‐ Harry Reid, looking up to the sky from the Senate floor, said that Ted Kennedy would “smile at all of us” when the immigration bill passed. Smile, sure, Mr. Senator, but are you certain you’re looking in the right direction?
‐ In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which among other things required some jurisdictions — mostly southern states — to get approval from the Justice Department before making even the tiniest changes to their voting procedures. The law has been renewed many times without much debate, most recently in 2006. The list of covered jurisdictions has been stuck in a time warp: Why should some states have more freedom of action than others based on what happened when George Wallace was a governor? The Supreme Court has on several occasions urged Congress to update the law, and Congress has ignored it each time. Now the Supreme Court has thrown out the law’s list of covered jurisdictions. Liberals are saying that the justices are acting like legislators, which is rich coming from them. The charge has some sting to it, but in their limited defense, the justices have clearly thought about these issues more than the actual legislators did.
‐ Deciding a legal challenge to a state university’s practice of discriminating among applicants on the basis of race should be easy: Congress passed a law forbidding it — you may have heard of it; it’s the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — and so the university has to stop. The Supreme Court is in its fourth decade of making the issue unnecessarily complicated while putting itself at the center of the action. That tradition continues in its decision in Abigail Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas for its racial discrimination against whites and Asians. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, ignored the Civil Rights Act (as, alas, did the other justices). He decided that the Constitution allows state universities to engage in racial discrimination, but only if they really have to do so to gain the educational benefits of racial diversity. Justice Kennedy does not explain exactly how to discriminate in order to get these benefits at an acceptable cost to the principle of equal treatment. He leaves to a lower court the judgment about whether the University of Texas passes that test, but implicitly stands ready, as always, to second-guess. Past admonitions from the Court to universities have produced no detectable change to their practice of discrimination. The Court gets to keep pretending to lay down the law, and the universities get to keep pretending to follow it.
‐ Man, it’s hot out here. Why did I agree to go to Berlin in June? Was it cooler five years ago? There were certainly more people five years ago — 200,000. And now, by invitation only, maybe five or six thousand. Maybe I was cooler five years ago. But that can’t be. Listen to what I’m saying: “Intolerance breeds injustice”; we must “welcome the immigrant” and “stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers”; America stands for Europe and “your union,” and “Israeli-Palestinian peace.” Listen to my goals: “a world without nuclear weapons,” “confront[ing] a changing climate . . . the global threat of our time.” All right, there were a few clunkers: Describing our efforts against al-Qaeda as “evolving” was pretty lame. And that riff about “the protection of privacy” was a little, ah, badly timed (thanks, Snowden, you little nerd). But after all, people, it’s me! I’ve got game! People? Man, it’s hot out here . . .
‐ The IRS has thrown up a new distraction in the search for truth about why it targeted tea-party groups for so long. Under the guise of coming clean about the whole unseemly business, acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel in late June issued a report indicating that the now-infamous “Be on the Lookout” list included liberal groups as well as conservative ones. Odd we haven’t heard from any of the former, isn’t it? Yet the treatment was not the same. On one such list, IRS screeners were alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status, which requires that a group not be engaged in any political activity, “may not be appropriate” for progressive organizations, while they were told to send the applications of “tea party” groups off to IRS high-ups for special scrutiny. The list also noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated” with a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C.; those of progressive groups were not. Be on the lookout for new excuses.
