‐ Little-known fact: François Hollande’s security is provided by Arkansas state troopers.
‐ “What difference, at this point, does it make?” asked the presumed front-runner in the 2016 presidential race when questioned about the genesis of the September 11 terror attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including one of her ambassadors. But the State Department and the Senate Intelligence Committee think it makes enough difference to keep investigating the matter. Early in January the State Department listed two groups that took part in the Benghazi attack as terrorist organizations. Five days later the Senate committee report, while describing the attack as “opportunistic” and launched in “short order,” blamed it on “individuals affiliated with terrorist groups,” including Ansar al-Sharia and two al-Qaeda affiliates. It also faulted security at the Benghazi facility: The intelligence community had given “ample strategic warning” that U.S. personnel were “at risk.” But the front-runner and her colleagues did nothing to protect them, and claimed afterwards that the attacks were a spontaneous eruption of wrath against a low-budget American movie trailer. It makes a difference only if we expect foresight, realism, and honesty from our public servants.
‐ An excerpt published in Politico from HRC, a forthcoming book on Hillary Clinton by reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, offered a revealing glimpse into the 2008 Clinton machine: Her aides kept a “hit list,” a detailed Excel spreadsheet tracking Clinton’s friends and enemies, to ensure that future favors or payback were meted out according to the level of loyalty or treachery exhibited during the campaign. In one draft of the list, Democratic congressmen were rated on a scale of one to seven, with “sevens” being the most traitorous. Among the latter: Senators John Kerry, Claire McCaskill, and Ted Kennedy, all of whom endorsed Obama despite past support from the Clintons. “I wouldn’t, of course, call it an enemies list,” one source told Allen and Parnes. “I don’t want to make her sound like Nixon in a pantsuit.” If only Clinton had kept as meticulous track of cables addressed to her at the State Department.
‐ Both hard-core privacy advocates and the national-security Right were disappointed by President Obama’s speech about his proposed NSA reforms. In response to the political controversy created by Edward Snowden’s leaking information about nearly every aspect of American signal-intelligence work, Obama suggested marginal tweaks to the most controversial programs, while also defending their usefulness. Rather than decide whether the programs such as metadata gathering are worth their cost in personal privacy, the president left this decision to Congress and yet another panel of experts, pretending that some innovative solution might obviate the need to consider trade-offs. Worse, he promised new privacy protections to foreign governments and citizens. These reforms will probably not stop the intelligence community from doing what it needs to keep America safe — even if its leaders are less resolute.
‐ Apologists for Obamacare are saying that it has allowed 10 million people to gain health insurance. Don’t believe them. That number counts a lot of people who have simply re-enrolled in Medicaid. It counts everyone who is staying on his parent’s insurance until age 26, even people who were guaranteed that option by state law before Obamacare. It counts all the people who sign up for the exchanges as newly insured, even though McKinsey, a consultancy, has just estimated that only 11 percent of them lacked health insurance. It is entirely possible that Obamacare will not produce any net reduction in the number of uninsured Americans this year (and even more possible that it will produce no net reduction outside Medicaid). An administration official was quoted saying that Obamacare has achieved “preliminary sustainability.” Translation: We can’t say the law’s benefits are great, and we can’t say the costs are low, but we can say that the law is here. Watch for this argument–from–the–status quo to loom ever larger in liberal rhetoric.
‐ Because of its nonsensical underlying assumptions, Obamacare has added instability to the insurance market — instability that it proposes to address with a built-in, preemptive bailout program for insurance companies. In theory, the so-called risk-corridor program in Obamacare is designed to force insurers to share costs: If one unlucky insurer operating in the exchange ends up with an unusually sick and expensive clientele, then the luckier ones subsidize the firm, paying 75 percent of its costs when they exceed 108 percent of premiums. The immediate problem is that the incompetent rollout of Obamacare and its perverse economic incentives mean that there may be nothing but unlucky firms in the exchanges, leaving taxpayers on the hook for those costs — without limit. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Representative Tim Griffin (R., Ark.) have introduced legislation to repeal the risk-corridor provision, and insurers have complained that this would force them to raise premiums. Higher premiums are of course an unpleasant prospect, but Americans are better off paying the costs of Obamacare upfront in a transparent manner than through a backdoor taxpayer bailout. If Americans do not like the cost of Obamacare, then they have a chance to do something about that come November.
