March 2010

March 29, 2010 1:52PM

Dimensions of Diversity

David Boaz posed some questions about diversity promotion in American newsrooms in a post yesterday:

But if reflecting the community is essential, why are race and gender the only categories to be considered? Alexander doesn’t mention sexual orientation. Does the Post have gay (and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and questioning…) journalists in the correct proportions?

And how about ideological diversity? In the 2008 exit polls, 23 percent of voters described themselves as white, Protestant, born‐​again or evangelical Christians. A survey of American religion said that 34 percent of Americans describe themselves as evangelical or born‐​again. How many editors and reporters at the Post would describe themselves that way? I’ll bet that born‐​again Christians are the most underrepresented group in elite newsrooms.

I think David mostly means to offer these as a reductio of preference policies generally, but I think they’re fair enough questions on face—possibly because I’m less confident than David that there’s a useful operational concept of “merit” in reporting that can be disentangled from identity given some intransigent social facts about 21st century America. Past some threshold level of competence, a gay reporter is just going to be able to do a better job of reporting on the gay community than I am, and a black reporter is going to have an easier time covering Anacostia. And yes, a white evangelical will probably have an easier time covering white evangelicals—though it’s no mystery why editors might be more skittish about an active preference for historically privileged groups. In a better world, identity might be less important, but in the one we’ve got it’s likely to bear on a reporter’s effectiveness in certain beats. The principle has its limits—Gay Talese or Tom Wolfe are going to be brilliant covering just about anyone—but among mortal reporters you’d expect some effect.

That said, I can think of a couple reasons why religion and (especially) ideology might be less desirable diversity targets than immutable characteristics like race, sex, or orientation. First, outside the realm of screwball comedies from the 80s, there’s not all that much reason to worry about aspiring reporters trying to “pass” as black or Hispanic or (Jack Tripper notwithstanding) gay in hopes of securing a professional advantage. Religion and politics, by contrast, are fundamentally choices we make, and a system of preferences would create an unseemly incentive to—either cynically or subconsciously—drift in the favored direction. There is, I think, something clearly distasteful about a professional environment in which (say) a mainline Protestant reporter is perpetually awkwardly aware that his chances at promotion might turn on whether he’s prepared to declare himself “born again.”

Second, because religion and political ideology are identities fundamentally grounded in belief, they necessarily go beyond the reportorial desiderata of being able to understand and get access to a community you cover. They entail a commitment to seeing one group as systematically in the right in an array of different types of conflicts or disagreements with other groups. Making that kind of intellectual commitment a prerequisite of covering certain beats might run contrary to the norms of objectivity good newsrooms try to cultivate.

So that might be a legitimate reason for papers to aim for some level of representativeness along racial, gender, or sexual orientation lines, but omit religion and ideology—from the newsroom, at any rate. Those arguments don’t apply as strongly to the editorial page—where, indeed, we do often see conscious (if not always competent) attempts to maintain some semblance of balance among perspectives.

March 29, 2010 12:51PM

ObamaCare’s New Entitlement Spending “Sows the Seeds” of a Budget Crisis

From Robert J. Samuelson’s column in today’s Washington Post:

When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody’s Investors Service — the bond rating agency — published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama’s health‐​care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already‐​bleak budget outlook.

Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings. A further irony will not escape historians. For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self‐​centered — though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.

I hope Samuelson is wrong, but it’s probably a good idea to behave as if he’s right, and repeal ObamaCare’s new entitlement spending.

March 29, 2010 12:48PM

Medicare Fraud: 1, Anti‐​Fraud Measures: 0

As the nation contemplates the new health care entitlements that Congress and President Obama just created, it is worth noting an article in today’s Washington Post, which reports on the performance of past efforts to eliminate fraud in another health care entitlement:

More than a decade ago, Congress set out to squeeze the fraud out of Medicare billing at nursing homes, requiring more precise justifications for costs. It created new “ultra‐​high” billing categories intended to be used for only 5 percent of the patients needing highly specialized care and rehabilitation.

But within a few years, nursing homes flooded the ultra‐​high categories with patients, contributing to $542 million a year in potential overpayments, federal analysts found.

Since then, the numbers in the ultra‐​high categories have quadrupled, and the amount of waste and abuse could reach billions of dollars a year…

The article ends with the ominous implication that eliminating fraud in entitlement programs like Medicare will ultimately require government agencies to decide whether certain services are medically necessary.

Death panels, anyone?