‐ With global warming having slowed — or, by some estimates, reversed — in the past 15 years, it is an odd time for President Obama to make climate change a new focus of his troubled presidency. But the timing is not about science: Such hotbeds of warming alarmism as The Economist have published articles noting that recent climate data are not in line with the models used to predict apocalypse. Even our friends at The New Republic admit as much, writing of the warming slowdown: “Scientists themselves aren’t entirely sure what the evidence means. If scientific models can’t project the last 15 years, what does that mean for their projections of the next 100?” Politics moves on two-year intervals, not 100-year intervals. The president’s speech was the usual — dreams of imposing federal regimentation upon the entire economy. Even if the scientific consensus were still tightly unified behind the do-or-die approach, the president’s policy agenda would not flow logically from that consensus. And what an agenda it is: new federal controls on power plants, billions in handouts to politically connected energy companies, restrictions on heavy trucks — which are in effect restrictions on every piece of freight — and consumer goods, and new rules regarding the construction of factories, commercial facilities, even homes. Together, these amount to a radical expansion of federal power even more significant than the president’s health-care program. Unhappily, the Supreme Court has misconstrued the Clean Air Act as an open-ended warrant for action on global warming, meaning that the president can execute much of this program without congressional approval. This at a time when our country is poised for an energy renaissance based on its fossil-fuel resources and new extraction practices — one that would not only transform the American economy but shift the global balance of power by drastically reducing the petroleum imports that are the major driver of our trade deficit and a critical source of economic and security vulnerability. The president is wrong on the science, wrong on the economics, and wrong on the politics — and Republicans should take the opportunity to demonstrate as much to the country.
#page#‐ Oops-time for Marco Rubio. Ryan Lizza, in The New Yorker, quoted a Rubio aide, saying of a dispute between labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce concerning the Gang of Eight immigration bill: “There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it. There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it. . . . You can’t obviously discuss that publicly.” A Rubio spokesman protested that the quotation did not reflect the senator’s views: “[He believes] we need . . . to create legal avenues for U.S. businesses to meet labor needs when not enough Americans apply for jobs.” Rubio’s problem then is not that American workers are dumb, but that there aren’t enough of them willing to work for low wages. The correction is not much better than the original quotation.
‐ Hundreds of immigration activists gathered at the home of the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, a nationally known foe of illegal immigration. Their leaders mounted the porch and shouted speeches through bullhorns. The crowd — mob? — chanted, “Sí, se puede,” and the rest of the familiar repertoire. Later, Kobach cited what he called “the Klan laws,” which state, in his words, that “you cannot intimidate an official by trespassing on his property or threatening violence.” What “our American system depends on,” Kobach said, is that “we don’t have mobs, we don’t have this kind of pressure put on decision-makers.” Our system depends on it, yes. If voters don’t like Kobach, they can throw him out in the next election. Meanwhile, get off his lawn.
‐ The House voted, almost entirely on party lines, to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Neither party seems to grasp the political import of the vote, with the media coverage dominated by Republican gaffes (some of them invented). In the next elections, conservatives will be able to run ads pointing out that liberal congressmen voted to permit abortion in circumstances that supermajorities of the public find abhorrent. What will the liberals say in response? That some congressman somewhere else said something stupid? Two prominent pro-abortion House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Diana DeGette, have been unable to explain the moral difference that separates the abortions they want to protect from the ones Kermit Gosnell committed. Pelosi was reduced to sputtering about how the question offended her as a mother and a Catholic and intruded on “sacred ground.” It’s not the only ground the abortion lobby is losing.
‐ Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, announced that she favors same-sex marriage because “it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of [people’s] lives — while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another.” She adds that “this is a personal-liberty issue.” No, it isn’t. In every state of the union, two people of the same sex can make a lifetime commitment, live together, and find a church that treats them as though they were married — all without running afoul of any governmental prohibitions. What is at stake in these cases is which of the many relationships among adults should be recognized and regulated by governments. Murkowski never explains why the government has an interest in encouraging “lifetime commitments” as such, or how such encouragement could possibly constitute getting the government out of people’s private lives. It is a very good thing for people getting married to make sure that they really know what they are doing. It would also be a good thing for people making pronouncements about marriage policy.
‐ The Pew Research Center conducted a study finding that news coverage “provided a strong sense of momentum towards legalizing same-sex marriage.” How strong? “Stories with more statements supporting same-sex marriage outweighed those with more statements opposing it by a margin of roughly 5-to-1.” Sometimes history needs a little nudge.