‐ When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress it was “possible” Obamacare navigators could be convicted felons, National Review reporter Jillian Kay Melchior got curious. Unfortunately, Nevada’s Division of Insurance, which conducts the background checks for that state, has refused to disclose public records that would indicate whether any criminals are working as navigators. And its public-information officer, Jake Sunderland, was so put out by Melchior’s inquiries that he hung up on her. But consumers, who are being compelled to purchase health coverage, deserve to be informed of the risks before they hand over their Social Security numbers, financial records, health histories, and other confidential information to a known criminal. National Review, together with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, filed a lawsuit on January 10, suing the Nevada Division of Insurance in an effort to obtain the records. We’re happy to duke it out in court, but Nevada’s petty bureaucrats are making themselves look awfully suspicious. Are they concerned about protecting consumers, or just about politically protecting themselves?
‐ The rollout of HealthCare.gov having been such great fun, Americans will be pleased to know that we get to do it all over again — this time in another language. In January, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein observed that the long-delayed Spanish-language incarnation of HealthCare.gov was experiencing some familiar problems, sometimes crashing completely. Native Spanish speakers were also confused by the language on the website, with some noting that it appeared to be a kind of “Spanglish” — a crude and unlovely combination of English and Spanish that, observers concluded, had almost certainly been pushed through Google Translate. Throughout, the word “premium” was translated into “prima,” which means “first cousin” in Spanish. Even the name of the site was wrong: “CuidadoDeSalud.gov,” which was evidently supposed to approximate “HealthCare.gov,” instead means “for the caution of health.” Fitting, all told.
#page#‐ Filomena is a popular Italian restaurant in Georgetown, D.C. It is said to be one of Bill Clinton’s favorite restaurants. Recently, Filomena announced that it was eliminating its Friday buffet. “We regret we had to make this decision,” said the restaurant on its website, “but unfortunately we face new expenses as a result of the Healthcare reform and the Friday Buffet, though wonderful, was not profitable and required extra staff which we can no longer sustain.” The restaurant is trimming costs in anticipation of the “employer mandate.” To speak metaphorically, we fear there will be many buffets canceled across America in coming years.
‐ After an uprising in East Germany, Bertolt Brecht wrote (tongue in cheek) that the government should “dissolve the people and elect another.” Andrew Cuomo appears to agree, for real. In a radio interview he said that “extreme conservatives, who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, [and] anti-gay . . . have no place in the State of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.” Cuomo’s website claimed later that he was talking only about politicians — a defense belied by his last sentence. And note Cuomo’s hierarchy of anti–New York thought: He tarred opponents of gay marriage and supporters of gun rights with sweeping or inflammatory epithets. But he called people who are pro-life “pro-life,” their preferred self-identification. That is because Cuomo believes his presidential ambitions require him to be the most pro-abortion politician in any room; and that is because his party is now a subsidiary, as Ramesh Ponnuru called it, of the Party of Death.
‐ Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) is going to step down two years early, following the elections later this year. He says that it is not his cancer diagnosis that prompted the decision. Coburn’s chief causes have been confronting the federal government’s long-term debt crisis, rooting out wasteful spending, and reforming health care the free-market way. (He is an obstetrician, and prefers “Doctor” to his other honorific.) His idealism and candor set him apart from most of his colleagues. We wish him well, and hope the voters of Oklahoma choose a successor as intent on protecting the public fisc.
‐ Ed Gillespie has announced his campaign for the Virginia U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Warner. Gillespie, the ebullient former Republican National Committee chairman, is hardly a political outsider, but his roots are in the right flank of the Republican Revolution of 1994, when he was a top aide to Dick Armey. He signed up as counselor to President George W. Bush, near the bitter end, out of a sense of service. We disagree with him on comprehensive immigration reform (he favors it), but have no doubt that he is a principled conservative and would make an excellent senator.
