‐ It’s great that they’ve got a friend. Now could they have an ally?
‐ President Obama’s State of the Union address was full of liberal proposals that thankfully stand no chance of being enacted by this Congress: community-college subsidies premised on the idea that increased federal regulation is the path to improved performance; a global-warming agenda that does not pause to consider costs and benefits; subsidies for a form of child care that most American parents try to avoid; tax increases on the capital that is a prerequisite for the growth of the economy and wages; and so on. He is trying to pull politics to the left so that a future Congress will enact some of these ideas. Congressional Republicans would be wise to follow his example in this one respect: to set their sights on accomplishments beyond the next two years, and work to achieve them — not least by helping to elect a better president.
‐ Mitt Romney says he is interested in running for president again, this time with a greater emphasis on fighting poverty and increasing economic mobility. He ran an honorable campaign last time, and the time before that. But they were not campaigns that even sought to show that conservatism benefits the broad mass of society rather than an elite. That fact helps to explain why his declaration of interest has drawn a lukewarm response at best. If Romney runs he will enjoy certain advantages — name recognition, a national donor base, a measure of respect — but he will also find that the competition for the nomination is stiffer this time.
‐ Romney told a meeting of the Republican National Committee that, under President Obama, “income inequality has gotten worse.” Jeb Bush’s new organization, the Right to Rise PAC, released a mission statement that also complained about rising inequality under Obama and promised that conservative policies would “solve” the “income gap.” Yet while sensible policies might make it easier for the poor to rise, something both men rightly seek, it is not at all clear that they would reduce inequality. Good policies might, after all, also enable the rich to become even richer. Polls find that the public is more concerned about fighting poverty and raising middle-class incomes than it is about inequality. Conservatives should have the same priorities.
‐ Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.), speaking at the Heritage Foundation, put in a good word for “judicial activism,” saying that the courts should step in when a legislature “does bad things” or states “do wrong.” If by “bad” he means unconstitutional, then his statement is awfully banal given his long wind-up. If his statements are read more naturally, then they express a view of the role of the courts that Earl Warren would have found breathtakingly expansive. He should rethink this matter, or maybe just think it through for the first time.
‐ The Supreme Court said it would take up a case about same-sex marriage, and the betting is that the Court will find, because it wants to find, that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a right to it. Some Republicans think that this decision will take an issue that costs them votes out of politics. They are multiply mistaken: There is not much evidence that the issue costs them votes, and a Court decision mandating governmental recognition of same-sex marriage will at least slightly raise the temperature of judicial-confirmation fights and could even lead to calls in the Republican presidential primaries for a constitutional amendment. The justices, in any case, should of course put any idea of helping or hurting the GOP out of their minds and instead decide the case on the merits. And whether or not they hold the traditional, conjugal conception of marriage — in which the law recognizes marriage as a gentle regulation of the type of sexual behavior that can produce children — they should decide that the Fourteenth Amendment allows states to act on that conception.
‐ Spending authorization for the Department of Homeland Security expires at the end of February, which offers an opportunity, though a narrow one, for Congress to push back on the president’s executive amnesty. The House has passed a bill to extend that authorization while blocking President Obama’s recent executive amnesty for adult illegal immigrants, alongside a couple of other Obama immigration edicts. None of Obama’s immigration unilateralism is acceptable, but Congress cannot fight it all effectively at once, and should not try to. The emphasis must be on the president’s most recent, dramatic arrogation of power. Using Homeland Security funding as leverage, however, will be a dicey game politically. Republicans would put themselves in a better position by splitting DHS funding into two bills. In one they should fund all of DHS except for the federal immigration bureaucracy; in another they should fund that bureaucracy while restricting it from implementing amnesty. That way it would be impossible to say Republicans were holding up counter-terrorist efforts. Whatever strategy the Republicans employ, they should not pass a bill that funds the immigration service without restricting the amnesty. That would be tantamount to surrender and, indeed, complicity.
‐ It’s Obama’s kind of surge: The president is stepping up the pace at which he releases Islamist terrorists from Guantanamo Bay just as the global Islamist terror threat intensifies. Since the November elections, more than two dozen jihadists have been transferred out, reducing to about 122 the number of remaining detainees. Most are dispatched to Muslim countries, from which many have rejoined the jihad, helping execute the Benghazi massacre, establishing ISIS cells in Afghanistan, running al-Qaeda cells in Syria, etc. Senate Republicans have proposed legislation to halt the release of detainees who have been assessed as likely to return to terrorist activity — i.e., most of them. The proposal would also bar transfers to al-Qaeda strongholds such as Yemen. But Senate Democrats can block the bill, and Obama would otherwise veto it. Even if it were somehow enacted, the Constitution gives the president broad power over the disposition of enemy combatants in wartime. This president is disposed to release them, while they are disposed to continue the jihad.
