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A Musical Service



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On The New Criterion’s blog, Armavirunque, I have a post of musical miscellany. I spend most of my time on “audience noises and nuisances.” I’d like to publish a letter, here on the Corner. But first, those noises and nuisances:

You have talking, coughing, and snoring (and other forms of noisy sleeping). You have teeth-sucking, the unwrapping of candy, and cellphones. Worse than cellphones is the self-righteous scolding of the man with the cellphone — the clucking, the murmurs.

Anyway, you have many things. But the “big two,” as I write, are plastic bags and hearing aids: “errant, wayward, singing hearing aids.”

A plastic bag is an amazingly ruinous object in a concert hall or opera house. The crinkles are absolutely deafening. One afternoon at City Opera, a woman behind me was playing with a plastic bag — non-stop. Just kneading it unconsciously . . .

Three or four seats over to my left, a fellow critic of mine, Robert Hilferty, was sitting. He beseeched me — commanded me — to turn around and grab the bag from the woman. He looked like he was about to leap over the seats himself. I forget what happened, in the end.

And hearing aids! I think they may be the worst — faulty hearing aids. The wearer can’t tell that the aid has gone haywire. The devices sing and pierce. I feel sorry for the wearer — he has done nothing wrong, but his device has.

One time, Dawn Upshaw, the soprano, stopped her recital, because of this problem. Another time, a hearing aid sang and pierced throughout an entire Metropolitan Opera Orchestra concert. As I remember, the hearing aid would not make a sound when there was silence — such as between movements of a symphony. It sang only when there was music from the stage. I think the music set off the hearing aid.

Years before that, I was at a Tristan — or was it Parsifal? — where a hearing aid sang and whistled and pierced for a full two acts. Some members of the audience were homicidal. They were semi-assaulting the ushers, who could not locate the offending instrument, or its wearer.

Okay, the letter. It comes from a friend of mine, who’s a musician, as is her husband. “Just last month,” she writes,

we were at concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. One of the members addressed the audience between movements, asking if someone could locate the hearing aid that was going off. He even proceeded to explain a better setting for the thing during a performance.

That, I have never heard of. Service with a smile, I trust.

Millions Trampled in Obamacare’s ‘Success’



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President Obama is bragging that the administration reached its target of 7 million people enrolled in the Obamacare exchanges, but our insurance-salesman-in-chief has a callous definition of success.

Millions of people have been driven into the Obamacare exchanges and out of private coverage they liked so the president could “make his numbers.” Most are facing higher premiums, higher co-payments, and sky-high deductibles. And we are footing the bill for the $2.6 trillion law that was supposed to get us to near-universal coverage and make health care more affordable but which will do neither. 

So the president may brag and highlight the people who have been helped, but millions of people are being harmed and are being ignored in the celebration.

The 7 million number comes from an early Congressional Budget Office estimate. The CBO needed to calculate how many people it believed would gain private health insurance in the exchanges in the first year and therefore what the cost of the taxpayer subsidies would be. The CBO also assumed that the majority of those in the exchanges would come from the ranks of the uninsured.

But, as we now know, as many as two-thirds of those buying coverage in the exchanges were driven out of their private plans because they didn’t comply with the mountain of Obamacare mandates.

At least 6 million people lost their individual private plans — and the doctors and hospitals they liked — because of Obamacare, and the exchange plans they are enrolling in now cost on average 41 percent more.

Yes, the policies cover more benefits (many of which people say they don’t want or need). But those in the Bronze and Silver plans are facing narrower provider networks and deductibles of several thousand dollars that can dramatically increase their out-of-pocket costs.

And yes, an estimated 80 percent now are receiving taxpayer subsidies in the exchanges. But the subsidies aren’t free. Taxpayers are on the hook for at least $1 trillion in new and higher taxes — 20 of them in all — to pay for Medicaid and exchange coverage, while seniors are threatened with dramatic cuts to Medicare to help pay for Obamacare. Insurers say double-digit increases in premiums are likely next year in the exchanges. Small businesses are facing a doubling or even tripling of their health-insurance costs to comply with the new Obamacare regulations and mandates. And larger companies are restructuring their health benefit plans to increase premiums and deductibles for their employees to get ready for new Obamacare taxes yet to come.

Keep reading this post . . .

