‐ We have long questioned the wisdom of nuclear negotiations with a party that has a history of promise-breaking and duplicity. So Harry Reid’s actions come as no surprise.
‐ There are assassins who are crazy, and assassins who are ideologues. Among the former: Charles Guiteau, who shot James Garfield; Squeaky Fromme, who tried to shoot Gerald Ford. Among the latter: John Wilkes Booth, self-described Confederate; Leon Czolgosz, anarchist; Sirhan Sirhan, Palestinian nationalist; and, of special relevance this November, Lee Harvey Oswald, a Communist who moved to the Soviet Union, married a Soviet wife, and admired Castro. Then there are crazy attempts to interpret the ideology of assassins: As James Piereson has pointed out, liberals who could not stand to see Kennedy as a casualty of the Cold War made him the casualty of Dallas’s right-wing climate of hate instead. They are still at it: Steven L. Davis, co-author of the new book Dallas 1963, accuses the Tea Party of spewing the same hatred at Barack Obama; the New York Times has recently run several stories on this theme. Gentlemen: Get your ideology straight. Oswald et al. at least did that, however destructive and monstrous they otherwise were.
‐ Sarah Palin has a gift for vivid rhetoric and a talent for driving all the right people crazy. Commenting on our nation’s excessive debt, she told Fox News that when the bills come due, Americans will “be beholden to a foreign master” and the result will be “like slavery.” MSNBC’s perpetually outraged Martin Bashir responded to Palin by recalling an 18th-century slaveowner named Thomas Thistlewood, who punished misbehaving slaves by forcing others to defecate or urinate in their mouths. He went on to say that Palin deserved “a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood.” Bashir has offered an apology, which Palin has accepted. But Bashir has a long record of comparing Republicans to the vilest demagogues and dictators and making juvenile personal attacks on those who disagree with him. Potty-mouth, heal thyself.
‐ Supporters of Senator Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) ran an ad saying that his primary rival, Elizabeth Cheney, “aggressively promotes” same-sex marriage. Cheney said that in fact she does not support it at all, unlike her father. Her sister, a lesbian, and her partner — her wife according to the District of Columbia and, thanks to the Supreme Court, therefore the federal government — took to Facebook to blast her as a two-faced opponent of civil rights, someone who had always been welcoming to her family members but now wanted to treat some of them as “second-class citizens.” The sisters’ parents, Dick and Lynne Cheney, then issued a statement saying that Elizabeth had long maintained the traditionalist view, that it had long been a source of painful conflict within the family, and that her past acts of kindness should not be held against her. In a recent interview, Cheney explained her conduct thus: “I love my sister and her family and have always tried to be compassionate towards them. I believe that is the Christian way to behave.” Supporters of same-sex marriage, especially these days, treat the opponents as bigoted and indecent, as though second-class citizenship is what we are after. Some of those supporters also hold it against us when we do not act the part.
‐ The knockout game suddenly made the major media, though the phenomenon — anomic gangs of punks, one of whom punches a passerby without reason — has been going on for years. The reason the “game” proceeded under the radar is that the gangs are invariably black, and their victims are not. Sometimes the reason they were felled was that they were gay, or Hasidic, or Asian, or just plain white. But the racial difference is always present, and since blacks are not the victims, the racial difference fits no recognized narrative of oppression. Is racism the only, or even the main motive? Probably not: Plain old thuggery always calls out to the anomic. But racial difference makes clobbering a stranger easier and a sense of grievance — punch a cracker for Trayvon — makes it easier still. If only some well-spoken black intellectual rose to prominence — say to the White House — and brought us together, then all would be well.
‐ Oprah Winfrey, who became a billionaire in spite of the best efforts of the Man to keep her down, said in a recent interview that racism explains “in some cases and maybe even in many cases” criticism of Barack Obama, who became president of the United States of America in spite of the best efforts of the Man to keep him down, presumably throughout the course of his prep-school and Ivy League education and on through his cursus honorum leading up to his tenure in the White House. “It’s the kind of thing that nobody ever says but everybody is thinking,” Winfrey said. Never mind that this thing that nobody ever says is said by practically everybody sharing Winfrey’s political preferences. Is there anything that better describes the state of American racism than a black billionaire contemplating a black president and seeing a victim of racism?
