The real news from Wisconsin is union members putting in all that unpaid overtime.
So far, most of the presidential jockeying in the Republican party has been at the back of the pack. Sen. John Thune folded his campaign, wisely. Thune is a good man, but one term in the Senate and a base in South Dakota do not make for a powerful résumé. Newt Gingrich, who is expected to form an exploratory committee, lacks proportion rather than power. He is an ever-bubbling font of ideas, and a bold, if erratic, political strategist. He will have to show that he can make the jump in leadership skills from the House to the White House (there were times, in his tenure as speaker, when running the Republican majority seemed beyond him). He will find it nearly impossible to wage a faith-based campaign carrying the baggage of two messy divorces. His third marriage and his conversion to Catholicism may win him points in Heaven, but there are no primaries there. We hope he enlivens the debate and we wish him, as always, well.
Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is getting a bad rap from some conservatives. They fault him for not backing Republicans in the legislature, whose efforts to enact a right-to-work law in the state prompted their Democratic colleagues to flee as in Wisconsin. It is true that Daniels’s initial comments were far too indulgent of the Democrats’ tactics. But if he is right in thinking that a fight over the right to work would reduce his chances of enacting an ambitious education overhaul including school choice, then his lack of enthusiasm makes sense. Private-sector unionism, which the right-to-work law would challenge, is already declining. Daniels has already, by executive order, abolished collective bargaining in the public sector. His education reforms would, among other good things, further weaken public-sector unions. On labor issues, the governor is not so much calling a truce as picking his battles.
We expect Rahm Emanuel to give new meaning to the term “swearing in.” The Second City’s second favorite son, Emanuel is the next mayor of Chicago. Overcoming a crowded field and pesky residency challenges, Emanuel won with a ubiquitous ground game — stumping at L stops and supermarkets from Wrigleyville to the far South Side — a formidable war chest, and a generic something-for-everyone platform. He even managed to avoid an April runoff by securing a clean majority, his White House connections helping him amass an amazing 59 percent of the city’s black vote (compare with Daley the Younger, who got just 8 percent his first time out). We knew the former ballerino could dance the White Swan that is campaigning, but governing Chicago will call for sterner stuff. The city is facing a 15 percent ($500 million) budget hole that is growing even as Emanuel plans his transition. Fixing it will require taking on the city’s bloated public sector, following the lead of Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany. Is Mayor Rahm up to it? We know he has a reputation for toughness, but the Chicago unions aren’t run by the Girl Scouts, either.
President Obama proposed to make his health-care law more palatable by giving states more flexibility — of a type. The law enables states to apply for waivers from some of its requirements starting in 2017. Now Obama supports legislation to allow waiver applications starting in 2014. The federal government would grant these waivers if the states showed that their alternative plans would provide as much coverage to as many people as Obamacare. In effect, as Pres. George W. Bush’s health secretary Michael Leavitt points out, Obama is saying that states will soon get permission to ask for permission from the feds to set their own health policies. But it’s worse than that, since the standards for granting a waiver would privilege more left-wing alternatives to Obamacare. Many conservative proposals would enable the market to develop cheap insurance options that cover catastrophic health expenses. These proposals would not provide as much coverage as Obamacare even if they ensure the same access to care; and since these proposals would leave people free not to purchase even the cheap insurance, it could not be proven that they would benefit as many people as more intrusive plans. A state that wants to set up a single-payer system within its borders will face no such obstacles. In the guise of moving to the center, President Obama would make his health-care plan even more government-centric than it already is.
