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Lowry: FAA Ban ‘an Overreaction and a Real Blow to Israel’



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NR and WFB, Matchmaker



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In Impromptus today, I start a two-part series, a mini-series: about Communism and anti-Communism. This is a spillover from a piece I had in the magazine: “Living Not by Lies: A gathering of the anti-Communist tribes.”

At this gathering, I met an illustrious couple, Roger and Juliana Pilon. They have long worked in freedom-loving circles, to put it succinctly. Juliana told me that NR and WFB had to do with their meeting — with bringing them together. How so? I asked her to write it up for us:

Picture a young woman recently arrived from Communist Romania, landing at the University of Chicago in the mid-Sixties, just as her generation was rejecting en masse the America her parents for 17 years had patiently waited to come to. Seeing the cultural carnage about her, she buried herself in Plato and his progeny. But it was National Review, which her father swore by, that gave her insight on this strange new world. Little did she know that this esoteric publication would in time change her life.

It happened in the coffee shop above the Philosophy Department — aptly named The Antinomies. Fresh from Columbia University — where he drove a cab to support himself — he was handsome, smart, and clearly sure of himself — intimidatingly so to one who’d spent much of her young life in libraries. That he’d been “around the block” raised only more concerns, until another suitor, seeing her guarded interest in this rogue, moved in with what he thought would be the coup de grâce: “You don’t want anything to do with that guy. He likes Bill Buckley and National Review!”

That did it. How bad could he be? Four decades and two kids later, the rogue and I still read National Review.

Marvelous.

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Paul Ryan’s Anti-Poverty Program



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Representative Paul Ryan, outgoing chairman of the House Budget Committee, introduced a sweeping reform of federal anti-poverty programs this morning, focusing on devolving functions to the states and encouraging opportunity, mobility, and self-sufficiency. He’s speaking at AEI this morning to discuss the plan, which can be read here. It does run to 73 footnoted pages, so we’ve got a summary over at the Agenda, by NR intern Callie Gable. The main points:

Offer states the option of a big block grant to replace existing federal welfare programs

Expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit and make it work better

Fix federal education funding and make it more flexible

Acknowledge that mass incarceration is a huge impediment to mobility, and start addressing it

Get rid of regressive regulation

Emphasize evidence-based policy-making

Web Briefing: July 24, 2014

How Eric Holder Ended Bob Barr’s Political Career



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Many who remember Bob Barr as one of the hard-charging managers of Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the 1990s were surprised to see the former congressman from Georgia utterly crushed this week in his attempt to return to the U.S. House. Barr lost to former state senator Barry Loudermilk by 66 percent to 34 percent. How could someone who had once been a conservative hero be repudiated by his former constituents in the Atlanta suburbs?

Ultimately, Barr was done in by the zigs and zags of his career since he was redistricted out of his House seat in 2002. He had worked with the ACLU on civil-liberties cases, waged a quixotic campaign for president as the Libertarian Party nominee in 2008, and was seen to have shifted his votes on issues ranging from abortion to marijuana for medical use.

But the issue that hurt Barr the most was his 2009 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging that Eric Holder be swiftly confirmed as President Obama’s attorney general. Holder has since become a nightmare for conservatives, having been held in contempt by the U.S. House for refusing to turn over documents in the Fast and Furious scandal and battling Georgia’s voter-ID law.

Barr tried to sidestep the issue by explaining, “My letter was based on my professional association with Holder during his time as an attorney in private practice during the Bush administration.” He said he had since observed Holder “either complicit, or directly involved in a litany of scandals and other problems” and in 2013 had called for his resignation. 

But it was too late. Dan McLagan, a spokesman for Loudermilk, explained that Barr’s endorsement of Holder had been the most important single factor in the race. “Once Barry was able to show voters that Bob Barr endorsed Eric Holder for attorney general, Barr started dropping and never stopped. “

As co-author of a new book with Hans von Spakovsky that details Eric Holder’s career, I can attest to the tremendous anger that Holder engenders among grass-roots conservatives. Bob Barr’s crushing defeat didn’t shock me, because I’ve witnessed just how shocked conservatives have been by Eric Holder’s record.

— John Fund is co-author, with Hans von Spakovsky, of Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department (Broadside Books, 2014).

