Magazine May 20, 2013, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ New line of attack on Ted Cruz: He doesn’t act like the other senators. New slogan for Cruz campaign: See above.

‐ A Washington Post/ABC poll taken the week before the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library (see Jay Nordlinger, p. 22) showed that the former president and the current president have identical approval ratings: 47 percent. Barack Obama has been hailed by his supporters in and out of the media as the Second Coming. But even Jesus would be a lame duck in a second term that has so far been a substantive fizzle. For the departed, on the other hand, time removes the pricks of daily controversy. For Bush, it has allowed Americans to recall his fundamental decency and to appreciate that the Terror War, which came to him and us on 9/11, will last for more than two administrations and that Bush confronted it manfully. Better days have come for his reputation. Far more important, as he said at his library, is the hope that America’s best days lie ahead.

‐ Back in 2010, Republicans were not able to stop or shape Obamacare, but they did win one tiny victory: requiring congressmen and some of their aides to enroll in the law’s “exchanges.” Now congressional Democrats are worrying that they will not be able to attract young, single staffers, who will have to pay much more for exchange coverage — thanks to Obamacare’s regulations — than they pay today. So the Democrats are trying to create an exemption for their offices, either through new legislation or through a favorable regulatory ruling. Speaker John Boehner immediately nixed the legislative option, saying that the solution to the country’s Obamacare problems is repeal. Around the same time, Senator Max Baucus (D., Mont.), who more than any other individual wrote the bill, complained that its implementation would be a “train wreck.” A few days later he announced that, after six terms, he will not be running for reelection next year. The people who know this law best are doing what they can to get off this train in time.

‐ But Republicans have their own Obamacare headaches. House Republican leaders sought to shift some Obamacare funds from the program’s propaganda division to its “high-risk pools” to help sick people. The move would have highlighted the law’s prioritization of ideology over its putative beneficiaries. Conservatives have generally supported high-risk pools, although preferring that they be designed differently than they are in Obamacare. The problem those pools are meant to address — that some people who have chronic conditions are effectively locked out of health-insurance markets — is the result of federal and state policies that have made it impossible for individuals to buy cheap, renewable catastrophic policies. A conservative reform of health care would allow such a market to emerge while essentially (through the risk pools) giving money to the people for whom it is too late to start buying insurance. The leaders had to pull the bill, though, because of opposition from a few conservatives who worried that the party was retreating from the goal of a full repeal of Obamacare. We supported the bill, but it is not an idle worry. Republicans need to match their anti-Obamacare rhetoric with an alternative to the program that would let at least as many people get coverage as that misbegotten law, but without its side effects. (We are happy to send inquiring Republican congressmen back issues of NR for more details.) It is only in the context of an overall strategy to replace Obamacare with something better that Republicans can achieve unity on tactics.

‐ In Washington, it’s not always easy to tell where the incompetence ends and the cynicism begins. So it was with the FAA air-traffic-controller furloughs, a stupid and inept response to sequestration that the Democrats planned to exploit to the fullest. Even before the flight delays had been felt, Harry Reid was using them as an illustration of the need to cancel almost all of the spending cuts. Never mind that the FAA had to find only $600 million in cuts in an agency with a $16 billion budget within a Transportation Department with a $70 billion budget. Only 15,000 of the FAA’s 47,000 employees are air-traffic controllers. Yet the agency furloughed them as though they had no special role in the nation’s transportation and commerce. The FAA claimed — probably wrongly — that it lacked the flexibility under sequestration to allocate its cuts differently. A bipartisan revolt forced the White House to accept a bill explicitly giving the FAA the authority to shift from other accounts the money necessary to avoid the furloughs — a small victory for reason.

