Note to IRS auditors: Please skip page 14. And page 8. Actually, maybe just skip the whole issue . . .
A Philadelphia jury convicted Kermit Gosnell of the first-degree murder of three infants, and the third-degree murder of a patient, at his abortion clinic. The grand jury that indicted him noted that we will never know how many hundreds of other infants were killed during his decades of crime. It was able to conclude that pro-choice state governments of both parties had enabled that practice by deliberately choosing not to monitor abortion clinics. The abortion lobby insists that Gosnell is an outlier. The Republicans on two congressional committees are not so sure: They have sent letters to state officials to determine whether states are fulfilling their Fourteenth Amendment obligations to offer legal protection to all infants. As Jillian Kay Melchior reports in this issue, three clinics in Florida alone used practices similar to those at Gosnell’s clinic. Even more alarmingly, she found that law enforcement refused to pursue a case in which an infant was delivered and then put in a trash can to die — and refused because of confusion over whether the infant had any legal right not to be killed. Congressmen should do what they can to clear up that confusion; the pro-lifers among them should point out that such moral and legal confusion can be traced directly to Roe v. Wade.
The Heritage Foundation recently undertook to determine the cost to American taxpayers of legalizing the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. under the process now being considered by the Senate. The federal government spends about $50 billion more on illegal immigrants than it receives from them in taxes each year; after amnesty and an interim period in which access to benefits is restricted, that gap will open to about $100 billion. This adds up to $6.3 trillion in benefits that the rest of the taxpayers will have to fund for legalized immigrants over their lifetimes; some of those benefits would have to be provided in the absence of amnesty, but a large fraction would result from the legislation. Supporters of legalization are pointing out, quite correctly, that Heritage has not performed a complete analysis of the effects of comprehensive immigration reform, and that it did not dynamically score amnesty’s economic effects (but it did count substantially increased revenues from newly legal taxpayers). Heritage has gone farther than anyone else so far in putting numbers on the bill’s costs and benefits. If supporters of the legislation have any better analysis to offer, they ought to share it presently.
In the wake of that Heritage Foundation study indicating a high price tag for amnesty, a liberal Washington Post blogger dug up the 2009 Harvard dissertation of Jason Richwine, one of the study’s authors. The paper was both highly technical and highly flammable: Richwine rigorously calculated IQ scores for several generations of Hispanic immigrants, suggested using IQ testing in immigration policy, and offered an argument that racial gaps in IQ scores are partly genetic in origin. Within days Heritage accepted Richwine’s resignation. There is no denying that almost every aspect of the dissertation is debatable, but Heritage should not have caved to political pressure. Richwine’s careful work bore the signatures of three prominent Harvard professors, and its subject matter, while taboo, should be considered a legitimate area of scholarly inquiry. Heritage is an openly ideological think tank and has no outright obligation to retain staff who become a threat to its public relations — but in this case it made the wrong call.
Oregon, a few years ago, held a lottery to determine whom it would add to Medicaid, a policy that created ideal circumstances for social-science research. In 2011, the results of the first year of coverage were announced, and liberal health-policy writers touted these findings as proof that government efforts to expand health insurance improve people’s health. An update including the second year was mysteriously delayed, but the results are now out. Receipt of Medicaid was not associated with any improvement in physical-health outcomes. Recipients did, however, feel better about their financial security and reported lower levels of depression (although they did not report higher levels of antidepressant use). The liberal writers went into a frenzy of spin: The sample size was suddenly too small, positive results that aren’t statistically significant should count, and so on. Paul Krugman pointed out that fire insurance has value even if it does not reduce the risk of fire: It guards against the risk of financial catastrophe. He seems to be unaware that he is making conservatives’ case for us: We can bring about near-universal access to catastrophic health insurance at a cost much lower than Obamacare’s. This is just one study, albeit a good one, so the case for the liberal approach to health care is not yet a smoldering ruin. Liberals had better take out an ideological insurance policy.
At a recent press conference, the president said that “for the 85 and 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance,” the only impact of Obamacare “is that their insurance is stronger, better, and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.” These comments don’t jibe with the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that some 10 million Americans will lose their current coverage under the law by 2018 — an estimate that may be optimistic — as employers are incentivized to drop coverage and fully half of the plans currently on the individual market are outlawed. Premiums are already increasing, and are expected to increase further. Pile on a grab-bag of new taxes and Medicare price controls likely to drive providers out of the market altogether, and there is plenty to worry about. Period.
