Magazine February 25, 2013, Issue

The Week

‐ Chinese hackers penetrated the New York Times system. Maybe they wanted to be Tom Friedman for a day.

‐ Who is that, clinging to his shotgun? It looks like President Obama, acoustic earmuffs in place, squeezing off a shot. The White House released the photo of Obama on the range at Camp David after he told The New Republic that he shoots skeet there “all the time.” Oh come on. This is the first time in Obama’s two-memoir life that he, or anyone else, has ever mentioned his shooting. Obama compounded the phoniness of his attempt to mollify supporters of gun rights by adding that he has “a profound respect for the traditions of hunting.” At least until 2017.

‐ Someone leaked a “white paper” offering the administration’s legal justification for targeted assassinations of such American citizens as al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen. The guidelines push the envelope of executive war powers beyond the Bush markers that had supposedly shredded the Bill of Rights. Abundant precedent supports the proposition that Americans who join with a foreign enemy in wartime may be treated as enemy combatants — which includes being targeted by lethal force. While Bush merely reaffirmed these law-of-war principles, Obama extends them by Orwellian redefinitions of “imminent” threat and the “infeasibility” of capture, licensing assassinations far away from traditional battlefields on the say-so of unspecified “high-level officials.” To paraphrase Richard Nixon: It’s not a crime when this president does it.

‐ On The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden would say “Homina homina homina” when flabbergasted. Chuck Hagel should have said it when he appeared before the Senate for his confirmation hearings for secretary of defense; it would have been better than what he did say. The prospective secretary turned his coat on a host of awkward positions and statements, from the malign powers of the Jewish lobby to the suitability of gays as ambassadors. He characterized the administration’s Iran policy as “containment,” until he was passed a note pointing out that it isn’t; he tangled with John McCain over the surge (the stopped scold is right twice a day). It was not quite as bad as John Tower’s disastrous hearings in 1989, derailed by his history of boozing and boffing, but it was pretty bad. The Democratic majority will carry Hagel home, and the president will have an ideal defense secretary: out of his depth, craving a job after four years of retirement, and beholden to the man who tapped him. 

‐ After a months-long wait that featured scheduling challenges, investigative delays, ministerial concussions, and the small matter of a presidential election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally came to Congress to testify about what happened in Benghazi. And what did she have to say? “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?” That was Clinton’s response to a line of questioning about why it took so long for the administration to conclude, as the rest of the world already had, that the September 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi was an act of terrorism, and not of the spontaneous enthusiasms of a Muslim populace stirred to rage by an amateurish and little-noticed YouTube video. Indifference was just one of the poses Secretary Clinton struck. Joining it, at turns, were strained revisionism and professed ignorance. Clinton repeatedly emphasized that the administration had early on referred to “acts of terror” in the same breath as Benghazi, while hedging that she “wasn’t involved in the talking-points process” that nevertheless continued to arm Susan Rice and others with bogus dodges for weeks after the fact. This tedious waltz between culpability and blamelessness permeated the entire affair. Mrs. Clinton said she is ultimately responsible for Libya but that none of the particular failures manifested there were her fault. She claimed that heads have rolled at the State Department, but the three individuals who were removed from their posts remain on paid administrative leave. She assured Congress that the State Department was acting on umpteen recommendations of a review board, but maintained, broadly, that the system worked. The spectacle left the American people no better informed about September 11, 2012, than they had been in the weeks immediately following it. When one congressman asked Clinton, in amazement, why she was not interviewed by the independent board in its review of the attack and the department’s response to it, the secretary suggested it was because the board did not find her “relevant” to the investigation and thought she “did not have information that could help” it. Judging by her performance before Congress, it sounds as if the board was right.

#page#‐ American Crossroads, a Republican group associated with Karl Rove, announced that it would start intervening in Senate primaries to prevent unelectable candidates such as Todd Akin from winning nominations. Many conservatives assailed the group, claiming that it is trying to sideline tea-partiers. (Its leaders protest that they have spent a lot of money trying to get some tea-party favorites elected.) It is not clear how much good the organization can do in primaries. Akin himself narrowly won a three-way primary: Would the group really have been able to unite his opponents behind one of the other candidates? Akin’s spectacular self-demolition has also distracted Republicans from the fact that plenty of Senate candidates without his notorious debilities lost. George Allen, Tommy Thompson, Denny Rehberg, and many other defeated candidates could not be said to have been foisted on the party by tea-partiers or social conservatives. The flap over the American Crossroads plan has gotten the party’s factions doing what they seem to like doing best: blaming one another for the party’s failures, and refusing to acknowledge that there is more than enough blame to go around.

