‐ So it turns out that Congress literally cannot even manage its own health care.
‐ When Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) voted for Obamacare, he had several excuses, their multiplicity itself a sign of bad conscience. He had gotten a pro-life executive order, and anyway Pelosi had the votes, and the bill was pretty good except for financing abortion. He has now announced that he will not run for reelection, but he says that it is not because his vote rendered him unelectable: He would have beaten any Republican, he says. So he folded instead of fighting? That is habit-forming; so is self-deception.
‐ The Republican National Committee under Michael Steele has been raising a lot of money, but it has been spending it fast, too — and some of it at a raunchy strip club. Steele has sacked the offending spenders, so we’re inclined to leniency on this episode. But then Steele made an unforced error, claiming that his chairmanship and Obama’s presidency are both under heightened scrutiny because he and Obama are black. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs cracked that Steele’s problem is the credit card, not the race card. A nice line, but it’s not quite true: Steele’s real problem is that he does not think before he speaks, which is too often on camera.
‐ Mitt Romney won the presidential straw poll at a large conference of Republicans in Louisiana, but he knows full well that he has a big problem. The party is thoroughly opposed to Obamacare, and increasingly sees Romney’s health-care law in Massachusetts as a state-level version of it. Romney is rushing to the head of the parade of Republicans calling for repeal of Obamacare, but how credibly can he lead it? The answer is that he cannot lead it at all unless he acknowledges that the Massachusetts plan is not working well: Premiums, for one thing, are going up faster than the national average. What Massachusetts demonstrates is that even states with governors who want to build functioning health-care marketplaces cannot do so within the confines of federal health policy. That’s why reform in Washington, D.C., is necessary. Perhaps Romney should say so.
‐ Virginia governor Bob McDonnell declared April 2010 Confederate History Month. Virginia is the cradle of that history — Richmond, Appomattox, Jackson, Lee — and the Confederacy’s drama and its virtues (bravery, honor) should be remembered. But McDonnell inserted, only after others’ objections and his own apology, one salient aspect of Confederate History, slavery. Why mention it? Because the Confederacy did. “The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature. . . . It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent. . . . Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. . . . This stone which was rejected by the first builders ‘is become the chief of the corner’ — the real ‘corner-stone’ — in our new edifice.” Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861.
‐ Marco Rubio has opened a wide lead against Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary. In early April, a Rasmussen survey of likely voters gave him a 29-point edge over his rival, who was once considered unbeatable. Crist remains well funded and appears unwilling to drop out, so his next tactic almost certainly will be a free-spending campaign of negative ads against one of the Republican party’s brightest young conservatives. One line of attack became apparent following a televised debate on March 28, when Rubio spoke forthrightly about the need to reform Social Security, mentioning the possibility of raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living adjustments. If we are to avoid higher taxes, as both Crist and Rubio say they want to do, such steps are necessary. Crist scoffed at them, insisting that he would solve the impending crisis of Social Security by “getting the waste and fraud out.” This assertion is itself fraudulent. Conservatives now have another reason to hope Rubio wins.
Fox’s 24 is winding down. I confess I’ll miss it, even though I was never the diehard fan some of my friends and colleagues are.
Recently, I read somewhere yet another rumination about whether 24 is a right-wing show. No doubt its treatment of torture in particular, and its whatever-it-takes-to-win-the-war mentality in general, was deeply, deeply annoying to a certain breed of humorless liberal. They could forgive Hollywood’s depicting automobile traffic in L.A. or D.C. as no less congested than it is in Norman, Okla., but even hint that poking someone with electrodes might actually be an expedient way of extracting information in a crisis and — boom! — the BushCheneyHitler expletives fly.
But in a certain way 24 is a decidedly left-wing show. Or, to be more fair, it is more conducive to left-wing fantasies than right-wing ones. And, no, I’m not referring to the way 24 bought into the corporate-fascist-military-industrial complex bugaboo. At some point, the writers had to stop making all of the terrorists Muslims, just to mix it up a bit. And it was just too much to ask them to figure out how to make rogue elements of Greenpeace the bad guys. Blackwater was much easier to adapt to the small screen.
