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Friday Links



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On the Guardians of the Galaxy DVD which comes out next month, the extras feature has this outtake: the Star Lord and Ronan dance-off actually happened.

Gallery of things you don’t see every day.

Can you fix a machine by smacking it?

Very cool animated chart of North American butterflies.

Why do humans have thumbs?

What’s the best item to carry with you during time travel?

ICYMIWednesday’s links are here, and include the origin of Humpty Dumpty, illustrated fainting technique (to attract the attention of a specific gentleman), terrifying non-existent animal hybrids, and a quiz to find out which famous brains are most similar to yours.

Laws Emanate from the White House Now



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Obama’s speech announcing his immigration diktat was the usual pabulum: “our immigration system is broken,” can’t let illegals “remain in the shadows,” “commonsense middle-ground approach,” blah, blah, blah. ​If I didn’t have to go on TV right afterwards, I would have played a drinking game.

But the speech was notable for some of the things Obama didn’t mention. For instance, he lied about what his non-amnesty amnesty consisted of: “All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.” As polling has suggested, this is less likely to provoke opposition than the truth: “All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you — and also, here’s a work permit, a Social Security number, and a driver’s license.”

He didn’t mention that his scheme will pull the plug on the Secure Communities program. The program checks the fingerprints of arrested criminal suspects against DHS records at the same time as they’re checked against FBI records. It is the lowest-common-denominator of immigration enforcement — if you oppose Secure Communities, you oppose immigration enforcement. But the anti-borders activist groups around the country do, in fact, oppose immigration controls of any kind, and reject the notion that illegal aliens who are arrested for drunk driving, assaulting police offices, beating their wives, and so on, should be subject to deportation. And Obama is one of them — but he has enough political sense not to mention that on national television.

Another part of his edict that wasn’t mentioned was the extension of the validity of the “temporary” grant of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) from two years to three, eliminating the upper age limit to qualify, and extending it to those who entered before age 18 instead of the previous 16. These are details, for sure, but they highlight an important truth — he just set these parameters two years ago in an earlier edict and now he’s changing them. Why? Because he feels like it. These changes highlight the ad hoc nature of Obama’s lawmaking and point to the virtual certainty that any restrictions or limitations that may be included in the current directive can, and will, be changed whenever it’s politically convenient. He says you have to have arrived by 2010 to get this new amnesty? Well, he’ll just change it to 2013 next week. Didn’t include the parents of DACAs in this round of executive lawmaking? Maybe he’ll announce that in March.

None of the criteria Obama has laid out to qualify for amnesty benefits has any basis in law or even logic — they’re simply the result of political give and take, i.e., legislation. It’s just that instead of the people’s elected representatives debating and compromising and finally approving a measure, it is Obama’s staff that debates and compromises and finally approves something. Because Congress is now an advisory body with some residual powers, like the British House of Lords. Real law emanates from the White House.

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The Immigration Position that Dare Not Speak Its Name — as Usual



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An iron-clad rule of the the immigration debate is that advocates of amnesty are never willing to describe their own proposals as amnesty, although they will throw the word around about everything else. Marco Rubio, for instance, vociferously denied that the Gang of Eight bill was an amnesty, while he called the (functionally very similar) 1986 law an amnesty and called the status quo an amnesty. President Obama played by the same rules tonight:

I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.

Going further, he said “mass amnesty would be unfair,” and called his proposal to give previously illegal immigrants some of the most important benefits enjoyed by legal immigrants “accountability.” It’s a sign of the enduring vulnerability of the pro-amnesty position that its supporters feel compelled to engage in this wordplay.

We’ve heard a lot about prosecutorial discretion the last few days, but, clearly, what the president is doing isn’t simply declining to enforce the law in certain instances; it is a new system, or as the president described it, a new “deal”:

So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes — you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

His rejoinder to those who doubt his power to unilaterally rewrite the law was a reiteration of his blackmail:

And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.

The speech had some nice rhetorical touches, especially toward the end, but otherwise was standard Obama fare. His position is, of course, the middle ground between mass amnesty and mass deportation; his opponents are consumed with grubby political considerations — they “scare people and whip up votes at election time”; as ever, he called for an end to “politics as usual.”

