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Wasserman Schultz: ‘We’re on Offense’



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Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) said Sunday that the Democrats are in a strong position for the midterm elections despite a growing litany of wobbly statements from party officials, elected politicians and liberal commentators.

Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Democrats who are distancing themselves from the Affordable Care Act are a demonstration of “Legislation 101″ and evidence that her party is on course to perfect the unpopular law.

“The president is right and Jeanne Shaheen is right,” Wasserman Schultz said in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, responding to criticisms of Obamacare by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who faces a potentially tough challenge in November.

“I will match up our ground game and our turnout operation . . . any day of the week,” Wasserman Schultz told host David Gregory. “We ran circles around the the Republicans in 2012 and 2008.”

Gregory countered that the president’s leadership on Obamacare, the Keystone XL pipeline and other matters has drawn criticism from major figures including former Obama advisor David Axelrod, Shaheen, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and other prominent Democrats.

But Wasserman Schultz denied that the November elections will be a referendum on Obama’s leadership. She asserted that only three House seats are seriously endangered by Republicans in November and that Senate races are “absolutely not” about the president and his policies.

“Each of these candidates have to run their own race,” Wasserman Schultz said. “They have to talk about the issues that are important to their constituents. If you look at the success rate and track record of these incumbents — Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich — they are all ahead of any of their Republican opponents. And these Republicans are mired in a civil war where the Tea Party has won. And they’re consistently nominating the most extreme candidates. And we’re on offense in states as well. So you’ve got Georgia and Kentucky and even Mississippi, where we have a very good chance to pick up those seats.”

Tags: Elections , Democratic Party , Debbie Wasserman Schultz , Sunday Shows April 20 2014

Peggy Noonan: Hillary Wants to Show She Was a ‘Significant Player’



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Celebrated Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan said Sunday that Hillary Clinton is trying to prove she mattered in her tenure as President Obama’s first secretary of state.

“I think part of the purpose of this book,” Noonan said about Clinton’s upcoming Hard Choices, “is to refute the idea out there that as secretary of state she was not a significant player in the creation of U.S. foreign policy.”

Clinton’s book, which is due in June, will reportedly focus on her tenure running the State Department. Prior to that she served as first lady during President Bill Clinton’s administration and as a U.S. senator from New York State.

Noonan noted that Clinton must counter a popular impression that she was a placeholder secretary during a less-than-exemplary period for American statecraft.

“She was a person put on a plane and sent to Manila to be on Good Morning Manila,” said Noonan during a morning appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation. “Do you know what I mean? It was different than other secretaries of state in the past. And I think she’s going to try and say in this book, ‘No, no, no. I was very involved in the building up and creation of U.S. foreign policy.”

Noonan’s fellow panelists speculated that getting more credit for policy-making could be a monkey’s-paw achievement for Clinton, noting that her time at State saw the deadly conquest of the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya by Islamic militants and controversial secret negotiations with Iran, and that she has been criticized by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Sunday Shows April 20 2014

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George Will: ‘The Debate Is Over’ Is Obama’s Mantra



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Washington Post columnist George Will said Sunday that the Obama administration has a habit of shouting down debate on matters that are not going President Obama’s way.

Will made the observation in response to the president’s push to persuade voters and media that Obamacare is working and that Republicans should stop complaining about it.

“‘The debate is over’ is something of a mantra,’” Will said on Fox News Sunday. “‘The debate is over on climate change; everyone, be quiet.’ ‘The debate is over about early childhood education; everyone, be quiet.’ Lots of things are supposedly over, and you hear that from people who are finding the evidence inconvenient.”

Will noted that the president is making “a fairly minimal claim” when he asserts that the Affordable Care Act is working. “I mean, the farm subsidies in this country are working; whether or not they are doing good work is another matter.”

Also dragging out the debate, Will said, is the lack of data on new health-insurance enrollees and whether the Affordable Care Act’s mechanism — in which forcing Americans to buy insurance creates a large enough base of healthier, lower-cost members to balance out an influx of less healthy members with higher costs — will actually work. But the real debate, he said, is over first principles.