But it is the myth of a super-competent, nimble, and savvy government that statists should really find reassuring. It seems whenever Jack Bauer runs into a problem, he can call the relevant government bureaucrat and demand a solution in a manner of minutes, if not seconds. There’s no “You have reached the offices of the Counterterrorism Unit. None of our customer-service operatives are available right now . . .” There’s no “Press 1 for English; press 2 for Spanish,” either. Need the video feed from the corner 7-11 patched into the facial-recognition software? No problem, just give me a second.
Of course, this lickety-split efficiency is in other contexts the centerpiece of left-wing paranoia. In The Bourne Supremacy, a journalist — for the Guardian, of course — says the word “Blackbriar” into his cellphone, and because that’s the name of a CIA black-op, whole squads of assassins are dispatched within seconds.
Now, government agencies with a military culture and patriotic ethos are going to be comparatively efficient, particularly in a ticking-time-bomb situation. But it is a hallmark of the conservative critique of government that any agency, even the vaunted CTU, will never be efficient and competent enough. Simply depicting such omnicompetence is inimical to democracy and self-government, for the reason that it breeds the assumption that the State could solve all our problems if only we allowed it to. And to depict any sphere of government work unrelated to national security in 24 style would be self-evidently ludicrous.
Scene: Department of Agriculture agent Jack Bauer discovers that Vermont dairy farmers are violating the Dairy Indemnity Program’s compliance rules. “Chloe! I need you to patch in to the State’s skim-milk-quota database and find out what this guy reported in 2007. Then I want you to use a back door at his Farmers Credit Union and see who he’s been writing checks to . . .”
#page#‐ Rand Paul, Ron’s son, is the leading candidate in the Republican primary for senator from Kentucky. He is running, as you would expect, on a libertarian/populist platform. His opponent, Trey Grayson, is making the case against libertarianism in foreign policy. Paul once took the view that we should close Guantanamo and send the detainees back to Afghanistan; now he is backpedaling. He remains “absolutely” opposed to the Patriot Act and does not believe Iranian nuclear capability threatens our national security. Paul is generally considered the weaker general-election candidate, but that might not matter in Kentucky in a strongly Republican year. Dick Cheney has endorsed Grayson, thus nicely encapsulating the choice before Kentucky Republicans: vote based on their foreign-policy views, or on their frustrations with the party establishment.
‐ Does the Guinness Book of World Records monitor “protesting too much” as a category of human endeavor? If it does, our president established himself as a possible record-holder the other day. Visiting a factory in Charlotte, N.C., the president took the following question from an employee named Doris: “In the economic times that we have now, is it a wise decision to add more taxes to us with the health-care plan? Because we are overtaxed as it is.” The president’s answer began with the observations that “there’s been just a whole lot of misinformation,” and that he would have to work hard to correct “the misapprehensions that people have.” He then continued for more than 17 minutes, ranging over the deficit, CBO reports, foreign aid, earmarks, the FICA tax, and of course the devious malice of insurance companies. By the eight-minute mark, people were yawning. Some had drifted away before the president finished. So . . . will we be paying more in taxes? When the answer is several hundred times longer than the question, that length is itself the answer.
‐ On Capitol Hill, the day before the Obamacare vote, a contingent of black congressmen, including civil-rights hero John Lewis (D., Ga.), made a symbolic walk through the lines of the tea party there assembled in protest. Minutes later, Lewis & Co. were already comparing the ordeal to the march on Selma, telling reporters that they had been insulted with racial slurs “at least 15 times” as they proceeded to the Capitol steps. But though the umpteen would-be Zapruder films capturing different portions of the traversal on cell-phone camera show loud booing and chants of “Kill the bill!” not one captures any evidence of racial bigotry. And none has been forthcoming, despite BigGovernment publisher Andrew Breitbart’s standing offer to donate $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund if anyone can prove the slurs were hurled, and even though Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D., Ill.) can be seen filming the tea partiers, as if he were some sort of anthropologist, throughout the walk. The lack of evidence corroborating the congressmen’s account would seem to leave two possibilities: Either screams of the most loaded epithet in the American vernacular slipped through the cracks of a reality that is increasingly coextensive with YouTube, or sitting members of Congress conspired to fabricate a racial incident to discredit political opponents. As Lewis and others have stopped answering questions, and Jackson refuses to release his tape, we leave it to the reader to decide which is more likely.
