A new documentary explores alleged market exploitation of the powerless, a theme so repeatedly appealing to documentarians. This one, “Girl Model,” caught my attention because it focuses on a facet of the fashion and modeling industries. It’s the story of a 13-year-old Russian girl who is an aspiring model, along with several complicated, hardened model recruiters, one of whom actually initiated this documentary effort. Apparently, young female Russian models are in demand in Japanese advertising. They are recruited in Russia and sent off, willy-nilly to Japan to fend for themselves in the strange, unregulated, exploitative world of fashion modeling But such narratives should trigger some viewer skepticism, in my opinion.
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When you’re in a pinch, sometimes you make a deal with the Devil. In the early years after America’s entry into World War II, America was in a pinch when stalking Nazi U-boats that posed a real, ongoing threat to America’s East Coast port operations and merchant ships. In his latest novel, “The Devil Himself, ” crisis communications guru Eric Dezenhall weaves a tale around around the historically true wartime partnership between the American government and mob bosses aimed at combating this Nazi threat. It’s a story told by a young political operative serving in the Reagan Administration in 1982 and by the young man’s “uncle,” notorious Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky, in lengthy vignettes of the past.
In fact, the story is mostly told from Lansky’s point of view and depicts a patriotic, shrewd businessman who loves America, deplores Nazis (for obvious reasons), and engages in straight dealing (for the most part) with his Italian mobster brethren. If you’re going to have a mobster on your team, this is the one to have. I’m not sure what to make of that loving portrayal, since Lansky was no doubt involved in some dastardly and bloody deeds, especially in his hey-day, the Prohibition Era. Which is not to say that diminishes any aid he provided to this country during wartime.
I also don’t have any great pearls of wisdom concerning a central theme of the book. The uneasy alliance between reputation-wary government officials and Jewish and Italian organized crime bosses eventually leads the narrator to conclude that “everybody gets screwed ” in such partnerships. Politicians don’t want the bad PR that comes with public exposure of these shady alliances and any rewards that flow to bad guys doing good deeds. In fact, the chief government operative in the Dezenhall story, Charles R. Haffenden, winds up, not recognized for any success in crafting the unlikely and arguably successful partnership, but dispatched to the South Pacific and gravely injured at Iwo Jima.
From a policy perspective, it’s interesting to consider in the context of other such uneasy alliances the US has made throughout the years. From a strategic, cost/benefit perspective, it’s an interesting bit of analysis from one of the great communications wizards of our times. From an historical perspective, the book portrays yet another facet of a war and an era brimming with so many compelling and poignant personal stories.
I didn’t go to Harvard. But reading the op-ed by Harvard graduate and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in today’s Washington Post has to be a palm-to-forehead moment for every common man out there. A “how can a Harvard guy be so dense?” kind of moment. The governor’s article is about Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform — “Grover Norquist, hypnotist.” Seems the governor is offended — and flummoxed as to why — Norquist would vehemently oppose any and all new tax increases.
“It is the height of fiscal folly,” the governor writes. “It is now clear that the Republican strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue that the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless,” he charges.
Really? Anyone who points out that taxes forceably take property (income) from one person and redistribute it to someone who has not earned it, and then opposes further taxes as a further injustice and imposition just hates poor people and wants the economy to tank? Any American who has been whacked by this ongoing recession and wants to see businesses create more jobs and government stop strangling economic opportunity with taxes and red tape is just too foolish to understand that more taxes are the right answer? For a Harvard guy, this seems like a ridiculous error in reasoning.
For the second day in a row, I’m complaining about The Washington Post. Front page, center today — a giant color photo of a child at the National Zoo, gleeful about seeing Giant Pandas. “Shutdown Would Be Felt Far and Wide,” blares the headline beside the gratuitous photo. You must understand, people wielding machetes will be roaming the streets of America, locusts will plague every home, taxpayer-funded Blackberrys for government employees may be shut off!!! Well, the Blackberry part may be true. But that gets to my point. The Washington Post wants us to panic, I think.
