Magazine | July 20, 2009, Issue

The Week

Roman Genn

‐ Let’s hope he turns out to be a better senator than he was a comedian.

‐ The saga of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his Argentinian mistress displayed two of America’s least attractive traits — preening and prurience. We unequivocally denounce hypocritical horndog politicians (are there pictures?). Sanford’s affair involved him in dereliction of his executive duties. He added an Argentinian leg to a South American business trip, which was sleazy, and he was AWOL from his state for almost a week. His aides thought, or pretended to think, that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Suppose there had been a hurricane back home, or a terrorist attack? Happily he is term-limited, and there will be no call for him to visit Iowa.

‐ The city of New Haven, Conn., gave firefighters a test to secure a promotion. No blacks passed the test, so the city — definitely fearing political agitation and possibly fearing a lawsuit — decided not to promote anyone. It got a lawsuit anyway, as some of the firefighters who earned but were denied promotion went to court charging that their civil rights had been violated. Along the way a few judges, notably including Sonia Sotomayor, tried to bury the case, summarily finding for the city. Now the Supreme Court has ruled in the firefighters’ favor. The resolution of the case serves the cause of fairness, but leaves employers, public and private, without clear guidance on how to obey the law. A test with a “disparate impact” on minorities can generate a winning lawsuit, but so can race-conscious efforts to avoid a disparate impact. Congress ought to get rid of the disparate-impact standard altogether. It may be unconstitutional, as Justice Scalia suggests. It is certainly at war with equality. 

‐ When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, it included a provision that required some jurisdictions, most of them southern states, to get Justice Department approval before making any change to their election procedures. The provision was understood to be extraordinary, which is why it was authorized only temporarily and as an emergency measure. Forty years later, the emergency was still going strong, and in 2006 Congress renewed the provision for another quarter-century. A municipal utility district in Texas that has never been alleged to discriminate against blacks or Hispanics (and that did not exist when the act was passed) sued to be free of the pre-clearance requirement. The Supreme Court unanimously accepted the request. The Court could not have sent a clearer signal to Congress if it had flashed “UPDATE THIS LAW” in neon lights across the street.

‐ President Obama says that he wants to let gays serve openly in the military and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, but he has not pushed for either policy. He has even defended the Defense of Marriage Act in court (quite appropriately). Obama’s position is incoherent. If the Defense of Marriage Act is “discriminatory,” as he has said, it is no more so than his own stated opposition to same-sex marriage. Gay-rights groups are mightily upset with Obama, but they are in a box. Having overlooked his position on marriage on the assumption of its insincerity, they cannot sue for betrayal now that it turns out that his insincerity is nondiscriminatory.

Stimu-Late

If you want a mental model of the Obama stimulus plan, try this: Larry Summers on the deck of the Titanic, trying to change the direction of the ship by holding a ragged umbrella in the wind. 

The fact is, even the most pathological Keynesian — and Summers certainly would qualify — must be frustrated by the inability of the government to do anything fast. You think it takes a long time to get a green card? Try getting your stimulus project started.

Last February, a plan was hatched to spend almost $800 billion to rescue this economy from recession. It is stunning how little of that money has actually gone anywhere. The website Recovery.gov was set up as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; it is simultaneously the part that is functioning most above expectations and the part that is least popular among stimulus partisans — for it provides a weekly tally of how the stimulus is doing. 

According to the latest data, which track the stimulus effort through June 19, $152.4 billion of stimulus funds have been made “available.” Numbers like that would seem to fuel claims, like that made by Obama himself last month, that the stimulus plan has “created or saved” hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But digging a little deeper at Recovery.gov, one finds that only $52.9 billion was actually spent by June 19.