‐ Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes explained why President Obama keeps granting interviews to the show: “I think he knows that we’re not going to play gotcha with him, that we’re not going to go out of our way to make him look bad or stupid, and we’ll let him answer the questions.” As the New York Post pointed out, 60 Minutes brandished phony documents concerning George W. Bush’s military service. 60 Minutes asked Mitt Romney whether he and his wife, who was sitting next to him, had had sex before marriage. Kroft is surely correct, though, that the ground rules are clear to everyone.

‐ Democrats and Republicans in the Senate reached a deal on the filibuster. The minority party — for now, the Republicans — will get to offer two amendments to every bill. In return, the length of debate on some nominations will be shortened. A majority with more control over the calendar will be able to push more things through. Democrats refrained, however, from setting the precedent that a simple majority could alter the Senate rules. Deals such as this one can be made only when there is uncertainty about what would happen in their absence. (Would Democrats have held together for a bigger reduction in minority power?) But the guarantee of amendments is a step forward for Republicans in Harry Reid’s Senate. Time to make the most of that new power, both to improve bills and to expose their flaws.

‐ A team of sociologists at the City University of New York published a study on participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City. Among the findings: More than a third of respondents had household incomes of $100,000 or more, placing them at the cusp of the top quintile of income distribution in America. Seventy-six percent of those who were not currently students held at least a bachelor’s degree, and more than a quarter of graduates went to top-ranked schools. Overall, almost three-quarters of respondents were employed in professional occupations. The protests were led by a core group of experienced activists who were “disproportionately white and male,” according to the report. “Many were the children of the elite, if you will,” one of its authors told the New York Post. Not quite disadvantaged, then; just badly educated.

‐ The FBI has raided the offices of Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon who is a longtime friend and backer of Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.). Menendez sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he lobbied the State and Commerce departments to pressure the Dominican Republic to honor a half-a-billion-dollar contract with a port-security company that Melgen controls. Was there any quid for this quo? Melgen has donated big-time to Menendez’s campaigns, and flown him to the DR for R&R (Menendez belatedly reported and paid for two trips; there are allegations that the trips involved underage prostitutes). New Jersey is a funky state, morally: better than Illinois, but worse than Louisiana. It will take a lot to sink Robert Menendez.

‐ In January 2012, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would require almost all employers to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization, and some abortion drugs. After being criticized, it announced that it would issue further rules to accommodate religious organizations that object to this mandate. These rules, it said, would make insurers rather than employers cover the cost of this coverage. A year and an election later, the administration is sticking to this logical absurdity. And really, why should anyone have expected any step in the direction of liberty? The press largely accepted the Democrats’ conceit that resistance to the rule amounted to a war on contraception and women, the Democrats won, and this issue is widely believed to have helped them. Conservatives cannot drop the matter without abandoning religious liberty and the rule of law. (The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has to trump the administration’s regulatory dictates, as some courts have rightly ruled.) Anyone with eyes to see should now understand, at least, that social liberalism is at best only incidentally related to freedom.

#page#America Needs Workers

The output of an economy can surge only if the key factors of production — capital and labor — surge, or if firms combine inputs in a more productive way. For most economies, labor input accounts for about twice as big a factor in output as capital input does, so growth of the labor force, accordingly, is the most important driver of supply-side growth. A rule of thumb often relied upon by economists is that a 1 percent increase in the labor force produces about half a percentage point of extra output growth.

With their fertility levels declining, developed nations have increasingly relied upon immigration policies that recruit highly productive workers to augment the growth of the labor force. In this regard, the U.S. has fallen far behind its trading partners.

To illustrate how U.S. immigration compares with immigration to other developed countries, the nearby chart displays the number of immigrants admitted legally in 2010 in the 20 wealthiest OECD member states (measured by their per capita GDP that year) as a proportion of their populations.

Perhaps surprisingly for a country that has long thought of itself as a nation of immigrants, the U.S. falls far behind almost all the other countries in the number of immigrants it admitted in 2010 relative to its population size. To put our position in stark contrast, the chart includes the estimated number of undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2010 (the yellow bar). Even when they are included, total immigration to the U.S., legal plus illegal, is still lower as a share of population than legal immigration is in all but four of the other countries.