The Congressional Budget Office announced something that passes for good news: The projected deficit for 2013 will be reduced to a mere $642 billion, mostly as a result of sequestration and higher tax revenues. While a deficit of well under $1 trillion is welcome, it is hardly an occasion for breaking out the Moët & Chandon: CBO projects another $6.3 trillion in debt will be added to the books by 2023, and some of that revenue may prove to be transitory: Federal income got a bump from larger-than-expected payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and from investors’ realizing capital gains before the deadline of the 2013 tax increase. Douglas Elmendorf, a former Clinton adviser who now leads the CBO, struck an appropriately sober note: “We have large projected deficits, a debt that will remain at a historically high share of GDP and will be rising at the end of the coming decade. I think what that implies is that small changes in budget policy will not be sufficient to put the budget on a sustainable path.” He pointed out that the number of Americans receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits is expected to increase by 40 percent in the coming decade. The salient fact is that the credit of the United States is excellent but not infinite; the government may either impose meaningful fiscal reform or wait to have reform imposed upon it by the credit market. The sooner we move, the less painful that reform will be.
President Obama has been no friend of America’s shale-oil-and-gas boom, but his ability to restrain the growth of shale-oil extraction has been limited by the fact that the most bountiful reserves are on privately held land. The federal government holds a much tighter grip on what is done with natural gas after it comes out of the ground; it is typically liquefied before being shipped abroad, and the U.S. has significantly restricted the number of permits for such activity and, therefore, the amount that can be exported. This restriction has depressed domestic prices of natural gas, subsidizing home-heating bills and industrial activity, but driven up prices abroad, and introduced a significant market distortion. The Obama administration has now signaled that it would like to slowly open the valve on such activity — no doubt in part because it will push other countries to consume more natural gas and less coal, reducing their carbon emissions. This move is an important victory for free trade, and it will also strengthen America’s position in negotiating to liberalize the movement of goods and commodities with which we are less blessed.
A large bipartisan majority of the Senate voted to let states collect sales taxes from vendors located outside their jurisdictions. Most of the arguments that the majority made were terrible. Senators claimed that granting the states this power would advance federalism, for example. The Founders’ federalism was actually intensely concerned with restraining states’ extraterritorial economic aggression. That’s why it would take an act of Congress to give the states this power. The unterrible argument the senators made is that it is unfair for states to collect taxes from consumers at physical stores when Internet buyers do not have to pay tax. Some unfairness is, however, built into our state-by-state sales-tax system, and this bill would create its own. A Massachusetts resident would now have to pay his state’s taxes when buying online but could evade them by shopping in New Hampshire. One way to lessen unfairness would be to have all states tax sales based on the origination point of the transaction: The state where the Internet seller was located, for example, would levy taxes on its sales. That rule would restrain the states’ abuse of the taxing power, since sellers would be able to relocate in more welcoming states. Presumably that is why the state governments, and their too-ardent friends in the Senate, are not interested in that kind of federalism.
Chuck Schumer, like so many before him, is destined to learn by experience what King Canute knew by instinct: However loudly you command them, some tides just will not be stemmed. Reacting to the news that a Texas outfit had successfully used a 3D printer to build a plastic gun — and uploaded the blueprints for all to access — Schumer immediately called for this application of the technology to be outlawed. The senator has not yet recognized that we live in a brave new world. Important questions are raised: How does the state intend to regulate the Internet without shredding other liberties? Is the government going to track all blueprints or conduct random searches of 3D-printer owners? Does Schumer propose to exempt particular manufacturing processes from existing law? The federal bureaucracy’s recent efforts to quash the printing of guns suggest that the answers are irrelevant: By the time it got involved, the blueprints had been downloaded 100,000 times and made their way onto popular file-sharing websites.
Fresh from helping to defeat the Toomey-Manchin bill in the U.S. Senate, in early May the National Rifle Association met for its annual convention in Houston, Texas. It was a boisterous, muscular occasion, featuring the usual resolve and hyperbole and boasting a host of 2016 hopefuls set on marking out their territory. The NRA promised that 70,000 people would come; the final number was 86,000 — fitting for an organization that has increased its membership from 4.5 million to 5 million people since the beginning of this year. Across the street, 30 protesters stood and made their case, prompting the media to report that “both sides were in attendance.” Let all of our debates be thus.
