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  • Jonah Goldberg on Colbert and 'Ironic Rot'  While pop culture and political discourse have been steeped in irony for decades, The Los Angeles Times columnist contends that Stephen Colbert testifying to the House subcommittee on immigration "in character" stepped over the line with an "excruciatingly inappropriate spectacle." Goldberg isn't even sure who the faux-conservative host is parodying anymore: "O'Reilly doesn't talk like that. Nor does Sean Hannity or any of the usual targets Colbert's supposed to be lampooning." The Comedy Central host "reduced the topic to a black-and-white issue in which people on the other side are fools or bigots worthy of cheap mockery," concludes the columnist. "I thought the whole point of Colbert was to stand against that sort of thing by making fun of it, not by doing it."

  • Roger Cohen on the 'New American Normal'  The United States appears to have descended into a sort of political and economic tribalism, writes The New York Times columnist, who notes a particularly striking anecdote conveyed to him by a retired Wall Street executive. At the bank where this executive was employed, the board decided to fire 5 percent of the workforce rather rather than cut bonuses 25 percent for the executives. This sort of "fragmentation" has now become particularly acute during an age where there are no more investors on Wall Street (only "traders") and where the top one percent of American families have doubled their share of the national income to twenty percent. While it may not be much, Cohen argues that "ending the tax cuts for the rich is a minimum signal for a divided land, a statement that the two Americas are acquainted with each other."

  • Jonathan Holslag on China's 'Muscle-Flexing'  Last week's showdown with Japan over the custody of a Chinese fisherman indicates to The Financial Times columnist that "China's apparent assertiveness remains more an expression of weakness than of strength"--particularly since it seems the new aggression is motivated by economic necessity, China expanding in response to "decreasing stocks of blue fin tuna" and access to oil and water. When the nation "bullies" its way into neighbors' markets to suit its insatiable economic needs, this inflames the tension between China and the rest of Asia, turning the rising power into a "trapped giant." Holslag explains: "In such a climate, distrust could turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy, because it weakens the position of moderate leaders, stirs mutual fear of aggression and, above all, strengthens the belief that shifts in the balance of power inevitably lead to greater global rivalry."

  • Bret Stephens on What Ahmadinejad Knows  The Wall Street Journal columnist believes the Iranian president's inflammatory speech at the UN last week--replete with 9/11 conspiracy theories--was a finely-honed piece of political theater. Ahmadinejad realizes that "the more outrageous his remarks, the more grateful the West [will] be for whatever crumbs of reasonableness Iran might scatter on the table." He seeks "to overcome the limitations imposed on Iran by its culture, geography, religion and sect...to become the champion of radical anti-Americans everywhere." He knows his conspiracy theories will offend, and that's why he deploys them. It's not the people turning off their television sets in disgust Ahmadinejad is speaking to. It's the lonely, the isolated, and the angry around the world whom his words target. His language paints "politics as a revolt against empiricism, logic, utility, pragmatism." Ahmadinejad is merely manipulating the "proverbial rage against the machine."

  • David Brooks on Where California Went Wrong  It seems difficult to imagine now, but from 1911 to 1970, California was a model for how state government should be run, writes The New York Times columnist. Thanks to a string of strong governors who were "pro-market and pro-business, but also progressive reformers," the state was able to undertake massive public works projects, improve living standards, and build a first-rate state university system. The political climate in Sacramento during these years was genial and bipartisan. Brooks blames both parties for the state's fall from glory. On the left, there were shiftless unions and militant environmentalists "hostile to suburbia, skeptical of capitalism and eager to impose greater regulations and costs on small businesses." On the right, conservatives failed to recognize the importance of the public sector in the state's rise and "became unwilling to think creatively about using government to promote prosperity." As it stands now, argues Brooks, the entire Golden State is crying out for a "restoration and a modernization of what California once had."

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