Ratio of New Immigrants to Population, 2010. Source: OECD And Pew Hispanic Center

To be fair, 2010 was a year of comparatively low illegal immigration, but even at its peak of 850,000, in 2002, the proportion of the U.S. population composed of new immigrants was smaller than that of all but five of the other countries in 2010. (Consider as well that EU countries, which make up most of the rest of the sample, allow citizens to move freely between member states. The sources of their immigration might nonetheless surprise: Of the 459,000 immigrants who entered the U.K. in 2010, for example, only 156,000 were EU citizens.)

In addition to being comparatively restrictive, our immigration system prioritizes immigrants with family ties to U.S. citizens and residents over people wishing to enter for employment. Of the roughly 1 million immigrants admitted in 2010, just under 150,000 were admitted for employment. Almost 700,000 others were relatives of citizens or residents.

Because the number of employer-sponsored visas is limited, many qualified foreigners wishing to work in the U.S. are unable to do so. Australia, which has one of the highest rates of immigration by skilled workers, recently enacted a policy of allowing all foreign graduates of Australian universities to stay and work for two to four years following their graduation. It also increased the number of visas issued to foreign workers, with a large share of them going to highly skilled applicants.

With lackluster GDP growth threatening to become our new normal, allowing more immigrants to enter for the sake of employment is one of the few policies that might restore our old normal. If the U.S. doubled its total immigration and prioritized bringing in new workers, it could add more than half a percentage point a year to expected GDP growth. That is not the only relevant policy consideration, but it should be weighed carefully as Congress considers immigration reform.

‐ Ohio governor John Kasich has joined Jan Brewer and Susana Martinez on the dishonor roll of Republican state executives who are knuckling under to the Obama administration by backing the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Like the others, he has been lured by the false promise of “free money,” as though Ohio taxpayers were not also federal taxpayers on the hook for the deficit-expanding health-care entitlements. This is particularly disheartening in that the Medicaid expansion is not like the usual pork scramble in which governors, on the theory that they are looking out for the best economic interests of their taxpayers, attempt to maximize their state’s income from programs they may or may not support in principle. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government may not coerce the states into participating in the Medicaid expansion, meaning that if enough of them resist, they will significantly hinder implementation of the ACA. Ohio’s taxpayers may feel better off in the short term with more Medicaid funding, but in the long term they’ll be poorer for it — and so will the rest of us.

‐ The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that President Obama had no authority to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board when the Senate was not, by its own lights, in recess. (The Republican House refused to allow a recess precisely in order to prevent Obama from naming appointees to get around the possibility of a filibuster by Republican senators.) The ruling was impeccably originalist, holding that the recess-appointments clause was intended to allow appointments only in cases where vacancies arose between congressional sessions — not in cases where the president wants to fill a vacancy that happens to persist through a short congressional break. This original understanding of the clause has not been honored for decades, though, and the court did not need to press the point to reach its decision. The Supreme Court, when it takes this case, as it should, may therefore not go as far as the circuit court. Knowing that recent practice is constitutionally suspect should, however, strengthen its resolve not to expand presidential power even further.

Zero Dark Thirty, the film that tells the tale of the tracking and killing of Osama bin Laden, has been dogged with controversy from the beginning. First, when only the film’s basic subject was known, conservatives suggested that Hollywood would turn out a film that doubled as Obama-administration propaganda. Then, when it was revealed that the first act of the movie, about the search for al-Qaeda’s leader, would dare to portray intelligence being gathered from detainees via “enhanced interrogation,” it was liberals who wanted the filmmakers on the rack. Now that the film has been released, audiences have found that its message is ambiguous: We see that enhanced interrogation, which critics call torture, played a role in the search for bin Laden, but it is hard to say how essential it was; other methods were important, too. Former CIA director Leon Panetta has confirmed as much. Yet the critics remain enraged: Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain have demanded that the movie’s makers state that the controversial techniques played no role in finding bin Laden, and that they can never be effective — both things manifestly untrue. Opponents of these techniques would do well to make their case on ethical grounds and avoid making absolutist claims about efficacy, and in any case to try to win at least one liberal victory without Hollywood’s help.

