‐ Okay, the World Cup starts when?
‐ Hillary Clinton can’t leave wealthy enough alone. After her “dead broke” interview, she told the Guardian that regular Americans “don’t see me as part of the problem, because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off . . . and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.” The “hard work” of which she boasts was rising in politics, then being paid for her reflections, in speaking fees and book advances. Nothing to be embarrassed about in that: She charges what the market will bear. But she is embarrassed because she and her fellow Democrats spend so much time railing at rich people they do not like: the Koch brothers, Mitt Romney. Thus “the problem” of which she claims not to be a part. Mrs. Clinton is “truly well off” by most people’s reckoning. She cannot accept it and move on, which shows that she has neither grace nor humor: traits valuable in any politician, essential in one who practices the dangerous politics of envy.
‐ Tapes unearthed by the Washington Free Beacon offer a glimpse of the young Hillary Clinton. It is not flattering. They feature the Chicago-born Clinton affecting a deep southern drawl and laughing out loud as she recalls her successful defense of Thomas Alfred Taylor, a 41-year-old man accused in 1975 of raping a twelve-year-old girl. Clinton won the case by attacking the credibility of the young victim, accusing her of emotional instability, of having a tendency to seek out older men, and of indulging in fantasy. On tape, she offers a rather different portrayal, casually joking about her client’s guilt. “I had him take a polygraph, which he passed,” she says. “Which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” she adds with a laugh. The victim, now 52, told the Daily Beast that Clinton — who, in all of her public roles, has positioned herself as a feminist champion of women and girls — took her “through hell.” When Glenn Thrush, then at Newsday, wrote about the matter in 2008, he said his editor added a snoozer of an intro to a blockbuster piece because, in Thrush’s words, it “might have an impact.” Remember that, in 2012, “troubling incidents” from Mitt Romney’s high-school years were the subject of major national headlines. When it comes to Democratic politicians, the press has an instinct for the capillaries.
‐ Republican politicians often explain that they are for conservative policies, but sometimes forget to explain why those policies will deliver good results for most people. That’s not a mistake Senator Marco Rubio of Florida intends to make. In a recent speech sponsored by Hillsdale College and the YG Network, he outlined an agenda of conservative reforms to health care, higher education, taxes, and retirement programs, and used illustrative examples to show how deregulation, tax relief, and competition would help people. It is a fine agenda for fostering upward mobility in this country. Senator Rubio should reflect on whether his immigration bill, which would dramatically increase the number of low-skilled immigrants who come here over the next decade, is a good fit with his other ideas. And other Republicans should offer their own ideas, so that the 2016 presidential primaries exemplify healthy competition, rather than just discuss it.
‐ The Supreme Court’s decision in Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board was the twelfth time since 2012 that it unanimously rejected a case brought by the Obama administration. This one was as clear-cut as can be: President Obama wanted to make a number of appointments to the NLRB that the Senate wouldn’t confirm. So he declared the body in recess — blatantly violating the separation of powers and the ancient principle that a legislative body makes its own rules — and used a constitutional power to fill without Senate confirmation “vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate.” The appointments have now been invalidated by the Court, though what happens to the NLRB rulings made by the invalidly appointed members is not clear. The president has a habit of ignoring constitutional scruples to impose his agenda — in this case, to get appointees who would bend labor law toward the unions. This time, not even the justices he put on the Court were willing to go along.
‐ In another late-June decision, the Court ruled that the states may not compel citizens to join a union as a condition of their receiving federal assistance. The case was brought by Pam Harris, a mother from Illinois who spends her days caring for her son, Josh. For the treatment of his debilitating Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, Josh receives an SSDI stipend, which he can use to contract with and pay a full-time “carer.” As many in his situation do, he chose his mother. Illinois law requires all carers to spend a portion of their funds paying a public-employees union — namely, the SEIU. Harris objected on the ground that the state was violating her First Amendment right to freely associate and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and sued. Writing for a 5–4 majority, Justice Alito agreed, drawing a distinction between traditional public employees and what he termed “partial public employees” — that is, carers, such as Harris, whom the state pays to look after their children. Henceforth, the Court ruled, Harris and others like her will be exempted from regulations that force individuals to pay dues against their will. The opinion was narrow. America’s unions had been terrified of a broader ruling. Samuel Gompers famously said what labor wanted was “more.” Coercion always seems to be what today’s unions want more of.