Gladys Kessler became the third federal judge to rule that Obamacare’s individual mandate is constitutional (two judges have ruled to the contrary). To her credit, she rejects the administration’s claim that the taxing power gives Congress the authority to issue the mandate. Like every other judge to consider the issue, she concludes that the mandate is not a tax. She makes two other arguments for the constitutionality of the mandate. The first is that the law does not, as the critics say, impermissibly regulate the “inactivity” of getting health insurance. Rather it regulates the “mental activity” of deciding not to get insurance. Judge Kessler’s argument sounds absurd because it is. Obamacare, whatever its other flaws, cannot regulate mental processes and does not purport to do so. It commands an action and prohibits inactivity, just as the critics say. Second, she denies that this regulation creates a precedent for all sorts of intrusive government edicts. She says health care presents special circumstances: Congress has required hospitals to serve all comers in emergencies, and can therefore levy a mandate to keep people from taking advantage of the hospitals. But the circumstance is special only because Congress has made it so. What Kessler is saying is that if the federal government involves itself in a field, it can do anything it wants within that field (other than violate an explicit constitutional guarantee). Rather than refuting conservatives’ fears, she is illustrating them.
At press time, Congress seems likely to pass a bill funding the government for an additional two weeks beyond March 4, when funding would otherwise run out. The bill will include spending cuts that Republicans demanded — a sign that Senate Democrats feel at least some vulnerability on the issue of government profligacy. Extending funding again, ideally with a bill that makes deeper cuts and lasts for the rest of the fiscal year, will be more challenging. The conventional wisdom holds that an impasse leading to a government shutdown would hurt the Republicans. In part that’s because the executive branch would speak with one voice, while congressional Republicans would be all over the lot. So it is disconcerting to see Republican cacophony in advance of any political crisis. Republican leaders are saying that they do not want a shutdown. Other Republicans are saying that voters would blame the Democrats for a shutdown; still others that nobody would mind or even notice one. The right course, in our judgment, is to explain patiently and frequently that there will be no shutdown so long as the Democrats agree to sensible spending cuts. The more Republicans broadcast their willingness to see a shutdown, the more likely it is that they will be blamed for one.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the administration now believes that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and will not defend it in court. Its constitutional reasoning is spurious. The portion of the act Holder discussed defines marriage, for the purposes of federal law, as the union of a man and a woman. Whether marriage law should have these parameters is a matter about which the Constitution is silent. Holder’s move is nonetheless a step toward honesty, since it means that the administration will no longer be defending the act so halfheartedly as to sabotage its chances in court. But it is only a step, since Obama still refuses to say that he supports same-sex marriage and believes it to be a constitutional right, which is the obvious implication of his position. It is up to Republicans to explain to the public the full truth about the administration’s stance, which is that it cannot be counted on to defend marriage or the Constitution.
How Will We Face the Worst?
Civilized societies are held together not just by laws but by customs, standards, and social norms. Yet how far are we from Hobbesian anarchy? If some great crisis or emergency hit, would people help one another, even at great cost to themselves? Or would it be every man for himself? Some evidence can be gained from a fascinating new study by economists Bruno Frey, David Savage, and Benno Torgler. The authors painstakingly gathered data on every passenger who was on board the RMS Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. The ship struck an iceberg but sank almost three hours later, giving passengers and crew ample time to reveal their true character.
The nearby chart indicates that strong character was indeed evident on the sinking ship. While the overall survival rate of passengers was just 32 percent, the survival rate for women with children (under 16 years of age) was a whopping 95 percent. Women aboard the Titanic who did not have children survived at a lower rate, only 71 percent, and the survival rate for men was only 21 percent.
While women with children were highly likely to survive, the overall survival rate of children was only 48 percent. An anecdote from survivor George Harder suggests a possible cause of this relatively low rate. According to Harder, John Jacob Astor saw a young boy kicked off a boat because he was not considered a child. Astor snatched a woman’s hat, put it on the fellow’s head, and then pushed him into a lifeboat, saying, “Here little girl, climb in.” The social norm of “women and children first” probably cost many teenage boys their lives.
First-class passengers were much more likely to survive than those in third class. This, however, may simply have reflected the fact that the lifeboats were situated on the upper decks. Interestingly, most crew members were English, and they did not favor the English, or even themselves, over other passengers.
All told, the new data indicate that traditional values played an enormously important role in determining the survival of Titanic passengers. The worst moments can, indeed, bring out the best in us.
