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Angus King: I Could Caucus with Republicans Next Year



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That’s what he said yesterday. I’m not sure what his defection would actually do for Republicans if they already held the Senate, or what the price would be (passing over an actual Republican for a plum committee assignment?).

Get Lost



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Today we have a special Thursday edition of Between the Covers with Hiawatha Bray, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves. We discuss whether we’re entering an era in which it will become almost impossible to get lost (unless you’re a Boeing 777), whether the impossibility of getting lost also means the impossibility of hiding, and what lawmakers should do right now to protect the privacy of American citizens.

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La. Congressman Endorsed by Duck Dynasty Family Embroiled in Video Scandal



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Representative Vance McAllister is the only member of Congress to hold his seat thanks to an endorsement by members of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show. The Louisiana Republican soared to victory in a special election last November after members of the Robertson family gave him their blessing. But McAllister could now lose his seat because of the reality show he’s now created for himself. A security video taken at his district office in Monroe shows him passionately kissing a member of his staff, who, like the congressman, is married to someone else.

McAllister has told his hometown paper that he is “ashamed” of his behavior and had already confessed to his wife about the affair. But he also seems obsessed with tracking down the leaker of the video. Yesterday, his office requested an FBI investigation. Adam Terry, his chief of staff, said, “A breach in security in a federal office is a grave concern for us.”

The investigation hardly seems necessary or a good use of taxpayer resources, and McAllister’s office dropped the request for the probe late on Wednesday. West Monroe minister Danny Chance has told the Monroe News-Star that Leah Gordon, McAllister’s Monroe district office manager, told him she planned to leak the video and the paper interviewed witnesses who confirmed the conversation. For now, Gordon remains on McAllister’s payroll while the staffer he was canoodling with was let go within 24 hours.

McAllister said he plans to stand for reelection next fall “unless there is an outcry for me not to serve. . . . If there’s somebody more perfect than me who they support, it’s their will.”

An odd choice of words, and McAllister should brace himself for a slew of challengers to file against him before the August 22 deadline. As now appears likely, if no one wins 50 percent or more in the November election, the top two challengers then go into a December runoff.

Louisiana has been generally forgiving of scandal-ridden politicians. Think Edwin Edwards, the former Democratic governor now trying for a comeback to Congress at age 86 in a neighboring district. Edwards famously boasted he could lose only if “caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl.” David Vitter, Louisiana’s sitting GOP senator, survived a 2007 scandal in which his name appeared on the client list of a prominent New Orleans house of prostitution. But the McAllister case is uncharted territory since it features a video that has attracted enormous popular attention. So the man who was propelled into office by a celebrity TV endorsement could be turfed out by voters for his own video infamy. 

Web Briefing: April 17, 2014

Well, That’s One Silly Obama Administration Disparate-Impact Lawsuit Struck Down, Again



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Last year, I wrote about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ridiculous “disparate impact” lawsuit against Kaplan Higher Learning Corp. The Obama administration sued Kaplan for running credit checks on job applicants (similar, by the way, to the ones the EEOC itself uses), alleging it was racially discriminatory. Kaplan had learned that some of its employees had misappropriated student payments and, to provide safeguards against this behavior, it began screening its applicants for major red flags in their credit history. The EEOC sued Kaplan, arguing that it cannot use credit checks because they have a disparate impact on black job applicants.

Anyway, putting aside the inherent dubiousness of the whole lawsuit, there were also severe methodological problems with the Obama administration’s evidence, which relied on “race raters” to determine the race of the applicants by scrutinizing driver’s-license photos. So the trial judge threw out the case.

Wednesday, I’m happy to report, the court of appeals affirmed that decision — and in no uncertain terms, I might add, much I’m sure to the Obama administration’s chagrin. 

Thanks for the pointer to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed an excellent amicus brief in the case that the Center for Equal Opportunity joined.

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Pat Toomey Joins Mike Lee on the Ex-Im Bank — Which Has Doubled in Taxpayer Exposure since 2007



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Senator Pat Toomey addressed the issue of the Ex-Im Bank on the Senate floor on Wednesday in a four-minute speech you can listen to here, making the case that important questions need to be asked about what the Bank is doing and achieving (or not achieving, as it were). 