The paper is freaking out over the prospects of, wait for it, a shutdown of the Washington Monument, the Cherry Blossom Parade, and national parks. Oh, and there’s the Blackberry conundrum and the possible closing of the historic Ford’s Theater. Now, I am not thrilled about the prospect of these inconveniences. I’m sure loads of tourists have travel plans to D.C. this month and will not be pleased, either. But, two sections over, over on the the WaPo Style section, there’s a helpful article about “10 Things Tourists Can Do — Without Their Uncle Sam.” Whew! Before reading the Style section, one might have thought life as we know it would come to an end. It turns out there are alternatives to ogling pandas at the zoo.
A Washington Post reporter today heaped scorn on “Extreme Couponing,” a TLC show about people who go to great extremes to clip and use coupons. (See: In ‘Couponing,’ shoppers with a strange compulsion.) “Deeply disturbing,” Hank Stuever called it, and then went on a recurring sanctimonious rant about how amassing grocery store products at a discount, from food to household cleaners, offended him. What bearing does extreme couponing by other people have on Hank Steuver’s life? None that I can see. So what’s his problem?
“Repulsion may or may not be the show’s ultimate intent, but it stirs up unsettling and complex thoughts, not only about the sins of gluttony and pride, but also about the production and consumption of cheap, processed food. There’s also something to snack on for those of us fretting over an ever-widening wealth gap amid dwindling resources. “Extreme Couponing” — which has become a series after a successful special aired late last year — is a modern Cassandra’s sociological fever dream, a harbinger of how closely we teeter on the edge of economic anarchy.”
After 45-some years of anticipation, it turns out the Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 movie is…not bad. Making a movie of Ayn Rand’s epic 1957 novel about capitalists under attack and on strike couldn’t have been easy, especially on a mere $10 million or so budget. After all, this is a book that features a 90 minute (!) radio lecture on the virtues of capitalism/evils of statism by one of the main characters, international man of mystery John Galt.
The movie is set a moment into the future, 2016 (dashing my hopes for a 1940s-style film noir), and begins with a blitz of rapid-fire TV news blips – all of it bad. Modern civilization is cracking apart due to a relentless onslaught of government controls on industry and a prevailing world-view that scorns individuals who excel in business. The world’s successful entrepreneurs are forced to carry and subsidize all the rent seekers and moochers. But change is afoot. Capitalists have suffered enough abuse, and they aren’t going to take it anymore: they’re going on strike. Vanishing from society. And, they do it all so calmly. Which is probably just as well, since the greater crime would’ve been doing something overwrought.
I must say, the movie was well-cast, despite having no big name stars (what, no Angelina Jolie?!). The actors all turned in respectable performances, and they all looked the part, with railroad mogul “Dagny Taggart” flawlessly beautiful and “Hank Rearden” just the chiseled sort of handsome you’d expect.
CEI is an official co-sponsor of CPAC again this year, February 10-12 in Washington, D.C. That would be the massive Conservative Political Action Conference put on by the American Conservative Union for more than three decades. It’s a conference that draws thousands of students, grassroots activists, and leaders in the “big tent” conservative/libertarian movement (or what Grover Norquist has dubbed the “leave us alone coalition”). It seems an obvious point to call this an important political moment – an epic battle for Team Liberty against those who want to impose government mandates and controls over health care, energy use, Internet freedom, and so much more. As evidenced most vividly by the Tea Party movement and last year’s election, many Americans are livid about that onslaught.
Are there viewpoint differences among the ranks of CPAC attendees? Of course. And that’s what the media likes to cover best of all. But I’ve always thought it’s best to be present and make as many allies as possible, to have that opportunity to persuade and to forge alliances. That’s why CEI is not only attending CPAC – come visit our booth in the exhibit hall, if you’re there! – and participating in panel discussions on the agenda (see cei.org/cpac2011) but also co-hosting an evening celebration, during the conference, with media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart and GOProud, a relatively new gay group that advocates small government policies. As GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia aptly described the event: “The Big Party will celebrate GOProud and the growth of a conservative movement that is focused on getting the government out of people’s lives.”