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Biden: ‘Businesses Are Hiring at Historic Rates’ Well . . . No, Not Literally



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In a task-force report Vice President Joe Biden sent to President Obama this week, reporting on his examination of jobs-training programs, Biden made a surprisingly impressive claim about the labor market:

Businesses are hiring at historic rates, with 52 consecutive months of net private sector job growth. Manufacturing is back, with 668,000 new jobs in the past 52 months.

Payrolls have indeed grown for 52 consecutive months — but that says nothing about the rate at which businesses are hiring. If you’re thinking the still-slack jobs market, though, makes it hard to believe business are hiring at historic rates, your intuition is right. Biden is flat-out wrong.

There are official government statistics on this, and there are two ways to measure the rate at which business are hiring: hires made per month as a percentage of the number of employed Americans, and the gross number of hires per month. Both measures have only been collected since 2001, but even in the last ten years, business have hired at significantly faster rates, for longer, than they are now, despite what Biden claims. In fact, most of the Bush years handily outstripped the very best of the Obama years. Hires each month as a percentage of payrolls:

And the gross number of Americans hired to a new job every month — bear in mind that the labor force is of course bigger now than it was in the Bush years.

This isn’t a secret; these statistics are pretty closely watched as economic indicators. In fact, some people have tossed around the term “hireless recovery” to describe the Great Recovery. Layoffs have slowed dramatically and job openings have risen, but businesses aren’t hiring quickly at all. That’s far from all or mostly the Obama administration’s fault, but Biden’s economics and writing teams shouldn’t be slinging around patently false statements.

And they ought to know, also, that there’s little to boast about in the way of a manufacturing-jobs recovery. Here’s what Biden calls manufacturing being “back”:

Now, in fairness, manufacturing jobs are never really going to be “back,” so it’s all relative. But let’s look at it relative to the Obama administration’s promises. The red line here is the growth in manufacturing jobs the president promised toward the end of the 2012 campaign and the blue line is actual jobs. As you can see, manufacturing jobs have grown at less than half the rate promised (about 8,700 jobs a month versus 21,000):

Manufacturing in America is back, some, but the jobs really aren’t (as the Obama administration probably should have known). In any case, Biden’s report on job training seems to have some interesting ideas, and he and the president were celebrating today the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a reauthorization of a number of Department of Labor training programs that isn’t a bad idea: It’ll eliminate a number of them that have been shown not to work, and jobs-training programs are hardly lavishly funded. Unfortunately, the bill is still going to spend more on programs that haven’t proven their effectiveness.

Via Breitbart.

Krauthammer’s Take: U.N. Statement on Missing Rockets Illustrates Corruption



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Charles Krauthammer commented on a recently released statement from the Secretary-General regarding missing rockets placed in a U.N. school in Gaza. The statement shows how “corrupt and corrupted” the U.N. is, Krauthammer said to Brett Baier on Wednesday evening’s Special Report. The statement expressed Sec-Gen. Ban Ki-Moon’s “outrage and regret” at the placement of weapons in an UNRWA school in Gaza. But Krauthammer was quick to point out that Ki-Moon’s shock and outrage was “preposterous.” He begged the question, “How do you smuggle 20 missiles into a classroom?” and joked, “What did Hamas do, put them in a golf bag? Walk them in and say he is preparing for the Gaza Open?” 

The U.N., Krauthammer insists, has been collaborating with Hamas for “years and years.” He continues on: “They know that there are missiles in the schools, in the hospitals, in the mosques, and they know what’s going to happen. Kids will be killed and that’s going to be on television.”

Tags: Krauthammer

No Turbin



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I read somewhere that, nearly a century after the Russian civil war, the ascendancy of Vladimir Putin ought to be seen as representing the final victory of the Whites over the Reds. It’s an interesting notion — there’s something to it — and reading this passage from a fascinating New Republic piece by Oleg Kashin on Igor Strelkov/Igor Girkin (the mysterious Russian who supposedly commands the separatists in eastern Ukraine) brought it back to mind:

Before he became a military star in Ukraine, Strelkov was already a star among war reenactors. These men arm themselves with old weapons, dress in military uniforms, and gather in deserted places to act out long-ago battles. Strelkov “the cat” particularly loves the 1918-1920 battles of the Russian civil war, where he usually plays the role of a White Guard officer. Essentially, he is now playing the same role in Ukraine: his haircut, his mustache, his manners, and even his military tactics are almost all copied from images of White Guard officers in Soviet films.