Toomey seems to stand with Senate Mike Lee on this issue, raising concerns about the kind of corruption Lee pointed to in his NRO piece about Republican-endorsed cronyism this week:

The Right’s resistance to corporatism is a welcome development. Special-interest favoritism represents a uniquely malignant threat to the economic, political, and social ecosystem that makes America exceptional.

Policy privilege corrupts the free market by rewarding political connections over competitive excellence. It subverts the rule of law by codifying inequality. It undermines social solidarity by pitting citizens against one another, twisting cooperative communities into rival special interests. …

Whether the beneficiaries of particular Ex-Im Bank loan guarantees are respected, successful companies like Boeing or crony basket cases like Solyndra is irrelevant. Twisting policy to benefit any business at the expense of others is unfair and anti-growth.

Whether congressional Republicans say so — and do something about it — during the coming Ex-Im Bank debate will tell us a lot about what, and who, the party really stands for in 2014 and beyond.

Just what is this costing, or potentially costing, taxpayers? Well, ordinary American taxpayers’ exposure due to the Ex-Im Bank has doubled since 2007, to more than $4 billion, which should give us pause and at least convince lawmakers that a debate on the issue is necessary. 

Russia Withheld Key Information about the Boston Bombers Before the Attack



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The Times reports:

The Russian government declined to provide the F.B.I. with information about one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects that would most likely have led to more extensive scrutiny of him at least two years before the attack, according to an inspector general’s report.

Russian officials had told the F.B.I. in 2011 that the suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer” and that Mr. Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”

But after an initial investigation by the F.B.I., the Russians declined several requests for additional information about Mr. Tsarnaev, according to the report, a review of how intelligence and law enforcement agencies could have thwarted the bombing.

At the time, American law enforcement officials believed that Mr. Tsarnaev posed a far greater threat to Russia.

The new inspector general’s report found that it was only after the bombing occurred last April that the Russians shared with the F.B.I. the additional intelligence, including information from a telephone conversation the Russian authorities had intercepted between Mr. Tsarnaev and his mother in which they discussed Islamic jihad.

“They found that the Russians did not provide all the information that they had on him back then, and based on everything that was available the F.B.I. did all that it could,” said a senior American official briefed on the review.

After it was discovered that Russia had told us something suspicious about the brothers’ jihadist sympathies before the bombings, there was some talk about how if the U.S. government just took the threat of Islamism as seriously as the Russians did, we might have followed up on the Russian leads far enough to catch the bombers before they did their barbarous act (i.e., that we should somehow either trust the Russians more or be more willing to work with them). I imagine we should feel a little less confident in our ability to cooperate even in areas of mutual interest (fighting transnational jihad) after the events of this spring, but this revelation is a perfectly good explanation of why you can’t blame the FBI for not trusting or working with their Russian counterparts back then, either: Maybe Russian intelligence withheld that information for some legitimate reason, or maybe . . . we should be very circumspect about trusting or dealing with people who don’t care at all about saving American lives (in fact, their incentives can run in the other direction — the more helpless we are, the more worried we are about jihadists in Chechnya).

The report that uncovered this information, which members of Congress will be briefed about Thursday, also turns up no substantial evidence that the bombers had ties to terrorist organizations, something that’s been hotly debated. (One of them spent some time in Dagestan, a province near his home in Russia that’s home to transational jihadist organizations.)

Krauthammer’s Take: Sorry McCain, Ayotte, and Graham, ‘The Clock Has Run Out on Benghazi’



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Charles Krauthammer said “the clock has run out on Benghazi” Wednesday night, after Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham held a press conference to say they have no plans to abandon their effort to create a special committee to further investigate the scandal. 

He is “outraged as everybody” about the scandal, the commentator said, but as a political issue the country is tired of it and “a special committee is simply not going to work.” 

“I wish it had and I do think that Republicans in the hearings that they had, which were completely disorganized, let this thing slip away,” he said.

No Longer Banned in the British Library!



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The British Library, I documented yesterday at NRO, had blocked my website and those of the Middle East Forum while letting through some of the most foul anti-Semitic and Islamist sites. The article ended with mention of my writing to the library, a government institution, to request that the blocks be removed. A substantial number of readers also wrote to the library in protest.

As a result, I am happy to report, the blocks have been removed. A representative of the library’s Electronic Services wrote me:

Apologies for the fact that the websites you listed below were blocked by the Library’s WiFi service. . . . I am writing to inform you that all sites listed are now available via the Library’s WiFi.

