‐ We endorse the president’s annual pilgrimage to Martha’s Vineyard. When he starts groaning about inequality, it’s impossible to hear him over the yacht engines.
‐ When the House impeached Bill Clinton in 1998, it didn’t turn out much better than the impeachment of Andrew Johnson more than a century earlier. Experience has shown that impeachment and conviction require rock-hard majorities (in the Senate, a two-thirds supermajority), which did not exist in 1998–99 and could not exist now. Worse than futile, a push for impeachment would perversely provide a boost for the Democrats, who would rally around President Obama as a political martyr. Which is why Harry Reid, Jim Clyburn, G. K. Butterfield, Hank Johnson, Hakeem Jeffries, Marsha Fudge, Barbara Lee, Donald Payne Jr., Steven Horsford, and Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrats all, raised the prospect of impeachment as Congress headed home for August. (No Republican echoed them.) One more thing: Time treats impeachment talk differently, depending on whose it is. Even as Representative Jackson Lee spoke up last month, she said: “We did not seek an impeachment of President Bush” during the Iraq War. Yet in June 2008, she and eleven other Democrats sponsored a resolution to impeach him. Anyone would like to forget such reckless grandstanding, but only Democrats can.
‐ After the Halbig decision, in which a federal court ruled that the so-called Affordable Care Act means what it says, Obamacare’s partisans denounced the decision as implausible, a willful misreading of what was effectively a legislative “typo.” The law says that the federal government may offer insurance subsidies only through the state-created exchanges, but most states declined to create them, so the federal government stepped in to create its own, with the intention of offering the same subsidies therein. No can do, says the law. Ezra Klein declared that “literally every single person involved in the crafting of this law” believed that the legislation was intended to empower the federal government to offer subsidies at will. One of the law’s main architects, Jonathan Gruber, concurred. But when Gruber was confronted with none other than Jonathan Gruber arguing a couple of years ago that the law was crafted specifically to exclude subsidies outside the state-based exchanges, he explained that it was an isolated error on his part, a “speako,” as he memorably put it. The next half-dozen speakos to be unearthed were harder to explain away, as was an inconvenient GAO report from 2011 that said the same thing. The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn declared that the evidence “doesn’t change my view that the architects of Obamacare wanted everybody to have subsidies, no matter what decision their state officials made about the marketplaces.” Though the facts won’t change their minds, here’s another: Whatever Platonic ideal of a law the architects “wanted,” the one they enacted gives state governments the power to say no.
‐ President Obama famously accused Representative Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) of proposing “thinly veiled social Darwinism” in one of his budgets. It will take a special kind of cynicism to make that claim about Ryan’s new anti-poverty proposal, which he introduced in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in July. Ryan wants to reform the federal safety net in part by offering states a block grant to replace most means-tested federal poverty programs (food stamps, housing assistance, utilities subsidies, etc.). States would then be allowed to come up with their own ways to spend this money on their poor residents, as long as they spent it on programs that require work, emphasize reaching self-sufficiency, and prove their effectiveness. Ryan proposes similar ideas and more flexibility for federal education programs, too. Block grants aren’t perfect: Congress needs to write some clear and sensible requirements for the checks it’s going to send to states. This is not impossible. Welfare reform in 1996 successfully combined more freedom for the states with the imposition of work requirements on them — which ought to be the template here as well. The congressman also wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit — that rare thing, an effective federal poverty program — to encourage work among childless adults. Ryan’s proposals are welcome, and just the latest addition to the Republican party’s growing phalanx of policy ideas. It will serve them well.
‐ The New York Times published a long editorial, with a train of sub-arguments and elaborations, entitled “Repeal Prohibition, Again” — meaning prohibition of marijuana. The Times thus adopts a position NR called for on February 12, 1996, in an editorial entitled “The War on Drugs Is Lost.” We do not say this to be snarky (well, a little bit). But the fact remains that the Times had to overcome more predispositions to write its editorial than we did to write ours. As the primary journalistic organ of liberalism, it believes in the efficacy of intervening in markets for a wide variety of goals; it also endorses controlling people’s lives and conduct for reasons of safety and comfort (and for other reasons, too, but these are the pertinent ones respecting marijuana use). For the Times to recognize that a system of drug laws was coercive and unworkable required a major paradigm shift. We agree with it that the sale of marijuana to minors should be illegal, and use by them discouraged, just as the laws and the culture punish and frown on the purchase and use of alcohol and tobacco by minors.
