‐ The latest scandal lesson: When you’re talking to a mistress a quarter your age, be sure to be decorous.
‐ Speaker John Boehner said that the reason his House Republican colleagues have not acted on immigration is that too many of them do not want to take tough votes and are instead taking “the path of least resistance.” If backing what Washington, D.C., calls “reform” is politically difficult, though, it is because many voters oppose it. They are right to do so. The bill the Senate passed legalizes illegal immigrants before we can be sure that the law will be enforced against new illegal entrants, recklessly raises low-skilled immigration, and establishes guest-worker programs that would create a class of laborers without the full rights of Americans. If Boehner will not lead the way to better legislation — which has to start by killing the elite dream that the Senate bill represents — then we suppose a second-best alternative is for him to complain ineffectually while a bad bill slowly expires.
‐ According to a series of recordings collected by Mother Jones, Rand Paul, back when he was a potential Senate candidate trying to differentiate himself from the Republican establishment and invigorate his father’s youthful supporters, told lots of audiences that Republicans can’t be trusted to be fiscally responsible, because Jimmy Carter was more responsible than Ronald Reagan. His comments were riddled with inaccuracies: Reagan did not, for example, increase domestic discretionary spending faster than Carter, as Paul suggests. (Increased defense spending, tax cuts, and the decline in inflation had more to do with Reagan-era deficits.) We are pretty sure that Reagan would himself concede that spending grew too fast under his administration, as during the last few decades generally. We don’t fault the senator for criticizing Reagan’s record. For praising Carter’s, on the other hand . . .
‐ The Obama administration has once more delayed the Keystone XL pipeline, burying the announcement on Good Friday while attempting to wash its hands of the matter until after the midterm elections. The Washington Post called the administration’s justification for the latest delay “laughable” — it involves some low-level litigation in Nebraska over the specific route of the pipeline — and noted: “If foot-dragging were a competitive sport, President Obama and his administration would be world champions.” The Obama administration, caught between an environmental movement that wants to increase scarcity and a broader electorate that prefers not to be artificially impoverished, has been temporizing on the issue for as long as Mr. Obama has been president. That President Obama does not have sufficient conviction to stand up for simple abundance says a great deal about the man who imagines himself to be a post-ideological pragmatist.
‐ MSNBC host Chris Hayes, in a recent column in The Nation, likens his ambition to abolish fossil fuels to the abolition of slavery. While he hastens to point out that he’s not making a “moral comparison between the enslavement of Africans and African Americans and the burning of carbon to power our devices,” Hayes nevertheless seems to think the only losers in a fossil-fuels ban would be “the world’s most profitable corporations and the nations that partner with them,” who are naturally analogous to antebellum slave owners. He needs to check in with the International Energy Agency, which reports that fossil fuels meet more than 80 percent of the world’s energy needs, and all windmills, solar panels, geothermal plants, and other forms of “clean” energy meet just 1 percent. Even if they could maintain an implausibly high growth rate indefinitely, these other forms of energy would not replace fossil fuels for more than half a century. By any yardstick, fossil fuels have been a Promethean gift to humanity. It’s not a coincidence that the human population has increased sevenfold since the invention of the continuous-rotation steam engine or that the internal-combustion age has seen the development of transnational markets for food, widespread travel and education, human aviation, full-time employment for left-wing commentators, and even the abolition of slavery. Hayes is wrong to downplay the moral comparison. There is a very moral argument involved in his abolition scheme; he’s just on the wrong side of it.
‐ Cliven Bundy spoiled the tail end of his 15 minutes with a rancid little meditation on how blacks might have been better off as slaves. Almost instantly his highest-profile conservative champions dumped him, and the Left pronounced itself unsurprised that a hero of the Right should turn out to be a racist. But many conservatives never embraced the rancher, who makes wholly fanciful claims about the federal government’s not owning the land where his cattle graze. That said, the complaints about the Bureau of Land Management that helped create some of the sympathy for him (see Travis Kavulla, page 22) stand regardless of his social views — about which we fervently hope never to hear again.