The FDA’s restrictions on Plan B and similar emergency-contraceptive drugs have had a tangled history. An advisory board recommended that they be available without a prescription to women and girls of all ages. HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled it. The drugs are now available in pharmacies, and only to women 17 and older. A New York district judge mandated that all the restrictions be lifted, and the Obama administration is now appealing. While the litigation continues, the FDA has staked out a compromise position of sorts by approving an application to allow Plan B to be sold without a prescription to girls as young as 15. While the balance of evidence suggests that Plan B does not work as an abortifacient, the risk that it might do so in some cases is not one that can be dismissed out of hand. At any rate, the question of whether we ought to promote easier access to any form of contraception to minors without parental involvement is not one that can be settled by science. Nor should it be settled by a federal judge.
The Heart of Obamaism
Less than a week before the IRS scandal broke, the president of the United States told the graduating class at Ohio State University:
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
It’s almost as if the gods themselves decided to beclown Obama for his hubris.
Since the IRS scandal is metastasizing as I write, I will not dwell on it. But even the broad outlines illustrate the problem with Obama’s vision of America. Over and over again, President Obama has said, amidst other pronouncements ripped from a student-council campaign speech, that the “government is us,” or as Barney Frank reportedly liked to say, “‘government’ is just the word we use for those things we do together.” The upshot of all of this is that it’s somehow weird or cynical, dangerous or creepy, that anyone would see the government as a “separate, sinister entity.”
Well, tell that to those whom the IRS demanded to reveal their donors, their organizations’ members, the names of attendees at their meetings, and their family’s potential political aspirations. The wrong answers might mean the effective end of your group. And the only reason the government was putting you through this legal and emotional wringer in the first place? Because your group had the words “patriot” or “tea party” in its name — or maybe the mission statement said something about the “Bill of Rights” or making this a “better country.”
According to Obama, what those people need to understand is that government is just another word for those things we do together, such as persecuting groups with the word “patriot” in their name.
President Obama’s vision is totalitarian. No, it’s not totalitarian in the sense of wanting to put people in camps or unleash firing squads on dissenters. It’s totalitarian in the original meaning of the word. Mussolini defined totalitario as a vision of the state according to which all of the interests of the people are reflected in the aims and ambitions of the government. “The government is us” was the heart of Mussolini’s philosophy. Hence the idea that the state might work against the will and needs of the people was ridiculous, like saying your arm is an enemy of your body. The state is us, we are the state. Or, everything within the state, nothing outside the state.
The problem, as the Founders recognized, is that people have different and more authoritative conceptions of what their own interests are. For one man, being made a stonemason would be a great reward, but for another it would be a tyrannical imposition. That is why the Founders recognized the individual’s right to pursue happiness.
Any political philosophy that assumes the current government is the only authentic representation of us will automatically turn perfectly decent dissenting citizens into them. Think taxes are too high? You are against us. Believe government is too big? You are one of them. One needn’t reject all conception of us to understand that this can go too far. Jihadi terrorists, even American ones, strike me as them. People who want to drink Big Gulps? Not so much.
In his other gig, as a New York Times columnist, National Review film critic Ross Douthat speculates that “the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.” I’m sure that’s the case. I’m also willing to believe — for now — that President Obama didn’t order the IRS to target tea-party groups. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t following Barack Obama’s lead.
Representative Mel Watt (D., N.C.) embodies the toxic politics that produced the housing bubble. He is a practitioner of a nasty form of racial politics (just before the election of Obama, he proclaimed that white Americans are so besotted with racism that they could not vote for a black candidate) and at the same time is cozy with Wall Street (his largest benefactor is Bank of America, closely followed by Goldman Sachs and bubble beneficiaries such as the National Association of Realtors). He says that his experience living with brown skin supersedes the need for “empirical evidence” so far as matters racial are concerned. But empirical evidence is precisely what is needed at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which Watt has been asked to lead by President Obama. FHFA is the main regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the prime malefactors in the millennial housing bubble, which still hold or guarantee trillions of dollars in mortgage debt. Housing activists and the mortgage industry put a target on the back of FHFA administrator Edward Demarco, who has been in their view insufficiently eager to turn on the Washington money pump and reinflate the housing bubble by imposing write-down losses on Fannie and Freddie, and Watt is their choice to replace him. But the country has no pressing need of another subprime-mortgage explosion, or another practitioner of corrosive racial politics, making Watt precisely the wrong man for the job.