‐ The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence continues to proceed with work on its $50 million probe of the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of enhanced-interrogation methods, but it has already scored its first victory: The committee has revealed that the CIA monitored the Senate staffers’ investigation. The agency and Director John Brennan’s handling of the matter has been to their discredit — and lent legitimacy to the Senate’s ideologically motivated investigation, which seems designed mainly to prove that enhanced-interrogation techniques were less effective than the CIA said. Congressional oversight of intelligence is important, but the Senate’s work on this matter has been a study in how not to carry it out. We didn’t need a CIA operation to discover that.
‐ With China and Russia arming and aggressing, the Middle East burning, and U.S. defenses shrinking, the report of the National Defense Panel could not have been timelier. The NDP is a body charged by Congress and the Pentagon with reviewing our defense strategy. The secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, appointed its chairmen: William Perry (the Pentagon chief under Clinton) and John Abizaid (the retired Army general and former CENTCOM commander). The panel included Michèle Flournoy, a former Obama official. The whole report should be absorbed, with wide-eyed alarm, but we will cut to the chase: Of our defense reductions, the NDP said, “Not only have they caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness and both present and future capabilities, they have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve. Unless reversed, these shortfalls will lead to a high-risk force in the near future. That in turn will lead to an America that is not only less secure but also far less prosperous. In this sense, these cuts are ultimately self-defeating.” The language is, if anything, understated.
‐ One of the few major accomplishments to come out of Congress before it went on recess this August was a bill to reform the Veterans Health Administration. The bill won’t fix the VA and will cost vastly more than has been budgeted. Yet the agency is so badly run that the bill is still a decent start. House Republicans managed to incorporate a number of reforms to hold VA executives accountable, cut back dramatically on proposed expansions of the existing VA system, and offer a private option to veterans who can’t access health care conveniently or in a timely manner. Ideally, we would never have built a huge, self-contained, government-run medical system for vets in the first place. Because we did, Congress has to make sure it works, and it has taken a reasonable step in that direction.
‐ In a big win for the more opportunistic corners of the organized-labor movement, the National Labor Relations Board recently decided that, in a number of labor cases before it involving McDonald’s, it will consider the corporate parents of franchise businesses liable for the labor agreements reached between franchisees and their employees. The NLRB has maintained otherwise for 30 years, refusing to consider corporations with franchises to be part of a “joint employer” arrangement. The Obama administration’s NLRB is overturning the precedent to make it easier for employees at franchise businesses to unionize on a national level and to bring wholesale complaints against national corporations. The federal court system, to which the planned appeal by McDonald’s will go after the NLRB, doesn’t proceed with quite the efficiency of your average fast-food joint. But here’s hoping this foolish ruling will be undone before it can start to hurt workers and small businesses.
‐ “I don’t care if it’s legal — it’s wrong!” So said President Obama of the practice of so-called corporate tax inversions, in which firms legally reincorporate overseas, escaping the rapacious U.S. corporate income tax. The United States maintains the highest corporate tax in the developed world, and, with North Korea and Zimbabwe, is one of a tiny handful of countries (most of them backward) that seek to apply their corporate tax to the worldwide operations of domestic companies. Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to punish the firms they call “corporate deserters.” Presidential henchman David Plouffe has gone so far as to accuse rivals of “economic treason.” As rhetoric, this is toxic. It treats responding to economic incentives like an act of treachery — you don’t have to be Benedict Arnold to read a balance sheet. As a matter of law, the proposed legislation is foolish and selective: Even as they abominate these so-called deserters, Democrats have helped pour millions of dollars into the coffers of firms such as Eaton and Delphi through cash grants for green-energy work; Eaton is incorporated in Ireland for tax purposes, Delphi on the island of Jersey. This represents a classic behavior pattern of the Left: create a set of deeply stupid economic incentives and then denounce those who respond to them. If it is unpatriotic for companies to move economic activity abroad, what should we call lawmakers who push them to do so?