Source: recovery.gov

Even that number is too large. Of the $52.9 billion that was spent, $21.5 billion came through the Department of Health and Human Services, which mostly provided grants to state governments. The federal government mailed the checks, but did the states spend it any quicker? Probably not. Another $13 billion that was spent was simply mailed to seniors — rather than invested in infrastructure and job creation — by the Social Security Administration as part of a program with the foreboding name of the “one-time economic recovery payment of 2009.” Translation: You won’t get anything next year, Gramps.

If you subtract those two items, then Leviathan has spent only about $19 billion. The nearby chart allocates the blame for the tardiness. It indicates by department the proportion of stimulus dollars that has been spent. For most departments, the spigot is essentially off.

The lesson of the chart is clear. In the middle of the biggest economic crisis of our lifetimes, government spending was unable to lift itself enough to have a meaningful economic impact. 

Big government is Chinese water torture. Pain comes a drip at a time.

 – KEVIN A. HASSETT

‐ A second stimulus? As risible as it sounds, President Obama entertains the idea. When asked at a recent press conference whether another stimulus bill might be necessary, he replied, “Not yet.” How about not ever? People seem to forget that the $787 billion stimulus package enacted last February was the second stimulus — the Bush administration enacted a $168 billion stimulus bill in February 2008. Neither the Republican stimulus (weighted toward tax rebates) nor the Democratic one (weighted toward spending) has delivered anything like the promised results. Bush’s stimulus did little to boost consumer spending — consumers tended to save, not spend, their tax rebates — and unemployment continues to rise even though Obama promised that his stimulus package would cause it to level off. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, a plurality of Americans think the rest of the spending in Obama’s stimulus should be canceled. How would he pitch another one? Third time’s the charm?

‐ It is typical of Washington in the wake of a crisis to eschew sound reform for the Big Gesture. Instead of addressing the subsidization of homeownership that drove down lending standards, the Democrats are pushing for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would treat junk loans like unsafe toys. Never mind that the Consumer Product Safety Commission failed to intercept the last wave of lead-painted trinkets, indicating that such agencies are flawed watchdogs at best. The subprime-mortgage debacle resulted from a very specific set of policies that led to a proliferation of bad loans in the housing market, yet this new bureaucracy would regulate everything from credit-card lending to no-money-down mattress sales. This proposal is worse than an ineffectual gesture. It is a government power grab in sectors that had nothing to do with the meltdown. 

‐ Among the many projects hatched under the scar-spangled banner of Bailout Nation is the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, through which the government backs debt sold by banks. The biggest beneficiary of this program is General Electric; ProPublica reports that GE accounts for some 25 percent of the $340 billion in debt backed by the government under the program. The acute reader will have appreciated by now that General Electric is not a bank. Neither is GE Capital, its financial arm. GE does, however, own an obscure savings-and-loan in Utah, and that was enough to get its corporate nose under the taxpayers’ tent. 

‐ Politics, it is said, resembles sausage: best not to see it being made. But watch Frank and Weiner work. That would be Barney Frank and Anthony Weiner, Democrats in Congress who are pressing the government-backed mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to relax their lending standards in the case of condominium developments. Under the current rules, Fannie and Freddie — meaning, American taxpayers — will guarantee mortgages only for developments in which 70 percent of the units have been sold. Frank and Weiner would like that requirement reduced — the previous level had been 51 percent. Loosey-goosey lending standards at Fannie and Freddie — encouraged by the selfsame Frank and Weiner — were one proximate cause of the financial crisis; ideally, the firms would be entirely privatized or disbanded, but if they are to continue their taxpayer-supported zombie slog through the real-estate market, they should do so under the most restrictive conditions. Taxpayers ought not relish further government interference.

‐ Several months ago, a pair of scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency completed a study that questioned many of the assumptions underlying the EPA’s doomsday scenario for climate change. The researchers noted that recent temperature data, along with new findings on ocean and solar cycles, atmospheric water vapor, and other factors, suggest that warming will be much less severe than was previously thought. The agency buried the study, refusing to release it to the public or even let it be circulated in-house. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has obtained and published a copy of the report, and has called on the agency to acknowledge it and solicit comments, as is normally done with research papers. But Bush was the one waging a “war on science.”