‐ Speaker John Boehner announced that the House would be suing President Obama for “not faithfully executing the laws of our country.” (The complainant would be the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, an arm of the House.) Boehner did not go into details, but the suit evidently will focus on Obama’s executive orders and other instances of overreach. There is room to question the propriety and wisdom of Boehner’s move. The president’s dismissive response — that he retains the power to act when Congress will not — is, however, a stark example of the kind of lawlessness that Boehner has in mind. Article II does not have a whatever-it-takes clause.
#page#‐ Opponents of the Iraq War are taking defeat laps — their version of victory laps (Iraq is in chaos, we told you so). Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) makes his round wrapped in “the mantle of Ronald Reagan,” which he claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “We need a new approach” to the world, Paul wrote, “one that emulates Reagan’s policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly.” Ronald Reagan increased military spending, armed proxies (the Contras, the Mujahedeen), shamed enemies (“Tear down this wall”), colluded with the disaffected (Solidarity), and, yes, sent troops to Grenada and Lebanon. Which of these would Rand Paul endorse now — or ever? If he wants to say — as many libertarians do say — “Make war no more,” let him say it. But he should not claim the mantle of the great Cold Warrior.
‐ In signature Obama-administration fashion, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the lone suspect apprehended in the Benghazi massacre, was whisked into Washington for a quick Saturday arraignment. This assured minimal attention to the president’s reinstatement of the disastrous pre-9/11 paradigm of treating terrorism as strictly a law-enforcement issue. Khatallah is an enemy combatant. Besides his complicity in a notorious act of war — the terrorist attack of September 11, 2012, on an American-government installation in which four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were murdered — he is, according to the State Department, a “senior leader” of Benghazi’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia. He could have been detained indefinitely under the laws of war. Even if one shared the administration’s conceit that civilian courts are the ideal forum for prosecuting enemy combatants, there is no urgency to try Khatallah. He could have been held at Gitmo, used as a long-term intelligence source (intel obviously being in short supply, given that Khatallah’s fellow Benghazi plotters are still at large), and then turned over to the civilian system for Miranda warnings, free counsel, and trial. It could even have been done on some future Saturday.
‐ After Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, won his recall election, a group of Democratic prosecutors launched an investigation into conservative fundraising efforts surrounding the recall, issuing over 100 subpoenas and alleging that several groups had illegally coordinated their activities. Early this year, a state judge ruled that the subpoenas did not “show probable cause” of campaign-finance-law violations, effectively stopping the investigation. Then, in May, in a federal civil-rights lawsuit brought by one of the accused, a federal-district-court judge ordered that the probe end and, further, held that conservative groups have a case that the investigation is an infringement on their free-speech rights. In June, sealed court documents relating to the secret investigation were released, prompting headlines such as “Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case,” from the New York Times. It’s not looking quite so vast in court.
‐ In an effort to elect Democrats this November, and to suggest a Republican “war on women,” President Obama has been going around the country campaigning for mandatory paid maternity leave. He has said, “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us. And that is not the list you want to be on — on your lonesome. It’s time to change that.” He also said, “If France can figure this out, we can figure this out.” Vive la différence.
‐ From the dog-bites-man department: The Justice Department is investigating potential corruption among the employees of a federal agency that hands out favors to businesses. Specifically, it’s alleged that four employees of the Export-Import Bank accepted payments and gifts from Ex-Im beneficiaries. It’s heartening that around the same time the DOJ investigation was announced, Kevin McCarthy, the new House majority leader, announced that he opposes reauthorizing the bank. The previous majority leader, Eric Cantor, helped cut the deal that saved Ex-Im in 2012, but he was defeated in a recent primary. Cantor’s primary opponent emphasized during his campaign that he would fight corporate welfare. Supporters of Ex-Im have taken to arguing that we have to grant favors to our companies just as other countries do to theirs. But crony capitalism shouldn’t be an import.