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Lincoln’s Mistakes



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Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address (February 27, 1860) was his most extended analysis of the Founding Fathers’ views on expanding slavery into America’s territories. Lincoln concluded that a majority of the signers of the Constitution thought it was constitutional for the federal government to regulate the process. (Northern Democrats thought the decision should be left to local option, or popular sovereignty. Southern Democrats, and SCOTUS, thought slave-owners should be able to take their slaves into any territory, no matter what the locals or Congress thought.)

I’ve found two mistakes Lincoln made (one of them involving a bogus letter by George Washington), which as far as I can tell have not been noticed since 1860. Down, rebs! They don’t weaken Lincoln’s argument, though they do show how onerous it was researching historical questions in those days.

I tell the story in the current issue of For the People, the newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association. You have to be a member to get a copy, or you can wait until January, when the ALA posts the past year’s newsletters on its website.

More on the Washington letter at my website.

Web Briefing: April 18, 2014

Goldberg: Iran Picking Former Hostage Taker for New UN Ambassador ‘Obvious Insult to the US’



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Wednesday Links



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Thirty-six fascinating baseball facts to kick off the season, plus some first-pitch history: worst ceremonial first pitches in baseball history, 100 years of presidential first pitches, and Bush first pitches vs. Obama’s.

Researchers may have developed a dolphin-to-English translator that works in real time.

Before there was radar: ships with WWI era “dazzle” camouflage.  Related: how insects relate to that sort of camouflage, and why a zebra has stripes.

Because it’s important to always be battle-ready: how to poop like a Samurai.

Safecracking for dummies.

ICYMI: Monday’s links, which were largely a roundup of April Fool’s Day history, pranks, and hoaxes, are here.

More Farage



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Fascinating documentary on the UKIP leader. He’s a big deal and getting bigger — it’s worth watching.

Liberal Economists Are Caught in a Bind Trying to Sell Obama’s Overtime Laws



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President Harry Truman once famously quipped: “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand, on the other . . .’”

This probably isn’t exactly quite what he meant, but some economists are earnestly taking both sides of a debate over President Obama’s new overtime regulations, which expand time-and-a-half requirements to certain jobs. In a recent NPR debate (with me) Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, argued that companies would not offset salary increases by cutting base pay (minutes 28:50–32:45, emphasis added):

There are actually several different routes that an employer could take to deal with this, and despite the one anecdote that James suggested [see my remarks at 27:00], the one that is probably least likely is the one he suggested [companies will cut pay by an offsetting amount], and we have 75 years of history under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and I do not think there is evidence that that is what happened in the past . . .

Well, I just think, you know, you can speculate. But, he says he has evidence, I have never seen it. I don’t think that it is true. Wages are sticky and employers are not going to drastically cut worker’s pay and then expect them to work overtime and be as motivated and as happy as, you know, as they were. They won’t be as productive and employers really aren’t likely to do that.

On the other hand, in a recent report Eisenbrey argued expanding overtime would not cost jobs — because companies would offset them with equal and opposite pay cuts (emphasis added):

All else equal, would this lead to fewer hours of work demanded by employers? Not necessarily. The determinant issue in cases of wage mandates (or taxes) is one of incidence. Who bears the cost of the mandate? . . .

While opponents of such changes historically have argued that they distorts the labor market by increasing the marginal costs of labor, this line of argument erroneously assumes that the incidence falls on the employer, not the worker. Labor economists consistently assume otherwise—that the incidence falls on the worker—which in this case means that the wage offer reflects expected overtime hours, as shown in footnote two. As such, there is no change [in compensation] at the margin from expanding coverage, at least once the pay of newly covered, existing workers is allowed to adjust.

Eisenbrey’s footnote two even helpfully explains how to calculate how much employers would lower base wages to keep total weekly pay the same. So which hand has it? Does expanding overtime mean “no change” in total compensation, or is that the “least likely” response from businesses, who’ll be forced to increase compensation?

The former. While Eisenbrey might speak from both sides on this issue, most labor economists do not. Study after study after study — including studies that Eisenbrey cites — find companies offset the cost of new overtime rules by lowering base pay. Workers’ total earnings change little. President Obama’s proposed overtime regulations would turn millions of salaried workers into effectively hourly workers — and not much else.

— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

The European Dream Is Crumbling



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Nigel Farage at his best, in a recent European Parliament speech, on the rise of Euro-skepticism, and on the “maniacs in the front row” who still believe in a United States of Europe.