#page# ‐ Higher levels of public-sector debt and deficits are, generally, associated with slower economic growth. But just what level presents a serious problem is a remarkably difficult question. Economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have attempted to examine it on a number of occasions, using historical data from wealthy nations over the past two centuries. Their most famous study, in 2010, found that when a country’s ratio of national debt to total economic output rises above 90 percent, its economic growth drops dramatically, or stalls entirely. (U.S. debt is currently about 70 percent.) This stark result has become a popular piece of evidence in favor of austerity in Europe and of fiscal restraint in the United States. But this spring, economists at the University of Massachusetts published a paper attacking Reinhart and Rogoff’s work, demonstrating one minor error and what they considered questionable weighting of the countries involved. In the UMass paper’s assessment, the relationship between high debt and slow growth remained, but it was much weaker, and there was no cliff at 90 percent or any other level. Regardless, it is likely that the causality runs in both directions: Slower growth also drives higher debt. None of this changes the fact that the growth of entitlements, and the growth in debt it will yield, will crowd out private investment and restrain growth. That problem, our real fiscal dilemma, has not been seriously considered — or addressed.

‐ As secretary of state, John Kerry hasn’t lost his knack for the inane. Testifying before Congress, he was asked about Benghazi, where four of our people were killed last September 11. He finished his answer by saying, “We got a lot more important things to move on to and get done.” But there are still unanswered questions. And we don’t recall that Democrats were eager to move on from Abu Ghraib, even though there were important things to “move on to” then, as well. On another day, Kerry made a casual comparison of those who died on the Mavi Marmara to those who died in the Boston terror bombing. The Mavi Marmara was the Turkish ship carrying thugs who were bent on breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. On a third day, Kerry made a statement about jihadists: “I think the world has had enough of people who have no belief system, no policy for jobs, no policy for education.” Unfortunately, the jihadists have a rather well-developed belief system. It’s almost enough to make you pine for Madame Secretary Clinton.

‐ A handful of conservative outlets — including this one, but most persistently — have for years sought to bring attention to a little-known class-action settlement called Pigford, which has spiraled into a racially charged, billion-dollar government kickback machine for untold thousands that shows no signs of letting up. One organ of the indifferent mainstream media has at last caught up, with the New York Times publishing a deeply reported piece on Pigford and its descendants that, if anything, reveals the truth to be worse than was previously thought. The original Pigford settlement made $50,000 payments available to any black American who had even “attempted to farm” and who was willing to write on a form that he had been discriminated against by the USDA. An orgy of fraud followed, led by a small cadre of lawyers and hucksters who, among other efforts, toured rural churches in the South encouraging parishioners to get their checks. Some claimants were as young as four years old; others had their forms filled out by lawyers just to “keep the line moving.” In some towns, the number of claimants exceeded the number of farms operated — by individuals of any race. Instead of closing the spigot, in 2010 the Obama administration opened it to women, Hispanics, and Native Americans, overruling in the process the objections of career lawyers in the Justice Department. It financed the payouts by dubiously tapping a Justice Department fund reserved for a different purpose. And it applied, in most cases, evidentiary standards even looser than the ones governing the original settlement. Pigford has long screamed for congressional investigation, and now that the mainstream media have taken notice, perhaps it will get it.

‐ Fisker is — or perhaps, by the time you read this, was — another “green” automotive company, a producer of a plug-in luxury car called the Karma that it sold to the likes of DiCaprio and Clooney for just $100,000 or so a pop. Karma, as it turns out, is a bitch, and Fisker is nearly bankrupt. This would be just another example of the vicissitudes of the free market if it weren’t for the fact that the American taxpayer is on the hook for a $529 million loan given to the company by Steven Chu’s gang at the Department of Energy — the same rocket scientists (in some cases literally) who brought you Solyndra. So cozy was Fisker with the administration that Vice President Biden stood at the site of a proposed Fisker plant in Delaware promising that the government’s investment would return untold billions. The loan did bring in a billion in private capital, investors who liked the idea of a firm with White House connections, and who now stand to be wiped out because Fisker offered a product it didn’t know how to efficiently mass-produce to a public that didn’t want to buy it. There will likely be no plant in Delaware, no untold billions in return on the federal investment, and no Karma in every garage.

