Magazine | December 22, 2014, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ Doesn’t Al Sharpton realize that all the government spending he advocates will only increase his taxes? Oh, wait . . .

‐ Some of us tried to warn the Obama administration that Chuck Hagel would not make for a capable secretary of defense, and Obama belatedly seems to have come to the same recognition. Aides have been telling reporters that Hagel was dumped because he was picked to preside over the winding-down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and is not the right man to handle the rise of the Islamic State. It is not clear which is worse: that these aides are essentially saying that Obama chose a defense chief who would not be useful facing threats to national security, or that they see no problem in saying so. Also unclear is what Obama thinks he is accomplishing by getting rid of Hagel. Obama’s foreign policy will not gain credibility abroad: Everyone knowledgeable understands that Hagel never had any influence over that policy. Michele Flournoy, a Democrat respected by Republicans, was smart to turn down the chance to be Hagel’s replacement scapegoat. Good luck to Ashton Carter, who appears to have drawn the short straw among Democratic defense experts.

‐ In a Friday-night news dump, the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), released a report purporting to clear the Obama administration and the intelligence community of wrongdoing in the Benghazi terrorist attack, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. Rogers had feverishly lobbied against a Select Committee to investigate the massacre, but Speaker John Boehner finally appointed one after a lawsuit by Judicial Watch unearthed documents that had eluded Rogers’s committee and proved that White House officials were heavily involved in scripting Ambassador Susan Rice for her infamous Sunday-show appearances — all in an effort to blame an obscure anti-Muslim video and downplay the role of al-Qaeda, which Obama, then campaigning for reelection, had claimed to have “decimated.” Rogers’s report helps Democrats undermine the Select Committee. It preposterously excuses the failure to foresee an attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, despite repeated strikes (and plans for strikes) on Western targets on previous anniversaries, and sheds no light on what the purpose of the U.S. presence in Benghazi was. Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) angrily dismissed the report. Meanwhile, the Select Committee will continue its probe — with support from a Republican-led Senate.

‐ Senator Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) is a liberal’s liberal who likes to win. When he ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, he looked for pro-gun liberals, such as Jon Tester, to run in western states. In a recent speech at the National Press Club, he diagnosed his party’s woes: Democrats blew a mandate in 2009 by putting “all of our focus on the wrong problem — health-care reform. . . . We were in the middle of a recession. People were hurting and saying, ‘What about me? I’m losing my job.’ . . . When Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, ‘The Democrats aren’t paying enough attention to me.’ ” Over the long term, Schumer wants to focus his party on job creation and middle-class security; in the short term, he wants to cut loose the dead weight of (begins with “O–B,” rhymes with “too much drama”). How many other Dems, less sharp than Schumer but equally enamored of their own skins, will take up his theme? Obama’s twilight months might not be pretty.

‐ In April, President Obama announced that 8 million Americans had enrolled in insurance plans through Obamacare — above the administration’s forecast of 7 million. By September, that number had fallen to 7.3 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. But an investigation by a House committee has found that figure to include 380,000 enrollees who were signed up to Obamacare only for dental plans, not full medical coverage, and so the number of Americans with medical insurance through government-run exchanges is now estimated at 6.97 million. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Jonathan Gruber explained several years ago — but sometimes it doesn’t last.

‐ For years, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, now the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has been one of Republicans’ and conservatives’ best advocates on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming is poised to take the chairmanship away from Sessions. Enzi technically holds seniority over Sessions with regard to committees, thanks to a drawing of lots when they simultaneously entered the upper chamber. Far be it from us to question seniority, and Enzi has gotten most of his votes right. But Sessions’s tireless and effective work for conservative priorities should make him an easy choice for Republicans. In 2007 and 2013, the Alabaman’s relentless opposition — floor speeches, reports, and other work in public and private — to so-called comprehensive immigration reform played a key role in defeating it. On the Judiciary Committee, he mustered substantial opposition to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees; on the Budget Committee, he succeeded in getting Democrats to produce a budget after more than 1,000 days without one. At times, Sessions may have ruffled feathers on K Street and in some chambers of power: His tone is unabashedly populist, and he is a dogged defender of the American worker. But the Republican party and Congress could use a good deal more of that, not any less. Keeping Sessions as chairman would demonstrate that Republicans agree.