The library’s press office (@BLpressoffice) announced the end of the block on Twitter.

@DanielPipes re. your websites being blocked erroneously by @britishlibrary wifi: these have now been unblocked. Apologies for the mistake.

So, the library owned up to its mistake and corrected it expeditiously. I am pleased and reassured by this response.

But its replies raise deeper questions: Why did it take a library patron trying to access DanielPipes.org to learn about this problem? How could a major British governmental agency block these high-quality mainstream, informational, sites? How could it simultaneously give access to extremist, antisemitic, radical, Islamist, and jihadi websites?

The library informs me that it relies on an automated filtering software made by a company called Smoothwall and is “unable to advise [me] on the details of the algorithm” which Smoothwall utilizes for deciding which sites to block.

But that does not suffice. Even if unintended, this pattern of banning the friend and letting in the enemy suggest a powerful and distressing signal. I therefore pursued this matter with further questions:

For the British Library: How do you define intolerance? Now that you know that jihadi sites can be accessed on your WiFi system, will you continue to allow access to them?

For Smoothwall: Do you plan to make changes to the software that blocks DanielPipes.org and MEForum.org but permits Al-Qaeda’s operational website?

Tags: United Kingdom

Dem Congressman: I’ll Sell My Soul — But Only to Nancy Pelosi, Not the Kochs



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Democratic congressman Nick Rahall told a GOP tracker on Tuesday that he would rather sell his soul to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi than “selling it to the Koch brothers!” 

Several weeks ago, when Pelosi promised him more campaign money and convinced him to stay in the race, Rahall was preparing for retirement. He is a top GOP target in the 2014 election.

The GOP tracker asked Rahall how it felt ”to sell your soul to Nancy Pelosi,” and the congressman initially ignored his comment, calling him “quite the jokester.” After a pregnant pause, Rahall quipped: “Better than selling it to the Koch brothers!”

Setting the Stage



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Estonian Public Broadcasting:

A Russian newspaper says that Russian activists will hold two demonstrations in Tallinn in April to express solidarity with the Crimea and southeastern regions in Ukraine and “support the possibility” of holding a separatist referendum in northeastern Estonia [a part of the country heavily populated by ethnic Russians]. Estonian authorities say the rallies are likely to be marginal, [against] a background that has thus far been unreceptive to attempts to sow tensions.

“Two meetings will be held in Tallinn, organised by the association Russkije v Estonii (Russians in Estonia),” reported the Russian daily Izvestia.

“The first is planned in front of the Russian Embassy on April 12, and the second demonstration will take place on April 20 in front of Parliament,” the paper said in an unclearly attributed passage. “At this one, the organizers want to point to the fact that most Estonian cities were founded by Russians or have been part of Russia. This concerns Tartu (Yuryev), Narva, Tallinn (Revel). It is also planned to raise the question of the option of holding a referendum on self-determination.”

I’ll spare readers the ancient city chronicles, but Estonians or their forbears have been in this land for thousands of years. Even if we exclude the Soviet occupation, it is true that what is now Estonia was part of the Russian empire for two centuries (then again many nations spent time in that particular jailhouse), but — if we want to play the history game — we should note that there were also extensive periods of rule by Swedes, Danes and Teutonic Knights, none of whom appear to be dreaming of empires reborn.

Back to Estonian Public Broadcasting:

The paper also interviewed historian David Vseviov, who said the events will not have any particular impact.

“It’s a free country here and people can assemble where they want and when they want,” Vseviov told Izvestia.

The Estonian national security agency said the individuals who organised the demonstrations are known to them as provocateurs. Office director Andres Kahar told Delfi: “We have nothing more to say but that two Russian extremists – (Dmitri) Linter and (Juri) Zhuravlyov – are trying to ratchet up tensions, using fictitious organizations and movements as window dressing.”

Linter played a part in the April 2007 riots [triggered by the transfer of a Soviet war memorial to another location}, although he was not convicted of any wrongdoing. But the other, Zhuravlyov was involved in looting – such as in the Westman shop on a main commercial street – and received probation after being convicted for stealing a half case of beer, uudised.err.ee reported. Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Marko Mihkelson told Postimees that the “pro-Kremlin” demonstrations in Tallinn are attempts to sow tension and should be disregarded by the public, saying it was no surprise that special services in Russia would include Estonia in their destabilization attempts.