Altogether it would have been a wholly adequate pitch for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, in the normal give-and-take over proposed legislation. But he’s out of that business. Now he proposes and disposes, and the only alternative is assent.

Web Briefing: November 28, 2014

You Have to Give It to the President



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It’s a brilliant, brutally cynical near-term gambit. He delayed action until after the election, he even told everybody he was doing it! And then he completely screwed over the incoming Republican majority, making their lame-duck and first 100 days a complete pain-in-the-ass, while shoring up support among his progressive doubters who, if you watched MSNBC tonight, are back to 2008 levels of adoration.

Still, what are the Republicans going to do? Impeach him? There’s a smart-ish strategy that involves funding the rest of the government while denying DHS the funds to enforce His Majesty’s edict. But when POTUS vetoes it, what will they do then? Most likely John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will seek some face-saving move that has the effect of letting “prosecutorial discretion” proceed apace. It might be an enforcement-first measure that doesn’t require the president to actually reverse course on amnesty. Or, hey, maybe somebody will sue him, but the chief political virtue of that move is that it stretches out the proceedings along a long enough timeline that they can move on to other things, pick their next battle.

And then what is president Scotto Christpence going to do, pray tell? Inform the 5 million illegals POTUS just encouraged to look for retirement properties that there is a target on their backs, again? The politics of telling people who have been pardoned, en masse, that they are criminals once more is not the same as the politics of opposing their pardon in the first place. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but this doesn’t strike me as a bell that can be unrung.

If there is a way out for the Republicans, it will have to be on the back of widespread public disapproval of this move, and the resultant flight of moderate Democrats (how many are left?) from it. We’ll see if that materializes. If it does, it will mean remobilizing the constituencies who just came out to vote GOP two weeks ago. No easy lift. And based on the instant reaction of the mainstream media, they sure as hell aren’t going to help.

What am I missing?

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Most Legalized Illegals Will Have No Net Income-Tax Liabilities



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President Obama says that his executive order will ensure that currently illegal immigrants will have to “pay their fair share of taxes.” But the vast majority of undocumented aliens don’t make enough in income to have a net income-tax liability. As I note in Forbes, a 2006 analysis by the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, concludes that “we can be virtually certain that illegal immigrants earned less than $24,000 per year, on average, probably much less.” That amounts to around $29,000 in 2014 dollars, well below the threshold where an American has a net income-tax liability.

Legalizing this population is unlikely to result in significantly higher payroll-tax revenue, because many illegals have fake Social Security numbers that their employers use to pay payroll taxes on their behalf. Century estimates that “about $6 billion in annual payroll taxes are allocated to non-existent Social Security accounts. . . . This sum is certainly more than any income taxes that would be owed on the earnings involved.”

Century concludes that “it is likely that the undocumented workers will end up receiving rather than paying the Treasury money.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Report: Obama Delayed Executive Action After He Saw DSCC Polling



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Politico has the behind-the-scenes story of how the executive amnesty came to be. It details the political calculations behind the president’s decision:

What really worried the White House was that opposition wasn’t limited to vulnerable moderates up for reelection in Republican-leaning states. Sen. Al Franken, a liberal from Minnesota, expressed concerns. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who wasn’t on the ballot, pointedly asked Obama to wait until after the election. And Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, declared openly that it would be a “mistake” for the president to do anything alone, ever.

When King personally delivered that message to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, the Obama team knew it had a problem. If an independent from Maine, a state Obama won by 15 points, couldn’t support the president’s actions on immigration, they really were in trouble. David Simas, the White House political director, asked Guy Cecil, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, for polling on the immigration issue. Cecil gave him numbers from Iowa and Arkansas, showing vast numbers of voters who didn’t want Obama to ease pressure on undocumented immigrants without the agreement of Congress.

The White House realized it couldn’t put out an executive order that would get attacked by candidates of the president’s own party. By that Friday night, as Obama flew home from a NATO Summit in Wales, he began calling allies to inform them of his decision to delay action — dealing yet another setback to the immigration reform advocates and the president’s relationship with Hispanic voters.

The whole story is here.

Hillary Clinton Backs Obama’s Amnesty



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Hillary Clinton embraced President Obama’s tactic of using an executive order to pressure Congress to change the laws.

