‐ In the tense negotiations over a nuclear deal with Iran, Obama swore he would make no concessions to America’s most dangerous enemy. Unfortunately for him, Congress held firm.
‐ Farmer’s son, hick politician, railroad lawyer; warlord, philosopher, saint. One hundred fifty years after his assassination, do we think Abraham Lincoln our greatest president? His only competitor for that honor, George Washington, had the advantage of not being murdered halfway through his lifework. We know, from Lincoln’s speeches in 1865, the outlines of his post–Civil War policy: malice toward none, charity for all, citizenship for freedmen. An impossible balancing act? Lincoln was both a determined and a wily politician. His successor, Andrew Johnson, was a man of shifting purpose (from hanging ex-rebels to flattering them) and ham hands. After four years of chaos, America got eight years of Ulysses Grant, who did his best — then 80 years of inequity. Still, the Union was saved from a losers’ veto, and 4 million men, women, and children were freed. In his Peoria speech of October 1854, Lincoln said, “Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. . . . Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit if not the blood of Revolution.” It was washed of the stains of slavery, then of rebellion. So long as democracy can find men such as Lincoln in its hours of need, it will endure.
‐ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen terrorist who, with his brother Tamerlan, attacked the Boston Marathon in 2013, was convicted in federal court of his crimes. Let us review them. The radicalized brothers planted homemade bombs at the marathon’s finish line that killed Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi (a grad student), and Martin Richard (age eight); hundreds were injured. After a few days on the lam, the brothers killed Sean Collier, an MIT campus cop, en route to New York, where they planned to plant more bombs. Tamerlan died when the police closed in (he had been accidentally run over by his brother’s car); Dzhokhar was picked up later. His conviction sets up a second trial, the penalty phase: life imprisonment, or death? Clearly he deserves the latter. His motives were fanatical, his methods heartless, his victims random. To feed and house such a wretch for the remainder of his natural life makes the law-abiding his servants; letting him see the sun rise leaves his victims unavenged.
‐ Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) launched his presidential run with a speech calling for leaving behind the past, for which read Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. And what better way to do that than to elect a youngster like himself? The senator has some substance, though, to match the generational theme: He really has pursued innovative policies to apply market principles to health care, higher education, and many other issues. You can see these initiatives as examples of the bold risk-taking that also led him to tackle immigration in 2013. But the contrast is more instructive: On that issue Rubio was not innovative, instead sticking with the same flawed “comprehensive reform” that other politicians have tried and failed to achieve. That policy differs from Rubio’s other ideas, as well, in not promoting upward mobility. Senator Rubio should keep that goal in mind as he tries to arrange some upward mobility of his own.
‐ Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) was testy, for both good and ill, in the days following his presidential-campaign announcement. He rebuked a reporter for asking him why his foreign-policy views have changed, calling it editorializing. If so, it was editorializing based on fact, and a fair question. Better was his response when interrogated about how far he would take his opposition to abortion: He challenged reporters to ask Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz whether she favored letting seven-pound babies be aborted, and she responded by saying she supported a woman’s right to choose, period. So few Republicans have had the wit to change the media conversation on that issue. Paul famously has a lot of ideology as well as a lot of personality, and its mixed quality was also on display. His kick-off mentioned criminal-justice reform, a worthy cause. But he also said that he wants a future in which “any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.” He did not mean laws against murder, his campaign had to clarify. No libertarian presidential candidate has ever been taken as seriously as Paul. To win, though, he will have to suppress some of his libertarian reflexes.
‐ Governor Scott Walker (R., Wis.) continued his evolution on immigration. He has renounced his support for a comprehensive “reform” including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Now he is saying that the “immigration system . . . has to protect American workers and make sure American wages are going up.” No immigration reform can make sure most Americans’ wages go up, of course. But increased enforcement of the laws against illegal immigration, which Walker has endorsed, would boost wages at the low end of the labor market. So would reducing the number of low-skilled immigrants we admit legally each year. On that issue, Walker remains silent for now. But by talking about the connection between immigration and wages at all, he is already ahead of most of his rivals.