The House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act (with 220 Republican and three Democratic votes), which would allow hourly employees to accept compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay for time worked beyond the standard 40-hour week. Like overtime wages, that comp time would be accrued at a time-and-a-half rate. The bill is likely to founder in the Senate, and President Obama has promised to veto it. It is a welcome nod to 21st-century reality: In the modern information-and-services economy, the rigidity of the old regularly scheduled factory shift has been supplanted by a lumpier labor model, in which factors such as project deadlines and seasonal changes mean that some weeks or months will be busier than others. Under the bill, employers would have the choice to offer comp time, and employees would have the choice to accept it — or not, and the bill contains specific provisions forbidding employers to require its acceptance. Though many workers in these straitened times cherish overtime pay, others, especially those with family responsibilities or those working more than one job, would prefer the comp time. The Democrats who thwart this preference in the name of a 1938 law (the Fair Labor Standards Act) are the very picture of reactionary liberalism.
If there’s an antonym for “panacea,” it is “global warming,” which has been blamed for every ill imaginable, including (this is a very partial list) earthquakes, asteroid impacts, murder, locusts, asthma, cold weather, deafness in fish, walrus stampedes, and the Arab Spring. Now we can add prostitution to the list. A group of Democratic House members (including Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, who once demonstrated his knowledge of geophysics by suggesting that Guam might tip over if the army put too much stuff on it) has introduced a resolution predicting that global warming will mess everything up so badly that the economy will collapse, civilization will descend into anarchy, and women will have no other choice than to put on the red light and sell their bodies to the night. So never mind the medical degree, ladies, and don’t throw out that Halloween costume you wore sophomore year, because you’re going to need it. That’s the one consolation in all this: Prostitutes are a natural for global warming — they’re already dressed for it.
Dick Harpootlian maintained the standards that informed his tenure as chairman of the South Carolina Democratic party to the very end. In 2012 he said Republican governor Nikki Haley was “in the bunker à la Eva Braun.” Harpootlian explained that he was only accusing her of avoiding the press. “So she has some hurt feelings? I didn’t know she had feelings.” Before stepping down this month he urged Democrats to send Haley “back to wherever the hell she came from” in next year’s gubernatorial race. Haley is a Sikh, and a daughter of immigrant parents, but no, Harpootlian didn’t mean that either. He wanted her “to go back to being an accountant in a dress store” (Haley’s family started a multimillion-dollar clothing business). Did Harpootlian mean that women should stay out of politics? Here is a statement that will not require qualification: Dick Harpootlian’s mouth is like the bottom end of a garbage disposal. South Carolina will be a more pleasant place now that he is in private life.
But it’s not just Democrats who embarrass themselves in the Palmetto State. Former governor Mark Sanford won a special election to Congress in the first district, beating Elizabeth (sister-of-Stephen) Colbert Busch. Sanford was presidential material until 2009, when his affair with an Argentine mistress wrecked his marriage and (temporarily) his career. The national GOP stopped funding Sanford, fearing repercussions from his divorce. But Colbert Busch ran a slippery campaign, refusing to say whether she would vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. Sanford hammered her out-of-district support, and the solidly Republican electorate gave him a comfortable victory (54 to 45 percent). Once he won the primary, Sanford was the better choice. We hope he redeems himself, and does not think that winning an election counts as such.
If its council elects to pass a proposal introduced in early May, New York City will become the first major American city to permit legally present non-citizens to vote in local elections. Under a suggested change in the rules, any immigrant who has been resident in New York for at least six months would be allowed to cast votes for mayor and other municipal offices. New York City follows California in mooting the idea of non-citizen voting. The plan is misguided. Currently, immigrants are not required to speak English or to take a civics test until they become citizens, both reasonable prerequisites to voting. Worse, there are 535,000 illegal immigrants in New York City, and the city appears wholly unwilling to distinguish between legal and illegal residents. What could go wrong?
At a commemoration of the 1970 Kent State shootings, Bill Ayers disclaimed any similarity between the Boston Marathon bombings and those carried out in the 1960s by his Weather Underground. First Ayers trotted out his familiar defense — that Weathermen bombs never killed anyone. This is debatable, but to the extent that it’s true, the only reason is that their bomb builders were less competent than a couple of Chechen losers: A 1970 bomb, meant to be packed with nails and set off at an Army dance at Fort Dix, went off by accident and killed three Weathermen. Ayers topped it off by pulling out the tu quoque on Senator John McCain, who, Ayers said, “murdered civilians” regularly as a Navy pilot. McCain was taken prisoner and tortured constantly for five years; he still suffers every day for serving his country. Ayers, meanwhile, has been rewarded for his cowardice with board chairmanships, speaking gigs, a tenured professorship until his recent retirement, and an adoring audience whenever he feels like stroking his ego some more. Narcissists know no embarrassment, and the guilty can never stop proclaiming their innocence.