Sadly, Estonia can expect more of this sort of nonsense. With the country a member of NATO (one of the few, incidentally, that pays its fair share), Russian trouble-making will (cyber attacks apart) likely primarily consist of fomenting disorder within Estonia’s borders, and, specifically, among the country’s ethnic-Russian population, almost of whom are Soviet-era settlers or their descendants. I posted a bit about them here. Stirring this group up may prove more difficult than Moscow likes to imagine. As I noted the other day, Estonia’s ethnic Russians live far better, and enjoy much more in the way of political freedom, than they would across the border in Russia itself. And they also enjoy the ability to travel and work anywhere within the EU (Estonia is a member of the EU).

At the same time, it’s important not to underestimate the potential problems that could arise. To generalize, many of the Russians in Estonia are not, as one smart and unillusioned Estonian told me last week, “happy.” The experience of finding that the nature of the place in which you were born (or had lived, perhaps for decades) had profoundly changed — as was the case when Estonia recovered its independence in 1991— must have been profoundly disorientating for Russians cut off from their compatriots and their hinterland by the Soviet collapse. And enough of that sense of alienation may have endured to make those who feel it vulnerable to the appeal of their mother country, especially when that country appears to be on the rise, an appeal that may well be sharpened if rising tensions in the region lead to a mutual cooling in relations between Estonia’s two main ethnic groups.

And these tensions will doubtless be reinforced by the messages being spewed out by Russian TV (which is available in Estonia). For an idea of what that Russian TV in propaganda mode can be like, check out this Radio Free Europe story here. One Russian friend (resident in the U.S.) recently decided to spend some time in the company of TV programming from his homeland, It was, he told me, incredible in both senses of the word.

Brandeis University Rescinds Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Honorary Degree



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Brandeis University rescinded an honorary degree in Social Justice it had planned to bestow on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights and atheist activist, who was to be honored at the university’s May 18 commencement. 

On Monday, students from Brandeis created a petition against Ali receiving the honorary degree because her ”ideas of justice threaten and attempt to eliminate a religion integral to many members of Brandeis University.” 

The students were angered by comments Ali made about Islamic law to Reason magazine in 2007.

“Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now,” Ali told Reason magazine. “They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

Sarah Fahmy, a senior at Brandeis who created the petition, told Fox News that Ali’s honorary degree is a “slap in the face” to Muslim students and that her university “should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic.”

Fahmy’s petition received over 6,000 signatures. The faculty followed her lead, and more than 85 of the university’s 350 faculty members signed a letter asking the administration to remove Ali from the list of honorary degree recipients. 

President Frederick Lawrence said in a statement on Tuesday: ”We cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” and he rescinded Ali’s honorary degree. 

Ali responded on Wednesday, saying: “I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. . . . The slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles.”

Ali received international attention in November 2004 when her filmmaking partner Theo van Gogh was stabbed, slashed, and shot in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist from Morocco. Ali wrote Submission, a short film about the treatment of women under Islamic law, and it was directed by van Gogh. The assassin used a knife to pin a letter to van Gogh’s chest. The letter was a call to jihad and included a death threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

James O’Keefe Claims GOP State Senator Guilty of Campaign-Finance Hypocrisy



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James O’Keefe has published audio of Wisconsin state senate president Mike Ellis (R.) in which he seems to discuss setting up an outside political action committee that will support his campaign and attack his political opponent. It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with independent PACs.

“I am putting together my own super PAC,” says the voice presumably belonging to Ellis in the recording taped secretly by O’Keefe’s Project Veritas. “I don’t need to kiss anybody’s ass.” He goes onto name the donors who will contribute to the PAC.

Previously Ellis had criticized the role of outside spending in politics, calling it “monstrous.”

Vitter Slams Holder for ‘Dishonest,’ ‘Frankly Insulting’ Testimony on La.’s School-Vouchers Suit



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Eric Holder hasn’t had a great past week on Capitol Hill. After sparring with Representative Louie Gohmert (R., Texas) on Tuesday, the attorney general is now drawing the ire of Senator David Vitter (R., La.) for his misleading testimony on the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Louisiana’s school-voucher program.

“Holder’s testimony under oath about Louisiana’s school voucher program is factually inaccurate, dishonest, and quite frankly insulting,” Vitter said.

