The real tragedy here is what’s happening to John Kerry’s Nobel Prize prospects.
If the Obama administration were a baseball game, this would be the seventh-inning stretch. He had at least one lousy inning in 2010, when the GOP took the House. But he nevertheless pushed Obamacare through and got reelected. Now seems like the time for bathroom breaks and Big Gulps, while the stadium organist entertains the crowd. It is not so much the conjunction of any particular crisis — Ukraine, Gaza, the border — with fundraisers or photo ops as the sense that, even when this president is in the Oval Office, he is detached, marking time. His legacy is made; let the stretch last through the last out. Then he can enjoy Martha’s Vineyard forever — plus the inevitable $20 million book advance. Meanwhile, time, chance, and tireless evil men keep working and moving. But they will be someone else’s responsibility. Play ball.
This year’s meeting of NetRoots Nation in Detroit was a pep rally for Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.). A draft-Warren committee has posted an online video with a jaunty jingle (“Run run run / Run, Liz, run / Ya gotta run for the office and get the job done”). Why is Warren suddenly the Left’s heartthrob? She is, first, unashamedly on the left: bashing business, insisting that nobody makes it on his own — Occupy minus dirt and rioting. Her Harvard-prof résumé strokes the egos of Nerd Nation (we’re smarter than those science deniers). Finally, she is a fresh face. In 2016 Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ heir apparent, will have been on the scene for a quarter-century. That’s a lot of experience: a lot of it bad. As a freshman senator, Warren has no Benghazi, and no Bill. She denies that she is running — better yet.
Eric Holder, in an interview with ABC News, complained of “a certain level of vehemence” that he believed to be “directed at me [and] directed at the president. . . . It seems to me that this president has been treated differently than others. . . . For some there’s a racial animus.” If the attorney general believes that Barack Obama has been treated differently than his predecessors, then he knows nothing of his predecessors, going right back to John Adams, who was called a “hideous, hermaphroditical character.” American politics, even with the Internet, is probably less ugly now than at many periods in the past (e.g., the early republic, the Civil War, Vietnam). Any problems Eric Holder has on account of his skin are due, not to its color, but to its thinness.
Harry Reid says the Hobby Lobby decision was arrived at by “five white men.” One of Reid’s men is obviously Clarence Thomas. Maybe Reid thought that Stephen Breyer had joined the majority opinion? Or does Reid think that, as a conservative, Thomas must be in some sense white? What does race have to do with Hobby Lobby anyway?
A long, long time ago, in a reality far, far away, Democrats believed that the Supreme Court was taking too narrow a view of the religious liberties enshrined in the First Amendment, and so they introduced a bill deepening those protections, a bill that found support among Republicans and from President Bill Clinton, who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. The law requires that the federal government demonstrate a compelling interest before encumbering the free exercise of religion, and that it choose the least burdensome manner to proceed when doing so. Once the bill was passed, the Democrats apparently forgot about it. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby over an Obama administration intent not just on subsidizing certain kinds of contraception, including abortifacients and potential abortifacients, but also on establishing in law the subordination of religious liberty to this project, the Democrats were scandalized to learn that the law says . . . what they wrote it to say. After considerable huffery-puffery, Harry Reid et al. introduced a bill that would strip employers of the very religious liberties protected by the RFRA, bringing the Democrats at last 180 degrees from where they started on the issue. The bill died in the Senate, and religious freedom survives, even as the gimlet-eyed operator from Nevada considers his options.
Meanwhile, the traditional form of abortion through brutal surgical dismemberment of the child in utero is still very much in vogue. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) introduced the maliciously misnamed Women’s Health Protection Act, which would effectively strip states of their ability to regulate the procedure of abortion, the clinics in which it is performed, and even whether surgical abortions are performed by licensed physicians in surgical facilities. Critics are right to call it the Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014, in memory of the gruesome Philadelphia abortionist who murdered newborn children while women died in his filthy abattoir. Strange that the same people who enthusiastically endorse federal oversight of the font sizes in workers’-comp posters (seriously) believe that a frequently dangerous procedure that has killed women (to say nothing of the children) within recent memory demands nothing less than laissez-faire. The states decide who may practice medicine within their borders, and have broad powers to regulate medical practice — they are not mere administrative subdivisions of the federal government. (If anything, the federal government should be prodding them to do more to give unborn children equal protection of the law.) And a pregnancy is not an ingrown toenail, to be casually dispatched by the application of any handy implement.
The president is making good on at least one promise: After warning that he would not wait for Congress to act to “provid[e] Americans the kind of help they need,” President Obama took up his infamous pen and signed a new executive order prohibiting federal employers and federal contractors from discriminating in hiring decisions based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The order, which implements for select groups provisions of the stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act, seems to address a non-problem: The available data suggest that market pressures are making discrimination on these bases extremely rare, as they ought to be. Religious liberty, on the other hand, is under constant threat from this administration, and this order is no exception. Although a narrow 2002 religious exemption signed by President George W. Bush was left intact, religiously affiliated organizations received no explicit exemption, meaning that organizations such as World Vision, World Relief, and Catholic Charities could be denied access to federal contracts. That the Obama administration made no provision for such conflicts indicates a continued preference for wielding the might of the federal government against traditional moral views about sex.
