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Hosting the Olympics


Panem et circenses is a phrase with its origins in ancient Rome so I suppose that we should not be entirely surprised by the news that Italy is going to apply to host the 2024 Olympics.

The Daily Telegraph:

Announcing the move on Monday, Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, said he hoped the bid would help kick-start investment and cheer up a country overcome by the gloom of rising unemployment and a shrinking economy.

“Too often Italy seems resigned, to have lowered its ambitions,” said the 39-year-old prime minister, who has vowed to embark on a massive programme of reform to haul Italy out of its political and economic malaise.

Fortunately people are not quite so gullible as in the past:

[The] announcement was immediately greeted with scorn and criticism, with many saying Italy was in no fit state financially to hold one of the world’s biggest sporting events and that the projects would pour money into the hands of the mafia, which continues to have a grip on Italy’s construction industry….

 “This is madness, they’ll be the Olympics of Waste,” said Matteo Salvini, the head of the [populist-right] Northern League, who added that arrests are being made in Rome on an almost daily basis as investigators probe the links between politicians and the mafia…

Critics pointed to the example of Greece, where the 2004 Olympics left crippling debts which contributed to the country’s economic meltdown.

Meanwhile another famously well-run entity is pitching to have the games come to town:

The Washington Post:

A five-person contingent will present a case to the 16-member U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors Tuesday morning [December 16] for why the nation’s capital deserves to host the 2024 Summer Games.

The USOC hasn’t yet come to a decision (between LA, San Francisco and Boston are also competing to host this plague), but the organizers of the Washington bid already deserve a gold medal in crawling:

“…Olympians stand united as citizens of the world, competing peacefully, in the spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. As citizens of Washington, D.C. and the Capital Region, we would be humbled by the honor of hosting this momentous event, and we believe our city and region would be an ideal Host City for the 2024 Summer Games.”

And proving the point that every bad, expensive idea will find at least one reasonably prominent Republican politician ready to throw taxpayer money in its direction:

The District’s incoming Democratic mayor and the Utah Republican soon to assume congressional oversight of D.C. affairs agree on this bipartisan goal: It would be great to bring the Olympics to Washington.

“What a great thing it would be for the nation,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz said he told Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser.

Chaffetz said in an interview that he would not only support the D.C. bid for the 2024 Games — having seen the impact of the 2002 Winter Games on Utah — but would urge Republicans in Congress to spend federal funds in support of a successful Olympics in the nation’s capital.

Successful for whom, Congressman?

Certainly not for the taxpayers.

Even the liberal Vox, which almost certainly would like to like the Olympics, reports:

Hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea for most cities. And it’s very likely a terrible idea for Washington DC.

Just listen to the economists who study this topic: “My basic takeaway for any city considering a bid for the Olympics is to run away like crazy,” Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at College of the Holy Cross, told me in an interview last fall. His research has found that hosting “mega-sports events” like the World Cup or Olympics tends to cost an enormous amount — and brings few tangible benefits.

…The evidence is compelling. Back in 2013, Matheson and Robert Baumann put out a paper studying the experiences of cities that hosted “mega-sporting events” in the past. They found that the costs tend to skyrocket, the economic upside was negligible, and the cities that have benefited seem to be special exceptions. That said, there is some evidence that hosting mega-sporting events makes people a bit happier. So not all is lost.

…Baumann and Matheson do note that it’s probably better if a rich country hosts the Olympics than a poorer nation — given all the negative impacts. Here’s how Matheson put it to me: “If you’re going to waste $10 billion, would you rather waste Northern Virginia/DC’s money or waste Cape Town’s money?”

Meanwhile, The Atlantic notes that opposition to the (Winter) Games is mounting in places where voters have a say in how things are run:

Citing financial concerns, Norway more or less announced the end of its Olympic bid for the 2022 [winter] games on Wednesday. The [center-right] government’s vote against providing financial backing for the bid means that Oslo will likely go the way of Stockholm, Krakow, and Lviv, all of which withdrew from the 2022 host field.

“They would have been fun, but there are lots of other important matters that we have to deal with.”

