The Nation’s Pulse

The Nation's Pulse

Our Competitive Entitlement Economy

By 12.11.14

It’s not unusual for non-Americans, and many Americans of a center-left disposition, to portray the United States as a dog-eat-dog society: one in which the poor are left to fend for themselves and where a night-watchman state doesn’t intervene, save in extreme circumstances and often not until it’s too late. It’s a mantra that’s endlessly repeated, from the academy to the pulpit, from Congress to your local council.

Judging, however, from the latest update on global social expenditure released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—hardly a den of infamous “neoliberal” bogeymen—this portrait simply isn’t true. In fact, as the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson notes, it turns out that America is the world’s second-biggest social spender, right after that global exemplar of fiscal rectitude and economic prudence: France.

The Nation's Pulse

America’s ‘Other’ Inequality

By 12.8.14

There is a highly unequal distribution of common decency between most Americans and those who abuse the welfare state. But amid the ongoing hubbub about income and wealth inequality, this disparity of propriety gets short shrift. Forget the monetary cost. It’s the social price tag—and its polarization of politics—that’s killing us.

Let’s be clear, I do not mean to single out Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” of the U.S. population that receives some form of government benefit. Rather, I mean to focus upon those who abuse Uncle Sam’s generosity.

Although waste, fraud, and abuse isn’t breaking the bank, it’s no small line item. According to the U.S. government’s own estimates, 5.2 percent ($98.7 billion) of its social program payments are “improper”—meaning that the payment went to the wrong person, the payment amount was incorrect, there was no documentation justifying a payment, or the beneficiary used the payment on something for which it wasn’t intended.

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FDA: More Nutrition Information Will Make Americans Healthier — Oh, Really?

By 12.2.14

The Food and Drug Administration’s broad new menu-labeling rules will force restaurants, movie theaters, and grocery stores to add calorie information to the food they sell. The FDA’s action is based on a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating more nutritional labeling, which is part of a federal plan to control the obesity epidemic in this country.

This new information, which few consumers will pay any attention to, will cost the affected industries $1.9 billion. Of course, the extra cost for all this new information, which few except Washington bureaucrats are really interested in, will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

FDA officials opine that the new requirements will “help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families,” and thus will lead to healthier nutrition. That’s a laudable plan, but I just don’t think it’s worth much. 

The Nation's Pulse

Spencer Tracy at Plymouth Rock

By 11.26.14

Plymouth Adventure, a 1952 film with Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney, is not a great movie. But as the story of the Pilgrims’ passage on the Mayflower it appears every season around Thanksgiving. It’s melodramatic and somewhat dated but still warmly moving and instructive. Tracy, true to his own real-life personality, effectively portrays a grumpy, unlikeable, and chronically depressed but competent Captain Christopher Jones, who meanly accepts a bribe to deliver the Pilgrims to chilly Massachusetts rather than the desired southerly Virginia.

Captain Jones also makes no secret of his trans-Atlantic lust for Gene Tierney, the primly attractive Dorothy Bradford, wife of Pilgrim leader William Bradford, who nobly suppresses her own hankerings for the bawdy captain, while hoping to save his despondent soul.

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The Few, The Loud, The Marines

By 11.7.14

The colonists who founded the United States Marine Corps in Tun Tavern 239 years ago Monday certainly understood their demographic. The launch of the USMC in a Philadelphia bar makes sense in a way that the founding of NAMBLA in an old church does not.

Uncommon valor is indeed a common virtue in taprooms, particularly in those moments before last call. Captain Samuel Nicholas didn’t possess a computer algorithm of the like Amazon employs to tell customers who bought The Audacity of Hope that they might also enjoy Mein Kampf. But he intuitively grasped that people who liked fighting also liked drinking.

Appropriately, Marines gather around the world in barrooms, or at least banquet halls with bars in them, to celebrate owing their existence, like so many of us do, to a meeting in a barroom. I have the good fortune to attend one such event this weekend.

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The Growing Halloween Depravity of Grownups

By 10.31.14

Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers kill kids rushing to become adults. Is it too much to ask of the ghoulish trio to apply their talents toward adults rushing to become kids?

The grownups who have decimated the ranks of trick-or-treaters by aborting 10 million of them in the last decade offer penance for their sins against Halloween by dressing up in place of the missing children. The National Retail Federation estimates that adults will spend $1.4 billion on their own Halloween costumes this year. That’s $1.4 billion that they could have spent on man-cave clubhouses, a huge birthday party, a collection of Care Bears, or some other pastime recently favored by adults.

One way thirtysomething Halloween enthusiasts recoup the money spent on costumes involves not dispensing candy. One can’t help but notice the same couples, dressed in the late night as a sexy Ebola nurse and her doting patient, hiding in their kitchens with the lights out earlier in the evening when the doorbells ring.

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Religious Sanctimony in Ferguson

By 10.24.14

Testimony emerging from the grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri seems to confirm the police officer’s claims of self-defense. The official coroner’s report reputedly points to a struggle over the police officer’s gun. But more facts need to be known over the controversial encounter that inflamed protests in the majority black town against the majority white police force.

Lack of hard facts did not deter Religious Left activists Jim Wallis and Cornel West from demonstrating and seeking their own arrests in Ferguson last week as part of a “weekend of resistance” ending with a carefully choreographed “Moral Monday” protest. They even confronted police officers to demand their “repentance” for Brown’s “murder” while kindly offering to take their confessions.

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What a Waste It Is to Prevent Waste

By 10.17.14

Ballot questions empower voters to speak the most glorious word in the English language: No.

It’s efficient. Using just two letters it nevertheless possesses more power than any four-letter word. It’s easy to remember with its components falling sequentially in the alphabet. It’s direct. There’s no “on the other hand” or “maybe” ambiguity in “no.”

“No means no,” public-service announcements thankfully remind fraternity brothers and roofie-wielding last-call vultures. The catchphrase merits repeating on political adverts.

Denizens of Massachusetts, displeased with the state legislature repeatedly balking at expanding the bottle bill to apply to flimsy water containers, have taken their campaign directly to the people. Question 2 seeks to compel consumers to pay an extra tax when purchasing a Gatorade, Snapple, or other non-carbonated beverage not currently requiring a deposit charge. The state now charges a nickel. The initiative directs increases automatically tied to inflation.

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Marijuana Madness in My Earpiece

By 10.8.14

On the evening of September 21, I was sitting in the green room of KTVA, Anchorage, Alaska’s local CBS affiliate, awaiting my turn to discuss the Alaska gubernatorial race live with news anchor Alexis Fernandez on the Ten O’Clock newscast. It was then that my earpiece picked up the shocking conclusion to the report on the Alaska Cannabis Club by the now-infamous Charlo Green. She revealed that she was the owner of the pro-marijuana legalization club that she was covering, and followed that revelation by speedily resolving the obvious conflict of interest: “F--- it, I quit,” she helpfully announced on live air, and then walked off the set.

The Nation's Pulse

Welcome Back, John Sebastian

By 9.22.14

Every once in a while I am willing to go the extra mile to see a performer in concert.

In the case of John Sebastian, I went about 40 miles north. That is the approximate distance between Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts where the former Lovin’ Spoonful lead singer performed earlier this month at the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church, the oldest church in Gloucester. The Unitarian Universalists are more socialist than Christian, but they sure know how to book a musical act.

Although I have been to Gloucester twice before, I somehow departed the train at West Gloucester rather than Gloucester. Fortunately, I flagged down a letter carrier from the U.S. Postal Service who was kind enough to supply me with a phone number for a cab. Say what you will about USPS. In this case, they delivered.

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