Magazine | October 5, 2015, Issue

The Week

‐ The British Parliament voted against assisted suicide — except in the case of the Labour party.

‐ Joe Biden mulls his presidential options; on the same swing through New York in which he told a Late Show audience that he was not ready to decide, he met with Robert Wolf, a heavyweight Obama bundler. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Biden likes campaigning; there seems to be a human being inside him; and Americans sympathized with him after the death of his son Beau. Against this must be set his deficiencies as a candidate and a man. He has a motor mouth (the vice of his virtue — he is open, and openly indiscreet). He is a bitter partisan: His conduct in debate with Paul Ryan in 2012 was unpleasant, his behavior during Judge Robert Bork’s 1987 confirmation hearings was savage. And his first presidential race ended in a storm of blunders. In a speech describing his life story, he plagiarized details of the life of British Labourite Neil Kinnock. After that revelation came the discovery of plagiarized bits in other speeches, plus the fact that he had flunked a course in law school for plagiarizing five pages of a paper. Reckless, rude, dishonest, dumb: It is a measure of the Democrats’ disarray that this is the profile of their savior.

‐ Donald Trump took personal shots at two of his Republican rivals. While watching a clip of Carly Fiorina on television, he said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Of Ben Carson, he simply said that he was “an okay doctor, I guess,” who has “hired one nurse.” Carson had gotten Trump’s attention by wondering whether he showed “humility and the fear of the Lord,” as per Proverbs 22:4. Of course Trump has not shown those things; if he had, he would not be Trump. If Republican voters want to nominate a blue-rumped baboon whose notion of a presidential campaign is flinging baboon poo, they should pick Trump. If not, not.

‐ Playing off Richard Wagner, Nietzsche entitled one of his last books “Götzen-Dämmerung” — or “Twilight of the Idols.” So how goes the Clinton campaign? Top aides told the New York Times that henceforth the candidate would show “her humor” and “her heart.” Immediately thereafter, she showed regret about having mingled work and personal e-mails. “That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that.” She has reason to feel sorry, for a special intelligence review of her e-mails found two that were “top secret” (one was about North Korea’s nuclear program). “Top secret” is defined as that which could “reasonably” be expected to cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security” if it were leaked or hacked. More revelations may come: The Denver company that managed her easily hackable home-brew server said that the e-mails she deleted may be retrievable. Clinton’s persona at this point in her life is unchangeable, and the story of her rogue server only changes for the worse. Bad campaigner, bad news: Twilight may be starting to fall.

‐ Jeb Bush proposed a large tax cut. He would take the top rate from 39.6 to 28 percent — the lowest it has been since the middle of his father’s administration. The corporate-tax rate would drop to 20 percent, and the cost of business investment could be written off the year it was incurred. Some tax breaks — for business debt, for state and local taxes — would be eliminated; others would be scaled back. The effect should be to make economic growth a bit faster. The drawbacks to the plan are three. It would raise the deficit when federal debt is likely to begin mounting rapidly. Its tax cuts are focused too much on high earners: It takes the top rate down quite far while doing almost nothing about payroll taxes. And it seeks to encourage one-earner couples to become two-earner couples by taxing the latter more lightly, an offensive piece of social engineering. The plan should be modified, but it has real strengths on which to build.

‐ Scott Walker aims to take his union-busting success in Wisconsin to the national stage. In a recent speech in Las Vegas, home to powerful unions, Walker called for eliminating federal-employee unions and the National Labor Relations Board, and for enacting a national right-to-work law that would allow employees to choose whether to join a union. The plan also requires unions to disclose political donations and compensation paid to union officials. Walker would allow the government to contract non-union labor for federal construction projects and would permit bonuses to employees who perform well. We suspect that if this agenda were ever implemented, we would marvel that we once did anything different.

‐ Rick Perry’s best shot at the Republican presidential nomination came in 2012, but he started the race late, and did it while taking pain medication to recover from back surgery. He became a punch line after losing his train of thought during a debate. This year, he ran a more serious campaign — measured in terms of impressive speeches and well-designed policy proposals, and not in terms of money. Perry was a highly successful governor of Texas from 2000 through 2015, but he was unable to overcome the memory of his previous campaign and the media’s obsession with Donald Trump. His concession speech invoked the consolations of faith, family, and an impressive record. Another consolation should be that those who paid attention to his campaign over the last few months had a chance to see the qualities that made him such a force in his home state.