‐ James O’Keefe, vanquisher of ACORN, NPR executives, and Planned Parenthood staffers, has turned his attention to Obamacare — and homed in on the Department of Health and Human Services’ “navigator” program. Under that program, HHS doled out $67 million to 105 organizations across the country, including Planned Parenthood, to hire “navigators” to help Americans enroll in the federal health-care exchange. The events O’Keefe caught on tape at a Texas navigation site under the auspices of the National Urban League, which received $376,800 from the feds, will shock nobody familiar with prior videos: Government-paid workers are seen urging consumers to lie, cheat, and steal from the federal government. “You lie because your premiums will be higher,” one navigator advises O’Keefe’s undercover investigator, who says he sometimes smokes. “Don’t tell them that. Don’t tell ’em.” The investigator then poses as a low-income worker who has unreported cash income on the side. He worries that the additional income might prevent him from receiving Obamacare subsidies, but that’s no obstacle for the navigator, who says, “Don’t get yourself in trouble by declaring it now.” Another chimes in: “Never report it.” If they are ever called to account, the navigators should plead that they are following the spirit of the law.
‐ As of mid November, Colorado had reportedly enrolled 6,001 people on its health-care exchange — and one previously uninsured pooch. Baxter, a 14-year-old Yorkie, received a letter from Connect for Health Colorado congratulating him on successfully opening an insurance account. His bemused owner, Shane Smith, had attempted to sign up for a health plan over the phone after Obamacare caused his old plan to be canceled; the mix-up came about, he presumed, because he had given Baxter’s name as an answer to one of the security questions. “Typical Obamacare, that they would insure your dog by mistake,” Smith told a local news outlet. Connect for Health Colorado commented, “As with any new system, mistakes are possible.” When we said health insurance in this country was going to the dogs . . .
‐ Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.), more than anyone else, wrote the “health-care reform” that is currently deforming Americans’ medical system and budgets. Now he has offered a “corporate tax reform” that should also be setting off alarms. Like his earlier legislation, this one comes with some attractive-sounding features: In this case, a reduction in the corporate tax rate. The trade for lower taxes on corporate profit, though, is higher taxes on corporate investment. Older, established businesses that are living off past investments would come out ahead; start-ups would pay higher taxes than they do today. Republicans should want no part of that deal.
‐ Trans fats are liquid fats that have been treated to make them solid. They used to be found in products like vegetable shortening and margarine, along with many other processed foods, until research showed that they can be as bad as animal fats in causing heart disease and possibly a bit worse. In 2006 the FDA made food manufacturers list trans-fat content on their labels, and this labeling plus widespread publicity about the health risks caused most big manufacturers and fast-food chains to switch to other substances (the stragglers are mostly small businesses that lack the resources to reformulate their products). As a result, Americans’ consumption of trans fats has plunged from 4.6 grams a day to around 1 gram over the past decade. It’s a classic case of free markets (and market-friendly regulation) at work — but that reduction to 1 gram isn’t enough for Barack Obama’s FDA, which now wants to ban trans fats entirely (the agency is developing tests to detect trans fats at levels as low as 0.1 grams per serving). The FDA lacks jurisdiction over naturally occurring fats, so at press time it was still legal to order a cheeseburger, but there’s no telling what’s next for the grim absolutists of the FDA.
‐ Americans with no interest in competing for the votes of Iowans in years divisible by four have long agreed that federal support for making ethanol fuel from corn is a costly and inefficient way to help the environment. It may not even be green at all. A new investigative report by the Associated Press reveals the extent to which government support for ethanol, a fuel only slightly cleaner than gasoline, has hurt the environment by pushing farmers into marginal and once-protected cropland in the Midwest, a shift that has a range of ancillary environmental costs. Subsidies for ethanol have been a longstanding feature of U.S. environmental policy; their main form now is a mandate that transportation fuel in the U.S. must contain a certain percentage of ethanol: a requirement instituted by the Bush administration and expanded by the Obama administration in 2010. The mandate is now so onerous that the EPA is considering scaling it back for 2014, market developments having varied from the projections on which its policy relied (fancy that). Ethanol subsidies are the epitome of wastefulness, which turns out not to help the environment.
