State of the Union

Britain’s Other Journalism Scandal

While attention for the past few weeks has focused — with good reason — on Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the UK is in the midst of another press embarrassment as well: the case of Johann Hari, boy wonder of The Independent. Hari admitted to mixing into interviews he conducted words lifted from his subjects’ printed works. Why prod an interviewee for a good quote when the mot juste is already to be found in black and white? Hari’s problems have not ended there, as the Telegraph‘s Damian Thompson and others have uncovered the possibility that Hari has been using a false identity to edit his page (and those of his critics) on Wikipedia.

Hari was the brightest young thing in respectable British lefty journalism. Indeed, he has been the recipient of the Orwell Prize, the UK’s top award for political writing. But now it looks like he’s going to have it revoked. The Orwell committee has put off announcing a decision while the Independent conducts an internal review, but blogger Guido Fawkes believes the verdict has already been reached. Why wait? Presumably to spare the Independent the indignity of being scooped on its own scandal.

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Just Deserts for PC Busybodies

An article in the Yale Alumni Magazine by Nicole Allan, a recent alumna and an associate editor of Atlantic, explains that sixteen Yale students and graduates are bringing a suit against their educational institution for sexual discrimination. According to Allan, this suit runs parallel to other suits being brought by other prestigious universities under Title IX of the expanded Civil Rights Act, passed in 1972. According to Title IX, it is illegal to practice discrimination on the basis of gender “for any educational program receiving financial assistance.” This addendum to the 1964 Civil Rights Act has been a gold mine for trial lawyers and for women’s groups looking for actionable evidence of discriminatory treatment.

By now, as Ms. Allan suggests, the law has been expanded to cover the failure of universities to provide female students with enough emotional support. Title IX has also been invoked to punish institutions that fail to move quickly enough to address harassing speech. Since both of our national parties support such practices, it is unlikely this problem will go away in the near future.

The Yale case is for me particularly interesting since it deals with my alma mater, which is becoming the very embodiment of PC. From Allan’s account, Yale offers non-stop service for every kind of female complaint, from committees to deal with insensitive speech to a SHARE Center, which responds to accusations of sexual assault. But one should never be overly confident when talking about the sensitivities of protected minorities. “In late May the Department of Education cited Yale for underreporting sex offenses in 2001 and 2002, after an investigation sparked by a 2004 article in this magazine.” It’s gratifying to know that a throw-away magazine that I receive for my annual donation is blowing the whistle on sexist administrators. Read More…

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Wikileaks Revisited

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve long been a fan of professional wrestling. These days, this also means being a fan of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and its current top star John Cena. But not every fan likes Cena. In fact, some downright hate him. Though packaged as the ultimate good guy—whose say-your-prayers-and-take-your-vitamins appeal worked perfectly for Hulk Hogan two decades ago—many fans have come to resent Cena as someone they simply don’t want to accept. For every fan who cheers him, there are always two more who jeer him—vigorously. For the life of me, I cannot understand the vitriol. But I do understand the power of established narrative.

Wikileaks is the organization the entire political class and media establishment told us we must hate. When the whistleblower outfit famously made its mark in November of 2010 by releasing thousands of classified US government cables—which revealed everything from Saudi Arabia’s desire for an American strike on Iran to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attempts to obtain the DNA and credit card information of United Nations officials—Washington went into immediate demonization mode. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist.” Vice President Joe Biden would reiterate McConnell’s charge. Clinton said Wikileaks’ actions were “an attack on the international community.” Marc Thiessen wrote in the Washington Post: “WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise.” Read More…

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Is a Tea Party Triumph at Hand?

They were called “terrorists,” “fanatics” and “unpatriotic.”

Yet the principled resistance of the Tea Party Caucus in the House has put their leader right across the table from Barack Obama to negotiate the final terms of armistice in the debt-ceiling battle of 2011.

Today is July 22. On this day, it was said, either Congress will have voted to raise the debt ceiling, or the markets will have panicked and America will be on the road to default on Aug. 2.

House leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor are, as of this writing, sitting with Obama negotiating terms. And yesterday, the stock market surged in anticipation they were close to an agreement. If Boehner and Cantor are dealing from strength, it is thanks to the Tea Party’s rejection of previous deals.