‐ In his stump speech, Bernie Sanders, senator from left field, notes that while the official unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, if one counts those who have stopped looking for work or who are scraping by on part-time, it is actually over 10 percent. The youth-unemployment rate, calculated the same way, is even worse: 33 percent for whites, 51 percent for blacks. “We are turning our backs,” Sanders says, “on an entire generation of young people!” Who would “we” be? Sanders doesn’t say, but Barack Obama, who has been president since January 2009, and Harry Reid, who was Senate majority leader for most of that time, come to mind. (Nancy Pelosi helped them as House speaker for two years.) Sanders is running against the economic record of the party whose nomination he seeks. As well he should — it’s a terrible record.

‐ The nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, receives much of its funding from the federal government. Pro-lifers have always wanted to cut it off, and they want to all the more after a series of videos exposed its involvement in selling the organs of aborted fetuses for a profit — among other grisly revelations. They want a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded when the fiscal year ends on September 30 to include a provision denying federal funds to the organization. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are afraid that adding that provision will cause a government shutdown. Their fear is understandable but excessive. Republicans should take some time to make the case for an end to Planned Parenthood funding and let the Democrats block it. There is nothing to be gained from preemptively capitulating to objections the Democrats have not yet had any occasion to make.

‐ More than 50 intelligence analysts at the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained to the inspector general that their reports on the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have been systematically altered by senior officials. The intelligence has been contorted, they allege, to conform to the public claims of President Obama and other officials that the administration’s strategy in Syria and Iraq — occasional air strikes in coordination with a reluctant “coalition” of Muslim governments and no competent ground forces — is making steady progress toward the goal of “degrading and ultimately defeating” the jihadists. In fact, the terrorists remain on the offensive, as the analysts say their pessimistic reports reflected until changed to toe the party line. The complaint charges that CENTCOM chiefs impose “Stalinist” discipline that readily produces propaganda rather than intelligence. Something is being degraded, all right.

‐ California’s legislature passed a bill legalizing assisted suicide for the terminally ill. In other countries where assisted suicide has been allowed, the scope of the license has been widened to include those not quite so ill or not quite so committed to dying. And it makes no sense to confine it to the terminally ill: Once we accept that suicide is an acceptable answer to suffering, why not offer the same opportunity to those with chronic but non-fatal ailments? Why not to those whose mental turmoil persistently bedevils them? We have never been great admirers of Governor Jerry Brown, but he would deserve great praise if he vetoed this bill.

‐ It appears that the White House — with much fanfare — traded five high-ranking Taliban prisoners for a soldier who was worse than a deserter. After months of additional investigation, the Army has charged Bowe Bergdahl with “misbehavior before the enemy,” an offense far more serious than mere desertion and one that carries the theoretical ultimate punishment of death. To prove misbehavior, the Army has to show not just that Bergdahl abandoned his post (that much seems clear), but also that he did so in a manner that was “shameful” or “cowardly” and endangered the safety of his unit. Given what we know of the facts of the case, this is an appropriate charge. When Bergdahl left his base, he knew that the military would launch a massive search operation, one that would place his fellow soldiers in harm’s way. That President Obama not only made but celebrated this prisoner swap will surely rank high on the list of his administration’s perversities.

‐ The Center for Immigration Studies released a new report showing that a majority (51 percent) of households headed by immigrants use at least one welfare program, such as Medicaid, food aid, housing programs, and cash assistance — much higher than the rate for the native-born (30 percent). More worrisome, three-fourths of the immigrant households using welfare were headed by legal immigrants to the United States. Why are America’s immigration policies importing so many people who require government assistance to survive? Enthusiasts have long touted the net benefits of mass immigration: More new young workers will stabilize social-welfare programs and slow the aging of the American work force. But if that’s the rationale, why not admit only those men and women who can unambiguously stand on their own feet rather than collect benefits?