One of Strelkov’s idols is the White Guard general Mikhail Drozdovsky, killed in a battle with the Bolshevik army in the south of Russia in 1919. While Strelkov’s soldiers held on to Slavyansk, the entrance to the city was decorated with an enormous banner blending allusions to the “Drozdovites” with images from the film “300.” Another fun fact: When Strelkov rewarded his fighters with St. George’s Crosses (the main award given to soldiers in czarist Russia), he thanked on the antique forum a friend who runs a Moscow antique shop for providing him with authentic crosses for free. It is unclear if Strelkov has any real military experience: He is said to have fought in Chechnya, though that is unconfirmed.

They say that real actors dream of playing the greatest roles in real life beyond the confines of the stage. This may also the dream of war reenactors who play at battle while fantasizing about the real thing. What had once been a game for Strelkov has now become a real war, with real deaths, real shootouts, and real assaults. If Putin does not want to become a sponsor of international terrorism in front of the whole world, he will have to do all he can to stop Strelkov. The Ukrainians think this is very simple: Putin orders Strelkov to return to Moscow, and the Donbass is at peace. To me, this does not seem very realistic: I doubt Strelkov would take orders from Putin….

Who knows? The layers of disinformation are very deep indeed. Read the whole thing.

And it’s not just re-enactors of the past who are active in this corner of Ukraine. As Cathy Young reveals in this piece in Slate, re-enactors of (so to speak) the future are on the scene there too:

A pro-Western, NATO-backed Ukrainian government faces a stubborn insurgency in the pro-Russian East. Fighting rages around Donetsk, with civilians dying in artillery fire and airstrikes, while Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border. The latest headlines? No, a two-novel series by Russian-Ukrainian science-fiction writer Fedor Berezin: War 2010: The Ukrainian Front and War 2011: Against NATO.

In a startling plot twist, Berezin, a 54-year-old former Soviet Army officer and Donetsk native, is now living inside a real-life version of his own story: He is deputy defense minister of the embattled “Donetsk People’s Republic.” And this is just one of many bizarre overlaps between fantasy and reality in the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine—a convergence that prompted one Russian commentator, novelist Dmitry Bykov, to dub this conflict “the writers’ war.”

As Cathy Young explains, Berezin was not alone in writing novels “in which Ukraine becomes a battleground in a larger East-West confrontation”.

There’s this, for example:

The Age of the Stillborn by Gleb Bobrov, who like Berezin is an ethnic Russian from Eastern Ukraine (Luhansk) and an Afghanistan war veteran. The apocalyptic novel, set in a near future in which a brutal Kiev regime seeks to quash rebellion in the East with NATO help, was first published online in 2006 and became a hit on the Russian Internet before going to print in 2007.

And:

The stream of Russo-Ukrainian war literature published in Russia at the end of the 2000s—both speculative fiction and conspiracy-theory nonfiction—alarmed Ukrainian politician Arsen Avakov, then governor of the Kharkiv region and now Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs. In an emotional March 2009 post on the Ukrainska Pravda website titled, “Do the Russians want war?” Avakov suggested that the books were part of a deliberate Kremlin strategy to build up popular support for war against Ukraine by playing to Soviet nostalgia among older readers and ignorance among younger ones.

If I’d read that theory a year or two back I would thought that I’d wandered into tinfoil shapka territory. And probably I would have been right. But the Kremlin’s manipulation of Russian media — so evident in recent months — has been such that Avakov’s thesis now seems a little less incredible than once might have been the case. That said, it’s probably better to see books of the type that Young describes as a spontaneous response to the psychological, political and emotional gap that the collapse of the USSR left behind in Russia and at least part of Ukraine, the gap that men like Strelkov are now just the latest to try to fill.

The DSCC’s Short Memory



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Democratic operatives are already circling the wagons around Senator John Walsh (D., Mont.) following a report that he plagiarized his master’s thesis, reminding voters of his military service while on tour in Iraq.

Those tweets are from Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Matt Canter, who insisted his point, apparently that Walsh’s alleged dishonesty had to be seen in light of his meritorious service, wasn’t politically motivated

But Canter seemed to have a much different take during the last election cycle when he repeatedly called into question the integrity of Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel, who served two combat tours in the Marine Corps Reserve.