‐ Congress is considering the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty has one feature that by itself merits opposition: It purports to guarantee “free or affordable” access for disabled people to “sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programmes” — euphemisms that encompass abortion, according to the State Department. The disabilities treaty would thus be the first compact the U.S. has signed that enshrines free access to abortion in international law. (It would be especially macabre for this line to be crossed in a treaty seeking to help the disabled.) Treaty advocates argue that U.S. ratification will pressure other countries to extend the protections we take for granted, thus helping disabled Americans who travel or live abroad. Yet a range of evidence confirms that new U.N. treaties do nothing to improve human-rights policies. If the treaty sounds like a sensible, effective way to protect disabled Americans, then we have an ADA-compliant office complex on the East River to sell you.
‐ “I am pro-life,” Wendy Davis told a group of college students in November. They may have been surprised to hear it: Davis owes the political celebrity that launched her Texas gubernatorial campaign to her eleven-hour filibuster in June to prevent abortion from being restricted after 20 weeks of fetal development. She seems to have grasped, though, that while her impassioned stand for women’s “reproductive health” electrified Democratic donors nationally, it does not enthuse most Texas voters. “I care about the life of every child,” she explained. “Every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream.” Every child that makes it out of the womb alive.
‐ Speaking of Texas, they had a gala ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new abortion clinic in Fort Worth. A Planned Parenthood clinic, it cost $6.5 million and is “state of the art,” as news reports have said. Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the daughter of the late Texas governor Ann Richards, attended the gala ceremony. In an interesting twist of fate, the abortion clinic is next to an adoption center: the Gladney Center for Adoption. Here we see two completely different views of life, morality, and man. What a difference a door or an address makes.
#page#Judging the Parties
Why did Senate Democrats take the unprecedented step of ending filibusters for presidential appointments, including nominations to the judiciary? According to President Obama and his cheerleaders, it’s a matter of desperate times calling for desperate measures. In a speech before the Senate vote, Obama said that “over the past five years, we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done. . . . Today’s pattern of obstruction just isn’t normal.” The New York Times heralded the move as “long overdue” and “a return to the democratic process.”
If we have learned anything about this president, it is that his factual assertions need to be scrutinized. So what do the facts say? Have Senate Republicans’ actions really been unprecedented, as the president and Democrats claim?
A landmark new book provides the data we need to check this claim. In Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench, published this September, economist John Lott collects and examines the most complete data ever assembled regarding the judicial-nomination process. He sifts through data on all nominations to circuit- and district-court judgeships for every president since Jimmy Carter. The nearby chart shows the number of days between judicial nominations and confirmations during different presidential administrations, for nominees to both circuit and district courts, based on Lott’s analysis.
Source: Lott, John. 2013. Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges off the Bench. Bascom Hill Publishing Group, Minneapolis, Minn.
If President Obama’s story were correct, we would expect the data to show that filibustering tea partiers had pushed delays through the roof relative to earlier periods. But the data do not bear this out. The experience of judicial nominees under Obama has not been appreciably different from the trend under previous administrations. Since the presidency of George H. W. Bush, the lag between nomination and confirmation has steadily increased under all administrations, especially for circuit-court nominees. And although the delay for district-court nominees was longer during Obama’s first term than during George W. Bush’s administration, the average lag for the circuit courts has actually fallen.
Lott adds that the lags to a vote on confirmation are just part of the story. Indeed, fully 85 percent of President Obama’s circuit-court nominees have now been confirmed, a much higher percentage than that enjoyed by President Bush, who saw only 72 percent confirmed. The data, then, suggest that Republicans have been on balance less of a political obstacle to President Obama’s nominees than Democrats were to President George W. Bush’s.