‐ Wendy Davis, the ghoulishly energetic cheerleader for abortion who wishes to be governor of Texas, has a celebrated life story: Divorced at 19, a single mother living in a trailer, she scrappily pulled herself up by her bootstraps and put herself through Harvard Law. Plucky and modest: “I am the epitome of hard work and optimism,” she says. As the Dallas Morning News recently pointed out, that story is not quite true: Davis was still married for years after she sometimes claims to have been divorced — a lie of some special interest because she repeated it under oath as part of a federal lawsuit — but the more salient omitted details are the fact that the future feminist icon was soon remarried, to a wealthy older man, who moved her into a historic home in a tony Fort Worth neighborhood, finished putting her through college at Texas Christian University, and then put her through Harvard — a man whom she left the day after he made the last payment on her education. He accused her of adultery in the opening stages of their divorce proceedings and was awarded custody of their children: an unusual outcome, especially in Texas, but one she did not contest. The Morning News reports that “Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.” There is much that is admirable in Wendy Davis’s life story. There also is much that is admirable in The Count of Monte Cristo.
‐ The most pleasant political news of 2014 so far is word from Representative Jim Moran (D., Va.) that he will retire at the end of this term. Moran’s reliably liberal voting record wasn’t surprising, considering his heavily Democratic district, and was far from the most repugnant aspect of him. In 2003, he said that the U.S. wouldn’t be invading Iraq “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war.” Moran also had a history of violent outbursts that conveniently never amounted to legal trouble. Good riddance.
‐ In the late 1960s, John Lennon wrote a song called “Give Peace a Chance,” and that phrase has been a staple of political rhetoric — especially left-wing political rhetoric — ever since. Discussing his latest diplomacy with Iran, President Obama said he wanted to “give peace a chance.” The important question here is whether Iran will give peace a chance; of the peaceful intentions of the United States, Israel, and other democracies, there is no doubt. The nuclearization of the mullahs’ Iran is a very serious business. There could not be a less appropriate occasion for hippie rhetoric.
‐ When it comes to economic-freedom rankings, the United States no longer counts itself among the top ten. Never mind being the freest country on earth, the United States is no longer even the freest country in North America: Between Canada and Mexico is a fine location geographically, but not on the invaluable Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, where it scores a middling 75.5 out of a maximum possible 100. The top slots are dominated by city-states — Hong Kong and Singapore — along with perennial welterweight champion Switzerland. Comparisons between the United States and such fundamentally different countries are of limited value, but the other leaders are similar countries, hailing from the Commonwealth: Australia (No. 3), New Zealand (No. 5), and Canada (No. 6). Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, the U.S. economy is being held down by a swarm of tiny nuisances. Heritage reports that since reaching its peak in 2006, “it has suffered a dramatic decline of almost 6 points, with particularly large losses in property rights, freedom from corruption, and control of government spending. The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years. The overall U.S. score decline from 1995 [the index’s debut] to 2014 is 1.2 points, the fourth worst drop among advanced economies.” The real cost is not to our pride, but to our prosperity. Strange that American admirers of foreign health-care and tax practices never learn to love Canadian fiscal probity or the Swiss approach to taxing investments.
#page#‐ President Obama’s Department of Education, led by the occasionally sensible Arne Duncan, and the Department of Justice, led by the consistently foolhardy Eric Holder, have not shied away from using dubious applications of civil-rights law to assert federal control and push their agendas. Their latest effort: advising schools that they have to reduce racially disparate discipline outcomes. In almost all American schools, black and Hispanic students are much more likely to be disciplined than white students, who get in much more trouble than Asian students. The evidence that this has anything to do with racial discrimination rather than the students’ differing backgrounds is laughably poor. Thus, the Obama administration is putting its favorite legal doctrine, disparate impact, to work, though without explicitly saying so. If their goal is to be reached, administrators and teachers will simply be moved to discipline everyone, especially the most unruly students, less. The hardest-hit by such a development? The dedicated students, many of them black and Hispanic, who want to learn free of the distractions of their troubled peers. The federal government is almost literally encouraging schools to judge students on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.
