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In Prospect

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In Prospect

Summer 2017
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In its glorious early days, the American public-health profession battled infectious diseases, from cholera to tuberculosis, that threatened everyone. It educated the public, established quarantines to control outbreaks, inoculated millions, and generally saved lives and made the nation much healthier. The profession provided true public goods, exactly what government is supposed to deliver. So why are today’s public-health bureaucrats going to war against vaping, a mostly safe form of nicotine inhalation that is getting people to quit smoking far deadlier tobacco cigarettes? As John Tierney explains in his cover story, “The Corruption of Public Health,” the short-term reason is the phalanx of progressive busybodies whom the Obama administration appointed to government health agencies. But in the longer view, Tierney shows, the anti-vaping campaign is only the latest example of the steady transformation of a once-great enterprise into a practice dominated by left-wing politics and self-dealing. It’s time for a reset.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio, concluding his first term, is running for reelection by, among other things, claiming to be a champion of fiscal prudence, pointing to the city’s healthy budget reserves. Yet as Nicole Gelinas argues in “Bill de Blasio’s Budget Blowout,” the mayor has been anything but a responsible steward of city finances. In fact, he has spent drunkenly, adding 14.6 percent to New York’s annual budget, or $11.6 billion a year, while doing nothing to reform the city’s broken, ever more expensive, retirement system. That’s a staggering sum of new spending, even for prosperous, booming Gotham—and to make the math work, de Blasio had to shift the cost for past payouts into the future, which will make it far harder to deal with the next downturn without battering crucial services. Gelinas’s forensic analysis should be at the heart of this year’s mayoral-race debate.

In “A New Kind of Catholic School,” Charles Upton Sahm reports on some good news: the Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools, operating in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, is providing traditionally good Catholic-school academics, as well as hands-on occupational training, to disadvantaged kids, getting them to graduate and enroll in college. The schools are also learning how to replicate the models of successful charter schools.

For criticizing two French Islamist groups for sharing the twisted worldview of the Charlie Hebdo killers, writer Pascal Bruckner found himself in French court, charged with anti-Islamic hate speech. He won, thankfully, but as he warns in “There’s No Such Thing as Islamophobia,” radical Islamist groups in Europe and America, joining forces with sympathizers on the left, are working to suppress a central Western principle: the right to criticize and speak freely about ideas, including religious ones. Bruckner’s essay traces the history of the notion of Islamophobia and exposes its incoherence. In “Let Us Now Praise Muslim Apostates,” Fred Siegel and Sol Stern profile Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq, former Muslims who’ve defended democratic norms against an Islamist ideology that shares more with the totalitarian political movements of the twentieth century than many have acknowledged. These brave writers, like Bruckner, have found themselves under attack for supposed bigotry, when, in fact, they’re confronting the true terroristic evil of our age. We need more such freedom fighters, for if you see no evil, as Myron Magnet explains, it’s sure to drag you down by surprise.

A blindness afflicts academic research on crime, too, say John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi in “What Criminologists Don’t Say, and Why.” Refusing to acknowledge uncomfortable facts about crime in America, including the high percentage of it committed by young black males—usually against other blacks—criminologists instead tend to see wrongdoing as a reflection of social and racial injustice. Wright and DeLisi call for a return to intellectual honesty.

Hollywood has gotten savvy in chasing down fat public subsidies for film production, often playing states off against one another to land the best deals. Steven Malanga’s “Show Me the Taxpayers’ Money” documents the folly of such giveaways, which line the pockets of big studios and multimillionaire actors but produce little economic benefit for the states and cities that hand them out.

—Brian C. Anderson

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