…This development also leaves us with just two curious candidates remaining: Beijing, China, and Almaty, Kazakhstan. With Qatar already set to host the 2022 World Cup—despite growing controversies—Oslo’s imminent self-extraction means that 2022 will be The Year of the Authoritarian Host Country.

“Publics may finally be getting wise to the fact that the long-term economic benefits of hosting mega-events like the Olympics or the World Cup are usually negligible at best,” Joshua Keating wrote after Krakow’s withdrawal in May. “This is going to mean that fewer democratic countries will make bids for them and the ones that do, like Brazil, will do so in the face of widespread popular opposition.”

I’ve argued before that the Olympics, something of a totalitarian spectacle (despite the undeniable achievements of the athletes), should be relocated permanently to Pyongyang, but until that happy day arrives can we not insist that no US city bids to host an Olympics (winter or summer) without a referendum (Denver set a good example in 1972) and the clear understanding that there will be no (sorry Rep. Chaffetz) federal funds coming the games’ way?

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Preparing for Christmas


These photos of Iraq Christians refugees are not to be missed. May all Christians receive Him with such love and courage this Christmas. 

Web Briefing: December 25, 2014

‘They Are Willing to Die for What Most Christians Are Barely Willing to Live For’


In my latest syndicated column, among other things I talk with Johnnie Moore, chief of staff for Survivor creator Mark Burnett. Burnett and his wife Roma Downey, known best for her role on Touched with an Angel, have launched the Cradle Fund to meet the needs of Christian refugees of ISIS. Yesterday I talked with Chris Sieple, who was just in Iraq last week. Today I share with you a few additional thoughts from Moore, who has also spent time this fall with people who had to flee their homes this summer, praying someone does something to allow them to go back home.

Heartbreaking is to hear how much some people so desire to pray in their village church again. Not this Christmas. Not with ISIS intent on the extinction of Christianity there.


Q: You recently wrote about  “Iraq’s quiet Christian genocide”? Is there any danger you are over-dramatizing it

A: Not at all, ISIS has systematically – and successfully – targeted these ancient Christian communities for more than a decades; just as they have targeted Yazidis, Turkmen, and any other religious group including Muslims who disagree with them and who have attempted to stand in their way. Their stated goal is to rid their state of all those who disagree with them.


Q: In your oped, why did you bring up an attack on Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad from four years ago in that piece you wrote last week?

A: I wanted to demonstrate that this has been going on for a very long time. The attack on Our Lady of Salvation took place in Baghdad in 2010 with “The Islamic State of Iraq” taking responsibility under their recently appointed leader, Baghdadi. The same actors and the same organization have been at work for a very long time. Too many people believe all of this came from nowhere this summer when the truth is that this particular group, and groups like it, have been up to no good for more than a decade.


Q: What have people you’ve met under the hand of ISIS taught you about following God’s will? And how is it different from Islamic terrorists killing in God’s name?

A: I am amazed, inspired, and convicted by the commitment to Jesus Christ shared by all these displaced Christians. I was most struck in Iraq by the prevalence of the cross. Christians has crosses tattooed on their arms, placed at the entrance to their tents, adorned in lights on top of their buildings and one Christian family even snuck back into there village – which had been ransacked by ISIS – to put the cross back on their church. It’s that cross that almost cost them their lives, but they are so committed to it that they continue to raise it high for the world to see. ISIS will have no problem finding them again. They need only look across the skyline for the crosses, for these Christians are not ashamed of their faith, even if it costs them their lives … they have “taken up their crosses.” They are willing to die for what most Christians are barely willing to live for.

Tags: Christians


Setting Men Free


A pre-Christmas study that’s gotten a fair amount of attention points to the ubiquitous availability of pornography as gravely harmful to marriage, contributing to its decline.

On St. Joseph’s Day this year, Paul S. Loverde, the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Arlington, Va., disseminated a pastoral letter, “Bought with a Price,” on just this issue, an update of something he had previously issued, having seen it become more and more of a problem for families in almost 16 years as bishop there.

Perhaps this is no surprise. But what can be done? How can we help men and women and families be helped?

He talks with National Review Online about this dark cloud surrounding families, even at Christmas time (maybe even more so, he worries).