‐ The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the Federal Communications Commission’s attempts to force “net neutrality” on Internet service providers. The regulation sought to block the providers from being able to favor some content providers over others. It’s a solution in search of a problem. Customers want full access to all sites, and so that’s what the companies have given them. The FCC should learn to live with its superfluity.
‐ Senator Marco Rubio, influenced in large part by an article by Oren Cass in these pages, argued for a new approach to poverty. Federal aid to the working poor would be converted into wage subsidies, much like today’s earned-income tax credit but spread out over every paycheck instead of coming once a year. Federal aid to the non-working poor would be parceled out to the states, which would have control over how they used the funds to ameliorate poverty. We are not, by and large, enthusiastic about having the federal government take money from individuals and businesses and then send it to state governments: That’s not exactly Mr. Madison’s federalism. But many of Rubio’s instincts here are right, and we hope he follows up on his comments about ending the marriage penalties that federal assistance to the poor often involves. The nuclear family is still our best anti-poverty program.
‐ Climate alarmists have long been accused of harboring the less-than-secret desire to circumvent the democratic process and rule for the “good” of the planet, and it was in this spirit that Michael Mann recently penned an ugly New York Times op-ed, titled “If You See Something, Say Something.” Without irony, Mann wrote that “our Department of Homeland Security has urged citizens to report anything dangerous they witness. . . . We scientists are citizens, too, and, in climate change, we see a clear and present danger.” There being “a debate where none should exist,” Mann was clear in explaining what sort of witness-sourced information he was after. The failure of his “hockey stick” to convince even some of his allies in the broader climate debate is presumably off limits. So, too, the recent slowdown of warming and the embarrassing refusal of ice at both ends of the earth to melt according to the script that alarmists have written. These should be clear and present dangers to Mann’s reputation.
‐ An estimated 160 to 200 million girls are missing in the world because of sex-selective abortion. Standard protocol in countries such as China and India, the heinous practice is beginning to seep into the West as well. A recent analysis of 2011 British census data by the Independent, a London newspaper, shows that sex-selective abortions, which are illegal in the U.K., are likely taking place in Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Chinese, Nepalese, and similar communities in England and Wales — and that Great Britain has between 1,400 and 4,700 fewer girls because of them. There’s a temptation to think that the United States is immune to such regressive practices. It’s not: A Gallup poll conducted ten times since 1941 has consistently found that if Americans were limited to having only one child, there is a 10 to 15 percent higher preference for boys. Congress would be wise to put laws against sex selection into place. (House Republicans have tried, with the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.) The Left likes to talk of a metaphorical “war on women.” What needs to be talked about — and stopped — is the actual killing of unborn girls.
‐ Homeschooling is verboten in Germany, a ban dating back to that country’s totalitarian past, and German authorities have gone so far as to construct a new wall to enforce it: The Wunderlich family has lost custody of its children and is being held hostage in Germany by authorities who refuse — in the face of German law, European law, and civilized expectations — to let the family relocate to France, where homeschooling is legal. That is the environment into which the Obama administration is seeking to expel the Romeike family, who sought and were granted asylum in the United States after being similarly targeted by German authorities. The administration successfully had the family’s asylum status revoked and now seeks to deport them. The Romeikes, like the Wunderlichs, are evangelical Christians, who are counted near the very bottom of the Democrats’ social totem pole. The U.S. has a great problem with disorderly immigration, but it does not primarily involve persecuted Germans whose religious and political preferences are at odds with Berlin’s. To eject the Romeikes while rolling out the red carpet for millions upon millions of illegals is grotesque.