#page#‐ Lois Lerner’s e-mails live — or at least some of them do. A Treasury Department inspector general has recovered 30,000 of the former IRS official’s messages, ones she sent between 2009 and 2011, when the tax agency was targeting conservative political groups applying for tax exemptions. Lerner ran the division that handed out such exemptions, and Congress is investigating her for discriminatory treatment of conservative groups applying for non-profit status. Investigators were informed this summer that reams of her e-mails had been lost entirely when her hard drive crashed in 2011 and then, per IRS practice, was destroyed and discarded. But at least some of the e-mails had been backed up, as the conservative group Judicial Watch discovered. The Treasury inspector general is now compiling a report on the recovered e-mails. For now, we know the IRS was wrong when it repeatedly claimed it couldn’t track down Lerner’s oeuvre. And who uncovered the truth? A conservative nonprofit. A small measure of justice.

‐ Infamous agitator Al Sharpton has become President Obama’s “go-to man on race,” in the words of a Politico headline from last August. So Sharpton was inevitably included in a White House meeting on how to respond to Ferguson after the grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson. The president no doubt passed up the opportunity to direct Sharpton to the Treasury Department up the street, which would surely love to have him visit and make good on all the taxes he has avoided paying through the years. A New York Times report in November found that there are $4.5 million in state and federal tax liens against him and his businesses. If the rest of the country had Sharpton’s accountant, there would be no reason for anyone to call for tax cuts: Our complex and onerous tax code would be rendered irrelevant by simple nonpayment. Despite a disdain for the Internal Revenue Service that would make the average anarcho-libertarian blush (among other embarrassments and scandals), Sharpton has leveraged himself into respectability with the Democratic establishment by making himself central to any national racial controversy. By rights, he should have given up any pretense to criminal forensics after his defamatory role in the Tawana Brawley hoax in the 1980s, but there he was in Ferguson, suggesting the worst. President Obama’s soothing words on racial topics don’t match his association with this disreputable human flamethrower.

‐ A communications aide to Tennessee’s Representative Stephen Fincher had some harsh words for President Obama’s two daughters in November, and ended up losing her job for her troubles. Irritated by the girls’ unimpressed reaction to the annual White House Turkey Pardon, Elizabeth Lauten suggested that the pair might “try showing a little class” and attempt to “respect the part you play.” Moreover, Lauten argued that it was incumbent upon children in the White House to “dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.” The message quickly caused a storm on social media, and — absurdly — became the most covered story of the news cycle. After a few hours, Lauten apologized for having “quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager.” “After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended.” Alas, this sincere display of contrition was not good enough. Lauten resigned two days later. Another scalp taken by the perpetually offended.

‐ Coming to light is fascinating testimony by Susan Thomases, the erstwhile Hillary Clinton aide. She gave it to an oral-history project on the Bill Clinton presidency. Her testimony is about Clinton’s first presidential campaign, in 1992. “I told him if I found him having sex on the campaign, he was dead, that I was leaving and taking everybody with me. I said, ‘You’re stupid enough to blow this whole presidential thing over your d***. And if that turns out to be true, buddy, I’m going home. . . . If you don’t have enough self-control to keep yourself straight, then it’s just dumb.’ ” After that warning, Thomases recounted, the candidate was “straight as could be” — until, of course, victory was safely achieved.

‐ Increased energy production keeps pulling the price of oil downward. It is now lower than it was before the Iranian Revolution. This is good news for consumers and energy-intensive industries. It’s good news for free societies, too, since high prices tend to magnify the power of illiberal regimes such as those in Russia and Venezuela. A few analysts, looking hard to find a downside to these trends, say falling oil prices could lead to a dangerous deflation. But there is no reason to fear a deflation caused by increased productivity, rather than by depressed levels of economic activity. There will always be professional worriers, but sometimes good news is just good news.