“The argument about Obamacare is not just about Obamacare,” he said. “It’s about the nature of the American regime: what kind of country we want to live in. And therefore it’s going to tick on for some while.”

Will also noted that the president is contradicting himself by declaring debate over but still urging his fellow Democrats to sing the Affordable Care Act’s praises.

“He says we should all quit talking about this,” Will said, “except Democrats this fall should campaign on the basis of the multiform excellence of Obamacare.”

Tags: Obamacare , George Will , Sunday Shows April 20 2014

Web Briefing: Easter Sunday 2014

Stevens: Fix Second Amendment to Remove “Any Limits” on Government Power



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Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens supports gutting the Second Amendment in order to remove any limit on government infringements on the right of self-defense.

In his new book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, Stevens — who generally favored maximum government power during his 35-year tenure on the high court — proposes, among other things, changing the language of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so that the amendment would read, “ . . . the right of the people to keep and bear arms [when serving in the militia] shall not be infringed.”

Stevens acknowledged in an interview Sunday that this would remove “any limits” on government power over legal gun owners.

“I think that’s probably right,” Stevens said on ABC’s This Week. “But I think that’s what should be the rule, that it should be legislatures rather than judges who draw the line on what is permissible.”

Stevens said his proposed amendment, and a potential nationwide gun ban, would be closer to the original intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution than the amendment the framers actually wrote and adopted.

“There was a fear among the original framers that the federal government would be so strong that they might destroy the state militias,” he told ABC host George Stephanopoulos. “The amendment would merely prevent arguments being made that Congress doesn’t have the power to do what they think is in the best public interest.”

Stevens made clear that the amendment would clear the way for a national ban on private ownership of the means of self-defense. “I think that’s right,” Stephens said in a pre-recorded interview with Stephanopoulos, a former communications director and senior adviser in the Bill Clinton administration.

Tags: Gun Control , Second Amendment , Supreme Court , Sunday Shows April 20 2014

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Spicer: I Hope Democrats Take the President’s Advice on Obamacare



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The spokesman for the Republican National Committee wants Democrats to follow President Obama’s longstanding advice and talk about health care.

“It’s clear that Obamacare is still the number one, number two and number three issue going into this election,” Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, said Sunday. “Democrats are running from it, distancing themselves from it, talking about things they’ve done [to modify the inceasingly unpopular law]. They won’t talk about the fact they were the deciding vote, that they were out there advocating for it, that they want to implement it. They’re talking about how they can distance themselves from it . . .  In my opinion, I hope they take the president’s advice, frankly, for our side. In race after race, the reason we’re expanding the map, that Oregon, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Virginia are getting more and more into play is because it’s working.”

Spicer doubled down on Obamacare during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, along with Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee and Rothenberg Political Report’s Stu Rothenberg.

Spicer’s three interlocutors all tried to dismiss his claim that Obamacare’s unpopularity remains potent politically. CNN host Candy Crowley introduced him by asking whether the Republicans are “a one-note party at this point.” Elleithee claimed that only Republican leaders are concerned about the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010 on a close party-line vote that lacked the wide majorities that were enjoyed in the past by comparably broad laws expanding the scope and intrusiveness of government power over citizens.

“I hope you believe that,” Spicer told Elleithee, “because I can’t wait until we see Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner . . . ”

Rothenberg too objected to Republicans’ focus on the law, which has led to millions of insurance-policy cancelations and will next year begin penalizing individuals for not buying insurance. “It’s hard for me to believe Republicans can run from now to November,” Rothenberg said in a sing-songy voice, “just on ACA.”

Spicer cited a recent Gallup Poll showing 54 percent disapproval of the Affordable Care Act and noted that health-care policy losses continue to pile up. He pointed to a report by Alabama’s WHNT on a group of widows of county employees whose policies have been terminated.

Rothenberg labeled such stories “additional anecdotes.”