This issue includes the conclusion of a debate over same-sex marriage in which our managing editor, Jason Lee Steorts, argues first that the government’s treatment of the emotional union of adults can and should be separated from its treatment of relationships that involve children, and second that in respect of the emotional quality of a relationship there is no essential difference between same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Sherif Girgis, making the case for marriage as the union of husband and wife, has to our mind the better of the argument — although we applaud, as we assume Girgis would, Steorts’s humanitarian motives. We add only that in practice a public policy that gently steers people who are so inclined to form the comprehensive union that traditional marriage is supposed to be is most likely to serve the public interest in ensuring that children are reared in circumstances conducive to their flourishing. We doubt that any legal regime governing the treatment of children after they have been produced can reliably serve this interest, let alone with as little intrusion into properly private matters. We join (again presumably) both debaters in favoring a tightening of divorce laws and the public and private encouragement of marriage as the context in which children should be reared; and commend both for discussing the issue with a degree of civility and intelligence that has too often been absent from the public conversation.
The House passed an amendment, authored by Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, to deny family-planning funds to organizations that commit abortions. His proposal is being described colloquially as “the defund Planned Parenthood bill.” It is also being described, by liberals, as a “war on family planning” or simply “on women.” They claim that its result would be to deny women access to contraception, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and other non-abortion-related services. But the law offers Planned Parenthood and its fans two ways to solve this problem if they consider it so dire: Either stop providing abortion in order to provide those other services with federal help, or continue to abort without that help. The organization has no legal or moral entitlement not to have to make that choice.
Days before their scheduled expiration, President Obama quietly signed a three-month reauthorization of three Patriot Act provisions. Weeks earlier, several new House Republicans stunned their leadership by banding with left-wing Democrats to deny the votes needed to pass the reauthorization in a streamlined procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. But with the clock winding down, the measure passed decisively (275â€’144) and moved quickly through the Senate. The provisions permit roving wiretaps against foreign operatives, the inspection of business records relevant to terrorist activity, and investigations of “lone wolf” terrorists. While there is certainly a case for addressing federal overreach, national security is not the context for it. These Patriot precautions do not unduly burden Americans and have been essential to protecting the nation from a reprise of 9/11.
Another day, another Saudi jihadist on a student visa caught plotting a terrorist spree. Khalid Aldawsari, 20, was arrested in Texas after buying components to build chemical bombs and scoping out such targets as reservoirs, nuclear plants, the residences of U.S. soldiers who had served in Iraq, and the home of George W. Bush. It was the Bush State Department that responded to 9/11 (in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis) by dramatically increasing the number of Saudi student visas. Aldawsari was thus welcomed to study English as a second language before pursuing a chemical-engineering degree at Texas Tech. He then transferred to South Plains College in Lubbock — his classes and living expenses still paid for by a Saudi-based corporation. This scholarship, he wrote in his journal, “will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for Jihad. . . . And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad.” Thanks to a chemical supply company that became suspicious and alerted police about the shipments, there was no jihad . . . this time.
Not two years after declaring carbon dioxide a “pollutant,” the Obama administration’s EPA is considering cracking down on “PM10,” a category of “particulate matter” that includes farm dust. There’s no need to bore oneself with the details, but the bottom line is that a 2010 EPA report has suggested three different possible regulations: One would leave the standard as is; the second would adjust the criteria so that they target different areas but provide the same overall level of protection; and the third would be the same as the second, only more stringent. The problem with the second proposal is that it would place the regulations disproportionately on rural areas — areas where, by the EPA’s own admission, the evidence that PM10 causes bad health effects are weakest. (They’re also areas that are naturally dusty, and so anti-dust efforts there entail declaring war on the wind.) The third option, meanwhile, is ridiculously overprotective, setting a PM10 level at which no study has found an effect, even a statistically insignificant effect. So the EPA now wants to regulate both the carbon dioxide we exhale and the dust on our shoes. You can’t deny they’re comprehensive.