Jackson Moves to Protect Religious Freedom



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Telsa DeBerry is the pastor of the Opulent Life Baptist Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi. No stranger to need to protect religious freedom in America in 2014, he came up against zoning laws hostile to religion when he wanted to move his church to accommodate its growing needs. Late Tuesday in Jackson, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed. Pastor DeBerry talks about its importance with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

 

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why would anyone in Mississippi need any additional religious liberty protections such as what legislators are trying to do with the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

TELSA DEBERRY: When the City of Holly Springs discriminated against Opulent Life Church, the city did so through a zoning ordinance. Thankfully, there is a federal law that protects some churches from land use discrimination like Holly Springs’. If Holly Springs had discriminated against us in another way, or if Opulent Life Church did not qualify for federal protection, the city would have been free to discriminate against us. The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act would provide legal protection for small churches like the Opulent Life Church that are discriminated against in ways not already protected by federal law or that do not qualify for federal protection. The bill would also protect individuals and non-church religious organizations who are discriminated against for their religious beliefs: college students forced to violate their religious beliefs in order to pass a class, charities told that they may not share food with the poor, or nurses forced by a public hospital to perform abortions.

The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act would protect religious exercise from hostile and bureaucratic government entities. This bill would stop religious discrimination like the discrimination that my church faced from the City of Holly Springs. As I learned first hand, government entities can and do discriminate today, and churches, ministries, individuals, and the communities that they serve will all benefit from ending religious discrimination.

 

 

LOPEZ: What does religious liberty mean to you? How do you see it threatened today?

DEBERRY: As an African-American pastor of a small Baptist church in Mississippi that has faced religious discrimination, religious liberty is very dear to me. Without protection for our freedom to act upon our religious beliefs and convictions, churches like the Opulent Life Church are marginalized in a society that less and less values the ministries that we do to improve our communities, to take care of the poor and hungry, and to serve others.

Today there are more threats to religious liberty than ever before. Students are threatened with being sent to jail for mentioning Jesus at school, homeless shelters are being told that they cannot feed the hungry, and veterans memorials are being torn down because they include a cross. One student was even suspended from his college because he refused to stomp on a piece of paper with the word, “Jesus” written on it.

Bills like the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act provide a very important protection for churches and people who make a very real difference in the world today but are increasingly being told that their faith has no place in society. These bills also allow us to spend our time and resources ministering instead of fighting with government entities.

Keep reading this post . . .

Topic A



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On our podcast, Need to Know, this week, Mona Charen and I have a guest. She is Claudia Rosett, simply one of the best journalists in America. Versatile though she is, she is particularly valuable on the subject of international relations. With us, she talks about Iran — what it is doing to get the Bomb, what America is doing to stop that. (Not much.)

Iran is a topic that some of us tend to be sick of. But there is hardly any more important topic, geopolitically. To paraphrase an old line, we may be sick of Iran and its nuclear program, but Iran and its nuclear program are not, unfortunately, sick of us.

Once Claudia leaves, Mona and I soldier on for a bit. We talk about some issues, including feminism. We talk about some personalities, including Václav Klaus — and Gertrude Himmelfarb, that sterling, exemplary intellectual.

There’s not a ton of sweetness and light in this show; there’s more Armageddon. But we end with some uplift — the final minutes of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, nicknamed the “Titan.” This music reflects man’s perseverance and defiance, particularly in the face of evil, I would say.

To listen to the program, go here.

Krauthammer’s Take: 7.1 Million Enrollees a ‘Phony Number’



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President Obama announced today that 7.1 million Americans have enrolled on health-insurance plans through Obamacare, a number that is “wonderfully precise,” according to Charles Krauthammer. “These guys go six months without any idea what the numbers are, and all of a sudden it’s to a decimal point.”

However, Krauthammer also thinks the 7.1 million enrollees touted by the administration is a “phony number” because it’s unclear how many of that 7.1 million have paid for their insurance and how many were previously uninsured.

“If it turns out that the overwhelming majority of the so-called 7.1 were people who had health insurance, liked their health insurance, were renewing their health insurance, and got kicked off their health insurance, whose lives are disrupted, premiums are raised, deductibles are raised, and lost their doctors are now among the 7.1 . . . it’s a net negative,” Krauthammer said.

Goldberg: Today the First Good Moment for Obamacare ‘Maybe Since Passage’



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Obama Takes Victory Lap at Obamacare Presser, Says ‘Debate Is Over’



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President Obama said Obamacare has made the American health-care system “a lot better” and that even, though it’s been “messy at times, it is progress.”