Tags: Obamacare , Sunday Shows April 20 2014

Still Lacking a Leninfall



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In a piece for The New York Review of Books, the Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin highlights the key failure of post-Soviet Russia — the failure that has spawned so much more failure — the failure to stage a real reckoning with the communist past:

In the course of three days in August 1991, during the failed putsch against Gorbachev, the decaying Soviet empire tottered and began to collapse. Some friends and I found ourselves on Lubianskaya Square, across from the headquarters of the fearsome, mighty KGB. A huge crowd was preparing to topple the symbol of that sinister institution—the statue of its founder, Dzerzhinsky, “Iron Felix” as his Bolshevik comrades-in-arms called him. A few daredevils had scaled the monument and wrapped cables around its neck, and a group was pulling on them to ever louder shouts and cries from the assembled throng.

Suddenly, a Yeltsin associate with a megaphone appeared out of the blue and directed everyone to hold off, because, he said, when the bronze statue fell, “its head might crash through the pavement and damage important underground communications.” The man said that a crane was already on its way to remove Dzerzhinsky from the pedestal without any damaging side effects. The revolutionary crowd waited for this crane a good two hours, keeping its spirits up with shouts of “Down with the KGB!”

Doubts about the success of the coming anti-Soviet revolution first stirred in me during those two hours. I tried to imagine the Parisian crowd, on May 16, 1871, waiting politely for an architect and workers to remove the Vendôme Column. And I laughed. The crane finally arrived; Dzerzhinsky was taken down, placed on a truck, and driven away. People ran alongside and spat on him. Since then he has been on view in the park of dismantled Soviet monuments next to the New Tretiakov Gallery. Not long ago, a member of the Duma presented a resolution to return the monument to its former location. Given events currently taking place in our country, it’s quite likely that this symbol of Bolshevik terror will return to Lubianskaya Square.

The swift dismantling of remaining Soviet monuments recently in Ukraine caused me to remember the Dzerzhinsky episode. Dozens of statues of Lenin fell in Ukrainian cities; no one in the opposition asked people to treat them “in a civilized manner,” because in this case a “polite” dismantling could mean only one thing—conserving a potent symbol of Soviet power. “Dzhugashvili [Stalin] is there, preserved in a jar,” as the poet Joseph Brodsky wrote in 1968. This jar is the people’s memory, its collective unconscious.

In 2014, Lenins were felled in Ukraine and were allowed to collapse. No one tried to preserve them. This “Leninfall” took place during the brutal confrontation on Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), when Viktor Yanukovych’s power also collapsed, demonstrating that a genuine anti-Soviet revolution had finally occurred in Ukraine. No real revolution has happened in Russia. Lenin, Stalin, and their bloody associates still repose on Red Square, and hundreds of statues still stand, not only on Russia’s squares and plazas, but in the minds of its citizens….

Meanwhile, the overnight news from Ukraine is of a curious shooting of a pro-Russian militiaman in Slaviansk (Slovyansk), the city that has been a center of “separatist” activity in the east. The cars of the supposed gunmen have allegedly been found to have been carrying materials that linked them to Ukraine’s (nationalist) Right Sector, a fact that the Russian foreign ministry has been quick to highlight. For its part, Ukraine’s interior ministry has denounced the incident as a fabrication.

Estonia’s president Ilves, a man who knows his history, has retweeted this:

“On the evening of Nov. 26, 1939, Soviet forces shelled the Russian village of Mainila.”

Google and it will make sense.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning...”



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In a powerful and beautifully written piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Dan Hannan, well, I’ll let him explain:

 In 1925, Rudyard Kipling wrote an uncharacteristically restrained and sombre short story called The Gardener. It tells of a woman’s search for her illegitimate son, who goes missing in action on the Western Front. After the Armistice, she learns that he has been killed, and is buried in a military cemetery. Arriving there, she finds a man planting flowers in the earth and asks him where she might find her “nephew”.

The man looks at her “with infinite compassion,” and tells her “Come with me, and I will show you where your son lies”. As she leaves the graveyard, she looks back, and sees the man bending over his plants; “and she went away, supposing him to be the gardener”.

Those words, an echo of Mary Magdalene’s first sight of the Risen Jesus, often strike our generation as out of place. But for Kipling, who had lost his own son in the war (“Have you any news of my boy Jack?” begins his most heart-wrenching poem), the Easter reference was natural. He never wavered in his belief that Jack and all the rest had given their lives for others.