‐ Hurricane Gay is blowing over the Boy Scouts. The national executive board has postponed until May its decision on letting local chapters choose whether to admit gay scouts and scoutmasters. Once made optional, allowing gay scoutmasters will surely become mandatory, not least because troops will no longer be able to tell courts that the Boy Scouts consider the rule important. The controversy is a textbook case in the mechanics of social pressure. Gay activists have deluged the Scouts with petitions; businessmen on the 70-member board — Randall Stephenson of AT&T, James Turley of Ernst & Young — eager to avoid boycotts or complaints from their own human-resources departments take the protests inside. Offstage, President Obama has assured the nation that gay liberation is the same thing as voting rights for women and blacks (Stonewall, Seneca Falls, and Selma, in his alliterative inaugural formula). In the new order, anyone will be free to think ill of the gay lifestyle — in the privacy of his own home, and so long as he doesn’t tell anybody.

#page#‐ There are taboo subjects, and, for Phil Mickelson, taxes are apparently one of them. The golf champion disclosed to the press that he was thinking about moving out of his native California, “because I happen to be in that income zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state.” He had wanted to be part-owner of his beloved San Diego Padres, but decided against it, for tax reasons. Later, Tiger Woods disclosed that he himself had moved out of his native California, for tax reasons — that was in 1996. (He went to Florida.) There was a storm of criticism directed at Phil: Who was this Richie Rich complaining about taxes? Did he have no regard for his fellow man? Where was his patriotism? Actually, Mickelson is tremendously charitable. Stung by the criticism, he issued a statement: “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” He would have been better off talking about his sex life.

‐ In late January, it was announced that the office President Obama established to close the U.S. detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay has been . . . closed. The special envoy appointed to find legal resolutions or new detainment locations for the hundreds of terrorist suspects still held at the U.S. Navy’s base has been reassigned, and the task will now be handled by other legal offices. Many of the detainees who had been released or sent elsewhere have returned to terrorism, and those who remain are even more dangerous or undesirable; Guantanamo, for now, is a necessary evil. In this case, as at other times, we are grateful President Obama has failed to fulfill his campaign promises.

‐ The Environmental Protection Agency, never known for its realism, has really outdone itself with its green-fuel mandates. Last year, it demanded that refiners purchase 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, made from non-edible plant sources. The problem? The U.S. has never, ever, ever produced 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel. The inputs don’t exist because plant waste isn’t grown commercially; the U.S. lacks the infrastructure to convert large amounts of plant waste to fuel; and the piddly 20,069 gallons of cellulosic biofuel produced domestically last year never made it to the market, but were instead exported as a party trick for the Rio Climate Conference. Refiners’ failure to purchase a nonexistent product cost them millions of dollars, and they were understandably peeved. They got some relief in late January, when a federal appeals court ruled the EPA had overstepped its authority by demanding the impossible. The EPA responded by ignoring the court ruling, promptly issuing a 2013 mandate that orders refiners to buy 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel this year. It is fueling its green agenda on fantasy alone. If wishes were cellulosic ethanol, then beggars would ride.

‐ In the last few years, the conceit that traumatized soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for a spike in suicides has nestled into our conventional wisdom. But a new Veterans Administration study says otherwise. The report, released in late January, finds that among veterans and active-duty personnel it is in fact older veterans who are most likely to take their lives. The average age of veterans who commit suicide is around 60, the study concludes, adding that Vietnam veterans and women are particularly at risk. Veterans account for a declining percentage of suicides, as the overall number of suicides increases. Whatever is behind the growing number of Americans who are choosing to end their lives, it does not appear to be the wars of the past decade.

‐ To be or not to be a member of the European Union, that is the question to which the British must find an answer. After days of tension and postponement, Prime Minister David Cameron at last made a speech to clarify the issue. Or not, as the case may be. His preference is to stay in the EU, but for that to happen the EU must reform in matters great and small. Over the next five years, he proposes to negotiate in the hope of obtaining what he wants. Once the British can see where these negotiations have led, they are to hold a referendum: In or out? He doesn’t specify what exactly he will be negotiating about, nor what the consequences are if the countries in the EU refuse to negotiate. On behalf of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel says she’s willing to listen to the British, but the French are not even lukewarm, condemning the speech as breaking the rules of the club. Washington asks Britain to stay in the EU, though why it wants its firmest European ally to submerge its identity in an anti-American supranational organization is inexplicable. Negotiating for five years indeed! A good part of the Conservative party, and the country too, wants Cameron out in five months, even five weeks.