The White House said 7.1 million people have signed up for the Obamacare exchanges as of today.

In his press conference today, the president told reporters that there will be days when the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, doesn’t work — “I guarantee it” — but that it isn’t news anymore.

“The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Obama said.

President Obama chastised conservative politicians “who based their career on repealing this law.” He said he doesn’t understand why conservatives are “working so hard for people not to have health insurance.”

The White House spent $52 million in the last three months to urge people to enroll in Obamacare, but “we didn’t have billions of dollars in commercials like some critics did,” the president said.

“Many of the tall tales” about the law, he said, were debunked along the way. “There are still no death panels. . . . Instead this law is helping millions of Americans.”

He had a warning for opponents of the law: “History is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security.”

Amnesty International Report: Dozens Tortured Since Start of Venezuelan Protests



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Amnesty International has received a dozen accounts of torture committed by Venezuelan government-security forces since protests broke out in February. So far 37 people have died and 550 protesters have been wounded.

The Amnesty report, which has been released in full only in Spanish, says some detainees spent ”hours on their knees or feet in detention centers,” according to Bloomberg News. Other protesters reported that they had been sexually abused and received threats of murder.

“Inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted on detainees appears to be intended to punish them for their involvement, or suspected involvement, in the protests,” says the report.

The Venezuelan government is currently investigating two cases of torture and 75 cases of “cruel treatment.” The Public Prosecutor’s office said that 17 members of state security forces had been arrested.

“Venezuela risks one of the worst threats to the rule of law in decades if the different political forces do not commit to fully respecting human rights,” according to the report.

Federal Courts Deal One-Two Punch to Planned Parenthood in Chemical-Abortion Cases



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Just days after the Fifth Circuit dealt a devastating blow to Planned Parenthood by upholding a Texas chemical-abortion regulation, a federal court in Arizona refused to enjoin a similar regulation in Arizona. The decision allows the Arizona regulation to go into effect today, meaning that Arizona can immediately protect women and rein in misuses of abortion-inducing drugs by the abortion industry. 

Enacted in 2012 and based on AUL model legislation, the Arizona regulation mandates that abortion-inducing drugs be administered in compliance with the protocol authorized by the Food & Drug Administration as outlined in the drug label (or “final printed labeling”) for the drug. 

As such, it thwarts abortion current practices with the drug — such as administering them after the 49-day gestational period approved by the FDA and sending women home to self-administer alone and without medical supervision. Significantly, eight women have died of bacterial infection following unapproved use of RU-486.

Seeking to continue misuse of these dangerous drugs, Planned Parenthood filed suit in federal court in Arizona in March.

The Arizona district court drew heavily from the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision as well as from a 2012 Sixth Circuit opinion holding in Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio v. DeWine that a similar Ohio law does not pose an undue burden on women seeking abortion.

The court noted that, on its face, the law reflects the legitimate purpose of protecting women from dangerous and potentially deadly off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs and ensuring that physicians abide by the protocol approved by the FDA. “In other words, the primary, if not the sole, purpose of the statute is maternal health.”

Keep reading this post . . .

The Dog Ate My Visa!



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Rand Paul spoke about immigration earlier today, his useful observations swamped by nonsense.

It is undoubtedly necessary to communicate to voters with roots in Latin America that the Republican party is, as Paul put it, not “just the party of deportation.” It would certainly be beneficial to “get beyond deportation to get to the rest of the issues” that conservatives care about.

Unfortunately, it appears that Paul didn’t simply mean that the GOP must expand its message beyond talk of deportations. Rather, it shouldn’t support deportations at all: “I think one way to get the door ajar is say that you know, Mrs. Garcia’s nephew is not going to be sent home to Mexico.” This would be in sync with the Obama administration’s policy of releasing hundreds of thousands of illegals aliens who had been arrested, or even convicted, for crimes. In fact, the administration is under pressure to halt deportations altogether, as Paul here seems to suggest. This has been promoted as the #Not1More campaign.

Paul also repeated, contrary to all evidence, the fairy tale that “Maybe half, maybe 60 percent” of Hispanics are conservative.

His most ridiculous assertion, one that calls into question his seriousness on the issue, was this:

“Forty percent of those who are here of the 11 million who don’t have the proper documents. Forty percent of them came with the proper documents and then somehow lost their documentation.”

