Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Despite flaws, Summers is the best candidate for Fed chair

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 30, 2013 14:40 UTC

The two-horse race to replace Ben Bernanke as the Fed chairman appears to have come down to gender. In a letter to the president, about a third of Senate Democrats have made clear they would like Bernanke’s deputy Janet Yellen to replace him, primarily — though they do not openly say it — because she is a woman.

The White House, it seems, would prefer Larry Summers, Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary who was also director of Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. Summers is a distinguished economist, a former chief economist of the World Bank and briefly, until he was subsumed by controversy, president of Harvard University. (Summers writes a monthly column for Reuters.)

It is true there are not enough women in top positions. It is true, too, that Janet Yellen is a distinguished economist with considerable reserve bank experience. But her gender should not in itself be enough qualification for her to be awarded with one of the most important jobs in the nation.

The Fed chairmanship has always been a powerful position, but when there is gridlock in government thanks to the Republican majority in the House deciding to pass no new measures whatever — Speaker Boehner defines his job as repealer-in-chief, not legislator-in-chief — the Federal Reserve is the sole provider of economic policy. For that pivotal post we need the best person for the job.

There is a strong case for giving the job to Summers. He is not only a distinguished theoretical economist but an original thinker at a time when what we need above all is ingenuity. He is hard to pigeonhole. He has firm views and is headstrong, which should commend him to those who believe the Fed has become obedient to the executive branch. Although a lifelong Democrat, Summers rarely follows the party line.

Will conservatives tackle the racists in their midst?

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 24, 2013 16:24 UTC

President Obama’s remarks about what it is to be an African-American in America have disturbed those who prefer to believe our nation is color-blind. That was always a myth, like the notion we are a “melting pot” of nationalities, all heaving together toward a common end. Even in New York, the most cosmopolitan of cities, racial groups tend to keep to themselves and differences survive across generations.

The president’s description of how it feels to be a black man in America — routinely suspected of being a criminal, followed around stores by security guards, hearing car doors lock as he crosses the street, watching women clutch their purses tight in elevators — chime with similar experiences related by others set apart from the rest by dint of their skin color.

You can hear the same sorry stories from black visitors to America, shocked to discover that here, far from being a true democracy where everyone is treated the same, it is common for taxi drivers to ignore them, or bars to serve them last, or for public officials to treat them badly simply because they are black. This soft apartheid in America has been brought to the surface by the death of Trayvon Martin. It is a salutary fact that even the most powerful man in the world is treated with suspicion in his own land simply because he is black. After 50 years, Rosa Parks has yet to finish her journey.

Here are twenty things Congressional Republicans could actually accomplish

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 23, 2013 16:37 UTC

The Senate filibuster deal was a good start. It showed both sides can work together if they are threatened with the prospect of a chamber frozen in impotence. But compromise remains a dirty word among many conservatives and libertarians in Congress who would rather accomplish nothing than find a way to achieve something. They are not only wasting their own time and our money, they are standing in the way of conservative or libertarian achievements.

House Republicans have spent 15 percent of their time, that is 89 hours, and run up  $55 million voting more than 40 times to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, even though it is the law of the land, the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of repeal would be $1.3 trillion over the next nine years. So much for demanding “consistently, a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility.”

R.A. Butler, three-time acting prime minister of Britain, described politics as “the art of the possible.” Congressmen and senators who entered politics to achieve something — yet find themselves kicking their heels, because their Tea Party colleagues prefer to pass nothing to demonstrate their dislike of government in general — might take Butler’s definition to heart. There are many conservative policies that could be put into effect if they were only to pick the right ones and be prepared, as are the Gang of Eight in the Senate, to work across the aisle.

The birth of a new prince

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 22, 2013 19:36 UTC

Now, after a torrid summer marred by natural tragedies, needless death, and devastating destruction, comes undiluted happy news. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to a prince. So, the first child of a commoner to be welcomed into the British royal family in modern times (Wallis Simpson tried to gatecrash in 1936 and was promptly asked to leave) has delivered an heir to extend the Windsors’ influence into the next generation.