This is the second time this fall that the president has lobbed the transparently incorrect assertion that Republicans are acting in an unprecedented fashion and received roaring confirmation from most in the media. Recall that the same was said of the GOP’s desire to attach strings to the increase in the debt limit, despite the fact that 27 out of 53 debt-limit increases had included strings, and 60 percent of those were attached by Democratic Congresses. That the familiar falsehood and its echoes should accompany an assault on a centuries-old Senate tradition suggests that this president is sure to find more “unprecedented” obstacles that require extraordinary responses in the months to come.
#page#‐ In what a former U.S. diplomat calls a “massive downgrade” to the U.S. embassy to the Holy See, the State Department has decided to move it from the Villa Domiziana, a stately edifice overlooking the Circus Maximus, to an annex that will be built onto the U.S. embassy to Italy. The reason for consolidating operations is primarily to enhance security, say the current ambassador and his immediate predecessor, both of them Obama appointees. Five former ambassadors to the Holy See, including James Nicholson, Mary Ann Glendon, and Raymond Flynn, have objected to the plan. Of the 80 countries with embassies to the world’s smallest sovereignty in area and population, though obviously not in influence (you may recall its role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its empire), only two make their Vatican ambassadors work out of their Italian embassies. There is no good reason for the United States to become the third.
‐ Since his election nine months ago, Pope Francis has often found occasion to demonstrate the stubborn truth of the Bible verse that “the tongue can no man tame, it is an unruly evil” (James 3:8). He has made statements that some have taken to mean he would like to remake the Catholic Church in the image of the New York Times editorial board. His own rhetorical carelessness has sometimes reinforced this impression. He walks the walk better than he talks the talk. His warm embrace of a severely disfigured pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square in November needed no commentary. The image went viral. “It was like being in paradise,” the afflicted man, Vinicio Riva, later said. “Here I leave my pain.” Only days later, encountering a gentleman whose face was almost entirely missing, the pope did it again, reaching out to hug someone most of us, sad to say, would treat as untouchable. Wordless preaching is the most powerful kind. Pope Francis may have finally found his voice.
‐ Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, ran a headline that echoed around the world: “China to Ease One-Child Policy.” From now on, couples could have a second child if either parent was an only child. Evidently, China was feeling the pinch of a shrinking labor force, a burgeoning elderly population, and a severe imbalance between the sexes. After some international excitement, Xinhua ran a second report under the headline “Birth-Policy Changes Are No Big Deal.” The relevant official said that “the number of couples covered by the new policy is not very large across the country” and that there were several contingencies. In sum, “the basic state policy of family planning will be adhered to over a long period of time.” Reggie Littlejohn, the president of a group that monitors the one-child policy and its inhuman effects, Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, said it right: The fundamental problem is that “the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is telling women how many children they can have and then enforcing that limit through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and infanticide.”
‐ Canadians like to pretend that they are nice, but there are several giveaways: The national game is fast, violent hockey; Canadians do well in comedy, which is not for nice guys (just ask the Irish and the Jews); and now, Rob Ford. Ford, who has been mayor of Toronto since 2010, has recently become a celebrity for explaining that he had used crack “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” Some of his other prize comments are not printable in a family magazine. Ford’s big bluff smiling face adds an extra jolt: He is the hellion teddy bear. Canadians must make their own judgments about propriety, sobriety, and law-breaking. But it should be noted that Ford won office as a populist promising to cut taxes and spending, which would have made him a target of Canada’s MSM if he had been a teetotaler. Perhaps Ford will go down; or perhaps he will go down with John A. Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada, off-and-on drunkard, and master politician.
