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Why not get amazing wines delivered right to your door by joining the National Review Wine Club!  Join today and you’ll save $100 on 12 world-class wines. Plus, you’ll get two bottles of elegant Gracenote Pinot Noir worth $50 at no additional cost. For more information, click here.

The Economy in 2015: What’s in Store?



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Economist Justin Wolfers has a great column on the unknowns facing the economy in 2015 in today’s paper.

I wish I knew where the economy will be heading next year. If I did, I might become rich. But, alas, I don’t — and even if we don’t always acknowledge it, no economists do.

Wolfers offers “six questions whose eventual resolution will shape the economic year ahead.”

1. How much slack really remains in the labor market?
2. Will the Federal Reserve treat its target for 2 percent inflation as a goal or a ceiling?
3. How fast does the economy need to grow to stay healthy?
4. Can the American economy keep motoring without help from the rest of the world?
5. What will be the consequences of lower oil prices, which have fallen by about half since June?
6. What, as Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, asked, are the unknown unknowns?

Read his answers here.

A few reactions:

I agree with Dr. Wolfers that optimism is the correct posture regarding the long-term unemployed’s ability to transition back into “normal” labor market experiences. Some sound public policies could help ease that transition, and I hope the new Congress and the president focus on this in 2015.

I would have been just a bit stronger in rejecting the headline unemployment rate as a sufficient indicator of the amount of “slack” in the labor market. My guess is that in 2015 this currently unconventional view will gain more adherents.

Regarding Wolfers’s (2), the Fed’s inflation target could be thought of as a medium-term (or even short-term) average. This would imply that inflation should overshoot the target for a time as a way to help return the labor market to normal.

What we should think of as “solid growth” really is an open question. I haven’t given up on something over three percent, but there is reason for doubt.

Maybe I’m overly sanguine, but I’m not terribly worried about the rest of the world knocking the U.S. off course.

Dr. Wolfers’s discussion of lower oil prices provides much-needed nuance to our current discussion. We’re a leading producer now, so low prices cut both ways. (My youngest brother fracks for a living. Over Christmas my father was trying to talk him into taking the LSAT as a backup plan. It didn’t take.)

In addition to his six questions, I would add four more: Are households done paying down debt, and will consumer spending accelerate as a consequence? Will the housing market’s recovery pick up steam? Will wage growth return to normal? (This is a component of Wolfers’s (1).) Will Congress and the president help the economy, hurt it, or have a neutral effect?

Wolfers’s conclusion is spot on:

I wish I could offer clearer guidance about next year, but an honest account focuses on the limits of our knowledge. We’re not sure how much further the economy can improve next year, or even if it will actually do so, and we don’t know what might drive it off course.

So instead of a forecast, I’ll offer advice: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and count on being surprised.

— Michael R. Strain is deputy director of economic policy studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

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Summing Up the Year: ABC Praises Pope Francis for Something He Didn’t Say



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ABC’s Sunday show, This Week, used its last edition of the year to review 2014’s key stories, and given the media coverage of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis this year, it’s fitting that one of This Week’s contributors, radio host Michael Smerconish, labeled a few things Pope Francis didn’t say as one of the key stories. Smerconish dubbed Pope Francis a “game changer” of the year “because on issues from the treatment of women to the treatment of gays to even whether our pets are going to make it through the pearly gates, he put a soft, overdue face on the Catholic Church.”

Unfortunately, Pope Francis definitely didn’t do at least one of those things. An Italian newspaper reported, incorrectly, that he’d said something about the existence of animals in heaven. It was Pope Paul VI who in fact said what Francis was reported to have said. Pope Francis did deliver a recent homily promising eternal significance to “everything that surrounds us,” but little more, and the correction was widely reported. (It’s possible Smerconish’s comments, which were probably taped and not delivered live in studio, may have come after the initial report before the correction, in which case the fault is not his but ABC’s.)

Smerconish may be right that the pope has struck a softer tone on homosexuals in the Church, although his comments there were widely misunderstood and more or less a restatement of the catechism, too. He’s made few comments on the role of women at all, so what Smerconish is referring to in that regard isn’t clear.

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

Web Briefing: December 28, 2014

Bratton: More Than 50 Reported Threats Against NYPD Since Killing of Two Officers



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New York City is “investigating reports of over 50 incidents of reported threats against [city police] officers since the death of . . . two officers this past weekend,” city police commissioner Bill Bratton said. “We’ve closed out more than half of them, with nine arrests being made, and we’ll continue to investigate the others.”