#page#‐ In 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, accused officials in the interior ministry of corruption. Those same officials had him arrested for tax evasion. He was held for almost a year without trial, during which time officials pressured him to recant his accusations. He refused. They tortured him to death. That was in November 2009 — and Moscow has now announced that Magnitsky will be put on trial, posthumously. The Kremlin’s behavior in this entire affair has been completely Soviet.

‐ Saudi mothers may now need to buy baby-size burkas, for sharia-compliant daughters to wear when the religious police come around. Imam Sheikh Abdullah Daoud has called for infant girls to wear full-face veils, which he says will protect them against molestation, though it is not clear how. To be fair, not every Muslim is on board with this; in fact, Daoud may be the Reverend Terry Jones of Islam. Saudi authorities were quick to disavow his directive, pointing out that officially approved fatwas cover only such clear and uncontroversial matters as banning Western movies and Valentine’s Day, or preventing women from driving or dyeing their hair black.

‐ Senator John McCain took to Twitter for a cut-rate riff about Iran’s cut-rate strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who offered himself as a test pilot for that country’s nominal space program. “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space — wasn’t he just there last week?” the senator asked rhetorically, linking to a news item headlined: “Iran launches monkey into space.” The joke irked some, including young Representative Justin Amash (R., Mich.), who is of Syrian and Palestinian descent. Amash told McCain to “wisen up” and called the tweet “racist.” We suppose it wouldn’t be America without the occasional ethnically Arab American criticizing an ethnically Scotch-Irish American for making fun of an ethnically Persian Iranian in a manner sometimes intended to slur African Americans. And for the record, we agree with Congressman Amash. The tweet was offensive: The lower primates deserve better.

Made summer by the glare of media hype.

Here fought I manfully; now my remains

Are brought to light from ’neath a parking lot.

And if the good interrèd with my bones

Be yet redeemed from Tudor calumny,

My shade receiving then strange new respect

It ne’er did win in life, ’tis no surprise:

’Twas ever thus with dead Plantagenets.

Now civil war gives way to MPs’ jests

And Englishmen drive Volvos to the mall

On blood-soaked ground o’er which I reigned, where shops

Sell chicken vindaloo with tea and scones.

Oh, cursed be he who parks upon my bones!

‐ New York City in the mid-Seventies was a grim place: frayed, stinking, unsafe, bankrupt, a fit home for the Son of Sam. Edward Koch’s victory as mayor in 1977 was a breath of fresh air (with a lot of hot air in the mix). Koch, who had already served eight and a half years as a typical liberal congressman, had morphed into something more interesting, an off-and-on critic of liberalism’s excesses. Most of all he was an authentic New Yorker. Churchill said meeting FDR was like opening a bottle of champagne; hearing Koch was like opening a bottle of Dr. Brown’s cream soda. He became the face (and mouth) of Gotham, kvetching, kvelling, and letting everyone know that he and it were in business. After losing his fourth race for mayor in 1989, he stayed in business, as a talking head, movie reviewer, man about town, and idiosyncratic pol. One of his last efforts was to back a Republican for an outer-borough congressional seat when he thought the Obama administration was not being tough enough on Iran. If he did not truly turn New York City around — that was left to Rudy Giuliani, a more effective mayor though a less pleasant personality — he lifted our spirits. Dead at 88. R.I.P.

‐ The Reagan administration was stocked with interesting men, and Max M. Kampelman was one of the most interesting. He was born in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania. He became a pacifist, and was a conscientious objector during World War II. But he did not do nothing: He participated in the starvation experiment at the University of Minnesota, an experiment that proved useful in treating former POWs and concentration-camp survivors. He went from 160 pounds to 100. In later years, he threw off his pacifism and joined the Marine Corps, as a reserve officer. He was a Democrat, a Humphrey adviser — and a hawk. Like many others, he drifted from his party after the nomination of McGovern. He served Reagan as an arms-control negotiator with the Soviet Union. He was chairman of Freedom House. He was a champion of freedom all around: not just someone who liked freedom, but someone who knew what it took to gain it and keep it. Max Kampelman has died at 92. R.I.P.