‐ Senate Democrats and House Republicans agreed to extend various business tax breaks, but the White House blew up the deal with a veto threat. Obama wants the tax breaks extended, too, but only if expansions of the child tax credit and earned-income tax credit that Democrats enacted in 2009 are extended in the same legislation. Those expansions make sense, and Republicans should have agreed to them. But they do not expire for several years, and there is no reason the issue could not be taken up in the future. Obama, unfortunately, prefers to have a fight that makes Republicans look like the enemies of the working poor; and Republicans, unfortunately, are willing to give him one.

‐ Rudolph Giuliani was accused of racism for pointing out the obvious on Meet the Press: High crime rates among blacks victimize blacks more than police misconduct does, and are the reason the police have a large presence in black communities. He said in a follow-up interview that some police departments are too aggressive. Giuliani went awry in suggesting that blacks have a collective responsibility to lower black rates of violence. He does, however, have two things over the critics who dismiss and defame him: Having helped to bring crime rates in New York City down, he has some authority on questions of police tactics. And he can make a credible case to have saved many black New Yorkers’ lives.

#page#‐ In November, the D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Mann v. National Review, three appellate judges assembling to consider whether Michael Mann’s libel claims are weak enough to require that his suit be dismissed before it can proceed to trial. The majority of the argument was spent debating a simple question: Are Americans free to lambast public figures on matters of great import, or are they to be hauled into court whenever their targets take offense? The city of D.C., taking no position on the merits, is keen to get rid of the case and to dissuade others from using its court system to settle private scores. By contrast, Mann’s lawyer, John Williams, reiterated his client’s contention that the defendants made “provably false” statements a jury could — and should — objectively verify. Andrew Grossman and Michael Carvin — representing the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review — made short work of this claim, showing that their clients criticized the merits of Mann’s scientific work in a constitutionally protected manner. If the justices send the case to a jury, Carvin continued, “it will turn every political debate . . . into what a jury thinks about one person’s interpretation of data.” “No court in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence has allowed a scientific question to go to a jury,” he warned. We hope the D.C. Court of Appeals will not be the first.

‐ In 2007, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that global warming would make Atlantic hurricanes less frequent and less severe; models in a subsequent report from the same organization predicted the opposite. In 2013, expert forecasters predicted a relatively heavy hurricane season that never materialized; “everybody busted badly,” said the noted hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University. Global-warming alarmists are forever scolding us not to take today’s weather as evidence of long-term trends, but with the close of the 2014 tropical-storm season, it has now been nine years since Florida has suffered a hurricane — going on twice as long as the previous record gap of five years between storms. There are many possibilities to consider here: We may be returning to less dramatic conditions after an unusually active period for hurricanes; climate change may indeed be pushing storms farther north, sparing traditional storm magnet Florida; we may simply be experiencing normal variation that seems unusual on a human timeline but not a geological one. Gray and others make a compelling case that forecasting is difficult. But here is a forecast you can bank on: If Florida gets pummeled by unusually strong storms over the next few years, Al Gore et al. will insist that global warming is the reason; and if Florida escapes pummeling for a few more seasons, Al Gore et al. will offer precisely the same explanation.

‐ President Obama postponed the drafting and implementation of a broad range of environmental regulations until after the 2012 election, and then until after the 2014 election. Now many of them are finally getting done, but on at least one of them, he should have waited forever. A new rule capping the levels of ozone, a component of smog, may be the most expensive single environmental regulation in history. And yet it’s being implemented after the amount of ozone in the atmosphere has decreased across the United States consistently over the last 30 years, reaching levels comfortably below what the EPA has heretofore considered safe. The regulation could cost the American economy tens of billions of dollars per year in exchange for dubious environmental benefits. That kind of bargain, however, increasingly looks like the Obama EPA’s favorite blueprint.