‐ Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee and thus a key enabler of Obamacare, defends it on the ground that it will redistribute income to the have-nots. What he neglects to mention — what little of the debate has mentioned — is that the withdrawal of subsidies will raise effective tax rates on millions of low-income Americans, so that working hard and getting raises won’t pay. Liberals love poor people, and love keeping them that way.
#page#‐ Our commitment to sesquipedalia is not so strong that we endorse imposing “Scozzafava,” as a verb, on the lexicon, but if ever a race invited comparison to the special election last year in New York’s 23rd congressional district, it is the special election brewing in Hawaii’s first. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D.) retired in February to run for governor. In the contest for what had been a safely Democratic seat, Republican Charles Djou is tied for the lead, thanks to a split in the blue bloc between former House member Ed Case and state senator Colleen Hanabusa. The election is winner-take-all; there is no primary; there will be no run-off. Djou has said, “Nothing can make a more powerful statement than to send a Republican to represent Barack Obama’s hometown.” Not before November comes around, no. All luck to him.
‐ Paul Volcker says that a VAT — a value-added tax, that is, which is a kind of sales tax — is less controversial than it once was. Its potential to raise money for the federal government at relatively little cost to the economy is getting it respectful attention from both liberals and conservatives. Here it is important to separate two issues. The tax’s economic efficiency comes from the fact that it taxes consumption rather than savings and investment. Its political efficiency comes from the fact that it is a hidden tax on the middle class. It is entirely possible to design a tax system that achieves the first but not the second efficiency. Conservatives ought to insist on it.
‐ After a 15-month battle, Dawn Johnsen, the leftist Indiana law-school professor who compared restrictions on public funding of abortion to slavery, withdrew her nomination to lead the Justice Department’s pivotal Office of Legal Counsel. Though the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination along party lines, Democrats shied from moving it to a floor vote. Having enraged the public by imposing an increasingly unpopular health-care bill, they were loath to back, for a position that demands detached academic discipline, an unabashed radical who rabidly attacked Bush counterterrorism policies and has called for using the law to install “the progressive agenda” of “universal health care, public funding for childcare, paid family leave, and . . . the full range of economic justice issues.” Republicans did not have the votes to stop Johnsen. Instead, they effectively exposed her record and the nomination thus collapsed of its own weight. There’s a lesson here.
‐ That lesson ought to be applied to President Obama’s nomination of Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court. Liu is the most radical Obama nominee to date. His agenda is the so-called second Bill of Rights: mandatory wealth redistribution to guarantee a broad range of social welfare, including education, shelter, subsistence, and health care. (As Ed Whelan recounted on NRO, Liu has denounced “free enterprise,” “private ownership of property,” and “limited government” as “code words for an ideological agenda hostile to environmental, workplace, and consumer protections.”) He would also impose same-sex marriage, racial quotas in education, and reparations for slavery. At 39 and with less than twelve years of legal experience under his belt, Liu is green. His demagoguery in opposing the Supreme Court nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito was unseemly. And worse, he is dishonest, withholding from the Judiciary Committee scores of his most incendiary statements. His nomination should be defeated.
#page#‐ It’s not that we’re opposed to Obama’s executive order allowing some limited oil exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf. It’s just that we’re a little . . . suspicious. Obama’s energy policies until now have had one unifying theme: artificially higher prices for fossil fuels. After President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling in 2008, one of Obama’s first acts as president was to reinstate it. He proceeded to throw his weight behind a cap-and-trade system that, as he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “would necessarily” cause electricity rates to “skyrocket.” His EPA administrator cleared the way for the agency to restrict the use of fossil fuels, which it intends to do. And the president himself flew to an international climate summit in Copenhagen to lobby for a last-minute accord on global emissions caps. The president’s proposal is acceptable — as it stands. But it is not robust enough to be counted as an acceptable tradeoff for the kind of destructive energy rationing that has been a hallmark of his agenda so far. If it is a prelude to carbon caps of the kind Obama has advocated, or to unilateral energy regulation by Obama’s EPA, then our suspicions will have been confirmed.