Q: You have a whole website with resources devoted to a pastoral letter on pornography. Why?

A: In my nearly 50 years as a priest, I have seen the evil of pornography spread throughout our culture at an unrelenting pace. What was once a shameful vice few had access to has now become a regular, ordinary form of entertainment for many. Its accessibility on the Internet, mobile devices, and television has fostered addictions from which many men find it hard to break free. My brother priests shared with me how prevalent the topic was becoming in their conversations with young men, which prompted me to address it in my pastoral letter, Bought with a Price (2006). Eight years later, I felt the pressing need to re-release the letter because of the increasingly devastating effects pornography is having on men, women, and children. I wanted to offer those who suffered from addiction a way out, a way to be free from its clutches. 


Q: Is there a danger that talking about “the evil of pornography” will turn people away from the Church, given its prevalence?

Keep reading this post . . .




She was a child possessed with fears
Whose dreams revealed another place
Where shadowed shapes that lived in mirrors
Pursued her at a furious pace.
She ran all night and every night

And finally slept in that large room.
With just one sister in her sight,
The room was cold as any tomb.
She fled the awful mystery
Stalking her nightly from afar.

Old floors creaked out their company,
Dim light shone from a distant star.
Now, many decades later, each
Passing monster is defined.
And too well known. Each caused a breach

A shattered bond of heart and mind,
Proclaimed the false, the narrow, dull,
Chased her back then, ignored her here
As, quite alone, she felt the pull.

 This poem appears in the December 31, 2014, print issue of National Review.

‘Who Are We Before the Christ Child?’


A column I wrote, just published, for the Knights of Columbus Catholic Pulse website.

Elmendorf Out at CBO


Reports David Weigel. Republicans wanted their own person in the job, and want the CBO to adopt “dynamic scoring” that takes account of how policy changes affect economic growth. In particular, they think that the CBO overestimates the impact of tax cuts on revenues by not taking account of this effect. I very much doubt, though, that a new CBO director is going to adopt a dynamic-scoring methodology that results in wildly different estimates from the ones the CBO comes up with now.

Constant Exposure to Violence Understandably and Necessarily Breeds Aggression


While I fully understand there are bad cops — and there are good cops who make bad mistakes — the Left’s recent wave of anti-cop sentiment is not only disgusting, it’s dehumanizing. Essentially, the Left places an inhuman burden of patience and tolerance for risk on police officers, then jumps on the inevitable failure to achieve an impossible standard as proof of police corruption and violence. They do the same thing to soldiers in combat conditions, imposing on them restrictions that defy reason and human nature, then decry alleged “abuses” as creating moral equivalence between Americans and their enemies.

Here’s the reality: Prolonged exposure to violence and the threat of violence creates a natural increased tendency towards aggression, and this response is not only logical, it’s necessary for self-preservation and necessary to do the job. Unless you’ve encountered a consistent threat of mortal violence, it’s hard to describe how a person changes. I’ll relate an example from my own life. In 2008, I was on a “presence patrol” in an Iraqi village that had long been considered relatively safe. We’d rooted out al-Qaeda weeks before, local markets were open, and the atmosphere was somewhat relaxed. While I was obviously alert and scanning the neighborhood for threats, I wasn’t nearly as tense as I’d been on different missions on uncleared roads (in other words, where IEDs were expected), deep into territory al-Qaeda was deemed to control. 

The village seemed so safe that a number of guys started kicking a soccer ball around with a growing crowd of kids (we were often followed by packs of young boys). Then, a rock about the size of a softball flew by my head — missing my face by a few inches. If I was walking down the street in my hometown, and a rock came flying past my face, my first response would likely be confusion. I wouldn’t react aggressively, but instead with surprise — assuming a kid was playing somewhere, and accidentally hoisted a rock near an adult. In Iraq? I immediately wheeled around with my M4 up and scanning for threats, and I was not the only one. About a half-dozen other Sabre Squadron soldiers also had their weapons up. The kids scattered, and the situation grew very dangerous, very fast.