‐ The federal Highway Trust Fund, historically, is a fund that the government can’t be trusted to spend on federal highways. Unfortunately, Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) is proposing to put more money in it by raising the federal gasoline tax, a proposal he’s concocted with Senator Chris Murphy (D., Conn.). The idea is bad policy and bad politics. The politics: Gas prices are rising rapidly, taxes on fuel are regressive, and Americans, rightly, really don’t like it when you raise any kind of tax at all. And there’s no pressing policy reason to increase the tax: The trust fund has plenty of money to fund highway priorities that the federal government needs to address — especially if federal money were spent more efficiently. Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) and Representative Tom Graves (R., Ga.) have a worthwhile legislative plan: cut the gas tax, fix federal highway policies, and let states decide how to spend money on projects within their own borders. Republicans shouldn’t even bother kicking the tires on Corker’s idea.
#page#Back to Basics
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, observers have searched for a cause for the persistent limping pace of economic growth. Demand-side theories have formed the basis of the common assertion that the lingering effects of the financial crisis are to blame for our slow growth, but a striking new paper argues that another culprit may be to blame: the computer.
It’s not that computers are bad, of course, but that the impact of the computer on growth appears to have been much less impressive than expected. Economists thought the computer’s impact on the economy would have three main stages. For illustrative purposes, imagine a machine-tool shop. In the pre-computer stage, a customer might ask the shop to make a part for an engine. The shop owner would dig through manuals, find the specifications of the part, and then use his machine tools to craft it. When the computer arrived, the manuals could be organized on a computer — the first stage. Instead of spending time digging through manuals, the owner could pull the specifications up right away, significantly increasing the number of parts he could craft in a day — the second stage. And the final stage has been reached today: The computer not only knows the specifications, but runs the machines as well.
Economists expected the growth effects from this multistage process to be great, and enduring. But the new paper, by John Fernald and the San Francisco Fed, suggests a dramatically different picture. The economy received a huge jolt from computers between 1995 and 2003, owing to large improvements in technology that accompanied the widespread introduction of computers — but the jolt tapered off suddenly, so much so that a decline in the growth rate of productivity is visible even before the financial crisis.
NBER working paper 20248, 2014.
Growth can come to an economy if its workers become more talented (“labor quality”), if it accumulates capital that can then be used to increase production by its workers (“capital deepening”), or if it experiences technological progress that makes it capable of using its capital and labor more efficiently (which appears as growth in “total-factor productivity”). The nearby chart shows Fernald’s estimates of how these three factors have contributed to growth in labor productivity in the United States.
It is apparent in the chart that there have been two periods of extremely heightened technological progress in the U.S. — between 1948 and 1973, and between 1995 and 2003. This most recent boost was largely due to a boom in information technologies, in both the industries that produce them and those that use them. The slowdown of productivity improvements in these sectors is a large force behind the decrease in productivity growth in the economy that preceded the Great Recession. Fernald documents that the industries that sped up the most slowed down the most, and that there was no geographic variation in the slowdown that might have been related to the real-estate crash or other cyclical factors. Thus, technology must be the culprit.
With the productivity boom behind us, truly healthy growth will have to come from policies that drive capital and labor inputs higher. A corporate tax cut, for example, could well induce a machine shop to purchase a large number of new computer-driven machines. If it did, output would go up, even if tomorrow’s machines were no more productive than today’s.
‐ The IRS settled a lawsuit by the National Organization for Marriage, admitting that it leaked confidential information about it to a left-wing group. The agency says that the leak was the result of the isolated actions of a single employee, one who was acting in error but not out of malice. In isolation, that might — barely — be credible, but consider the agency’s recent history: the targeting of conservative organizations for extraordinary harassment and intimidation; lies about the scope of that targeting, its timeline, its extent, and the involvement of senior IRS officials in Washington; its agents’ openly campaigning for Barack Obama on agency time; the convenient destruction of evidence related to investigation of these misdeeds; the planted questions at staged press conferences; the willful misleading of Congress. We can see how that employee might not have thought he was doing anything untoward.