‐ Did you hear the one about the Arab diplomat? Mohammed al-Madadi, third secretary of the Qatari embassy in Washington, took a smoke in the bathroom of a Denver-bound flight, then said when caught that he had been trying to light his shoe. Jets scrambled, the president was notified. Al-Madadi was on official business visiting a terrorist — a Qatari national in prison for being a 9/11 sleeper. But he is no terrorist himself: just, it seems, a card. He must kill them on open-mike night back home, if Qatar had any open mikes. Better: He could entertain travelers taking off their shoes in the security line at Reagan and LaGuardia. I know you’re out there, I can hear you hopping . . .
‐ David Cameron’s Conservatives enter the British general election as firm but not overwhelming favorites. Pundits are convinced (the polls less so) that they will either win outright or emerge as the largest single party. Cameroons have an explanation for their prospective victory that some American conservatives have adopted: Cameron “detoxified” his “nasty party” by embracing green politics, gay equality, and progressive policies. Conservatives who do the same can win world-wide. They hastily add that traditionalists need not despair, since Cameron is one of them and wants the “Big Society” to replace “Big Government.” Okay, Cameron’s big ideas might be a comfort if this voluntarist Big Society were fostered by lower taxes, charitable deductions, independent intermediary bodies, etc. But here is Tory Tocqueville-ism: “Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighborhood group. . . .We will use Cabinet Office budgets to fund the training of independent community organizers . . . launch an annual Big Society Day . . . [and] develop a measure of well-being that encapsulates the social value of state action.” This is either an impractical fantasy (no one will volunteer) or a sinister one (the government will force volunteerism). One might harbor other anxieties about the Tory program: Where are the spending cuts needed to restore Britain’s fiscal stability? But maybe it’s a mistake to focus on the Tories and the Cameroon “narrative” as drivers of events. Tim Montgomerie (who writes about the election on page 28) has explained, in a loyal but qualified argument, that the Tories have risen in the polls when they have advanced tax cuts. Otherwise they languish at around 37–39 percent in the polls. They might win only because the Labour government is lower down still. Give credit where it’s due: If the Tories are elected on May 6, the man responsible will be Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
#page#‐ It is hard to grasp the hecatomb Poland suffered when the plane of Pres. Lech Kaczynski crashed trying to land in fog in Smolensk, Russia. Kaczynski and dozens of Polish officials and dignitaries perished. The loss was compounded by irony: The victims were on their way to commemorate the Katyn Forest Massacre of 1940, when the Soviets murdered 20,000 Polish officers and professionals. The Soviets blamed the deed on the Nazis until 1990, and have not formally apologized even now. Vladimir Putin attended a commemoration of Katyn Forest three days before Kaczynski was to have arrived and spoke respectful words, though he also muddied the waters, saying it would be “a lie . . . to place the blame for these crimes on the Russian people.” Who blames the Russian people? History blames Stalin. Poland, a nation of liberty and law, can survive its tragedies. Is your legacy so secure, Mr. Putin?
‐ Sometimes you go to war with the ally you have. Hamid Karzai is the worst possible president of Afghanistan — except, in all likelihood, for the alternatives. To try to force him out would risk a reprise of the leadership meltdown experienced by Vietnam in the wake of the U.S.-supported coup against Diem (Ho Chi Minh’s reputed reaction at the time: “I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid”). Karzai is weak and his government is corrupt, but he governs in nearly impossible circumstances. We should coax him to improve — coax, not bully and berate. The Obama administration finally seems to understand this after its heavy-handedness repeatedly provoked the Afghan president. If Obama wants advice on how to bring along a balky, flawed, but indispensable ally, he could do worse than turn to George W. Bush, who during the course of two wars became quite adept at it.