‐ There is a bill in the Senate that would require new sanctions on Iran if Iran misses the deadline for concluding a nuclear agreement. That deadline is June 30. The Senate bill is sponsored by Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.). President Obama has vowed to veto it. At a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats, he said that he understood the predicament of senators such as Menendez: They are facing pressure from “donors.” Menendez then stood up and said he took “personal offense” at the charge. His position on sanctions stemmed from his understanding of Iran and the world, not from any pressure applied by “donors.” Having killed the Keystone pipeline at the behest of Tom Steyer, though, President Obama might think everyone else has the same motivations.
– over a system that, for now, is within just about anyone’s means — to force “best practices” upon the nation’s community colleges. Rather than establish a dominant position for public community colleges, a much better solution would be to roll back existing strictures on schools, allowing them to offer intensive programs or ones closely tailored to what local employers need. Financial aid could also be made much simpler. But Washington thinks it knows best how all manner of institutions should be run, and it appears to be ineducable.
#page#‐ Attorney General Eric Holder has taken a small step in the right direction on the matter of civil forfeiture, the odd and much-abused practice by which state and local police and prosecutors enrich their agencies by taking property from criminal suspects without ever charging them with crimes. Holder’s policy will disallow state and local authorities to seek forfeiture under federal law, except when they are working as part of a joint task force with federal authorities. Previously, local police had relied on federal law to get around narrower state laws. The feds will of course still have free rein — the federal government never shortens its own leash — while state and local authorities will still be able to use state forfeiture laws, which are frequently more restrictive but frequently abused nonetheless. Local police agencies have pronounced themselves thoroughly cheesed off at the prospect of being required to follow their states’ laws rather than use federal law to circumvent them, which says a great deal about the perverse incentives at work here. When it comes to our ill-advised “war on drugs,” piecemeal reform is all that is on offer, and any advancement is welcome.
‐ When it comes to environmental news, the politics is in the headlines and the science is in the footnotes. Global-warming alarmists trumpeted a NASA report finding that 2014 was the warmest year since temperatures started being recorded in the late 19th century. “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics,” the New York Times insisted. That is not quite right, of course: The amount by which 2014 temperature readings exceeded those of 2010 — two hundredths of a degree Celsius — is far smaller than the margin of uncertainty in the study. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies rates its confidence in 2014’s being a record-breaking year at 38 percent. Working from a larger data set, researchers at the Berkeley Earth project came up with similar findings, and reported that, therefore, “the highest year could not be distinguished. That is, of course, an indication that the Earth’s average temperature for the last decade has changed very little.” As a matter of statistical probity, a study that identifies a variation smaller than the degree of uncertainty is very close to meaningless. But the alarmists are determined to sound an alarum, even if that means that the New York Times must pronounce itself more confident of NASA’s numbers than NASA is.
‐ The environmental movement, being categorically opposed to the development of natural-gas infrastructure, is committed to exaggerating the risks of “fracking,” the nickname for certain high-tech methods of gas extraction. Most recently, it has focused on earthquakes, with the Daily Beast insisting that it has uncovered the “smoking gun” linking a series of small earthquakes in north Texas to gas drilling. Never mind that those studying the issue professionally are of a different opinion: Seismologist Craig Pearson, who is investigating on behalf of Texas gas regulators, says he sees “no linkage between oil and gas activity [and] these recent earthquakes.” Heather DeShon, professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University, says “we cannot say yet” what’s causing the earthquakes. The Left cares about science mainly when it can be used to annoy creationists; when it proves inconvenient, it can be ignored. The fact is that Irving, the city experiencing the temblors, sits near the Balcones Fault. And while Texas is no California, detectable earthquakes are not unheard of there, and have been happening since long before hydraulic fracturing began. There are environmental challenges related to fracking — mainly the disposal of wastewater — as there are with all methods of producing energy. It is always a matter of trade-offs, at least among thoughtful and responsible people. But the environmental movement intends to oppose every new gas well, pipeline, oil-shipping facility, coal terminal, etc., because the movement is not working against pollution but against abundant energy per se.
