perhaps that’s not exactly it. We have this persistent desire to be able to oscillate back and forth between the comfortable, predictable, everyday world and the crazy planet or wild side. I doubt that’s going away. And I do think that the looser our sexual mores get, the more dramatic that oscillation is likely to become.

Thatcher and Reagan: If you read this post, you’ll prove my point


So, Brian Blackstone of the Wall Street Journal was sent to Basel to cover the annual meeting of central bankers there last Sunday, and I’m guessing the event was a serious snoozer. How else to explain his writing a whole article about the remarks of one Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, a former (former!) ECB official, who apparently blamed Thatcher and Reagan for the world’s financial ails. Mind you, if you read past the first paragraph, you’ll see that he doesn’t really blame them, he blames their successors, and that his criticism is mostly trivial, cliched or incoherent. More to the point, who cares what he thinks. I suppose Blackstone was just relieved to hear the words “Thatcher and Reagan” amid the droning. Those names, at least, always get people to click on the link.

Happiness and Children


I’ve been searching for ten minutes in which to respond to James P’s thoughtful posts about happiness and children – and here they are. I’ve always thought that studies on whether children make you happy were bogus. Happiness and even contentment are things of the moment. Sex, steak, a check in the mail, a glass of malt – those things make you happy – just as stubbing your toe or getting fired make you unhappy. The goal of life, though, is to live – to live abundantly as our old friend Uncle Jesus liked to say – and if having children doesn’t add to your abundance of life, you’re not doing it right. Abundance of life exists through grief and joy and I doubt any study can measure it. Indeed I doubt the people who measure things even know it’s there to be measured. My wife and I have an in-house expression used to welcome children, pets, friends, charities and other annoyances: “More love – more life.” The reverse is also true: Mark Steyn sees societies dying through depopulation and he’s right – but I would submit that a society that loses the urge to bring children into the world is already dead and just doesn’t know it yet. More precisely, such a society is alive without living. Children may not be the only cure for that but they’re a sure one.

Please don’t export anything icky


Export-Import Bank — a federal body that provides loan guarantees to American exporters — has refused to provide guarantees to a Wisconsin company that manufactures mining equipment because the equipment might be used for … mining. The company (Bucyrus) was set to sell up to $600 million in equipment to an Indian mining operation, but the Ex-Im Bank board voted it down because of the Administration’s policy not to back projects with heavy carbon emissions.

For those following at home: Nobody suggests that the American exporter is a polluter. Rather, the Administration is afraid that the customer — in India — might be a polluter.

Doing Business With a Dictator


Mary Anastasia O’Grady notes that this week Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson will try to persuade the House to lift the travel ban on Cuba.  What concessions does he expect the United States to extract from Fidel in return?  Exactly none.  What, O’Grady asks, does Peterson think he’s doing?

[A] wave of European, Canadian and Latin American visitors since the mid-1990s hasn’t changed a thing….[I]f Mr. Peterson wants to boost commerce why not push for passage of the Colombia free trade agreement?  Why is he so interested in doing business with a dictator?

How Did Europe’s Music Get So Bad?


There’s still some great, great Euro pop-rock out there — even electro-pop-rock (run, don’t walk to pick up some Kent). But Ricochet member Kennedy Smith was not lying when he held Eurovision up for special scorn. Somehow, something has gone horribly wrong. Rod Dreher plumbs the depths of the puzzle: 

How is it that a continent with such a rich musical and cultural history is so drecktastic when it comes to creating modern pop? You might also ask why it is that a country as rich in culinary resources as the US produced for so long Budweiser, Wonder Bread, Folger’s coffee and sliced American cheese as representatives of its mass culture. But look, we’re changing. Our people are learning to love good beer, good bread, good coffee and good cheese, and it’s getting easier to find all of that here. Within two blocks from where I sit now, in my Philadelphia home, I can walk out and buy beer, coffee, cheese and bread comparable to any I could buy on the Continent. We are discovering how to make great artisanal food. But can the Europeans ever learn how to make good pop music? If not, why not?

Hillary, Wrong Again as Usual


In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Steve Forbes publishes a column that is brief, cheerful (as is his wont), and devastating (also his wont).  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he notes, remarked not long ago that “Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what–it’s growing like crazy.”  To which Forbes replies, part:

Take a look at Brazil’s income tax rates–they are lower than ours.  The highest rate is a mere 27.5 percent, far below our top federal rate of 35 percent….Moreover that exaction [in the American tax code] will climb to almost 43 percent come January.