‐ The purpose of diplomacy has always been conceived as bolstering your allies, and taking whatever measures are appropriate to persuade your enemies that they have an interest in becoming your friends. The current White House takes a different view. The bolstering of current enemies such as Iran, Syria, or Venezuela, has got observers everywhere puzzling in amazement about American intentions. As for the relationship with Israel, this is a reversal of alliances that seems to be part of a pattern of kicking friends to no good purpose. Britain has been told that its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is now under question and that its handling of Helmand Province in Afghanistan has been as bad as its handling of Basra in Iraq; a breathless Prime Minister Brown was able to catch up with Obama only in a chase through the kitchens of the U.N. building. Benjamin Netanyahu can barely secure an audience before The One. A late-night telephone call to Poland and the Czech Republic informed them that the missile shield they had agreed to in the face of Russian objection was off. Another last-minute call was enough to cancel attendance at a European Union summit. All the European leaders are feeling cut out. Nicolas Sarkozy wants an America “that listens.” There have been trade disputes with Canada and Mexico. India is said to be rethinking its approach. Yes We Can Alienate Everybody.
‐ Eventually, President Obama will get a new round of sanctions against Iran in the United Nations. But the fourth time won’t be the charm. The sanctions will be watered down to the point of meaninglessness at the behest of China and Russia, whom the Obama administration has spent more than a year wooing to get on board. A more serious effort afoot in Congress would cut off gas exports to Iran, but Tehran has had time to react to this vulnerability and start to beef up its domestic refining capacity. In a taunt that had too much of the ring of truth about it, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, addressing Obama directly: “[American officials] bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.” Absent a revolution in Iran, there are only two ways for this to end: with a nuclear Iran, or an Israeli or American military strike.
#page#‐ President Obama has reportedly authorized the use of lethal force against Anwar al-Awlaki, a jihadist cleric who ministered to some of the 9/11 hijackers in the U.S. and has since relocated to Yemen, where he is reputed to be an al-Qaeda recruiter. He apparently provided direction to Maj. Nidal Hasan, perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, and to would-be Christmas bomber Umar Abdulmutallab. Obama’s move stirred controversy because Awlaki is an American citizen. On that score, however, the president was following precedents that trace to the Civil War and FDR’s handling of Nazi saboteurs during World War II — precedents reaffirmed in the 2004 Hamdi case, where the Supreme Court upheld the detention of an American citizen as an enemy combatant. Presidents can of course abuse war powers, but that is an argument for choosing presidents carefully rather than eschewing those powers.
‐ The administration may purge such terms as “Islamic extremism” from the document that outlines U.S. national-security strategy. The wish not to offend Muslims has already given us such notorious neologisms as “man-caused disasters” and “overseas contingency operations” to describe jihadist atrocities and the War on Terror. To be fair, it was not Obama who launched this descent into farce. The Bush administration, which branded Islam the “religion of peace” even as the dead of 9/11 were being retrieved, was the first to erase the terms “jihad,” “mujahideen,” and “Islamofascism” from the government’s lexicon. The linguistic silliness is not without consequence. By bleaching out the Islamist rationale for Islamist terror, we consign ourselves to failing the first requirement of self-defense: Know thine enemy.
‐ Amnesty International was founded in 1961 to work for the freedom of political prisoners. Over the years, it has expanded its activities to oppose capital punishment, torture, and detention without trial. Recently, however, AI has latched onto Moazzam Begg, a hard-core Taliban jihadist who peddles cockamamie tales of being tortured at Guantanamo. That decision was too much for one AI officer, who protested the incongruity of embracing as a human-rights defender a man who committed violent acts of terror in support of an ideology that subjugates millions of women. In return, she was suspended. AI’s secretary general, Claudio Cordone, explained that “jihad in self defence” is not “antithetical to human rights,” and that in any case, Begg is innocent until proven guilty (a principle Cordone does not apply to the U.S. military). While AI’s condemnations have often been questionable, it was always scrupulous about playing no favorites among the regimes it called oppressive. Now the organization seems to feel that some human-rights violators are more equal than others.