‐ A troublemaker says, “Let’s you and him fight.” A moralizer says, “Let’s you and me apologize for him.” The Senate passed a resolution apologizing “to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.” Will aborted children get an apology in 2159? If they do, it will do as much good as this piece of repentance nostalgia. Repeal unjust laws, make compensation where appropriate or possible, but don’t strike poses decades and centuries after the fact.

‐ Sitting down for a television interview, President Obama swatted a fly — swatted it dead. And that made international news. He said to those around him, “That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it? I got the sucker. Whaddya think, Gibbs?” (Gibbs is his press secretary.) He then invited the cameramen to film the dead fly on the floor — his trophy. In a way, this was a “Sister Souljah” moment — PETA and others protested the president’s swatting. Obama has not yet apologized, to our knowledge. No, he was icy, accurate, arrogant, determined, and ruthless. Would that he applied more of that to this country’s enemies.

‐ Have you heard the latest comedy stylings of Sen. John Kerry? He is a Noël Coward for our time: light, smooth, wittily perceptive. While Gov. Mark Sanford was thought to be wandering somewhere on the Appalachian Trail, Kerry said to a Democratic gathering, “Too bad, if a governor had to go missing, it couldn’t have been the governor of Alaska. You know, Sarah Palin.” Uh, yeah, we know, Big John. Is there a more humorless, stuffy, robotic partisan in American public life (apart from Al Gore)? And but for a relative handful of votes in Ohio, he would have been president . . .

‐ Nobody ever considered Richard Nixon a pro-life stalwart, and the latest batch of his White House tapes confirms the impression. He had no public reaction to Roe v. Wade. Privately he complained that it would lead to sexual permissiveness, but allowed that abortion was “necessary” in some cases — such as rape, and interracial couplings. Two ugly sentiments, combined in a characteristically ugly fashion.

‐ When Barack Obama writes his next autobiography, he should call it Dick Cheney Was Right After All. A White House spokesman let slip (on a Friday evening, of course) that the president is considering an executive order directing the continued detention without trial of dozens of Gitmo detainees. You see, the administration has been giving this a lot of thought, and, well, it turns out that some people who want to kill Americans cannot be “brought to justice” in the civilian system because the evidence (or what is known in wartime as the “intelligence”) that tells us they are dangerous cannot be used in federal courts — either because it comes from foreign intelligence services who demand that we not disclose it, or because it is inadmissible under due-process rules. Who knew? And though the president would love to work with Congress on a new legal process for dealing with these detainees, it turns out many Democrats want to release those who cannot be tried. So the president may have to act unilaterally — or go the “cowboy” route, as members of his administration used to say, with a bit more of a snicker than we hear these days.

‐ American troops left Iraqi cities. Iraqis celebrated the occasion as a great nationalist victory. The state television network even ran a “Countdown to Sovereignty” clock. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t mention the contribution of American troops to the country’s security in his remarks. A distasteful slight — but such are the imperatives of national pride. More important is whether the Iraqi government and its security services can keep the peace in the absence of American outposts in the cities. Our straight-shooting commander on the ground, Gen. Ray Odierno, thinks the new arrangement is workable. But it obviously bears careful watching, and if security conditions deteriorate, the drawback has to be reconsidered. For now, we can marvel at and take pride in how far Iraq has come since 2006 — thanks to the extraordinary commitment and sacrifice of our troops. We have bequeathed it a fragile democracy and fragile peace.