‐ The Lord promised that the floodwaters would never again cover the face of the earth — but if they do, the State of Maryland stands to make a pretty penny. Instituted as part of outgoing governor Martin O’Malley’s madcap tax regime, the state’s “stormwater remediation fee” assesses a tax on property owners directly proportional to the size of any “impervious surfaces” on the property that prevent rainwater from reaching the soil. In Prince George’s County, churches — which, with large acreages and sizeable facilities, face some of the steepest fees — reached a rebate deal with the county’s environmental department: “Preach green” and avoid a fee. County Department of Environment director Adam Ortiz emphasizes that churches “don’t have to preach, per se”; they can also “provide educational programs to teach [parishioners] about how to be more sustainable.” But whatever the particulars, it’s an arrangement that reflects poorly on all those involved: on the clergy willing to compromise their message and pastoral priorities for a tax rebate, and on the government authorities who instituted untenable fees and then, as a “remedy,” coerced churches into supporting a political program. Maybe Maryland needs a cleansing flood.

‐ Senator Rand Paul has proposed a congressional resolution to declare war on the Islamic State, authorizing limited force against the group for one year; to repeal the authorization for the war in Iraq immediately; and to repeal the authorization for the war against al-Qaeda one year from now. In a year’s time, then, American armed forces wouldn’t have explicit authorization to strike al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan or even hit Islamic State targets that aren’t threatening U.S.-government facilities or personnel. The idea of an explicit declaration of war — it would be our first since 1942 — has gotten most of the media attention. The distinction between a formal declaration of war and other types of congressional war authorizations, however, is not constitutionally important: The point is that under certain circumstances the president needs Congress to authorize military action. It is entirely arguable that modern presidents have defined those circumstances too narrowly. Paul’s idea is not a way to address that question. It is, instead, a way to radically curtail the scope of the War on Terror while sounding like a hawk.

#page#‐ The United States has agreed to a seven-month extension of nuclear talks with Iran. So, the Iranians will have until June to work on their bomb. They may well have it by then. We call on a guest editorialist, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards: “The Americans have very clearly surrendered to Iran’s might, and this is obvious in their behavior in the region and in the negotiations.” Our second guest editorialist is Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani: “Centrifuges have been running and I promise the Iranian nation that centrifuges will never stop.” Politicians often break their promises — and editorialists can be wrong — but these statements ring sadly and damnably true.

‐ The mini-intifada under way in Jerusalem took a turn for the worse with the murder of four rabbis worshiping in a synagogue. Zidan Saif, a courageous Druze, came to the aid of Jews. The first policeman on the scene, he shot dead the two Palestinian murderers, but died from wounds he had received in the exchange of fire. The president of Israel attended his funeral. Many in Gaza rejoiced over this act of terrorism, and one who found it “wonderful” was Naief al-Hattab, director of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school and the recipient of U.S. subsidies. Most shocking of all was the response in Jordan, a country that has a peace treaty with Israel. An unnamed member of its parliament called for a minute of silence and a reading from the Koran to glorify the murderers as “pure souls” and “martyrs.”

‐ Guillermo Fariñas is a Cuban doctor, journalist, and democracy advocate. In 2010, he won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament. In recent days, his home was the site of a violent attack. Fariñas was meeting with some of his fellow dissidents when an agent of the state broke in. The agent stabbed four people, seriously injuring two of them — members of the Ladies in White, the human-rights group. There was almost no reporting on this incident, and democratic governments were largely silent, as usual. The Cuban dictatorship is brazen. In 2011, Laura Pollán, the leader of the Ladies in White, died in mysterious circumstances. In 2012, Oswaldo Payá, a leading democracy advocate, was almost certainly killed by the regime. The Ladies in White have won the Sakharov prize (2005), and so did Payá (2002). This international imprimatur afforded no protection, or at least not ultimate protection. Cuba’s rulers know they can get away with anything.