‐ A business professor at Brooklyn College says the school’s administrators rejected a $10 million donation because the prospective donors were the Koch brothers. Administrators dispute the story, saying that no formal offer was made and that there might have been logistical problems and conditions attached to the grant; the professor says they never seriously considered it. What’s not in doubt is the Left’s glee over the rebuff. One commentator called the refusal “a new academic credential” for Brooklyn College (which — along with 350 other American colleges, including such right-wing bastions as MIT, Harvard, and NYU — has accepted Koch money in the past); a headline read “Brooklyn College Defends Academic Freedom by Saying No to Koch Millions for Its Business School.” In similar fashion, another critic has urged the United Negro College Fund to spurn a $25 million Koch gift because “the Koch brothers have given huge amounts of money to Tea Party candidates.” Finally, the Left has found a limit to the pleasure of spending other people’s money.
‐ The United Nations has lumped the accounts-payable clerks at the Detroit waterworks in with Pol Pot and the brutes of Boko Haram: as human-rights abusers. Their offense? Cutting off water to people who fail to pay their bills. Detroit is bankrupt, and is $18 billion in debt; $5 billion of that debt is associated with the Water and Sewage Department. There are 258,000 households in Detroit, and approximately 150,000 of them, or 58 percent, are behind in their water bills. The scenes from the city are positively Third World, with cut-off households filling up trashcans and attempting to collect rainwater. But Detroit did not become Detroit because of an earthquake or a tsunami; Detroit is what Detroiters have made of it. It has to pay its bills, which means that its residents ultimately must pay their bills, too, the water bill being trivial among them. The city is performing a perverse and painful public service for the rest of the country: showing the inevitable endpoint of grievance politics, union rapacity, and Democratic misgovernance. Detroit is a monster in the classical sense of that word: a warning of things to come. It isn’t the water company that is abusing Detroit, but three or more generations of elected officials and public-sector unions, which have reduced the city, within memory the nation’s most prosperous, to its current shocking state.
‐ A New York court has refused to reinstate former mayor Mike Bloomberg’s hoped-for ban on soft drinks served in portions greater than 16 ounces. The ghosts of Valley Forge surely are scratching their incorporeal heads, but the legal issue is in fact an important one: The court found that the Board of Health exceeded its mandate with the rule. The result seems sound, but it is worth noting that a 20-page legal ruling has now had to be issued on the question of the legal status of Super Big Gulps in a republic that once fought a revolution the proximate cause of which was a minuscule tax on tea.
‐ Wind turbines are so efficient at killing birds that they could almost have been designed for the purpose. To be sure, near ground level, cars, cats, and buildings kill a lot more birds, but for species that fly at high altitudes, wind farms are a significant threat. The eagle population at Altamont Pass, in California, once a major breeding ground, has been nearly eliminated by wind turbines, which chop up about two of them per week. Those turbines, installed in the 1980s, are grandfathered, but with newer construction, regulations have imposed heavy fines for killing eagles. Under President Waiver, however, rules are just suggestions, and his administration has just issued its first aquiline indulgence, allowing a wind farm not far from Altamont Pass to kill one eagle per year. Other waivers are in the works. Wind power has always been an expensive, unreliable, scenery-destroying, subsidy-hungry boondoggle; now, with eagle-killing made legal, we can add unpatriotic to the list.