#page# A Long-Term Problem for the Economy

In a perfect frictionless economy, there would never be any unemployment. If a number of workers were expected to lose their jobs tomorrow, firms would anticipate an increase in the supply of workers, everybody’s wage would drop, and higher demand for the newly available workers would emerge instantly. In the real world, of course, there are many frictions that make non-zero unemployment possible. Most important are skill mismatches and geographic mismatches. A surge in the demand for engineers might not reduce the unemployment rate today if it takes time to train engineers. An energy boom in North Dakota can create job listings that remain unfilled until workers decide to move to North Dakota.

In one of the more important papers in economic history, Christopher Dow and Louis Dicks-Mireaux showed that there is a regular relationship between job openings and unemployment. When there are many unemployed workers, openings disappear relatively quickly, and when there are many openings, unemployment tends to be low. Economists later began referring to this curve as the “Beveridge curve” after William Beveridge, an economist who studied unemployment in the first half of the 20th century.

Subsequent research has demonstrated that economies tend to move up and down a relatively stable Beveridge curve over the business cycle. In recessions, there tends to be high unemployment and few openings.

The nearby chart portrays one of the most striking shifts in U.S. labor-market data on record. Data on U.S. openings and unemployment from January 2001 to February 2013 are shown, and non-linear estimates of the Beveridge curve are provided for the periods from January 2001 to August 2009, and from September 2009 to February 2013.

(Source: BLS)

In an economy with low friction, the Beveridge curve would be very close to the origin. Unemployment would tend to be low, and openings filled quickly. In an economy with large matching problems, high unemployment and high job openings could coexist, and the curve could be farther from the origin. The chart indicates that the Beveridge curve has shifted out sharply during the Obama administration.

It has been almost four years since the end of the recent recession, but the U.S. has yet to return to its previous levels of unemployment. The shift in the Beveridge curve suggests that it may never do so. The points labeled A and B illustrate why. In February 2013, the job-openings rate (unfilled jobs as a percentage of total jobs) was 2.8, a rate that would have corresponded with an unemployment rate of about 5.25 on the Beveridge curve from 2001 through August 2009. The unemployment rate in February, however, was 7.7 — almost two and a half points higher.

What explains the shift in the Beveridge curve? The biggest factor is likely the massive increase in the number of workers who have become long-term unemployed. The long-term unemployed made up only 17.3 percent of all unemployed workers in December 2007; today they constitute fully 39.3 percent of all unemployed workers in the labor market. In December 2007, the average length of unemployment was 16.6 weeks; today, it is much higher, at 37.7 weeks. There is growing evidence that employers are extremely reluctant to make a job offer to persons who have been out of work for more than six months. A recent study by Rand Ghayad involved submitting fake résumés in response to job postings and varying the levels of experience and lengths of unemployment on them. He found that the chances of receiving a callback from an employer dropped off significantly for the long-term unemployed; a worker who had been unemployed for only a short time and had no relevant experience in the industry to which he was applying was more likely to receive a callback than a long-term-unemployed person who did have relevant experience. Providing 99 weeks of unemployment insurance may not have helped matters, since it encouraged workers to stay out of jobs for longer and they then became mired in unemployment for the long run. (There are large geographical differences in unemployment as well, and workers reluctant to move to find jobs may have become stuck as their area floundered while others, such as North Dakota, flourished.)

Employers make that choice for rational but unfortunate reasons: Workers whogo through longer periods of unemployment have a heightened risk of substance abuse and suicide, a shorter life expectancy, and a higher likelihood of personal problems, including divorce and troubled children. The costs of long-term unemployment are high, and the shift of the Beveridge curve implies that they may stick around for a long time.

#page# ‐ When President Obama addressed a Planned Parenthood national conference in Washington, D.C., he assured his audience that they had “a president who’s going to be right there with you, fighting every step of the way.” He has been fighting since he was an Illinois state legislator, voting against bills that would have required trying to save the lives of infants who survive attempts to abort them. Give Planned Parenthood and President Obama the benefit of consistency: They are a business that provides abortions; he is a politician who approves their handiwork. May the days of their sway be numbered.