‐ A case argued before the Supreme Court in April involved the question of whether the state may decide what constitutes a “falsehood.” In Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, two anti-abortion groups challenged an Ohio statute that threatened to see them prosecuted for making “false statements” during an election in 2010. The false statement, that Representative Steve Driehaus’s vote for Obamacare constituted a vote for abortion subsidies, was actually true, which illustrates some of the dangers of this sort of law. The plaintiffs argued that the First Amendment does not grant the government the power to establish the truth and preserve it in aspic, nor to punish political players who allegedly err. The court appeared to be sympathetic to the claim, Antonin Scalia invoking George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, Samuel Alito suggesting that “arguably there’s a great chilling of core First Amendment speech,” and Stephen Breyer, usually a friend of restrictions on expression, asking rhetorically, “What’s the harm? I can’t speak; that’s the harm.” There being a question as to whether they have standing, the first hurdle is for the litigants to convince the Court that they can bring the case at all. If they can, and it is examined on the merits, the law looks to be on the way out. In our country, it’s the voters themselves who must decide what they consider true and false.
#page#‐ Early in the Obama administration, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan let states out of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act if they agreed to move forward with Duncan’s preferred education reforms — an eyebrow-raising way around the limits on federal authority over the nation’s schools. Now he has taken the next logical step, revoking Washington State’s waiver after its legislature disappointed him, and threatening three other states. This is not the way the federal government should be relating to the states, let alone the way a single functionary should be. Obama’s cabinet sometimes seems to be an extended exercise in one-upmanship in undermining the constitutional order.
‐ While we favor robust use of executive-clemency powers and an end to the war on drugs, we cannot endorse using the former as a means to the latter. The administration is using those powers to reduce what it regards as excessively harsh sentences for drug-related crimes. Those sentences may indeed be too harsh. The clemency powers exist, however, to rectify individual cases of injustice. Using them to rewrite the laws to the administration’s liking is an abuse.
‐ Senators Tim Johnson (D., S.Dak.) and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho) have a bill to dissolve and replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it looks like it has a chance of passing. That is, unfortunately, as good an indication as any that it isn’t a solution. It would replace the two government-sponsored enterprises, which repackage mortgages and sell them as securities in order to lower the price of loans, with a single entity, an insurer called the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation. While the insurer would place some risk on private investors, it would play much the same role Fannie and Freddie do, just less obtrusively. The losses it could impose on private investors could be waived in the event of a financial crisis, meaning taxpayers will be exposed precisely when risks are highest. The federal government ought to get out of the mortgage industry altogether, and mortgages ought to be as expensive as the market dictates. Johnson-Crapo wouldn’t do much to accomplish that goal.
‐ Over the past several years, the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital system shunted more than a thousand veterans trying to get appointments onto a secret waiting list, allowing the system to hit various performance goals while vets died waiting for appointments. The scandal, and revelations about similar practices at other VA facilities, ought to be a reminder that it is immensely risky to trust the government with health care, and that we don’t pay nearly enough attention to whether it’s working for vets. The VA’s overall health outcomes are adequate, but it is fundamentally unaccountable to its beneficiaries. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Representative Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) have proposed a bill that would enable the secretary of veterans affairs to fire senior bureaucrats; now, instead of pink slips, they get bonuses for gaming the statistics. The department’s unaccountability is also why there is a huge backlog of disability applications: Hundreds of thousands of vets are trying to navigate an unnecessarily complicated system to get their benefits, with no help from the VA. If veterans are to get their health care from a government-run system, it ought to be the best government program in America. It certainly isn’t.
‐ In April, Georgia’s governor signed a bill that would bring the state into line with much of the rest of the country, by allowing permit-holders to carry guns in the unsecured areas of airports, abolishing the state’s gun-sales-record system, and permitting churches and bars to decide whether their patrons may be armed. The country’s assorted gun-control groups lambasted the measure as “extreme,” while the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne described Georgians as “gun supremacists” who had gone “stark raving mad.” Since the late 1980s, Americans’ right to keep and bear arms has undergone a veritable revolution, with advocates racking up legal, political, and cultural victories as if they were going out of style. Each and every time a loosening of the laws has been proposed, critics have suggested that it will yield a return to the lawlessness of the “Wild West.” This hasn’t happened. Instead, Americans have seen a dramatic drop in gun crime and a cutting in half of the murder rate. The dire predictions never come true, and the gun controllers never learn from their failure to come true.