Britain’s membership in the European Union has long haunted the country’s Conservative party, creating internal divisions that have at times proved near fatal. But the hope that, if the party waited it out, the “European question” would magically go away seems more unlikely than ever to be fulfilled. Its rival on the right, the anti-EU UK Independence party, which has spent most of its political life on the fringe, is now starting to win elections. UKIP, as it is popularly known, currently scores around 23 percent in national opinion polls and, in early May, the party won 25 percent of the vote in the local elections it contested in England. The party’s charismatic leader, Nigel Farage, took this as a sign that UKIP is “fundamentally changing British politics.” The country is split over Europe, and now one side of that split has a party.
While pleading for more bailout funds in Berlin, Italy’s new prime minister, Enrico Letta, said: “Traditionally, Europe has always seen great results when Italy and Germany have worked together.” And he’s right. The Visigoths attacked Rome and got 800 years of Dark Ages; the Nazis and Fascists teamed up and got the Marshall Plan.
Max Brenner is a handmade-chocolate business that two entrepreneurs hope to build up. “Chocolate by the bald man” is their unusual slogan. The company has multiple outlets in the U.S., and one is due to open on the Sydney campus of the University of New South Wales. Not so fast. The bald chocolatiers are Israelis, and the business belongs to the Strauss Group, an Israeli company. That will never do for the leading anti-Israel movement of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions): Its activists have mounted protests opposing the shop’s opening. The Strauss Group provides food, maybe even chocolate, to the Israeli armed forces, which in the eyes of BDS makes it “complicit in war crimes.” Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment is so indistinguishable that politicians from democracies have prepared, in defense, a document known as the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism. Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, has just signed on to it, the first Australian politician to do so. Denouncing the BDS, she said: “In the face of anti-Semitism, there can be no bystanders.”
A garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing at least 1,127 people, with the last survivor rescued after 16 days buried in rubble. The catastrophe was horrifying enough on its own — it is the deadliest accidental structural collapse in modern history — but it was made worse by the fact that it was preventable: While the structural defects of the crumbling building were obvious, its owner was merrily adding new floors at the top, without a building permit. That regulations and warnings were ignored is likely explained by the fact that the building (which also contained apartments, a bank, and shops) was owned by an official of the Awami League, the socialist party that dominates the country’s politics. Many of the firms that did business with the factory, including Swedish giant H&M, have signed on to a labor-backed agreement that calls for independent inspections of factories in Bangladesh, the largest garment producer behind China. The step is welcome, but the reality is that Bangladesh already has a library full of building regulations and labor standards; it also has a corrupt and ineffective government that will not enforce them. International manufacturers have real power in Bangladesh, and they have real responsibilities there, too.
Pope Francis recently canonized the 813 martyrs of Otranto, who were executed for refusing to convert to Islam during the Ottoman invasion of southern Italy in 1480. Their cause for sainthood was begun centuries ago; they were beatified in 1771. Because the Church keeps time by a slower clock than the one that dictates the news cycle, the message that some observers are liable to read into the timing of the canonization ceremony last month was probably unintended by the Vatican, although the Holy Spirit may have intended it. Faith aside, it is a matter of fact that Christians in parts of the world today are persecuted by some who take their inspiration from the likes of those Ottoman invaders half a millennium ago. Those who take their inspiration from the martyrs instead should not be blamed if they consider the massacre to have contemporary relevance.
Bloomberg News has been accused of spying on Goldman Sachs and other clients, as well as Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. By monitoring the use of its terminals on Wall Street and in the City of London, where they are ubiquitous, the news service gathered clues as to what leaders had on their minds, who was talking to whom, and who was on the outs, proprietary information that the technical side of the company made available to its journalists. The Treasury Department has opened an investigation, and the Fed is looking into it. Bloomberg clients know that the company tracks some elements of their usage of the terminals, but Goldman Sachs and others have complained that they did not know just how much information the firm had access to, much less that it would be made available to reporters. Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief has tendered an abject apology. While it is amusing to hear Goldman executives complaining of an asymmetrical-information problem, there are substantive concerns at issue here. Whatever is going through the mind of Ben Bernanke, the proper avenue for its disclosure is not a back channel via the Bloomberg news desk.