‐ Some years after the fact, there is a movement afoot to punish bankers as criminals in retribution for the financial crisis. Barack Obama’s Justice Department has circulated a memo, largely symbolic, instructing lawyers to target individuals for prosecution, as opposed to its current practice of targeting corporations as a whole, which normally ends in a settlement. The New York Times says that Justice is “stung by years of criticism that it has coddled Wall Street criminals.” There is a great deal of question-begging in that characterization: Who, exactly, are the criminals going unpunished? The SEC has brought actions against, among others, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, and UBS for actions related to the financial crisis — most of them weak cases involving nebulous disclosure standards — and reached settlements in the tens or low hundreds of millions. What the DOJ is doing — and what the Elizabeth Warren element has been successful in pressuring it to do — is politicizing prosecutions. The financial crisis was caused in the main by bad investments and bad public policy, not by criminal maneuvering. In cases where there were actual crimes committed, such as Ebrahim Shabudin’s falsification of records at United Commercial Bank, DOJ has shown itself to be an able enough prosecutor. But in those cases it has been looking for criminals, not scapegoats.

‐ Frustrated by its inability to gain traction in the legislative arena, the anti–Second Amendment Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) has elected to move into vigilantism. “If you see someone carrying a firearm in public — openly or concealed — and have ANY doubts about their intent,” a recent press release from the group suggested, you should “call 911 immediately and ask police to come to the scene.” In so doing, the group has increased the possibility that innocent Americans will be killed. In theory, the aim is to annoy both the police and the carriers into submission, and thus to demonstrate to the political class that protecting the right to bear arms is not worth their time. In practice, the tactic is likely to provoke a lethal confrontation. Last year, a 22-year old black man named John Crawford III was gunned down by police in an Ohio Walmart after a shopper saw him holding a toy gun and exaggerated during his call to 911. At the time, critics observed that there were few things more likely to lead to a fatal error than to send a police officer into danger under false pretenses. If CSGV wants to see less gun violence, it has picked a curious way to bring it about.

‐ More than 30 major American cities are witnessing a spike in murder rates, the New York Times reports. Compared with the first eight months of 2014, murders are up 22 percent this year in New Orleans, 44 percent in Washington, D.C., 56 percent in Baltimore, and 60 percent in St. Louis. The spike comes after two decades of virtually uninterrupted decline, largely thanks to data-driven crime prevention that made it possible for police departments to target resources and personnel toward known crime hotspots. But amid a national debate about police tactics in the wake of events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere, there is strong anecdotal evidence that antagonistic attitudes toward law enforcement have caused police officers or entire departments to reduce their presence in high-crime areas, for fear of anti-cop violence, or for fear of becoming the next headline. The extent to which this “Ferguson effect” is responsible for rising murder rates is unclear: Murder rates were rising in St. Louis before the death of Michael Brown in August of last year, and shootings were on the increase in Baltimore before the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in April. What is clear is that anti-cop agitators wanted the police to be less aggressive; it looks like they’re getting their wish.

‐ The Marines have rediscovered a truth that everyone except radical feminists has known for the entirety of human history: Men are physically stronger than women. A nine-month study of mixed-sex infantry units has revealed that, under simulated combat conditions, they underperform all-male units in every key category. They’re slower, less accurate, less able to evacuate casualties, and less able to engage the enemy with accurate fire. In the real world, this would mean more dead Americans and a greater enemy advantage on the battlefield. So, does this end the Obama administration’s experiment with mixed-sex infantry? Hardly. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has vowed to continue integrating combat units. Social justice cares not for facts, or combat-effectiveness.

‐ Representative Jared Polis (D., Colo.) suggested during a House hearing that all college students accused of sexual assault should be expelled — even if they probably are not guilty. “Even if there’s a 20 to 30 percent chance that it happened, I would want to remove this individual,” Polis said. Reversing William Blackstone’s famous formulation, he continued: “If there’s ten people who have been accused, and under a reasonable-likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all ten people.” There is no campus-rape epidemic: Women on college campuses are less likely to suffer that crime than are women in other environments, and rape as a whole is in statistical decline, and has been for years. This is how campus hysteria makes its way to Congress, where it animates policy thinking, in this case with an idea that would turn the entirety of the Anglo-American criminal-law tradition on its head. We’ll stick with “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” — in a court of law, which is where rape cases belong.