‐ We are thankful that New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban and held for seven months in Afghanistan and Pakistan, escaped (along with the local Afghan reporter abducted with him) on June 19. Rohde had arranged an interview with a commander from the Taliban; the Taliban did what the Taliban does, taking him hostage. The Times, which wears its exposure of U.S. national-defense secrets as a badge of honor — and has published the names of CIA interrogators as well as pushed for publication of top-secret prisoner photos that would endanger American troops — went immediately into information-suppression mode. Out of concern for the life of its reporter, the paper chose not to mention the abduction in its news pages and pressed other organizations to squash the story, obtaining cooperation from Wikipedia and even al-Jazeera. The Times and other media outlets were right to prize Rohde’s safety over the public’s interest in being informed. We only wish the Times and its allies made the same judgment when the safety of the American people is at risk. 

‐ Abandoning longstanding U.S. policy, the administration has not only negotiated with a network of secret jihadist cells operating in Iraq (instruments of Iran, which is duplicating the Hezbollah model it has used in Lebanon); it has now released outright one of the terrorists responsible for the murder of five American soldiers in Karbala back in 2007. The release was a transparent effort to trade the terrorist for five British civilians abducted by the same network. But in exchange, the network (which had suggested the hostages were alive) released only the corpses of two, and threatened to kill the rest unless more of its detained operatives were freed. The administration has thus signaled to terrorists that they stand to win valuable concessions by abducting Americans and their allies — even if they kill them.

‐ At first blush, the news from Honduras sounds like a sad return to Latin America’s past: A democratically elected president has been exiled by the military. But the Honduran soldiers who escorted Pres. Manuel Zelaya from his home were acting to protect their country’s democracy, not to trample it. Moreover, they had the full support of the Honduran Supreme Court, which had rejected Zelaya’s bid to hold a referendum on constitutional reform. The proposed referendum, illegal without an act of Congress, aimed to launch a “constituent assembly” that would draft a new constitution. Zelaya’s ultimate goal was to extend or abolish presidential term limits, mimicking the example of Hugo Chávez and other Latin American populists. Hondurans rightly feared that such a maneuver would set their country on the path to Chávez-style authoritarianism. When the Supreme Court rebuffed him, Zelaya defied its ruling. Along with a large group of followers, he ransacked a military post and seized millions of referendum ballots. While it is always unnerving to see gun-toting officers arrest a president, the move against Zelaya was not a conventional “military coup,” but an affirmation of democracy and the rule of law, both of which Zelaya had flouted.

‐ It sure is nice to have missile defenses when you need them: In anticipation of North Korea’s test of a long-range rocket over the Pacific Ocean, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ordered interceptors to Hawaii. This allowed President Obama to go on television and tell Harry Smith of CBS News that Americans in Honolulu and elsewhere are safe from North Korean mischief: “Well, first of all, let’s be clear. This administration — and our military — is fully prepared for any contingencies.” Obama nonetheless plans to slash missile-defense funding by about $1.4 billion in the 2010 budget. Ground-based interceptors in Alaska, the Airborne Laser program, and the prospective basing of a small system in Eastern Europe — all developed with an eye toward countering Iran and North Korea — could suffer. The next time the United States needs missile defenses, it may not have them.

‐ As we went to press, the U.S. military was tracking a North Korean vessel called the Kang Nam 1, which is suspected of carrying illicit weaponry. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 authorizes heightened monitoring of North Korean cargo; but Pyongyang says that any forced inspection will be considered an act of war, and the Kang Nam 1 commander may refuse to let his ship be boarded. Will President Obama authorize U.S. servicemen to overtake the vessel? Or will he back down in the face of Pyongyang’s threats? The former course carries obvious risks, but the latter would set a horrible precedent. To paraphrase Thatcher, now is no time to go wobbly on North Korea. Kim Jong Il’s recent provocations demand a show of American resolve. If U.S. officials deem the Kang Nam 1 worthy of interdiction, they should search it — peacefully, if possible; by force, if necessary.

‐ Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy attacked the burka in a speech to France’s parliament. “In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. The burka is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome.” Sarkozy’s remarks were in keeping with the spirit of French republicanism, which has always imposed its principles more stringently, even bloodily, than the United States. President Obama noted the difference in his Cairo speech, knocking a 2004 French ban on headscarves and other religious symbols in state schools. Yet even in America some states have anti-mask laws, designed to prohibit full Klan regalia; driver’s licenses and passports should display full faces. If the burka interferes with public security, or comes to signify not withdrawal from, but violence toward, society, it must be removed or torn away.