It’s surely imminent that Canter will make sure to praise the honor of the vets on the other side of the Senate ballot this year – for example, Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, an Army captain who completed two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, challenging Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor. When Pryor said that Cotton’s service gave him a “sense of entitlement,” Canter was silent.

Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst served overseas in Kuwait as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and currently commands the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard. The Republican Senate candidates in Alaska, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New Hampshire also served their country in uniform.

So if Canter feels like laying down a lot of Twitter attacks this cycle, he’s got some disclaimers to make.

Being Human at the Border



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The New York Times describes Cardinal Timothy Dolan as being “furious” when he wrote this blog post about the situation at our borders. I hope readers don’t take their characterization without reading the post for themselves.

In a blog post titled “The Dignity of the Human Person,” what Cardinal Dolan wrote was:

A week or so ago, I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!”

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.  It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothinggangs in the 1850’s, and KKK  thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago.  Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants.  I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

Then on Saturday I watched another scene on the TV news.  Again there were busloads of shy, scared, immigrant women and children; again, there were crowds; this time – – in McAndrews, Texas – – the crowd was applauding the arriving refugees, and helping them into Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where parishioners and Catholic Charities workers welcomed them with a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.

 This time I was not ashamed, but relieved and grateful, proud to be an American and a Catholic.

We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics; we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.

Now I read that as a shepherd prodding his sheep, highlighting humanity. He does so as one of the most familiar faces of the Catholic Church in the United States today, a Church that has long worked to provide pastoral support and practical opportunities for immigrants, however they got here.

My friend Ed Mechmann, also of the Archdiocese of New York writes reflectively about the issue as well; he sheds light on a contentious debate with the story of his grandmother’s life as an illegal alien.

I wouldn’t describe a rallying cry to see the humanity behind the headlines and debate as furious, but as an impassioned plea, stressing the urgency of the Gospel.

I wrote more about this issue in my syndicated column this week.

Bloomberg: Traveling to Israel Is Safe, and the Ban Empowers Hamas



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After the Federal Aviation Administration banned U.S. flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel on an El Al flight yesterday in order to demonstrate that he believes traveling to the country is safe, and to express his solidarity with the Israeli people.

“Compared to the security at American airports, security at Ben Gurion airport is infinitely better,” he told Fox News. 

Israel has been under threat since it was founded in 1948, he explained, so the country takes “security much more seriously here and on El Al and around the world than we do in America.”

The FAA made the decision after a rocket landed within a mile of the airport on Tuesday. “If you closed down JFK every time something dangerous happened within a mile or so of Kennedy airport,” Bloomberg explained, “we wouldn’t have a city.”

Bloomberg also explained that the ban empowers Hamas. “If we let terrorists frighten ourselves into closing travel to different cities around the world, the economies of the world will collapse and terrorists will have won,” he said.

Goldberg: Obama Is ‘Checked Out of the Job’



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Your Tax Dollars Are Backing the Construction of The Largest Aquarium in South America (Thanks, Ex-Im!)



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Here is a picture of a project in Brazil that, if it goes bust and the Brazilians can’t pay the American contractor, your tax dollars will end up paying for:

The Atlantic City Lab describes the project, an Export-Import Bank–backed deal to build the largest aquarium in South America:

When it is completed in 2015, Acquario Ceará, a new public aquarium planned for the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, will easily be the world’s most recognizable aquarium—an architectural statement piece if there ever was one. It may also be the most truly American project in the Western Hemisphere. While the backers of Acquario Ceará are aiming to create a new design symbol for South America, it will be almost entirely a product of North America. …

The Export-Import Bank of the United States is financing the aquarium’s construction through a $105 million direct loan, claiming that the transaction will support 700 jobs in the U.S., with most of the work going to small businesses. 

Note that the taxpayer exposure is $150,000 per job “supported.”

Some people in Brazil are rightly upset about this. The Ex-Im loan may have lower interest rates and better terms than a regular loan, but this is probably money the indebted and poor Brazilian government can’t afford. 

But the project—for which construction and fabrication work kicked off today—is not without controversy.   