‐ Invincible self-confidence must be nice. President Obama gave an explanation for supporting the Export-Import Bank that betrays either his ignorance of economics or his dishonesty as a politician. “There is no doubt that a thread has emerged in the Republican party of anti-globalization that runs contrary to the party’s traditional support for free trade,” Obama told The Economist. “How the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation became targets for Tea Party wrath is a little strange to me.” Tea-party supporters of free trade oppose the Export-Import Bank — a program that is little more than a subsidy for Boeing — because free trade, to the extent that it is free, is independent of government intervention. It’s plausible, given the president’s economic policies, that he does not understand this. Plausible — but unlikely, given that he described the bank in 2008 as “little more than a fund for corporate welfare,” according to the Washington Post. Liberals like to complain about polarization in American politics, but Obama’s decision to pretend that he doesn’t understand positions he used to hold suggests he’s part of the problem, and happily so.
#page#A Fed-Blown Bubble?
The Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases, known as quantitative easing, are designed to put downward pressure on interest rates. A recent flurry of academic work has documented that the policy has indeed pushed interest rates lower for the types of assets, especially mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries, that the Fed has purchased.
A reduction in interest rates could drive investors to substitute other assets for bonds, and some observers have begun to wonder whether the recent rises in equity markets might be signs that the Fed is inflating a stock-market bubble. Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan remarked recently that he expects a “significant correction” in the market, and even current Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen conceded that “valuation metrics in some sectors do appear substantially stretched.”
Is the U.S. stock market in a Fed-blown bubble?
The accompanying chart explores the question. Specifically, it shows the three-month moving averages of the month-over-month percentage change in the Fed’s balance sheet, and the U.S. stock market’s outperformance of the stock markets of OECD countries that have not engaged in large-scale asset purchases (that is, we exclude the U.S., the U.K., and Japan). Even though the Federal Reserve first announced quantitative easing in November 2008, the chart begins in January 2009, the first month for which it is possible to calculate the three-month moving average.
Two things jump out of the chart. First, the U.S. stock market has outperformed relative to the OECD average during the time period represented, by about 0.4 percent per month. Over the entire time period, the U.S. market is up 98.8 percent, whereas the rest of the OECD is up 67.9 percent on average. Second, the U.S. has tended to outperform in the months in which there were bigger increases in the Fed balance sheet. Indeed, the correlation between the two lines is highly statistically significant.
A pessimist would look at that correlation and say it confirms that the Fed has inflated a bubble. A defender of the Fed’s action, however, might argue that quantitative easing has bolstered the economy, and that higher economic growth explains the booming U.S. stock market. Over this time period, the U.S. has grown about half a percentage point per year faster than the comparison set of countries, which provides some support for this view. Looking ahead, perhaps the most troubling thing in the chart is that the high correlation between Fed purchases and stock-market gains is not limited to a few announcement days. It appears that even fully anticipated Fed actions have continued to affect the markets. This might be because the market worried that the Fed might change its mind and stop early, but even so, it does suggest that the end of quantitative easing, which is likely in the fall, could mark the end of U.S. equity markets’ recent outperformance of the rest of the world.
#page#‐ During the government shutdown, during which the government did not shut down, the republic was treated to endless disquisitions on “essential” federal workers. Nancy Pelosi, faced with conservative demands for thrift, declared: “There’s no more cuts to make.” May we suggest that Madam begin by considering the federal pornography budget? Reports from federal inspectors general and congressional investigators, summarized by the Washington Times, reveal that, from Commerce to Treasury to the EPA, federal employees spend a surprisingly large part of their workdays watching pornography on office computers: Eight hours a week for one FCC worker, no doubt an essential one, while an operative of Treasury managed to view 13,000 different pieces of pornography in a mere six weeks. The problem, federal overseers say, is boredom: Paralegals at Commerce were assigned no work because their supervisor was afraid that doing so would “antagonize the labor union,” and so they were paid $4 million for nothing. They spent their days watching television and browsing dating sites: Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and the Commerce Department is his corporate headquarters. So far, no one has lost his job or been required to reimburse taxpayers for misusing their resources — because it is virtually impossible to fire unionized federal employees, even those who literally do nothing but sit around with their hands down their pants.
‐ Pro-choice advocates are abandoning the label “pro-choice.” It “doesn’t really resonate with a lot of young women voters,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explained to the New York Times. A sure substitute for “pro-choice” has yet to emerge, although many supporters of abortion rights like “women’s health,” which they pit against the health of unborn children, and “equality,” which they would deny even to themselves in their first nine months of life. “Pro-choice” itself arose as a way for supporters of abortion to describe themselves and their position without mentioning the procedure. When it comes to euphemism, the abortion lobby outdoes the Victorians.