‐ “Crisis” is an apt word for what is presently unfolding in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of migrants are pouring into central Europe by land and by sea, marking the largest movement of peoples into the Continent since the end of World War II. Some are refugees from war-torn Syria. Many more are migrants leaving poverty-stricken countries in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa in pursuit of better prospects abroad. Migrants crossing into Hungary or washing up on the shores of Greece are pushing westward toward Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Hungary, which has become a staging ground for migrants, has declared a state of emergency and closed its border with Serbia, and Germany, after initially calling for openness to the flood of migrants, has closed its borders as well. Still, Germany expects 1 million people to settle there by the end of the year, suggesting that multiple millions could be in Europe by Christmas. And many more are likely to arrive in the years to come. Classicists might recall that “crisis” traditionally referred to a turning point, a decisive moment; surely that is what this is for Europe. Without decisive action to turn back migrants, Europe will undergo a demographic transformation that will radically alter the social and cultural landscape of the Continent, not to mention worsen its already bleak finances. Yet European leaders, heavily invested in their transnational experiment, seem willing to accept that. There is no reason that the United States should. Difficult as it may be, calls for America to accept large numbers of migrants, especially Syrian refugees, should be rebuffed. The United States can offer aid to refugee camps, but it should not follow Europe’s self-destructive course.

An Epidemic of Loneliness

For more than a hundred years, economists and sociologists have studied an empirical regularity: When the population share of Protestants relative to Catholics rises, suicides increase markedly. Two major theories emerged to explain the pattern. The first rests on theological differences, and holds that Catholics but not Protestants are dissuaded from suicide by the fear that it will lead to eternal damnation. The second is that Protestants are more likely to have weaker ties to the community, and it is this separation from the support of a community that leads to despair and suicide.

While the early literature focused on these two competing forms of Christianity, researchers have begun to explore religion and the role of community more generally. As time has gone on, the community-based rather than theological explanation seems to have become more widely accepted in the literature. For instance, research has found that while Protestants commit suicide more than Catholics, atheists are even more likely to take their own lives than Protestants, an observation that would favor the community-based rather than theological channel.

The idea that community may be an important factor is certainly not a new one. Emile Durkheim’s seminal 1897 monograph Suicide documented that individualism and low levels of community involvement could explain why adherents of certain religious denominations were more likely to commit suicide than others. Studies that use modern data sources and statistics have largely confirmed this notion. One study of 24 EU countries finds that high levels of social capital decrease suicides associated with job loss by 19 percent. Another study examines the possibility of a role for a “sociological channel” in suicide and finds strong evidence that high levels of social cohesion diminish suicide risk even after one controls for a variety of factors, including the frequency of mental and physical illness.

Which brings us to today’s America. With religion on the decline and community engagement waning, the century-old literature might suggest that a surge in suicide could be in store for us. Sadly, the data provide chilling confirmation that the trend is already visible. Americans are bowling alone, and dying alone.

The increase in the incidence of suicide observed in recent years is truly astonishing. Suicide data from the Centers for Disease Control and automotive-fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that, in each year since 2009, suicides have killed more Americans than car accidents. In 2013, fatalities from suicides outnumbered those from car accidents by 25 percent, 41,149 to 32,719. It wasn’t always so: In 1975, fatalities from car accidents outnumbered fatalities from suicides by 64 percent, 44,525 to 27,063. If each of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. continues to grow at the rate it has averaged since 1999, when this surge in suicides began, by 2024 more Americans will die from suicide than from flu and pneumonia combined.

The human cost of this tragic increase is unfathomable, yet the surge in suicide has barely received mention in public-policy circles. And even its narrow economic costs are far larger than we generally realize. The chart below shows how the economic burden of fatalities from suicide has evolved between 1975 and 2013 and how it compares with that of automobile accidents. To convert statistics on fatalities into statistics on their economic burden, we use a rule of thumb, developed based on automotive data, that estimates the value of a life at $2.23 million in 2013 dollars. Public policies that save a life are commonly discussed when policymakers discuss automobile safety — and for good reason. At the start of our sample, automobile fatalities cost Americans more than $100 billion per year (in 2013 dollars). In the case of automobiles, these high costs set in motion decades of aggressive research and regulation. The chart indicates that the economic burden of suicide fatalities now approaches the economic burden of automobile fatalities in the days when the latter’s steep toll catalyzed, for instance, the widespread adoption of the passenger airbag.

As Protestantism spread and Catholicism declined in Europe, individuals found themselves increasingly separated from the community support mechanisms that could help sustain them in difficult times. Suicides surged. Today’s coarsening world is having a similar effect on far too many. Suicide has become an urgent public-health crisis with astronomical economic costs.