In Brazil, where critics say that the aquarium is being built without transparency, protestors launched a Facebook group called “Quem dera ser um peixe”—which translates to “I wish I were a fish” (a punny echo of a lyric by a popular Ceará-born singer, apparently). Elizabeth Duffield, a fellow at the SIT Graduate Institute, wrote a study confirming their fears. “Ceará, one of the poorest states in Brazil, is using public money, in part, to construct the aquarium while it has long standing social problems yet to be resolved,” shewrites.

That’s a real problem with the Ex-Im Bank: On one hand, it gives cheap money to large companies who would have access to capital markets even in its absence. But on the other hand, it encourages middle-income or poor countries to take on debt that they probably can’t afford, whether the products purchased are “made in America” or not.

I wrote about that in my latest Reason column:

Since 1996, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have maintained a list of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), which face debt burdens their governments cannot sustainably manage. Since fiscal year 2007, the Export-Import Bank has added to the debt levels of 20 of the 39 countries listed in some phase of the HIPC Initiative’s debt management process.

Just as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac convinced low-income Americans to take out risky loans to purchase homes they otherwise wouldn’t dream of buying, the Export-Import Bank sways governments in developing countries to splurge on shiny new air fleets, futuristic wind farms, and unnecessary luxury tour buses-all made, of course, in the U.S.A.

Ex-Im’s records show that $180,000 in insurance was extended to Honduras to cover an aircraft deal with Atlantic Airlines, but the records are incomplete and Ex-Im’s website does not mention this deal. Tanzania, too, took on an estimated $2.5 million in debt in 2013 to purchase aircraft from Cessna at Ex-Im’s urging.

According to its own records, the Export-Import Bank extended almost $3 billion in financing to HIPCs from 2007 to 2014. Assuming that the Bank covered the standard 85 percent of the loan value, this could mean that these already indebted countries took on another $3.5 billion in debt so that companies like Boeing could make a little more money each year.

Brazil doesn’t belong to “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” list, but it isn’t a rich country either — it’s only ranked 85 on the U.N.’s Human Development IndexBesides, I can’t imagine that the Brazilian government feels flushed with cash after the World Cup, since such events tend to be a money pit for cities and countries.

Dem. Senator Plagarized Nearly Two-Thirds of Master’s Thesis



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A new report by the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin finds that Senator John Walsh (D., Mont.) apparently plagiarized large parts of his thesis in 2007 while obtaining his master’s degree from the United States Army War College.

Walsh, who was 46 at the time, failed to cite and used the exact language from various sources, including documents from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, among others. The Times reports that parts of Walsh’s thesis were taken “word-for-word” without citations or footnotes; the article estimates about one-third of the thesis fails to cite sources, while another third provides footnotes, but uses the “authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks.”

Walsh, an Iraq War veteran, said he did not plagiarize the works, although a campaign aide later said that Walsh was working on his thesis during a difficult personal time following the suicide of one of his unit members.

Walsh, who was appointed to replace Senator Max Baucus in February after Baucus was named United States ambassador to China, is facing election in November. Polls show Walsh trailing his Republican challenger Representative Steve Daines by a relatively wide margin.

Jerusalem Fund Director: Claim that Hamas Uses Human Shields Is a Racist Myth



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Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, says the claim that Palestinians use civilians as human shields is a myth, and also racist.

On MSNBC, he responded to a clip of a spokesperson for Netanyahu, who said that Hamas urged its citizens to stay in combat areas despite warnings from Israel. 

“It’s unfortunate we can hear Israeli spokespeople who are speaking on behalf of a military force that is inflicting massive civilian casualties on the ground stand here in front of your viewers and essentially blame the victims for their own deaths,” he said. “I think there’s something fundamentally wrong and, in fact, racist about that argument.”

Munayyer said that the claim that Hamas uses human shields is not a new one, but something he’s heard “time and time again.” He noted an Amnesty International investigation from a couple of years ago which claimed that there was no evidence of the claim. Instead, “they found Israeli ground troops were using Palestinians as human shields,” he said.

During war time, Munayyer continued, it is very easy for Israelis “to make up info graphics and whatever else to claim Palestinians, you know, just want to stand in front of Israeli missiles.”
 

FAA Ban Sparks Fight between Ted Cruz and John Kerry Teams



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A State Department spokeswoman dismissed Senator Ted Cruz’s questions about the FAA ban on flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport as “ridiculous and offensive” after the Texas Republican suggested that President Obama had launched an effective economic boycott of Israel.