‐ Of all the charity foundations in all the towns in all the world, Moroccan money — at least $1 million of it — found its way into the Clintons’. After making headlines for accepting foreign donations while Hillary Clinton was serving as America’s chief diplomat, the Clinton Foundation has accepted a sizable sum from a Moroccan-government-owned company to host a high-profile conference there in May. It’s not the first link between the Clintons and the North African nation. As secretary of state, Hillary traveled to Morocco, then launched a “strategic dialogue” — even though the State Department censured Morocco in 2011 for “arbitrary arrests and corruption in all branches of government.” The very next year, Clinton called Morocco “a leader and a model.” Perhaps she meant that she admires the corruption.
‐ So outgoing senator Harry Reid (D., Nev.), having lied in 2012 about Mitt Romney’s not paying his taxes, was asked by Dana Bash of CNN in 2015 whether he regretted his lie. He said of course not: “Romney didn’t win, did he?” Reid goes off into the sunset, but his baseness took on enough of the solidity of wit that he may linger as floating matter in the toilet bowl of political memory, along with Jim Folsom (“You stupid sonuva bitch, I don’t need you when I’m right”), George Washington Plunkitt (“honest graft”), and Joseph Fouché (“Worse than a crime, it was a blunder”).
‐ An alliance of liberals and large corporations forced Indiana to retreat from its defense of religious freedom. After enacting a law substantially identical to the religious-freedom laws of many other states and the federal government, the state’s Republicans found themselves accused of rolling out an unwelcome mat to gays. Supposedly the law would lead to widespread mistreatment of them by business owners with religious exemptions from antidiscrimination rules. Never mind that most of Indiana lacks such rules, that market forces and public sentiment seem to be reducing discrimination even in their absence, and that antidiscrimination laws have almost always trumped religious-freedom laws in the courts. Indiana Republicans gave in to the pressure, amending the religious-freedom law so that it cannot even be invoked to limit antidiscrimination laws. Arkansas Republicans stumbled into the same controversy, but got out of it by enacting legislation that instructed the state’s courts to apply the federal religious-freedom law to local issues. The bad news is that the coalition against religious freedom is very powerful, even in conservative states. The good news is that it appears also to be easily fooled.
‐ The inheritance tax is an outdated measure — like several of our dumbest taxes, it was introduced to pay for the Spanish–American War — that is applied to only a handful of households in any given year and produces almost no revenue, providing a fraction of a percentage point of federal tax income. Republicans have narrowed the scope of the “death tax” and now propose eliminating it root and branch. This initiative naturally has the Obama administration and congressional Democrats in full class-warfare mode. The tax inflicts much pain for little gain, and it is a particularly heavy burden on certain kinds of enterprises, such as farms and small businesses, that may be valuable on paper because of land holdings and the like, but generate income insufficient to pay the inheritance tax and thus must be sold. There is a question of justice here, too: If families save, forgoing pleasures today in order to leave a legacy for their children tomorrow, why should the federal government get in the middle and demand a cut? Attach an offsetting spending cut and put the death tax in its grave.
‐ Laurence Tribe, the famous left-wing professor of constitutional law, has joined with Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the U.S., to challenge new regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency intends to impose on states. The Left has accused Tribe of selling out. He maintains that the EPA plan for reducing carbon dioxide emissions “violates principles of federalism” and amounts to an exercise of powers that Congress never delegated to it. “The brute fact is that the Obama administration failed to get climate legislation through Congress,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in December. “Yet the EPA is acting as though it has the legislative authority anyway to re-engineer the nation’s electric generating system and power grid. It does not.” We don’t know whether his argument will prevail in court. We do know that what he identifies as a particular unconstitutional abuse of executive power by the Obama administration fits a pattern.