‐ Gao Zhisheng is a human-rights lawyer and one of the greatest men in all of China. He has defended such abused and defenseless people as Falun Gong practitioners. And he himself has been abused, tortured at length and in unspeakable ways. In February 2009, the authorities “disappeared” him. It was unknown whether he was alive or dead. This March, they resurfaced him, and he had obviously been through yet more hell. Reserved and wan, he announced in an interview that he was through with dissidence. They had broken him. “I don’t have the capacity to persevere,” he said. He wanted a more normal life with his wife and children. “Everybody will be disappointed” in his withdrawal from the field, he said. “Some people were really involved, concerned, supportive, making appeals. So when they read my words they will definitely feel disappointed. To them, I apologize. I’m extremely sorry.” He has nothing to be sorry about. But the Chinese government and its apologists in free countries do.
#page#‐ In March, the Palestinian Authority named a town square after Dalal Mughrabi, the terrorist who led the “Coastal Road Massacre”: Thirty-eight people were killed, including 13 children. Now the PA is planning to build its presidential compound on a street named for Yihyeh Ayyash, the suicide-bombing maestro known as “The Engineer.” Scores of innocents were killed in the attacks he planned. And to think, some Israelis question the PA’s willingness to live in peace, side by side.
‐ Wherever they go in the world, Israeli athletes and performers are harassed, or threatened with harassment. Earlier this year, a female Israeli tennis player was screamed at by demonstrators throughout a match in New Zealand. (She won the match anyway.) At Carnegie Hall, the only time there is security screening is when the Israel Philharmonic plays. Just the other week, a concert of the Jerusalem Quartet at Wigmore Hall, London, was repeatedly interrupted by demonstrators. They staggered their interruptions, so that the concert could never resume or proceed with security. “The Wigmore,” as Londoners know it, is a famous temple of music, a kind of sanctuary. But when Israelis are on the stage, things are much different. The goal of the anti-Israelis is to make the Jewish state a pariah, like apartheid South Africa. A civilized society would instead exclude the demonstrators.
‐ The TV show has a familiar format: broad stage, studio audience, colored lights, giant video screens, panel of judges. Contestants come out one by one to perform. This is the Arab world’s version of American Idol, broadcast from Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf. Instead of singing or dancing, though, the Arab contestants recite poetry of their own composition using traditional verse forms. There is also a segment in which they are required to improvise to a theme. The show, titled Million’s Poet, is very popular, its viewing audience around 70 million. Most contestants are men, but this year’s contest featured poetess Hissa Hilal, a Saudi lady in full black burqa, whose verses struck out indignantly at radical Islamic clerics: “Evil flares from the eyes / of the treacherous fatwas . . . he bellows froth / from his pulpit of power . . .” Mrs. Hilal was placed first by the five-judge panel, but lost ground with the audience, whose vote is also factored in, and ended up in third place. She has of course received death threats. Given that only her eyes were visible from inside the burqa, though, it may be hard for assassins to locate her.
‐ According to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate among U.S. teenagers aged 15–19 fell by 2 percent between 2007 and 2008, after increasing by 5 percent from 2005 to 2007. While this development has made headlines, the drop in teen birth rates is an old story, having begun in the early 1990s. The more important — and deeply troubling — news is that America’s nonmarital-birth ratio continues to rise. The proportion of all births occurring outside marriage reached a record high of 40.6 percent in 2008, up from 39.7 percent in 2007, 34 percent in 2002, 28 percent in 1990, and 18.4 percent in 1980. The ratio in 2008 was a mind-boggling 72.3 percent among non-Hispanic blacks, 28.6 percent among non-Hispanic whites, and 52.5 percent among Hispanics. We concur with Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, who wrote on our website that nonmarital childbearing in contemporary America represents “an overwhelming catastrophe for taxpayers and society.” The teen-birth trend is a distraction from that catastrophe.