Here’s another profile in civility: Tom Luna, the Republican superintendent of Idaho public schools, recently introduced an education-reform bill to the state legislature. The legislation gradually eliminates tenure, erodes seniority privileges, and increases the number of charter schools — all of which teachers’ unions dread. In response, they’ve gone Wisconsin on Luna. One thousand people protested the bill outside the state capitol. Hundreds of students walked out of class. A teacher showed up at Luna’s mother’s home to register his dissatisfaction. And one particularly thuggish opponent vandalized Luna’s car, slashing its tires and painting graffiti on its side. “I think Luna’s probably getting the clue that . . . we’re all against it,” one student told the Idaho station KTVB. He is certainly getting an education about the nature of the unions.
Bill Clinton violated every standard of civil discourse — red-faced with rage, finger wagging, viciously smearing his opponents, lying and suborning lies — and so naturally has been selected to co-chair a new national institute on civil discourse, along with George H. W. Bush. Bill Clinton famously tried to blame the Oklahoma City bombing on Rush Limbaugh, so it makes a sort of perverted sense that he would jump on a project rooted in Democrats’ cynical attempt to pin the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an addled psychopath on tea-party protesters and their colorful signs. Meanwhile Democrats, who obviously have not yet availed themselves of the benefits to be had from this new bipartisan national treasure, are parading around Wisconsin waving Hitler signs and calling openly for the murder of Gov. Scott Walker, without a peep of criticism from Clinton — or from President Obama, whose only comment on the situation so far has been to cheer them merrily on. Bill Clinton was a lucky president in mostly happy years, and has been a rash on the body politic ever since.
Growing corn to make ethanol for fuel is such a bad idea that even Clinton has misgivings. At an Agriculture Department forum, the master triangulator said that although ethanol and other “biofuels” can (supposedly) help America “become energy independent,” “we don’t want to do it at the cost of food riots” in poor countries. While that puts the case entirely too weakly, we welcome the ex-president’s conversion to fiscal responsibility. The department’s chief economist says that 37 percent of U.S. corn production could be used for ethanol next year, under a massively wasteful program that combines a federal mandate with a tax credit and a tariff. Rural legislators have managed to keep the ethanol bubble inflated through years of attacks, but with a new spirit of thrift taking hold in Congress, even the mighty farm lobby may have to make its share of sacrifices.
Would you want a terrorist living in your neighborhood? In Berkeley, Calif., this is considered a difficult question. A resolution before the city council proposed inviting two released Guantanamo detainees to settle in the city, which “has a longstanding policy in support of peace and justice, including previously welcoming refugees from other countries who unjustly suffered imprisonment, torture and related traumatic experiences.” One member, who makes up the council’s tiny sensible caucus, voted against the measure; four were in favor, but the other four abstained, leaving it one vote short of a majority. We sympathize with the abstainers, who confronted a difficult choice — do something manifestly deranged, or face deranged voters’ wrath — and resolved it in classic Obamaesque fashion. The abstainers can always tell their constituents that they hesitated out of fear that the detainees would not be radical enough for Berkeley.
Whatever else happens in Libya, Moammar Qaddafi has definitely lost at least one of his comforts: Ukrainian nurse Galyna Kolotnytska, famously described in a Wikileaked cable from our Libyan embassy two years ago as “a voluptuous blonde” who was never far from his side. Ms. Kolotnytska is now back in her family’s apartment east of Kiev, refusing all interviews. She spent nine years in Qaddafi’s entourage. Whether her ministrations went beyond the strictly medical is not known. Qaddafi is reported to be a hypochondriac, and considering the number of domestic enemies he must have made in his murderous 42-year despotism, it is understandable that he wishes his closest attendants to be foreigners. No doubt Ms. Kolotnytska has tales to tell. Given Qaddafi’s track record of assassinating critics and opponents around the world, she would be wise to wait until he no longer holds power. May it be soon.