‐ Azusa Pacific University might be the place that Beach Boys member Brian Wilson and Jan Berry of Jan and Dean had in mind when composing “Surf City” — a sunny Southern California location with, according to U.S. News’s statistics, “two girls for every boy,” in the words of the song. The polymathic Charles Murray was invited to speak there, and after the usual sort of intellectually shallow protests to which Murray has no doubt become accustomed since publishing The Bell Curve, Azusa “delayed” his talk, which is the university’s cowardly way of disinviting the scholar. Murray published a blunt open letter to Azusa’s students: “Azusa Pacific’s administration wants to protect you from earnest and nerdy old guys who have opinions that some of your faculty do not share. Ask if this is why you’re getting a college education.”
Vladimir Putin has an unappreciated ally in his aggression against Ukraine: Western environmentalism. Europe collectively has little will to stand up to him, in part because Europe has given Russia the key to its economy — its energy supply.
Europe has moved toward reliance on greener energy, and substituted natural gas for oil, coal, and even nuclear power. George W. Bush saw the risks of this approach, aggressively criticizing Russia for using energy as a sword and urging Europeans to diversify their energy sources. Last summer, a Congressional Research Service report contrasted Mr. Bush’s approach with President Obama’s presumably more enlightened style: “The Obama Administration has also called for diversification, but has refrained from openly expressing concerns about Russia’s regional energy policy, perhaps in order to avoid jeopardizing relations with Moscow.”
Over the past two decades, EU countries have nonetheless increasingly relied on imports of natural gas. Because of climate-change concerns, their domestic production of coal has more than halved. While domestic production of natural gas in the EU in 2011 was actually below its level in 1990, consumption and imports doubled between 1995 and 2011. EU members in 2012 imported 65 percent of their energy and 64 percent of their natural gas. Since carbon emissions from natural gas are relatively low, and sentiment against fracking within its borders is so high, the EU has plans to increase future reliance, projecting an 80 percent import share of natural gas by 2030.
Russia, with the largest natural-gas reserves on earth, fully 18 percent of the global total, currently accounts for 34 percent of EU gas imports. This number, as can be seen in the nearby chart, understates Russian leverage, because many countries in Eastern Europe find themselves practical wards of a Russian monopolist.
Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Finland import 100 percent of their gas from Russia. In these countries, about 20 percent of total national energy use on average comes from Russian gas. Farther west, other European countries are less reliant on Russian natural gas, but it still plays a significant role in the energy markets of such countries as Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic. In each of these countries, Russian natural gas accounts for over 10 percent of total energy consumption.
This problem creates an important asymmetry. If Russia stops selling gas, it can always start selling it again tomorrow, perhaps at a higher price. But take away 20 percent of a country’s energy supply overnight, and you are looking at a depression-level economic collapse.
As we look ahead to the endgame of the Ukraine crisis, nations of the West need to aggressively pursue other energy options for Europe. Expanded production of liquefied natural gas, reversal of Germany’s decision to close its nuclear-power plants, and expanded use of domestic coal and natural gas are necessary if Putin’s leverage is to be reduced. The alternative will be a 21st-century game of dominoes, with Putin seeing little European opposition.
#page#‐ A group of 58 gay-marriage advocates have signed a letter that reprimands the “eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree.” “We reject that deeply illiberal impulse,” the group explained, “which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.” The missive is timely. It has become sadly fashionable of late to compare the fight for gay marriage to the civil-rights movement of the late 1960s, a connection that presents opponents not merely as being of a different view but as unreconstructed bigots who must be excommunicated from the public square. Brendan Eich, the short-lived CEO of Mozilla, recently discovered to his dismay that although he exhibited no animus toward his gay employees whatsoever, his views were held to be beyond the pale and his employment was therefore considered to be inappropriate. The “best and most free society is one that allows the largest number to live true to their core beliefs and identities,” the signatories explained. Whether that “best society” lies ahead remains to be seen.
‐ Media Matters, as sanctimonious a bunch of progressives as the world has to offer, are vocal supporters of organized labor and have argued that it should be easier to organize a union via “card check” rather than through the secret-ballot process. They were supporters, that is, until the SEIU tried to organize Media Matters, at which point the organization’s executives did their best impersonation of the National Right to Work Committee. The group’s employees have pronounced themselves “betrayed,” the SEIU is in a snit, and conservatives are reliving the Iran–Iraq War, regretting only that both sides can’t lose. The most energetic supporters of union-goon labor reliably are those who are protected from its costs. There is a reason that the SEIU and the Teamsters do not use their own high-dollar employees to picket nonconforming institutions: Even the Teamsters can’t afford to pay Teamsters to do that.
