Special Report

Special Report

David Cameron’s Christian Britain

By 4.24.14

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron is enjoying some controversy for again hailing Britain as a Christian nation.

It came most recently after a Downing Street Easter reception for church leaders, similar to receptions Cameron’s held for Muslim and Hindu holidays, where Cameron said “we should be proud of the fact that we are a Christian country, and I am proud of the fact we’re a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so.” He recalled his own recent “small pilgrimage” to “where our Saviour was both crucified and born.”

Cameron cited global persecution of Christians and said “our religion is now the most persecuted religion around the world.” And he emphasized, “We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other religious groups wherever and whenever we can, and should be unashamed in doing so.”

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Special Report

Flash Noise

By 4.23.14

Michael Lewis is one of America’s most successful story-tellers. But in his new book, Flash Boys, a superficial one-sided discussion of “High Frequency Trading” (“HFT”) — and his repeated pronouncements  that the stock market is “rigged” and a “fraud” — Mr. Lewis’s bombastic conclusions are as harmful as they are overstated.

High Frequency Trading is a term widely used — and misused — by people who know little of financial markets. It can mean so many things as to be nearly meaningless since almost anything a trader can do with a computer is much faster than what traders (like me) did in pits in years past. Compared to even recent trading history, nearly everything seems “high frequency” these days.

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Special Report

Going Negative on Affirmative Action

By 4.23.14

The good news about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is that it affirmed the right of the people to ban racial preferences in university admissions. The bad news is that it didn't go further.

In 2003, the Court handed down two landmark decisions: Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. Taken together, the cases struck down a racial quota system used in admissions at the University of Michigan, but allowed for more limited race-based preferences. As Kevin Mooney pointed out, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in the Grutter decision that voters have the last say on affirmative action regimes.

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Earth Day 2014: Chinese Conundrum

By 4.19.14

Several years ago, in 2007, I wrote an account of my visit to Shanghai which focused, primarily, on the city’s and China’s astounding economic boom, then achieving 11 percent growth in GDP for the third straight quarter. This torrid pace has throttled back a bit to 7.4 percent.

I noted that, with the economic growth, “A lot of pollution comes with the territory, but we did a pretty good job of polluting during our boom years.” Take Chicago at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Upton Sinclair, in his muckraking novel, The Jungle (1906, Chapter 9), described the infamous “Bubbly Creek”:

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America’s Tax Confusion

By 4.16.14

By the time you read this, nearly 90 percent of American adults will have filed their income tax returns for the 2013 tax year. And I will have finished drinking a glass of truly tremendous bourbon; 130 proof seems appropriate to numb the pain.

A big check to the state, and a much bigger one to the federal Treasury, reminds us of how little we get for the taxes we pay and how much the tax system is distorted to favor special interests and buy votes. (If you have to write a particularly egregious check to your state, you might want to consider this new and helpful Laffer Center calculator called “Save Taxes by Moving.” Those living in Tennessee get the best of both worlds: No earned-income tax but some very fine local whiskeys.)

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Regrets Over Rwanda

By 4.11.14

On April 6, 1994, a plane was hit by a missile over the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Everyone onboard was killed, including Rwanda’s president, Juvénal Habyarimana.

Even twenty years later, it remains uncertain who shot down the plane. But what happened immediately afterwards is very much known, seared into the minds of those who bore witness and branded forever on Rwanda’s soul. Hutu extremists blamed the Tutsi ethnic minority for the president’s killing and began a program of mass extermination. By the time they were finished, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were dead, most of them hacked apart with medieval weapons like machetes and axes.

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Hating Jews

By 4.10.14

Like many veterans of the Great War’s western front, Jacques Doriot was disgusted with the political leadership that had condoned, as he saw it, the four years of slaughter. The feeling was surely understandable; France had lost 1.8 million men in the trenches and battlefields of the north and east, including, this is a seldom-remembered fact, an overwhelming majority of its male peasant population. In a country whose economic power was still largely agricultural, this, and the destruction under the shells and bombs and mines of vast amounts of farm land, represented a disaster that would mark the French imagination for the rest of the century.

However, the conclusion Doriot drew — he went to war against parliamentary democracy — was by no means universal. The first post-war elections, held in 1919, were won by an overwhelmingly conservative majority of whom many were, like Doriot, veterans; hence the term “chambre bleue horizon,” from the grayish-blue tint used for the infantry’s uniforms: “blue waves,” since then, have been applied in press accounts of big conservative electoral wins.

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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

By 4.4.14

In Slumdog Millionaire, the winner of eight Academy Awards in 2009, including Best Picture, a poor boy with no formal education becomes the first contestant in India’s most popular television quiz show (“Who Wants to be a Millionaire”) to run a gauntlet of nine questions and claim the grand prize of 20 million rupees.

Before he answers the last question, the show’s host and producer turns the boy over to the police — thinking he must be cheating and hoping they will be able to beat a confession out of him. The chief inspector and his sergeant do their best — hanging him from the ceiling, hooking him up to a car battery, and subjecting him to repeated jolts of electricity in the course of a brutal interrogation. In the end, even the inspector is forced to conclude that, yes, the kid from the slums of Mumbai really did know all the answers.

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The School of Belle Knox

By 4.3.14

Today’s moral lesson involves the 18-year-old Duke University freshman who has revealed that she is moonlighting in pornography movies to pay her outsized $60,000-a-year tuition at Duke.

Miriam Weeks, aka “Belle Knox,” revealed her secret identity to her date on the way to a party a month or so ago and was astounded to find that within an hour everybody at the party knew it. Apparently in the age of Twitter and Facebook, there are still people who think that word doesn’t get around.

However, that doesn’t mean she is embarrassed about it. After becoming a campus sensation and having word leak to the outer world, Weeks defiantly defended herself in a lengthy tract on xoJane, a feminist website that features stories such as “Trust No One: Online Dating” and “It Happened to Me: I Found My Boyfriend’s Child Pornography.”

I won’t attempt to make too much sense out of this mishmash of feminist boilerplate, fetching naïveté and victimology, but here is a sample:

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Special Report

A Russian Knockout

By 4.2.14

A Russian triumphed over an American this past weekend. World Light Heavyweight Champion Sergey Kovalev soundly defeated Cedric Agnew. Meanwhile Russia seems poised to regain its status as a world power, to the embarrassment of the United States.

After a week of President Obama fecklessly alternating between weak insults and moralistic assertions, and even as Secretary of State John Kerry walked away with no resolution from another Sergey—Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister—Kovalev scored a resounding win—a win for the boxer, and also a win for the many Russians in the audience.

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