Said Musa, the Afghan Red Cross worker who was condemned to death for converting to Christianity, was released from prison after international appeals to save his life. Musa’s travails remind us that Afghanistan is a barbarous country populated in large part by barbarians. That does not mean they should be subjected to ideologies that worsen their condition, and while we fight to break the power of anti-American zealots, we should also be attentive to the welfare of ordinary Afghans. If Karzai feels too insecure to modify his sharia-based constitution, then he must expect arm-twisting from his American benefactors every time a new Daniel finds himself in the lions’ den.
The United States maintains the Central Command Naval Forces in the Arabian Sea. One of its tasks is to deal with the Somali pirates who are busy hijacking passing ships, especially oil tankers whose owners are prepared to pay millions of dollars in ransom. Somalia may be a failed state ravaged by Islamist terror and civil war, but a handful of big-time gangsters there know how to organize this extortion. Something like 50 ships and 800 captives are being detained right now. The latest victims are a retired couple from California, Jean and Scott Adam, and two friends of theirs, Phyllis Macay and Robert A. Riggle from Seattle. These four liked to sail to faraway places. They were held up at gunpoint in their yacht a couple of hundred miles off the coast of Oman. A U.S. ship arrived, and in the midst of negotiations a firefight broke out, during which two of the pirates were killed and their hostages were fatally wounded. Navy Seals were too late to save the four of them from death but did manage to capture the surviving pirates. The United States has been here before. In the early years of the Republic, it was usual to pay ransom for ships and crews seized by pirates. Thomas Jefferson persuaded Congress that force was “more economical and more honorable.” Powder and ball was the answer then; and helicopters and missiles are the answer now.
For reasons hard to fathom, President Obama is obsessed by Israeli settlement building on the West Bank. The Arabs of course play into this. The Palestinians see a pretext here for suspending peace negotiations until there is a complete building freeze — which they are unlikely to get and which would have the incidental effect of throwing thousands of Palestinian builders out of a job. One of the Arab ambassadors to the United Nations introduced a resolution in the Security Council condemning settlement building as illegal. President Obama spent 50 minutes pleading with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, to withdraw this resolution. Abbas has been boasting ever since about how he snubbed the president. When the resolution came before the Security Council, the U.S. hesitated, only to veto it in the end. Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the U.N., apologized for this and spoke about “the folly and illegitimacy” of Israeli settlement, condemning what she’d saved. The phrase usually attached to conduct of this sort is “getting the worst of both worlds.”
In the world of antiquity, it was universally known that even a lowly citizen of Rome traveled with the awesome might of the Senate and People of Rome behind him. Today, it’s clear that Americans do not enjoy the same courtesy. Not even diplomatic immunity spares them undue hindrance on the soil of a putative ally, as Raymond Davis has discovered. According to U.S. officials, Davis, a contractor for the CIA, shot dead two armed thieves in self-defense in Lahore, Pakistan, but has been detained by Pakistani authorities and put on trial for murder. This breach of international law is unpardonable. It is high time that Washington make plain to Islamabad that respect for the immunity of our diplomats is the least we expect, especially considering the vast sums of aid provided annually to the Pakistani government.
People living under dictatorship have the strange idea that they should have a different way of life. In China, dissidents have been calling for a “jasmine revolution.” In response, the authorities have, as usual, cracked heads. It is not enough merely to arrest people, as they have done; they beat them up. In Cuba, the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo seemed to be a danger to the Castro dictatorship. (Zapata was the prisoner of conscience who starved himself to death and became a rallying point for the opposition.) The dictatorship arrested almost 50 Cubans, beating many of them up, of course. For the past year, authorities have prevented Zapata’s mother from visiting his grave. They take no chances, even with old women in graveyards. Back in China, they are blocking the word “jasmine” in the various social media. This is ticklish, however. “Jasmine” is a popular Chinese folk song, a favorite of the former number one, Jiang Zemin, and a favorite of the current number one, Hu Jintao. There are videos of him singing the song while on a trip to Africa. Fidel Castro, to our knowledge, does not sing — although he attracts the admiration of singers. Carole King once crooned to him, “You’ve Got a Friend.” Better people are friends to his prisoners.