‐ Every year, the National Endowment for Democracy gives an award, and every year the winner or winners get some presidential attention. This year was somewhat different. NED honored five Cuban democracy activists. Three of them are in prison; two of them are out, for now. Needless to say, no one was able to travel to Washington. But the honorees had a representative in Washington, the sister of one of them — and NED’s requests that President Obama meet with her went unanswered. It was the first time in five years that the U.S. president did not grant such a meeting. Only when the Washington Post pestered the White House was a presidential statement written and released — just as the NED ceremony was starting. In an editorial, the Post asked, “Why doesn’t President Obama have time for Cuba’s pro-democracy opposition?” Answer: The administration is determined to warm up to the Cuban regime. Barack Obama’s election was supposed to cheer people around the world, and it has. Too bad so many of them are dictators.

‐ Gerald Martin’s Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, a definitive biography of the Colombian novelist, was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by Paul Berman and in the New York Review of Books by Michael Greenberg. Both reviewers admired Martin’s thoroughness and García Márquez’s achievement. And both noted the novelist’s decades of sycophancy to Fidel Castro. “The world’s most popular serious novelist,” writes Berman, “does seem to be a flunky of the world’s longest lasting monomaniacal dictator.” García Márquez “in his relationship to Castro . . . often seemed childlike and eager to please,” writes Greenberg. “In 1989 [he] appeared to reach a moral nadir when Castro ordered the execution of . . . two of García Márquez’s friends. Living part-time in Cuba García Márquez remained silent.” Artists of the past often served the powerful — who else would patronize them? — but the fondness of those who freely admire brutality is an ongoing puzzle. Those who create and order worlds of words may imagine that despots do the same with real men and women. The judgment of two liberal publications does not detract from García Márquez’s gifts, but suggests that his servility will be a shameful chapter in his life story — as it is in Pound’s or Gorky’s.

‐ Is Canterbury gay enough? The English city’s ombudsman, who evidently is not overburdened with work, has just spent a month investigating the question. The probe began after a local gay group complained that Canterbury, headquarters of the Church of England and home to England’s oldest boarding school, did not have a gay bar or community center. According to a news story, the council pointed out in response that it had spent more than £4,000 to “identify the needs of the homosexual community” (not that difficult, one would think), but the ombudsman demanded further evidence that “the pink pound was being catered for.” After officials showed that they had promoted “touring plays and musicals” and staged other non-heteronormative events, the ombudsman certified Canterbury as officially gay-friendly. Now residents of any English town that does not have a gay bar can file a similar complaint — although, if they are truly in desperate straits, they might simply open a bar themselves.

‐ As we wrestle with wars, recession, epidemics, and climatology, let us pause for a moment to cast an envious glance at parts of the world whose problems are local and tractable: the sleepy island of Tasmania, off the south coast of Australia, for example. One feature of that place is poppy fields, source of much of the world’s legal opium (used in pharmaceuticals). Another is wallabies — a smaller species of kangaroo. The wallabies of Tasmania have been breaking into the poppy fields to munch on the flower heads, with regrettable results. “Stoned wallabies create opium crop circles,” laments an antipodean news service. We’d gladly trade our problems for yours, mate.

‐ Expectant mothers can now get an even clearer sense of what’s growing inside their bodies. A new process called “rapid prototyping” converts data from ultrasound and MRI scans to create 3-D life-size models of unborn babies. An exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London is currently featuring these models, and the process is being trialed at a clinic in Rio de Janeiro. The doctor-designer of the technology anticipates a range of uses for the new technique, including aiding pregnant women who are blind, but some abortion advocates fear that the technology could be used to persuade women not to go through with abortions. This fear is characteristic of the “pro-choice” movement: Information is good and scientific advances are positive, so long as they do not diminish a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy guilt-free.