#page#‐ On the morning of January 9, Cuban political police beat the hell out of Juan Carlos González Leiva, a prominent democracy activist. He is a blind lawyer. He and some other activists were trying to distribute pro-democracy literature. The police tied González Leiva’s hands behind his back and then pummeled him in the face with their fists. Then they choked him until he passed out. They beat up the others too, including González Leiva’s wife, Tania Maceda Guerra, and the president of the Independent Association of the Deaf, Yoandy Quintana Sarría (who is deaf himself). Police states are unpleasant places. But few enjoy the support in America that the Castros’ Cuba does. The recent New York mayoral inauguration began with a speech by Harry Belafonte, a longtime friend of Fidel Castro, and of his dictatorship. The mayor, Bill de Blasio, spent his honeymoon in Cuba (in 1994). The pop stars Jay-Z and Beyoncé celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Cuba last year — months after Beyoncé sang at President Obama’s inauguration. She and her husband are friends of the Obamas, and fundraisers for the president. One wonders: Do such people ever think of a blind human-rights lawyer having his hands tied behind his back and being beaten in the face?
‐ The number of Christians killed for their faith increased twofold in the past year. Open Doors International, a group that serves persecuted Christians in high-risk areas around the world, documented 2,123 Christian martyrs in 2013, compared with 1,201 in 2012. (These are low estimates; other organizations estimate that upwards of 8,000 Christians were martyred last year.) The main perpetrators of this increased persecution are Islamist extremists, according to Open Doors, with Syria, Pakistan, and Egypt leading the list. (North Korea is mentioned as well, but data and accurate media accounts are harder to come by there.) Yet the story of these martyrs goes largely untold or is brushed aside. Reuters and Time, writing on the Open Doors report¸ were unwilling to print the word “martyrs” without scare quotes. We should not shrink from facing the massacre of innocents because the manner of their death is not politically correct.
‐ Russia has declared David Satter, an accomplished journalist and an NR contributor, a persona non grata. When he attempted to return to the country from Ukraine in December, he was told that the “competent organs” of the Russian government were no longer willing to grant him a visa to return to Moscow, where he’d been working as a consultant to Radio Free Europe. This makes him the first American journalist to be kicked out of the country since the end of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin has never been a friend of the free press, but this sets a dangerous precedent for liberty in Russia. The State Department has complained publicly about the incident but made no moves to force its Russian counterpart to reconsider. With the Sochi Olympics about to turn the spotlight on Russia — its sordid history, its broken society, its hopelessly corrupt economy — enough pressure could persuade the Russians to reverse their decision. So far, the Russians are playing ice hockey while the Obama administration wants to figure-skate.
‐ The crisis in Ukraine is acute. President Viktor Yanukovych has split the country by throwing its lot in with Russia rather than the European Union. For some months now, protesters have taken over the center of Kiev, the capital, with demonstrations against this decision. Yanukovych compounded his troubles by passing new legislation that restricts protest, banning shelters and stages, the use of loudspeakers, the wearing of helmets or face masks, and the dissemination of “extremist” information, with heavy jail sentences for offenders. This was too much for tens of thousands of protesters. Videos show clashes between them and the police; many police officers have been hospitalized. Viktor Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion who is also leader of the oppositional Democratic Alliance for Reform, has been out in the main square calling for peaceful demonstrations, but at the same time accusing Yanukovych of wanting to steal the country. Yanukovych is threatening to put an end to protest, and the Ukrainian prosecutor, General Viktor Pshonka, warns against what he calls “mass rioting.” At first the police used stun grenades and rubber bullets, but at press time they were accused of shooting two protesters, who died. Former president Viktor Yushchenko and Klitschko both say they don’t rule out the possibility of civil war. Putin’s casualties are mounting.
‐ “An exception, not the ideal” is how one Vatican official has described the plan to uproot the U.S. embassy to the Holy See and relocate it to the compound of the U.S. embassy to Italy. In the view of many former U.S. diplomats, the move is plainly a downgrade. The State Department has been pushing the idea for about ten years. The initial explanation was that consolidation would cut costs, but now we hear mostly that it would enhance security. Congress finally approved funding for it last month. The spin that the issue has received from political commentators is impressive. You have to smile, for example, at the observation that, in its guesthouse on the grounds of Embassy Italy, Vatican Embassy would actually be closer to St. Peter’s Square — by one-tenth of a mile. Like it or not, the Vatican is a soft power of global consequence. For the U.S. to shrink its presence there by placing it in the shadow of the diplomatic mission to Italy would not be “the end of the world,” as the Vatican official correctly observed, but neither would it be in the interest of U.S. foreign policy.