The department has been constantly reminding officers to be on alert for their own safety, the commissioner said. Bratton was asked by CBS’s Major Garrett whether he felt officers were safe and what he thought of the department’s morale; he didn’t respond to the latter question.

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

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Bratton, Giuliani: Cops’ Turning Their Backs on the Mayor Was Wrong



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Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and current police commissioner Bill Bratton agreed that police officers’ turning their backs at a funeral for recently slain officer Rafael Ramos on Saturday was the wrong thing to do.

In separate interviews this morning, Bratton said the gesture was “very inappropriate” and Giuliani said, “I don’t support it.” “Doesn’t matter if you like the mayor or you hate the mayor, you have to respect the mayor’s position,” Giuliani said.

The commissioner did, however, sympathize with his discontented cops. The back-turning incident “is reflective unfortunately of the feelings of some of our officers, at this juncture, about not just the mayor, but I think about some of the many issues afflicting the city at this time and this police department,” he said. Bratton noted that he feels de Blasio is fully supportive of the NYPD and the mayor has allocated tens of millions of dollars in new funding for officer safety.

Giuliani criticized some of the more heated anti–de Blasio rhetoric: “Has the police union gone overboard? Yes. To suggest that [the mayor] is responsible for the murder [of the two dead NYPD officers],” as the one union chief did, “that’s a terrible thing to suggest about the mayor.”

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

Bill Bratton: Police Officers ‘Feel Under Attack from the Federal Government at the Highest Levels’



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National attention on recent cases and the ensuing comments from President Obama and attorney general Eric Holder have led to police forces across the country feeling as if they are “under attack,” says New York Police Department commissioner Bill Bratton.

“They really do feel under attack — rank-and-file officers and much of American police leadership — they feel that they are under attack from the federal government at the highest levels,” Bratton said on Meet the Press. “We have a lot of talking that we’re going to have to do here to understand all sides of this issue — this is not a one-sided issue.”

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

Giuliani: Obama Backing Police with Al Sharpton Next to Him Like Promising to Fight the Mafia Alongside Joe Colombo



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President Obama might offer plenty of praise for American police at some times, but his friendly associations with Al Sharpton and comments at other times add up to contempt for police officers, Rudy Giuliani says.

Asked by CBS whether he’d recant some claims about President Obama’s anti-police rhetoric because the president has praised police often, Giuliani declined, and pointed first to the president’s frequent meetings with Sharpton.

“You make Al Sharpton a close adviser, you’re going to turn police against you,” Giuliani said. “I saw this man help cause riots in New York; I’ve heard his anti-police invective firsthand. To have a man who hasn’t paid $4 million in taxes, to have a man who’s spent his career helping to create riots and phony stories about police, to have that man sitting next to you speaks volumes. Actions speak louder than words.”

“You put Al Sharpton sitting next to you,” Giuliani said, “you just said you’re against the police.”

“If I talked to you about fighting the Mafia . . . as I did in the 1980s, and I had [Mafia boss] Joe Colombo sitting next to me,” Giuliani said, “you would say I was a big hypocrite. It wouldn’t matter what my rhetoric is: ‘Oh, I’m fighting the Mafia.’ There’s Joe Colombo. ‘I’m for the police?’ There’s Al Sharpton. Every cop in America’s going to say, give me a break.”

Giuliani also pointed to President Obama’s insertion of race into comments about incidents where it didn’t seem to be a factor and his sending “representatives to funerals of people killed in the . . . committing a crime.”

Al Sharpton, a minister, New York activist, and former presidential candidate, has been a guest of Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Obama on many occasions in both men’s term of office. While the Clinton administration shunned Sharpton in the ’90s (not long after he’d been involved in a number of controversies in New York), Glenn Thrush reported this summer for Politico Magazine that Sharpton has been a key liaison for President Obama on race issues, frequently exchanging texts and e-mails with Attorney General Eric Holder.

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

Giuliani Calls on de Blasio to Apologize To the NYPD



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Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani says that Bill de Blasio isn’t responsible for the deaths of two New York City police officers last week, and that officers’ decision to turn their backs on the mayor at a funeral this past week was wrong. But, Giuliani says, de Blasio still owes his cops an apology “for the remarks he gave that gave the impression that he was on” the side of anti-police protesters rather than his own officers.

“I don’t know that he wanted to do it, he probably didn’t,” Giuliani said, but the impression stood. “Mayor de Blasio, please say you’re sorry to [the police] for having created a false impression of them.”

