201003

March 29, 2010 9:57AM

Podhoretz on Palin

Today Politico Arena asks:

Comment please on Podhotetz on Palin

My response:

To complete Norman Podhoretz's thought in this morning's Wall Street Journal, "I knew Ron Reagan. Ron Reagan was a friend of mine. Governor Palin, you're no Ron Reagan -- but I like you all the same." And that distinguishes Podhoretz from those "conservative intellectuals" whose antipathy to Sarah Palin and "the loathsome Tea Party rabble" is ultimately explained, he believes, by "the same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers."

To be sure, that "class bias" explains a good measure of the hostility Mrs. Palin has faced, especially among that often diverse band called neoconservatives. For like their counterparts on the left, most neoconservatives find their roots in progressivism, not in limited government classical liberalism, and hence in the idea that society should be "run" by elites trained at the "best schools" -- the difference being that in engineering society the neoconservatives march to different drummers than modern liberals. Both camps have greater faith in government than does "the common man," who is distrusted by both camps (not always without reason), although Podhoretz seems more trustful than most in his band.

Where he errs, I believe, is in his too breezy comparison of Palin to Reagan. There are similarities of course -- especially in the reactions of elites to both, on which his essay dwells -- the most important of which is that both show a certain common sense approach to the world and to public affairs. Their intuitions seem sound, that is. But it takes more than sound intuition to be a successful president. Ronald Reagan was always underestimated. Unlike so many of his elite critics, left and right, he came from humble beginnings, but he was an autodidact his whole life. He read and understood economists, political theorists, historians, and biographers. That knowledge, coupled with a wealth of experience, including two successful terms as governor of the nation's largest state, distinguishes him from Mrs. Palin. Both have that common sense that enables them to speak to "the common man," but the similarity ends there.

Perhaps Mrs. Palin will find the life she has carved out since leaving the governorship of Alaska will be attractive enough to encourage her to continue in it. My sense, however, is that the millions of Americans who today are deeply troubled by the direction the country is taking under the Obama administration are still looking for candidates who combine the understanding, the common sense, and the humility that Ronald Reagan so clearly embodied.

March 29, 2010 9:48AM

Pot, Protectionism, and Unions

Lobbying reporter Tim Carney notes that some California marijuana growers are worried that a proposed legalization initiative could drive down the price of the product and adversely affect their incomes. They're holding meetings to deal with the threat.  Some growers are just talking about creating an official Humboldt seal of approval. Maybe they could even get legal restrictions on who can use the Humboldt name, like Champagne and Roquefort. But some local stores sport bumper stickers reading "Save Humboldt County — keep pot illegal."

The story reminds Carney of this Reason.tv video featuring a spokeswoman for the purported American Marijuana Growers Association, who urge smokers to buy only American-grown bud:

And that video reminds me of this classic Saturday Night Live video, from those heady days in the '70s when television shows could joke about marijuana, featuring the American Dope Growers Union reminding viewers that when you buy pot from Mexico or Colombia, "you're putting an American out of work." (The SNL sketch was based on a much-broadcast commercial by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union singing "Look for the Union Label," to discourage Americans from buying foreign-made products.)

Union rules, protectionist laws, and sometimes even outright bans are all ways of avoiding the rigors of competition, seeking to prevent consumers from buying products and services where they're cheapest. Sometimes there are laws banning or taxing the purchase of goods from another country. Sometimes there are appeals to compassion and patriotism, like "Buy American" or "Buy Local" campaigns. Sometimes an outright ban on the sale of a product actually products the market for established illegal sellers, as the Humboldt County marijuana growers are thinking, and as economist Bruce Yandle theorized in his work on "bootleggers and Baptists."

March 29, 2010 8:39AM

Earmark Requests Going Online — In Wrong Formats

As required by rules instituted last year, members of Congress are posting their earmark requests online. And in a small improvement over past practice, the House Appropriations Committee  is posting links to all those pages (in alphabetical order and by state). The Senate Appropriations Committee is doing the same.

So, great. You can go line-by-line and figure out what requests your member of Congress has put in. But what’s the total number of your members’ requests? What’s the total amount of his or her requests? Who requested the most earmarks, in dollars or in number? Where in your district is the money supposed to go?

HTML pages and PDF documents are very hard to work with and don’t allow us to answer these questions. The Earmarkdata.org project is asking Congress to produce information about what it’s doing in formats that are useful for public oversight. Cato's December 2008 policy forum on this topic was called "Just Give Us the Data!"

The Earmarkdata.org site has a petition people can sign to ask their representatives to produce good earmark data.

March 28, 2010 3:06PM

Diversity in the Newsroom

The Washington Post's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, is very concerned that "journalists of color" make up only 24 percent of the Post's reporters and editors. That might seem like a lot to some observers, but Alexander notes that minorities are 43 percent of the people in the Washington area, and it's essential that the newsroom staff mirror the community the paper is serving.

Well, maybe. As a longtime Post reader, I don't really know which of the editors and reporters are nonwhite, and I don't really care. I would hope that the Post would hire the best reporters and editors, in order to put out the best possible paper -- with the best possible reporting, writing, copyediting, proofreading, and analysis.

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. But they weren't mentioned in Alexander's column. A CBS/New York Times poll in December found that 18 percent of respondents described themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement. How many Post journalists are? The Post has recently assigned reporter Amy Gardner to "train her sights on the emerging Tea Party movement and developments inside the Republican Party." Is she a Tea Party Republican? If not, isn't that sort of like hiring a white person to "train her sights on African-American politics and developments in the black community"? Cato's studies on the libertarian vote classify about 15 percent of Americans as libertarian. How many Post journalists would be categorized as libertarian?

Slate, the online magazine owned by the Washington Post Co., which shares some content with the Post, reported in 2008 that 55 of its 57 staff and contributors would be voting for Barack Obama, with 1 for John McCain and one for Libertarian Bob Barr. I'm not going to look up the details, but I'm pretty sure that's unrepresentative of the country as a whole and even of the Washington area.

If newspapers are going to move beyond strict merit hiring to hire reporters and editors who "reflect the community," then they shouldn't stop at race and gender. Let's see some ideological diversity in elite newsrooms.

March 27, 2010 10:06AM

Celebrate Human Achievement Tonight

Environmentalist groups and celebrities are celebrating "Earth Hour" tonight. They ask that you turn your lights out for an hour, to call attention to global warming.  Folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute suggest that "this sends the wrong message -- to plunge us all into darkness as a rejection of technology and human achievement." In fact, they point out that it's Earth Hour every night in North Korea, where people lack basic freedoms, as well as affordable, reliable access to many human achievements, such as electricity. Check out this famous photo of environmentally conscious North Koreans observing Earth Hour all night, every night.

CEI rejects the rejection of technology. They have declared the hour between 8:30 and 9:30 tonight to be "Human Achievement Hour." To join the celebration, just turn your lights on tonight and enjoy the human achievement of light when we want it. And watch CEI's short video history of human achievement here.

March 26, 2010 4:56PM

Watch It Here: 10 Rules for Dealing with Police

10 Rules for Dealing with Police, the new film from Flex Your Rights, premiered at Cato earlier this week. If you're interested in knowing more about how to defend your rights during encounters with law enforcement, this is a must-see. You can watch the whole thing below, which includes discussion and commentary after the film.

Order the DVD at FlexYourRights.com.

Plus, don't miss the exclusive interview with the star of the film, Baltimore trial attorney Billy Murphy (from HBO’s The Wire).