‐ The venerable College of William and Mary had to stop calling its sports teams the Indians back in the 1980s, for reasons with which we are all familiar. They are now the Tribe. The enforcers of racial sensitivity are never appeased, though, and the NCAA is demanding that William and Mary remove the two-feathers mascot from the Tribe logo, feathers apparently symbolizing cruelty and oppression. The college has opened a contest to find a replacement mascot. Among the suggestions: a stalk of asparagus. The logic is that asparagus served with cheese represents the college colors of green and gold. In related news, that horrid militaristic eagle on the Great Seal of the United States is to be replaced by a tomato. With a slice of well-matured gorgonzola alongside, you have the national colors right there. Who could object?

‐ Media technology marches on, as it has since cuneiform tablets (is the magazine baked yet?) yielded to ink on papyrus. Latest news from this ever-advancing front is the demise of Kodachrome, the first commercially successful color-transparency film. Introduced in 1935, Kodachrome dominated color photography through the rest of the 20th century, the first serious competitors coming up only in the 1980s. From records of domestic vacations to photos in Sports Illustrated, it’s been a Kodachrome world. Eastman Kodak, struggling to restructure itself for the digital age — the company’s stock is down 57 percent this year — has announced it will discontinue Kodachrome. “Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away,” sang Paul Simon back in 1973, on that vinyl LP we used to own.

‐ Motto scrawled by students at Berkeley’s Black Pine Circle School under a hammer-and-sickle motif: “Capitalism Will Fail.” Tuition at Black Pine: $17,000 a year. Capitalism hasn’t failed these spoiled snot-goblins. Their parents and teachers have.

‐ Journalists come and go in Washington, but for more than 60 years Mary Lou Forbes was an ongoing and formidable presence. She spent the early days of her career at the Washington Evening Star, where she won a 1959 Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the civil-rights movement in Virginia. When the Star fell in 1981, she quickly moved on, helping to start the conservative Washington Times the next year. At the Times she long edited the commentary page, and remained involved with the paper until she was diagnosed with cancer recently. Just two weeks after the diagnosis, she passed away. Readers, coworkers, and friends remember not only her remarkable professional achievements but also her personal warmth. R.I.P.

‐ Michael Jackson was such an infectiously lively kid. As a young man he added seduction and a whiff of danger to the mix, all these moods made flesh by his ability to sing and dance (Fred Astaire praised him). His act and the advent of music videos won him fame and money at the level of the Beatles. Then, all at once, it became clear that he was nuts — injured by who knows what family experience, distended by stardom, enabled by hangers-on. F. Scott Fitzgerald said the world wants not innocence, but the loss of innocence. It got both from Michael Jackson’s story. Dead at 50. R.I.P.

HEALTH CARE

Medical Arrogance

During his recent ABC infomercial, President Obama continued to insist that the type of reform he has in mind would reduce the cost of health care, improve its quality, and enable people to keep their current insurance policies and doctors. He is wrong on all counts.

Very little in the Democratic bills making their way through Congress would do anything to reduce costs, while the new subsidies they envision would increase costs. That is why the Democrats are talking about both explicit and disguised tax increases. During the ABC special, the president hinted that reform would give doctors and hospitals new incentives to avoid unnecessary care. But since government cannot reliably distinguish between the necessary and the unnecessary, all it can do is encourage less care — and leave it to doctors and other health-care workers to administer the rationing. Obama would be well-advised, for his political health, to do no more than hint at this prospect.

Obama wants to establish a government-run insurer. Because it could pass along its costs to its private-sector competitors, that insurer would quickly come to dominate the market regardless of its quality. (All estimates agree that many millions of people would lose their existing coverage.) It would thus strengthen the government’s ability to reshape health care to its specifications. Obama seems entirely too confident that it could do so intelligently.