‐ Michael Bloomberg’s hapless gun-control outfit, Everytown, has issued a video that it appears to believe makes the case for stricter firearms-purchasing laws. The spot features a woman who is attacked — and eventually shot — by her ex-husband. When he bangs aggressively on the windows of her house, she calls 9-1-1, explaining to the operator that she has a restraining order against him. But the police are too far away to help and, eventually, he forces his way in, steals her child, and shoots her in the head. The intended message is that “we need to make it harder for men with restraining orders to get hold of guns.” The likely message, by contrast, is that anyone who is willing to break and enter, to abduct a child, and to murder a woman is unlikely to follow firearms regulations; and that the unfortunate victim would have been far better off with a .357 Magnum than a telephone in her hand.
‐ On the final Saturday in July, the D.C. District Court struck down the nation’s last remaining concealed-carry ban, bringing the nation’s recalcitrant capital into line with the states. Nixing the prohibition completely, Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. invoked the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions in both Heller and McDonald, and incorporated the Ninth Circuit’s contention that if the Second Amendment is to mean anything at all, it must protect the citizenry’s capacity to bear as well as keep arms. “There is no longer any basis,” Scullin wrote, “on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.” D.C. police immediately obeyed the edict, issuing a memo confirming that, with immediate effect, residents and non-residents alike could carry firearms both open and concealed. “Congratulations, Americans,” the lawsuit’s architect, Alan Gura, wrote in response to the ruling, “your capital is not a constitution-free zone.”
‐ Shaneen Allen, who was arrested in New Jersey in June after she drove into the state with a concealed handgun and a Pennsylvania permit that New Jersey refuses to accept, is almost certainly going to be tried for a crime that carries with it a mandatory minimum sentence of three years. The prosecutor in Allen’s case — an overzealous man named Jim McClain — has steadfastly refused to accept that the infraction was an innocent mistake, and in consequence has declined either to downgrade the charges or to sign off on his state’s willingness to induct Allen into a diversionary program that would spare her both jail time and the felony conviction that would likely destroy her future employment prospects. In the long term, New Jersey’s laws need changing, and the governor needs to be willing to step in. In the shorter term, a young mother’s future, and that of her family, hangs in the balance. Allen’s case is likely to go down to the wire. Please consider supporting the Shaneen Allen Legal Defense Fund on the crowd-funding site GoGetFunding.
‐ Eric Garner, a Staten Island man apprehended for selling loose cigarettes on the street, died when a cop put him in a chokehold. Garner was a big man with many priors, but he was not violently resisting arrest; the police are not supposed to use chokeholds. Al Sharpton has taken the death as an opportunity to attack broken-windows policing, the doctrine of going after minor offenses. At a forum with Mayor Bill de Blasio, and attended by police commissioner William Bratton, Sharpton said enforcement is unfair — “it’s disproportionate in the black and Latino community” — and vowed to be de Blasio’s “worst enemy” unless things change. Enforcement is disproportionate, because most crimes are committed in black and Latino (i.e., poor) neighborhoods. But the benefits are disproportionate, because most crime victims are black and Latino. Thousands of New Yorkers are alive today because broken-windows policing made their neighborhoods livable. De Blasio is on a tightrope: Sharpton and other Left demagogues are his constituency, but he knows he needs to keep New York safe. Let’s hope he walks it, without falling back into the early Nineties.
‐ Last summer, New York governor Andrew Cuomo won praise for setting up an independent commission empowered to clean house in ethically challenged Albany. But when the commission subpoenaed a media-buying firm with ties to Cuomo, Lawrence Schwartz, a top Cuomo aide, told it to back off. The governor was happy to hound state legislators, who are notorious for both fractiousness and corruption. But he was not as these publicans. The commission disbanded after nine months (Cuomo had announced that it would run for 18 months). Now the New York Times, in full good-government mode, has detailed the story of Cuomo’s interference, and U.S. attorney Preet Bharara is on the case. Cuomo’s office has lawyered up. Cuomo has always yearned to win the presidency that eluded his father Mario — a long shot, since he is charmless and New York is now Hillary’s home state. His odds are longer now that he is being treated almost as though he had closed a lane on the George Washington Bridge.