‐ The academic Left likes to talk about the “fluidity” of human sexuality, but that flow is apparently permitted in only one direction. There are people who are sexually attracted to others of the same sex but who do not wish to live as homosexuals, and there are organizations that seek to help them to live as they wish — which is under some circumstances a crime in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, a situation that President Obama and aide-de-camp Valerie Jarrett have endorsed. There is a good deal of quackery in “reparative therapy,” but there is also simple counseling and support, which critics consider — this is not an exaggeration — tantamount to murder, citing the case of Joshua Alcorn (he wished to be known as Leelah), a teenager who killed himself when his parents objected to his desire to undergo a sex change and who sent him to a Christian counseling service. “Leelah’s law” would categorically ban these services for minors. It is hard to escape the suspicion that the motive for the law is not just sorrow at the way conversion therapy sometimes ends in tragedy — which is true of any kind of therapy — but offense at the idea that anyone would want to leave homosexuality or transgenderism behind, or help another to do so. That offense may be understandable, but it is not a good enough reason for a law.
‐ Reruns of M*A*S*H are going to be really confusing in the future. The Army is on the hook for legal damages for instructing a man not to use the ladies’ room even after he had started wearing skirts to work and changed his name to “Tamara.” Tamara Lusardi served in the Army for seven years and now works at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, and wishes to live as a woman. The Army attempted to be accommodating — “management was supportive of her transition,” as Stars and Stripes put it — and provided a gender-neutral restroom. Not good enough. Corporal Max Klinger awaits his reparations.
Age of Uncertainty II
In my last column, I showed that policy uncertainty rises as presidential and midterm elections approach and cited research that documented a strong negative statistical link between economic-policy uncertainty and economic growth. I heard back from many National Review readers who wondered whether the apparent relationship between policy uncertainty and growth might be a simple coincidence. How can it be, a critic might say, that elections in this gridlocked world matter that much? The questions motivated a deeper dive into the data, a dive that uncovered some pearls that are the subject of this month’s chart.
Economists deploy theory as a defense against statistical coincidence. One should reason through a specific causal link before looking at the data, the thinking goes, and then turn to the data and see whether the data are consistent with the theory. In the best of all worlds, the theory motivates the investigator to look at something completely different, and then the data reveal a new pattern that confirms the theory.
Policy uncertainty should, in theory, affect the economy by increasing the risk that people perceive they face when making economic decisions. If you were going to lend money to a low-risk borrower — say, Bill Gates — then you might charge him a low interest rate. If you were going to lend money to a tremendously sketchy fellow — say, Jonah Goldberg — then you might charge a higher interest rate. If policy uncertainty has a big effect on the economy, it should be visible as generally heightened risk premia. These, in turn, would harm the economy because they would raise the cost of investing in anything that requires financing, be it a new machine, a house, or a new car.
The price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 measures the price a firm can charge an investor in exchange for the claim on the firm’s earnings that a share of its stock represents. A relatively high P/E ratio serves as an indication that the firm can raise capital at a relatively low cost: When the P/E is higher, it means the market perceives the equity to be less risky. The spread between the yield on Moody’s BAA-rated debt and the ten-year Treasury yield is an alternative measure of the risk premium. It indicates how much market participants demand in exchange for holding bonds that, according to Moody’s, come with “moderate credit risk” and have “certain speculative characteristics.” A larger spread indicates that market participants are charging businesses more for buying their bonds instead of the “risk-free” bonds of the U.S. government.
The chart below plots these measures against the measure of policy uncertainty I discussed last time. As the chart shows, stock valuations and debt spreads both respond adversely to the increases in uncertainty that seem to come with the election cycle. The effects are large and so vivid that they are almost eerie.
So elections are times when politicians present wildly different views of what policy might be, and when investors dramatically increase their assessments of risk. The higher risk premia that result then dampen economic activity. The data continue to support the view that policy risk is a very big deal indeed.