‐ The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, has added to the tension and tragedy already coursing through the Middle East. Israeli authorities up to and including Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately identified the killers as Amer Abu Issa and Marwan Qawasmeh. Both men are members of Hamas, the Islamist terror organization that specializes in kidnapping Israelis and exchanging them for other members serving sentences in Israeli jails. It was at night, and Naftali just had time to call the police on his cell phone. The presumption is that the two Palestinians feared they were being pursued, panicked, and shot the three boys. Their bodies were found in a field belonging to the Qawasmehs. The Palestinian nationalists under Mahmoud Abbas have recently accepted Hamas in the government, and these murders put a fragile unity to the test. In a statement, Mahmoud Abbas accused Hamas of harming Palestinians, and he also called on Israel to show restraint. As mourning gives way to anger in Israel, the options under discussion there range from measured reprisals (which have already begun) to full-out war to destroy Hamas. Meanwhile Abu Issa and Qawasmeh have gone into hiding, and their capture sets a very different test, one for the Israeli secret services.
#page#‐ The world’s organized hostility to Israel would be kind of funny if it didn’t have such serious consequences. There are some 200 nations in the world. Many of them are very bad actors: dictatorships, terror states. And it is tiny, democratic Israel that faces the world’s wrath. The latest is that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — not to be confused with the Presbyterian Church in America — has voted to divest from three U.S. companies doing business with Israel. This might seem a trivial matter, and, in isolation, it is. But myriad anti-Israel actions add up to something important: the delegitimization of that state. Iran and other enemies of Israel have pledged to wipe Israel off the map. Israel’s survival is no sure thing. The Jews have faced extermination before, of course. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has done more than indulge in a silly act of political correctness. It has joined a nasty and growing mob.
‐ Rumors have swirled for years about who’s funding the environmentalist opponents of fracking, the technology that has allowed oil-and-gas production in the U.S. and other countries to skyrocket in recent years. One source is the countries of the Persian Gulf: Abu Dhabi Media, part of a United Arab Emirates sovereign-wealth fund, made its debut in the U.S. film market by investing in Promised Land, an anti-fracking film starring Matt Damon. Now the secretary general of NATO, not exactly an Alex Jones figure, is alleging that Russian intelligence agencies are fomenting and funding anti-fracking activism in Europe. Besides Russia, with its interest in protecting the competitiveness of its low-tech oil infrastructure, countries with great fracking potential include Poland and Ukraine. Environmentalism: just another church Vladimir Putin has managed to harness to his political interests.
‐ According to taped conversations leaked in Poland (probably by Russian intelligence), Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski described his country’s alliance with the United States as “worthless.” At the time he made that statement, Sikorski — who was NR’s roving correspondent in the 1980s and 1990s — was quite correct. The Obama administration had canceled the deal to site U.S. anti-missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic even though their governments had risked political capital to welcome them. In addition, President Obama had ignored the appeal from 22 Central European leaders to revive America’s commitment to the region. And Washington had clearly prioritized the reset with Russia over its relations with these countries. Since then, however, the Ukrainian crisis has erupted. Today Sikorski would almost certainly be far friendlier to the U.S. — and far more critical of his then-favorite Germany — over their handling of the Ukraine crisis. Like the Berlin crisis in the 1960s, the Ukraine crisis has greatly clarified the international scene. By annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine by proxy, Russian president Vladimir Putin has realized a number of negative achievements. He has encouraged Ukrainian nationalism throughout the nation and made it hostile to Russia — Ukraine will now never become part of a Russian system. He has lost the prize he originally sought — namely, keeping Ukraine out of any relationship with the European Union and incorporating it instead in a Eurasian Economic Union. He has shown that despite a full measure of braggadocio, he and the Kremlin have no appetite for a full-scale war with Ukraine, thus removing one major anxiety of NATO and Western military planners. He has broken the rules of international good behavior and thus alarmed the Germans, who are sticklers for transnational good conduct. He has been unable to prevent the election of a legitimate and internationally recognized government in Kiev that has the loyalty of most Ukrainians. The crisis is not over; it may continue for years. But it is beginning to look as if Putin can no longer win it. We look forward to Sikorski’s memoirs in, say, 20 years — and to what he has to say about Obama, Merkel, Hollande, and the alliance with Western Europeans. At NR he was always easy to edit.