Friends of Good Counsel Homes, a Catholic charity that serves homeless pregnant women and their unborn children, gathered in midtown Manhattan one evening the week before Mother’s Day to attend the 28th Annual Ball for Life, where Kathryn Jean Lopez received the Reflection Award in honor of her longstanding advocacy for the pro-life cause. Readers of this magazine and of National Review Online know her dedication to the project of affirming the bond between expectant mothers and the children they bear. The proceedings at the ball were interrupted when Joan Andrews Bell, one of the great heroines of the pro-life movement in America, stood up to remind all the women present of the maternal bond between themselves and the unborn children they carry in their hearts. To be there was to witness the truth and feel the warmth of Kathryn’s persistent argument that the only feminism deserving of the name is feminine.
Like many former Communists, Herbert Romerstein never fled Communism. He walked away from it for the purpose of throwing himself against it, dedicating the rest of his life to the effort to take it down. Beginning in the 1950s, the Brooklyn boy who only a few years earlier had advanced from the Communist Youth League to the Communist Party USA began cheerfully showing up at meetings just to expose the mendacity of the party line. He later served as an investigator for the House Committee on Internal Security, drawing on his experience of how Communists operated in the United States. In the 1980s he headed up the effort at the U.S. Information Agency to counter Soviet disinformation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Romerstein was vindicated by the release of the Venona documents, which he analyzed in a book co-authored with Eric Breindel. The work must have been often dispiriting, but someone had to do it. Dead at 81. R.I.P.
Peter Worthington, one of Canada’s finest conservative columnists and co-founder of the Toronto Sun, passed away. The 86-year-old Worthington (who is the political writer David Frum’s father-in-law) charmed readers with award-winning stories about politics, international affairs, family, and his beloved dogs. A Korean War vet, he covered military battles from Israel to Algeria in scintillating detail. He blasted away at Pierre Trudeau’s leftist agenda with sheer delight. As WFB wrote about Worthington’s autobiography, Looking for Trouble (1984): “He writes the way journalists were meant to write, with immediacy, clarity, and courage.” His intellectual and witty writing style earned him many accolades over 50 years — and remained razor sharp to the end. There aren’t many Peter Worthingtons left in journalism. Canada was fortunate enough to have the real thing to admire and cherish. R.I.P.
The Difference It Made
After nine rounds of Benghazi hearings convened by Representative Darrell Issa’s (R., Calif.) House Oversight Committee — a number of iterations made necessary by the administration’s manifold efforts to stall, stymie, and deflect the investigation — we are finally beginning to get a picture of the terrorist attacks that took four American lives on September 11, 2012. The breakthrough came with the testimony of Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for operations, counterterrorism bureau; of Eric Nordstrom, former State Department regional security officer for Libya; and especially of Gregory Hicks, a Foreign Service officer and former deputy chief of mission in Libya, who, after Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s death that night, became America’s senior diplomat in the country. Rightly identified as “whistleblowers,” the three men came forward at considerable professional risk because, as a choked-up Nordstrom testified in his opening remarks, “it matters” that we find out what happened before, during, and after the attacks that left four Americans dead.
Mr. Hicks began the hearing with a harrowing account, from his vantage point at the embassy in Tripoli, of the attacks as they unfolded. He spoke with emotion of learning of the death of Ambassador Stevens, and of the heroism of the few, outnumbered and outgunned, left to fend off wave upon wave of jihadi firebombs, RPGs, and mortar rounds.
Hicks also testified that these men were left to die because his attempt to send a Special Forces detachment from Tripoli to Benghazi was overruled by military brass. The soldiers on the ground, Hicks reported, were “furious.”
Calling off the reinforcements was just one of many questionable tactical and strategic decisions made both before and during the attack. Nordstrom testified, for instance, that although the government recognized Benghazi as an acutely dangerous post, the consulate’s security apparatus did not meet the minimum standards for such installations, and that by statute the only person who may waive security protocols in such situations is the secretary of state. As we already knew, not only did the security situation fail to improve in the months leading up to the attack, it actually deteriorated, and security personnel were reassigned even as the number of violent incidents against the Western presence increased.