‐ How far we have come. How far we’ve gone. Kelvin Cochran recently lost his job as fire chief of Atlanta because he distributed to colleagues a self-published book in which he argued for the Judeo-Christian proscription of sexual activity between people of the same sex. Those who object that he included homosexuality in a list of “unclean” sexual practices evidently agree with him about pederasty and bestiality. Everyone draws the line differently, and for Cochran, the zone of morally acceptable sexual activity is narrower than it is for the culture of the moment. Mayor Kasim Reed said he fired Cochran for poor judgment, not his faith, meaning that he can keep his faith but not share it. Reed says Cochran never cleared publication of the book with him; Cochran says he cleared it with the city’s ethics department. Both may be correct, but one of you, Mayor Reed, is clearly wrong.
#page#U.S. Costs, Foreign Benefits
President Obama came into office with a plethora of policy objectives, from passing “card check” legislation to halting the rise of the oceans. For the most part, and perhaps as a student of the Constitution, he pursued these objectives in his first term with legislative action. Lately, though, the administration has used executive orders and regulatory actions to enact policy objectives by decree.
By far the most economically significant of these actions is the EPA’s decision to require states to reduce their carbon emissions by 30 percent. Such a reduction would increase the cost of coal-fired electricity, for example, by about 80 percent. Most observers believe that states could meet this objective only by enacting a cap-and-trade system, an approach Representatives Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) and Ed Markey (D., Mass.) tried and failed to legislate into federal law in 2009.
The courts will eventually decide whether Obama’s team has the legal authority under the Clean Air Act to enact such sweeping changes. In the meantime, the analysis that the Obama team provides to support its regulatory action sheds fascinating light on the global-climate debate. This fact was made especially clear by a recent analysis of the EPA’s own data by Harvard professor Rob Stavins, a supporter of climate action but also an old-fashioned, honorable academic (who perhaps should be protected under the Endangered Species Act).
The accompanying table, which is reproduced from Stavins’s website, dissects the cost-benefit analysis that the EPA has provided to support its carbon actions. The first column provides the EPA’s estimate of the climate benefits of this large carbon reduction. Since climate is affected by global carbon concentrations, U.S. action would be a drop in the bucket, and would actually fail the EPA’s cost-benefit test.
The second column provides the cost-benefit analysis if the benefits to the rest of the world are included. In this calculation, the regulation passes the test. The remainder of the table includes estimates of the domestic health benefits of reduced particulates in the air (correlated pollutants). These are much larger than the benefits of reduced carbon emissions — again, by the EPA’s own estimates.
To be sure, this analysis is fairly tendentious. For example, the EPA predicts fairly low compliance costs by assuming that the cost of carbon capture will be about half of what it is today. Such a calculation assumes cost-saving effects from technological breakthroughs that have eluded scientists for a generation. Inclusion of health benefits having to do with correlated pollutants is also sketchy. Since these are 94 percent of the benefit, wouldn’t a regulation that addresses the correlated pollutants directly be more cost-effective?
But the really striking component of the analysis is the inclusion of the global benefits of climate reduction in a cost-benefit analysis of U.S. policy. The Obama administration appears to have concluded that our government is by the people and for the people of the Earth, not Americans. This sets a dangerous precedent that could easily lead to the adoption of policies that harm all 316 million Americans, so long as they provide a small benefit for the 7 billion or so other individuals on the planet.
Such policies might well be ivory-tower nirvana, but they clearly would not have been acceptable to our nation’s founders. Nor would a president who has decided that laws can be interpreted in whatever manner best suits his policy objectives.
#page#‐ As a condition of their graduation, Arizona high-school students will be required to pass the same civics exam given to those seeking to become naturalized citizens. The state’s new Republican governor, Doug Ducey, signed the requirement into law after a campaign by former Arizona senators Jon Kyl (R.) and Dennis DeConcini (D.). A dozen and a half other states are expected to vote on similar laws this year. The requirement is a step in the right direction, but it is also an undeniable admission of failure: The material on the civics exam is rudimentary (“Which of these are the three branches of government?”), facts that should be acquired over the course of a basic general education. In reality, most Americans — to say nothing of high-schoolers — cannot name the three branches of government, the length of a senator’s term in office (Senator Schumer only makes it seem like an eternity), etc. Education reform has long been a matter of particulars: One year, we’re worried about math and science; another year, about literacy; now, civics. At some point, we as a country are going to have to do something about the fact that the failures in our education system are systemic rather than a mere succession of specific deficiencies.