Latin Grammys Fans Complain about Obama Interrupting Award Show with Immigration Announcement



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Univision announced earlier this week that it would delay its broadcast of the Latin Grammys to air President Obama’s announcement to use executive action to grant legal status to immigrants in the country illegally. While some saw it as a politically calculated move by the administration to reach a largely Hispanic audience, some viewers weren’t too happy to see the president rather than their favorite celebrities.

But it appears viewers didn’t miss much, as attendees also watched the address on the big screens at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nev., the show’s venue.

The Presidency, the Policy & the Rhetoric



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Below, Ramesh makes a very good point about how the “the policy and the rhetoric are at war with each other.”

One could say the same about the presidency and the policy. I was struck by how Obama — like his pre-spinners — kept hammering the claim that he was behaving like every president before him. From the Washington Post’s transcript:

The actions I’m [sic] taken are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century.

(I’m assuming that “sic” is due to a transcription error.)

Here’s the problem. This is the way this president and his fans always sell his policies. They mock, ridicule, snark, smirk, wink, and guffaw at any notion he’s a radical or an ideologue when the action he wants to take is under debate. It’s just a modest this, a pragmatic that, an incremental the other thing. But once it’s a fait accompli, it’s a Big F’ing Deal — to borrow a phrase from the vice president. Right now, what Obama wants to do is par for the course for every president. Why, it would be weird if he didn’t give 5 million people amnesty. But I have no doubt that in the minutes, days, or, at the most, weeks to come I will be getting emails from the DNC telling me this a bold, historic, revolutionary piece of legislation executive action. And if not the DNC, then Salon & Co. will make that case for the DNC.

Obamacare was sold under similar circumstances. It was “modest,” “reasonable,” “incremental,” right up until it was passed. Then, suddenly, it was proof positive Obama delivered on his promise to fundamentally transform America.

In other words, everyone is an idiot for thinking Obama is doing anything radical right up to and until he does it. Then, suddenly, it’s “All Hail Obama for His Great Leap Forward!”

Sessions: Congress Has ‘Historic Duty’ to Push Back



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In the upper chamber, Jeff Sessions will play a key role in the battle against the president’s executive amnesty, as he did in the struggle to defeat the Gang of Eight bill last year and the immigration bill supported by President Bush in 2007. National Review has called him “amnesty’s worst enemy.”

In a conversation with National Review Online, the Alabama senator called the president’s actions “a grave threat to the constitutional order” and to the power of Congress to make laws. Now, he says, Congress has both “an institutional duty” and a “historic duty” to fight back. 

“It is just unthinkable that this would be accepted, because who knows what another president may do, or this president in his next two years, if he succeeds in this power grab,” Sessions says.

The senator has proposed that the House respond by passing a funding bill that prohibits the use of federal funds for the issuance of work permits and everything else necessary to put an amnesty into effect. If that doesn’t pass the Senate, which remains under Democratic control until the Republican majority is sworn in in January, Sessions has urged the House to send a series of short-term, stopgap funding measures until the new majority arrives in Washington.

Thus far, he is not heartened by the response of GOP leaders, which has been one of vocally opposing the president’s action but refusing to propose a congressional response. “I’m uneasy about that,” Sessions says. In the Republican Senate conference, he says, he is seeing “good talk” and “strong comments” but no unified position about how to respond to the White House.

“The American people have demanded and pleaded for Congress to produce a lawful system of immigration and Congress has steadfastly refused,” he says. This amnesty opponent insists that now is the time for them to insist Congress begin to do something to enforce the laws, repair the system . . . and save the constitutional order.

Media Swoons, Gloats over Obama’s Immigration Order



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Moments after President Obama said his administration will grant legal status to immigrants in the country illegally, members of the left-leaning media were quick to applaud the executive order, and proclaim it a historically pivotal moment.

Jonathan Alter, an MSNBC contributor and author of multiple books about President Obama, predicted that the commander-in-chief would enjoy idolatrous status as a result of tonight’s announcement.

​Meanwhile, the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman called the speech “one of Obama’s best” and said the president had to issue the executive order.