A Pointless Amnesty

Many Republicans are rushing, out of panic, to embrace a grand bargain on immigration. All of the proposals being advanced — by President Obama, by a bipartisan group in the Senate, and by a bipartisan group in the House — include an amnesty for the dozen million or so illegal immigrants in the country, and inadequate security provisions. Republicans who support these proposals are wrong on both the politics and the policy. Piecemeal reform emphasizing empirical security benchmarks is a far better option.

Whether it is desirable to regularize the status of those illegals already here, and on what terms such a regularization might be offered, are questions that can be answered only when the immigration system is under control. That is a matter of political prudence — the experience of the 1980s amnesty suggests that it is easier to offer an amnesty than to secure the border — but also of context: Reviewing and processing the millions of illegals already here would be a vast administrative task, and we will not know how to go about managing it intelligently until we see what the environment looks like after illegal immigration is under control.

Why an amnesty now? Maybe it is only the polls. John McCain, a principal instigator of the Senate group, has made his motives clear: “Elections, elections — the Republican party is losing the support of Hispanic citizens.” His plan apparently is to develop a bipartisan approach to helping Republicans win elections; perhaps Chuck Schumer imagines other outcomes. Senator McCain has not said why he believes that the interests of Hispanic citizens are to be identified with those of non-citizens, why those interests should trump the interests of citizens (including Hispanic citizens) harmed by the lawlessness of our borders, or why a senator with an established record of supporting amnesty could not muster one in three votes from those Hispanic citizens.

Republican immigration reformers with an eye on political reality should begin by appreciating that Latinos are a Democratic constituency. They did not vote for Mitt Romney. They did not vote for John McCain. They did not vote for George W. Bush in either presidential race. In 1998, George W. Bush was reelected to the governorship of Texas with 27 percent of the black vote — an astonishing number for an unabashed conservative. Bush won 68 percent of the overall vote in that election, carrying 240 out of Texas’s 254 counties. A majority of Hispanics still voted for Democrat Garry Mauro.

If we are to take Hispanics at their word, conservative attitudes toward illegal immigration are a minor reason for their voting preferences. While many are in business for themselves, they express hostile attitudes toward free enterprise in polls. They are disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support. More than half of Hispanic births are out of wedlock. Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies. Low-income households headed by single mothers and dependent upon some form of welfare are not looking for an excuse to join forces with Paul Ryan and Pat Toomey. Given the growing size of the Hispanic vote, it would significantly help Republicans to lose it by margins smaller than those by which they have recently lost it. But the idea that an amnesty is going to put Latinos squarely in the GOP tent is a fantasy.

No immigration reform deserving the name is possible without first enforcing the law at the border and at the workplace. Conveniently for Republicans, doing so is very popular — two out of three voters support building a border fence. Indeed, even Senator McCain has been known to utter the words “Complete the danged fence.” There is no reason, political or substantive, for failing to do so. Securing the border is more popular in the polls than is amnesty, even in the Associated Press poll that carefully omits the word “amnesty.”

Unless we mean to legalize every illegal alien in the country — including violent felons, gang members, cartel henchmen, and the like — there will be of necessity a system for sorting them out. It is difficult to believe that the same government that failed to enforce the law in the first place will be very scrupulous about standards as it deals with the consequences of its own incompetence.

It is for that reason that broader reform measures should wait until credible enforcement mechanisms are in place. Those mechanisms include, at a minimum, a secured border and mandatory and universal use of the E-Verify system, which confirms the legal status of new hires. We agree with Senator Rubio’s view that “we can’t be the only nation in the world that does not enforce its immigration laws. . . . Modernization of the legal-immigration system is impossible unless we first secure the border and implement an E-Verify system.” We very much doubt that Senator Rubio will achieve meaningful border security in cooperation with Senators Schumer, Durbin, Menendez, and Bennet. And the other party in this negotiation, President Obama, is even less likely to place enforcement at the center of his immigration agenda; the president has nominally endorsed the Senate reform principles, but the White House already has signaled that it thinks Rubio’s proposal is too tough.