“It’s ridiculous and offensive, quite frankly,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday. “The FAA takes it responsibility very seriously . . . They make these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens, period, for anybody to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.”

That prompted a sharp reply from Cruz’s team. “Well, we find the Obama administration’s foreign policy to be ridiculous and offensive,” spokeswoman Catherine Frazier wrote in an e-mail to reporters. After noting that a Hamas official celebrated the FAA’s flight ban, Frazier also wrote that “to suggest the administration’s move does not directly empower Hamas is misguided and short-sighted.”

Among other things, Cruz asked “what was the FAA’s ‘safety’ analysis that led to prohibiting flights to Israel, while still permitting flights to Ukraine — where a commercial airline flight was just shot down with a Buk missile?”

Cruz also recalled Secretary of State John Kerry’s February warning that “talk of boycotts and other kinds of things” would increase if the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could not be resolved.

“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz said in a statement.

Cruz: Is Obama’s FAA Ban the Launch of an Economic Boycott of Israel?



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Senator Ted Cruz (R., Tx.) has issued a statement objecting to the Obama administration’s ban on flights to Israel – a ban that comes while the administration continues to provide lavish financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, knowing this aid is siphoned off by Hamas, the terrorist organization engaged in an aggressive war against Israel. Senator Cruz has five pointed questions for the administration.

Here is the statement:

Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it was extending its ban on flights by U.S. carriers into Israel.  The rationale was that because one Hamas-launch rocket had landed in a field one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport, the ‘potentially hazardous security situation created by the armed conflict between Israel and Gaza’ necessitated this extreme action that has so far cancelled some 160 flights and left tens of thousands stranded.

Obviously, no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm’s way, and the recent downing of Malaysian Airways flight 17 by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the dangers posed by regional unrest.  But security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government. 

Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action. 

Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas.  Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate.  This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers.  It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.

Even given the remarkable resilience and prosperity of its economy, Israel has always been vulnerable to economic blackmail.  In the 1970s, we saw the Arab League boycott, which tried to punish any financial institution that did business with Israel. 

Today we have similar noxious efforts by the Boycott, Divest, Sanction or ‘BDS’ movement, which seeks to punish Israel for the fact that the militant terrorist elements embraced by the Palestinian Authority make any peace deal an intolerable security risk to Israel at this time.  But the Obama Administration has refused to robustly denounce this effort to undermine our ally. 

Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

Taken in the context of Secretary Kerry’s comments, yesterday’s action by the FAA raises some serious questions: 

  • Was this decision a political decision driven by the White House?
  • If the FAA’s decision was based on airline safety, why was Israel singled out, when flights are still permitted into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen? 
  • What was the FAA’s ‘safety’ analysis that led to prohibiting flights to Israel, while still permitting flights to Ukraine—where a commercial airline flight was just shot down with a BUK missile?
  • What specific communications occurred between the FAA and the White House?  And the State Department?  Why were any such communications necessary, if this was purely about airline safety?
  • Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity?

When Secretary Kerry arrived in Cairo this week his first act was to announce $47 million in additional aid to Gaza, which is in effect $47 million for Hamas.  In short order, this travel ban was announced by the FAA.  Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things.  One, it helps our enemy.  Two, it hurts our ally. 

Until these serious questions are answered, the facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands.  

If so, Congress should demand answers.

The Politics of Halbig



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Jamelle Bouie is one of many arguing that the D.C. Circuit decision on Obamacare creates political peril for Republicans:

In Arkansas, where Republican Rep. Tom Cotton is running a tight race against the Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, 40,000 people have paid premiums for health insurance on the federal exchange. If Halbig went into effect today, about 34,000 of those Arkansans would face huge increases in their premiums, given a national average increase of 76 percent, according to one study. That’s an unlikely outcome, but it shouldn’t (and likely won’t) stop Pryor from hitting Cotton as hostile to middle-class families and anyone else who needs health insurance.

I wouldn’t be so sure it works out that way. If tax credits suddenly get withdrawn and people have to pay a larger share of their premiums as a result, red-state Democrats probably will blame Republicans for causing the mess. But Tom Cotton neither wrote the flawed legislation, nor recklessly sent out tax credits in violation of it, nor filed the lawsuit against it. Wouldn’t he just parry by saying, “Obamacare has caused mess after mess”? Arkansas voters—who still dislike Obamacare—might well accept that version of events.