‐ The Democratic party wants your guns again. A piece of legislation introduced in the House by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) would provide a $2,000 tax break to any American who would be happy to hand over his “assault weapon” to the federal government. “There is no reason on earth,” DeLauro claims, “that anyone needs a gun designed for a battlefield.” And so she wants to buy yours. Putting aside the obvious unseemliness of the state’s attempting to disarm the people for whom it works, there are a host of practical objections to this proposal. Most prominent among them is the question of exactly what problem DeLauro is attempting to solve. A dramatic increase in the number of guns in private hands has coincided with a decline in the number of crimes committed with firearms. Moreover, the type of weapon that this bill goes after is used so rarely in crimes that the federal government doesn’t even keep statistics on them. As for the structure of the law: There would be nothing whatsoever to prevent savvy gun owners from trading in their existing firearms for far more than they are worth, and then buying a new, more expensive model in replacement. Rather than griping, advocates of the Second Amendment should really be saying thanks.
‐ Two years after Shaneen Allen was pulled over in Atlantic County and arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has gotten around to granting her a full pardon. Allen, who had not understood that her Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit was not valid in her neighboring state, was at first facing a felony conviction and up to twelve years in prison — a punishment that would have taken her away from her children and barred her from working again as a nurse. Happily, a public outcry prompted the prosecutor to relent before the case went to trial, and Allen was ushered instead into a diversionary program designed to help nonviolent first-time offenders avoid jail time. Her criminal record, however, had remained, and could have caused problems farther down the line. Christie’s pardon brings the sorry affair to a satisfying, and final, close. Will he now take steps to ensure that, next time, he’s not needed?
‐ A video taken by a passerby showed policeman Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott, a fleeing man stopped for a broken taillight, eight times in the back until Scott fell, mortally wounded. Slager said there was a scuffle, not filmed, in which he tried to Taser Scott. But shooting an unarmed and non-dangerous man who is running away is against any civilized police procedure; so Slager has been fired and charged with murder. He will get his day in court. Meanwhile we will get weeks in the court of public opinion, where anti-cop activists finally appear to have what they sought in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner — a white man in authority wantonly killing a black man. Omnipresent cell phones and a push for police dash cams will make it easier to catch gross errors and instances of police criminality. But ubiquitous video narratives (often partial) will also inflame the media and the public and derange the violent, such as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, murderer of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. Let justice be done, but may the heavens not fall.
‐ Rahm Emanuel has won reelection as mayor of Chicago, defeating Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, in a runoff election on April 7. Outspent ten to one, Garcia, with the support of progressives, particularly teachers and other members of public-employee unions, still managed to win 44 percent of the vote, making it close, at least by the standards of elections in which an incumbent mayor of Chicago is on the ballot. The runoff represented a split in the Democratic party: Chicagoans, overwhelmingly Democratic, chose the moneyed, business-friendly “Godfather,” ruthless but competent, over the idealistic populist focused on inequality. New Yorkers, also overwhelmingly Democratic, decided similarly in sending and returning Rudy Giuliani and then Michael Bloomberg to Gracie Mansion over a span of two decades. Democrats urging Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination, take note. For Republicans, too, Chicago has a message, if they’ll hear it: In electoral politics, demonstrated executive ability counts for a lot.
‐ New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.) was left with a red face in April after it was revealed that his billion-dollar “Start-Up New York” program had created a grand total of 76 jobs. The initiative was intended to help reverse the state’s dismal economic record by attracting private companies on the promise of a ten-year holiday from taxation. In practice, however, it threw good money after very little indeed. For each job created, Start-Up New York cost taxpayers a stunning $13,157,894. This news came as a blow to Cuomo, as an earlier report had suggested that the state was creating jobs at the much less embarrassing cost of half a million dollars apiece. Given the previous behavior of stimulus apologists, the big question will now undoubtedly be: “Yes, but how many jobs did it save?”