Last week, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Holder said under oath that the DOJ had not taken a position on the state’s voucher program, and was only seeking further information on it in the lawsuit. He said critics were wrong in claiming his department was trying to eliminate the program.

But Vitter points out that the department’s complaint against Louisiana calls to “permanently enjoin” — or, as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, “legally prohibit or restrain by injunction” — the program. “I was unaware that a different definition was bestowed to the U.S. Attorney General,” the senator said in a letter to Holder.

More from Vitter:

I request that you elaborate on the facts from which you gave testimony before the House subcommittee and fully explain how requesting a permanent injunction against Louisiana’s school voucher program doesn’t constitute taking a position against the program. The education of our children — and in particular, those from low-income and minority households — is too important to be placed in jeopardy by an activist Department of Justice that puts the interests of politically-connected union bosses over the wellbeing of students.

Last year, the DOJ sued Louisiana over its program, which largely benefits minority students, under the claim that it impedes federal desegregation efforts.

Issa Accuses Cummings of Colluding with the IRS



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The war between Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa and the committee’s ranking member, Elijah Cummings, rages on. 

Issa on Wednesday accused the Maryland Democrat of colluding with the Internal Revenue Service in its targeting of the conservative nonprofit group True the Vote, whose founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, said she received multiple letters from Cummings in 2012 and personal visits from the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives. Engelbrecht’s True the Vote is one of the many conservative groups that claims to have been improperly targeted by the IRS while it scrutinized the applications of tea-party groups.  

In a letter signed by his five subcommittee chairmen, Issa raised the possibility that Cummings coordinated with the IRS, “surreptitiously” contacting the agency to request information about True the Vote.

E-mails unearthed in the course of Issa’s investigation into the IRS’s inappropriate targeting of right-leaning groups show that in January 2013, a member of Cummings’s staff contacted the IRS asking for any publicly available information on True the Vote. The matter was discussed by IRS officials that included Lois Lerner, the former exempt-organizations chief who retired in the wake of the targeting scandal. One of Lerner’s deputies, Holly Paz, subsequently sent the organization’s 990 forms to Cummings and his staff — not an illegal disclosure of taxpayer information, though sources say the exchange of such information was not routine.

The correspondence does not indicate whether the IRS’ scrutiny of True the Vote’s application for tax exemption was prompted by Cummings’s inquiries about the group and the timing of the correspondence suggests it was not, but instead that Cummings may have modeled his inquiries on those the IRS had already made.  

In February 2012, Engelbrecht’s True the Vote received a letter from the IRS requesting more information about the group; one of Cummings’s letters, which Engelbrecht received in October 2012, contained questions that closely mirrored those posed by the IRS. Issa details them in his letter, strongly implying that Cummings based his letter on the one Engelbrecht had already received from the agency: Both requested information about the software True the Vote was using for voter registration, about the process the group used to train its employees, and about the vendors it used to obtain voter lists.  

True the Vote’s lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, raised the prospect that the minority staff had exchanged information with the IRS at a hearing in February. “We want to get to the bottom of how these coincidences happened,” Mitchell said, “and we’re trying to figure out whether any — if there was any staff on this committee that might have been involved in putting True the Vote on the radar screen of some of these federal agencies.” Cummings said in response that Mitchell’s tacit allegation was “absolutely incorrect and not true.” 

Issa on Wednesday seized on the similarities between the two letters, though they were issued before Cummings’s staff contacted the IRS for additional information about True the Vote in January 2013. “Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, communication records between your staff and IRS officials – which you did not disclose to Majority Members or staff – indicates otherwise,” Issa said. “As the Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution holding Ms. Lerner, a participant in responding to your communications that you failed to disclose, in contempt of Congress, you have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS.”

The Oversight Committee will convene on Thursday morning to vote on whether to hold Lerner in contempt for her refusal to testify before the panel and House speaker John Boehner has indicated he will take the matter before the full House.

Since June of last year, Cummings has pressed Issa to call the investigation off and the two have repeatedly butted heads. Tomorrow’s hearing is unlikely to be an exception. 