Breitbart himself has done a huge amount to leverage all the many voices in the movement, though his burgeoning set of “Big” news-and-commentary websites. And now GOProud is poised to inspire and recruit new people to the cause of liberty. There is much to celebrate at CPAC this year and so much work ahead.
The U.S. dropped from 8 to 9 on the just-released “Index of Economic Freedom” put out by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. That’s a bit of a downer, considering we used to be #4, back in 1995. The Index ranks nations on 10 measures of openness, rule of law, and competitiveness. Tellingly, all regions except Europe and North America achieved increased levels of economic freedom. In fact, the U.S. didn’t even earn a grade of “free” – which would’ve been a score of 80 or higher. If this were running or swimming, I think this is kind of like coming in maybe third place in the second-fastest heat. Woo.
Why is this important? As the Index authors explain, “economic freedom is key to overall well-being.” That means tangible benefits of living in a freer society, such as higher per capita incomes, better health, education, and security, and more personal freedom.
Seems we slipped a bit in business freedom (score of 91), trade freedom (86.4), government spending (54.6 – there’s a shocker, right?), monetary freedom (77.4). Somehow we squeaked a bit ahead in labor freedom (95.7), freedom from corruption (75), and fiscal freedom (68.3). (CEI has a forthcoming Agenda for Congress that should prove a great blueprint for reform in these regards.)
The good news from a global perspective is that the global average economic freedom score increased a bit, 0.3 percent, to 59.7, with the biggest improvements in developing and emerging economies. And more economies improved than took a dive.
Most Americans aren’t blaming a “harsh political tone” for the horrific January 8 shooting in Arizona, in which a lone and seemingly deranged gunman allegedly shot a member of Congress and a handful of people nearby, killing six people. Despite efforts by some political talking heads to blame Republicans or conservatives for the actions of the shooter, it’s a relief that a majority of Americans aren’t buying that bull. Sixty percent of those polled by CBS News said the shootings were not related to any “harsh political tone.”
It’s been maddening to hear some on the left try to blame Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin and some other media or political figure for the alleged actions of that young Arizona man, Jared Loughner. The great leap by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, MSNBC’s liberal parody Keith Olbermann and others to blame politicos seems baseless to me – where is the evidence? For one thing, it’s not clear that the alleged shooter ever described himself as a Republican or a conservative or that he was a fan of Limbaugh, Palin, or anyone else. I’ve not seen evidence that he was watching, say, Glenn Beck every day and was so incensed at what Beck complains about – big government, dishonest politics – that he decided to attempt to kill a member of Congress.
But what if Loughner were hooked on Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh? When have either of them suggested a violent uprising? To the extent that Sarah Palin used cross hairs on a map to “target” the district of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the 2010 campaign, I can’t say that was a great choice on her part. But it’s really a fantastical stretch to argue that such imagery motivated the shooting. Aside from the complete lack of evidence that A caused B – or that Loughner had ever even seen Palin’s website – I’m not aware of an instance in which Beck or Limbaugh or Palin or any high-level conservative or GOP lawmaker has called for violence against any political figure on the left. (Not like ex-Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) who apparently called for the shooting of Florida’s new governor.)
Speaking out against statist, economy-tanking, liberty-quashing government policies is entirely appropriate and, in the wake of massive bailouts, gargantuan deficits, and the impending Obamacare takeover of health care, crucial. Which makes it particularly galling is that some on the left use this horrible incident to suggest that speaking out against objectionable, intolerable policies is somehow suspect or wrong. I’m encouraged to see that most Americans seem to reject these bogus criticisms. Hopefully the remaining 30 percent will come to their senses.