‐ There’s a special subsection of the Left devoted to the proposition that Columbus’s discovery of America was a crime committed by Europeans against the unfortunate natives. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees things differently. In a televised speech in Istanbul, he boasted that Muslim sailors had reached America in 1178, 300 years earlier than Columbus. Without a pause to explain how he had hit on so very specific a date, he went on to claim, “Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.” Apparently there’s also a special subsection of “historians” and cartographers who propose whole hosts supposed to have beaten Columbus to it — for instance, Chinese treasure fleets, Polynesians, Basque fishermen, and assorted Scandinavians. And the moon is made of cheese.

‐ “Nanny state” is hardly the first phrase that comes to mind when one thinks of Islamist militants, but a regime that beheads, enslaves, and gang-rapes its subjects can show surprising concern about their health. That’s why a number of jihadist groups have banned smoking, which is anathematized as “slow suicide” (and, somewhat illogically, punishable with death). This policy didn’t sit well with Flavien Moreau, a French convert to Islam who volunteered for the jihad in Syria. After joining the struggle, Moreau willingly gave up most traces of his decadent and worldly lifestyle, but he did miss his Gitanes, and when nicotine gum failed to satisfy, the chain-smoking surrender monkey bid adieu to jihad, turned in his gun, and went home to France to get some e-cigs. Moreau was captured by the French intelligence service and now has been sentenced to seven years in prison, though he has consistently expressed a wish to return to Syria. We would prefer the firing squad, but only after a final cigarette.

‐ In a project that has already half-enveloped the Colosseum in scaffolding and is scheduled to take another two years, technicians are busy cleaning the arches of Rome’s most iconic monument, even using toothbrushes to scrub away grit, pollution, and algae from corners and crevices. Meanwhile, Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, would like to reinstall the Colosseum’s floor over the two stories of rooms and corridors from which animals and props were hoisted to the arena back in the day. Not knowing where to stop, Franceschini adds that he envisions the Colosseum being used again for live entertainment — not gladiatorial contests or mock sea battles, mind you, but concerts and plays. He brushed off the enthusiastic suggestion of a soccer-club owner that the amphitheater could host matches, although an auditorium full of rowdy fans would be truer to the original spirit of the facility than would an audience of tourists and senior citizens taking in a fine rendition of Monteverdi’s madrigals. In any case, Rome suffers no shortage of concert venues, stadiums, or theaters. There is only one Colosseum, however. The officials in whose care it rests should give it a rest. Rome’s venerable antiquities deserve to be admired, not put to work.

‐ So there has been yet another Bill Cosby show, though not the one NBC thought of airing. Personal clouds have trailed the comedian for years: In the Nineties, a woman who claimed to be his child by an ex-lover was convicted of trying to extort him; in the Aughts, he settled an accusation of sexual assault out of court. Now the avenging furies have landed: Eighteen women, by the latest count, from Playboy playmates to a nurse and a journalist, have accused him of various forms of sexual predation. Cosby’s great TV success was as the wise black paterfamilias; in real life, he marked the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board by exhorting young black men to live up to the civil-rights movement by living responsibly. All that is now ripe for mockery, by those disposed to mock. But the values that Cosby portrayed and advocated are older than he is; in black American life they go back through Booker T. Washington to thousands of nameless, tough families. They are the universal heirlooms of mankind. It is tragic that Cosby let them down. All the more reason to hold them dear.

#page#‐ Anti–Second Amendment activists who have proven incapable of winning in Congress, in the courts, and in the realm of public opinion have lately taken another path: intimidation. When, in November, the comedian Jay Leno agreed to appear at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual firearms trade show in Las Vegas, he was immediately denounced by an array of gun-control groups who contended that the arrangement demonstrated that Leno “values profit over human lives.” Moms Demand Action, meanwhile, threatened to launch a massive social-media campaign against Leno should he go through with his plan. The outrage worked. Within a few hours of the contretemps’ having come to his attention, Leno not only pulled out but apologized for having so much as considered the gig in the first place. “Sometimes,” he told the Newtown Action Alliance, “mistakes get made.” This assessment is correct: The NSSF evidently mistook Leno for a man with a spine.