Lost? Really? You don’t have to be a policy wonk to know that 5 million illegal aliens didn’t just misplace their visas. I’m assuming Senator Paul is neither a fool nor a liar, which means he’s so blinkered by dogma that facts have to be hammered into ridiculous shapes to fit his preconceptions.

This calls to mind his father’s demented assertion that “I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in.”

There’s no question Republicans need to do a better job at outreach to Hispanic and Asian voters. The problem is that the political class — including an ostensible dissenter like Senator Paul — is using this imperative as a pretext to push the anti-worker, crony-capitalist policy of de facto open borders.

Instead, conservatives need to articulate an alternative immigration policy (who and how many we admit and how we enforce the law) and immigrant policy (how we treat foreigners we’ve invited to live here). I’ve spelled out in these pages an immigration policy that can, indeed, “get us beyond deportation” (implement long-promised enforcement systems up front, focused primarily on preventing new arrivals, followed by a bargain of amnesty in exchange for cuts in legal admissions). As for immigrant policy, rather than pointless advertising that only enriches political consultants, outreach funds would be better spent opening a network of “American Opportunity Centers” in immigrant communities, staffed with Republican grassroots volunteers helping people study for the citizenship test, fill out their tax returns, navigate the red tape to start a new business, etc.

The GOP surely needs new thinking on immigration. I’m sorry to say Senator Paul is stuck in the old thinking.

Unions and College Athletics



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Two recent conservative takes, both skeptical, on the unionization of college football players, by Linda Chavez here and by George Leef here.

No U.S. Soldier Died in Combat Last Month for the First Time since 2007



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March was the first calendar month since 2007 without the loss of one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.

Since September 2001, there have been just three months in which no American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and counting casualties in Iraq, there has been no month without an American combat death since 2003. Two non-U.S. soldiers in the NATO coalition force passed away last month and twelve U.S. soldiers were wounded, as security responsibilities are gradually placed on the Afghan government.

As of Monday, 2,309 American troops have died in Afghanistan and about 20,000 have been wounded.

WH Castigates GOP for Obamacare Opposition, Boasts about Enrollment Numbers



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A sharp-edged Jay Carney scolded opponents of the Affordable Care Act for their efforts to limit the law’s implementation and impact. After the “remarkable surge” in sign-ups over the last few weeks, the press secretary revealed the most up-to-date enrollment figure: 7,041,000.

On the last day alone, more than 200,000 people enrolled, and that doesn’t include figures from state-run exchanges, he said.

“I hope the fact that this 7 million number has been reached allows us to all step back and look at the sweeping, positive change the law has ushered in to strengthen health security for every American as they go through life,” he told reporters.

Republican efforts to dismantle the law were proved to have been wrong by the enrollment surge, Carney said. He pointed to various legislative proposals, as well as the government shutdown, as examples of failed Republican efforts to stall Obamacare.

“Amazingly, just this week, the speaker recommitted Republicans to their strategy of repealing the law,” he said. “I hope you’ll ask the speaker this: How will that effort, to repeal the law, ensure that Americans have access to the same quality health care that members of Congress have?”

Despite his defiant tone, Carney was still unwilling to encourage Democrats to embrace and run on the controversial law in this fall’s midterms. When asked, he dodged by saying he wasn’t there to give campaign advice, and that each candidate could assess what’s best for his campaign.

Jeremiah Denton for the Ages



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Whenever you read about our Vietnam POWs, you are awestruck by their struggle for their humanity every minute — endeavoring to communicate with one another by every means possible, trying to smuggle a tiny scrap of soap back to their cells, and, of course, doing their utmost to give as little to the North Vietnamese as possible under horrific torture. In my column today, I call Jeremiah Denton’s affirmation of his loyalty to his government below — while famously blinking Morse code for the word “torture” — one of the great statements of defiance in American history. He had been tortured beforehand and would be tortured for his temerity afterwards, and he knew it. 

What can you say of such a man? Commenter Randy Kaplan puts it well: 

A supremely courageous hero, a brilliant soldier, a magnificent leader, a moral beacon, a true champion of freedom, a man of the profoundest wisdom, grace, and humility. Men like Jeremiah Denton come along only a couple of times each generation; events shape the lives, acts, and influence that such great men may have. Few ever fulfilled their destiny as splendidly as Jeremiah Denton, Jr. We may not see his like again, and we are the poorer for that, but so rich for the memories we do have. Rest in peace.

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