‐ Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said at a press conference that the Fed expected continued reductions in unemployment and a beginning of the end of quantitative easing by year’s end. The stock market sank afterward; the extent to which Bernanke’s remarks caused this is a matter of dispute. The market appears to be worried about a premature tightening. It has reason to worry, because the Fed has neither behaved predictably in the recent past nor bound itself in public to a rule to govern its future actions. The Fed has it within its power to provide the stable monetary framework that is its only possible contribution to economic growth. That is the one thing it refuses to do.
‐ The House of Representatives has defeated a proposed farm bill, which would have ended direct payments to farmers for growing crops while sweetening a number of wasteful subsidies. We’d rather Congress got out of the farm-bill business, but that’s not why the legislation went down. Many Democrats voted against it because of an amendment that would have given states the flexibility to tie food-stamp eligibility to work requirements (an important tool for states trying to combat the effects of welfare dependency); many Republicans voted against it because they thought the cuts to the food-stamp program too modest. Food-stamp rolls have doubled since 2007, and the program requires greater cuts. But the importance of work is better ground for Republicans to stand on. They must do their best to separate the wheat from the chaff.
‐ We have our doubts about the use of the word “investments” to describe federal spending, but the ratios pointed out by the self-declared moderates at the think tank Third Way bear consideration: In the 1960s, the federal government spent $3 on so-called investments (meaning infrastructure, education, research, and the like) for every $1 it spent on entitlements. Under current practices, the government will in ten years spend $5 on entitlements for every $1 on such undertakings. That is particularly sobering when one considers that spending on education and infrastructure has continued to grow at a steady pace since the 1960s. Entitlement spending, especially on health care, is the main driver of deficits going forward, and there simply is no way to stabilize our national finances without reforming entitlements. Conservatives have a great many legitimate bones to pick with that $1, but the $5 is where the action is.
‐ Since the Citizens United case stripped the state of a vital tool of censorship, many on the left have harbored the desire to, as Nancy Pelosi put it last year, “amend the First Amendment.” There is something admirable about the honesty of those who find the Bill of Rights lacking. But there is nothing admirable about their proposals. A new amendment suggested by Senators Jon Tester (D., Mont.) and Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) that would deprive corporations of the benefit of the Bill of Rights would, lawyers say, effectively remove all constitutional rights for businesses, nonprofits, and churches. As legal scholar Eugene Volokh observed, America would thus say “goodbye” to constitutional “protection for the New York Times, CNN, the ACLU, the NRA, and the Catholic Church,” among others. Tester and Murphy’s nasty little amendment follows a similar proposal from Nancy Pelosi last year. And they say corporations are a threat to our freedom.
The Federal Reserve regularly releases data on the net worth of Americans, and newspapers across the U.S. celebrated recently when the latest numbers suggested that our net worth had returned to where it was before the financial crisis. Our wealth collapsed but then recovered, and the hole that the financial market dug for us, so the story goes, has been refilled.
That story is a rudimentary one, and requires that we ignore several important factors. First of all, there has been some inflation between 2007 and today. Second, the number of Americans grew from about 302 million in 2007 to about 314 million in 2012; our real aggregate wealth, then, would need to increase commensurately to bring us collectively back to square one.
While significant, both of those issues are minor compared with a third one: The federal government has accumulated massive new debt over the past five years, and that debt will have to be paid back eventually. If we will have to pay higher taxes to do that, then we are carrying, off the books, a large implicit liability.
The nearby chart shows how total household wealth in the U.S. stacks up today compared with 2007, after taking future deficits into account.
In order to calculate the present value of future deficits for households today, I used the CBO’s long-term alternative-fiscal-scenario projections, the first from December 2007 and the second from this May. In 2007, the CBO also projected likely deficits out to 2050. For 2012, I generated an analogous projection out to 2050 based on the most recent CBO long-run analysis. The long-run deficits are projected in present-value terms by discounting the future. The numbers are expressed in per capita terms and adjusted for inflation.