‐ The United States is the only major free country with a First Amendment, or the equivalent; all the others have anti-hate-speech laws. But do anti-hate-speech laws actually work? Since 1972, France has forbidden “provocation to discrimination, hatred, or violence” on ethnic or religious grounds. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a few dozen offenders were scooped up, including Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, an anti-Semitic comedian, who said on Facebook that he identified with (je suis) one of the murderers. The French leave themselves open to a perception of unfairness: A scurrilous rag, which Charlie Hebdo proudly is, is defended, while a scurrilous clown is penalized. Meanwhile, French laws don’t diminish hate. Polls taken over the last few decades show that anti-Semitic attitudes in France have burgeoned, while in the wide-open U.S. they have held steady (as shown by Sam Schulman in The Weekly Standard). France has to cope with a large, disaffected Muslim population, which we do not. Yet France’s remedies have not helped it. We’ll stick with the blessings of liberty, thanks.
‐ Pope Francis muddied the waters about Charlie Hebdo. He forthrightly condemned the violence against it, of course, but also said that one must not insult others’ religions. It was unclear whether he meant that the law or individual conscience should keep this from happening. Worse, drawing an analogy, he said that a man who insults someone’s mother is likely to get punched in the nose. We suspect he meant only that deliberate insults lead to legitimate expressions of anger. He did not mean that anger, even where legitimate, justifies or even excuses mass murder. But his comment could all too easily be misread. Even the pope’s greatest fans must admit that his open and conversational style, the source of much of his appeal, has its dangers.
‐ Saudi Arabia’s “criminal” “justice” system has an alarming understanding of both words, as the ongoing case of Raif Badawi demonstrates. In 2012, Badawi, a blogger and human-rights activist, was arrested for his blog “Free Saudi Liberals,” which criticized certain Saudi clerics — or, in Saudi legal parlance, “insulted Islam.” Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but his sentence was overturned. Then he was reconvicted and sentenced to ten years, a fine of 1 million riyal ($267,000), and 1,000 lashes. The first 50 lashes of that sentence were administered in mid January; one week later, the second round of 50 was postponed — according to Amnesty International, because Badawi had not recovered from the first set. The case has prompted an international outcry, and is a striking reminder, as the Obama administration teams with Saudi Arabia to strike the Islamic State, which continues to metastasize across Iraq and Syria, that there are disturbing similarities between the Islamic State and an Islamic state.
‐ HarperCollins certainly knew its audience. The publisher created an atlas for schools in the Middle East, with Israel omitted. The West Bank and Gaza were there. Israel, no. A spokesman explained that denoting Israel would have been “unacceptable,” and a company has to satisfy “local preferences.” WFB often quoted Willi Schlamm: “The problem with socialism is socialism; the problem with capitalism is capitalists.” Fortunately, HarperCollins withdrew the atlas and apologized.
‐ At the Miss Universe contest, Miss Israel snapped a photo of herself along with three other contestants, including Miss Lebanon. The picture appeared on the Internet. And immediately, people in Lebanon called for their representative to be stripped of her title: because she appeared in the photo with Miss Israel. The Lebanese government launched an investigation. In 1993, the government stripped Miss Lebanon of her title for exactly the same offense: appearing in a photo with Miss Israel. Lebanon forbids its beauty queens to have any contact with Israelis. The current Miss Lebanon apologized profusely. She said that Miss Israel sabotaged her, taking a photo that included her against her will. This may seem a silly kerfuffle — a tiff in tiaras — but there is a broader point to make: When assessing the Arab–Israeli conflict, people ought to remember the insane hatred that Israel has to contend with.
‐ Jett Morris celebrated his first birthday recently, about a year after doctors working in Britain’s National Health Service recommended killing him in the womb. When Mhairi Morris’s water broke while her pregnancy was at 20 weeks’ gestation, her doctors told her that she should prepare to be wheeled into the operating room for an abortion. “They didn’t see him as a child yet; they just called him a ‘non-viable fetus,’” she told the Daily Mail in January. She and her husband refused, and her son was born five weeks later, weighing 1.4 pounds. He spent his first months in an incubator and on an oxygen machine and is now doing well, his parents say. Insisting that the Morrises were in fact given “a range of options,” an NHS executive professed to be “delighted that, over a year on, both mother and son are healthy.” No thanks to the advice from their “health” workers.