‐ Jurors in the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor accused of one third-degree and four first-degree murders, have begun deliberations as we go to press. No one disputes the generic description of the 41-year-old woman who died after seeking an abortion at his clinic. The task of describing the four persons who, according to the prosecution, were killed after attempts to abort them failed is a different matter. Anglo-Saxon terms — “child,” “baby,” “newborn” — applied to the aborted party have a humanizing effect and suggest that the moral worth of the object of abortion is equal to that of its agents and everyone else. Those who think it isn’t resort to the word “fetus,” the Latinate, clinical term for “unborn child” and the analogue of another Latinate, clinical term rightly absent from the legal and political debate: “gravida,” a pregnant woman. Journalists and commentators who call the infants fighting for their lives in the chaos and filth of Gosnell’s clinic “fetuses” clearly signal their affirmation of abortion rights but inaccurately convey the fact of the matter: The children at that point were no longer unborn. Of course, if babies are fetuses, fetuses are babies. The lesson in logic is unintended.

‐ The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity has landed, and of course its roster is fruitier than Natalie Portman’s breakfast. Habitual scourge of Paulism James Kirchick makes the introductions: Lew Rockwell, believed by many to be the author of Ron Paul’s oddball racist newsletters, is a prominent member of the board, as is Michael Scheuer, who insists that American Jews are a “fifth column” acting in Israeli interests; John Laughland, a prominent toady to Slobodan Milosevic and Alexander Lukashenko; Eric Margolis, who has suggested that 9/11 was the work of either the U.S. military or the Israeli intelligence service; and a few other questionable characters. The line-up is distasteful, but some features are simply laughable: a pair of Big Brotherly cartoon binoculars over the words “Neocon Watch” (“Neocons, who are at all times salivating for war . . .”), to say nothing of the presence of Dennis Kucinich. From 9/11 truthers to Lew Rockwell’s sad little theme park in Alabama to crackpottery, the intellectual decline of the Rothbardian tendency within libertarianism is a sad spectacle. Ludwig von Mises had no children, and also no heirs.

Mother Jones, a magazine named for the founder of a terrorist organization, responded to the Boston attack with an article making the claim that so-called right-wing terrorism has killed more Americans since 9/11 than has Islamic terrorism. The problem, as Ben Shapiro notes, is that practically none of the incidents Mother Jones describes as right-wing terrorism were 1) instances of terrorism or 2) perpetuated by right-wingers. Most are common crimes committed by people with the sort of lunatic political opinions one hears at the worse class of bars and the better class of universities: Robert Andrew Poplawski, for example, was an angry anti-Semite, but he did not murder his mother out of political principle — they had an argument about letting the dog out. (He subsequently killed two police officers.) Chris and Wade Lay were militia nuts who killed a man during a bank robbery; Jim David Adkisson was angry about losing his welfare benefits. Strangely enough, the magazine also characterized Andrew Joseph Stack’s 2009 airplane crash into the IRS building in Austin as right-wing terrorism, even though Mr. Stack identified himself as a Communist in his suicide note. (We are familiar enough with the magazine to know that it is possible to be a Communist and still be to the right of Mother Jones, but this is ridiculous.) Predictably, recent left-wing terrorism — such as the attempt by members of Occupy Cleveland to blow up the Route 82 bridge — does not much enter into Mother Jones’s analysis.

‐ Speaking of which, Floyd Lee Corkins II has pleaded guilty. If you don’t know the name, it’s because the national media have not been interested in his story. He’s the one who went to the Family Research Council in Washington and shot security guard Leonard Johnson, who nonetheless subdued him. FRC is a conservative organization, concentrating on social issues. Corkins also planned to attack similar organizations. He told investigators that he intended to kill as many FRC employees as possible. Then he was going to smear Chick-fil-A sandwiches in their faces. He had bought 15 of the sandwiches for the purpose. He got the idea that FRC was a “hate group” by going to the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And you can never be too careful about hate.