But perhaps more disturbing were the cynical and negligent calls made after the attack, none more notorious than the administration’s preposterous decision to blame the American deaths on a “spontaneous” demonstration against a fourth-rate YouTube video seen by few and regarded by fewer. Hicks testified, starkly and matter-of-factly, that “the YouTube video was a non-event in Libya.” So, naturally, he was “stunned” by Ambassador Susan Rice’s Sunday-show appearances blaming the attack on it.
When confronted by committeemen with Secretary Clinton’s now infamous ejaculation of “What difference does it make,” Hicks responded that the administration’s continued insistence that the attack was related to the video caused an “immeasurable” amount of damage, most critically by delaying for 18 days the arrival in Benghazi of an FBI investigatory team, during which time the site of the attack was completely unsecure and precious evidence may have been lost forever.
Not only was the video not the proximate cause of the attack, but we have every indication that the administration knew that it was not and yet perpetuated the falsehood. The media, roused from slumber by the hearing, discovered in the days after it that the White House’s Benghazi talking points had been scrubbed of references to al-Qaeda and terrorism, and that they were not the unvarnished product of the intelligence community but a face-saving document revised a dozen times in a process guided by political operatives in the White House and Foggy Bottom. The most plausible explanation for this is that the administration had judged that, in an election season, the video-as-cause narrative was less problematic than the truth, even if it involved throwing the video’s amateurish auteur, Nakoula Basseley, in jail.
In his 22 years of diplomatic service, Hicks testified, every congressional delegation he has ever received has been afforded one-on-one meetings with chargés d’affaires. But in the aftermath of Benghazi, State Department lawyers explicitly instructed Hicks not to speak to Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), nor to allow Chaffetz to speak with security personnel, without their presence as babysitters — a massive breach of protocol.
Merely to read these facts is to understand their import. They show an administration characterized ex ante by incompetence and ex post facto by panic and cold calculation, willing to subvert national security for campaign politics. The May 8 hearing and the subsequent coverage have provided new leads and suggested new witnesses, and we encourage Representative Issa to redouble his investigatory efforts. We’re closer than ever, but we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of Benghazi.
The Indefensible IRS
On March 22, 2012, IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee, which was inquiring about whether the agency was targeting tea-party groups and other conservative organizations filing for tax-exempt status. He firmly and repeatedly denied that any such thing was happening. “There’s absolutely no targeting,” he said. A little over a year later, the IRS confirmed that it was in fact improperly targeting not only tea-party groups but also Jewish religious nonprofits, organizations inspired by Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, and those “educating the public about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” in the IRS’s own words. That is a remarkable enemies list.
The Associated Press soon confirmed that, well before Shulman offered his substantially untrue testimony to Congress, the IRS had convened a meeting with its chief lawyer to discuss the very thing the commissioner said was not happening. Acting commissioner Steven Miller was briefed on the matter a year ago, and never found a moment to inform Congress that it had been misled by his predecessor. When Senator Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) inquired about the matter, Miller assured him that no targeting was taking place. Far from being confined to a backwater office in Cincinnati, as the IRS claimed when the issue became public, the practice was known to and blessed by officials in Washington, at both the IRS and the Treasury Department.
Further, the targeted groups were subjected to invasive investigation far in excess of what IRS procedure calls for: The agency demanded lists of donors to tea-party groups, while Jewish groups were quizzed about their theology and their opinions on the state of Israel. Members of conservative-leaning groups were asked, under penalty of perjury, such open-ended questions as whether any of their friends or family might be thinking about running for office — any office — at some point in the future. The IRS demanded details about the groups’ political associations, copies of literature they distributed at public functions or online, and a great deal more that has little or nothing to do with their tax-exempt status. Let us note that 501(c)(4) organizations, the groups in question, are legally entitled to engage in lobbying and political activity, so long as that is not their main purpose.
We should also note that, contrary to many erroneous media accounts, donations to 501(c)(4) groups are not tax-deductible; but they may be kept anonymous if the organizations so choose — which goes a long way to explain the IRS’s fishing expeditions for donor lists.
Democrats have been eager to point out that Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush, which is entirely irrelevant. The actions of the IRS were unethical, unconstitutional, and very likely criminal, and that is a matter for congressional action regardless of whether the president or any of his close associates were directly involved. The IRS has fearsome investigatory powers and holds sensitive information on practically every person and institution in this country — information that has a way of leaking during election years, as many conservative groups have come to appreciate. A rogue element within the IRS is a dangerous thing. It is up to Congress to discover how high and wide these misdeeds reach.