G. K. Chesterton claimed, “and the government becomes the God.” Michael Bloomberg appears to agree, explaining in an April interview that his work fighting against the right to bear arms, restricting New Yorkers’ capacity to smoke in public, and establishing limits on soft drinks had all but guaranteed him entry to paradise. “I am telling you, if there is a God,” Bloomberg said, “when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He may someday find that God is more tolerant of vice than he is.
‐ With almost every breath, Democrats say that Republicans are waging a “war on women” — a phony war if there ever was one. But there is something like a war on the Boy Scouts; there is at least much hostility. The latest is that California’s Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics has recommended that judges be prohibited from associating with the Boy Scouts. The reason is that the Scouts practice “invidious discrimination” against gays. Of these two institutions, the California Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics and the Boy Scouts of America, the latter has surely done more good.
‐ Solar energy is finally winning, liberals would have it: About a third of newly installed electricity capacity in the U.S. this year harnesses Apollo, while solar-panel prices continue to drop dramatically (“Salvation Gets Cheap,” a Paul Krugman column was headlined). What’s odd, then, is the amount of outrage directed toward a few attempts to regulate the integration of home solar panels into our highly regulated electric grid. Conservatives in some states have suggested that owners of such panels pay a tiny surcharge for the privilege of selling electricity back to utilities. Those utilities are forced to buy the electricity, for the most part, whether they want it or not; but somehow letting them charge a fee for hooking up panels amounts to an unconscionable attack on the success that is solar. The Times, of course, traces this effort back to the Koch brothers “and other big polluters.” If liberals are concerned that utilities’ recouping a $5 surtax from an industry subsidized to the tune of billions is really going to dim its appeal, perhaps it’s not the savior they say it is.
‐ Nicotine vaporizers — the so-called electronic cigarettes — are the new Public Enemy No. 1 for the anti-tobacco and anti-smoking lobby, even though they contain no tobacco and you do not smoke them. Using vaporizers looks like smoking, some people enjoy them, and that, apparently, is enough. The FDA is handing down a raft of new regulations, a ban on selling the product to minors being the sole sensible one. (Even that is superfluous; no state permits sales to people under 18.) The FDA is imposing a cumbrous registration-and-review process, which will be especially difficult for smaller firms to comply with. In New York City, even more restrictive regulations on the sale and use of vaporizers are coming; using a vaporizer will be forbidden in any public space in which smoking is forbidden, which means practically every public space — and that is, New York’s nicotine nannies might consider, part of the reason vaporizers became popular in the first place. Vaporized nicotine does not contain many of the harmful substances inhaled in smoking, and while the overall health effects of the devices are a matter of some debate, there are doctors who prescribe their use for smoking cessation. New York has more significant threats to worry about. So does the nation.
#page#‐ In her new autobiography, Senator Elizabeth Warren writes about the aftermath of her first meeting with an earlier Massachusetts Democrat: “Politics so often feels dirty to me — all the lobbyists and the cozy dealings and the special favors for those who could buy access. But as I stood in the lobby outside Ted Kennedy’s office, I felt as if I’d been washed clean.” Hey, it was easy to feel clean next to Ted Kennedy.
‐ In Marion County, Ore., the board of commissioners recently learned that the tissue of aborted fetuses was being used to generate electricity at the Covanta Marion plant in Brooks. To their credit, the commissioners took swift action and ordered the plant to stop. The offense was too strong to ignore; the commissioners delicately refrained from explaining why. Health authorities in the United Kingdom faced a similar scandal earlier this year, and their response was identical: This is outrageous! Don’t ask why!