It turned out there was no true threat, an older kid had decided to throw a few rocks and run, but there was an immediate potential for a horrible, violent confrontation — one that could have resulted in killing a child. If the rock had been a prelude to a “baited ambush” (where terrorists try to draw our troops into a designated kill zone), then the immediate reaction of weapons up could have saved lives. If the rock was just a petulant, childish prank (as proved to be the case), the weapons up meant a dramatically increased chance that even a good-faith mistake would have dreadful consequences. 

While a patrol in Iraq is obviously statistically more dangerous than walking a beat in an American inner city, I’d submit that the prolonged psychological impact of exposure to actual and potential violence is similar. There is an immediate self-protective response that gets hard-wired into an individual, an aggressive response, that can be tempered with training and experience but cannot ever be removed, nor would we want it to be. That aggressive response more often than not saves lives, including not just cops’ lives but the lives of civilians who call for their help.

The best way to lower the temperature in a neighborhood — to decrease the chances for the kinds of encounters that result in unarmed civilians dying to police gunfire — is to continue to engage in the law-enforcement and criminal-justice practices that we know can and do dramatically lower the rate of violent crime. And that means focusing on getting violent criminals off the streets. I strongly recommend Kevin Williamson’s piece on this point. Who commits murders? People with prior, violent criminal records. And so long as violent criminals are on the streets, police on those streets — who are properly and naturally more aggressive than civilians — will make exactly the kinds of decisions in the “fog of war” that cause anti-police radicals to chant for their deaths. It’s inevitable. 

Kipling, in his classic poem Tommy, spoke of “makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep,” and the police-hatred of the last few months is truly “makin’ mock.” To make this point is not to excuse true wrongdoing or to relieve police officers from accountability for their mistakes, but we must take care not to hold them to unattainable standards of immediate pacifism when pacifism is warranted and immediate aggression when aggression is warranted. Life is not that neat and clean, and the constant threat of danger has real effects. Those who doubt this reality should don a uniform, take their own turn on the wall, and report back with the results.

The Deflation Scare


A few people are worried about the recent decline in the price of oil. They shouldn’t be.

GOP Rep: ‘The Important Thing Is to Start Doing Things’ on Immigration


Senate Republican leadership distributed a pamphlet of talking points that contains no mention of immigration or counteracting President Obama’s amnesty orders, but a member of the House leadership is calling for lawmakers to pass at least some immigration-related legislation in 2015.

“We have a responsibility to start moving serious legislation ourselves,” Representative Tom Cole (R., Okla.), deputy whip for the Republican conference, told The Hill in an interview published Monday.  “Now, that doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we want in the bill. Whatever we do is going to be a compromise, but, I think the important thing is to start doing things.”

Cole suggested that Republicans pass legislation related to border security, e-verify, and high-tech visa reform — “so that we sort of take American business out of this debate,” he said — without adopting Obama’s most cherished changes.

Senate Republican leadership isn’t pushing that idea, though, at least not in the pamphlet distributed to members for messaging over the recess and obtained by National Review Online.  Nor does offer any guidance on how members should frame their opposition to President Obama’s administrative amnesty, to the frustration of conservative opponents of the executive orders.

“This is just one more signal GOP establishment doesn’t want to fight Obama’s amnesty — that’s why they are ignoring it and hoping lawmakers won’t gin up opposition,” according to one Republican aide. ”This is an incredible omission from an official party document.”

The pamphlet does coach lawmakers on how to talk about Obamacare. After stating that the GOP “is committed to repealing and replacing it with reforms that lower costs and increase access,” the pamphlet focuses on a few aspects of the law.

“[The GOP w]ill also work to chisel away at most harmful provisions,” the bullet point says, referring to the individual mandate, the medical device tax, and the 30-hour workweek rule.

“GOP must stay focused on Americans’ top priorities,” the pamphlet says, referring to the economy, jobs, and the middle class.

Florida Leaves New York Behind in Its Rear-View Mirror


It’s official. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with 19.7 million people. It surpassed New York this month by adding an average of 803 new residents every day as opposed to New York’s 140.

Contrary to the stereotype, sun-seeking seniors aren’t the main drivers of Florida’s population growth. James Johnson, a business professor at the University of North Carolina, told the AP that Florida’s powerful economic engine is driving its growth: “I think it’s going to be for the 21st century what California or New York was for the 20th century.”