House Dems Offer Higher Taxes, Ryan Offers Gimmicks



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Two conflicting visions of the role of government and the path to reduce our debt to GDP ratio are on display this week in the House of Representatives. In their budget proposal, House Democrats are clear about their goals: They want to spend more, and they don’t care that much about balancing the budget. To the extent that they pay lip service to reducing the debt, they will do it by raising taxes — a lot. According to CQ:

The substitute fiscal 2015 budget resolution unveiled by House Democrats would reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over a decade by raising revenue by almost $1.8 trillion and cutting spending by $27 billion, presenting a stark contrast with the budget plan House Republicans will bring to the floor this week. . . .

Over the 10-year budget window, the Democratic proposal would lift the sequester from nondefense discretionary spending beginning in 2016, reflect the defense spending levels proposed by Obama, and assume funding of the president’s proposed four-year, $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization. The plan would eliminate the portion of the sequester that is scheduled to make automatic cuts to mandatory spending programs, including Medicare, through 2024. Although it assumes $1.759 trillion in additional revenue collected over a decade, the Democratic budget provides few details about which taxes would be raised. The plan says it would “accommodate action to simplify the tax code and eliminate special interest tax breaks without increasing the tax burden on middle-class taxpayers.

I suppose the Democrats’ proposal has the merit of being clear and in line with the goals they set for themselves — it is destructive but consistent. There is no way the Democrats’ budget will either reduce the debt or lead to growth, but that doesn’t seem to be their main goal.

By contrast, take the Ryan plan. It is also clear about its goals: Balance the budget in ten years, reduce the debt within that same budget window, and engage in entitlement reforms — including premium support starting in 2024 — to put the country on a sustainable fiscal path. These are great goals.

But it’s less straightforward about achieving them. For instance, if entitlement reform is so important, why does Ryan plan wait ten years before its centerpiece reform, premium support, is begun? Today’s Congress can’t tie the hands of future Congresses. As Reason’s Peter Suderman explains, legislators have repeatedly done this with other scheduled Medicare cuts.

And then there’s the matter of the balanced budget. House Republicans resorted to many gimmicks that make their budget look good on paper, but aren’t going to get it done in real life. The plan this year includes a $175 billion in savings from a new assumption of a “fiscal dividend” or higher growth resulting from debt reduction.

As with last year, we find $25 billion in “war savings.” What happened to the Chairman Ryan who said “an honest budget cannot claim to save taxpayers’ dollars by cutting spending that was not requested and will not be spent”?

Moreover, by using the CBO’s baseline revenue projections, the plan conveniently keeps Obamacare’s tax revenues while repealing its spending and claiming to eliminate the law. I understand that that helps achieve a balance budget on paper, but the tax revenues have to come from somewhere. (Ask Detroit lawmakers how gimmicks worked out for them!)

Now, I totally get that these ten-year budget resolutions are mostly meaningless, except as a guide for what the Appropriations Committee can do in one year and one year only, 2015. The rest of the ten-year projections are mostly window dressing, so they typically involve a lot of wishful thinking. But if Republicans know they won’t actually balance the budget by FY 2024 because the savings are phony, why pretend?

They aren’t fooling anyone. Why not use this opportunity to put out a real budget plan to show what they would actually do — in the coming fiscal year, at the very least — if they could? This budget could have been an honest exercise in finding out what is actually needed to indeed balance the budget in ten years, which means dealing with the loss of Obamacare revenue, for one. In the process, maybe they’d find out that ten-year balance may not be the biggest priority, but that starting entitlement reform now is.

Balancing the budget in ten years without gimmicks is actually not that hard. One, for instance, can simply grow spending at the rate of inflation. That will never last, though, if you don’t fix Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and end Obamacare. Doing those things is hard and would have some political cost (though that cost would not be as high as the Republicans have made it out to be). It’s a harder task than suggesting higher taxes on a few Americans like the Democrats. But it’s why many Americans have sent Republicans to Congress, and it ends with a great reward: the restoration of America’s fiscal stability.

A Note on Today’s Knife Attacks



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Horrible news from Pennsylvania:

Twenty people were injured — four critically — when a teenager wielding two knives started attacking students at Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville. All of the injured were students with the exception of an adult security guard.

Westmoreland County public safety spokesman Dan Stevens said the suspect, a 16-year-old, is in custody and was questioned by Murrysville police and Westmoreland County detectives before being taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries to his hands.