‐ “I sometimes look at [my children] when they’re asleep. Their faces then look very alien to me, almost unrecognizable, and I see that they are strangers, from a time that is yet to come.” So speaks a character in The Radetzky March, one of the novels of Joseph Roth that mourn the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That empire and three others, along with 16 million lives and countless treasure, vanished in World War I. The first shots were fired on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, when Gavrilo Princip killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The world that came, after the ensuing bloodshed, was as bad as the bloodshed itself: politically unstable, riven with passions and hatreds, poised for a second, even more destructive convulsion. “Do not fool yourself,” Roth wrote prophetically in 1933. “Hell reigns.” The Cold War checked hell, until it finally abdicated with the collapse of Communism. We have our own problems, but the furies unleashed by the assassin were — are — inconceivable. We are lucky to have outlived them.
‐The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera by John Adams, had its premiere in 1991, six years after the event on which it is based. That event is the Achille Lauro hijacking, in which Palestinian terrorists took over an Italian cruise liner and murdered a man named Leon Klinghoffer. He was an elderly American Jew in a wheelchair. They shot him and dumped his body and the wheelchair overboard. Some people have condemned the opera for moral equivalence (and worse). The New York Times, defending the opera, said that it “gives voice to all sides.” Exactly. The Metropolitan Opera is staging the opera next season, which prompted opposition, chiefly from the Anti-Defamation League and the Klinghoffer family. The company decided to go through with the staging but to cancel an international broadcast of it. The reason for the cancellation, said a Met press release, was that the company did not want to “fan global anti-Semitism.” Management probably thought it was being Solomonic, but it was roundly attacked, including by the Times. As for our own view: If the opera should be staged, it should be broadcast. And if it should not be broadcast, it should not be staged.
#page#‐ For an hour or two, a fair number of conservative commentators were convinced that Christin Scarlett Milloy’s essay in Slate, “Don’t Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn,” was a parody, and an oafish one at that. What Milloy objects to is having the attending physician announce: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” Milloy, a transsexual, is peddling the fantasy that sex is a social construct rather than a biological reality, and that when a doctor takes note at birth of the baby’s sex the newborn is “instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes.” This is, in a word, madness. (A riposte to National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson on the matter of transsexualism began: “As a woman with a penis . . .”) Milloy went so far as to argue that treating boys as boys and girls as girls constitutes “psychological abuse.” Given the radical and invasive medical procedures to which transsexuals routinely subject themselves, there can be little doubt that their sense of sexual misidentification is sincerely felt. But it is far from clear that the correct response to that sensation is its encouragement in individuals; the idea that an entire child-rearing ethic should be constructed upon it is perverse and intellectually indefensible. To take reality into account is not bigotry.
‐ One would think that the business of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would be registering patents and trademarks, but because our laws are written with all of the precision of a crayon-wielding toddler attempting to reproduce Titian’s Salome, the agency is empowered to act as an arbiter of social and cultural disputes, and so its appeals board has rescinded the trademark belonging to Washington’s NFL franchise, the Redskins. It has deputized itself to act on behalf of aggrieved Native Americans, though which of them is unclear — polls consistently show that Native Americans do not collectively give a fig about sports mascots: An Annenberg poll on the subject found that 90 percent of Native Americans were unbothered by the name. But President Barack Obama is bothered by it, as are Harry Reid and any number of Democratic grandees, and there is no federal agency too modest or too obscure to be drafted into the Left’s endless culture war.
‐ Robert Roche of the American Indian Education Center in Parma, Ohio, plans to file a federal lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians in July. He says he will seek $9 billion in damages because he thinks the club’s name and logo are racist. Whereas critics of the Washington Redskins’ name assume that the word “redskin” is disparaging in any context, despite its history (American Indians referred to themselves as “redskins” when negotiating with settlers), evidently Roche does not find “Indians” to be offensive in itself, since it’s included in the name of his own organization. Presumably he feels that it is the baseball team’s appropriation of the word that is disrespectful of American Indians, and presumably future targets of his principled indignation will include Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish and the feisty leprechaun that serves as their logo and mascot.