As the James Madison Institute reports, Florida’s growth is built on a consensus that taxes, spending, and regulation should be restrained. Its budget is half the size of New York State’s, it lacks a state income tax, and it is much easier to start and run a business there than in many northeastern states.  

As a result, Florida has experienced solid job growth (the third-highest in the nation for private-sector employment). Its workforce is better prepared than that of many states. Education Week’s annual rating of state schools gave Florida its No. 6 ranking, earning top grades for standards, accountability, early childhood education, and career preparation.

“Florida is an example of what can happen when the private sector, local governments, the legislature, and the governor all work together to promote a climate that fosters innovation and job creation,” says Bob McClure, president of the James Madison Institute.  

Meanwhile, back in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo took time this week to announce his state will ban fracking, which would have represented a potential bonanza for the state’s depressed upstate counties. Some states want to live and some states seemed determined to wither.

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North Korea Has Fewer IP Addresses than a New York City Block


This may sound like the equivalent of sinking the whole Austrian navy, but someone, presumably the U.S. government or those working on its behalf, knocked out the entirety of North Korea’s Internet on Monday, for about nine hours, surrounded by long periods during which access in the country was spotty. (The other, remote possibility is that the Internet was intentionally taken down to avoid attack.)

Internet access in North Korea is of course not widespread on the best of days: It’s assumed to be only available to the elite, the military, and the country’s propaganda arm. It’s believed that, assuming North Korea was behind the Sony hacking that caused the company to cancel The Interview, it had to do so with help from China, maybe even from the Chinese government’s own hacking centers. The Times notes this tidbit about the scale of North Korea’s Internet:

Chris Nicholson, a spokesman for Akamai, an Internet content delivery company, said it was difficult to pinpoint the origin of the failure, given that the company typically sees only a trickle of Internet connectivity from North Korea. The country has only 1,024 official Internet protocol addresses, though the actual number may be a little higher. That is fewer than many city blocks in New York have. The United States, by comparison, has billions of addresses.

For comparison, your house’s WiFi network has its own IP address; North Korea has 1,024 such addresses (although each address can theoretically serve millions of customers. My guess is . . . they don’t).

To get a little Neil deGrasse Tyson on you, though, the difference between the scale of the U.S. and the North Korean IP system is less impressive if you (for no good reason besides contrarianism via facile math) express them in powers of two. That happens to be how IP addresses get chopped up — each block of addresses is a power of 2. North Korea’s 2^10 IP addresses make up one block; the United States has hundreds of blocks of 2^21 addresses each, and dozens of blocks of 2^24 addresses each, and so on, adding up to about 2^31 or so IP addresses, compared to North Korea’s 2^10. It almost looks like they’re catching up!

Another fun fact: Every Web page in North Korea has a little piece of code that renders the country’s three dear leaders’ names slightly larger than all the rest of the text, as this picture shows:

Keynesian Reality Check: The Doom and Gloom of The Sequester Never Came to Pass


Remember the predictions made by Keynesian economists and pundits (from both parties, I should add) that the sequester’s reduction in government spending would deal huge damage to the economy?

Hoover Institution fellow John Cochrane catalogued them on his blog a few weeks ago:

Paul Krugman, February 22 2013, “Sequester of Fools

“The sequester, by contrast, will probably cost “only” around 700,000 jobs.”

New York Times, Februrary 21 2013, “Why Taxes Have to Go Up

“Democrats and Republicans remain at odds on how to avoid a round of budget cuts so deep and arbitrary that to allow them now could push the economy back into recession. The cuts, known as a sequester, will kick in March 1 [my emphasis]”

Paul Krugman, March 10, 2013: “Sequester Cuts Will Be Felt in Time

“ will start to build, and it won’t just be White House tours, it will be air traffic delays, …as the effects kick in, it will remind people why we actually need a government that does its job.”

Both parties often cited the work of economist Stephen Fuller of George Mason University. His reports, funded by the aerospace industry, were widely cited, and set out dire consequences for allowing the sequester, especially its defense cuts, go through.