March 29, 2010 11:46AM

Crist Fiscally Responsible? Not So Fast

He did it again: Florida governor and senatorial candidate Charlie Crist cited Cato’s 2008 Governors’ Report Card as evidence of his fiscal conservative credentials, this time in a Fox News Sunday debate with his primary opponent Marco Rubio.

Trouble is, the report card’s author, Chris Edwards, has gone on the record again and again explaining how Crist has fallen hard off the fiscal responsibility wagon since the report was released two years ago.

The Florida media has publicized Edwards’ correction of the record numerous times since Crist began citing the Cato rating in his political ads. It is difficult to believe that Crist can be unaware of that.

Here’s Edwards in October 2009:

Since I wrote the report in mid‐​2008, the governor seems to have fallen off the fiscal responsibility horse.

In particular, Crist approved a huge $2.2 billion tax increase for the fiscal 2010 budget, even though he had promised that $12 billion in federal “stimulus” money showered on Florida over three years would obviate the need for tax increases.

About $1 billion of the tax increases are on cigarette consumers, which will particularly harm moderate‐​income families. The rest of the increases are in the form of higher costs for often mandatory services, such as automobile registration, which is really just a sneaky form of tax increases.

Watch the exchange below. Crist cites Cato at 8:43:

Watch the latest news video at video​.foxnews​.com

Transcript here.

March 29, 2010 10:39AM

A Columnist Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Ecuador

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has long labeled the free press as his “main enemy.” His attitude has unfortunately resulted in official intolerance of individuals critical of the government.

The latest example is that of Emilio Palacio, the editor of the op‐​ed page of El Universo — the newspaper with the highest circulation in the country — who was sentenced on Friday to three years in jail for an op‐​ed he wrote in August 2009. Palacio accused Camilo Samán, director of a state‐​owned bank, of having sent protesters to El Universo’s offices after the newspaper reported on possible acts of corruption at the bank. The President has repeatedly stated that Palacio should be punished for what he wrote. In a country where everybody knows that the courts are not independent of political power, it’s not surprising that the ruling went against the editor.

I have known Palacio since I began writing op‐​eds for El Universo in late 2006. Although we hardly ever agree on policy issues, I certainly don’t believe he (or anyone else) deserves to go to jail (and possibly pay a fine of $3 million) for expressing an opinion. (The court actually found Palacio guilty of libel, but even if we were to agree with that finding, the punishment surely does not fit the crime.)

Correa’s government has accused at least 31 people of offending “the majesty of the presidency,” jailing many of them for short periods of time. To do so, the President revived a law that the first military dictatorship of the 1970s put into place that made such an offense a crime and that was never taken off the books.

The government regularly vilifies its critics including journalists, university students, businessmen, and indigenous leaders. For example, during his weekly national radio shows, the President has attacked Carlos Vera and Jorge Ortiz, the two most popular news anchors in the country. The government’s frequent nationally televised messages (that every TV station on public airwaves is forced to broadcast) usually have the sole purpose of attacking a person or group that opposes official policy. Sometimes these messages were broadcast during Vera’s and Ortiz’s programs, thereby keeping their viewers from watching them. In 2008 Correa took over several privately owned TV and radio stations. Last year, he apparently had his eyes set on Teleamazonas, another TV station on public airwaves. In December, the government shut down Teleamazonas for three days and now has a frivolous legal case pending against it.

Sadly, Correa is following the pattern of his fellow populist Hugo Chávez in curtailing freedom of speech, though receiving virtually no international scrutiny.

March 29, 2010 9:58AM

The Flat Tax: Good for America, Bad for Washington

America’s biggest fiscal challenge is excessive government spending. The public sector is far too large today and it is projected to get much bigger in coming decades. But the corrupt and punitive internal revenue code is second on the list of fiscal problems. This new video, narrated by yours truly, explains how a flat tax would work and why it would promote growth and fairness. Something to keep in mind with tax day in just a couple of weeks.

There are two big hurdles that must be overcome to achieve tax reform. The first obstacle is that the class‐​warfare crowd wants the tax code to penalize success with high tax rates. That issue is addressed in the video in a couple of ways. I explain that fairness should be defined as treating all people equally, and I also point out that upper‐​income taxpayers are far more likely to benefit from all the deductions, credits, exemptions, preferences, and other loopholes in the tax code. The second obstacle, which is more of an inside‐​the‐​beltway issue, is that the current tax system is very rewarding for the iron triangle of lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats (or maybe iron rectangle if we include the tax preparation industry). There are tens of thousands of people who make very generous salaries precisely because the tax code is a playground for corrupt deal making. A flat tax for these folks would be like kryptonite for Superman. But more than two dozen nations around the world have implemented a flat tax, so hope springs eternal.