‐ In recent years, a few jurisdictions around the United States have allowed legal resident aliens to vote in local elections. Now New York City’s council is seriously considering the idea (the council has raised it before, but now the city has a mayor who might be leftist enough to approve the law). As was the case a century ago, when non-citizen voting was last in vogue, advocates say that aliens pay taxes and use schools and government services, and therefore deserve a vote. But citizenship is more than just a set of privileges and obligations. It’s a state of mind — a knowledge of the country’s laws, values, and customs, and an understanding that the long-term interests of citizen and nation are aligned. Requiring immigrants to demonstrate this knowledge and make a formal commitment to the United States before they can influence the making of laws and the spending of public money is not an act of repression but one of simple common sense.
‐ Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who is preparing a run for the GOP presidential nomination, is blaming environmentalists for her home state’s predicament: “Despite the fact that California has suffered from droughts for millennia, liberal environmentalists have prevented the building of a single new reservoir or a single new water-conveyance system over decades during a period in which California’s population has doubled.” She is of course correct, and while California probably will not be a part of a winning Republican bloc in 2016, conservatives should make their case in all the liberal-dominated cities and states, which have the most direct experience with defective Democratic governance. And it might be worth pointing out that California’s defective water arrangement — limit supply while demand is growing, and cover up the mess with price-fixing — is the ur-progressive model, being among other things the source of California’s electricity crisis some years back and the underlying economic model of medicine under Obamacare. Droughts are bad enough; liberalism is an unnatural disaster.
‐ Kansas recently passed into law the “Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.” “Dismemberment” is not a term of propaganda. It is the word Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy used in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) to describe the abortion method by which an unborn child “dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb.” Kansas’s law makes physicians who conduct an abortion by this method subject to prosecution. Opposition to death-by-dismemberment might seem like a subject ripe for bipartisan agreement — but that firm pillar of the Democratic establishment, Planned Parenthood, is considering challenging the law in court. “Kansas is now not only the sole state with this atrocious law; it also now has more restrictions on abortion than any state in the U.S.,” it declared on Facebook. Good for Kansas; and defenders of this procedure should perhaps think twice before talking about atrocities.
‐ A nation-state only in name now, Somalia is the base of al-Shabaab, a franchise of al-Qaeda. Out on that arid African coast, there is nothing for al-Shabaab to do in the way of spreading Islamism except set the Muslims and Christians in neighboring Kenya against each other. In the past two years, al-Shabaab has killed more than 200 Kenyans, raising sectarian tensions, and also put an end to tourism by murdering or holding hostage English visitors. At five in the morning on April 2, a team of four al-Shabaab terrorists, duly wearing explosive belts, broke into the dormitories of Garissa University, about 200 kilometers from the Somali border and generally thought to be in a safe region. The gunmen then held a selection of the students, releasing those who were Muslims and shooting dead the Christians. By the time the federal police arrived, 15 hours later, 147 corpses lay in pools of blood here and there on the campus — more than twice as many as al-Shabaab killed in the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in 2013. “The operation has ended successfully,” the Kenyan interior minister said, trying to keep his spirits up in the mayhem of Garissa. “Four terrorists have been killed.”
‐ Nimrud dates from the 13th century before Jesus Christ; Dur Sharrukin, the Assyrian capital, is said to have been founded in the year 717 before Jesus Christ; Hatra, the Seleucid city with temples and sculpture, is 2,000 years old. These wonderful sites tell the story of mankind in the setting of Mesopotamia, nowadays Iraq — or rather, they used to. Islamic State is on the rampage in Iraq. A video shows ISIS men with bulldozers, picks, and drills eradicating this heritage in the same spirit that their colleagues behead captives. A row of barrel bombs blew to pieces the walls with inscriptions at Nimrud. Jonah’s Tomb, traditionally identified, and all the Christian churches of Mosul have been destroyed. According to one report from Mosul, there has been a bonfire of precious manuscripts, and according to another report the winged half-man, half-bull statues at Nineveh have been smashed. Not mindless vandalism, this is ideology in action. “God has honored us in the Islamic State to remove all of these idols and statues,” exults a militant in the video. People and places with other identities and associations are seen as contemptible, fit to be wiped out. The only history that counts is theirs. What to them is civilization to everyone else is barbarism.