You wouldn’t necessarily had known that you kept hearing the same study cited over and over again, but for a while it was hard to listen to the radio or watch TV without hearing Fuller’s projections. Here are some of his predictions:

According to the study of the economic impact of the 2011 Budget Control Act on the Defense Department and other federal agencies, the budget-cutting tool known as sequestration would reduce the nation’s gross domestic product by $215 billion, decrease personal earnings of the workforce by $109.4 billion, and cost the economy 2.14 million jobs — with the most severe impact coming in 2013 in what is shaping up to be a continually weak economy. Sequestration will trigger automatic cuts on Jan. 2 unless Congress can agree on an alternative savings plan.

The projections, compiled by George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller, were unveiled at a Capitol Hill news conference attended by two senators and two big-city mayors, with the lawmakers’ expressing opposing views on the key question of whether new tax revenues are needed in crafting a long-term and bipartisan deficit-reduction plan.

Defense hawks almost stopped arguing about the impact that across-the-board defense cuts could have on the military budget and national security and went all in on hyping the economic downsides to defense cuts. At the time, it really felt like the main function of the defense budget was to create jobs rather protect the nation. 

I was highly skeptical of Fuller’s findings, as you can see here, and I wasn’t the only one. Last year, Harvard’s Robert Barro and I wrote a paper looking the impact of  the defense sequester on the economy and job creation and found a radically different conclusion than the one the media constantly touted. The bottom line: There may be national-security reasons to oppose the defense sequester, but there’s no real reason to worry about its effect on jobs or growth.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Cochrane on the broader set of predictions Keynesians have made, and how wrong they’ve been. Here is a tidbit:

Keynesians told us that once interest rates got stuck at or near zero, economies would fall into a deflationary spiral. Deflation would lower demand, causing more deflation, and so on.

It never happened. Zero interest rates and low inflation turn out to be quite a stable state, even in Japan. Yes, Japan is growing more slowly than one might wish, but with 3.5% unemployment and no deflationary spiral, it’s hard to blame slow growth on lack of “demand.”

Our first big stimulus fell flat, leaving Keynesians to argue that the recession would have been worse otherwise. George Washington’s doctors probably argued that if they hadn’t bled him, he would have died faster.

With the 2013 sequester, Keynesians warned that reduced spending and the end of 99-week unemployment benefits would drive the economy back to recession. Instead, unemployment came down faster than expected, and growth returned, albeit modestly. The story is similar in the U.K.

These are only the latest failures. Keynesians forecast depression with the end of World War II spending. The U.S. got a boom. The Phillips curve failed to understand inflation in the 1970s and its quick end in the 1980s, and disappeared in our recession as unemployment soared with steady inflation.

There is much more at the link. Here is Tyler Cowen on the same topic a few weeks ago. 

The Futility of Obama’s Letter Writing Campaign to Iran’s Regime


President Obama has penned at least four letters to Iran’s fanatically anti-American Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Obama’s goal is to melt away Khamenei’s severe distrust of the United States. “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us,” declared Obama at the start of his presidency in 2009.

Predictably, Iran has not wavered from its anti-Western position. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the point person for Khamenei’s foreign policy, said “no” on Monday to a rapprochement with America.

It is worth recalling the effect of former President Jimmy Carter’s outreach to then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini during Iran’s seizure of American embassy personnel in 1979. The world’s greatest living Middle East historian Bernard Lewis wrote: 

“President Jimmy Carter’s letter appealing to Khomeini as one believer to another, the American rejection of the Shah, and the unwilligness to help a former friend, all helped to convince people in Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that it was safer and more profitable to be an enemy rather than a friend of the United States.”

The ideological alignment of Carter and Obama says much about a flawed Iran policy that encourages hostage-taking of Americans and displays impotence during the talks to end Khomeini’s nuclear-weapons program.

Lewis correctly argued that Carter’s deference to Khomeini played a role in extending the captivity of American hostages in Tehran. Former president Ronald Regan’s muscular foreign policy is widely credited with Iran’s release of the hostages in 1981.

Fast forward to 2014.There are at least four American hostages held in Iran’s vast prison system. The Islamic Republic has showed no appetite for releasing Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Marine Amir Hekmati.