The better course would be to make it easier for people to buy insurance policies for themselves and their families, so that they would not have to rely on either the government or their employers. Under such a system people would run less of a risk of being denied care that they want, and would also have an incentive to keep an eye on costs. And in a market less fragmented on the basis of employment status, individuals would be better able to buy renewable insurance policies that they could keep even after getting sick.

President Obama could easily get such a plan through Congress if he wanted it and were willing to face the wrath of the Left. By pursuing his political and ideological ambitions, he is risking getting no bill at all — or, worse, one that takes America in the wrong direction.

GLOBAL WARMING

ACES Low

The House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) by a seven-vote margin (44 Democrats voted no). It faces a tougher path in the Senate, where the 60-vote filibuster hurdle makes moderate Democrats, and non-proportional representation makes Democrats from sparsely populated coal-using states, more powerful. The bad news is that these Democrats (and Republicans such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) can probably be had for a price, meaning that if the Senate does pass a bill, it will be even more bloated with special favors than the one approved by the House. The good news is that this is a great fight for conservatives. The bill’s defenders are in the unenviable position of supporting an energy tax in the middle of an economic downturn. 

The bill is a terrible deal for American taxpayers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ACES is projected to impose costs averaging about $1,100 each year on every American household by 2050. What do we get in return? Even if the law works precisely as intended — which is not very likely — the grand result will be that, a century from now, we should expect surface temperatures to be about one-tenth of one degree Celsius lower than they otherwise would be. Global warming will impose costs, but the expected costs of ACES are at least ten times the program’s expected benefits, even using the EPA’s cost estimates and assuming the full achievement of the legislation’s goals. 

Our green friends concede that ACES may be a terrible deal by itself, but insist that the United States should lead the world by example and thereby achieve wider benefits. These hopes are vaporous: The strategy amounts to giving away our best negotiating leverage (reducing our emissions only if other nations reduce theirs) in the hope that those nice men who rule China will be shamed into sacrificing their economic interests. The House bill was less naïve — it included a provision that would impose tariffs and other trade penalties on countries that do not enact their own caps on greenhouse gases. But the prospect of a trade war with China proved too much even for Obama to stomach; he indicated that he would not support this provision. Our unofficial policy regarding the rest of the world’s emissions would be wishful thinking.

The original sales pitch advertised that cap-and-trade permits would generate $80 billion annually in new government revenue. But that’s not going to happen: So many favors have been given away to special interests in order to try to wrangle the votes needed to pass ACES that the CBO now estimates the bill would net just over $2 billion per year in new revenue — about one one-thousandth of this year’s budget deficit. Not exactly the wide-open spigot of cash early proponents promised.

A further effect of all of the side deals is that ACES is unlikely to achieve even the limited benefits that are claimed for it. The details of the bill as actually written ensure that there will not be a hard cap on emissions for at least the first decade under ACES. And the normal interest-group pressures are not going to magically disappear in ten years, so the odds are excellent that ACES will never impose a real cap.

Here, then, are the cards Democrats want to deal us: ACES would impose costs at least ten times as large as its benefits, would not reduce the deficit, and would not really cap emissions. It’s a losing hand.

AT WAR

The Iranian Front

The ongoing insurrection in Iran helps to restore faith in human nature. Iranians know that their clerical masters have been abusing power in every area of domestic and foreign policy, and they want none of it. The regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its sponsorship of terrorism furthermore place their lives in danger. Presented with an obviously falsified election for the post of president, they seized the chance to take to the streets. This spontaneous outburst of protest will be a source of national pride for future generations of Iranians.

Why Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s one-man ruler, was so determined that his candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to be president at all costs is not clear. The rival candidates were not revolutionaries, instead visibly shrinking from taking the lead in the unfolding insurrection. But the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad combination has in effect staged a coup.