‐ French farce is a special theatrical amusement that turns on mistaken identity, unexpected appearances, and the kind of pickle that amours can land lovers in. President François Hollande of France appears to have contributed magnificently to the genre. He had lived for 20 years with Ségolène Royale, the mother of his children, without marrying her. Just as he was becoming president, he took into the official residence, the Elysée, as maîtresse en titre Valerie Trierweiler. Georges Feydeau, the master of French farce, could hardly have bettered the next scene, in which Hollande, loosely disguised by a crash helmet for his ride on a moped, was caught visiting Julie Gayet, a most fetching actress who looks perfectly cast for her role. Gone into hiding, she is said to be suing for breach of privacy. Hollande admits to experiencing “a difficult moment” in his private life. The question about which he muses at press conferences is whether the Elysée needs a first lady. Seemingly he will come on a visit to Washington as a “bachelor president.” How the curtain will fall, and who will take the final bow, is not yet in the script.
‐ Dennis Rodman’s latest gig as the Harlem Globetrotter of totalitarianism ended when he checked himself into rehab. Rodman, the former NBA forward, has been friends with Kim Jong Un, who likes basketball almost as much as he likes starving people or killing uncles. This year Rodman took some b-ball pals to North Korea for an exhibition game. He sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim, then attacked Kenneth Bae, an American evangelist serving 15 years of hard labor for imaginary crimes, at a press conference. After Rodman returned to the United States, a minion stepped forth to say that he was drying out, and that he was “embarrassed, saddened, and remorseful.” That should be, and we hope is, true. But it distracts, even as Rodman’s earlier antics did, from what should be the focus of our concern: the despot and his victims.
#page#‐ In his day Professor Eric Hobsbawm could be relied on to defend whatever the Soviet Union did. Red Army invasion of other countries, fake trials, the Gulag did not bother this diehard. Right to the end of his life, years after the Soviet Union had faded away, he declared that he would happily start the murderous experiment all over again. For him, capitalism was the real and only wickedness, and he wrote heavy-duty books to make that point. What a surprise, then, to learn from his recently published will that he left in trust £1,835,341, a sum just over $3 million. He lived in a six-bedroom house in Hampstead, that part of London where champagne socialists flock, and he owned a cottage in Wales. To each according to his needs, Karl Marx had been sure to tell us.
‐ Back when he had a show on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann regularly named “the Worst Person in the World”: some conservative who had drawn his attention that day. (Several NR employees were among the honorees.) Now, on ESPN, he chooses “the Worst Person in the Sports World.” He recently named a hockey player, Tom Sestito, who serves as an “enforcer” for the Vancouver Canucks. (“Enforcer” is the polite word for “goon.”) Not taking kindly to this was Miss Victoria Sestito, the honoree’s 13-year-old sister. She twitted Olby on Twitter. Olby twitted back. And so it went. At one point, Victoria wrote, “the Sestito household enjoys your arrogant left-wing blurbs and we are looking forward to your next firing.” We’d say she held her own in barbs, and won on emotional maturity.
‐ Maria Conchita Alonso is an unusual kind of actress: a conservative, an endorser of Republicans. You could blame her Cuban birth. In San Francisco, she was doing an unconservative thing: acting in The Vagina Monologues. But then she appeared in an ad for a Republican running for governor (of California). And that got her fired from the show. The producer explained, “Doing what she is doing is against what we believe.” Hey, they don’t call it a dialogue.