‐ Minnesota’s governor has approved a bill to rename a species of fish called the “Asian carp.” The fish will hereafter be known as “invasive carp.” The species was imported into the U.S. from Asia in the 1970s, hence its original name. As the fish have been a major threat to the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, some Minnesotans decided this title was a negative, hurtful allusion to the state’s Asian population. Democratic state senator John Hoffman, the hero who sponsored the bill, explained to the senate: “Our state and our nation has learned that words, nicknames matter, often at great expense in hurt feelings, inappropriateness, and money.” Later, he told the Star Tribune, “Caucasians brought them to America. Should we call them ‘Caucasian carp’? They have names. Let’s call them what they are.” Problem solved (except for the fish).
‐ Longtime NR contributor Terry Teachout has won the prestigious Bradley Prize. Teachout, besides being the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, is the author of artists’ biographies, opera librettos, and, most recently, a play (Satchmo, which just closed its Off-Broadway run). But (ahem) we found him first, and run him still. Bravo — and encore!
‐ Howard Baker was a talented and good man who had a big career in politics. A Republican senator, he asked the key Watergate question: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Like WFB and NR, he backed the Panama Canal treaties, though he knew this would ruin his chance to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. He ran anyway and fell off quickly. He became Senate majority leader in 1981, helping the new president, Reagan, pass his program. He retired from the Senate in 1984, planning to spend the next several years running for the 1988 nomination. In 1987, Reagan called, his presidency in disarray, chiefly because of Iran-Contra. Would Baker come be his chief of staff? He would, and did, even though that required dropping the idea of running for president. He righted Reagan’s ship for him. And, in the first term of W., he served as ambassador to Japan. He married two politicians’ daughters: Everett Dirksen’s daughter Joy, who died in 1993; and Alf Landon’s daughter Nancy, who was a senator in her own right, and survives her husband. Baker has died in his native Huntsville, Tenn., at 88. We had our ideological differences — he was more liberal than we — but he gave politics a good name. R.I.P.
‐ Fouad Ajami was a proud Shiite born and bred in Southern Lebanon, and from the age of 18 onwards also a proud American. The play of identities brought insight and interpretation. He explained to Arabs that they were victims only of themselves and he explained to Americans that democracy brought with it the responsibility to oppose dictatorship. Writing books and op-ed articles in elegant and idiosyncratic prose, speaking with polite authority on television, he found a rightful place as a Washington insider. In his view, the Arabs would save themselves from home-made disaster by recognizing that American intervention in the Arab world was their good fortune. There was nobody like him. Aged 68, he has died of cancer. R.I.P.
‐ Richard “Rick” Sharp may not have been a household name, but since the mid 1980s his products could be found in millions of American homes. Sharp, who died in June of early-onset Alzheimer’s, was the CEO of Circuit City during its meteoric rise, from 1984 to 2000. Under his leadership, the company’s revenues expanded 71-fold and made consumer electronics available to tens of millions. Sharp’s other ventures will be equally familiar: the nation’s largest used-car retailer, CarMax, which he launched in 1993; and footwear giant Crocs, in which Sharp was a founding investor. He was also a noted philanthropist, giving away much of his wealth for cancer and Alzheimer’s research, private-school scholarships, Boys and Girls Clubs, and conservative political causes. A fierce defender of the free market, Sharp once observed: “The free-enterprise system is what made this nation wealthy and allowed someone like me to become rich. Why does Washington want to tear down that system?” His crucial question stands. Dead at 67. R.I.P.
Hobby Lobby Hysteria
Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, the Supreme Court did not deny access to contraception to anyone in the Hobby Lobby case. Rather, it ruled that if the owners of a closely held company have religious objections to providing contraceptives or abortifacients in their insurance policies, the Obama administration cannot force them to do it.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) trumps the administration’s regulations. The act says that religious objectors must be exempt from a government policy that imposes a substantial burden on their beliefs if the government has a less burdensome way of advancing a compelling interest. Five justices of the Court ruled that closely held companies can be religious objectors protected by the law, and that the government can indeed make contraception more affordable without coercing these companies.