When Obamacare has run into difficulties before, its proponents have tried to blame those difficulties on Republican sabotage. The program would be working better, they have said, if Republicans had set up exchanges in the states or expanded Medicaid. None of that seemed to work beyond the liberal base. Maybe it wouldn’t work this time either.

I would also take with a grain of salt the prediction that in a post-Halbig world states will all rush to adopt exchanges to keep the tax credits flowing. Maybe they will. But there will be a strong other side of the argument: that putting exchanges in place will trigger the employer mandate and, for many people, the individual mandate too.

Of course all of this is conditional on the result in Halbig holding up, which may not happen. [Update: I should note as well that Bouie is not saying that any of this would happen this year. In the Arkansas race, for example, the whole argument would be about possible future events.]

As for Slate’s repeated claim that Obamacare is getting more popular, take a look at this poll average. Net disapproval is higher than it was at this point in February, March, April, or May.

No, the Ex-Im Bank Isn’t Critical to American Small Businesses



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All over the states, newspapers are publishing horror stories about what will happen to small businesses if those of us fighting to shut down the Ex-Im Bank are successful. With a few exceptions, all these stories are just uncritically repeating the misleading talking points from the Chamber of Commerce about how critical the Ex-Im Bank is to small businesses. To be sure, some small businesses benefit from the bank and the ones who do like it.

But the reality about what would happen to America’s small businesses without Ex-Im is quite different than the picture painted in these stories. For one thing, the bank’s definition of small businesses is quite different from the way other federal agencies describe them. If you’re a company with 1,500 employees or less than $21 million in annual revenue, you’re a small business in the eyes of Ex-Im. I think it’s fair to say most people wouldn’t consider a firm of that size a “small business.” Over at the Daily Signal, Diane Katz describes some of the companies that Ex-Im considers “small” — some have revenues of more than $70 million.

More importantly, even if we accept Ex-Im’s definition of “small business,” it’s completely misleading for anyone to imply that many U.S. small firms are being helped by the agency. In fact, the data show that the Ex-Im Bank benefits a minuscule share of small businesses.

Data from the Census Bureau and from Ex-Im show that only 0.3 percent of all small business jobs were backed by the bank in 2007 (that’s the most recent year for which the full Census dataset is available). That, of course, is assuming that these jobs would not exist without the bank, which is obviously not true the most part.

Then, if we make the unrealistic assumption that each Ex-Im small-business transaction went to a unique small business (many get more than one deal), only 0.04 percent of all small businesses were supported by Ex-Im in 2007.

Let me break this down for you: That’s 2,390 firms, out of 6,723,226 small firms in America. Almost 7 million small firms are operating just fine without the Ex-Im Bank’s help. Over 99.7 percent of American small-business jobs exist without any Ex-Im assistance at all.

As always, Ex-Im isn’t so much about promoting America’s small businesses and jobs as it is about promoting the jobs and small businesses of a few winners. 

Here’s a chart showing that tiny sliver of beneficiaries:


The analysis for this chart and the data are here

Scribbles



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In Impromptus today, I conclude my series on Dinesh D’Souza. For my money, his most interesting insight, or contention, is this: In political debate, justice beats freedom, every time. Now, you and I might think that freedom is just. But others have their own ideas and feelings. We can talk about freedom till the cows come home, and advocate it, and promise it. But as soon as Barack Obama utters his favorite word, “fairness” . . .

They have quite a racket going. Anyway, this is a highly interesting topic, about which many books have been written, and about which books will always be written.

The Corner-reading masses say, “Jay, freedom and justice and Democrats and Republicans and all that are well and good, but what about ballet? Ballet is what we want!” Okay, okay. Last night, the Bolshoi performed Don Quixote at the Lincoln Center Festival. For my scribbles at The New Criterion, go here.

Yesterday afternoon, I was talking to a Russian friend of mine — a Russian American. She is very, very gloomy about things in the Old Country right now. Gloomy and disgusted. She said, “Ballet — that’s the one thing they can do. That’s the one thing they’re unimpeachable on.” I tried to mention science and some other things, but she would not hear of it: “Ballet. Only ballet.”

Her mood will pass, but I understand it, pretty well.

