Special Report

Special Report

Dropping in on the Veteran Down the Street

By 11.11.14

A few weeks ago, I dropped in on a fellow named Russ Post, an 89-year-old veteran of World War II and Korea, who just happens to live on my street. Another guy on our street, Deven, closer to my age, had been suggested I meet with Russ. We finally did. What followed was one of the more interesting and entertaining Saturday afternoons I’ve experienced in quite a while.

Russ took my teenage son and me on a roller-coaster ride from his youth in Western Pennsylvania to the Pacific theater to the Korea War, and rarely in a perfectly straight line. His vivid diversionary descriptions of some of his, shall we say, extra-curricular activities in the military and throughout his upbringing were rather raw, particularly his candidly expressed encounters with the opposite sex. That wasn’t what my son (who blushed) and I had come to hear, but it certainly made for a spirited conversation that easily kept our attention for two-plus hours. Not all the reminiscences seemed relevant or appropriate, but, hey, anyone who got shot up like Russ has earned the right to speak (and boast) as he pleases. It was his house and his life.

Special Report

Meanwhile, Europe Is (Still) Burning

By 11.7.14

In case anyone missed it, the sick man of the global economy is getting much sicker. And it’s not just “peripheral” economies like Greece asunder in a sea of stagnation. Some of the European Union’s biggest players are in serious economic trouble. What’s especially striking, however, is so many European governments’ continued inability, and often unwillingness, to respond appropriately.

Special Report

Obamacare as Permanent Welfare

By 11.6.14

President Reagan gauged the success of a welfare program by how quickly people were able to move off government assistance and into remunerative work. Yet President Obama, the White House, and their allies are measuring the success of Obamacare by how many people can be enrolled in their new government entitlement programs.

The president celebrated the law’s “success” in getting seven million people enrolled in Medicaid and eight million (or so) people enrolled in exchange coverage, 87 percent of whom are receiving government subsidies for their insurance. And he hopes to lure another five million people onto Obamacare programs starting with the November 15 enrollment period. There is no expectation that participation in these government programs will be a temporary boost but rather that they will become a permanent fixture in people’s lives.

Special Report

Pre- and Post-Election Lessons

By 11.4.14

Two large cross-currents in American political opinion will be the driving forces in today’s elections: A general dissatisfaction with government and politicians and a specific dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama.

These trends reinforce each other where a Republican candidate is challenging a Democratic incumbent but work against each other where the incumbent is a Republican. Overall, the dissatisfaction with Obama will be a stronger force in national elections, but on the state level incumbents of both parties will go into Tuesday night with trepidation.

Of course, candidates matter and just being not-a-Democrat will not always be enough for the GOP to knock off Democratic senators and congressmen for whom there remains some modest offsetting benefit of incumbency.

The good news for Republicans is that they do seem capable of learning: with a few exceptions such as the very weak Terry Lynn Land in Michigan, the party nominated electable candidates while mostly avoiding disasters like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock who harmed the entire Republican message and brand.

Special Report

About Those Cheating Tarheels

By 10.30.14

Right up until Wednesday, it was still possible for the University of North Carolina faithful to believe that the worst accusations against their school were little better than insinuation. The critics were just connecting dots, they’d tell themselves, even as it became abundantly clear to the disinterested observer that there was precious little space between those multitudinous dots. Now denial is no longer possible: all the lines have been penciled in, and the picture that has emerged is of the biggest scandal in college athletics history.

Over the last two decades, some 3,100 students, half of them athletes, have been taking phony classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department at UNC. There have been uglier scandals elsewhere involving drugs, violence, or money, but none that has so thoroughly undermined both the university’s purpose and the ideal of the student-athlete.

Special Report

California Faces Death by Pension

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

When the November election was still a long way off, Sacramento-area streets were already plastered with campaign signs for a little-noticed political race: candidates are running to serve on the board of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, better known as CalPERS. While not as high-profile as the statewide and congressional races, these seats are arguably of equal importance to Golden State taxpayers. CalPERS, the largest state pension fund in the country, not only manages more than $257 billion in assets, but also loves to use its political muscle to prod corporate America into “socially responsible” (read: leftist-friendly) investing.

Sacramento, as the state capital, is Public Employee Central, so the race has become heated and costly. The campaign signs that caught my eye promised “pension security” and were paid for by the Service Employees International Union. This election is a touchstone for the entire pension issue in California—and, per usual, it doesn’t look good for the taxpayer.

Special Report

Hillary Does a Job on America Once Again

By 10.28.14

Hillary Clinton’s Friday warning to a Boston audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and business that create jobs,” felt like a “jump the shark” moment even within a Democratic Party that has adopted a similarly ignorant and harmful anti-capitalist mantra.

The most well-known recent Democratic dismissal of entrepreneurs came from President Obama during the 2012 election campaign season: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The entire rant is equally inflammatory, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of economics and a reprehensible dismissal of those risk-taking businesspeople — with whom Obama never associates except when collecting their checks at Silicon Valley fundraisers — who power the economic engine of the free world.

Special Report

Two Incoming Movers and Shakers to Watch

By 10.27.14

In the blizzard of coverage of swing seats that will ensue after next week’s election, it will be easy to overlook important new arrivals without stiff Democratic opposition—though they will have an outsized influence going forward. Take Alabama’s Gary Palmer and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, safe bets to be elected to a House seat in in Alabama and a Senate seat in Nebraska, respectively. 

Palmer, an unassuming sixty-year-old white evangelical from a ruby-red Alabama district, is not the kind of candidate that gets the media excited. Yet he may well be the most important congressional freshman in recent history. Around 1980, after spending a dozen years as an engineer, Palmer felt called to political leadership after attending a conference sponsored by Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. Yet unlike most of those aspiring to influence public policy, that didn’t initially translate into the desire to run for office. Instead, Palmer started what became the Alabama Policy Institute, the premier think-tank in the state, which he led for twenty-four years.

Special Report

X-box in the Library, e-Sports in the Arena, Dorks Everywhere

By 10.24.14

If you aspire to unnaturally prolong virginity, develop Napoleon Dynamite’s social skills, and project a pasty, amoeba-like appearance to the world, video games remain a great way to achieve your goals.

Last week, 40,000 Koreans packed into the same stadium that hosted the World Cup twelve years ago to cheer on the League of Legends World Championship, a video game tournament to determine the best team of gamers on the planet. Like winning an ugly contest, victory in a competition of losers strikes as the opposite of capturing a World Cup. The cheering throngs, certainly more pathetic than the cheered, loudly disagreed.  

Korea’s Samsung Galaxy White won the competition in front of the home audience. The fifth-place Americans remain far behind the Koreans and Chinese at prolonging adolescence in their moms’ basements. Fear not, thousands of unemployed American twentysomethings do their best to wrong this right. 

Special Report

The Gift Shop of the Dead

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

For the past twelve years I’ve volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center serving mainly low-income women in the District of Columbia, and I’ve noticed something about how our clients talk: Nobody ever says “prison.” Boyfriends, husbands, fathers, sons were never “locked up,” “in jail,” or “serving time”; they were always “incarcerated.”

There is an unexpected poignancy to the bureaucratic term—a lacy Latinate word suffused with so much pain, as if standardization and abstraction could dissolve shame. Hesitation first, and then that careful, strictly-speaking “incarcerated,” like the set phrases we use in the confessional.

Nothing could be further from these women’s delicacy than the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, a giant KFC bucket of suffering. I spent about four hours in this glitzy memorial-without-memory, accompanied by at least two school field trips. Admission is $23.21 and, you know, your self-respect.