In 2012 dollars, household net worth in 2007 was $240,790 per person. Even then, we were looking ahead to high deficits, and the present value of the implicit tax liability facing every American just to cover those deficits was $70,143, with the net of the two values coming to $170,647. At the end of 2012, per capita wealth had climbed back almost to its 2007 value, but the present value of future tax liabilities associated with deficits had climbed all the way to $152,216. So, accounting for federal debt, net wealth had dropped all the way to $62,322 per person.
To be sure, a complete accounting would also weigh in the value of government assets such as Yellowstone, the tax liability associated with maintaining a balanced-budget level of spending, and many other factors. But, holding those factors constant, the budget situation has deteriorated to such an extent that per capita net worth has dropped by more than $100,000 in five years. The Fed’s net-worth data have a long way to go before they can possibly cover that hole.
#page#‐ The defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, gave a speech at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska. During the Q&A, he said to a questioner — or appeared to say to a questioner — “You’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?” This particular questioner was a professor named Robin Gandhi, born in India. Had the defense secretary just made a crude and nonsensical racial remark? Hagel denied it, saying he had not directed his comment at anyone in particular. He had been talking about the Taliban, and the Taliban were on his mind. He therefore made some sort of vague joke. Professor Gandhi, for his part, said he took no offense. So, there was no scandal. But we can’t help wondering: What if Hagel were a Republican? Oh, wait a second . . .
‐ When Chen Guangcheng came to America, it was to New York University that he came. He is the “blind peasant lawyer” and former political prisoner from China. He is one of the bravest and most admirable people in all the world. Last April, he and his wife managed to escape to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. After weeks of negotiation, they were allowed to fly to New York — to NYU, where Chen has been for a year. Now they’re asking him to leave. Chen says that the university is under pressure from China. NYU is building a spanking-new campus in Shanghai, and they must be on the good side of Beijing. NYU says this is nonsense, and ungrateful nonsense at that: Chen has been royally treated, and his fellowship has simply expired. It’s impossible for us to tell who is right in this case (although we suspect that Chen knows what he’s talking about). What is not at all impossible to tell is this: For decades, American scholars, universities, and other institutions have cowered before China, and appeased China, for the sake of visas, financial contributions, and other benefits. This has tainted our academic life, which already suffers from enough home-grown ills.
‐ Jared Marcum is from West Virginia, a state with a senator who put a round through President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill in a 2010 campaign ad. But the eighth-grader is now facing a $500 fine or up to a year in jail for refusing to take off a T-shirt bearing the NRA’s logo and a hunting rifle. In April Jared was in the cafeteria line when a teacher ordered him to turn his shirt inside out. He refused. Escorted to the principal’s office, Jared was met by the local police chief and two officers who, when Jared persisted in trying to tell his side of the story, arrested him. He is now being charged with obstructing an officer. Prosecutors have tried to impose a gag order on him to prevent him from sharing his story with the press, and a local reporter who prepared a petition to intervene with the order was barred from entering the courthouse. Jared is 14 years old. Perhaps Logan police and prosecutors could pick on someone their own size.
‐ After determining that Bashar al-Assad’s regime had indeed used chemical weapons, the administration announced it would begin to arm Syria’s rebels. We will attempt to bolster the better elements within the opposition, focusing our hopes in particular on General Salim Idriss, a defector who runs the Free Syrian Army. We should be clear-eyed about this inherently limited policy, which comes in the context of the administration’s drift in the region: It won’t end the Syrian civil war, and it won’t topple Assad. It might give us more influence on the ground, though, and more insight into the players within the rebellion. Why should the Saudis and Qataris do more to shape the nature of the opposition than we do? The problem with more robust intervention now would be that, given how heavily Islamist the best rebel fighters are at the moment, it would only help our enemies (Sunni radicals) in the cause of fighting our other enemies (Assad, Iran, Hezbollah). The Middle East rarely presents many good choices; the Syrian civil war presents none.