‐ Have some conservatives been bamboozled by Russia Today’s account of the Ukraine crisis? Some can be heard repeating an argument mounted by the Kremlin’s media mouthpiece to the effect that the democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in an illegitimate coup by a nest of neo-fascists bent on extreme repression and aggression in Kiev. Wow, where is the Lincoln Brigade when you really need it? Oh, in Donetsk apparently. Let’s look at what actually happened. Reporters not employed by Russia Today (RT) have worked out the following timeline: Yanukovych ordered the shooting of peaceful demonstrators. He failed to disperse them. But the slaughter meant that he was irredeemably discredited with all but his most thuggish supporters. He therefore began preparing to leave Kiev three days before he actually did so — his furniture, belongings, and portable treasures were quietly packed away and the security forces and equipment removed from government buildings in that time. Yanukovych spent those three days pretending to negotiate a deal with the Opposition and the European Union that — when it was finally agreed, allowing him to stay in office until December — he refused to sign. He then fled in a leisurely way to Russia. And having departed, he was voted out of the office he had abandoned by a more than three-quarters majority of the Ukrainian parliament, which had already voted by another massive majority to restore an earlier constitution with lesser presidential authority. These events constitute not a coup but a constitutional process. Yanukovych was indeed elected democratically, but he did not govern democratically. He was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, most of which were concealed, but his shooting of peaceful demonstrators took place in full public view. Once he had done that, he was doomed constitutionally and politically. He knew it; so did Putin. Their joint efforts thereafter went into making it look as if his constitutional ousting from office by a parliamentary vote and his flight to a hostile foreign capital had been an illegitimate coup d’état by neo-fascist opponents. It was an exercise in laying the groundwork for reversing Kiev’s democratic transition. We can see the temptation for anti-war conservatives to believe these convenient lies. It’s a temptation they should resist. They shouldn’t deny that aggression is happening simply because they don’t want to fight it. Like RT, it ain’t honest.
‐ Secretary of State John Kerry has been working very hard on setting up a state for the Palestinians, in which case they would meet the Israeli state on equal terms and normal relations would supposedly reduce terrorism. This is the sort of ideal that diplomats concoct, and nobody in the real world thought it had much chance. So it has proved. Palestinians and Israelis have exhausted yet another round of the peace process that leaves them as far apart as ever, if not farther. Frustrated to the point of losing control of his emotions, Kerry told a meeting of the Trilateral Commission that if Israel does not follow his advice it risks winding up “an apartheid state with second-class citizens” or losing its Jewish character. Equal under the law, Palestinians already living in Israel are in parliament, the Supreme Court, and the military; they are more favored than Palestinians in any Arab country. Mention of apartheid suggests comparison to South Africa, and it is a prop of the campaign to delegitimize Israel. Remember when Kerry’s fans praised him for his grasp of nuance?
‐ When, last spring, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints reported that a second miracle attributed to the late Pope John Paul II was authentic, his elevation to the altar needed only Pope Francis’s signature. Francis signed. With the next stroke of his pen he waived the requirement of a second miracle in the cause of John XXIII, the father of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), whose 50th anniversary the Church has been observing. The two were canonized together in a ceremony that drew hundreds of thousands to St. Peter’s Square and the streets of Rome. The decision to twin them is widely viewed as an effort to balance JPII’s reputation for conservatism with Papa Giovanni’s reputation for liberalism, although plainly the former’s legacy is far too large to be contained by a political category. He’s called John Paul the Great for a reason. And on liturgy, the point on which Vatican II has most alienated conservative Catholics, John was surprisingly conservative; the Latin Mass favored by traditionalist Catholics is known formally as the Mass of John XXIII. The final score of the J23–JP2 event: Ecclesia II, political scorekeepers nihil.
#page#‐ Liberals sometimes wonder why conservatives don’t have more respect for the United Nations. Maybe this will help: The U.N. has just elected Iran to the women’s-rights committee — the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Iran, remember, is a regime that stones girls to death for the “crime” of having been gang-raped. Our question is, Why do liberals respect the U.N. so much?
‐ In 2014, an estimated 1.6 million American college students will move their tassels from right to left. The secret to their success? Parental involvement in high school, according to a new policy brief from the American Enterprise Institute. In “Dad and the Diploma: The Difference Fathers Make for College Graduation,” sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox finds that teenagers with “involved” fathers are 98 percent more likely to graduate from college than their peers with uninvolved dads. Father may not know best, but his being around does seem to boost learning.