On Snowpiercer (SPOILERS)



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I watched Snowpierecer last week and like a lot of people, I really enjoyed it. It has some absolutely ridiculous plot elements, but that’s okay. Most sci-fi movies do without achieving the allegorical artistry of Snowpiercer. Of the commentary I’ve seen, I think Joe Carter gets it best.  He rightly dubs it the most political film of the year:

When I say this is a “political” film I mean it in the Platonic sense of an ideal polis based on the best form of government that leads to the common good. Snowpiercer is an extended political fable about the polis, albeit one that includes scenes of hatchet fights between people carrying torches and people wearing night-vision goggles.

But I have some disagreements or at least objections to Carter’s reading of the movie. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to write this post on the assumption that readers have already seen the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading. The unifying concept of the film is the notion of balance, a point that is drilled into the audience with diminishing subtlety from about the midpoint on. Wilfred (the holy dictator played by Ed Harris) and Gilliam (the chewed up prol-philosopher played by John Hurt) understand that society is based on Darwinian structures enforced by Platonic or Sorellian myths that give the people meaning and order. The elites need to be kept on their toes by their fear of the impoverished masses. The masses need the hope of overthrowing the elites in order to endure. The body politic needs this tension to cull hungry mouths from both ranks. Carter writes:

Wilford goes on to explain that the balance can only be achieved by two ways: Either by natural selection or political manipulation. Over the course of its 18 year history, the train has had three “revolutions” instigated by Wilford and his partner in the back of the train, Gilliam. The two political masterminds understood that they needed to “maintain a balance between anxiety and fear, chaos and horror, for life goes on.”

Class warfare was the ingenious method of maintaining the population. The people in the front of the train can never grown too comfortable, for fear the back might rise up and take their place. And the down-and-out in the back are given just enough hope in a future regime-change that they don’t fall into complete despair.

So far so good. But Carter goes on to argue that Curtis (the protagonist revolutionary leader played by Chris Evans of Captain America fame) should actually be seen as a secondary villain. He writes:

In the beginning of the film, we identify with Curtis and assume he is the hero since he is championing the ideals the audience believes in, such as equality, fairness, and justice. But by the middle of the film we start getting a different impression of Curtis.

Once he allows his loyal friend Edgar to die so that he can capture Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), we realize he has too much of the True Revolutionary about him to be heroic. By the end of the movie we start to see him for what he really is: a man who will do almost anything—even eat human babies—in order to ensure his survival.

This strikes me as a bit unfair. We learn about his one-time desire to eat babies from a heart-wrenching story told by Curtis himself. He says the thing he hates about himself most is that he knows what people taste like. We learn that he was saved — as in he regained his soul — by seeing the self-sacrifice of Gilliam and others who literally chopped off their own limbs so that lives could be spared and the hungry might eat. Witnessing this act was quite clearly was transformative for Curtis. He was born again as a better man. Carter finds Christian themes in the film. This struck me as the most obvious.

As for Gilliam, the most revealing thing he says in the whole film is that Curtis should cut out Wilfred’s tongue the moment he sees him. “Don’t give him a chance to talk to you.” (I’m quoting from memory). That advice implies — I think — that Gilliam is not quite the partner Wilfred thinks he is (and that Carter assumes he is). If Curtis followed Gilliam’s advice, Curtis would have never been clued into Wilfred’s ideological scheme. As for his terrible choice of pursuing victory over the life of his friend, that didn’t strike me as nearly so damning. Curtis understood that if he went back to save his friend the revolt would fail. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but I don’t see it as an obviously selfish one (indeed Curtis says over and over again he doesn’t want to be a leader). The selfish course would have been to take Wilfred up on his generous offer to replace him as Lord of the Train. He rejects this. Carter suggests that Curtis does this as an active choice to “return to nature.” Maybe. Or maybe he does this because he rejects the totalitarianism implicit in all doctrines of elite-imposed balance (I could write pages on the rich pedigree of this kind of corporatist totalitarianism. Heck, I wrote a book about it).Or maybe he rejects it simply because he doesn’t want to sacrifice his hard-won soul for mere power. There’s whiff of Thomas More here. It profits a man nothing if he loses his soul for the sake of the engineer’s cap.

Anyway, maybe I’m wrong. Still, it is a huge and well-deserved compliment to Bong Joon-ho that he’s made a movie that holds together as a fairly low-budget sci-fi action flick that simultaneously lends itself to such rich and diverse interpretations.

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