What might prompt a change in Iran’s  behavior is a potent mix of a credible military threat with a new round of economic sanctions. Ralph Peters, a strategic analyst for Fox News and a former Military Intelligence officer, noted in his analysis on Saudi Arabia’s oil war on its chief enemy Iran:

“With the barrel price at barely 40 percent of Iran’s requirement, the economy’s going to hemorrhage. Iran’s leaders will be under far greater pressure to compromise on the nuclear weapons — unless we keep easing sanctions for nothing in return. This is the last chance for negotiations to bring results.”

Put simply, a letter-writing campaign is not a substitute for new sanctions to strangle Iran’s wobbly economy.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

Buckley Stops Here


Today’s Between the Covers podcast is with James Buckley, author of Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering their People. We discuss why federal grants to states are a bad idea, how to phase them out, and whether their elimination would create inequalities between rich and poor states.

They Fled ISIS, but They Can’t Flee Winter


They are cold and losing hope of returning. They miss family pictures and albums. And their village church.

Winter is setting in for refugees who fled ISIS this summer in Iraq and Syria. Just last week, Chris Seiple was traveling in Lebanon, near the Syrian border, Erbil, and Dohuk, Iraq, and told some of the stories of people he met along the way.

In an abandoned building across from St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil, he finds families who can’t use kerosene heaters because the walls are flammable and whose donated electric heaters “short an electric system not designed for refugee families.”

An abandoned mall houses 413 families:

in such a small space, tensions run high within and among families who have nothing to do, with no schooling for their kids…When ISIS came, Ilias & Raghad fled Karaqosh with their two children, sleeping Mattias and Jovian, with nothing but the clothes they were wearing…now they try to keep hope.

Seiple is president of the Institute for Global Engagement and was traveling in conjunction with The Cradle Fund, an effort recently launched by husband and wife team Mark Burnett (of Survivor fame) and Roma Downey (known best from Touched by an Angel) to help. As Seiple writes:

To lose the presence of Christians in the birthplace/Cradle of Christianity is to accelerate instability in the Middle East. With the region on the brink, those who have fled persecution—including Christians, other religious minorities, and the majority Muslims—need a strategy that works to rescue, restore, and return them to a home where they can practice their faith free from fear. This approach is not only the right thing to do, it is in everyone’s interest to do so for the sake of a peaceful Middle East. To start, we are working to get immediate humanitarian aid to all those suffering.

Q: You were in Iraq last week. What did you see and hear?

A: I met with many folks who have fled ISIS: mostly Christians, but also other religious minorities and Muslims as well. Their story is all the same: they fled in the middle of a hot summer night as ISIS approached. But they can’t flee winter. Their situation is dire, and they need all the help possible to get through the winter. They have now been away from their homes for four months and they are losing hope about the possibility of returning. Their despair is compounded by this twofold fact: they are middle class refugees within an hour or two of their beloved homes. They all had respectable jobs and status in society. They are professors, lawyers, doctors, etc. They had homes and people over for the holidays, just as we do. Now they live in the corner of a basement, or in a 6×10 metal box provided by the U.N., just 30 miles, in some cases, from all that they cherish. The tantalizing tragedy of these folks hurts the most.


Q: What is life like for Christians who fled their homes on account of ISIS this summer?

A: They live in abandoned buildings, churches, and winterized boxes, called “caravans.” They are cold, and the electricity grid available to them was not designed to support this many people. Power goes out all the time. They have nothing to do, and their kids are not in school. Tensions run high within and among families in such situations. They have almost no opportunity to work; which is foremost about dignity. Most importantly, as I heard again and again, they can’t be in their home church. One man said to me, “If you made a church of gold, I would still want my village church.”


Q: Do you see a scenario where they go home?