#page# ‐ NR has a table every year at the White House Correspondents Dinner. When Louis XIV expected every nobleman to appear at Versailles, who would stay at his chateau? But the dinner is an institution as grotesque as Versailles. Tom Brokaw slammed the 2012 iteration because of the splash made there by Lindsay Lohan. But celebrity varnish had been layered on for years. Hollywood glitz, plus journalistic and Beltway self-esteem, makes the dinners about as republican as Versailles too. We here are the in-crowd; you (outside) are most definitely not. When the president, the guest of honor, shares the prejudices of his audience — i.e., is like most of them a liberal Democrat — there is a trifecta of snobbery. Modern American democracy was born when the triumphant plebs trampled the carpets and furniture of the White House at Andrew Jackson’s inaugural ball. Now the American political elite behave like the gilded freaks in Saint-Simon. Not good for them, not good for the U.S.

‐ Is the best possible next mayor of New York Anthony Weiner? If the city had a functioning GOP, Joseph Lhota, former head of the subway system, might fill the bill. But the odds against a Republican who is neither the Wrath of God (Rudy Giuliani) nor a billionaire (Michael Bloomberg) are immense. The Democrats offer a field of tiny hacks, occupying ethnic or sexual niches: Bill Thompson (black), John Liu (Asian), Christine Quinn (lesbian), Bill de Blasio (married to an ex-lesbian). Weiner opposes an inspector general for the police department. He also dislikes Mayor Bloomberg’s bike lanes, one of the incumbent’s worst whims. Weiner is a sad case. Because his downtime amusement was tweeting obscene pictures of himself to women to whom he was not married, he wrecked his political career. Yet because he can think of no other, he seems determined to run for mayor. Pity the New Yorkers who may have to hold their . . . noses and vote for him.

‐ The Sacramento Bee published an ugly and uninventive cartoon mocking Texas over the fertilizer-plant disaster that killed 15 people in the small town of West, juxtaposing the explosion with Rick Perry’s boasting that “business is booming.” The implied argument — that the West catastrophe is a result of Texas’s lighter regulatory touch — is false. Fertilizer plants in Texas, like fertilizer plants everywhere in the United States, are heavily regulated: The West facility was subject to oversight by no fewer than seven agencies. The problem is not the regulations but the regulators: OSHA had not visited the site since the Reagan administration. DHS is responsible for monitoring facilities with more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate — the stuff Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bomb — but was ignorant of the fact that the plant had more than half a million pounds on hand. The plant had informed one regulatory agency, but agencies do not communicate. The owners filed a “worst-case scenario” report with the EPA, which did not follow up to see whether that scenario was in fact the worst case. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — there is such a thing — visited the facility in 2011 and handed down a $5,200 fine for failure to draft certain safety plans; the 270 tons of highly explosive material apparently did not seize their attention. Rick Perry, needless to say, does not oversee OSHA, DHS, or the EPA.

‐ President Obama has made a memorable contribution to the annals of worthless diplomatic ultimatums with his infamous “red line” warning to Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons. It would be “totally unacceptable,” a “game changer,” and bring “consequences.” He said all of this apparently believing he could bluff Assad out of using such weapons, and giving nary a thought to what he would do if Assad defied his threats. Now, the British, French, and Israelis all believe that Syria has used chemical weapons, and so do U.S. intelligence agencies “with varying degrees of confidence,” in the words of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The president has responded with Clintonian parsing of his past words — all but saying that it depends what the meaning of “red line” is — and with a defense lawyer’s doubt about the evidence against Assad. The entire episode is a lesson in not writing rhetorical checks you don’t want to cash, especially when the international credibility of the United States is at stake. It is certainly true that Syria, locked in a hellish civil war between the regime and an increasingly radicalized opposition, presents limited and unpalatable options for the United States. No one wants to put boots on the ground. A no-fly zone would invariably commit us to toppling Assad by force of arms and taking ownership of the post-Assad dispensation. We should pursue a more limited course. If it is possible to identify and target stocks of chemical weapons from the air, without too much risk of contamination to innocents on the ground, we should do it. We shouldn’t want these weapons in the hands of Assad, or of a radical Islamist government that could replace him. More broadly, we should give military aid to the more secular elements of the opposition, to strengthen them vis-à-vis the dominant radicals and give ourselves some allies on the ground. It would have been much better if the president had done this sooner, but in Syria he put all his trust in meaningless gestures and words.