‐ Say what you will about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Opportunity NYC–Family Rewards program, it got one thing right: In America, most poverty is caused by behavior, not by “structural” barriers and discrimination. Unfortunately, it turns out that Bloomberg’s remedy — simply pay poor adults to do things like work and attend parent-teacher conferences, and pay poor children to get good grades — doesn’t work. The official report on the program found that even after paying each family an average of more than $6,000 over two years, Opportunity NYC had had almost no effect on behavior. Fortunately, the city is doing the sensible thing and ending the program. If only all social engineers started with small steps, evaluated the results carefully, and stopped pursuing ideas that didn’t work.
#page#‐ It’s not often that we express sympathy for Obama, but anyone who has ever tried to throw strikes in a company softball game must have smiled ruefully at the president’s egregiously high-and-outside first pitch before the Nationals’ home opener. When William Howard Taft started this tradition a century ago, the president merely tossed a ball from the stands, but today he is expected to don a warmup jacket, take the mound, toe the rubber, and then submit to being roundly mocked when his control does not live up to major-league standards. Unfair though that may be, in the end it’s probably good, and characteristically American; even the president deserves to get knocked down a peg now and then. We only wish Obama’s manifest inexperience in other areas could be laughed off so easily.
‐ We have been hearing for some time — about a century — that we shall soon have robots to take over low-level manual tasks, leaving the human population free to write sonnets, compose symphonies, or paint in oils. Perhaps there is something to it: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have just demonstrated a robot that can fold towels. There’s some way to go yet, though, before all drudgery is purged from our lives: The mechanical marvel takes an average of 25 minutes to fold one towel.
‐ Jaime Escalante was the ultimate hero teacher. At Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, he taught calculus to poor Mexican Americans and achieved astonishing results: Scores of his students, written off by other educators, passed Advanced Placement exams. They were so successful that test administrators wrongly accused them of cheating. The Bolivian-born Escalante became the subject of Stand and Deliver, an inspirational film starring Edward James Olmos. Hollywood did not make a sequel, which is unfortunate — because what happened next is instructive. Escalante clashed with education-blob bureaucrats who resented his success. The teachers’ union cracked its whip because Escalante had violated a contract rule that restricted classes to 35 students — a rule that Escalante did not want to break, except when it meant putting his students in classrooms with teachers he considered inadequate. The frustration eventually overwhelmed him. Escalante left Garfield, and the program he had spent years to build, and moved to Sacramento, where he tried to replicate his earlier success with mixed results. He generated further controversy for his outspoken opposition to bilingual education. Dead at 79. R.I.P.
‐ Abel Muzorewa, son of Christian farmers, became bishop of the United Methodist Church of Rhodesia after years of itinerant preaching, and schooling in the American Midwest. To his clerical duties he joined a political struggle for black power in the white-ruled country. In 1978 he and other black leaders made a deal with the white government for elections, which he won, becoming prime minister of the rechristened Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Leftist guerrillas still in the bush, chiefly Robert Mugabe, kept fighting, however, until Britain, the former colonial power, brokered new elections, which gave power to Mugabe. He holds it still. The taint of having been a sellout still clings to Muzorewa in his obituaries, suggesting that 30 years of poverty and oppression at Mugabe’s hands has not encouraged liberals to reexamine their old prejudices. Dead at 85, Muzorewa passes to a better world than the one his wretched countrymen inhabit.
‐ Anatoly Dobrynin was the “dean of the Washington diplomatic corps,” in the popular phrase. He was ambassador from the Soviet Union from 1962 to 1986. He was the kind always described as “suave and affable,” which he surely was. Kissinger had very warm things to say about him; Brzezinski liked to play chess with him — literal chess, in addition to the geostrategic kind. Everyone loved good old Anatoly. But he was a true-believing Communist and Soviet. He was a faithful servant of a wicked and world-devouring regime, now dead. So is Dobrynin, at 90. R.I.P.
Arms-control afficionados have cause to party like it’s 1979.
President Obama released a new Nuclear Posture Review that, bizarrely, says the United States will not retaliate with nuclear weapons against a country that launches a biological or chemical attack against us, so long as that country is in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He convened an extraordinary gathering of 47 foreign leaders for a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington; it accomplished little, but with much ado. And he flew to Prague to sign a new START treaty redolent of the Cold War.