‐ At the United Nations, it was business as usual: The General Assembly adopted nine resolutions condemning Israel and none against any other country. A U.N. interpreter made some remarks about this, not knowing her microphone was live. What she said went into the ears of every U.N. delegate and a webcast audience around the world. “C’est un peu trop, non?” In other words, the singling out of Israel “is a bit much, isn’t it?” Then, continuing in English: “There’s other really bad s*** happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.” Whether the interpreter still has her job is unknown. In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Sometimes the veil of hypocrisy over the incessant attacks against us is ripped off, and this interpreter did that.” He also offered her a job, in the event she had need of one. In vino veritas, goes an old saying. The truth can come from “hot mics,” too.
‐ In Cuba, there is a rap artist named Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, a.k.a. “El Crítico” — “The Critic.” The Cuban dictatorship does not take kindly to critics. That’s why Remón is in prison. He has been there since March, without a trial, though with an eight-year sentence. In October, he went on a hunger strike. His wife, Yudisbel Roseyo Mojena, asked American rappers and singers to speak out in his behalf. “I would be grateful a million times over,” she said. She did not have many takers. It would have been especially helpful to have the support of Jay-Z and his wife Beyoncé, who are close Obama friends and major fundraisers. They celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary this year by vacationing in Cuba about a week after Remón was arrested. After 27 days, near death, Remón suspended his hunger strike. This practice, hunger-striking, is problematic, morally. But prisoners of conscience have been doing it for many decades, and they do it because vicious regimes drive them to this terrible extreme.
‐ Ukraine, the most populous of the former Soviet republics after Russia, abruptly canceled a planned trade pact with the European Union, two weeks after an all-night meeting in Moscow between Presidents Viktor Yanukovich and Vladimir Putin. No details of the meeting have leaked (except for Russian gloating: “like stealing the bride at the altar,” an unnamed source told a Russian business newspaper), but Putin clearly threatened to shut off Russian supplies of natural gas if Ukraine went with the EU. The collapse of a similar EU deal with Armenia shows Putin’s determination to restore a shadow Soviet Union, replacing literal control with economic influence and an expectation that local media will observe Russian norms of discretion. Putin’s empire rests on shaky foundations — Russia’s economy depends on high world oil prices, which North American production will cut — but while the going is still pretty good, Putin wants to grab what he can.
‐ If you have a few spare minutes, go to the Internet and read the speech delivered by John Howard in London on November 5. Howard is a former prime minister of Australia. He titled his speech “One Religion Is Enough.” He said he did so “largely in reaction to the sanctimonious tone employed by so many of those who advocate quite substantial, and costly, responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe.” To these people, he said, “the cause has become a substitute religion.” He went on to explain the pressures he faced, as prime minister, to “do something.” He gave a fascinating look at what government is like from the inside. He warned against knuckling under to enviro-bullies such as Al Gore. In short, he delivered a bracing, brutally frank, somewhat brave speech.
‐ Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, whose Socialist party will face local elections in December, offered something better than “a chicken in every pot”: “We will guarantee everyone a plasma television.” To this end, he has encouraged and facilitated the looting of stores, though the problem with looting is that it usually works only once. Now the Socialist-controlled legislature has given Maduro power to rule by decree, but he will learn soon enough that one cannot decree expensive electronic goods (or food, or health care for that matter) into existence. His plasma-TV promise may be less popular with the public than it sounds, since in between the telenovelas Venezuelans are subjected to mandatory government broadcasts, with the licenses of opposition stations liable to be revoked. Perhaps his most audacious scheme has been changing the date of Christmas, so that workers will receive their holiday bonuses before the election — but even here, he lacks the proper ambition. Maduro should just do what other socialists do, and tell the voters that it’s Christmas every day.
‐ Creigh Deeds, a state senator and the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia in 2009, was stabbed in the head and chest by his 24-year-old son Gus after an altercation. His son then shot himself to death. Only the day before, he had been evaluated for psychiatric treatment, but was released because no psychiatric beds in the area were available, according to the executive director of the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board. He added that it was rare for a patient to be turned away for that reason, but the Treatment Advocacy Center claims that Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals can accommodate only 37 percent of its population in need of their services. And the scope of the problem is national. Beds for mentally ill patients have been reduced by 90 percent over the past half-century, as the population has doubled. It’s a public-health crisis. The instinct may be to look the other way, but we can’t afford to, as the harm and the loss suffered by the Deeds family so starkly remind us.