Just as notable is what the Supreme Court’s ruling did not do. Women who work for the plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, remain able to use their employer-provided insurance coverage to finance the most popular forms of contraception. They remain free to use their wages to finance the ones Hobby Lobby will not cover. They remain free to find other jobs, too, if they want employer-provided insurance coverage that includes the abortifacients to which Hobby Lobby objects. Congress remains free to enact a new law that requires employers to cover abortifacients and contraceptives and explicitly rules out any RFRA exemptions. It remains free, for that matter, to repeal RFRA altogether.
The ruling does not make it clear whether the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious institute, will, in the end, remain free from the requirement that they authorize another party to provide contraceptive coverage. That question will be answered in a different case. The Court’s ruling, in short, is an extremely limited one. It does not even restore the full scope of freedom employers had in these matters as recently as 2012. Nobody then, you may recall, was agitated over the fact that, throughout the entire course of American history up to that point, their supposed “rights” to free contraceptive coverage from employers had been continuously violated.
It can be safely predicted that any change in birth rates and rates of contraceptive use based on this ruling will be undetectable. All that has changed is that employers are a little freer to refuse to engage in conduct they consider religiously objectionable. That this increase in freedom makes some people so very upset tells us more about them than about the Court’s ruling.
Time to Get Serious in Iraq
The question in Iraq a few years ago was how to maintain the fragile stability created by the surge, at a time when we had tens of thousands of combat troops in the country and our influence was considerable. We now face the much harder question of how to roll back an offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has taken much of the Sunni heartland in a country breaking apart at its seams, at a time when our military presence is essentially nil and our influence is a fraction of what it once was.
It would have been much wiser to answer the first question so we would never have had to face the second, but President Obama’s willful negligence in liquidating our military presence and in essentially ignoring Iraq for six years has enabled a calamity that may not be reversible.
ISIS has declared a caliphate in the parts of Iraq and Syria that it controls and has continued to advance toward Baghdad. Having captured equipment from the retreating Iraqi military and taken over banks in major towns, the al-Qaeda offshoot has resources that jihadists could only have dreamed of a few years ago. For now, it may be focused on consolidating and extending its gains on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but if it succeeds in creating a quasi-state, it will surely turn its attention to training jihadists to attack the West.
The U.S. needs a comprehensive political, diplomatic, and military plan to push it back. We need to reengage with the Sunni tribes that were essential to defeating al-Qaeda the first time around, in 2006–08, and fund and arm those that are still potential allies. We need to work much harder to aid the anti-ISIS opposition in Syria, since the extremist group’s ascendancy during the Syrian bloodbath helped it in launching its offensive in Iraq. We need to buttress our allies in Jordan, threatened by the chaos across its border, and in Kurdistan, which will be an even more important strategic partner should Iraq fall completely apart.
The default military option when we feel compelled to “do something” in response to a crisis is usually airstrikes. They should be considered here only in the context of a broader strategy, rather than as a substitute for one.
The necessary condition for a stepback from renewed civil war in Iraq, and for detaching Sunni tribes from ISIS, is more-inclusive rule in Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rank sectarianism and growing authoritarianism have done much to stoke the current conflagration (the Obama policy to this point has been to back him to the hilt, no matter what). With prominent Shiite figures abandoning him, he could well be on his way out. We need to do what we can, ideally with a more reasonable Iraqi politician at the helm, to return professional leadership to the Iraqi military and to strengthen the army units that have proven more capable in the latest fighting.
Even in the best of circumstances, the Iraqi government is going to be quarrelsome and dysfunctional and much too close to Iran. This will fuel the temptation, after so much blood and so many tears, to wash our hands of the entire business. But regardless of who is running Baghdad, ISIS will be our enemy. And the surest way to hand Iraq, or at least its Shiite rump, completely over to the Iranians is to turn our back on the country once and for all.
The Obama administration is showing signs of emerging from its passivity in Iraq, but we doubt its resolve and have no confidence in its execution. It should get serious, if for no other reason than out of a sense of guilt for all it has thrown away.