A managerial proverb attributed to Peter Drucker proclaims: “You get what you measure.” Until 2001, Welsh schools were required to publish “report cards” tracking their students’ performance on standardized national examinations, and ranked listings of schools were published in the newspapers. These “league tables” quickly developed an enthusiastic public following, as researchers from Britain’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation report, with communities being keenly aware of their local schools’ positions. Accountability in government not always being long-lived, the Welsh authorities banned the practice. What happened next was unsurprising: “We find significant and robust evidence that this reform markedly reduced school effectiveness in Wales,” the researchers conclude. Not, interestingly, for the top 20 percent of schools: High performers will be high performers. But there’s the other 80 percent to think of, and hiding the schools’ poor performance only enables their descent from mediocrity. Report cards for schools are necessary for the same reason as report cards for students: The grown-ups need to know how things are going. Like their British counterparts, U.S. teachers’ unions have consistently opposed making standardized-test scores and similar information easily and widely available. We’d ask what they are trying to hide, but we already know: The evidence is all around us.
In Britain, a leader of the National Health Service has called for reform of the country’s law against assisted suicide. Some Britons have gone to Switzerland, to be helped to their deaths there. The NHS’s Pauline Smith said, “If you can afford to go to Switzerland, that’s fine, but if you can’t, you are stuck.” An oncologist, Tim Maughan, answered her by saying, “I think the current law has got it right. There are principles behind it which are very sound.” For one thing, the sick elderly might feel obliged to submit to assisted suicide, to get out of the way. Moreover, “Doctors should not kill their patients. The vulnerable should be protected.” In The Spectator, Charles Moore wrote that British culture at large “increasingly sees ‘assisted’ dying as positively virtuous, and the contempt that this implies for the value of an old person’s life therefore spreads through the nursing profession.” He argues that the creation of the NHS was “a moral mistake.” Other countries — we might even have one in mind — should beware.
A custom-built computer named Watson (after IBM’s founder Thomas J. Watson Sr.) defeated two former champions on the general-knowledge TV quiz show Jeopardy and amassed over $77,000 in winnings, plus a $1 million “champions prize,” before losing to Rep. Rush Holt (D., N.J.) in a later round. Watson owed its success to software that can analyze written questions, seek possible answers from a vast database — 200 million pages — of stored facts, then apply 6 million logic rules to determine which answer is best. The software is not infallible. Asked to name a U.S. city whose largest airport was named for a World War II hero and its second largest for a World War II battle, Watson responded hesitantly: “What is Toronto?” The Jeopardy win was an impressive feat of engineering and programming nonetheless. Will the human brain then soon be redundant? Hardly. Watson is a gadget that can perform one particular, narrowly defined human function better than a human can — like a fork-lift truck.
A barrage of bullets shattered Anthony Maschek’s body on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq, in February 2008. The staff sergeant’s bravery earned him two years of recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, permanent confinement to a wheelchair, and a Purple Heart. Yet it did not earn him the respect of spoiled rich kids. Last month, the 28-year-old veteran, now a freshman at Columbia University, spoke at a student debate on the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which is currently banned on campus. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting,” Maschek told the crowd littered with peaceniks and left-wingers. “There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.” The audience jeered; some even called him racist. Later, Maschek told Fox News: “The people that were heckling — they have the right of their opinion, and personally, I fought for that right and I support their right.” He could teach the students a thing or two about class, if only they would listen.