#page#‐ Our Eliana Johnson got her hands on Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn’s campaign plan. Nunn, the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, represents the Democrats’ best hope to pick up a Senate seat this fall, so it says a lot that the document basically serves as an instruction guide for fooling Georgia voters. In it, Nunn’s strategists worry she’ll come across as a “lightweight,” “too liberal,” and not a “real Georgian.” So they propose creating a group of gun-toting supporters that will allow them to tout “Michelle’s moderate bona fides.” They add, “Members of this group must have gun/hunting licenses.” One would hope. To combat the (accurate) perception that Nunn is a D.C.-bred princess of the Senate, they recommend flooding the state with mailers that feature her “in rural settings with rural-oriented imagery.” But the most telling calculations are about race. Jews, Asians, and gays are categorized as “fundraisers,” while blacks and Hispanics must simply be “motivate[d]” to get out to the polls. The authors of the plan note that Nunn’s position on Israel will “largely determine the level of support” she receives from the Jewish community. That position: “TBD.” Conservatives often accuse Democrats of pandering to minority groups. Rarely do we get to see a 144-page plan to put such pandering into effect.
‐ John Walsh had his Senate seat handed to him when he was appointed to replace longtime Montana senator Max Baucus in February. He was chosen in large part because of his military credentials, which include a master’s degree from the Army War College. Now, courtesy of the New York Times, we discover that he plagiarized at least a quarter of his 14-page thesis. Walsh was liberal with his sources, appropriating sentences from a Foreign Affairs article, a Harvard paper, a blog, a paper from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a paper submitted to the War College by another Army colonel, a scholarly study from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and an article from the Journal of Democracy. Confronted with his misdeeds, he was also liberal with his excuses. First, he claimed to have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Then, his campaign said the plagiarism was an “unintentional mistake” and that Walsh is not a “classroom academic.” Finally, the senator said PTSD had “nothing to do” with his plagiarism, but that he was on a medication for the condition and it altered his mindset. Republicans were already favored to pick up the Senate seat for which Walsh is running in November. Consider it a lock.
‐ Our president is in favor of a 51st star — not for Puerto Rico but for Washington, D.C. Asked whether he favors statehood for the District, Obama said, “I’m in D.C., so I’m for it. Folks in D.C. pay taxes like everybody else. They contribute to the overall well-being of the country like everybody else. They should be represented like everybody else.” Washington, D.C., was created to be the federal city, not a state. If congressional representation is important to D.C. residents, they can easily skip over the border to live in Maryland or Virginia. No one forces a voting-age person to live in the federal city. As it happens, we look forward to Mr. Obama’s departure from it.
‐ Vladimir Putin visited the Kremlin’s old friend Fidel Castro and made a new spy pact with him. A week and a half later, Xi Jinping, the Chinese No. 1, visited Castro to make his own deals. He said, “China and Cuba, as fellow socialist countries, are closely linked by the same visions, ideals, and goals.” Castro is closely linked to North Korea, too, especially in the realm of ballistic missiles. The enemies of peace and democracy are thicker than thieves. It behooves the advocates of peace and democracy to be similarly close.
‐ It can be dangerous to be a U.S. aid worker in Cuba. Alan Gross knows: He has been a prisoner and hostage in Cuba since 2009. The Associated Press has now published a report saying that the U.S. Agency for International Development sent about ten Latin American young people to Cuba for the purpose of fomenting political change. Moreover, said the AP, our government sent them there with little training, exposing them to the kind of danger Alan Gross learned about. For its part, USAID responded, “The United States has a long history of confronting human-rights abuses, connecting the oppressed to the outside world, and helping people have a say in how they are governed.” Mario Diaz-Balart, the Miami congressman, knocked the AP report as a “hit piece.” But he also said this: “Pro-democracy activities must be undertaken with discretion because the most innocuous acts are ‘crimes’ in totalitarian states.” Very true. All honor to the U.S. government for trying to help people in a police state help themselves. But, for heaven’s sake: some competence.
‐ The months-long ordeal of Meriam Ibrahim, 27, came to an end in July, when she flew with her husband and two children to Manchester, N.H. Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman, had been sentenced, when eight months pregnant, to 100 lashes and death by hanging for the crimes of adultery and apostasy. She was accused of converting from her father’s faith of Islam, though she maintained that she had been raised a Christian by her mother. Ibrahim refused to recant. “I am not giving up Christianity just so that I can live,” she said. She gave birth in May to a daughter while shackled to the floor of her prison cell. An international campaign and diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese authorities resulted in her release, but she was detained again when attempting to leave the country and, after her release, took refuge in the U.S. embassy. Additional pressure at last assured her safe passage to Rome, where she received a blessing from Pope Francis before continuing on to the U.S. She has been granted asylum (her husband, Daniel Wani, is a naturalized citizen) and plans to begin a normal life with her family. Welcome home.