The caucus held Boehner’s feet to the fire, and Boehner is the stronger for it. Read More…

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Default: The Two Sweetest Words in the English Language

Although I don’t think any of the so-called “serious” politicians will allow the federal government to default on its debts at this juncture, our current fiscal policy is unsustainable. At some point, the government will have to stick it to one or more of the major interest groups in play: bondholders, seniors and others who depend on entitlements, and taxpayers. I believe bondholders will bear the brunt of the government’s nearly inevitable fiscal collapse, and that is exactly as it should be.

The politics of the situation are relatively simple. More senior citizens vote than any other demographic, and with Baby Boomers on the cusp of retirement, their numbers will swell, so large cuts to Social Security and Medicare will remain next to impossible. Tax rates will rise, but American taxpayers (and the American economy) simply will not stand for the level of taxation necessary to maintain our foreign empire, pay entitlements, and service the debt.

Something must give, and it will be the debt, specifically the 47% of our public debt held by foreigners and foreign governments. These groups have little direct impact on American politics, and although it will create international outrage, our domestic politics don’t allow any other way out.

And bondholders–both foreign and domestic–should lose out. They act as the government’s enabler, ready to supply the junkie with his next hit whenever his cash runs low. This is an institution that launches wars on whims and imprisons more of its own citizens than any other country on Earth. Anyone who voluntarily gives his own money to it either lacks even a passing familiarity with its stunning immorality and incompetence or is so blinded by status quo bias that he can’t see the very clear writing on the wall. Buying debt carries risks, and when you give your money to the governmental equivalent of a magic bean salesman, you have no right to complain when you don’t get it back.

Headline reference here.

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Temptations of Empire

I have a new article in Reason where I review two books on the great empires of history and explain that imperialism does not make the conquering nations any richer or safer. Moreover, decentralized societies are safer than consolidated empires because would-be conquerors cannot take existing administrative systems and technologies and use them for their own ends. Somewhat paradoxically, the stronger we make our own state, the more vulnerable we become to outside conquest because the apparatus can easily be turned against us. If you want to make your society safe from outside invasion, make your own government as weak as possible.

I also interviewed one of the authors, Timothy Parsons, who is a professor at Washington University in Saint Louis and happened to be my history adviser when I studied there as an undergraduate. During our discussion, Parsons describes how the only winners in empires are special interest groups, how empire can corrupt the politics of the metropole (Edmund Burke gets a mention here as an anti-imperialist), and how the conquerors often become the conquered. Parsons argues that empires are no longer feasible because of the rise of national over local identity. Nation-states have largely put an end to empire as it was traditionally known, but nation-states themselves are inherently imperial. According to Parsons, the major difference is that nations seek to turn people into citizens while empires only seek subjects.

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Government Doesn’t Work

In 2009, conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe and a friend dressed as a pimp and prostitute to secretly videotape officials with the government-backed, low income housing advocacy group ACORN. ACORN officials in multiple offices ended up trying to help the couple with advice on how to evade taxes and avoid detection of their made-up sex-trafficking and child prostitution business. This month, O’Keefe released videos of a man going to various state health and human services departments claiming to be a supporter of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). The kilt-clad man asked if “25 Irish nationals” who were “basically shot up in a skirmish in Belfast” could receive Medicaid. The government employees agreed to help him and also to keep the legal and questionable nature of the intended recipients confidential.

Both stories made national headlines and we can no doubt expect similar exposes from O’Keefe in the future. The mission statement of O’Keefe’s organization Project Veritas is to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct.” He really has his work cut out for him—as each of these terms will always end up being better general descriptions than unusual exceptions concerning any investigation of today’s government.

Simply put—big government doesn’t work. For that matter, neither does small government. The Founding Fathers’ philosophy on the state—particularly Thomas Jefferson and his followers—was that government was an unavoidably evil and therefore should be as limited and minimal as possible. These men even wrote a legal charter that was very specific in explaining how and where our national government should be restrained. At one time, elected officials paid it heed. Today, Washington leaders do little more than pay it lip service. Read More…

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Paying Congressmen to Pay Pakistan

According to a report in The Washington Post, Representative Joe Pitts, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and other U.S lawmakers received financial contributions from pro-Pakistan lobbyists who were being funded by the Pakistani military, including by its infamous Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In return, Pitts and other Pak-paid congressman, including Dan Burton, Republican from Indiana, and Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio were being asked by the ISI men in Washington to promote the Pakistani position on Kashmir, the border region claimed by Pakistan and India.