#page# ‐ Demonstrating in the street is a well-known sport in France, and there’s plenty to demonstrate about at the moment. According to polls, no president has ever been so unpopular as François Hollande, and unemployment has seldom been so high. At the ministerial level, there’s financial jiggery-pokery. The socialist Hollande makes known how little he appreciates the conservative governments of Germany and Britain. Hoping to shore up his position, he got a bill to legalize same-sex marriage through the parliament. There were fisticuffs inside the building and mass demonstrations outside, leading to arrests and tear gas. Gays have been attacked and beaten in cities throughout the country. A coalition of right-wing opposition parties, the Catholic Church, and a formidable lady comedian who goes under the spoof name Frigide Barjot, denounces violence but remains determined to take all legal steps to stop final ratification. The media compare the demonstrations planned for the coming days to historic revolutions, and even Le Figaro, that cautious newspaper, raised the specter of 1789. A lot of people evidently want the famous phrase Gay Paree to keep its old-time meaning.

‐ In Paris, an Iranian man chased a rabbi and his son, both wearing yarmulkes, through a synagogue, then slashed them with a box cutter badly enough to require hospitalization. Witnesses said the man shouted “Allahu akbar!” repeatedly during the attack. According to the Associated Press, “an official investigation was underway to determine a possible motive.” Hmmm, we’re stumped too.

‐ The Vatican may have a scoop on its hands, or so thinks Antonio Paolucci, the director of its museums. They have been restoring rooms with frescoes by Pinturicchio. One of these has a portrait of Rodrigo Borgia, elected as Pope Alexander VI in 1492. Probably because he was such a source of scandal, these rooms were shut for centuries, and the frescoes obscured by the city’s grime. The restorer, Maria Pustka, reveals that hitherto indistinct figures in the background of one fresco are naked men wearing only headdresses and dancing, with one on horseback. This is precisely how Christopher Columbus describes the people he had encountered in the New World. Columbus was back home by 1494, the date when Pinturicchio finished the painting. Experts are at work figuring out if the Borgia pope had got a copy of Columbus’s journal. If this was the source, then here is the first portrayal of native Americans, so to speak a Renaissance travel poster.

‐ Animal-rights vandals are the modern-day equivalent of book burners, destroying knowledge to intimidate anyone who defies them. In Italy, protesters invaded a University of Milan laboratory where scientists used mice (plus a few rabbits) to research psychiatric disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s, and schizophrenia. To be sure, research animals should be treated humanely, which is why every lab must run a gauntlet of rules and regulations and review boards. But that wasn’t enough for the extremists, who spoiled research records, switched or defaced labels on cages, and otherwise nullified several years’ worth of work. The protesters also set free around 100 of the lab’s experimental subjects (a questionable move, since lab animals have trouble surviving in the wild) and at last report were negotiating for custody of the other 700 rodents. Meanwhile the researchers will just get more mice and start over — not that the protesters care, as long as they can indulge their Wind in the Willows fantasies.

‐ Private Bradley Manning was named an honorary grand marshal of the San Francisco gay-pride parade. Soldiers no longer get booted from the Army over such things, which must be of great comfort to him — that and the fact that prosecutors have opted not to seek the death penalty in his trial on charges of stealing classified information and aiding the enemy during the Iraq War. But after a few days of withering criticism, the organizers of the event rescinded the invitation: Private Manning apparently is too controversial for the decorous ladies and gentlemen of the San Francisco gay-pride parade. If ever you have had the pleasure of witnessing that great American spectacle, you will appreciate that the group’s announcement that the party responsible for inviting Private Manning “has been disciplined” could mean any number of things.

‐ Four years ago, the Barbadian pop sensation Rihanna was beaten by her rapper/r&b-singer boyfriend Chris Brown; he admitted to the assault and was sentenced to five years’ probation. They are back together, and the faniverse buzzes with gossip about their relationship as Rihanna embarks on a world tour. In the bad old days, entertainment moguls ran their talent like chattel. But they kept their troubles (purely for commercial reasons) hush-hush. Maybe that was no bad thing.