‐ We are struggling with our belief that markets are rational. Bond-buyers keep lending Argentina money, and Argentina keeps defaulting — now for the eighth time in its history, the second time in our still-young century. After defaulting to the tune of $100 billion in 2001, Argentina attempted to illegally restructure its debt; investors sued; a judge agreed with them, and ruled that any financial firm that went along with Argentina’s illegal restructuring would be in contempt. Argentina, being Argentina, defaulted again. Once the world’s fifth-largest economy, Argentina is Exhibit A of where reckless borrowing and profligate government lead. Argentina is considering another restructuring, and, strangely enough, there are bond investors still willing to buy what it is selling, giving credence to the notion that things really are upside-down down there.
#page#‐ Forty-one Scotch terriers and a giant haggis. No, that’s not what you see after a few too many nips of Laphroaig; it’s part of the way the city of Glasgow kicked off this year’s Commonwealth Games. The resolutely eclectic opening ceremonies also included a same-sex wedding, which raised hackles in many Commonwealth countries; but surely even the strictest moralist could not resist the adorable Scotties who trotted in front of each country’s delegation wearing tartan jackets that bore the country’s name. Right? Well, not entirely: Malaysian politicians and clerics protested angrily because dogs are considered unclean by some Muslims. Fortunately, they were alone in their counterterrierism; those less dogmatic or cynical were as beguiled as everyone else. Haggis may safely be classified under the heading “It’s a Scottish thing,” and single malt is an acquired taste, but Scotch terriers are universal.
‐ When Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in January 1961, the first place he went was an endearingly scruffy basement club on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village called Café Wha? It was run by a decorated WWII vet from Indiana named Manny Roth, who had shunned his family’s traditional profession of surgery to work in show business. He opened the café in 1959 and it quickly became the hangout for folkies, artists, writers, bongo beaters, and assorted hangers-on. Roth had set out to do nothing more than run a nightclub and make a few bucks, but for one brief moment, his smoky dive managed to embody the zeitgeist. The moment was brief indeed; in December 1963 an already jaded Dylan wrote of his early days, “It was a different street then / It was a different village.” Now JFK was dead, Dylan was making hit records, and the Beatles were in the wings. In the 1970s New York’s iconic “in” spot would be a disco (Studio 54), and in the 1980s a fancy restaurant (Elaine’s), but by then Manny Roth had long since sold the place and moved to Woodstock, N.Y., then eventually to Ojai, Calif., where he died last month at age 94. R.I.P.
‐ The death of John Blundell shocked the conservative world because he was just 61 and had always seemed the quintessence of energy and activism. At one time or another he was the president or a board member of virtually every classical-liberal and/or conservative organization on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Institute for Humane Studies, the Atlas Foundation, the Mont Pelerin Society, and above all the Institute of Economic Affairs, in London, where he remained for two creative decades. He started out as a tireless guerrilla campaigner against the cozy corporatism of the Confederation of British Industry. He soon became a main player in what one left-wing writer called “the Great Moving Right Show” that became the Thatcher revolution. And after a decade in America learning the think-tank trade, he returned to head the IEA, the mother ship of British think tanks. John brought together two particular qualities that made him a great campaigner for liberty: a strong intuitive grasp of conservative ideas and a lively, good-humored, outgoing personality. He had a vision of the future as one of greater practical everyday liberty, and he inspired a great many people to make it a reality. R.I.P.
‐ James Brady was a prominent activist in one of the most valuable and consequential political causes of the 20th century: the effort to enact the policy agenda of President Reagan. Owing to a sad mischance of history, the violent act of a madman named John Hinckley, he later became involved in another cause, one in which his efforts were noble but misguided. He was a good man, and we thank him for all the good that he accomplished. Dead at 73. R.I.P.
Crossing the Line
The president’s declaration in June that he would “fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own” is shortly to come to fruition: The White House is reportedly weighing an executive order, slated for summer’s end, similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that he implemented — also by executive fiat, via memorandum — in 2012. Although the specifics are unknown, the likeliest options would affect from 2 to 6 million people.