​Erstwhile MSNBC anchor Martin Bashir emerged to make a birther joke as he approved of the president’s action.

Be sure to routinely check the Corner tonight for more reactions to the president’s announcement.

Oklahoma, Texas AGs Plan to Sue Obama over Executive Order on Immigration



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Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt announced prior to President Obama’s speech, in which he said that he will grant legal status to immigrants in the country illegally, that the state will bring forward legal action. Pruitt released the following statement:

It is anticipated tonight’s speech will again prove our President sees himself as above the law. Regardless of what the President thinks the law ought to be, our constitution dictates that Congress makes the law, it is the Presidents duty to faithfully execute those laws. If the President takes an executive action that violates his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the immigration laws passed by Congress, we will take action to hold him accountable.

Following the president’s speech, Texas’s attorney general and governor-elect Greg Abbott vowed to do the same.

President Obama has circumvented Congress and deliberately bypassed thew ill of the American people, eroding the very foundation of our nation’s Constitution and bestowing a legacy of lawlessness. Texans have witnessed firsthand the costs and consequences caused by President Obama’s dictatorial immigration policy and now we must work together toward a solution in fixing our broken immigration system. Following tonight’s pronouncement, I am prepared to immediately challenge President Obama in court, securing our state’s sovereignty and guaranteeing the rule of law as it is intended under the Constitution.

Jay Carney: Obama Taking ‘Major Risk’ by Challenging GOP on Amnesty



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Jay Carney told CNN the president is taking “a major risk” by confronting the new Republican majority on executive amnesty.

The former White House press secretary was at pains to explain how President Obama’s action to grant legal amnesty to around five million illegal immigrants would not run afoul of any legal issues. “They won’t likely succeed in a legal challenge,” he said, referring to GOP lawmakers threatening to sue the White House.

“Having said that, this is a big risk for the president,” Carney continued. “He has — no question — created a major conflict with this Congress just as it’s coming into power. And that could mean a lot of fights from here, for the next two years.”

Steve King: Congress Might Censure Obama Personally



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Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) suggested that immigration hawks might push to censure President Obama for issuing the executive orders that he unveiled this evening.

“That would be a direct message to the president,” King told a CNN panel, after suggesting the milder rebuke of a bill disapproving of the orders.

“I don’t want to do the last thing, I don’t want to do the I-word, nobody wants to throw the nation into that kind of turmoil,” King said, while refusing to rule out impeachment finally.

Nancy Pelosi proposed that the House censure Bill Clinton in 1998 as an alternative to impeachment.

“The power of Congress to censure is an obvious corollary of the legislature’s inherent power as a deliberative body to speak its mind,” the California Democrat said at the time.

The Critique from the Left



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I imagine that most left-wingers will rally behind the president’s immigration policy, especially since it appears to be a minority position. But some of them will be complaining that the president didn’t go far enough. And we should take a moment to appreciate that they have a point. The moralizing language Obama used, which essentially cast attempts to enforce the immigration laws as acts of indecency, is hard to square with the limits that he set. We shouldn’t rip families apart, he said–unless some of their members came here recently. We should give people a chance to get right with the law — unless they come here illegally in the future. To treat illegal immigrants as illegal immigrants is to “oppress the stranger” — and we’re going to keep doing it to several million of them. The policy and the rhetoric are at war with each other. If the rhetoric is taken seriously, the limits will go.

Illegal Immigrant Tells CNN She Was Inspired to Cross Border by Obama Amnesty



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An illegal-immigrant woman at a border bus stop in Mission, Texas, told CNN that she was inspired to cross into the United States now because of the impending amnesty being offered by President Obama.

“Did the possibility of immigration reform inspire you to come now?” CNN’s Alina Machado asked the Central American migrant waiting for a bus ticket on Thursday.

“Yes, that’s right,” the woman said. “That inspired us.”

“Now?” the reporter pressed.

“Yes, now,” the woman replied.

DREAM Activists: Not Good Enough



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A group of activists welcomed President Obama’s unilateral changes to immigration policy by saying that it’s not expansive enough.