“Some of those protesters were legitimate, but some of those protesters were horrible,” Giuliani said, noting that he hadn’t seen the kind of violent anti-police rhetoric on display this year for decades, since the 1960s and ’70s.

After criticizing President Obama earlier in the segment for his frequent contact with Al Sharpton, Giuliani said de Blasio “could lose Sharpton as well.”

“When Sharpton pays the $4 million he owes the federal government, maybe he should be allowed to sit next to a mayor or governor,” the mayor said.

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

Woodward: World ‘Clearly Is Not’ Safer Than a Year Ago



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The emerging geopolitical threats over the last year, including the rise of the Islamic State and Russia’s regional aggression, have created “a lot of danger out there,” says the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

“Well, it clearly is not,” Woodward said on Fox News Sunday when asked if the world is safer than it was a year ago. “Obama has contradicted himself on that because he has declared war on ISIS, and said not just that we are going to contain it, but that we’re going to destroy it.”

Although a recent Washington Post article highlighted the militants’ shortcomings in establishing a proper state, including developing infrastructure and currency, Woodward pointed to remarks by General John Allen, the president’s special envoy in the fight against the Islamic State, that the group will still remain “a giant problem.”

Tags: Sunday Shows December 28 2014

Coming to a Pulpit Near You?



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The Guardian, excited:

Can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it…”

We will, of course (!), have to see what the encyclical actually contains, but talk of “the god of money” already suggests that both reason and reality may struggle to make themselves heard. 

Sweden Cancels an Election



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Following the rejection of the new (minority) “Red-Green” government’s budget earlier this month, Sweden was due to hold a fresh election early next year.

That’s just changed.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

Sweden’s [Social Democrat] prime minister on Saturday canceled snap elections planned for March…Stefan Löfven said his Social Democrats and junior coalition partner the Green Party had reached agreements with four center-right opposition parties to reduce the likelihood of a minority government’s budget being voted down, as was the case earlier this month. Speaking at a news conference in Stockholm, Mr. Löfven identified three areas—pensions, defense and energy—where the government and the opposition would seek common ground on policy. Finding common ground would make it easier for the minority government to push its economic policy through parliament and get at least passive support from the opposition, potentially avoiding a recurrence of the political turbulence Sweden has suffered this fall. The agreement implies that the opposition will abstain where necessary to allow the government to get its budget approved by parliament.

Since September’s election, the balance of power in the Swedish parliament has been held by the populist Sweden Democrats, an unlikable party of distinctly unsavory origins (from which it is trying to distance itself) that saw its support surge from close to zero a decade ago to some 13 percent in the election. The reason? It is the only party willing to dissent from the Swedish political establishment’s support for mass immigration, a dissent that remains taboo.

As I have noted before, the SD’s success is a reminder of the truth of Mark Steyn’s observation that ”if the political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising certain topics, then the electorate will turn to unrespectable ones.”

Over at Open Europe, Mats Persson has written a smart summary of the situation. It’s worth reading in full, but here is an extract (my emphasis added):

Löfven has now struck a grand coalition deal with the centre-right opposition parties in a bid to avoid a chaotic election in March while freezing out SD. He will remain PM, accept the opposition’s budget for this year with some changes and, crucially, secured a commitment that over the next two terms (2015 to 2022) the opposition will under no circumstances vote against the sitting government’s budget.

Persson notes that Löfven could be said to have “blinked” by scrapping the new election, but his broader point is this:

[Löfven] will remain in office and if he gets re-elected in four years’ time, he has guaranteed support for a centre-left budget up until 2022. For its part, the centre-right opposition got very little.

That’s putting it mildly. As a practical matter, Sweden’s center-right has now chosen to define itself by its support for mass immigration, something for which it is — how shall I put this — unlikely to be rewarded by voters, particularly on the right (its poor showing in September is already evidence of that).

But wherever one stands on the immigration issue there is a broader point at work, and it’s one that Persson makes well:

Swedish consensus politics survived the day, but from a voters’ point of view, this grand coalition deal risks leaving SD as the only de facto opposition party on several issues– in turn, giving it the perfect platform for steadily gaining a greater share of the vote. Think about it: for the next eight years, there will be no actual opposition in Sweden on the most important issue in national politics: the budget. The sitting government can propose whatever it wants – on taxes, healthcare, immigration – and the opposition is obligated not to vote against, no matter how much it disagrees on substance. At least if the cross-party deal – which is an informal one to be fair – holds. SD could have a field day whenever there’s a crunch budget vote. In Spain, [the far-left] Podemos has managed to grow so big so quickly, precisely because it has positioned itself as the only opposition party. The ones standing up to a running grand coalition ‘stitch-up’ – key decisions based on rules rather than democratic politics. So has [far-left] Syriza in Greece. The driving force there is austerity but the political psychology that is so lethal – ‘the same outcome no matter how I vote’ – is similar.