…Well, perhaps it was because of Easter, or perhaps because of the centenary year but, coming back from Strasbourg last week after the final session of the current European Parliament, I decided finally to visit Thiepval, where my great-uncle, William James Hannan, is commemorated along with 73,000 other British and South African soldiers.

I know little about the man, except that he was said to have been a promising golfer. He was killed in the Somme bloodbath on 21 October 1916, aged 24….

Hannan concludes:

Today, our grief is second-hand: almost none of us knew any of the war dead. But but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this makes it ersatz. Try looking up the details of your ancestors on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website – or indeed, if you’re male, try typing in your own name, and counting how many matches come up – and see how easily the tragedy touches you across the intervening century.

Kipling’s generation, the generation that mourned its sons, was the first to pass; then the generation which mourned its comrades; then that which mourned its fathers, clinging, perhaps, to fragmentary childhood picture-memories. Then the fallen became faces in yellowing photographs. Now they are names on family trees. Soon, they will be only notches on slabs. Yet we will remember them.

Fund: Reid Calling Bundy Supporters ‘Domestic Terrorists’ Part of Dems’ Effort to Rally the Base



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Be sure to check out John’s most recent piece — “The United States of SWAT?” — on government agencies’ military-style units, such as the one used by the Bureau of Land Management at the Bundy ranch.

The (Re)birth of Ivan Ilyin



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Here’s a thought-provoking take on, if you like, “Vladimir Putin, conservative”, from John Schindler. The piece covers too much ground to be summarized in a few excerpts, so I’ll focus on just one aspect of it, the way that Putin is looking to base the legitimacy of his regime on older, far older, notions of what the Russian state should be:

[T]he reconquest of Crimea has caused a clear change of tone in Moscow, with celebration of old fashioned Russian nationalism coming into fashion. In his speech to the Duma announcing the triumphant annexation of Crimea, when speaking of Russians, Putin specifically used the ethnic term – russkiy –  not the more inclusive rossiyskiy, which applies to all citizens of the Russian Federation. This came among incantations to the full Great Russian program, with a Moscow-centric view of Eastern Europe seemingly endorsed by mentions of great Orthodox saints. Unstated yet clearly, this was all of a piece with “Third Rome” ideology, a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.

Westerners seemed shocked by this “Holy Russia” stuff, but Putin has been dropping unsubtle hints for years that his state ideology includes a good amount of this back-to-the-future thinking, cloaked in piety and nationalism. Western “experts” continue to state that a major influence here is Aleksandr Dugin, an eccentric philosopher who espouses “Eurasianism,” an odd blend of geopolitical theory and neo-fascism. While Dugin is not irrelevant, his star at the Kremlin actually faded a decade ago, though he gets some Kremlin attention because his father was a GRU general. Far more important to divining Putin’s worldview, however, is Ivan Ilyin, a Russian political and religious thinker who fled the Bolsheviks and died an emigre in Switzerland in 1953. In exile, Ilyin espoused ethnic-religious neo-traditionalism, amidst much talk about a unique “Russian soul.” Germanely, he believed that Russia would recover from the Bolshevik nightmare and rediscover itself, first spiritually then politically, thereby saving the world. Putin’s admiration for Ilyin is unconcealed: he has mentioned him in several major speeches and he had his body repatriated and buried at the famous Donskoy monastery with fanfare in 2005; Putin personally paid for a new headstone. Yet despite the fact that even Kremlin outlets note the importance of Ilyin to Putin’s worldview, not many Westerners have noticed.

They should, however, because Putinism includes a good amount of Ilyin-inspired Orthodoxy and Russian nationalism working hand-in-glove, what its advocates term symphonia, meaning the Byzantine-style unity of state and church, in stark contrast to American notions of separation of church and state. Although the Russian Orthodox Church… is not the state church, de jure, in practice it functions as something close to one, enjoying a privileged position at home and abroad…

Ilyin is a complicated figure, and perhaps more of ‘liberal’ (these things are relative) than the synopsis above might suggest, but he does play an important symbolic role in what has become the key intellectual project of the Putin regime, the reconciliation of imperial and Soviet Russia, an idea that is (I’d argue) at its core, absurd, but comes with the advantage that it spares the Russian people the necessity of a full reckoning with what was done to, and by, them in the Soviet era.