‐ The British national anthem has a line hoping that the monarch is “long to reign over us.” It has come to pass. Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952. Sixty-three years later (to be very specific about it, 23,226 days, 16 hours, and approximately 30 minutes later) she overtook her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. Her marriage to Prince Philip has lasted 67 years, even longer. They have embodied the claim made long ago by Walter Bagehot that monarchy has to be dignified and efficient. From Winston Churchill onward, the queen has known twelve prime ministers, all of whom speak of her wisdom and the example she sets of service to the public. She gives no interviews, so her solemn expression at grand ceremonial occasions and her smile when a horse of hers wins a race are the only available evidence of an inner self that seems as constant as it is admirable.

‐ The British Labour party lost the last election to the Conservatives because its policies were too socialist for the electorate. About 5 million Labour voters have defected. So the party had the bright idea of letting anyone join it and vote for its leader for a fee of just three pounds. This loose arrangement may help explain how the half-million members chose Jeremy Corbyn. A 66-year-old backbencher in Parliament, he stands for yesterday’s vision of revolutionary socialism. His program involves nationalization of banks and services, avoiding austerity by printing money, raising taxes, abandoning the British nuclear deterrent and NATO, and, in time, scrapping the monarchy and private education. An experienced agitator, he is chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament stalwart, and a friend of Hamas and Hezbollah. Ten shadow-cabinet ministers immediately resigned. Let’s hope that Labour voters show the same sense.

‐ Australia’s conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, has been replaced by his multimillionaire communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in an internal Liberal-party coup. Turnbull thus becomes the fifth prime minister of Oz since 2009 and the third to get the job as the result of such a coup (or “spill”). Australia was named coup capital of the world by the BBC, and commentators started worrying whether Down Under isn’t becoming less stable than Egypt or Iraq. It isn’t, but the coup will have some bad effects all the same. Abbott had his faults. He disappointed supporters by abandoning plans to repeal an anti-free-speech provision in Aussie law. He lost the surefooted leadership touch he had shown as opposition leader, and he committed a series of trivial gaffes that weakened him in the public mind. But he got the big things right: He “stopped the boats” bringing migrants to Australia, and in doing so he saved thousands of lives. He negotiated free-trade agreements with Japan, South Korea, and China. And he managed to keep employment growing when Australia’s terms of trade were heading south with the fall in commodity prices. Turnbull has his virtues: He has conservative instincts on economic policy and a sterling record in business. But he’s pretty much a limousine liberal on most other issues. The campaign of sniping and leaks his allies conducted against Abbott succeeded by 55 to 45 votes in the parliamentary caucus, but it left a bitter aftertaste. Liberal rank-and-file members have been bombarding party headquarters with messages of anger, shame, and rejection, by margins of 95 to 5 percent. Turnbull will now try to mend fences with Abbott loyalists by promising to stick with most of his policies. He’s helped by Abbott’s discouraging any talk of revenge. Even so, Australian Liberals might be divided by these events for almost as long as the British Tories were by the defenestration of Thatcher.

‐ The leader of the political opposition in Venezuela is Leopoldo López. He has been a prisoner of his country’s chavista government since February 2014. He has now been sentenced to 13 years and 9 months, after the kind of trial they used to have in the Soviet Union, and still do in Cuba and China. Extending his arms to the bailiff who would shackle him, López said, “These handcuffs will be removed by the Venezuelan people.” López is one of the most inspiring people in the democratic world. Even as a political prisoner, he is energetic and unbowed. His motto is, “El que se cansa, pierde,” or “He who tires, loses.” If only the thugs who run his country would tire.

‐ A Chilean legislator and former government minister named Felipe Kast went to Havana, to spend some time with relatives who live there. While in Havana, he walked with the Ladies in White, the human-rights group. He explained, “The Ladies in White have spent a long time suffering violent arrests simply for demonstrating peacefully in favor of human rights in Cuba. On my visit to Cuba, the least I could do was accompany them on their Sunday walk.” Along with the rest of them, Kast was beaten and arrested by the Castros’ security forces. (They didn’t know who he was.) A democrat who lives in a free country, Kast demonstrated his solidarity with democrats who live in an unfree country. This is a marked contrast with U.S. lawmakers, such as Jeff Flake and Pat Leahy, who go to Cuba to schmooze with the regime, ignoring the people who need our attention and support.