‐ It’s a sure indication of the moral confusion of America’s anti-war Left that it thinks Chris Kyle was the real villain of the Iraq War. The release of Clint Eastwood’s Kyle biopic, American Sniper, which chronicles the life of America’s deadliest marksman, has provided the Left ample opportunity for potshots aimed at the late Navy officer. According to GQ’s Lindy West, Kyle was “a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.” To Max Blumenthal, of the left-wing blog Alternet, Kyle was “the perfect recruiter for ISIS,” little different from Beltway-area serial killer “John Lee Malvo, another mass-murdering sniper.” Filmmaker Michael Moore declared snipers “cowards.” It should not need to be said that Kyle was no indiscriminate killer. He proclaimed his duty to “God, country, family” — in that order — and maintained that he killed only perpetrators of “savage, despicable evil” who threatened the lives of his comrades and peace-loving Iraqis. If only he had thrown his decorations over the Capitol fence; then the Left would have made him secretary of state.
‐ Bill Maher produces so much verbiage that it is statistically inevitable that he should from time to time say something sensible, as he recently did about those calling for boycotts of Rush Limbaugh. Noting that those seeking to stifle Limbaugh for his conservative views should not be considered “proper liberals,” he described them thus: “You’re just a baby who can’t stand to live in a world where you hear things that upset you.” He went on to add that the words “bigot” and “racist” are thrown about with irresponsible, cynical abandon: “Liberals hate bullying all right, but they’re not opposed to using it.” From having teachers boycott Florida orange-juice producers for buying time on his show to being denounced by President Clinton as the proximate cause of the Oklahoma City bombing, Limbaugh has endured his share of silly shenanigans, and has maintained the most popular radio program of its kind for almost 25 years. Maher’s principles may not be ours, but at least he seems to understand his.
#page#‐ The lily grows from manure, or can. Homer plucked his poetry not primarily from the hothouse of Paris’s well-appointed bedroom but from the grime and gore of the battlefield outside the walls of Troy; Dante plucked his from Hell. After running through the catalogue of his most annoying passengers, Michael Spence, a bus driver for 30 years, writes that, “reaching the end of the route,” he imagines “a huge hose / blasting them out.” His Bus Driver’s Threnody, a collection of poetry on motion, was published last September. For his forthcoming collection, Umbilical, he has won this year’s New Criterion Poetry Prize, which has as its only criterion artistic merit. Anyone is eligible, we’re told; perhaps next year it will go to someone who bears initials after his name or wears tweed jackets — if he writes as well as Spence.
‐ Dartmouth College has suspended most of the 64 students it has accused of cheating in a class on sports ethics. Attended mostly by varsity athletes, “Sports, Ethics, and Religion” had the largest enrollment, 272, of any course at the college last semester. The class’s lessons don’t seem to be taking.
‐ Mount Holyoke College is for women only, but they’re not super strict about the gender thing. According to official guidelines, you don’t need to have the usual anatomical features to be considered female; a student can apply for admission if he or she is “biologically born male; identifies as woman” or even “biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when ‘other/they’ identity includes woman.” So basically, if you’ve ever thought about getting a mani-pedi, you’re in. This pro-transsexual policy is intended to make Mount Holyoke hospitable to all women, no matter how tenuous their gender identity, and now it has resulted in the additional benefit of getting The Vagina Monologues removed from campus. This pudendum-positive theater piece, solemnly recited at colleges nationwide every Valentine’s Day like the Haggadah at Passover, will no longer be performed at Mount Holyoke . . . because it is demeaning to “women” who have penises. The play is demeaning, all right, and so is this campus debate.
‐ As his first official act, Texas’s newly elected agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, granted amnesty to the Lone Star State’s cupcakes. He then celebrated the occasion by eating one. The reason for these proceedings was a 2004 law that had banned parents of public-school students from bringing cupcakes and other sweets to school to share with their kids’ classmates. The press conference was partly Texas bluster, as the ban had already been weakened in 2005 and then repealed last year, but Miller wanted to make sure everyone knew that Texas is no longer in the business of regulating students’ dessert choices. The original law rested on the assumption that if youngsters are made to eat vegetables prepared by school-cafeteria staff, they will become converts to healthy eating. Its repeal entrusts to local school boards the job of formulating cupcake policy — which is almost as good as not having a cupcake policy at all.