‐ The 1999 children’s movie Stuart Little, about a woman who gives birth to a bowtie-wearing rodent, is not exactly a masterpiece, but it contains one. Gergely Barki, a researcher at Hungary’s national art gallery, was watching the film with his daughter one day when he spotted a familiar painting on the wall of the Little family’s living room. It was Sleeping Lady with Black Vase, considered among the best works of the early-20th-century avant-garde artist Róbert Berény. The canvas had disappeared in the turmoil of post–World War I Hungary, and only a blurry black-and-white photo remained, but when Barki saw it in the film, he recognized it immediately. Barki got in touch with the studio and eventually heard from Stuart Little’s set designer, who said she had bought the painting for a modest price at a Pasadena antiques shop. Now it is set to be auctioned in Budapest, with a starting price of $135,000. Just another Hungarian refugee making a fortune in the West . . .

‐ Omar Mahmood is a junior at the University of Michigan who writes for the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily. He recently published a satire in the conservative paper, the Michigan Review, that mocked the prevalent undergraduate mindset of taking offense easily and demanding the silencing of those who give offense, even unwittingly. His editors at the Daily were offended by it. Mahmood’s column had created a “hostile environment” for their staff, he was told, and he was immediately suspended and given the ultimatum: Cease writing for the Review or resign from the Daily. Mahmood elected to keep his gig at the latter publication, explaining that he considered himself an “essayist,” more interested in writing on the arts than on politics. He may not have anticipated that life would so swiftly imitate art in this instance.

‐ When a Swedish extreme-sports team sat down to eat before a 20-mile trek through the Ecuadorian rainforest as part of the Adventure Racing World Championship, a mangy stray dog wandered over. One of the men fed him a meatball and thought nothing further of it, but when he and his teammates started off, the dog followed. Day and night, through deep mud, steep hills, and treacherous streams, he fearlessly stuck with his new friends, trotting alongside their mountain bikes and swimming next to their kayak until they pulled him in. The Swedes tried to discourage the dog, primarily for his own safety, but he refused to leave. By the end of the race, they had named him Arthur, declared him the fifth team member, and decided to take him back to Sweden and adopt him. One member commented, “I came to Ecuador to win the World Championship. Instead, I got a new friend.” As Pudd’nhead Wilson said, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

‐ Marion S. Barry was elected mayor of Washington, D.C., four times, the last one after serving time for using crack cocaine (his ungallant comment on the ladyfriend he was getting high with when the feds came through the door: “Bitch set me up”). Barry’s electoral resilience was not the most remarkable in American politics, for James Michael Curley was elected mayor of Boston while actually in prison. Both men milked the historic injustices suffered by their respective tribes: Curley flayed the Yankee, Barry the Man. Barry’s tenure in office was a disaster: City residents who could fled, many who couldn’t died in a years-long crime wave; those who were the mayor’s cronies sucked at the government’s teat. Barry was smart, charming, and adept at the nuts and bolts of politics. His career was a complete waste of real talents. Dead at 78. R.I.P.

‐ A onetime welfare mother and then a Democratic state legislator who represented a poor section of Milwaukee, Annette Polly Williams was no conservative — and yet she played an indispensable role in promoting school choice, the signature education reform of free-market conservatism. She came to her views through opposition to forced busing, which shipped black children out of their neighborhoods and into majority-white areas. By empowering parents, school choice provided an obvious but controversial alternative. In 1989, Williams joined with Wisconsin’s Republican governor Tommy Thompson to create America’s first true school-choice program, offering state support to low-income students who wished to enroll in private schools. It quickly became a showcase, drawing attention from the national press and surviving the hostility of teachers’ unions and their political lackeys. Today, more than 25,000 students in Milwaukee benefit from these pioneering efforts, and the idea of bringing parental choice to K–12 education has spread, albeit slowly, to other states. Williams demonstrated the appeal of conservative ideas outside of conservatism’s traditional constituencies, as well as the kind of hybrid vigor that may result from these all-too-rare collaborations. Dead at 77. R.I.P.