A: For them to go home requires several factors. First, ISIS must be defeated. Second, there must be the political will from the international community to stand up to those funding the terrorists – which boils down to Shia and Sunnis sources fighting a proxy war in Iraq/Syria. Third, there must be international will – supported by military protection and monitoring – for their return. Fourth, the Iraqi government must allow for a religious minority defense force (e.g., the Kurdish Pesmerga, and/or the reported formation of Sunni militias). Already there is talk of a “Nineveh Plain Protection Unit” (NPU). Key is that these militias are trained according to the same standard – militarily, regarding human rights – such that they are accountable. Related,  the Shia militia that have hurt the Sunni communities — producing great grievance that provides sympathy for ISIS, and/or recruits – must have the same standards. Fifth, the Nineveh Plain should probably be a semi-autonomous province under the Iraqi government. At this point, the religious minorities — Christian, Yazidi, etc. – don’t trust anyone. Meanwhile, such a province provides a “buffer” between and among a Shia majority government in Baghdad, the Sunni area, and the Kurdish area. As such, the Nineveh Plain would be the most integrated province in the Middle East.


Q: What on earth does Christmas look like for them?

A: While there is every reason for despair among the Christians, there is nevertheless hope. They have nothing but Christ this Christmas. For some, their faith will grow even stronger. Others, of course, will feel disheartened. In either case, the tangible expression of hope through physical support – e.g., clothing, blankets, winter clothes, money to spend on food, etc. – is a sign that they are not forgotten. And many do feel forgotten by the rest of the world.


Q: Why should we be worried about their winter?

A: It’s cold, and it’s going to get colder. People will die. If there is no help, not only does despair increase, it is also more likely that people will not want to return to their homes…and that is the worst thing possible for the Middle East. Christians as salt among their communities, loving their neighbors, is the kind of example that the Middle East, and the world, needs most.


Q: The president has his end-of-year press conference Friday and this never came up. What do you make of that?

A:  There were many national-security issues that did not come up, all of which do not have simple answers. Meanwhile, the larger point of the press conference was to make the simple case that America is resurgent — something that might be clouded by the Middle East’s shades of grey. And thus the irony: If we were resurgent, we would be providing vision and leadership on what to do on many of these issues, or at least creating that space among our allies and friends such that a mutually owned vision could emerge. I was asked repeatedly about American leadership and policy, and I had no good answers. As far as I can see, only the U.S. can encourage and then enable the international will necessary for the near- and long-term.


Q: Why does ISIS hate Christians so much? What do you make of a movement that has no regard for history and beauty?

A: ISIS is an equal opportunity hater. They hate everyone – to include Muslims – who do not believe exactly as they do. They are practicing religious cleansing against the Christians, and genocide against the Yazidis. We are watching Kristallnacht over and over again, which, left undefeated, will lead to the extermination of everyone under their control who does not believe exactly as they do. 


Q: Are you confident contributions made to the Cradle Fund help people and make a difference in lives?

A: Absolutely. Through our partners we are reaching the most marginalized people, the majority of whom are Christians. We cannot do enough.


Q: Is there anything else Americans can do to help?

A: Pray for those who have fled ISIS, that they survive the winter. Write your elected leaders: demand American leadership. Give to those organizations that are making a difference on the ground. Give to the Cradle Fund at Learn more about it and what we do here.

There Are No More Living MPs from Before Elizabeth II


A fascinating tidbit from the U.K., where former member of Parliament and BBC journalist John Freeman died this week at the age of 99: Elected to the House of Commons in 1945 and serving until 1955, Freeman was the last living member or former member of Parliament to have served before Queen Elizabeth II.

According to a tweet by the Labour Party History Group, eight peers – members of the House of Lords – who took their seats under the queen’s father, King George VI, still survive, and three of them remain in the upper house. America’s longest-serving congressman, John Dingell (D., Mich.) retired this December, but even he took office, in 1955, after the queen.

The queen has been on the throne since 1952, and next September, the 88-year-old is set to become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, a record currently held by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. There will be increasing commentary in the coming months about why the queen has been so successful in her 63 years on the throne, but a short piece by the historian Philip Ziegler on her father, King George VI, nicely encapsulates what these most two recent British monarchs embodied: an ethic of service.

Even detractors of the monarchy would have a hard time finding much fault with the personal attributes and commitment of the queen and her father. And those of a conservative disposition naturally are drawn to what seems to be an increasingly old-fashioned approach to duties and responsibilities. The queen’s coming anniversary offers a good excuse to celebrate, and maybe even teach, such traditional virtues.

Love It’s a Wonderful Life?


I think you’ll enjoy what Anne Morse has done here.


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