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April 4, 2007 10:02AM

Doesn’t He Look “Presidential”?

Mitt Romney on the campaign trail yesterday.

Media Name: romney_300.jpg

(Photo from today’s New York Times.)


Pop quiz: How many federal officials were visiting school children when our country was attacked on 9/11?


Answer: The exact number is probably classified. But we know that President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft were playing teacher that morning.

April 4, 2007 9:51AM

Does Gitmo Hurt More than It Helps?

This morning, NPR did a story on media coverage of the British sailor crisis in the Arab world. Ramez Maluf, a journalism professor at American University in Beirut, pointed to this commentary by an Arab blogger on the subject:

Iranians should consider those 15 pirates as enemy combatants, and treat them in the same way as they treat our “detainees” in Gitmo. They should be put in orange jumpsuits, and their eyes, hands, and feet should be binded [sic]. After that, they should be kept rotting in cages there for five years without any legal process. That would be just like the U.S. style of democracy. It would be very fair.

Thank God, it appears that the Brits are about to be released. Apparently, what the British are supposed to do is state that they “regret” the incident, and will endeavor to make sure it doesn’t happen again, without admitting that the British entered Iranian territorial waters. I imagine that both of those statements are true, though I suspect that “making sure it doesn’t happen again” may mean different things to the English than it does to the Iranians. There are different ways to ensure that such an incident doesn’t happen again.

April 3, 2007 4:23PM

John Edwards and Family Decisions

More than a week after Senator John Edwards’s decision to remain in the presidential race despite the recurrence of his wife Elizabeth’s cancer, pundits are starting to sharply criticize the decision. They say that he is consumed by ambition and that his priorities are out of whack. They say that he should be spending time with his wife and especially with his two small children.


I had a similar reaction: these two children need their parents with them now more than ever. They may lose their mother soon. And if their father spends two years campaigning, they won’t see much of him. If his campaign is successful, they won’t spend time much time with him for the rest of their childhood.


But who am I to judge the intimate family decisions of John and Elizabeth Edwards? I can’t possibly know as much about their values and goals as they do.


If John and Elizabeth Edwards have spent the past ten — or fifteen — or twenty years working toward the White House, it may well be their very considered decision that that effort should continue. In particular, it may be that the one thing Elizabeth Edwards wants most in her life is to see her husband in the White House. Assuming that Elizabeth Edwards genuinely believes that John would be a good president (I don’t, but I’m not making the decision), then she may very well have decided that what he can do for the country is more important than what he can do for his children. As Rick said to Ilsa in Casablanca, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”


So pundits would do well to assume that no one knows the trade‐​offs involved in the Edwardses’ decision better than the Edwardses. In this case, as in so many others, it makes sense to let the people most closely involved in the decision make that decision.


But here’s the irony. John Edwards doesn’t believe that families should be allowed to make the important decisions about their lives. He doesn’t think families should be allowed to decide where their children will go to school. He doesn’t think families should be allowed to decide how or whether to save for retirement. He doesn’t think families should be allowed to decide what drugs to use, either pharmaceutically or recreationally. He supports a national health care system that would deny families the right to choose their own doctor.


In this presidential year, it would be good for Americans to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that families — not pundits and not government — should make the important decisions about their lives.

April 3, 2007 2:47PM

NYT Quote of the Day

If all of America were more like the Army, it would be a better country.


 — Robert Wright, “My Life In the Army,” New York Times, April 3, 2007, p. A23.

I bet you won’t find many founding fathers expressing this sentiment. Well, unless you’re looking at the founding fathers of the Third Reich or Soviet Russia .…

April 3, 2007 9:01AM

Supreme Court to EPA: Hurry Up and Wait?

Lots of news outlets have been describing the Supreme Court's opinion in Massachusetts v. EPA along the following lines: "Supreme Court says global warming is bad; tells EPA to fix the problem."

Is that right? Not really.

In fact, if you read between the lines of the majority's decision, its not clear that it will alter EPA policy one jot or tittle.

“Regulation,” under the Clean Air Act, can take a number of forms: It can take the form of declaring aspirational emission standards. Or it can take more draconian forms, such as looming technology mandates and imminent implementation deadlines, backed by tough civil and criminal penalties.

Even assuming that, after the Court's decision yesterday, the EPA has to “regulate” in the sense of promulgating some GHG emission standards, the Court’s decision leaves the EPA with ample room to argue that it can defer deciding when and how to implement those standards in light of the potentially high and uncertain costs of implementation.

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April 3, 2007 8:23AM

Review of Barber’s Consumed

I have a review in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) of Benjamin Barber’s new book Consumed, which examines the supposed perils of material plenty. The book’s unsubtle subtitle makes it clear enough where Barber stands: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole


Here’s a sample of my take on Barber:

[Barber] sees the explosion of consumer choices today and assumes that Americans are growing ever more materialistic: The more gadgets, gizmos and fripperies the marketplace serves up, the more deeply we fall under commerce’s evil spell. In fact, the opposite is true.


Political scientist Ronald Inglehart has exhaustively documented a world‐​wide shift toward “postmaterialist” values, in which, as he puts it, the “emphasis on economic achievement as the top priority is now giving way to an increasing emphasis on the quality of life.” The more stuff we have, the less interested we become in simply accumulating more and the more we seek out instead the intangible satisfactions of memorable experiences, meaningful work and self‐​realization.


The existence of books like Mr. Barber’s proves the point. In an amusing irony, the progress of capitalist development creates a continuing demand for fulminations against the evils of materialism. Thus do anti‐​market intellectuals like Benjamin Barber find their niche in the consumerist cornucopia they so revile.

For my further thoughts on the revolutionary social consequences of capitalist mass affluence, check out my forthcoming book (out next month) The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture.