Since 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has received federal funds through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to administer a nationwide network of organizations that aid victims of human trafficking with shelter, food, counseling, and other services. This fall, the group’s application for a grant was denied in favor of three other organizations, though two of these scored significantly lower than the USCCB in an independent review commissioned by HHS. Preference was given, administration officials explained, to organizations offering referrals for “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care,” i.e. contraception and abortion, which the USCCB does not provide. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), in hearings investigating the politicization of the grant process, has accused HHS of anti-Catholic bias, but any religious or secular institution that shares the bishops’ principles is liable to face similar discrimination under an administration whose commitment to promoting abortion outweighs its concern for the real needs of victims.
Andrew Cuomo looked like he was rebranding the family name, as well as Democratic politics in New York State, and possibly the nation: He was a social liberal, committed to same-sex marriage, but a fiscal hawk. “You are kidding yourself if you think you can be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation . . . and have a rosy economic future,” he said as recently as this fall. Turns out the only people who were kidding themselves were those who believed his prudent noises. A temporary surcharge on high incomes was allowed to lapse as scheduled. But in its place Cuomo and the legislature imposed new “progressive” tax brackets. The surcharge was in effect reduced but made permanent. Cuomo explained the new brackets by saying that the state faced “a different economic reality than anyone could have anticipated.” Same political reality that every New Yorker anticipated, though.
Confounding all expectations, British prime minister David Cameron seems to have discovered his spine, in refusing to kowtow to Franco-German demands for reorganizing the eurozone in a way that would further erode British sovereignty and — probably the deciding factor — put the City of London, the financial powerhouse of Europe, at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis its Continental competitors. Proposed amendments to the EU treaty forging greater fiscal integration would require British assent. Cameron was thought likely to go along with treaty changes in exchange for the giving of leeway to Britain to protect its financial sector, but it was clear that the concessions he would require would not be acceptable to the other members of the EU — and so he refused. Cameron’s “No” may have disruptive consequences in the rest of Europe: Without British support, European economic coordination — meaning, among other things, shadow bailouts for the spendthrift south — will become more difficult. Without the palliative of German money, German fiscal discipline may create social disorder in more places than Greece. But Cameron has sensibly declined to sacrifice the well-being of Britons for the well-being of Greeks, an important victory for those who think of the United Kingdom as a nation rather than an administrative subdivision of the European Union.
The world is living a high-class thriller, but is still at the stage of having to use imagination to decipher the plot. The one clear clue is the setting: Iran. Events turn on the nuclear program that the Iranians are asking everyone to believe is peaceful but according to many intelligence services is developing a nuclear weapon. Stuxnet and Duqu are anonymous cyber attacks that have destroyed essential equipment. About half a dozen Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered or disabled, one of them Dariush Rezaei, said to have been very senior. Mysterious explosions have marked the past 18 months, one of them at a missile base near Khorramabad and another 30 miles west of Tehran. This latter destroyed a sprawling complex of buildings and killed Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, the head of the country’s missile program. Grief-stricken, the Iranian establishment turned up for his funeral. Is all this accident and coincidence, or might it be war, and if so, who is waging it? Suspects include American agencies — perhaps the very one that just lost a drone in Iran — and Israel, whose public figures are prone to attribute what’s happening to divine intervention. The subject matter is too dramatic even to begin sketching the ending.