‐ Is there any anti-American despot Barack Obama dislikes? The president took a break from smoothing Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb by sharing a stage and shaking hands with Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel, at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City. “I’m not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born,” Obama said. No surprise there: History, for Obama, has always been about his biography, so it therefore began with his birth. His goal, of normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, is not quite imminent, but look for it before January 2017. Meanwhile the hoary Communist dictatorship will continue to beat, torture, imprison, and immiserate its people.
‐ Last December, a Maryland couple was investigated by Montgomery County officials for child neglect. The Meitivs’ crime was to let their children, ages ten and six, play without supervision in a park and then walk to their home a mile away in an upscale suburb. Child Protective Services found the Meitivs neither guilty nor innocent of violating any laws, but lodged a charge of “unsubstantiated” neglect in their file. “We don’t know if we will get caught in this Kafkaesque loop again,” Danielle Meitiv said at the time. In April, they did. The children were picked up by police a few blocks from their home on a Sunday evening and detained for nearly six hours. The Meitivs were required to sign a “safety plan” promising not to let the children out of their sight until further notice. CPS officials, for their part, have promised to “continue to work in the best interest of all children.”
‐ In Worcester, Mass., a high-school English teacher said that her school’s staff and students were colorblind. This prompted an all-staff e-mail from the principal, who was furious at the teacher: “Personally, I’m embarrassed when she says our teachers and students are colorblind. As if our students don’t know enough to honor the beauty of their complexions.” The principal further wrote, “Cultural Competency 101: ‘colorblindness’ suggests racism.” It would be impossible to capture the trajectory of liberalism in one news item. It would be impossible to capture the problems of America in one news item. But this one comes close.
‐ The University of Michigan planned to show American Sniper at a social event. But some students complained that the movie was “anti-Muslim” and would make Muslim students feel “unsafe.” So the university canceled the movie, substituting Paddington. The new football coach, Jim Harbaugh, sent out a tweet that went around the world: “Michigan Football will watch ‘American Sniper’! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!” (Chris Kyle is the late Navy SEAL whose story is told in the movie.) The university, embarrassed, reversed course and screened the movie. That was good. In Paddington, the little bear’s beloved uncle and guardian is killed in an earthquake. Could the college kids have handled it?
‐ Emmanuel College, a Catholic liberal-arts college in Boston, recently joined in the denunciation of Gordon College, a nearby nondenominational Christian school. The former will no longer compete in athletic events against the latter, because of objections to a letter that Gordon College president D. Michael Lindsay signed on to last summer. The letter was sent to President Obama in response to a proposed executive order banning sexual-orientation discrimination by federal contractors. Lindsay and several other religious leaders requested that an exemption for religious organizations be included in the order. Gordon College affirms traditional Christian teaching on sexual ethics, and has a policy that prohibits students and employees from engaging in sex outside of marriage or with members of the same sex. Emmanuel athletic director Pam Roecker said that she and other administrators “just didn’t feel this aligned with the mission of our college,” despite Emmanuel’s professed Catholic identity. Emmanuel’s school newspaper reported that the decision “was an easy one and was met without resistance in the athletic office.” Shameful decisions are often easy.