As to what Putin actually believes, well, that’s anyone guess, but there should be no doubting his willingness to make use of the ideological position he has developed to support his agenda at home, in the territories of the former USSR (‘the near abroad’) and even further afar than that. Schindler has plenty to say about what the implications of that could be, none of them reassuring.

As the saying goes: read the whole thing. 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez



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Like everyone else I read One Hundred Years of Solitude in college. The magical realism — the sister, was it? with the tail, the other one who ascended into Heaven — seemed like cheating. Another way to put it is that Garcia Marquez was like Faulkner only worse. Yet some expressions and insights have stayed with me.

I understand The Autumn of the Patriarch contains veiled, perhaps unconscious, criticisms of Castro. I hope that is the case, because Garcia Marquez’ explicit politics were dreadful. He was a despot’s fanboy, like Gorky, Neruda, Pound, and Celine in the last century; or, to go back a bit, like Seneca (who at least killed himself). The paradox of the disciple of beauty who is also the disciple of crime is an old one.

Rand Paul to Meet Top Romney Donors in Boston



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Rand Paul will do his best to charm a group Mitt Romney’s top donors next week at an event facilitated by Romney finance director Spencer Zwick. 

The Friday luncheon will take place in Boston at the offices of Zwick’s private-equity firm, Solamere Capital, according to a source familiar with the event. Romney’s eldest son Tagg is also a managing partner at the firm, and Romney is the executive chairman. 

The event is yet another signal that Paul is preparing a for a serious presidential bid in 2016. Two years before the GOP primary, Paul is attempting to branch out beyond his libertarian-leaning base, and the ability to tap some of the establishment donors who helped Romney raise over $1 billion in 2012 will be critical to that effort. 

A number of the GOP’s likely candidates, including Bobby Jindal, have also looked to Zwick to make these introductions. Presidential contenders frequently seek access to the donors of the party’s previous nominee, but getting an in with Romney’s top bundlers is particularly coveted because Romney, who opted out of the public financing system, was the first Republican to raise over $1 billion. Romney’s donors also have a reputation for loyalty, and Zwick’s willingness to make introductions is likely to mean a lot.

The Washington Post reported last month that Paul is in the process of building a national political network, with over 200 people in its ranks, that extends to all 50 states. 

The Coming Real Estate Hyperpocalypse: All YOUR Fault!



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Some good folks are pig-biting mad about my recent article noting that the rate of foreclosures has dropped dramatically as a result of the reinflation of the real estate market.

Some of the vituperation is coming from the usual gang of housing justice fairness activists incensed that anybody (let alone a majority of homeowners and experts) would oppose the practice of giving public assistance to people who borrowed money with no intention of paying it back. But a lot of the abuse stems from a sentiment I agree with — that declaring victory on mortgage defaults means you have to ignore how bogus the “recovery” of the real estate market is.

There are three main claims: 1. Banks are sitting on a massive number of non-performing loans and putting off foreclosure starts because that would mean realizing big losses on their balance sheets. 2. For years the “shadow inventory” of hopelessly distressed homes was said to be in the multimillions, and since it’s not clear what happened to those (estimated) numbers, there are still second, third and fourth shoes waiting to drop on the market recovery. 3. The short-term recovery of the market is the result of massive public expenditures, government support for real estate inflation, and outright deception; so the whole house of cards must eventually collapse.

I agree with the general idea here, and in fact I find the whole concept of the real estate “recovery” infuriating. But facts is facts, and there just isn’t a lot of support for the idea that a second coming of the real estate correction is imminent. The Wall Street Journal had bank-owned property at only 309,000 units in October. Also in October, CoreLogic had the full shadow inventory, including REO and other seriously distressed property, at just1.9 million — about three months of inventory even if it all hit the market at once.