Indeed.

Persson notes that Sweden’s establishment parties both “triumphantly claim that the anti-immigration element has been kept out “unlike in Denmark” (a phrase you hear a lot in Swedish media) where the [populist right] Danish People’s Party has been kingmakers for years.”

That’s true enough, but the counter-argument is that the Danish People’s Party (like the not entirely dissimilar Progress party in Norway) has been drawn into the regular democratic discussion, something that has encouraged that party to distance itself from extremism. More than that, this process has operated as a healthy recognition of the fact that immigration policy is indeed something that can be the subject of “legitimate” debate.

We will have to wait to see who wins from today’s maneuvers, but it’s hard not to think that Sweden’s democracy has already lost. 

A Quieter Christmas in the East . . . for Most



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As conflict has spread across the Muslim world in the last few years, it has become a dangerous, even deadly thing for a Christian there to celebrate Christmas (not for the first time in history, sadly). Last year, dozens of Iraqi Christians were killed on Christmas Day in two Baghdad bombings; attacks have also occurred in Pakistan and Nigeria, and in Egypt, where Copts will not celebrate Christmas until January 7. This year, there seem to have been no mass attacks, a special blessing.

But that does not mean all Christians in the east were safe this Christmas. Reuters reports from Somalia:

Eight Islamist gunmen infiltrated the main African Union (AU) base in Mogadishu on Thursday and killed three peacekeepers and a civilian contractor, the AU mission in Somalia said.

Somali militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, which lasted several hours, and said it had killed 14 peacekeepers. Witnesses reported hearing bomb blasts and volleys of gunfire through the day.

“We targeted the enemies at a time they were celebrating Christmas,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.

In the past, al Shabaab has exaggerated the number of soldiers it has killed, while officials have played down losses.

The al Qaeda-aligned militants want to topple the Western-backed Mogadishu government and describe AU troops as “Christian enemies”. The Islamist group also wants to impose its own strict version of sharia law in the country.

In some places in the Muslim world and the Middle East, there were just no Christians to be attacked. There was no public Christmas Mass celebrated anywhere in Nineveh Province, Iraq, this year for the first time for more than 1,400 years, Nina Shea recounted in an NRO piece earlier this week.

Wall Street Journal reporter Sam Dagher posted a number of pictures on his Twitter feed of a Christmas Eve Mass he attended in Mosul, the province’s capital, in 2008. Essentially the entire province has been under control of the Islamic State since earlier this year; the Iraqi government is still considering how to proceed in retaking it.

Obama: Afghanistan ‘Not Going to Be a Source of Terrorist Attacks Again’



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President Obama promised that Afghanistan is “not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again” during a Christmas meeting with service members, an echo of the pledge he made regarding Iraq before U.S. troops withdrew and the Islamic State took over major cities in the country.

“Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country,” Obama said. “It’s not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again.” The president added that “the world is better, it’s safer, it’s more peaceful, it’s more prosperous and our homeland is protected because of you and the sacrifices each and every day.” 

It’s a bold pledge, given how his assessment of the world at the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was overtaken by events.

“The tide of war is receding,” the president said in 2011. “The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al-Qaeda and achieve major victories against its leadership — including Osama bin Laden. Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership.”

The U.S. killed the Islamic State-installed governor of Mosul, a major Iraqi city ruled by the terrorist group, in an air strike this week.

Here are Obama’s remarks, as transcribed in the pool report:

Because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the Armed Forces. Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country. We are safer. It’s not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again. And we still have some very difficult missions around the world, including in Iraq. We still have folks in Afghanistan helping the Afghan security forces. We have people helping to deal with Ebola in Africa and obviously we have folks stationed all around the world. But the world is better, it’s safer, it’s more peaceful, It’s more prosperous and our homeland is protected because of you and the sacrifices each and every day. So on a day when we celebrate the Prince of Peace and many of us count or blessings one of the greatest blessings we have is the extraordinary dedication and sacrifices you all make. We could not be more thankful. I know I speak for everyone in the entire country when I say, we salute you.

Hillary’s Two-Faced Terri Schiavo Cynicism



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Jeb Bush is making all the noises of a presidential candidate and is already being hit for his attempt to save the life of Terri Schiavo.

