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‘American Sniper’ freakout

Mark Hemingway, writing in The Weekly Standard: “So-called ‘sand movies,’ the term Hollywood sometimes uses for films set in Afghanistan and Iraq, have a terrible box office track record,” noted the New York Times. Or rather, they had a terrible box office track record. The release of “American Sniper,” a biopic about Iraq war veteran and legendary Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has changed all that.

The film, which opened wide January 16, shattered the record for the largest opening weekend of a film released in January, a month traditionally considered a graveyard for ticket sales. The film pulled in $105 million its first weekend against its $60 million budget — and the film that previously held the record for largest January weekend is “Avatar,” the highest-grossing picture in history.

Already, “American Sniper” has the markings of a cultural phenomenon. In exit polls conducted by CinemaScore, movie-goers rated the film A+. Phil Contrino, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, has attributed the film’s success to a massive outpouring of favorable attention on social media.

Naturally, the commercial and artistic success of “American Sniper” — it received six Oscar nominations — has liberal Hollywood deeply conflicted, and pockets of the left outraged. This success can be largely traced to Clint Eastwood’s surefooted direction, as well as Bradley Cooper’s understated and Oscar-worthy performance. But it’s been 13 years since 9/11, and the war on terror has been at the forefront of American culture and politics every day since then. Politics probably explains why it has taken Hollywood this long to make a truly great and popular movie about this war.

A war on homemakers?

Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg: Democrats have a knack for stumbling into trouble with mothers who aren't in the paid labor force.

In the late 1990s, Senator Chris Dodd said that being a full-time homemaker was a “wonderful luxury” for women who “want to go play golf or go to the club and play cards.” In 2012, Democratic talking head Hilary Rosen had to apologize after saying that Ann Romney, who raised five sons, had “never worked a day in her life.” And a few months ago, President Barack Obama seemed to suggest that for mothers to leave the labor force for a few years is “not a choice we want Americans to make.”

I don't think Obama meant to say that all women should keep working through their children’s first years. But Democrats do seem to have a blind spot — to put it charitably — about women who choose differently, and about some of the realities of family life.

Obama wants to triple the existing tax credit for child-care expenses, and create a new credit for second earners. Those proposals will help some parents and couples, but have nothing to offer families where one parent concentrates on home-based tasks. The second-earner credit is probably too small to affect couples’ decisions about work and child-care arrangements. So its main effect will be to lower the share of the tax burden paid by two-earner couples who were going to be working even without the credit.

Why do that? There are two standard economic justifications for shifting the tax burden in this way, neither of them convincing.

One is that two-earner couples have higher costs than single-earner couples making the same income, so it's harder for them to pay the same taxes.

The second justification is that a second earner will often pay a higher tax rate than she would if she were single and making the same income, because she moves to a higher bracket when she marries a wage earner.

The return of Dr. Death

Paul McHugh in The Wall Street Journal: “I guess Jack’s won,” a pal of mine said, alluding to Jack Kevorkian , whose views on physician-assisted suicide are lately back in vogue. With backing from liberal financier George Soros — a longtime supporter of “right to die” legislation — proponents are intent on expanding beyond Oregon, Vermont and Washington the roster of states where the practice is legal. Legislation to allow assisted suicide is moving through New Jersey’s statehouse, last month a New York legislator vowed to introduce a similar bill, and in California state Sens. Bill Monning and Lois Wolk are working to legalize the practice.

My pal may have a point, but he perhaps has forgotten how often in fights for good ideas, the bad ones — even when crushingly defeated, as when Michigan sent Kevorkian to prison in 1999 — sidle back into the ring and you have to thrash them again. Since ancient Greece physicians have been tempted to help desperate patients kill themselves, and many of those Greek doctors must have done so. But even then the best rejected such actions as unworthy and, as the Hippocratic Oath insists, contrary to the physician’s purpose of “benefiting the sick.” For reasons not too different, doctors traditionally refuse to participate in capital punishment; and, when they are inducted into military service, do not bear arms.

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