It’s certainly true that banks dragged their feet on foreclosures in the past, through a combination of swamped processing infrastructure, general reluctance to own real estate, and probably an effort to disguise how dire their balance sheets were. But in fact, the reinflation of real estate increases the bank’s incentive to foreclose on a bad loan. In most cases, foreclosure is just a way of minimizing losses: you lose the value of the loan but you end up with an asset you can unload in order to make up some of what you lost to the deadbeat. But foreclosing on a bad loan in a rising market can be an attractive deal: The lender can potentially end up owning a property that is worth more than the amount of the remaining principal. For the same reason, bad borrowers in rising markets will try to avoid default and foreclosure. That happens more often than you might think: A Boston Fed report [pdf] from 2009 — a time when house prices were still plummeting — found that a third of bad borrowers managed to “self-cure” without any loan modification or outside help. That portion can only go up as the incentive to hang on to the property increases.

That said, I fully agree that the 2006 crash was only a partial correction that was interrupted, less than midway through its healthful work, by massive fiscal, monetary and regulatory interventions. As a function of income, real estate began 2006 outrageously overvalued; it hit the trough of the downturn only noticeably overvalued; and today it is stunningly overvalued. This is an imbalance that began in the 1990s and has gotten more pronounced, and it is well outside of historic norms.

For most of postwar history, a house cost about 1.5 to 2.5 times more than a person earned in a year. Today, even after the much-whined-about correction, it is more than four times as much. In 1940 the median U.S. income was $1,368; and the median house price was $2,938, a little more than double the income figure. In 1960 the income figure was $6,200, while the house price was $17,200, 2.77 times as much. In 1980 the ratio was 1/2.62, with income at $18,000 and house price at $47,200.

But by 2011, supposedly the bottom of the correction, a house cost more than four times what an American earned in a year: income $50,054; house price $212,300. It is a massively unfair situation, and like most contemporary unfairness, it is directed against the young, who are looking at an ever-growing chasm between what they earn and what it takes to buy a house.

The standard explanations for this imbalance are laughably inadequate. Does anybody believe this is all the result of low interest rates (which by the way are an artificial phenomenon that can’t be sustained indefinitely), or that houses today are that much more valuable because they have bigger bathrooms and granite countertops? As Edgar Guest might have said if he were a certified financial planner, it took a heap o’ swindlin’ to make these houses into overpriced homes. Land-use policy, relentless Realtor propaganda, heedless pro-homeowner lawmaking by both parties, and maybe most of all the IRS’s unjust mortgage-interest deduction (which indirectly encourages real estate ownership by directly encouraging real estate debt) all had a hand in creating this monster.

As 2006 proved, some parties can come to an end even though they have massive political, business, financial and popular buy-in. Like many of you, I long for the second coming of the real estate crash, and I’m encouraged that RealtyTrac estimates there are still 9.1 million homes underwater. But I also remember how intense the reaction was during the recession, when all the masters of the universe got together to “rescue” us from the threat of reasonably priced homes. All those same people are still working overtime to keep the so-called recovery alive. Fear them.

Never doubt that a large group of panicking idiots can prevent the world from changing, especially when they have all the guns, all the money and all the microphones.

Tags: Real Estate

The Ryan Medicare Plan



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Trojan Horse Amnesty Update



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The Wall Street Journal reported last night that House Speaker John Boehner told donors at a fundraiser last month in Las Vegas that he was “hellbent on getting this done this year,” in reference to an amnesty/immigration bill. His spokesman did not dispute the account.

In related news, President Obama is meeting with the National Commander of the American Legion this morning. Ordinarily, that would mean little, but the meeting comes just days after the Legion came out against a plan to amnesty illegal aliens who join the military. The number of people who would benefit from such an amnesty is miniscule (and there’s already a statutory means of allowing them to enlist), so why would the president take time out to summon the head of the Legion for a tiny, redundant immigration provision?

Because it’s a Trojan Horse — if it’s included in the must-pass defense authorization bill when it’s sent to the Senate, Harry Reid can expand it into a larger amnesty confident in the knowledge that it would have to be passed. I’ve been told by a Republican House member that the Democrat (and, presumably, “hellbent” House leadership) plan is to add the entire DREAM Act to the defense bill once it gets to the Senate — I guess that adding the entire Gang of Eight bill would be a bridge too far even for Boehner and Cantor.