The birth has set off genuine rejoicing around the world as a harmless piece of fun that only a humbug could find offensive. And the impeccably authentic upstairs/downstairs soap opera that makes “Downtown Downton Abbey” look like “The Days of Our Lives” has provided another romantic twist in an endlessly colorful plotline that began nearly two thousand years ago with the Kings of the Angles.

There has been many a slip in succession between the Mercia kings and the new prince. There were pretenders to the throne, including Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey, and the Old Pretender, known as the “Warming Pan Baby.” There was a beheading, too, when Charles I fell foul of the parliamentarians, who were every bit as opposed to high taxation and the encroachment of the executive branch as the Tea Party today. But since William and Mary were imported from Holland in the 1688 Glorious Revolution and given the British crown on condition they didn’t interfere with parliament, the British monarchy has been secure.

Zimmerman: A trial that was all about race

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 14, 2013 15:23 UTC

Will George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin and the all-too predictable acquittal change anything?

Will it prevent racial profiling in the future? No. Will it keep guns out of the hands of reckless and feckless flakes? No. Will it ensure that from now on gun licenses are administered more closely? No. Above all, will it prevent such needless killings from happening again? Certainly not.

It would have been encouraging to imagine that the loss of Martin’s young life would change something, but it won’t. That is the real calamity of this familiar American tragedy.

Contemplating life after Murdoch

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 10, 2013 16:14 UTC

Rupert Murdoch has been summoned back to explain to British lawmakers comments he made at a private meeting with his London tabloid journalists. It seems that whatever regrets he has expressed in public about the phone-hacking and police bribery scandal that has so far cost his company $57.5 million, in private he thinks the affair has been overblown. There have been 126 arrests so far, with six convictions, a further 42 awaiting trial, and up to 10 more awaiting charges.

The Fox boss told his reporters and editors, all facing jail time, he didn’t see why the police were making such a fuss about “next to nothing”; that “payments for news tips from cops? That’s been going on a hundred years”; and promised them — though he was careful not to run afoul of the law — he would give them their jobs back “even if you’re convicted and get six months, or whatever.” He also pledged to use his newspapers to exact revenge on the “incompetent” police for pursuing the investigation so vigorously.

Little noticed in accounts of the secretly recorded conversation, an editor said Murdoch’s promises were all very well but asked him what guarantees they would have of being reinstated if he was no longer around, i.e. if Murdoch was dead?

Eliot Spitzer and the American tolerance for second chances

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 8, 2013 20:03 UTC

Everyone has been taken by surprise by the speed with which Americans have embraced the notion of gay marriage. Even progressive leaders like President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were left playing catch-up. Now, it seems, sexual peccadilloes by politicians are no longer thought grave enough for them to be cast into the outer darkness forever. Are we becoming a super-liberal society? If so, what happened to the “moral majority” that dominated politics for so long?

The latest fallen pol to start over is Eliot Spitzer, the sometime governor of New York, who by day prosecuted whorehouse madams and by night enjoyed their services. “I’m hopeful there will be forgiveness,” he told the New York Times. “I am asking for it.” After resigning in disgrace in 2007, Spitzer served time as a talking head on CNN and Current TV, which many may think is penance enough.

Spitzer’s speedy self-rehabilitation follows on the heels of Anthony Weiner, the vain, boastful, exhibitionist U.S. congressman from New York who tweeted to women he didn’t know photographs of his briefs. While Spitzer is a top drawer hypocrite, willing to use the full force of the law against prostitutes while consorting with them on the side, Weiner is just a chump without self control or judgment. Despite this essential drawback to someone who aspires to be mayor of New York, Weiner is currently favorite to succeed Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

2016: The women’s election

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 3, 2013 00:28 UTC

Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis (L) speaks at a protest before special session of the Legislature in Austin, Texas, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Governor Rick Perry of Texas made little impression on the 2012 election.

Once billed as a class act, he emerged as a comic turn. There was the “I’ll never forgetwhatshisname” debate flub when he couldn’t remember one of the Cabinet departments he was committed to abolishing was Energy.  And there was his tired and emotional stump speech in New Hampshire when, well, I’m not quite sure what he was talking about. Perhaps it was his Dean Martin impression.

But Perry is sure to make a strong impression on the outcome of the 2016 election. When he signs into law the Texas anti-abortion measures, he will spark a women’s revolt that is sure to reverberate across the nation.

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