Any unilateral action of this magnitude and type would be unprecedented. Permission to work would secure for millions of illegal immigrants the benefits of lawful status despite their lack of a green card or a pathway to citizenship. The new program might, like DACA, be pitched as temporary — but the United States has a storied tradition of making temporary measures permanent: Temporary Protected Status, established in 1990, still covers Honduran refugees from 1998’s Hurricane Mitch.
Any new DACA-style program will have the tendency to encompass persons beyond its target demographic. As of March 31, some 550,000 “DREAMers” have received permits under DACA, but the program has functionally shielded from enforcement actions probably 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants, report U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers. DACA has also proven to involve a massive expenditure of both time and money that has required immigration officers to delay processing entrance applications from legal immigrants to accommodate the deluge of applicants from illegal immigrants. A de facto amnesty of 5 million illegal immigrants would further overwhelm an already inundated, costly system.
The problem, though, is finally one of constitutional order. The assumption by the president of the ability to unilaterally welcome or reject migrants is a rank violation of the separation of powers. The president would no longer be enforcing existing law; he would be writing it anew at will on a scale heretofore unimagined.
Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz has introduced a bill that would deny federal funds for the continued implementation of DACA and prohibit the use of federal funds to grant work authorizations to illegal immigrants. Although the bill is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, it might put pressure on red-state Democrats to defend their decision to countenance this executive-branch power grab.
Meanwhile, House Republicans have passed a bill that provides $400 million for increased security measures along the border and a tightening of the rules to help deal with the current crisis, as well as a bill to defund DACA and prohibit its expansion. While it would have been preferable to see the two bills consolidated, the House staked its position — and acted. That is more than can be said of the Senate, which will take up neither bill and has left for recess without passing a border bill of its own.
The action on the border crisis must be seen as part of a broader struggle to restore immigration laws, and the rightful place of Congress in our constitutional order.
#page#THE MIDDLE EAST
The recent fighting in Gaza is a tragedy. Cease-fires come and go and hopes rise and fall accordingly, but the essence of tragedy is that human beings have to pay for their mistakes. That’s how it has been in Gaza ever since Hamas took over as self-appointed champions of the Palestinian cause. Numbering only some thousands, Hamas is no different from other groups in the Arab and Muslim world that exploit Islam as an ideology that serves political and nationalistic purposes — except that Hamas’s foundation charter commits it to exterminate Israelis and take possession of that state. Whenever it has seemed opportune, Hamas therefore has fired off missiles and mortars by the thousand from Gaza into Israel. The strategy is divisive. Turkey and Qatar encourage and finance Hamas; the secular regime in Egypt has closed the frontier with Gaza and evidently sees Israel as a kindred opponent of Islamism.
Completely defenseless in the gathering chaos, Christians under Islamist threat in Arab countries mostly flee for their lives. Kurds have armed militias. Israel is the sole minority in the region with an air force and armored divisions, and the recklessness of Hamas’s rocket onslaught brought this weaponry into action. Parts of Gaza are now devastated and will not be fit to inhabit for a long time. It will not have escaped the attention of the ayatollahs in Tehran that Israel does not take kindly to those who want to mess with it.
The discovery of the immense but previously undetected network of very well-engineered tunnels running underneath the entire Gaza Strip and exiting in Israel has been a shock. Some tunnels were already wired up with explosives under Israeli homes and schools. Apparently Hamas was preparing for a massive underground invasion that could well have led to casualties on a 9/11 scale. Destruction of the tunnels has been the Israeli priority. Eventual demilitarization of Gaza is the sole guarantee that Hamas will not start tunneling all over again the moment Israeli forces are out of range.
The White House and European heads of state unanimously conceded that Israel had the right to defend itself. But Hamas’s countermeasure was to launch the missiles from sites close to or within hospitals, United Nations schools, and family homes. Hamas calculated that Israelis would not dare strike targets with human shields. When they were struck, by accident or design, Hamas made sure that the media filmed and wrote exclusively about the unfortunate Palestinian women and children who fell victim to Hamas callousness without mentioning that Hamas was actually to blame. The White House was soon calling Israeli self-defense “disgraceful.” Secretary of State John Kerry tried to broker a cease-fire with proposals that met all of Hamas’s conditions and none of Israel’s.
In Europe, Hamas’s achievement is to have provoked an outburst of anti-Semitism reminiscent of the 1930s. Jews are attacked in the street; synagogues and shops are targeted. Jews are having to pay for the mistakes and the malevolence of others, and that is a tragedy with which they are all too familiar.