Contraceptives and Abortifacients



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Donna Harrison summarizes what we know about the extent to which various contraceptives are likely to cause the death of human embryos.

New York as Holy City?



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My Good Friday meditation. God bless you and your day, readers, whoever you are, wherever you are. 

The Return of Novorossiya



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The New York Times picks up on an important element in Putin’s TV appearance yesterday:

MOSCOW — Even as the world’s top diplomats were gingerly drafting a tentative accord to “de-escalate tensions” in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin was on national television here, brashly declaring Russia’s historical claims over Ukrainian territory, reiterating a threat to use military force and generally sounding a defiant, even mocking, tone toward the United States….

Mr. Putin, appearing cool and confident during a four-hour question-and-answer show, referred repeatedly to southeast Ukraine as “New Russia” — a historical term for the area north of the Black Sea that the Russian Empire conquered in the 1700s. And, he said, only “God knows” why the region became part of Ukraine in the 1920s, signaling that he would gladly correct that error. Mr. Putin’s use of the historical term “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia,” to refer to southeastern Ukraine, which he had not emphasized previously, suggested that he was replicating Russia’s assertions of historical ties to the Crimean Peninsula before its occupation and annexation.

…Novorossiya generally refers to a broad area, stretching from what is now the border of Moldova in the west to the Russian border in the east, including Donetsk, the port city of Odessa to the south and the industrial center of Dnepropetrovsk to the north. On the question of Ukraine, Mr. Putin repeated his assertions that Russia feels an obligation to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, where they are a large minority of the population. “We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny,” he said.

“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast,” he added. “It’s New Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there. We need to encourage them to find a solution.”

Meanwhile, helping confirm the impression that the next moves in this dance are being prepared, the EUObserver reports:

BRUSSELS – Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have declined to honour a peace deal brokered in Geneva by the EU and US with Russia.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told press in Donetsk on Friday (18 April) that his forces will not surrender arms, vacate government buildings, or put off a referendum on independence on 11 May.

“[Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov] did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation … We will persevere until the end,” he said, according to Reuters, in a reference to the Geneva accord.

“As far as vacating of buildings and areas is concerned – everyone must leave them including [Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy] Yatsenyuk and [interim President Oleksandr] Turchynov – as they also took them illegally … We are ready to do it after them,” he added.

One of the bizarre cocktails described in Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow-Petushki, a dark and chaotic fable written during the Brezhnev era, is made up of the following ingredients: White Lilac (50g), Athlete’s Foot remedy (50g), Zhiguli beer (200g), Alcohol Varnish (150g).

The name of this delightful concoction?

The Spirit of Geneva.

Sounds about right. 

A Bit More on the Speech Police



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When I wrote about Adam Weinstein of Gawker and his proposal to literally imprison people for their political views, most of the pushback from the left and from David Frum, America’s Hall Monitor™, consisted of hand-waving, e.g. “You can’t generalize from the position of one crank with a blog, etc.” And while I am sympathetic to the emerging bipartisan consensus that no sentient being could possibly take Adam Weinstein seriously, the fact is that Gawker has a larger readership than The Nation and The New Republic combined. Sure, it’s 99.44 percent pure riff-raff, but the damnable thing about democracy is that you have to take the riff-raff into account.

And while we can laugh away the cow-eyed vacancy of Mr. Weinstein, the desire to criminalize political disagreement extends well beyond his orbit. It was revealed this week that Lois Lerner and her squadron of flying monkeys at the IRS not only targeted conservative groups for harassment and suppression but that the IRS and the woefully misnamed Justice Department were trying to trump up criminal prosecutions against those groups as well, i.e. finding a pretext to literally imprison people as a response to their political activism.

Down in Travis County, Texas, where the stink of cronyism has Republicans in the legislature and Democrats in the bureaucracies sniffing each others’ tails like opportunistic stray dogs, University of Texas regent Wallace Hall is facing the possibility of criminal prosecution for helping to expose the bipartisan scandal of Texas politicians’ seeking preferential treatment for friends and family in university admissions. Travis County prosecutors have a history of abusing their powers: You’ll remember the years-long prosecution of Tom DeLay, which ruined his political career but was in the end laughed out of court. Kay Bailey Hutchison got similar treatment from the same prosecutor. In a sane world, Wallace Hall would get a medal for bringing attention to wrongdoing by elected officials, but the university establishment and the political establishment relish their comfortable symbiosis. 