As I write, the dumb side of the conservative movement is tripping over itself to link the incident to gun-control, generally issuing some variation of “hey, maybe we should ban knives, too!” This, to put it kindly, is not a strong argument. That an individual can do a great deal of damage with a knife does not in and of itself mean that individuals should be able to own and carry firearms, nor does it mean that knives and firearms represent the same threat. All things being equal, they do not, and I think that critics of America’s gun laws are correct to point out that, had the assailant been carrying, say, a handgun, we would almost certainly be hearing reports of deaths, not injuries.

Now, for a veritable feast of legal, philosophical, and practical reasons — all of which I lay out in these pages on a regular basis – I think that, in the American context at least, the gun-control movement is wrongheaded in almost every single one of its instincts. But, as a matter of general principle, it’s really not inherently silly to want a country in which knives are easily available but firearms are not. Pretending that there exists no hierarchy within the world of weaponry tools just makes us look fanatical.

All of this notwithstanding, the incident does remind us of a couple of important truths: 1) that one really cannot stop bad things from happening, however hard one tries; and 2) that America has a problem with its schools more than it has a problem with inanimate objects. When someone truly wishes to kill someone else, he will usually manage to do so — especially in a soft target such a classroom. If it’s not guns, it will be knives; and if it’s not knives it will be explosives; and it’s not explosives it will be poison. The largest school massacre in American history, do not forget, was carried out in 1927 with a bomb made from dynamite and pyrotol. Today’s attack could have happened in England or in Australia or Japan, none of which countries have very many firearms; or it could have happened in Switzerland, which country’s population is armed to the teeth. And yet, as a rule, those countries do not play host to such attacks in anything approaching the same way as does America. (If culture played no role here, one would expect the Swiss murder rate to be much, much higher than it is.) 

For some reason, a tiny minority of American children have got into the habit of trying to massacre people in the classroom – and nobody is quite sure why. Yes, as is all crime, school-violence is diminishing, and it is frustrating that the public is unaware of this. Yes, our newfound interest in the area is in part the product of heightened media coverage and in part the product of political posturing. But it is still pretty high, and schools are still hit with an alarming regularity. While we continue to fight over what role the nature of the weaponry plays in the execution, shouldn’t we all be trying to work out what we can do to stop the desire?

Rocky Mountain High



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I will be speaking at the University of Colorado Boulder at 5:30, Tuesday, April 15, on Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers. It’s open to the public, details here.

The U.S. and NATO Show a Little Backbone



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NATO will be tripling the volume of its fighter patrols over the Baltic States, Reuters reports. Two of the three Baltic states — Estonia and Latvia – are in precarious positions vis-à-vis Russia, and have large Russian minorities that Putin’s government has been making some noises about lately (especially Estonia — see Andrew Stuttaford’s writing on this). Since the Baltics joined NATO in 2004, the organization has provided “air policing” over the area, since the little states basically don’t have air forces of their own. (Below, two German F-4 Phantoms and two Polish MiG-29s as part of the patrol force in 2012 — Germany has thankfully finally retired the F-4s, but there’s a lesson there.)

The air-patrol announcement is part of a wider plan NATO is supposed to reveal on April 15 to bolster the Western presence in Central and Eastern Europe, which is intended to shorten the response time to any crisis in the area, and potentially could include sending military advisers to help the Ukrainian government. Meanwhile, the U.S. is sending a second missile-defense destroyer to the Black Sea, where it doesn’t normally have ships. Another guided-missile destroyer, the USS Truxtun, completed exercises there in late March and supposedly left — but the White House said last week that its deployment was extended and it remains in the sea.

Rolling Stone Mistakenly Plants John Hancock on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Back



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Rolling Stone’s newest cover story features Julia Louis-Dreyfus, star of HBO’s Veep. Louis-Dreyfus is naked on the cover, with an excerpt from the U.S. Constitution drawn on her back, followed by the celebrated signature of John Hancock.

But John Hancock was not one of the signers of the Constitution. He didn’t attend the constitutional convention and in fact, in a 1788 speech he gave as governor of Massachusetts, Hancock avoided endorsing the constitution and repeatedly noted how much opposition there was to adopting it.

Hancock’s signature is actually on the Declaration of Independence.

UPDATE: 4:44 p.m. Julia Louis-Dreyfus jokingly blamed the mistake on her Veep Director of Communications Mike McLintock.

Political Disasters



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Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute finds that the number of presidential disaster declarations is rising — and tends to spike in years divisible by four.

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