‐ Looking at the research on gay parenting, Mark Regnerus noticed that the samples of most studies were small and unrepresentative, so he collected a sample that was random and large. His team interviewed 15,000 people. Among his findings, published in the journal Social Science Research in July 2012, were that children raised by parents with same-sex romantic relationships fared worse than average on various “social, emotional, and relational outcome variables.” A campaign to discredit his work led to an inquiry by the University of Texas at Austin, where Regnerus teaches sociology. UT found no evidence of scholarly misconduct. So an independent journalist, John M. Becker, sued for access to the private correspondence of the editor of SSR. In November, circuit judge Donald Grincewicz of Orange County, Fla., ruled in his favor, reasoning that, because the editor is an employee of a public university, the University of Central Florida, his e-mails are public records. The presumed confidentiality of the peer reviews he solicited is now nullified, and scholars and editors are effectively warned against pursuing ideas that could call reigning academic orthodoxies into question. This is a message that does not seem to bother some people.
#page#‐ A national atheist group has announced that it will be seeking to create “secular safe zones” on college campuses across the country, on the theory that nonbelievers are an embattled and persecuted minority. “Every time the Pledge of Allegiance is said or a sports team says a prayer before a game, secular students are pushed to the margins of society,” the Secular Student Alliance says. What is striking about the so-called secularist movement is not its members’ nonbelief — nonbelievers and skeptics are part of a very long tradition — but its smallness and its meanness. To confess to being threatened by the Pledge of Allegiance is to admit a serious deficit of intellectual confidence in one’s beliefs, or nonbeliefs. The campaign against the phrase “under God” is not inspired by constitutional scrupulosity, but by the desire to engage in cultural vandalism: of the Pledge of Allegiance, of the Ten Commandments, of “In God We Trust,” of such shared traditions as group prayers. Atheists are as safe as anyone else in this country. But they might do with a dose of courage.
‐ On the subject of “under God,” Barack Obama omitted those words when reciting the Gettysburg Address on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. There was a consequent kerfuffle as some of the president’s more energetic critics complained that this was an intentional slight to believers and a sop to his secularist base. Ken Burns, an intellectual princeling of self-regarding liberalism, attempted to quash that criticism, claiming that the president had specifically been asked to deliver the first draft of the address, which does not include the words “under God.” But even if that is true, it is hardly an explanation: Why prefer the first draft to the finished product, the version that Abraham Lincoln actually delivered? President Obama, a man who does not suffer from a deficit of self-esteem, may indeed believe that he is in a position to improve on that other president from Illinois — perhaps he also has some opinions on the revisions that were made to King Lear. A wiser man would defer to Lincoln, in word and in deed.
‐ Oxford Dictionaries announced that the word of the year for 2013, beating out “twerk” and “bitcoin,” was “selfie.” According to the lexicographers, the word, coined by an Australian posting on an online forum in 2002, was used 17,000 percent more this year than in 2012. Proof that social media are the pool of Narcissus? So it can be — but so has every form of self-expression been. Kodak and Polaroid allowed ordinary people to snap pictures of each other (arm’s-length selfies). The daguerreotype required a professional, but was put to the same use. And what about writing and publishing as mediums of confession and self-exposure, from Rousseau to Montaigne to (pre-Gutenberg) Saint Augustine? Most self-portraiture is worthless because most self-portraitists — that is, most of us — are ordinary. But God sees the uniqueness of each soul; and sometimes an intelligent and sensitive soul can convey a glimmer of it. So click away, net heads; if you ever look back on your files, you may be surprised by what you see.