‐LA Weekly’s film critic, Amy Nicholson, set something of a firestorm off in January when she labeled the hit war movie Lone Survivor a “jingoistic snuff film” and contended that its protagonists are possessed of the “simple,” “hairy-chested” conviction that “brown people bad, American people good.” Among a certain subset of America’s self-appointed arbiters of taste, this rotten conceit carries weight. But the historical record tells a different story, showing a nation that has always been ready to deploy the military when it feels that it is threatened but that has little interest in the color, creed, or religion of what have always been temporary enemies. The contents of the movie, too, fail to tally with Nicholson’s characterization. Not only are the SEALs in the country to liberate some “brown people” from others, but the entire premise of the story rests upon those SEALs’ dealing with the consequences of having spared the lives of a handful of unarmed Afghanis who accidentally cross their path. Birth of a Nation, this is not. Served up a series of hostile war movies in recent years, the American public finally has one that portrays virtue, sacrifice, and honor. It is no surprise that they have flocked to see it.
‐ When Julia Louis-Dreyfus wielded a smokeless “e-cigarette” at the Golden Globe Awards, it was a harmless bit of business in a skit, meant to evoke Elizabeth Taylor’s glamour. But that means nothing to the four senators, by some coincidence all Democrats, who have asked the show’s producers to make sure that no “images of e-cigarettes” will appear in future broadcasts. The premise is that seeing celebrities “vape” could hook youths on smokeless cigarettes, and perhaps make them less resistant to trying real ones — though if a teenager in 2014 is watching the Golden Globe Awards, he probably is not very susceptible to peer pressure.
‐ Ariel Sharon did battle for Israel all his life. His daring was legendary, and as he rose in command he also proved a brilliant tactician. His contribution to victory in the wars of 1967 and 1973 is studied in staff colleges everywhere. Strong and self-confident, he did what he thought had to be done in the interests of the country. He believed in crushing terrorism and he disobeyed orders that might hold him back. In the eyes of his supporters he was “Arik, King of Israel.” To his detractors, he was far too single-minded, far too controversial, far too right-wing. Entering politics and soon becoming a minister, he more than anyone encouraged settlements on Palestinian territory. Forming his own party, he became prime minister. He then gave orders to evacuate the Israeli settlements in Gaza, a painful process involving the use of force. He had decided to contradict everything he had stood for previously because he was, as usual, putting the interests of the country above his own convictions. That’s a great man when a great man was needed. R.I.P.
‐ Jeffrey Hart once likened the conservative historian Stephen Tonsor to a pit bull, in tribute to his toughness as a thinker. Gregory Schneider, in an address honoring Tonsor at the Philadelphia Society several years ago, refined the metaphor: Tonsor, who enjoyed attending a German-language Mass in Detroit, was more of a Rottweiler. A native of Illinois, he was best known as a longtime professor at the University of Michigan, where he stood out as a traditionalist among the faculty’s left-wing lapdogs. He challenged conventional wisdom wherever he saw it, even among his fellow conservatives. He worried, for instance, that as the conservative movement became devoted to federal policymaking in Washington, it was drifting away from its animating, humanistic principles. Ever the teacher, he preferred the classroom to the think tank. Behind the occasionally irascible exterior resided a warm and generous man who welcomed students and other visitors into his home for meals and conversation. Dead at 90. R.I.P.
‐ LeRoi Jones started writing as a would-be Beat, chum of Kerouac and Ginsberg, and his poems had the loose-limbed amble, sometimes engaging, sometimes slack, of that school. After he changed his name to Amiri Baraka, he became by turns a black nationalist and a Communist, and at all times unhinged. Post-9/11 he wrote that Israelis had stayed away from the World Trade Center that day because they were in on the job. That bit of vileness caused him to lose his post as poet laureate of New Jersey, but he was loaded with other honors throughout his life. Bad for him, bad for the muse. Dead at 79. R.I.P.
LBJ’s ‘War,’ at 50
This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s proclamation of a “war on poverty,” and the progress in this theater has not been encouraging: Trillions of dollars have been spent, and the number of Americans living in poverty is higher today than it was in 1964, while the rate of poverty has held steady at just under one in five.