‐ Martin Anderson was one of the brains behind the Reagan revolution. His 1988 book, Revolution, is a valuable account of that movement and that period. Anderson was a Reaganite to his fingernails. We might say, too, that Reagan was an Andersonian. Both men believed in a free economy, a strong national defense, and a unique American destiny. Anderson was an egghead and an activist. He earned a Ph.D. in management at MIT. Then he taught at Columbia. But he kept jumping into politics, being one of those intellectuals who relish the arena. (Jeane Kirkpatrick was another who served at Reagan’s request.) Anderson spent most of his career at the Hoover Institution. He produced many books about Reagan, including Reagan, in His Own Hand (2001). He edited this volume with his wife, Annelise, and Kiron K. Skinner. It helped put the lie to the idea that Reagan was a dope who leaned on people like Marty Anderson. But leaning on Marty was a smart thing to do. He has died at 78, leaving a helpful mark on the world. R.I.P.
‐ For Walter Berns, America was “an object of our passions or, more precisely, an object of our love. For love is a passion, not a judgment arrived at by a process of ratiocination.” The professor of constitutional law and political philosophy was a patriot first. Berns produced a large body of impressive scholarship, including nine books, without ever succumbing to the academic dream of detachment for detachment’s sake: In the 1960s he talked back to the campus protests that swept Cornell, where he taught, and responded to New Left rhetoric by doubling down on his enthusiasm for the Constitution as the indispensable foundation on which they could spar. His book Making Patriots, published in 2001, took on magnified significance after September 11. Over the course of his long career he taught at several institutions and eventually settled in Washington, D.C., where he taught at Georgetown and served as a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He received the National Humanities Medal in 2005. He held up his end of a longstanding public quarrel with Harry V. Jaffa, his graduate-school classmate at the University of Chicago, where both were students of Leo Strauss. Berns and Jaffa died within hours of each other, on January 10. Berns was 95. R.I.P.
‐ How could Abraham Lincoln need rediscovering? There he is, on the cent, in the Memorial, and on Mount Rushmore. Yet in 1959, just after the centennial of the Lincoln–Douglas debates, Harry Jaffa, a political philosopher by training, argued in The Crisis of the House Divided that revisionist historians had revised Lincoln down to the scrum of ordinary politics. But Lincoln’s debates with fellow Illinoisan Stephen Douglas, Jaffa insisted, settled the shape of the oncoming Civil War, and the nature of America itself. Large claims, and he would defend them largely over the years, grappling with a multitude of critics: As WFB, Jaffa’s friend and frequent publisher, said, if you think Jaffa is hard to argue with, try agreeing with him. Time will dispose of Jaffa’s contentions, not of his defining insight: “The only reliance, the only rock upon which man’s political salvation might be built, was man’s moral sense, the determination of some men to be free, and the awareness that no man can rightfully achieve freedom for himself . . . if he would deny [it] to any other man.” Dead at 96. R.I.P.
‐ There were better actresses than Anita Ekberg, even more beautiful ones: There was something unreal, almost inflated, about her bosomy blonde ripeness. But how many achieve the perfection of icons, and do it twice? In La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece, she is the object of Marcello Mastroianni’s desire; after a night out on the town (the town being Rome), they stand, in evening clothes, in the Trevi Fountain, the image of romantic yearning. Then in Intervista, Fellini’s last movie, Mastroianni and Ekberg meet again, as themselves, old stars; they shadow-dance behind a screen on which, suddenly, their former selves reappear. When the lights go up, there they are, old again: the image of relentless time, gracefully accepted. The two sequences together last about ten minutes, and they bookend art and life. Dead at 83. R.I.P.
The Muslim Challenge
The death toll of the massacre in Paris did not stop with the ten journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the two policemen who tried vainly to protect them; it included four hostages at a kosher market in eastern Paris, plus a third cop at yet another location, the last five murdered by an accomplice of the Charlie Hebdo killers in an effort to distract police from running them down.
These 17 deaths prompted nationwide marches, under the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), including a million-plus march in Paris: larger perhaps than those that celebrated the liberation of France in World War II.
American troops played an essential role in the drama of 1944. This time around, however, the United States was shamefully MIA as the Obama administration sent — not the president (dozens of other heads of state participated), not the vice president (whose main job is to attend such functions), not the attorney general (who happened to be in Paris that day), but — Jane Hartley, our ambassador.