‐ The advance of women’s rights through the ages has been inspiring, and to it we can add the heroic effort of Washington’s legislature to purge the state’s laws of such degradingly sexist terms as “penmanship” and “journeyman” (which have been replaced with “handwriting” and “journey-level plumber”). The notion that a little girl growing up in Puyallup will be deterred from a rewarding career in ichthyology because a law says “fisherman” instead of “fisher” is beyond far-fetched. This Olympian effort took six years plus a long series of bills, each numbering in the hundreds of pages, and a 40-member staff; Samuel Johnson compiled his dictionary in not much more time with far fewer resources. The shame of it all is that instead of tracking down outdated words in obscure statutes, the legislature could have used the time for more important work, such as subsidizing industries to stimulate the economy, or setting up Obamacare exchanges . . . well, come to think of it, there’s really no better way for a legislature to spend its time than copy-editing old laws. In fact, the next thing they should do is carefully check the entire legal code for serial commas and the correct use of “which” and “that.”

‐ We first took notice of Howard Phillips in the early 1960s, when he was president of the Harvard Student Council. He would become a leader of the New Right: the movement associated with Jack Kemp, Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, and others. He founded the Conservative Caucus in 1974, remaining its chairman until 2011. “Conservatives used to believe their job was to lose as slowly as possible,” he said. “I don’t just want to slow the train down; I want to put it on another track.” Phillips set himself against the temporizing qualities in the Republican party, and he occasionally went too far. He accused President Reagan of being “a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda”; the Gipper turned out to know what he was doing. Three times, Phillips ran for president, on tickets of his devising. He has died at 72. In its obit, the New York Times said, “Even among stalwart conservatives, Mr. Phillips was known for being especially devoted to the ideological principles of the right, including limited government, traditional family values, strong national defense and opposition to abortion.” A high tribute. R.I.P.


After Boston

The Tsarnaev brothers’ bombing of the Boston Marathon raised questions peculiar to itself, and others already familiar to us in the War on Terror.

In the Nineties, it gratified some liberals to think that the disturbers of our peace were right-wing anarchists and survivalist nuts. If Timothy McVeigh could be fused with ordinary conservatives, all the better. So the day after the Boston attack, former Obama aide David Axelrod speculated that it could be linked to “Tax Day” (April 15). Axelrod represents an old type in American politics, but for this slimy remark, in a better world he would be shunned.

As in other jihadi crimes — most prominently the Fort Hood murders of Major Hasan — we saw what our colleague Andy McCarthy calls “willful blindness.” The Russians warned us twice about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and the FBI even interviewed him. Yet he was allowed to fly to Russia, spend six months doing who knows what, and return unmolested. It is not anti-Muslim to investigate dodgy Muslims for terrorist activity. Most American Muslims are not terrorists, but many American terrorists have been Muslims. Whether this is a perversion of the religion, or an expression of an authentic strain of it, is not the business of government. Actions most definitely are.

Are we involved in a war, or crime-fighting? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brother who survived, was questioned for 16 hours, then read his Miranda rights. Unless there was a connection to al-Qaeda, he couldn’t be held as an enemy combatant, but there should not have been such a rush to treat him as a common criminal.

Out came the armies of excuses. The brothers felt alienated in America. Thousands of immigrants feel the same, yet do not become mass murderers. Dzhokhar was under the spell of Tamerlan (but the Unabomber’s younger brother didn’t help him mail bombs — he turned his brother in). It can be hard to believe in monsters who are young or (in Dzhokhar’s case) cute, but history provides examples enough.

The older members of the bombers’ family were a study in contrasts. Their parents, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev, showed a combination of shock, stupidity, and evil. The more they talked, the larger the proportions of the last two grew. Meanwhile the bombers’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, berated his nephews as “losers. . . . You put a shame on our entire family” and “on the entire Chechen ethnicity.” Good for him.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, the former Katherine Russell, suggests a newish phenomenon. The transgressive partner of choice is no longer the black rebel or the criminal, it would seem, but the radical Muslim. Only wearing hijabs can express the full measure of rebellion (or self-hatred, or just dim-wittedness). Expect to see more such.