“Today’s victory is tremendous, but to be real, it is incomplete,” United We Dream managing director Cristina Jimenez said Thursday evening. “But too many of our parents, LGBTQ brothers and sisters and friends were left out. United We Dream doesn’t agree with that decision and we are determined to fight for their protection. Our community sticks together. This is a long-term struggle. We will continue organizing until our entire community can come forward and enjoy the full rights of citizenship.”

Jim Costa Manages to Beat Out Johnny Tacherra in Unexpectedly Tight CA-16 Race



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California dairyman Johnny Tacherra surprised many national observers by taking a lead over longtime Democratic congressman Jim Costa on Election Night in a race that wasn’t supposed to be close. But now that three counties have tallied remaining provisional and absentee ballots in the weeks following, it looks like Costa will head back to Washington, and Tacherra back to the farm that has been in his family for three generations.

On Wednesday, officials from Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties announced their final totals, giving Costa a 1,319-vote victory over Tacherra. When Tacherra left for Washington last week to participate in freshmen-member orientation, he led Costa by 741 votes. Costa managed to close the gap with a strong showing in Democrat-leaning Fresno County, and by narrowing the margin in the more conservative Madera and Merced counties through the remaining ballots versus the turnout on Election Day.

As I wrote about Tacherra, he managed to make a seemingly out-of-reach race surprisingly competitive by reaching out to — and winning over — traditionally Democratic constituencies. Coupled with the district’s souring on Costa, Tacherra looked poised for a potential upset after receiving no financial backing from national Republican groups. Next cycle, Republican will surely give California’s 16th congressional district more attention, especially if Tacherra decides to jump in again.

President Orwell Must Act Because ‘the Undocumented Have No Way to Correct Their Immigration Status



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The White House has put out a memo about the president’s imminent amnesty speech. (Breitbart’s Matt Boyle learned that the administration leaked it to a friendly pro-amnesty group and wrote about it, here.)

There is more to say about the memo than I have time for right now — I’ll be on The Kelly File tonight to offer analysis of the speech. But the first paragraph is striking in what it conveys about the president’s core assumptions. In it, Obama’s minions claim:

Millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows but want to play by the rules and pay taxes have no way to correct their immigration status under the law.

First, there is nothing incorrect about the way our law defines the illegal immigrants’ status. They are illegal — i.e., their presence in the United States is in defiance of our laws. That is not a mistaken categorization that needs to be corrected, nor is the illegality bleached away by referring to the aliens as “undocumented.” The law is perfectly clear and the aliens are in violation of it. They are not seeking a correction of their status; they are seeking a change in the law. Even if we concede for argument’s sake that the law should be changed, only Congress can do that. President Obama has no power to change the law — and he doesn’t acquire such power by pretending that we are talking about a “correction” rather than newly enacted law.

Second, to claim that the illegal immigrants “want to play by the rules” is absurd. If they want to play by the rules, no one is stopping them. They could leave the country and apply for lawful admission and residence in accordance with the existing rules (under which the United States generously admits more immigrants than any country in the world). The illegal immigrants self-evidently do not want to play by the rules. They want the rules to be changed. Again, you can argue about whether the rules should be changed; but you can’t credibly argue about who has the power to change them — that’s Congress. The president has no such power. 

Poetry



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ANGELICO’S CRUCIFIXION

Tempera and gold on wood, circa 1445
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue

Here is faith’s erotic life,
Prayer’s unfallen touch, whose brushstrokes hold
Strange virtues even now to halt
And hush our steps beneath the Cross of Love:

Magdalen staggers at the foot,
Her hair and dress a flame, her back to us;
In rapt obedience in her mantle’s
Quiet blue, Mary seems small for her fate;

By hours the painter would have prayed
Like Dominic, as if his knees were stone,
Low as the earth His blood does stain,
Adoring heaven’s patience without pride;

Knowing that truth becomes a book,
Augustine reads, his mother simply sees;
The Lord’s beloved disciple sways
As one whose heart for joy or sorrow broke;

Francis, Thomas, Elizabeth
Perfect the number of this hallowed guild,
Who light a place where loss is gold,
So bent by love we hesitate to breathe—

Or else might feel perversely pressed
To scatter those proud saints like little birds
And batter down those brutal boards
And glide away with head bowed like a priest.

— This poem appears in the December 8, 2014, print issue of National Review.

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