Others dream of prosecution, too. The political class is infatuated with speech regulations  (which we are expected to call  “campaign-finance laws”) because its members harbor a self-interested desire to set the terms under which political contests  are fought. That is corruption, and a particularly nasty sort of corruption at that: corruption dressed up as a reform crusade. And thanks to the moral illiteracy of the American people and their elected representatives, we are one Supreme Court vote away from Stephen Breyer’s low-rent Orwellian aspiration — the desire that actual political speech by individual citizens should be suppressed in the interest of hypothetical and collective political speech — being the law of the land. “Getting big money out of politics” is just John McCain’s way of saying that you’ll conduct the political argument on his terms or go to jail.

The irony here is that the ones doing the prosecuting are the ones who should be prosecuted. It is against the law to use IRS resources for political vendettas and to maliciously prosecute citizens to further partisan political interests. Those are serious crimes — serious because they pervert the fundamental relationship between citizen and state. But we are enduring what Sam Francis called “anarcho-tyranny,” a situation in which the government either refuses to or is unable to enforce its most fundamental laws — e.g., controlling the borders, ensuring that its revenue agents are not engaged in an unhinged political jihad with an eye toward stacking elections, etc. — while at the same time it seeks to regulate the minutiae of citizens’ lives with all the terrible moral ferocity of David Frum on a Tuesday afternoon espresso bender.

I’ve been treated to several bracing lectures about the rule of law this week in reaction to my views on the miniature insurrection in Nevada. What Cliven Bundy is up to, cinematic though it may be, is small-time. A country of 314 million can endure a little jaywalking on the part of its people from time to time. But when you have a government that refuses to follow its own laws — and uses malicious prosecution for political ends — you don’t really have a government any more. You have gangsters. And when the cops and robbers are the same people, who do you call for help?

Friday links



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Gallery: Pizza in the Wild.

The other Captain America movie – this 1973 Turkish version in which he teams up with a Mexican wrestler and fights evil Spiderman.

Vintage creepy Easter Bunny Photosvideos of violence done against marshmallow peeps, including peeps vs. .50 Caliber Rifle, Parts 1 and 2, and 16 Delicious Facts About Marshmallow Peeps.

This photo essay wins my vote for blog post of the week: Victorian Prudes and their Bizarre Beachside Bathing Machines.

Excellent Rube-Goldberg-esque engineering: the ultimate wine bottle opener and pourer.

Fashions of the Future as Imagined in 1893.

ICYMI, Tuesday’s links are here, and include dissecting the timeline of Paul Revere’s ride, the McDonald’s Monopoly Fraud, and a gallery of extremely happy animals.

Back to Verdun



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With elections to the EU parliament drawing closer, expect to see the Verdun card being played to the max. The Verdun card?  A grim warning that Europe will return to the warring ways of its bad old past if the process of building a superstate is stopped. 

Here is a recent classic, quoted in La Libre Belgique, from Joseph Daul, the Frenchman who currently heads up the European Peoples Party, the main center-right bloc in the parliament.

“I am convinced,” he intoned, “that if Europe succumbs to the siren voices of populists and euroskeptics, there will be a turning back towards chaos and war.”

A firm believer in “ever closer union”, the principle, enshrined in the EU treaty, that drives the process of integration relentlessly forward, Daul warned that stopping this forward march would be a step back, and so would the creation of a ‘Europe of varying speeds’ (the idea that different countries—or groups of countries—could choose to go at their own pace towards closer integration).  Such had been the approach, he claimed, adopted by the Great Powers that had led to catastrophe in 1914.

And no, the link to 1914 (so fashionable in its centenary year!) that Daul is trying to establish makes no logical sense at all, but, politically, he probably hoped that it could convey just enough extra menace to scare a few more gullible peons back into the federalist camp.

But the thought that Daul might actually believe this nonsense, now that is truly scary. 

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