It seems that Pitts and the other lawmakers ended up delivering the goods to their paymasters. Hence, a few days after he had received $2,000 campaign contribution from the Pakistani lobbyists, Pitts introduced a resolution in 2004 which, reflecting Islamabad’s stance, called for a more activist U.S. role in resolving the dispute over Kashmir.

The FBI has charged that two U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent, who used a nonprofit Washington group known as the Kashmiri American Council to carry their lobbying efforts, were unregistered agents of the government of Pakistan. The Post reported that the FBI estimated that the ISI poured at least $4 million into the campaign contributions and the other public relations and lobbying handled by the two agents for Pakistan. Read More…

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Marshall McLuhan: the first blogger?

Today marks Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday. While the Canadian-born media theorist wasn’t honored with a temporary electronic totem pole at the center of cyberspace — a Google Doodle — he perhaps should have been; McLuhan coined the very information-age phrase “the global village” in the early ’60s, a time when plans for an “intergalactic computer network” were only musings of bureaucrats at the Department of Defense.

The spring issue of The New Atlantis carries an excellent reflection on McLuhan by Alan Jacobs, who gets beyond the slogans — “the medium is the message” — that made McLuhan the Clay Shirky of his time. He is both overhyped and underappreciated, contends Jacobs, for McLuhan “never made arguments, only assertions … those assertions are usually wrong, and when they are not wrong, they are highly debatable.” At the same time, “McLuhan’s determination to bring the vast resources of humanistic scholarship to bear upon the analysis of new media is an astonishingly fruitful one, and an example to be followed.” It was an example that inspired the trenchant critic of television Neil Postman, who in Jacobs’ estimation does the job better than McLuhan — leading Jacobs to suggest that “once one has absorbed [McLuhan’s] example there is no need to read anything that McLuhan ever wrote.”

Jacobs points out that McLuhan’s writing style — frustrating to those trying to wring out an argument — may have been ahead of its time, resembling the assertion-based, quote-heavy, quick riffs that characterize much internet-based writing. In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), McLuhan shows familiarity with a wide literature, including many books that Jacobs contends later “transformed their disciplines.” Read More…

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As the summer of discontent continues for the News Corp baron driven down the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, now is a good time to revisit two classic TAC essays on Murdoch and his empire — whom we have to thank for Fox News, the Weekly Standard, the New York Post, and the present incarnation of the Wall Street Journal. As Scott McConnell wrote in 2005:

[T]he Iraq War is Bill Kristol’s War as much as it is George W. Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s, and the Standard is the vehicle that made it possible. It should go down in history as Rupert Murdoch’s War as well, and thus becomes by far the most significant historical event ever to be shaped by the Murdoch media.

How ironic it would be if it were not, in the end, a war Rupert Murdoch particularly wanted.

Murdoch perhaps signaled his displeasure at Kristol’s conflict mismanagement by selling the Standard to Philip Anschutz in 2009. That was the same year Michael Wolff published The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, reviewed in TAC by Philip Weiss:

In the novel that Wolff makes of Murdoch’s life, the hero is no worse than the rest. The real reason he wants to buy the Wall Street Journal is not to suck the music out of it, as he seems to have done with the Times of London, but to please his “liberal-ish” wife, Wendi, who revels in media celebrity and packs her unglamorous husband into Prada suits. The Journal is meant to be a cultural counterweight to the property that makes Murdoch a lot of money but he can’t abide: Fox News, led by his “monster,” Roger Ailes, and someone else Murdoch “despises,” the “bullying, mean-spirited” Bill O’Reilly.

And so, after 400 pages, Murdoch, whom Wolff unconvincingly styles as an outsider in an effort to jazz the reader’s interest, has become the Obama-loving blue-state insider.

McConnell and Weiss have much more, so check out their pieces.

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