People aren’t going to change their opinions about that case. But for those who hate Bush for interfering in the case, you should have even greater disregard for Hillary Clinton, who — oh, so typically — tried to have it both ways in the Schiavo tragedy – first voting to try and save her and then criticizing the very effort with which she cooperated.

Bush tried to save here with a state “Terri’s Law” (discussed in detail in the article). When that law was found unconstitutional, an effort was launched in the Congress to impede Schiavo’s slow death by dehydration. From, “The Schiavo Case Revisited”:

Schiavo’s feeding tube was again removed . . . In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid cooperated on a bill that required a federal court to review alleged irregularities in the state’s judicial proceedings—an extraordinary, unprecedented proposal to grant federal jurisdiction over a legal matter the U.S. Supreme Court had already refused repeatedly to consider.

Time was of the essence as each day without sustenance, Terri grew closer to death. Getting the bill to the Senate floor before Terri died required unanimous consent. In other words, if even one senator refused, the Schiavo case was over except for the dying.

That means Clinton could have easily prevented the law from taking effect. All she had to do was refuse consent. What did she do?

Typical of her notorious angle-playing approach to politics, she said nothing one way or the other publicly—and along with every other senator, quietly consented to the bill receiving a floor vote. The federal “Terri’s Law” quickly passed, becoming one of the most bipartisan laws enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency. (Besides the unanimous voice vote in the Senate, it gained the support of about 45 percent of House Democrats.)

How bipartisan?  Passed without objection in a Senate voice vote, and receiving about 45 percent yes votes from the House Democratic caucus.

That law didn’t save Terri’s life either. And then Clinton’s cynicism gene really kicked in.

When postmortem polls showed that the public opposed the federal involvement, many Democrats—Clinton among them—disparaged the very effort in which they themselves had cooperated. For example, at a 2006 fundraising appearance in Florida, Clinton hypocritically decried Republicans for “exploiting the tragedy of Terri Schiavo.”

Back when a catastrophically disabled woman’s life hung in the balance, Jeb Bush took a principled, if unpopular, stand. Contrast that with Clinton, who went along with the legislative effort to save Terri Schiavo, but in a politically calculated way: If the law had been popularly embraced, she could have taken credit for being on board. When it turned out that the law was generally unpopular, she pointed fingers.

Those who disdain Jeb because of Terri Schiavo, should feel even greater antipathy toward Hillary. Her two-faced approach to politics is very hard to stomach.

Why New York Is Declining



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If you want to understand how ideological environmentalists think, consider that the argument for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently announced ban on modern techniques for natural-gas extraction (the feared and hated “fracking”) contained a litany of risks, some of them legitimate (managing fracking waste-water is a challenge) and some of them less so. One of the items on the “con” side of the ledger: increased traffic.

The gas exploration in question would have happened largely in New York’s “Southern Tier,” the counties adjacent to Pennsylvania. The Southern Tier is one of the most economically depressed places in these United States, bleeding population (especially young people), with the poverty rate topping 20 percent in many communities. Which is to say, expanding natural-gas production might have breathed some economic life into these declining post-industrial ghost towns, and Governor Cuomo’s exquisitely considered environmental analysis is that this is a bad thing, because in places that are not economically dead people and goods move about.

The usual inclination of unimaginative Cuomo-style hacks is to throw a casino or two at struggling communities, but New York just rejected the Southern Tier on that count, too

In 1980, New York was almost twice as populous as Florida, which just displaced it as the third-most-populous state.

New York State is utterly dominated by New York City, and consequently by the sort of urban consumer liberalism found among people who believe that chickens come from Whole Foods rather than from henhouses. So nobody is thinking too much about where the state is getting its power. New York is largely dependent on natural gas, but it has to import much of that gas from out of state, and it does not have an adequate pipeline infrastructure for meeting all of its electricity-generating needs. So New York will make up the shortfall in the usual way: with coal.

Well-to-do Manhattanites charging up their Teslas, perhaps to take a spin through the depopulated Southern Tier, should keep in mind that Governor Cuomo’s ban on fracking means that those precious electric cars are in fact going to be coal-powered cars to a greater extent than they would have been without the restrictions on natural gas. 

But the kids in Brooklyn can cheer for the fracking ban. They can afford it.

Hosting the Olympics



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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 (L,A., 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 U,S. 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?

Preparing for Christmas



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

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



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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



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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 . . .

Poetry



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PURSUIT

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.

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