‐ Little Antonia Ayres-Brown ordered a Happy Meal at McDonald’s and requested a boy’s toy to go with it. She was given a girl’s toy instead. Having the counter staff mess up an order is hardly unusual, but Antonia took the experience rather hard, so she filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities — which, in an unexpected outbreak of common sense, told her to get over it. In other words, even career civil-rights bureaucrats, whose job depends on finding discrimination where it doesn’t exist, thought Antonia’s complaint was trivial and absurd. This left her with only one option: Slate. In the click-hungry webzine, she and her father, a Yale professor, published the results of a Spurlockian research effort that involved 15 McDonald’s and a platoon of pre-teens: “We found that 92.9 percent of the time, the store, without asking, simply gave each child the toy that McDonald’s had designated for that child’s gender.” So now McDonald’s is right up there with Bull Connor. Here’s a pro tip: If you’re looking for cultural sensitivity and a nuanced appreciation of contemporary gender politics to go along with your fries, don’t pick a restaurant that’s represented by a clown.
‐ A fraternity and a sorority at Dartmouth, Phi Delta Alpha and Alpha Phi, were planning to do something nice: stage a fundraiser for cardiac care. The problem was that they called their event a “Phiesta.” A Mexican-American student complained, saying that “there are various problematic structures and ideologies regarding a Cinco de Mayo–inspired event.” The Greek houses, abashed, canceled their event. A spokesman said, “We felt that the possibility of offending even one member of the Dartmouth community was not worth the potential benefits of having the fundraiser.” Ay, caramba.
‐ Gabriel García Márquez did what few writers can: get millions of people to read them. His novels, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude, are among the most praised books of our time. Literature is often a matter of taste, and García Márquez’s “magic realism” is not for everyone. Character is less a matter of taste, or should be: García Márquez was a friend and defender of the Soviet Union and Communism elsewhere. He was a very great friend and defender of Fidel Castro. At the same time, of course, he was a determined foe of Castro’s enemies, i.e., Cubans who want to live in a free country. García Márquez was a Colombian who lived in Mexico. In every generation, there are people in free countries who support, perfume, and love dictators who keep other countries unfree. “Gabo,” as they called him, was maybe the most prestigious person in the whole of Latin America. His prestige could have done great things for the Cuban people, and in particular the political prisoners. Instead, García Márquez lent his prestige to their jailers and torturers. Cuba is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. “Gabo” gloried in this fact. He may have written prettily, but he did nasty things with his life. Dead at 87. R.I.P.
A Blow against Racial Bias
The Supreme Court came to the right decision in Schuette v. BAMN, the University of Michigan affirmative-action case, but did so inconclusively, with the six concurring justices signing four different opinions. Unlike most similar cases preceding it, the Michigan case was not about whether a university may use racial preferences in its admissions process, but whether a state may decide not to use racial preferences.
The voters of Michigan approved by a large margin a constitutional amendment that prohibited the use of racial preferences in state-university admissions, among other things; the plaintiffs argued that prohibiting racial preferences while other forms of preferences remained (so-called legacy admissions, preferences for athletes or performing artists, etc.) put a unique burden on racial minorities. If they wish to win admissions preferences, they have to overturn a constitutional amendment rather than simply convince the university authorities of the merits of their case. All penumbra-probing to one side, this amounts to saying that partisans of racial preferences cannot lose in a constitutional-amendment referendum without the results of their loss being by definition unconstitutional. Justice Scalia argued that it was perverse that the people of Michigan, in attempting to impose equal treatment, were hauled up on a complaint of violating the equal-protection standard.
Justice Sotomayor, reading her dissent from the bench, insisted that the Constitution limits the things that majorities may do; we are glad to hear her say as much, and we hope that she will keep that in mind the next time a Second Amendment case comes her way. But citizens also may change constitutions, which is what happened in Michigan. And Michigan’s referendum did not place a unique burden on black Americans seeking to get their way through the political process; it placed a unique burden on partisans of racial discrimination seeking to get their way through the political process. The protected class in question here was not a racial minority but a political tendency.
A sufficiently clever and ethically flexible lawyer can distill any result from any statute or any line of the Constitution. We passed the Fourteenth Amendment to fight racial discrimination after fighting a bloody war over the status of black Americans, and we have a very large body of federal law policing racial discrimination. That the states now apparently need the Supreme Court’s permission to prohibit racial discrimination is morally absurd. As a legal question, Schuette v. BAMN finds only that the states may outlaw that discrimination. As a moral question, the states should do so, the sooner the better.
Putin’s Weakness, and Obama’s
The key to understanding the Ukraine crisis is the realization that, contrary to most of the overt and hidden assumptions of Western commentators, Putin is in a weak position and the West is in a strong one. It doesn’t look like that and, listening to CNN or the BBC, it doesn’t sound like that either. But it’s true nonetheless.