President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the border crisis that his policies helped create. Congress ought instead to pass bills to end those policies. It isn’t doing that. The HUMANE Act proposed by Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas), for instance, ostensibly would make it easier to send the unaccompanied minors on the border back to their home countries. But it won’t require the feds to do so, and don’t expect the president to make it a priority. A more sensible policy would provide funding for enforcement priorities that have been neglected, such as interior enforcement and anti-smuggling operations in Central America, and try to deny the president the ability to waive more immigration laws (he has been promising immigrant groups that he will follow up on his unilateral version of the DREAM Act, implemented in 2012, sometime soon). The end of the crisis will come only with a demonstrable commitment to enforcement.
It’s an odd world in which judges are accused of usurping the role of Congress for ruling that the executive branch must follow the text of a law Congress wrote. But that’s what happened toward the end of July: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress never gave the federal government power to provide subsidies and assess penalties in states that haven’t established their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. They were right — the text clearly authorizes subsidies only for state-run exchanges. But a panel from the Fourth Circuit ruled the opposite on the same day, arguing that the IRS had reached a plausible interpretation of Obamacare’s text. The dispute will go to a full hearing of the D.C. Circuit or to the Supreme Court, where the judges should choose the clear text of the law over the Obama administration’s convenient improvisations. But, because the law is so unworkable, insisting that it be followed will also throw these problems back to Congress. Which is why it’s past time for Republicans to come up with a replacement for Obamacare that makes coverage possible for roughly the same number of people, or more.
Jose Antonio Vargas, the celebrity illegal immigrant who has managed to parlay his lack of documentation into a career as a scofflaw, was arrested in early July on the Texas–Mexico border. Vargas, who was there protesting the deportation of other illegal immigrants, claimed he had forgotten that there is a series of border checkpoints in the area that he would be expected to pass through. One can understand his overconfidence. For years Vargas has been left alone by authorities, even as he has confessed to lying on federal documentation and continued to work without permission. This time, he gave the government no choice, and was ordered to appear in court for a deportation hearing. Will he follow the instruction? It seems unlikely. Having realized his predicament, Vargas penned an article in Politico that finished with the words “Don’t call me illegal / Because I am not / Illegal are your laws / And that’s why I’m not leaving.” Q.E.D.
Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, is a strong supporter of immigrants’ rights. He decries the idea of sending underage “refugees” back home, where they would face “the likelihood of being recruited into gangs and dying a violent death.” Instead, he says, they should be welcomed to America and housed “in the least restrictive settings” — but not in Maryland. To be sure, O’Malley’s qualms are not the usual “not in my backyard” fare. Instead, it’s all about the children. When the feds proposed housing unaccompanied alien children at a facility in Westminster, the governor objected because “it’s a conservative part of the state,” which meant “the children were at risk of getting harassed, or worse.” Oh, those violent, intolerant hicks in areas that didn’t vote for O’Malley! Presumably the governor would rather send them someplace safe, like Baltimore.
There has been much ado about the IRS’s claim that it lost forever two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s e-mail correspondence. As it turns out, Lerner was one step ahead of the congressional investigators demanding it. The House Oversight Committee has uncovered an April 2013 e-mail exchange in which Lerner cautioned her colleagues against the use of e-mail because Congress “has asked for e-mails” and “we need to be cautious about what we say.” She found a workaround, asking another agency official whether conversations conducted over the IRS’s electronic instant-messaging system would, like e-mail, be catalogued and handed over to Congress. Told they would not, she replied, “Perfect.” Not for those interested in getting to the bottom of the scandal.
The demonization of the Koch brothers is long past the point where it is unnerving. Recently, AFSCME, the public-employees union, broke relations with the United Negro College Fund. That is because the fund accepted a $25 million contribution from the Kochs. Obviously, AFSCME has a different worldview from the Kochs’: The union wants an ever greater role for government; the Kochs want a much smaller role. But could they not agree on the desirability of scholarships for needy Americans? We do not think much of George Soros — but if he wanted to spend $25 million on scholarships, rather than the Occupy movement or whatever his latest cause is, we would applaud. The demonization of the Kochs is profoundly illiberal.
Two cheers for Senators Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.), who introduced a bill to reform the criminal-justice system. They deserve the cheers because their goals seem right: taking minors out of solitary confinement, letting adults who committed non-violent offenses as children seal their records. The last cheer is withheld, though, because the bill uses federal community-police grants to get the states to adopt these policies. State legislatures should decide on their own whether to adopt these ideas, which is not a point we should need to make to Senator Paul.