‐ Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion as “non-overlapping magisteria,” advising the biologists and the physicists to stay in their lane and the priests and the rabbis to stay in theirs. Lawrence Krauss, physicist, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and fanatical atheist, ought to have considered that advice; instead, he published a boneheaded and error-ridden essay in The New Yorker headlined “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists.” (Canon Nicolaus Copernicus and Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel may have felt differently, to say nothing of Father Georges Lemaître, et al.) In abominating Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, he claims that Christians seek license “to break the law,” as though the practice of religious accommodation weren’t an ancient feature of American law, and argues that the scientific spirit of open inquiry is incompatible with religion — as though there weren’t a library’s worth of evidence to the contrary. He mischaracterizes Senator Rand Paul as a vessel of apostolic fervor (Senator Paul is in fact a Presbyterian of moderate views who frankly confesses doubts about his faith) and suggests that these religious views (which Senator Paul does not hold) — rather than the libertarian tendency for which the surname “Paul” serves as a shorthand in American politics — explain the senator’s endorsement of accommodations for people in Davis’s situation. As with the hilarious errors of Neil deGrasse Tyson and the tiresome politicking of Bill Nye, Professor Krauss provides a reminder that expertise is generally non-transferable.

‐ Jill Stuart, a British expert on space politics, objects that a plaque on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, launched in 1972, sends the wrong message to prospective space aliens. It features a line drawing of “a man raising his hand in a very manly fashion while a woman stands behind him, appearing all meek and submissive,” Stuart says, according to the Guardian. Her description is wrong: The woman is standing beside the man, not behind him. As for “weak and submissive,” Stuart is reading a great deal into the posture of someone who’s just standing there. In any case, “we really need to rethink . . . any messages we are sending out now,” she insists. “Attitudes have changed so much in just 40 years.” If history is any guide, they will have changed 40 years from now, too, and nothing will appear more dated than the present political fashion that Stuart exemplifies.

‐ In 2011, a California schoolteacher began penalizing students who used the phrase “God bless you” after someone sneezed. That teacher was a trendsetter. The next year, Canada, ever eager to suppress free speech, banned “Bless you,” “OMG,” “Thank heavens,” and (for some reason) “Cheers” from government offices. In true Canadian fashion, a spokesman explained: “Though no one has been offended by these phrases yet, the notion that someone could be offended is something we’re trying to prevent.” Last year, a Tennessee high-school senior was suspended for saying “God bless you” after her teacher had banned “godly speaking”; a Georgia professor threatened students who used the phrase with “disciplinary action”; and a New Hampshire election volunteer was dismissed for saying it to voters. Now a Texas professor has included use of the “GBY”-phrase after a sneeze in a list of forbidden “disruptive behaviors.” Defenders protest that he is not a proselytizing atheist but merely a fusspot, and the ban is part of a wider rule against talking in class. In any case, students will increasingly be protected from the scourge of having God’s blessings sought for them.

‐ One of Yale’s residential colleges is named for John C. Calhoun, class of 1804. The South Carolinian, who was elected to Congress six years after graduating, began his long political career as a nationalist. Very soon, however, he became a partisan of slavery, the South, and disunion (he equated the three). James Madison, who opposed Calhoun’s efforts to nullify a tariff in 1832, wrote that he aimed “to create a disgust with the union, and then to open a way out of it.” Although Calhoun died in 1850, his arguments and the considerable mental energy he poured into them helped assure Confederates that what they were doing was legal and right. The Yale administration has urged a campus-wide debate over whether to rename the college. That raises the deep question of how much history should be sanitized. If Yale keeps the name, it must keep in mind its son’s legacy: four years of war, three quarters of a million dead.

‐ Marching briskly past the point of self-parody, school administrators sent a little girl home with a stern note to her parents. They said Laura had brought a dangerous and disturbing object to school in violation of policy: her Wonder Woman lunchbox. “The dress code we have established requests that children not bring violent images into the building in any fashion,” administrators wrote Laura’s parents. “We have defined ‘violent characters’ as those that solve problems using violence. Superheroes certainly fall into that category.” The front of the offending lunchbox contained a close-up image of the heroine; the reverse side was a classic drawing of Wonder Woman holding her Lasso of Truth. Feminists have spent three generations preaching the virtues of strong female role models (Wonder Woman graced the cover of the first issue of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine), but in 2015 liberal fainting-couch sensibilities on violence take precedence. Wonder Woman was said to be “as lovely as Aphrodite” and “as wise as Athena.” Too bad she didn’t have a Lasso of Good Sense and Proportion.