Why do we think otherwise? The main reason is that we see that President Putin is in a tactically strong position. As President Obama noted in an overly lofty dismissal, Russia is at best a regional power. But since Ukraine is in the very same region, Russia enjoys a transparent advantage in this particular crisis. Strategically, however, Russia is weak. It is poorer than any single one of the major European powers; its economy is overly dependent on energy production; it needs foreign investment to develop new technologies, improve its human capital, and establish new industries.
To be sure, Western Europe is currently dependent on Russia for about one-quarter of its energy needs. That sometimes seems to be the only economic statistic about this crisis that CNN and the BBC know. Dependency, however, cuts both ways. Russia badly needs the money that its sales of energy bring in. And energy is almost as fungible as money. Ukraine is currently getting energy from Slovakia to compensate for Gazprom’s cut-off of supplies. If Russia imposes other supply constraints for political reasons, it will achieve two objectives: Positively, it will temporarily disrupt energy supplies to its most lucrative customers; negatively, it will encourage them to accelerate their plans to switch to new forms of energy (e.g., Polish coal, U.S. coal and liquid natural gas, local shale gas) or new suppliers or both.
Not just America but the whole world is moving toward an energy-rich future — an energy glut that will copy and even out-perform Reagan’s cheap-energy-fueled boom of 1982 onward. Putin reads the Wall Street Journal; he knows this. He will therefore be very wary about using the energy weapon lest it boomerang.
Why then did Putin launch his annexation of Crimea and his subversion of eastern Ukraine? Well, to begin with, it wasn’t part of his original plan. Putin thought he had won when he pressured Ukraine’s bootboy president, Viktor Yanukovych, into breaking off negotiations with the European Union and dragging his country into a Eurasian Economic Union dominated by Russia. Ordinary Ukrainians rebelled against that, however, and when Yanukovych ordered his thugs to fire on the demonstrators, he fell from power and fled. Putin had lost the first hand of revolutionary bridge.
He then thought he could recoup his position by destabilizing Ukraine, regaining control of it by degrees, covering these moves in a smokescreen of propaganda about an illegitimate coup by neo-fascists in Kiev — wolf crying wolf, as Timothy Snyder put it — and moving a step further toward reversing the post-1989 European settlement. He seems to have calculated that the West would be too nervous, guilty, timid, and obsessed with its own economic interests to respond effectively. As with his invasion and occupation of Georgia, Putin would let the West’s anxieties cool, make a few superficial concessions, promise not to seize anything else (at least not for a while), and resume the game of diplomatic reassurance. His immediate first step is to prevent Ukraine from holding elections that would produce an indisputably legitimate elected government.
Putin was not entirely wrong in this calculation; some in the West, including some conservatives, plainly want to play his game. But he was not entirely right either. Both Washington and the European Union have condemned Moscow’s actions in the plainest terms. These may be merely words, but they cannot be easily withdrawn without some corresponding retreat by Putin. To be sure, the West’s actual responses — sending troops to the Baltic states, imposing financial sanctions on named allies of Putin — are as yet woefully inadequate. Reviving the plan for anti-missile installations in Central Europe is one stronger response that might cause some second thoughts in the Kremlin — it would reverse one of Putin’s own recent gains (and one of Obama’s first foreign-policy innovations). And, of course, there are divisions between the allies on how tough any future Western responses might be. But there is a genuinely new mood of criticism and skepticism toward Putin’s Russia in almost all Western capitals. What is wanting is a set of practical policies to turn that mood into a strategy.
President Obama cannot reasonably be expected to come up with that strategy. He has been unlearning most of his own ideas about foreign policy as this crisis has developed, and as Henry Kissinger has often pointed out, statesmen don’t have the time to develop new concepts when they are in government. That may be a mercy on this occasion. Fortunately, President Reagan left behind a strategic legacy for his successor to imitate: the policy of strategic and economic competition with the Soviet Union. That strategy, applied today with particular emphasis on energy, would gradually weaken Russia and, within Russia, Putin. And by weakening Russia strategically, we would give ourselves the time and opportunity to fashion the best tactical response to Putin’s subversion of eastern Ukraine. Our first step there must be to insist on all-Ukrainian elections — and force Putin either to accept them or to show just who is the neo-fascist in this game.