If, after pondering global warming and “peak oil,” you are still in need of something to worry about, here comes “peak fish.” A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia, addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, tells us we have been “fishing down the food web.” Their meaning is that the oceans’ bigger, predatory fish — cod, tuna, and groupers — are disappearing, while the smaller “forage fish” they prey on — sardines, anchovies, and the like — are proliferating. The researchers estimate that more than 54 percent of the decrease in large predator fish has taken place over the past 40 years. Lead researcher Villy Christensen says it is as though the African savannah were to be depleted of big cats. “When all the lions are gone, there will be antelopes everywhere.” Isn’t that pretty much how the human race ended up as cattle farmers? Aren’t we wonderfully adaptable in that way? Isn’t aquaculture, the planned farming of fish, already taking up the slack? Yes it is. On a list of things to fret about, “peak fish” is down there well below asteroid strikes.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson had blood on his hands. He claimed responsibility for 75,000 abortions — 70,000 performed under his supervision, 5,000 performed by himself. He also had lies on his conscience: As an advocate for abortion — he helped found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) — he claimed that back-alley abortions killed five to ten thousand mothers each year, an invented number much higher than the truth. Ultrasound technology changed his life. Seeing fetuses under the knife made it emotionally and intellectually clear to him that pre-born human beings were being killed. He devoted the last 30-plus years to spreading the word. His 1985 film, The Silent Scream, is one of the most powerful pro-life polemics. In 1996 Nathanson, formerly a Jewish atheist, was baptized into the Catholic Church. The seeds which fell “on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Dead at 84, R.I.P.
The last of the doughboys faded away on February 27 at the age of 110. Frank Woodruff Buckles enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1917 and sailed to France on the RMS Carpathia, the very ship that five years previously had rescued survivors of the Titanic disaster. He went on to serve his country honorably as an ambulance driver, had a conversation with Gen. John J. Pershing, and witnessed a ceremony for British veterans of the Crimean War of 1853–56, perhaps meeting participants in the charge of the Light Brigade. He was on business in the Philippines when the islands fell in World War II, and endured three years of internment in Japanese camps. After retiring from salaried work in the 1950s, Mr. Buckles ran a cattle ranch in Charles Town, W. Va., where he was still riding a tractor at age 106. He is survived by his daughter Susannah. May he rest in peace with his comrades from that “war to end all wars.”
James A. McClure was a model western Republican, and a model Reagan Republican: He represented Idaho in the Senate before, during, and after the Reagan revolution — from 1973 to 1991. He had common sense, principle, and humility. He was also willing to work. Former senator Alan Simpson has remembered, “I was in awe of him. He was a superb legislator. He didn’t care about anything but the amendments, the hearings, the work, the slaving. Legislation, if you do it right, is deadly, deadly boring. And he did it with great skill.” McClure was in ill health in recent years, and was not able to stand when accepting an award from his alma mater, the University of Idaho (where there is a McClure center for public policy). He said, “I feel a little awkward accepting an award sitting down.” A stand-up conservative, he has died at 86. R.I.P.
Scott Walker, new-minted Republican governor of Wisconsin, and GOP majorities in both houses of the state legislature faced a shortfall of $137 million in this year’s budget, and of $3.6 billion over the next two years. To plug the gap they decided to ask state employees in public-sector unions to pay more of their own pensions and health-care premiums. They also sought to scale back union power by ending automatic dues payments and the right to collective bargaining for salaries and benefits.
These are reasonable goals. Public-sector employees in Wisconsin, as in other states, have better benefit packages than private-sector workers, superior job security, and at least equivalent pay. Benefits guarantee continuing benefits, world without end, as union dues fuel political spending (overwhelmingly on Democrats) that helps keep friendly pols in office, and the threat of strikes encourages pols to stay friendly. That is why many states, and the federal government, do not allow public-sector unions to bargain collectively — public-employee strikes do not pit one interest against another, but one interest against all taxpayers.
Unions, Democrats, and liberals saw the magnitude of the threat and reacted accordingly. The state capitol at Madison was overwhelmed by protesters, many of them teachers. They called in “sick,” and some doctors at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine enabled the fraud by handing out bogus medical excuses. The scene became a frozen Woodstock, with singing, drumming, scruff, and trash. Jesse Jackson, left-wing ambulance chaser, arrived to compare the mob to Egyptians in Tahrir Square. Where was Al Sharpton? Maybe he really was sick. The union street theater became notably ugly and personal. Walker’s house was surrounded by protesters, and Scott Fitzgerald, Republican leader in the state senate, moved himself and his family to an undisclosed location to avoid similar harassment. The show crossed state lines when all 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois, to deny a quorum. This was the rule-or-ruin strategy of bitter-enders, pushing political prerogatives to the limit, or beyond.