‐ In 1946, Frank Capra changed American cinema — and Christmas — with It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The beloved film tells the story of the suicidal George Bailey, whose guardian angel Clarence comes to earth to show him how much worse off his hometown of Bedford Falls would be if he had never been born. “No man is a failure who has friends,” the film’s wisdom goes. A few weeks ago, Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions announced a sequel to the film, to be released in the 2015 holiday season: It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story. If the film’s title weren’t enough, here’s the plot: George Bailey’s grandson, an unlikable fellow also named George Bailey, is visited by an angel who shows him how much better the world would be if he had never been born. It’s a Wonderful Life devotees are outraged, and Paramount, which holds the rights to the original, has vowed to block production. If the sequel is killed, the story of It’s a Wonderful Life will become just a little more heartwarming.
#page#THE MIDDLE EAST
An Awful Deal
Tehran appears to be delighted over the so-called interim deal over its nuclear program, and it should be.
The Obama administration says the agreement will degrade Iran’s nuclear capacity, halt its current progress, and lay the groundwork for a final deal, in exchange for discrete concessions on sanctions. But this “freeze” is incomplete and reversible (as the term “freeze” suggests), and the effect of the loosening of the sanctions will be far-reaching.
Reminiscent of his claim that a strike on Syria to deter future chemical-weapons use would be “unbelievably small,” Secretary Kerry said that the deal’s concessions translate into “very little sanctions relief.” This is an odd description for measures that take up a full page of the agreement’s four-page outline and extend to suspending sanctions on petroleum and gold, authorizing new shipments of auto and aircraft parts (which are of military and economic use to the Revolutionary Guard), allowing U.S. and EU companies to insure oil shipments, increasing the caps on EU trade in non-sanctioned goods, and more.
The White House estimates the value of these particular adjustments to be about $6–7 billion, which is no paltry sum in exchange for so little from Iran (and reports already indicate that that number is a huge underestimate). But the real economic value lies elsewhere. This deal makes it known that our Western leaders view Iran as a legitimate negotiating partner — in fact, one that they expect will agree to a final deal in six months. Thus it signals to the many foreign firms interested in business with the regime that the West is growing more tolerant.
All of this is negotiated away just to set the table for an actual agreement, a strategy that failed the Clinton and Bush administrations completely in North Korea.
The White House has boasted that Iran will give the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented levels of access, including daily inspections of facilities. While Iran’s agreeing to marginally more IAEA access is welcome, it’s worth remembering that the IAEA is being asked to monitor an agreement that, by allowing the continuation of enrichment, violates six existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and the agency’s own repeated requests, and makes no mention of halting work on nuclear-weapons technology.
One step Iran has successfully taken toward a bomb — enriching some uranium above the level necessary for use in a reactor, though below that necessary for making a bomb — will be reversed, by processing the material into an unusable form. But that step can itself be reversed. Unlike previous deals the Obama administration offered, this one entails that we will trust the Iranian regime, rather than the West, to handle the process.
All of Iran’s other progress toward a nuclear weapon — the partial construction of a plutonium-producing plant at Arak, the construction of thousands of centrifuges, the amassing of reactor-grade uranium — will be preserved. And it will not quite be halted: Some construction work, but not all, will be halted at Arak, and centrifuges can be repaired.
The existing centrifuges will not be frozen, but allowed to continue spinning away, creating reactor-grade uranium (up to 5 percent enriched), in an energy-rich country that has no capability for turning that material into fuel rods for a reactor. Enshrining this in an agreement is a key victory for Iran. Secretary Kerry claims that the deal does not recognize the right to enrichment, while his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, has told the Iranian people it does. For once, trust the Iranians: The agreement says they can continue to enrich uranium.
Congress should pass more sanctions, to take effect if Iran fails to adhere to this agreement. Meanwhile, leaders in Congress and in other countries should continue to try to impress on President Obama and Secretary Kerry that there can be no real progress without more pressure and a credible military threat. Absent those, a permanent deal in six months’ time will require even more wishful thinking and deception. Alas, this administration seems to have a limitless supply of that.
Under this president, even if you like the law of the land, you can’t keep it. His administration, no stranger to ignoring or refusing to enforce pages of the Federal Register, has now rewritten another key part of the Affordable Care Act to escape the political fallout from the insurance cancellations that are an integral part of its design.