The U.S. and the Russians agreed to cut their arsenals of deployed strategic warheads to 1,550. This is advertised as a 30 percent cut, although the limit is only 150 warheads beneath 1,700, the lowest bound of the 2002 Bush-Putin Treaty of Moscow. As a practical matter, the Russians won’t have to cut at all. The decrepitude of their force, coupled with economic constraints, means that they cannot stay at current levels, new START treaty or no.
By the standards of traditional arms-control doctrine, the treaty is sorely lacking. For decades, the experts have warned of the destabilizing effects of so-called MIRV-ing, putting multiple warheads on a launcher. The treaty will encourage this practice through its “counting rules”: Each launcher counts as only one warhead, no matter how many warheads are actually on it. This rule happens to suit Moscow’s needs precisely as it seeks to economize.
And it’s a strange arms-control treaty that makes it theoretically possible for both sides to go up in deployed warheads, but that’s what the rule accomplishes. (There is of course no danger that the Obama administration will take advantage of this loophole.)
More important, the new treaty weakens the verification procedures that existed in the prior START treaty. Under the new agreement, as John R. Bolton writes elsewhere in this issue, we will “lose important START requirements for on-site inspections, telemetry exchanges, and production monitoring.”
Worst of all, the treaty will constitute a limit on our missile defenses. The provision specifically about missile defense is in Article V; it forbids the conversion of intercontinental-ballistic-missile launchers for use in missile defense. As Keith Payne of Missouri State University points out, this would be a harmful stricture if, in a crisis, we needed quickly to use Minuteman missile silos to launch interceptors.
In addition, the treaty’s preamble notes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms” that will “become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced.” The Russians interpret this language as a check on missile defense. Prior to the signing of the treaty, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that “linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding.” Russian president Dmitry Medvedev says Russia might withdraw from the treaty if our defenses create “an imbalance.”
Psychologically, the Russians want to leverage the agreement into a new de facto Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Given how invested the Obama administration is in the new treaty, this extortion will surely work.
Obama’s overarching theory is that U.S. nukes are what cause countries like Iran to pursue their own nuclear weapons. So we engage in exemplary acts of limiting ourselves and our arsenal, in the forlorn hope of winning the good will of rogue states that have every reason to go nuclear, whatever our posture.
The new START treaty is a crystallization of this mistaken premise. It has no upside for the United States, is shot through with flaws, and worsens our position on missile defense. The U.S. Senate should reject it.
Replacing Justice Stevens
We already miss Justice John Paul Stevens — the Justice Stevens of the 1970s, that is: the Stevens whose opinion on why racial preferences in college admissions violate the Civil Rights Act has never been refuted, the Stevens who was skeptical of judicial micromanagement of local law enforcement. That Justice Stevens retired a long time ago, replaced by a down-the-line liberal activist, one whose flippant abortion rulings went nine-tenths of the way toward justifying a right to infanticide.
We know that President Obama will nominate a replacement who is also committed to imposing liberal policy outcomes over the objections of legislatures and without constitutional warrant. We know because Obama told us so, pledging during the campaign to nominate only justices who would support constitutionalized abortion. A justice willing to ignore the text, history, structure, and logic of the Constitution on abortion in order to get a nomination cannot be trusted on other issues.
No doubt some Republicans will say that it is unimportant to fight the nominee because Obama will merely be replacing one liberal with another rather than changing the balance of the Court. But the broader choice before any Republican senator is whether to acquiesce to several more decades of liberal activism on the bench. Unless Obama provides evidence of having dropped his litmus tests, the question for conservatives will be not whether but how to oppose his nominee.
It is highly unlikely that Republicans will be able to deny that nominee an up-or-down vote, and any attempt to do so will probably backfire. But Republicans are nonetheless in a position of strength. Even last year — well before the midterm elections, with Obama more popular than he is today; and dealing with the first Latina nominee — Republicans were able to force the debate over Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to take place along conservative lines. This year, they should again make the case against judicial liberalism, both in principle and in practice — and then vote accordingly.