‐ “Who promoted Peress?” Senator Joseph McCarthy asked in hearings in 1954. Irving Peress rose, as an Army dentist, to the rank of major; McCarthy thought discovering his patrons would reveal the mainspring of Communist infiltration of the Army. Peress hunkered behind the Fifth Amendment and quibbles; McCarthy stormed; the Senate, encouraged by President Eisenhower, finally turned on him; exeunt omnes. But there had been Communists in the Army (Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass had penetrated the Manhattan Project). And Peress was . . . let him speak for himself: “It’s so utopian,” he said of Marxism in a 2005 interview. “Who would be against it? And what the Soviet Union was on its way to was enough to convince me.” Dead at 97. May he rest in more peace than was enjoyed by the subjects of his idols.

#page#IMMIGRATION

Resisting Abuse of Power

President Obama’s executive order effectively granting amnesty to some 5 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States is the most extreme assertion of domestic executive power in our lifetimes.

The order, which halts enforcement of congressional statutes for undocumented parents of American citizens and gives many of them authorization to work in the United States by granting work permits (and other select documentation), expands an already unprecedented executive action from two years ago: the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, instituted via memorandum, which put the so-called DREAM Act into effect by fiat.

In the past, and not the distant past, the president forcefully and repeatedly argued that this latest action was outside his constitutional authority. But, the White House explained recently, “the president has been waiting a long time — more importantly, the American people have been waiting a long time — for congressional Republicans to stop blocking a commonsense proposal,” so now things have changed.

There is no Waiting a Long Time or Commonsense Proposal Clause in the Constitution. The separation-of-powers doctrine does not have an expiration date — or didn’t until this president announced one: As he told a (left-wing) heckler in Chicago, “I just took an action to change the law!”

Changing the law has traditionally been the province of the government’s legislative branch — that is, of “lawmakers” — but parchment barriers ought not to impede a president’s moral imperative: “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger,” the president said during his address, citing the Book of Exodus. That pressing moral urgency was apparently absent in 2007, when Senator Obama helped torpedo an amnesty bill; in 2009, when President Obama did not encourage an immigration bill despite holding commanding majorities in both chambers of Congress; or even three months ago, when he decided to delay any executive action until after November’s midterm elections. Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

The public, meanwhile, doesn’t believe that action is urgent or necessary: Various polls suggest that it opposes the president’s executive-action plans. Nor has the president tried to persuade: In a clear indication that the Obama who envisioned “not red states or blue states but the United States” is long gone, the announcement was tailored to the Spanish-language television channels Univision and Telemundo.

It falls to Republicans to stand for our system. Government funding is the most obvious way to do it. House leadership is considering whether to pass a long-term funding bill for most of the government but funding the Department of Homeland Security and immigration operations only through March. That would give up too much time: They should instead fund the government except for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is responsible for implementing the order, and pass a bill that funds USCIS but prohibits it from executing the president’s plans. The president and Senate Democrats could refuse the overall funding bill, but they would risk taking the blame for an impending government shutdown. Some Democrats may be persuaded to support the USCIS bill as well. In any case, it would put Republicans on record as opposing the order — and ensure they are not complicit in it.

Legal remedies should be considered. Additionally, a Republican Senate should refuse to confirm any attorney-general nominee who is willing to carry out the president’s plan.

President Obama’s hubris has forced a constitutional crisis. Republicans need to start saying that — and acting like it.

#page#LAW & ORDER

Justice in Ferguson

Predictably, a St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown. And just as predictably, rioters threw things at police, randomly fired guns, and looted and burned down local businesses upon learning of its decision.