Wisconsin has become a national passion play. Liberals seek villains in Charles and David Koch, libertarian billionaires who indeed support conservative causes there — though their influence is so arm’s-length that when a liberal blogger called Governor Walker pretending to be a Koch, he did not recognize the hoax, having never spoken with one before. President Obama chimed in, opining that “some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin . . . seems like more of an assault on unions.” But he has to step carefully: After all, he has urged a federal pay freeze, which, if enacted, federal employees must accept (see above). Wisconsin Republicans meanwhile have showed both commendable spirit and possibly shrewd restraint, calculating that the longer the protesters carry on, the worse they look — though letting the capitol become a left-wing flophouse is a public affront.
Wisconsin may be the harbinger of larger and later clashes. States, which cannot print money, have to get their finances in order — or come to Washington for bailouts. Will the next General Motors and Chrysler be Illinois and California? And for what — the interests of politically protected classes, battening off the taxes of their less-favored neighbors?
The End for Qaddafi
Moammar Qaddafi has not made much sense over the last two weeks. About the only rational thing he has said is that he will fight and die in Libya. He doesn’t have many other options, and with his regime splintering and the opposition continuing to advance on Tripoli, he could be proven prescient sooner rather than later.
This would be a just and welcome endpoint to his 40-plus years of sick misrule. Qaddafi has been the pirate king of Libya, a terrorist, murderer of Americans, and psycho who has managed to stay in power by wrecking his country and eliminating nearly all alternative sources of authority. Outside of Iran, his regime is the world’s most poisonous expression of a badly dated post-colonial politics that blames the West for all ills. The mullahs have to be watching events in Libya with trepidation — if a revolution can come to Qaddafi’s Libya, one of the most totalitarian societies on earth, it can happen anywhere.
But Qaddafi will not go down without one last spasm of bloodletting. In response, the West has been moving toward imposing a no-fly zone. We understand the impulse, but Qaddafi has not been doing much of his mayhem from the air. Unless the no-fly zone also becomes a no-machine-gun zone, the West risks looking ineffectual as it watches Qaddafi’s murders from above. For now, he looks doomed in any case. The catalyzing effect of the Libyan revolt in the region will be greater if the Libyans are seen as ousting Qaddafi on their own. We should want the Iranian people, in particular, to get the message; the grand strategic prize of the 2011 revolutions would be the fall of the Iranian regime.
President Obama made the least of the opportunity presented by the rise of the Green Movement in June of 2009. Initially, he exhibited the same mealy-mouthed passivity about Libya, although his administration toughened up on Qaddafi once American nationals had escaped to Malta. We have a long way to go until we know the ultimate effect of the Revolution of 2011, but so far the protests in the streets have been notably absent of anti-American and anti-Israeli bile, and have represented the aspirations of populations fed up with being disrespected and dispossessed.
In Libya, there are things we can do at the margins, short of a military intervention, to try to influence events. We should recognize as soon as possible the provisional government that is forming, an entity that the rebels are creating on their own. We can make available to it the frozen assets of the Qaddafi regime and provide humanitarian aid. (If its offensive seems to be stalling out for lack of military materiel, we can always encourage the Saudis or others to give it weapons.) With luck, this provisional government can be a first step toward stabilizing Libya’s post-Qaddafi future. Our first interest in Libya is seeing Qaddafi gone; our second is preventing its immediate collapse into a failed state.
Unfortunately, the dictator’s legacy will almost certainly live on in Libya’s struggles, even if he is deposed. He turned a country that has the resources to be a North African version of a successful Gulf state into a miserable basket case. We wish swift success to the brave Libyans seeking an appropriate end to his regime.