‐ The ignominious collapse of Rolling Stone’s shocking cover story “A Rape on Campus” has led to a renewed focus on both its author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and the magazine’s management. A report, commissioned by Rolling Stone and conducted by the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, highlights their many editorial failures. “The magazine,” the report’s co-author, Steve Coll, ruled, “set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing.” Moreover, “the editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error.” Putting it less politely, we might say that, regardless of whether Erdely and her team suspected that they were dealing with a fabrication, their behavior was ultimately indistinguishable from that of the feminist Left. In looking for a set of kulaks onto whom she could pin society’s ills, Erdely effectively auditioned rape victims in the hope of finding one that fit snugly into her narrative. When writing her story, Erdely declined to do her due diligence lest she upset her subject, discourage others from coming forward, or come to be seen as doubting a purported victim. And, when she was finally caught, she refused to apologize to those who had actually suffered — namely, the falsely accused — preferring instead to note that while her story may have been false, she hoped nobody would draw any broader conclusions from that. The most pronounced objection to the staging of show trials is that they desensitize the public to the distinction between the individual and the collective. Had it not been dismantled, Rolling Stone’s story would have played the same role.
‐ Ezra Klein and Vox suffered two embarrassments. His rival in the world of condescendingly backhanded “explanatory” journalism, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, accused him of chartjacking — “stealing people’s charts without proper attribution,” pillaging work from Silver’s site and others — and Klein was obliged to admit that Vox had failed to live up to its own standards. Such sloppiness was the order of the day — a few hours later, what appears to be a combination of inept typing and an unfortunate autocorrect had Klein tweeting, “Marco Rubio tostada on taxes, Medicare, marijuana.” It may not be a verb, but some people do tostada, especially when they marijuana. We look forward to Klein’s reports as Governor Bobby Jindal attempts to curry favor among primary voters — and God help him if Ben Carson gets into the race.
‐ Günter Grass was a public intellectual who influenced how his fellow Germans were to think about themselves in the aftermath of Hitler, and how his fellow Europeans were to think about Germans. The Tin Drum, his first novel, portrayed Nazism as a sort of bewitchment rather than the rational choice of the millions of Germans who voted for Hitler. This apologia proved popular and won him the Nobel Prize in 1999. Continuously controversial, he denounced former Nazis, accused the West of warmongering, toyed with Communist countries, and opposed German unification. Towards the end of his life, he confessed that he had kept hidden his youthful enrollment in the Waffen S.S. and wrote that Israel is a danger to world peace. The dispenser of morality was no different from those he had been moralizing about, and many Germans saw this as hypocrisy. Bewitchment had come full circle. He has died at age 87. R.I.P.
Deal or No Deal
We thought we had a bad deal with Iran. Now it turns out we might not really have a deal at all.
In the interim agreement supposedly reached at the beginning of April, the Iranians got the negotiators from the U.S. and other major powers to give in on nearly every substantive point. Iran will get to keep thousands of centrifuges, multiple nuclear sites, the right to develop new, more advanced enrichment equipment — even permission to continue nuclear research at a highly reinforced underground facility that was kept secret from international inspectors for years. The West’s only victory was a promise of a new, tough inspections regime, even though there is already a long record of Iran’s developing nuclear facilities in secret. In theory, the deal pushes the time it would take Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon to a year, but widely respected arms-control experts have said that, given the difficulty of performing good inspections and of building consensus around violations, this is not enough.
But even those judgments come from an outline of concepts published by the Western negotiators. Iran has been telling a very different story: The government says, for instance, that it plans to operate — not just research — advanced centrifuges, and, most worryingly, that it expects immediate and complete sanctions relief once a final deal is reached. The U.S. has maintained that relief will be phased in.
Such points of disagreement suggest that a final deal, with explicit, public details rather than contested, private promises, may never be reached. (It is scheduled to be done by the end of June.) In the meantime, damage is already being done. Russia recently announced, for instance, that it will sell an almost impregnable air-defense system to Iran, a sale the U.S. had long successfully blocked.
The White House believes that an agreement that brings Iran into the world community will be a big step toward solving many of the region’s problems, such as the rise of ISIS. This is, of course, fantastical. The enemy of our enemy and all, but legitimizing and strengthening a totalitarian, terrorist regime that happens to appear to be loosely on the same side of one battle isn’t much of a long-term strategy. Even in Iraq, Iranian-backed Shiite militias aren’t really the answer to Sunni radicals. This Iranian regime is never going to be a true partner, and President Obama seems to think not just that it could be, but that we should give it just about every concession possible to make it happen.