Reliable figures are hard to come by, but at least 20 people — genuine martyrs for freedom — have been shot dead, and somewhere between three and four thousand arrested, among them some who worked for the rival candidates in the election or who were prominent supporters of theirs. Publications have been closed. The various militias are entering houses and hauling people away simply for standing on their rooftops at night and shouting in time-honored Muslim style that God is Great. Repression has settled on Tehran and other major cities, as the population discovers how vindictive its rulers are going to be.

Khamenei and his regime are in a bind, however. They have discovered that they are not just unpopular but held in open contempt by millions of those for whom they claim to be providing a perfect Islamic republic that is destined one day to command the whole world. Already a range of dignitaries, including more than half the members of the parliament, have refused to attend celebrations for Ahmadinejad, and there are many reports of meetings behind closed doors. For the regime to resort to strong-arm methods in such circumstances is to alienate those it must enlist in its purposes.

And how are the clerics to explain away the insurrection and reclaim legitimacy? Conspiracy theory has to serve. Foreigners are to blame, their politicians and their media. Iranians on the staff of the British embassy are among those harassed and arrested. The fact is that the chief role played by foreigners has been to facilitate the crackdown. A joint venture of the German giant Siemens and Nokia, the Finnish cellphone company, sold the regime the technology to monitor and block online communications indispensable to the insurrection.

Another unpleasant fact is that at a time when demonstrators in Iran needed support, President Obama spoke only in generalities. Outrage over the Iranian regime’s actions came to him slow and late. He appears to believe that negotiations with Tehran have primacy over the defense of freedom and democracy. At the moment it must be said that the insurrection seems more promising — more realistic in its premises — than the negotiations.

 

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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Politics & Policy

Dependence Day

Health care is a game-changer. The permanent game-changer. The pendulum will swing, and one day, despite their best efforts, the Republicans will return to power, and, in the right circumstances, ...

Books, Arts & Manners

City Desk

Skull Season

The English cartoonist James Gillray drew a famous panel titled “The Gout.” The wordless image showed a naked human foot, bitten by a tiny demon. How would he illustrate “Headache”? ...
Politics & Policy

Story Morals

On January 20, 2002, Leon Kass, chairman of the newly appointed President’s Council on Bioethics, opened the Council’s first session with a discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1843 short story “The ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

Democracy Drifting Away I read William Voegeli’s review of Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift (“Can We Outlast the Contradictions?” — June 22) with pleasure and genuine interest. His depiction of my book ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Let’s hope he turns out to be a better senator than he was a comedian. ‐ The saga of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his Argentinian mistress displayed two ...
The Bent Pin

Flowering Industry

Warning: The economic crisis has changed my very personality. The bitter pessimist you know and love, who always topped off her half-full whiskey glasses because they were obviously half-empty, is ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

1789 When you deserted your military post, you fled from India as a refugee, then sailed — where else? — to Macao off the coast of China, at the edge of the South China ...
Happy Warrior

Jacksonian Democracy

On Sept. 11, 2001, about an hour after the planes hit the twin towers, Jo Moore, a senior adviser to Britain’s “secretary of state for transport, local government, and the ...

Most Popular

Culture

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More
U.S.

A Defining Statement of Modern Conservatism

The greatest documents in American history never lose their ability to astonish. They deserve, and repay, careful study, and inevitably have contemporary resonances no matter how long ago they were written or uttered. There’s no doubt that Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” belongs in the top ranks ... Read More
White House

The Russian Conspiracy That Won’t Die

The Mueller report accomplished nothing. Whether you thought that the two-year, $32 million investigation was warranted or not, the report promised to establish a factual record that both sides could accept, especially on the explosive charge that Donald Trump had conspired with the Russians to win the ... Read More
Elections

What Do Republican Voters Want?

The latest entry in the post-Trump conservatism sweepstakes was Marco Rubio’s speech at the Catholic University of America in early November. The Florida senator made the case for a “common-good capitalism” that looks on markets in the light of Catholic social thought. “We must remember that our nation ... Read More