‐ Michael Derrick Hudson, of Fort Wayne, Ind., wrote a poem called “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” and sent it to no fewer than 40 publications. All of them turned it down. So Hudson changed the byline from his actual name to “Yi-Fen Chou,” and that did the trick. What had sounded like a rambling stream of consciousness became pearls of Oriental wisdom, and Hudson’s opus not only was accepted by the prestigious poetry journal Prairie Schooner but was chosen for the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry by the highly respected author Sherman Alexie — at which point Hudson revealed his true identity. Alexie, an American Indian, admitted sheepishly that “I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American. . . . I am a brown-skinned poet who gave a better chance to another supposed brown-skinned poet because of our brownness.” And they say modern poetry has no rules.

‐ Precocious pop warbler Taylor Swift’s video for her new song “Wildest Dreams” unfolds on a movie set located on the African veldt. She and her handsome co-star act, flirt, canoodle, and fight, with a menagerie of charismatic megafauna — giraffes, lions, hippos, etc. — appearing as extras. The whole production has a 1950s vibe, and this, combined with its lack of visible black cast members, has inspired predictable complaints that Swift has “romanticized colonialism” (NPR commentator Clutch). Including a few Africans wouldn’t have helped, though; her previous video had black male and female dancers, which got her in trouble for, respectively, “perpetuating black stereotypes” (rapper Earl Sweatshirt) and “play[ing] on the historic, racist mythology about black women’s sexuality” (music critic Jessica Hopper). Shortly before that, when the black rapper Nicki Minaj whined about not having been nominated for a Video Music Award, Swift posted a conciliatory tweet and was furiously slapped down for not condemning “the hypocrisy of an industry that profits from the commercialisation of parts of African American culture without rewarding the creators of those trends” (the Guardian’s Tshepo Mokoena). None of this publicity will harm Swift’s sales, but it’s clear that everything she creates can now be called racist, by either omission or commission.


Defusing the Deal

The president has failed to comply with the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, co-authored by Senators Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D., Md.), and Congress should express the strongest possible disapproval — of the president’s deal, and of the lawlessness that has accompanied it.

Under the Corker-Cardin legislation, the administration was responsible for submitting to Congress the entire Iran deal, “including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements . . . and any related agreements,” within five days of the finalized agreement. That July 19 deadline is long past, and news of secret side deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to emerge. The administration has tried to argue that these agreements are immaterial. This claim is irrelevant — the statute still requires disclosure — and false. Reports make clear that these deals pertain directly to the enforcement-and-inspection regime that is the heart of the deal. The administration refuses to release the full text of the agreement simply because its terms would prove embarrassing.

The president has disregarded the terms of the law he signed, and Congress should not abide by those terms of Corker-Cardin as if he had. Republicans in the House rightly pressed this argument with their leaders, and a vote on the deal under Corker-Cardin was replaced with votes on three resolutions: one — authored by Representative Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), who has been stalwart on this question — declaring that President Obama violated Corker-Cardin; a second barring President Obama from suspending sanctions against Iran; and a third “approving” the Iran deal. The first two resolutions passed along party lines; the vote to “approve” was defeated, with 25 House Democrats coming out against the deal.

The Senate, unfortunately, didn’t follow the House’s lead. It tried to hold a vote of disapproval on the deal under Corker-Cardin, but Democrats blocked it with a filibuster. As we went to press, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was pushing to make the Iran deal conditional on Iran’s recognition of Israel and release of American hostages, a measure that Democrats would inevitably block, too. None of this has any practical effect in the short term. The president can continue to pursue his executive agreement, and, barring decisive congressional action, he has broad statutory discretion to waive sanctions. But the votes will set the table for continued opposition to the deal. The public is strongly against the deal, and continued congressional opposition will sustain this sentiment. A concerted public effort to deny the deal legitimacy will create uncertainty abroad, and perhaps discourage foreign nations from doing business with Iran. It will also suggest to Israel and the Gulf Arab states that, while the Obama administration has embraced a policy of surrender, that policy could change when it ends. Diminished legitimacy in the eyes of foreign nations will make it easier for a Republican president to dismantle the agreement.

Republicans cannot stop President Obama from making a non-binding executive agreement with Iran, and they cannot stop other nations from taking harmful steps in reliance on it. But they can make it clear that the current administration owns it, and that, should a Republican win the White House, it will not survive past January 19, 2017.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


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National Review


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