But there is hope that his plans can still be blocked. First, it is no sure thing that the remaining gaps between our negotiators and the Iranians can be bridged, although President Obama’s flexibility has been impressive. More important, members of both parties in Congress remain skeptical of the outlined deal, and the recent confusion over what the deal meant has only strengthened the case that the White House cannot be trusted with reaching a final deal on its own.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) that would give Congress a period in which to approve or disapprove of a final deal. Congressional disapproval would prevent the lifting of sanctions; the bill would also require the White House to certify every 90 days thence that Iran is complying with the deal, in order to keep sanctions lifted.
This is a weak bill — the president retains plenty of flexibility, and rejecting a deal will require two thirds of both houses. A measure along the lines of the Kirk-Menendez legislation, which has not found as many Democratic votes as Corker’s, would help the situation, by reinstating sanctions if the final negotiations drag on. But the Corker bill may be the most feasible way Congress has to place some restrictions on the president. It should certainly not wait on this bill until after a final deal is reached, as some Democrats want.
If passing the Corker bill interrupts or derails negotiations, that might be the best outcome. The evidence is mounting that Iran is not interested in a respectable deal. But Congress must do its best to demonstrate that, because a respectable deal does not appear to be a priority for President Obama either.
The suspense is over. Hillary Clinton is running for president. But no one is inevitable. Although Republicans will spend the next several months running against one another, making the case for themselves should encompass making the case against Clinton and for conservative principles and policies that will appeal not only to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina Republicans next spring, but to most Americans come November 2016.
Although Hillary Clinton has mostly avoided statements of substance, she obviously sees America’s economic sluggishness much as the current president does: as a consequence of income inequality, a stingy minimum wage, the decline of labor unions, and, in general, America’s turn to the right in the Reagan era.
All indications are that Clinton plans to repackage her husband’s economic policies, peddling the notion that they turned the economy around in the 1990s and can do so again — dubious contentions both. The recession that Bill Clinton ran against in 1992 was already over when he took office, and his most extravagantly liberal initiatives were defeated early in his presidency by a Republican Congress that brought needed restraint on taxes, regulation, and spending. In any case, the economy is greatly changed from that of the 1990s, and we aren’t going to boost stagnating middle-class incomes by promoting labor unions or rationing carbon.
In addition to running against a recycled agenda, Clinton’s opponents should articulate an economic agenda broader and deeper than cuts to marginal tax rates and vague calls for deregulation. That agenda should include market-based health-care policies to replace Obamacare; reforms to break up the higher-education cartel that has saddled millions of Americans with crushing debt; tax relief for middle-class parents; and policies that would capitalize on America’s rich energy resources.
Clinton’s tenure as America’s chief diplomat, meanwhile, will help her little. Clinton led a State Department best known now for the misbegotten “reset” with Russia, for administering special favors to administration donors, for ignoring requests for increased security at the American consulate in Libya, and for an illicit e-mail arrangement for Clinton and her closest aides. She was complicit in President Obama’s failed foreign policy from the beginning, and there is little to suggest that she rejects its erroneous premises. What we can expect from a Clinton administration is a continuation of Obama’s policies, with even worse ethics.
The current Republican field should set out a strong, responsible alternative to the Democratic strategy of preemptive capitulation. Reasserting the vitality of NATO, arming our allies in Kurdistan and Ukraine, redoubling sanctions against the Iranian regime, reaching out to alienated allies (such as Israel) — there is much the United States can do, in both the short and the long term, to secure America and American interests abroad.
Hillary Clinton has been hovering about the heights of American political power for nearly three decades, yet she has almost no substantive accomplishments to show for it, and her best plans for the next eight years are likely to be the repurposed policies of Democratic administrations past. She’s beatable, and the substantive work to prepare the ground for her defeat should begin now.