Rather than getting their heads handed to them in yet another grand bargain, Republicans should push for piecemeal reform through focused, narrow legislation. Senator Rubio’s security measures would be a good place to start. Mandatory and universal use of E-Verify, together with improvements to it, should have been legislated years ago. We should create a technological system for monitoring and preventing visa overstays, the source of 40 percent of our illegal immigration, to say nothing of the 9/11 plotters; Congress has mandated this five separate times in the past 17 years, and it’s still not done. Likewise, Congress passed a law in 2006 mandating that a double-layer border fence be completed; it has not been. Which is to say, the executive branch is no more in compliance with the law than the illegals are themselves. Congress should demand that the fence be completed in accordance with the law. Other reforms, such as making economic skills rather than the reunification of extended families the main criterion for legal immigration, also deserve consideration. But rather than achieve that, both the president’s program and Rubio’s would expand “guest worker” provisions, as though there were an acute shortage of low-skilled labor in the United States.

Senator Rubio argues that a grand bargain is necessary because an enforcement-only bill could not pass the Senate, while an amnesty-only deal would not pass the House. But he is drawing the wrong conclusion from that stalemate: The better course of action is to fight for sensible enforcement provisions right now and let Democrats explain to an anxious electorate why they insist on holding enforcement of the law hostage to an immediate amnesty. And no grand bargain will take immigration off the table as a political issue: Liberals can always argue for weaker enforcement provisions in the future, easier pathways to legal residency and citizenship, and the like.

Senator Rubio, an exemplary conservative leader, is correct that our immigration system is broken. And he is correct that, at some point, we are going to have to do something about the millions of illegal immigrants already here. But he is wrong about how to go about repairing our immigration system, and wrong to think that an amnesty-and-enforcement bill at this time will end up being anything other than the unbuttered side of a half-a-loaf deal. There is no reason to make a bad deal for fear of losing a Latino vote Republicans never had.


AWOL Republicans

Women may be ready for combat, but Republicans aren’t. When the Obama administration announced that it would allow women into combat units, prominent Republicans were quick to say that they supported the policy — generally without any reservations or hints that there might be reasons for concern. A party that fought for decades against allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military is now thoughtlessly accepting a much more problematic change in military-personnel policy.

They are doing so on naïve assumptions. The first is that physical standards will not change, and only those few women who meet ones developed for men will be placed on the front lines. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has already breached that defense: “If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?” Thus were the Armed Forces welcomed to the world of disparate impact that corporate attorneys have come to know so well.

The second mistaken assumption is that only women who volunteer for combat will ever have to engage in it. It has been reasonably well understood until now that any man who joins the military, whatever his reasons for doing so, becomes the military’s to use as it sees fit. There is no reason to think women will be treated any differently by a military that officially denies that average differences between the sexes should have any impact on its treatment of individuals. (Nor will there be any reason to restrict draft registration to men — as we trust the courts will find in short order once this policy takes effect.)

Many women who have volunteered to serve our country in the military do not wish to play a combat role. As people come to see that a woman who joins the military may be effectively signing up for the possibility of combat, the number of female applicants may actually decline. The military bureaucracy will presumably see that as another reason to lower standards.

Initial polls suggest that the public likes the idea of giving women who want to serve in combat a chance. This support, no doubt, partly explains the reluctance of Republicans to say anything negative. But we suspect Americans would oppose lowering standards and forcing women into combat zones if these issues were brought to their attention. The pollsters have not asked whether it is possible that military men can be trained to treat their female colleagues in distress the same way they would treat men on the battlefield, or in enemy camps, or whether it is desirable.

Republicans — and for that matter, sensible Democrats — who have been silent about the new policy should speak up against it. Those who have prematurely endorsed it should read General Dempsey’s words and reconsider. This policy barely even pretends to serve the goal of military effectiveness, which means it is not in the best interests of men or women, inside the Armed Forces or out.

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

In This Issue


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Coal Meets Markets

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Books, Arts & Manners

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City Desk

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Ghost Cities

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‐ Chinese hackers penetrated the New York Times system. Maybe they wanted to be Tom Friedman for a day. ‐ Who is that, clinging to his shotgun? It looks like President ...

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Film & TV

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White House

The Hole in the Impeachment Case

Thought experiment No. 1: Suppose Bob Mueller’s probe actually proves that Donald Trump is under Vladimir Putin’s thumb. Fill in the rest of the blanks with your favorite corruption fantasy: The Kremlin has video of the mogul-turned-president debauching himself in a Moscow hotel; the Kremlin has a bulging ... Read More
Health Care

‘Reconsidering Fetal Pain’

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