‐ The new president of Iran, the cleric Hassan Rowhani, was with Ayatollah Khomeini in exile in France planning the final stages of the overthrow of the shah. This is the all-important fact about the man. He is, and always has been, one of the regime’s core apparatchiks, the Iranian equivalent of a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee in old Soviet days. A look at his record confirms his leading role in achieving the ends of the Islamic Republic and the elimination, if necessary by murder, of its opponents. The record also shows him trumpeting his role in Iran’s nuclear program and helping deceive the West on the issue. Some 700 candidates applied to stand for the presidency, but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei whittled them down to half a dozen. The ayatollah is the Supreme Leader in any case, and the president serves to do his bidding. What might appear to be Rowhani’s election, then, is in the nature of an appointment. Yet a chorus arose to sing that here was a reformer, a Gorbachev no less, willing to engage with the West, open a new relationship, liberalize: all the well-worn self-deceptions that people fall back on. It’s a mind-blowing example of the trait T. S. Eliot long ago put his finger on: “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”
#page#‐ Some citizens of Istanbul got together to protest the planned development of one of the few parks in the city. No big deal, except that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, sent the police to drive them off with water cannons and tear gas. This heedless response immediately enlarged what would have been a smallish peaceful demonstration into a nationwide explosion of rage against Erdogan. Hundreds of thousands of Turks see him as arrogant and impetuous. He has always wanted to remake Turkey into an Islamist state, and he took his victory in three consecutive elections as the signal to go ahead. The military, the judiciary, and the media have suffered purges: More journalists are in prison in Turkey than in any other country. In the view of critics, the proposed constitutional change to a presidential system of government would say goodbye to hard-won years of democracy and instead install Erdogan as a sultan with absolute power. “We take no orders or instructions from anyone except God,” he boasted to the demonstrators, also claiming that they are terrorists under foreign influence. By the time the police had finished, there were four deaths; over 7,000 people have received hospital treatment. Violence is always just underneath the Islamist project, as the Turks are now beginning to learn.
‐ Horace said that his poetry was a monument more lasting than bronze, but if he had been bolder, he might have compared his work to Roman cement. From a breakwater built in 37 b.c. near Naples and, mirabile dictu, still sturdy, U.S. and Italian researchers have identified how the structure has been able to withstand more than 2,000 years of saltwater pounding against its surface. The Romans mixed volcanic ash with lime, which absorbed water and reacted with the ash to form the highly stable material we now call pozzolan cement, after Pozzuoli Bay in southern Italy. Pozzolan cement is stronger than Portland cement, the industry standard in modern construction, and the manufacture of it emits less carbon dioxide, so there’s something in pozzolan cement for environmentalists as well as for architects and engineers, whose ancient forerunners once again show the way.
‐ Normally, we wouldn’t have a fried corndog in a fight about Paula Deen, the southern-cooking TV chef. Yet the lady is trying to avoid incineration (she has been dropped by the Food Network and Smithfield Hams) after an employee suing over workplace harassment accused her of using what the polite will only call “the N-word.” Some bosses use coarse language to bully and intimidate, and the courts will determine whether that was the case here. But some of us use coarse language because we are not, even as this Pharisee, perfect. Meanwhile, rappers sprinkle “nigger” through their lyrics like a condiment, to show how echt they are, and everyone yawns. Lincoln said destruction and death were the nation’s punishment for slavery. What are conniptions and double standards our punishment for?
