- Ross Douthat on the Seduction of Tea Partiers While the language and style of Republicans' new "Pledge to America" feels like a "triumph" for the Tea Party faction, The New York Times columnist cautions that the document's looks can be deceiving. He explains,"House Republicans have adopted the atmospherics of the Tea Party movement, but they’ve evaded its most admirable substance." It's true that the Tea Party's grassroots aesthetic makes its ideology hard to pin down, but at its core the movement can be boiled down to one point: Republicans, like Democrats, have been "an accessory to the growth of spending and deficits." The "Pledge," however, merely nods to Tea Partiers' desire for lower taxes and smaller government, without detailing how the government can reduce spending. "It’s all too easy to imagine the [Tea Party] movement...being seduced with rhetorical nods to the Constitution, and general promises of spending discipline that never get specific," Douthat concludes.
- Rufus Phillips on Corruption in Afghanistan The former CIA counterinsurgency expert was alarmed to read of President Hamid Karzai's intervention in the arrest of Mohammed Zia Saleh, "a top security aide arrested on charges of corruption in Afghanistan," and who turned out to be "on the [CIA] payroll." Says Phillips: "unless corruption is curbed at the national and local level, we are going to lose the war." He appreciates the "need for unsavory agents in intelligence operations," but points out that "there is an alternative to relying on political information from mercenaries ... over the years many of the most valuable CIA assets have not been paid informants but rather 'walk-ins' motivated by idealism." Fighting corruption in Afghanistan is crucial, he writes, and the CIA's employment of such corrupt officials as Mohammed Zia Saleh, though "entirely appropriate when targeted against hostile regimes (North Korea or Iran) or the Taliban, can be injurious if they undermine a government we are supporting, especially one whose legitimacy is shaky."
- Mona Charen on the Rising Poverty Paradox The National Review contributor parses the Census Bureau's poverty statistics and reports some revealing findings. Not only has poverty risen since Barack Obama's inauguration, it's now currently at its highest level since 1994. But, interestingly, the rise in poverty has not resulted in a higher crime rate: "even as unemployment was spiking during 2009, the rate of murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults declined by 4.4 percent from the previous year." Experts and journalists have speculated about why this has occurred, with some coming to the conclusion that "higher unemployment levels translate to more people at home and fewer opportunities for property crimes, and (less convincingly) that social programs like 'community outreach programs' are paying off." Charen says that these surprising numbers should "suggest a measure of humility to analysts on all sides of the question."
- Kwame Anthony Appiah on What Future Generations Will 'Condemn' Us For The Princeton philosophy professor takes to the pages of The Washington Post to ponder what practices will be looked upon with "incomprehension" by future generations who will be asking, "What were they thinking?" He gives his criteria for which institutions or ideas will eventually be discredited, settling on three "signs" from which this information can be gleaned. 1)"People have already heard the arguments against the practice," meaning that the debate is currently raging about the issue right now. 2)"Defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity." 3) "Supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they're complicit." He concludes by hypothesizing that our society's prison system, industrial meat production, institutionalized elderly, and treatment of the environment fit this criteria for "future moral condemnation."
- Kevin Williamson on 'the Myth of the Consumer Economy' National Review deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson goes on the attack against the "constantly repeated but entirely untrue statement that consumer spending represents 70 percent of the U.S. economy, and that it is therefore imperative that we give consumers some stimulus, in the form of tax rebates, more generous unemployment checks, or cocaine-monkey research grants." What the government categorizes as consumer spending, points out Williamson, in fact includes government spending (on Medicare and Medicaid, for example, and health-care spending),"the money spent by nonprofits, for instance, along with political parties and campaigns." Real consumer spending "in reality, represents less than half of U.S. economic activity, probably around 40 percent." Argues Williamson: "The problem of economic policy is not getting people to consume. It is getting them to produce. You can train a monkey to consume." Jobs, he says, come from production, not consumption, and in any event "we cannot consume that which has not been produced." Thus, concludes a defiant and provocative Williamson, anything that is not about increasing savings and investment--leading to increased production--"is a Beltway full-employment program for social engineers, unicorn wranglers, and fairie-dust sprinklers."
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