Was the police lockdown of Boston excessive? The comic Bill Maher said we have become a “police state.” On the other hand, Senator Rand Paul discovered a use for drones (they can be used when there might be a need to use them, just not when there is no need). Policing is always open to criticism and improvement: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found only after the lockdown was lifted and the Watertown homeowner went outside to see blood on the boat where he was hiding. But hot pursuit is hot pursuit; salus populi suprema lex esto.

The murderers were caught in short order. Yet they took four lives, injured hundreds, and disrupted a great city. Food for thought, for our enemies and for us.


This Time It’s Different?

The Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill contains a number of superficially attractive security mandates: It would require the federal government to have 100 percent “situational awareness” of the border, to catch 90 percent of illegal border-crossers in high-traffic areas, to establish a tracking system to address the problem of those who enter the country illegally but overstay their visas, etc. So attractive are those goals that we have supported them in the past, on the many occasions upon which the government has promised to achieve them.

Disappointingly, Washington keeps failing to deliver on its promises. The unspoken premise of the Gang of Eight bill is: This time it’s different. We are skeptical that this is so. And regardless, there is a great deal in this package that is deeply objectionable.

It follows the same amnesty-first/enforcement-later model that has burned us before. The bill’s proponents, such as Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), lay a great deal of stress on the “triggers” that must be pulled before it lets illegal immigrants become citizens. Yet the trigger for the amnesty itself — creating “provisional” legal status for the millions who have entered the country illegally — would be almost entirely meaningless: The Department of Homeland Security would merely have to affirm in writing that it had plans to do something about border security, and that money had been appropriated for doing so. That’s it: no rigorous empirical standard, just the fact of having a plan. Offering legal status before enforcement — even if citizenship is delayed — can be expected to draw more illegal immigrants to our country.

As we noted earlier, these security measures have been legislated before. Congress mandated the creation of a visa-tracking system, for instance, in 1996. Since then, Congress has on multiple occasions during three presidencies reiterated its demand that the executive branch comply with the law, and the executive branch has on each occasion failed to do so. The system the bill would mandate is even weaker than the system already mandated: It would apply at airports and seaports, but not to land crossings.

Perhaps President Obama will suddenly get religion on enforcement. But consider his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, which gives some illegal immigrants relief from deportation after what is supposed to be a rigorous screening process to weed out criminals and national-security threats. “Criminals” has a rather loose definition — you can have a couple of convictions and remain golden in the eyes of Obama’s DHS, so long as you pled any felony charges down to misdemeanors — the result of which is a 99.5 percent approval rate. There is no reason to expect this bill’s legalization process to be implemented more rigorously.

We very strongly support mandating the use of E-Verify or a similar system nationwide in order to ensure that businesses hire only those workers who are legally eligible to be employed in the United States. Mandating E-Verify is so obvious and sensible a move that it should have been made years ago in a stand-alone piece of legislation, but that bill was rejected. Those who opposed it, including business interests and farm-state Republicans, will have similar incentives to water down enforcement provisions in any compromise bill that passes Congress and continue to resist them even after they are written into law.

The bill has additional perversities. It not only would offer legal status to the 11 million or so illegals currently in the country but also would readmit many of those who have been deported. The argument for normalizing the status of illegals already resident in the United States has in the main proceeded from the fact that they are already resident in the United States. Offering legal status for those who are not living in the United States is indefensible.

Further, the bill would open the floodgates for unskilled laborers. Many of those unskilled laborers would be brought in under guest-worker programs, which are in and of themselves objectionable. They amount to nothing more than the creation of a caste of second-class workers for the benefit of certain business interests.

The Gang of Eight bill is a cobbled-together beast, a truly ugly creature of politics. If Washington were serious about border security and controlling illegal immigration, then Congress would pass a mandatory E-Verify bill, and the executive would enforce it, finish the job of securing the border, and implement visa controls. More broadly, our immigration procedures would be reoriented toward the economic needs of the country rather than other concerns. Once the government had built up its credibility on enforcing the immigration laws against new entrants, then the time might come to talk about granting legal status to those who are here illegally. Until then, we won’t believe promises that this time it’s different.

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

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