‐ James Gandolfini was the son of Italian immigrants in New Jersey, his mother a high-school-cafeteria lunch lady, his father a bricklayer. He parlayed his thuggish looks into a notable acting career — with a specialty in thugs, of course — first on the stage opposite Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin in A Streetcar Named Desire, then in film, and most famously as the New Jersey Mob boss Tony Soprano in the highly regarded television series The Sopranos. That show launched what was to be a renaissance in narratively sophisticated television programming. Gandolfini’s performance in the show was smothered in praise, and one critic described the program’s 86 episodes as composing the elusive “Great American Novel,” praise that is overly effusive, but not grossly so: In addition to Gandolfini’s memorable work, The Sopranos could boast of being the first television program in which the writing approached a level of artistry comparable to the best fiction or drama. Later, Gandolfini produced two documentaries about the difficulties of veterans returning from war, and did many of the normal Hollywood things: raising money for charities, divorcing his wife and marrying a model, etc. He was a target for the usual scolds: Essex County, N.J., refused to let The Sopranos film on public property because of its depiction of Italian Americans, which is rather like Greenwich, Conn., punishing John Updike for his depiction of the great American WASP. Dead at 51. R.I.P.
‐ Vince Flynn’s 15th thriller was to be called The Survivor. Its publication is now uncertain, following Flynn’s death on June 19 to prostate cancer, at the age of 47. The Minnesota-based author leaves behind a shelfload of bestselling novels with titles such as “Consent to Kill,” “Kill Shot,” and “Protect and Defend.” All but one of them feature Mitch Rapp, a can-do CIA operative who confronted America’s enemies at home and abroad: “He was a modern-day assassin who lived in a civilized country where such a term could never be used openly,” wrote Flynn in Memorial Day. Flynn insisted that he was an entertainer first, but he always filled his action-packed stories with prescient warnings about the rise of terrorism, along with heartfelt patriotism and a conservative sensibility. His countrymen responded by buying more than 15 million copies of his books. R.I.P.
No Sympathy for Snowden
Any Americans who were once tempted to lionize or even sympathize with Edward Snowden must be reassessing the man as he goes from China to Russia to, perhaps, Ecuador in search of refuge. He has confirmed that the U.S. spies on foreign leaders, a comment that can only have been made to cause diplomatic problems for our government, since the fact was surely already understood by every adult in the world. The government has charged him with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, and it is hard to see any valid defense he can mount: He has admitted to breaking the law, and he ought to be brought to justice.
Debate continues about the surveillance programs whose existence Snowden revealed. It seems to us that the government ought to be allowed to collect information about phone and Internet use so long as safeguards are in place. The government should be able to store basic information about all Americans’ phone use in order to be able to detect possible terrorist activity and then ferret out more information about it. It should be able to monitor foreigners’ Internet usage at the risk of discovering some information about Americans’ usage. It should, however, have to delete any information about innocent Americans that agents accidentally access, as is reportedly the current practice.
It is certainly possible to disagree with these judgments and find no safeguards both adequate and practicable. We ourselves think that the secrecy that surrounded the phone-surveillance program is hard to defend: Short of communicating with tin cans and string, terrorists are not going to be able to do much about the fact that phone-call data are being collected. Secrecy is often necessary to protect national security, but it ought not to be used to protect policymakers from a political backlash. And even if all the secrecy were justified, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told an indefensible lie to the Senate earlier this year when testifying about the surveillance of Americans. Instead of denying the existence of that surveillance, he could have followed witnesses in comparable situations in years past in saying that he would not speak in public about such sensitive matters.
There are, then, many reasonable criticisms that can be made of how the government has been conducting surveillance. Then there is former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s comment that we are “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” Edward Snowden could not have put it better, and probably would not have put it worse.
Ruses in the Senate
In a final theatrical flourish in the immigration-reform drama, the Senate conducted a hasty vote on the so-called amendment offered by Senators John Hoeven and Bob Corker — an “amendment” that, by sprinkling changes throughout the bill’s text, essentially created an entirely new piece of legislation. In effect, the Senate wrote a new bill on a Friday and gave itself the weekend to consider its 1,200 pages. The amendment passed with 67 votes, and Senator Corker inexplicably described that outcome as having “dramatically improved” the legislation. In truth, he is not in much of a position to say: As Yuval Levin and others have noted, this amounts to another case of passing the bill to find out what’s in it. Republicans should not be party to that.