The grand jury clearly made the right call. This was not the “execution” that Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump and Ferguson’s many protesters have claimed. The witnesses whose testimony was most damaging to Officer Wilson contradicted themselves and the forensic evidence, while the exculpatory witnesses did not. Typically, a prosecutor would never even have brought a case with such weak evidence before a grand jury. Given the sensitivity of this particular case, the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, allowed the grand jury to hear all the evidence and then made the evidence public.

The Left complained that this process was irregular, but they would have complained even more bitterly if McCulloch had not brought it before the grand jury at all. For the Left, there was only one right answer: that Officer Wilson had committed a crime. There were very few civil-rights leaders or liberal opinion writers who were willing to concede that, whatever their criticisms of policing in Ferguson in particular or in the country in general, the evidence might not be there to indict, let alone convict, Officer Wilson. They almost all marched in lockstep behind a poisonous narrative of a criminal-justice system driven by racial animus.

The statistics thrown around to back this narrative are almost all explained by the fact that young black men commit a disproportionate share of crime, and therefore are disproportionately entangled with the police and the criminal-justice system. Seriously attempting to address the social breakdown behind this depressing fact is not nearly as congenial to the Left as mindless police-bashing. In all likelihood, the protest movement around Ferguson will, like Occupy Wall Street, fade away. But the media and activist machine that ginned up the national outrage about Ferguson will be on to some other toxic racial controversy soon enough. Its nostalgia for the truly glorious struggles of the civil-rights era long ago curdled into a perpetual search for grievance, evidence and facts be damned.

Henry OlsenMr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at UnHerd.com, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.

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Politics & Policy

The New Overseer

In October of 1990, Senator Alan Simpson, the Republican whip, emerged from an all-night negotiating session with his House counterparts on a series of clean-air regulations. What insights had he ...
Politics & Policy

Five Kinds of Diversity

Recently, Students for Fair Admissions, a new nonprofit organization, filed a lawsuit alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American applicants. Every year, Harvard admits roughly the same proportion of white, ...

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

High Culture vs. Justice

Alexander Lee’s well-researched, nicely written, pleasantly illustrated book on the Italian Renaissance — especially the Florentine Renaissance — makes a very useful if not very original argument: The glorious products ...

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Politics & Policy

Letters

Daft? Partly In the December 8 issue, Henry Olsen (“A Victory to Last”) attributes the Republicans’ losses in the 1948 election to their passage of the Taft-Hartley Act the previous year. ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Doesn’t Al Sharpton realize that all the government spending he advocates will only increase his taxes? Oh, wait . . . ‐ Some of us tried to warn the Obama ...
Athwart

A Regular Riot

I lived in a D.C. neighborhood that experienced a spontaneous civilian-assisted property-redistribution episode, a.k.a. a riot. In the fall of 1991, a black female cop shot a Hispanic male, an ...
The Long View

The December 2014 SkyMall Catalogue

From Pages 12–18 of the December 2014  SkyMall™ Catalogue Holiday Gifts for the Congressional Staffer in Your Life! *     *     * The NoRegrets™ mobile-phone case slips easily on your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

POET’S NOCTURNE Should one happen upon the darkness with confidence, in familiar circumstance, there will be no place for emptiness, for heartfelt fear of loss from the old bones of imagination never fully laid to rest. ...

Most Popular

Culture

A Tyrannical Minority and Silent Majority

As I noted Monday on the Corner, British journalist James Kirkup has done a great public service in sharing a document that helps explain how the transgender movement, which many privately admit has overreached and is unconvincing, has been so successful so quickly. The document was produced by a major ... Read More
Culture

A Tyrannical Minority and Silent Majority

As I noted Monday on the Corner, British journalist James Kirkup has done a great public service in sharing a document that helps explain how the transgender movement, which many privately admit has overreached and is unconvincing, has been so successful so quickly. The document was produced by a major ... Read More