Using its preferred legislative tool, lawless executive decree, the administration has decided not to enforce some of Obamacare’s costly mandates in 2014, allowing insurance companies, in theory, to renew plans that don’t meet them. Insurers may cancel many of the plans anyway on the grounds that it is too complicated and expensive to go back now, and because following the law — the actual law, not the law “enacted” by a press conference — is the safest way to protect themselves from lawsuits.
The White House knows that the viability of the exchanges depends on younger, healthier people’s getting forced out of their plans and onto the exchanges. As the president admitted in a November press conference, he realized at the time that his promise about keeping your insurance would not apply to everyone, and he is giving insurers only a brief escape hatch because he ultimately needs and wants “non-compliant” policies canceled — notwithstanding his infamous promise and his semi-apologies about it now.
Thus he has offered a “fix” that he knows will not work. Several states have already suggested they will ignore it and enforce the ACA’s regulations. The White House does not mind, since its entire purpose in announcing it would ignore the law was to stop panic from moving congressional Democrats to support a real change to the legislation.
Fred Upton (R., Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had offered a bill to let insurance companies offer plans eliminated by Obamacare for another year and let them sell the plans to people who don’t already have them. That freedom would be a step toward dismantling Obamacare — it would draw people out of the exchanges and keep people from entering them in the first place — and the pressure to renew it after a year would have been irresistible. If 100 Democrats had backed it, the vote would have marked the end of the Obamacare coalition in Congress. Obama’s move kept defections below 40.
Republicans should put political pressure on the insurers to do what they can to let more people keep their policies, and on congressmen to amend the law to make it possible. The number of Obamacare-driven cancellations is still increasing, and Republicans should keep doing what they can to oppose them.
The insurance industry understandably feels as though it is getting yanked back and forth, but excuse us if our sympathy is limited: The insurers got into bed with Obamacare and are still invested in the exchanges and their promised federal subsidies.
At the same time, of course, Republicans can and should explain that there is only one real fix for the problems that Obamacare has caused: repeal and replacement.
What is the filibuster? It is “a time-honored Senate procedure that prevents a bare majority of senators from running roughshod,” according to our friends on the New York Times editorial page. But that was in 2005, when Republicans frustrated over Democratic filibusters of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations were (with National Review’s support) considering the so-called nuclear option, the overblown name of which suggests that it is rather more than a change in the Senate’s procedural rules. The Times denounced the Republicans’ “rank hypocrisy” in 2005, as did any number of Democrats. Having reversed themselves at the dictates of convenience, they show themselves to be hypocrites on the matter at hand and also on the subject of hypocrisy: Call it hypocrisy squared.
The Democrats here are helping themselves to ill-gotten gains. Using the filibuster and other stalling techniques, they kept judicial vacancies open by closing them to Bush nominees. Miguel Estrada was kept off of the D.C. Court of Appeals by a filibuster. Later, when D.C. Circuit judge John Roberts was named to the Supreme Court, Democrats blocked George W. Bush’s nominee for his replacement, Peter D. Keisler. Democrats had previously blocked Roberts’s own nomination to the circuit, and he got on it only after Republicans took control of the Senate — something that Harry Reid in his hubris seems to think will never happen again.
The filibuster is not sacred writ, and we are on record supporting procedural changes to overcome partisan obstruction. The more serious concern here is that the Democrats are attempting to fill the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit court, with a rogue’s gallery of far-left nominees. That is worrisome in and of itself, but there is a deeper agenda: Much of what President Obama has done in office is of questionable legality and constitutionality. The president no doubt has in mind the sage advice of Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.” He is attempting to insulate his agenda from legal challenge by installing friendly activists throughout the federal judiciary. That is precisely what he means when he boasts, “We are remaking the courts.” The voters missed their chance to forestall these shenanigans in 2012. They made the wrong decision then, and have a chance to make partial amends in 2014, when they will be deciding not only what sort of Senate they wish to have, but what sort of courts, and what sort of country.