For all its shortcomings, and they are many, the New Deal was enacted in response to a genuine economic crisis: the Great Depression. LBJ’s ambitious imitation of it was launched under very different circumstances: Before LBJ’s declaration of war, the poverty rate had been crashing as the economy boomed. Between the end of World War II and Johnson’s presidency, the real economic output of the United States had doubled. The post-war boom was not destined to last forever, and the real challenge of the Johnson years, tragically overlooked, was figuring out how to build upon that position and consolidate those gains. Unfortunately, what got consolidated was political power in the welfare bureaucracies.
The war on poverty has been conducted partly in earnest and partly self-servingly. No doubt programs such as Head Start were launched with a great deal of idealism, but as their ineffectiveness became apparent, it was not idealism that sustained them but political self-interest. Head Start today is a money-laundering program under which federal expenditures are transmitted to Democratic candidates through the Service Employees International Union, which represents many Head Start teachers. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents, among others, the welfare bureaucrats at the Administration for Children and Families, is a large political donor that gives about 94 percent of its largesse to Democrats. This is not coincidental. The main beneficiaries of the war on poverty have not been and will not be the poor — the beneficiaries are the alleged poverty warriors themselves.
The result: a large and expensive welfare state that provides relatively little welfare, a destructive and ruinous war on poverty that has not done much to reduce poverty. It gives the poor some material succor, but leaves the root causes alone — at best.
Poverty is a difficult issue with few obvious remedies. And even such obvious remedies as we have are politically difficult. The most attractive of the low-hanging fruit before us is reform of our dysfunctional public-education system, particularly as it affects students in our dangerous and ineffective inner-city schools. But when it comes to education reform, Barack Obama stands in the schoolhouse door as pitilessly as any George Wallace. Republicans, for their part, have shown a remarkable inability to view issues such as immigration reform, and especially a large increase in low-skilled immigration, through the eyes of low-income workers rather than those of the Chamber of Commerce. Whatever the cure for poverty is, it is not the importation of poor people.
The Left has made a mess of the issue, and while we should not let them forget that it is their mess, conservatives are going to be by necessity the ones who clean it up. Economic thinkers such as Thomas Sowell have been making the case for a conservative approach to poverty for years, and recently conservative leaders such as Ralph Reed have been making a praiseworthy effort to ensure that the problems of the poor are front and center in the minds of a sometimes too-well-fed GOP. The campaign against poverty is not a war, and it is not the moral equivalent of war, but it is worth fighting for.
A Bridge Too Far
It’s the biggest story out of New Jersey since the last episode of The Sopranos. A traffic-snarling closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September was arranged by aides of Governor Chris Christie, as apparent retribution for a local mayor’s failure to endorse his reelection bid. “Time for some traffic problems,” Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, e-mailed a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, the agency that regulates transportation in and around the New York harbor. After the scandal broke, Christie fired Kelly and, in an almost two-hour press conference, expressed contrition for the snafu.
This story went national because Christie has national ambitions, but it became a mega-story because Christie is on the right (pro-life, anti–teachers’ union). The lightning rod for coverage became a lightning rod for controversy — especially since the media are happy to clear the field for Hillary, or whichever Democrat they end up loving.
Christie’s problems are unlikely to end soon. The general assembly, the lower house of the legislature, is investigating not only the lane closing but charges by Dawn Zimmer, mayor of Hoboken, that the Christie administration threatened to withhold relief money for Hurricane Sandy until she approved a local development project. The assemblyman conducting the investigation is a Democrat, as is Zimmer; if her tale does not pan out, there will surely be others.
Christie was riding high because he is both aggressive and capable: He takes on his enemies and takes care of his constituents. But when does energy in the executive cross the line to bullying? When does it wrongly encourage the executive’s underlings? A rebel commander in One Hundred Years of Solitude finds that his orders were being “carried out even before they were given, even before he thought of them.” Christie’s mea culpa was passionate and forthright, miles from the lawyerly evasions of most politicians caught in a crack. But is it a qualification for higher office that you know how to apologize well?
One point in the Christie story is intramural. Many on the right greeted his problems with glee. Christie is not a tea-party favorite; throw him to the dogs! This is short-sighted. We need all the talent we can find. If Christie can surmount the problems in his own backyard, he should be welcomed in the contest to lead nationwide.