Among the many promises he has made regarding this issue, Senator Marco Rubio averred that he would not support the passage of a bill without sufficient time for debate, discussion, study, and public input. This is yet another assurance from Senator Rubio that has gone by the wayside. That means no score from the Congressional Budget Office, though the bill will have hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal consequences. That means no time for detailed analysis of the so-called security triggers in the bill, which are much less robust than the Gang of Eight would have us believe.
This is, in a word, dishonest. No senator — and especially no Republican — associating himself with this sort of charade deserves to escape with his reputation undamaged. Perhaps that is no great loss for Senator John McCain, who has for years shown himself to have grievously defective judgment on the subject of immigration, but Senator Rubio emerges from this process much diminished.
The fundamental problem with this bill, both in its earlier form and in the new Hoeven-Corker form, is that it confers an immediate amnesty on illegals already present in the country in exchange for promises of tightened border security at some point in the future. Not very tight, mind you: The bill’s own supporters do not contest forecasts that over the next 20 years we would once again find ourselves with 11 million or more illegal immigrants, as many as we have now — partly because the amendment does nothing to reduce visa overstays.
Stronger security provisions, such as requiring that the border fence be completed before amnesty is handed down, were rejected. Under this bill, the only purported consequence of failing to secure the borders is delaying the process under which the newly legalized residents would be able to apply for green cards and citizenship. Given that many illegal immigrants have been here for decades — and that they care more about legalization than about the prospect of citizenship — slowing down that process would not matter very much.
Beyond the questions related to illegal immigration, the bill would establish radically expanded levels of legal immigration, which are problematic in themselves. It preserves the worst of the old family-based immigration model, does little nor nothing to align our immigration policy with our economic interests, and, most worrisome, invites the continued erosion of the country’s cultural cohesion.
Amended or not, this bill would simply offer an amnesty and then set about creating the constituency for the next amnesty. The House of Representatives should reject it.
Justice Kennedy’s Culture War
The Supreme Court declined to rule that every state in the country must recognize same-sex marriage, but do not be fooled. Five justices have taken the position that there is no rationale other than hostility to homosexuals for defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. When they believe the time is right to issue a more sweeping ruling, they will. This issue will no longer be one on which democratic deliberation is allowed.
The specific case in which the Court made its proclivities clear concerned the Defense of Marriage Act, in which Congress defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the purposes of federal law. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the four Democratic appointees and himself, argues that the motivation for the law was a “bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.” The Court is not saying merely that supporters of the historic understanding of marriage are wrong, or even merely that this understanding runs afoul of the Constitution (in some unspecified way: As Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent notes, Kennedy’s opinion is hard to pin down on the question). It is saying that the supporters bring nothing but bigotry to the discussion.
The real argument for continuing to treat marriage as the union of a man and a woman is that marriage and marriage law exist to channel sexual behavior in a way that promotes the flourishing of children. They exist, that is, to solve a problem that does not arise in same-sex unions: that heterosexual sex often gives rise to children. They exist to uphold the ideal that children need the mother and father who created them to stay in a stable relationship together. Recognition of same-sex marriage means that the institution is no longer about those things.
There are, of course, coherent arguments against this view, and while we do not think them ultimately successful, an increasing number of people clearly disagree with our conclusion.
What should have mattered in court was that weighing that question is not their business. Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent got it right. “Same-sex marriage presents a highly emotional and important question of public policy — but not a difficult question of constitutional law,” he writes. The Constitution is neutral on whether governmental recognition of same-sex marriage will undermine the institution of marriage, strengthen it, or have no effect at all; it does not contemplate the question.
Five justices could not resist the temptation to pretend that the Constitution picks a side of this battle, and condemns the other — Scalia sees this plainly — as moral monsters. The justices have not yet decided that we who disagree are to be permitted no influence whatsoever on the country’s marriage laws, but the clock is ticking, and this Court has no patience for self-government.