It is no fault of hers that her bosses did not take France’s trauma seriously. America’s no-show was of a piece with the Obama administration’s inability to utter the words “radical Islam” in discussing such matters. In this it follows, and expands upon, the bad precedent set by the Bush administration (which warred on a featureless Terror). But now clear thinking is further muddied by President Obama’s self-regard. Even as he sees himself, thanks to his black father and white mother, as the solution to America’s race problems, so he sees himself, thanks to having grown up in Indonesia with a Muslim stepfather, as the bridge between America and the Muslim world. Who needs generous gestures or straight talk when we are fortunate enough to be led by such a paragon?
Secretary of State John Kerry added a dash of baby-boomer cluelessness when he brought James Taylor to France to sing “You’ve Got a Friend.” No offense to Carole King, who wrote the song, or to Taylor, who made it a hit, but a Brill Building tunesmith and a Seventies soft rocker were poor substitutes for “Lafayette, we are here,” or, better, “Aux armes, citoyens!”
It fell to Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Muslim mayor of Rotterdam, to give the best foreign reaction to the Paris massacre. Aboutaleb, son of a Moroccan imam, told his coreligionists to do what he has evidently done: live in the world in which one was born, not the eighth century. “If you don’t like it here because some humorists are publishing a little newspaper you don’t like, may I say that you should just f*** off. . . . Leave the Netherlands if you cannot find your place here or accept the society we want to build.”
Modern European society, unfortunately, has (like ours) several deep flaws. One of them has been a feckless policy of immigration for refugees and citizens of its defunct empires, coupled with an unwillingness (even greater than ours) to require assimilation as the price of the freedom and prosperity that immigrants and their descendants enjoy. If you don’t want to live in the slums of Lahore or the villages of the Maghreb, then you should learn the ways that made Europe different from Pakistan and North Africa. Many immigrants, like Rotterdam’s mayor, understand this; but too many others, and too many European politicians, do not.
Meanwhile, France is experiencing a record outflow of Jews to Israel. If alienation and terrorism are not combated, then the assimilated and the law-abiding must leave.
All the President’s Taxes
The tax proposals released in advance of the State of the Union address were significantly worse than we expected, combining several tax increases on investment with an especially destructive form of social engineering.
Republicans are likely to concentrate on the plan’s attacks on investment — including a hike in the capital-gains tax, which is already higher than the developed-world average as it stands, and new restrictions on 529 education plans and IRAs — because they know that case by heart. The president and his aides believe that saving and investment are given tax “advantages,” and that, for the rich, these should be scaled back. In truth, the tax code is heavily biased against saving and investment; most tax breaks for saving merely reduce this bias. Rich people naturally do a disproportionate amount of the country’s saving; they should not be encouraged to consume their incomes instead.
These portions of the plan concern familiar divisions between the parties. More gratuitous are the plan’s slaps at mothers outside the paid labor force. Obama would triple the tax credit for child care and create a new tax credit for second earners. Take two families making $50,000 a year, one in which a mother does paid work and one in which she does not. Under Obama’s plan, the first couple receives a large child-care credit and a new second-earner credit. The second couple does not — and so pays higher taxes than the first one.
Most mothers, especially of small children, prefer to work part-time or drop out of the labor force for a while. Commercial child care is the least favored option for most parents. The president’s plan encourages families to do what they do not wish to do and penalizes them for refusing.
An alternative would be to provide tax relief to all parents who pay taxes, however they structure their lives, by expanding the tax credit for children. Parents would then be able to spend the extra money on commercial day care, or use it to finance a shift to part-time work for one parent, or save it for future educational expenses — or do whatever they choose with it.
That alternative would combine better policy with better politics. It would offset the large implicit tax on parents contained in our entitlement system, which does not recognize the financial sacrifices involved in raising children as a form of contribution to the system’s future. And while the polls may smile on the president’s proposal, we suspect that letting families keep more of their money to spend as they wish would be more popular than his notion that mothers should work and send their kids to day care to get their money back.
A less prescriptive plan would not, it is true, induce mothers to increase their hours of paid employment, which the White House, in its promotional material for its plan, treats as crucial to economic growth. But there are better ways to encourage economic growth, and a good beginning would be to go in the reverse of the direction the president favors for the taxation of saving and investment.