The United States has seen a dramatic rise in the number of mergers and acquisitions of large corporations this year. That’s usually a sign of economic dynamism, but these are a reflection of our decidedly undynamic economic policies. Large corporations, especially pharmaceutical firms, are increasingly merging with competitors based in countries such as Ireland in order to incorporate overseas and reduce the tax rates they pay, a practice called “tax inversion.” The Obama administration and Congress are considering doing something about it, but both appear most interested in the wrong answer: banning the practice. The right answer is to fix our tax system so it’s worthwhile for companies to stay here. Corporate-tax reform is complicated, but so is your average international M&A deal. The returns are worth it.
‘If there’s one thing that separates Republicans from Democrats these days, today more than ever, it’s that Democrats believe that government can be a force for good and Republicans have become an anti-government party,” New York senator Chuck Schumer told Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne. “Business is sometimes an antigovernment group, but less and less so in this modern, complicated world.”
Dionne argues that “Democrats are trying to be populists and pro-business moderates at the same time.” Dionne’s evidence for this assertion is weak. As the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney noted, all of Dionne’s examples of Democratic populism amounted to talk, while all of his evidence that Democrats are pro-business moderates takes the form of policy. Elizabeth Warren goes to West Virginia to attack fat cats and corporations, but she supports the Export-Import Bank. The Democrats denounce Wall Street, but fight to give it what it wants on terrorism reinsurance. “Democrats aren’t juggling populism and corporatism,” Carney writes. “They’re talking populism and doing corporatism.”
This, of course, is an ancient game. Tell the proles you’re fighting the forces of reaction by day, and have cocktails with the forces of reaction at night. Almost every day, after the “Reverend” Al Sharpton finishes his show on MSNBC, he cruises up Fifth Avenue to have a cigar and a drink at the 1 percenter paradise, the Grand Havana Room. After all, race-baiting is thirsty work.
Hillary Clinton, likewise, claims to be a friend of the little guy. Why, when she and her husband moved out of public housing in 2001, they were broke and had to scramble to pay their daughter’s college tuition (she must have gotten a great education, by the way, since she now makes $75,000 a speech). Only by “dint of hard work” have they been able to scrape up the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve amassed since then.
But I want to get back to Chuck Schumer’s point about this complicated world. What, exactly, does Schumer think is responsible for the world’s getting so complicated? My phone makes my life immensely simpler. I recently bought a new car that helps me park. Sure, my TV’s remote control has a lot more buttons, but it makes watching what I want to watch so much easier than it once was.
I don’t want to be too glib here. It’s certainly true that many things have gotten much more complicated: dating rituals, gender roles, ordering a cup of coffee. But in what realm of life has the government been on the side of making things easier for people? Don’t you dare say health care. How about taxes? Or starting a business? Building a home? Paying for college? Getting on an airplane?
To the extent that Schumer is right that “business” — by which he means large corporations and rich Wall Street firms — is becoming less and less anti-government, it’s not because the world is naturally becoming more complicated. It’s because the government has an interest in making life more difficult to navigate without its help. Complexity is a subsidy—a subsidy for people and groups that have the inside track, the best lawyers, and the ability to get people like Chuck Schumer on the phone.
And that’s exactly how Chuck Schumer wants it. Everybody else can eat populism.
In April, a 27-year-old medical professional and single mother of two named Shaneen Allen performed an “unsafe lane change” on a New Jersey highway and, in consequence, was pulled over by the police. Under the impression that her Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit was accepted across the country, Allen admitted to officers that she was carrying a pistol. She was arrested and charged with a second-degree felony. It is clear that, by taking a gun into a state in which she was ineligible to do so, Allen broke the law. But it is less clear why prosecutors have elected to go after her so harshly, not only bringing charges but seeking a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. Despite Allen’s having been accepted into a program called “Pretrial Intervention,” which permits first-time non-violent offenders to avoid jail time and to have their conviction record scrubbed, prosecutors have refused to sign off, preferring to pursue a spell in jail. It is an egregious prosecution and a bad law. If New Jersey wishes to take a big step away from such overreactions, the “Allen Bill” has a nice ring to it.
Forty people were shot in Chicago on the third weekend in July. At least 60 were shot, and 17 killed, over the Independence Day weekend. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has learned well from his time in the Obama administration: He has given many speeches, and done nothing. Governor Pat Quinn, a feckless enough man in his own right, has offered to send in the state police — but not until the mayor asks for them. In the meantime, both men are talking a great deal of rubbish about so-called assault weapons (which play a very minor role in Chicago’s street violence) and background checks — in a city in which most shootings are performed by men with prior criminal histories. Chicago has strict gun laws and limp enforcement: Hundreds of criminals picked up on gun charges were released after serving little or no time only to commit more serious violent crimes upon discharge. The mayor and the governor are quick with a platitude, but their fundamental unfitness for governance is getting people killed. If Illinois had any self-respect left, both would have been driven from office long ago.
In Nebraska, a veteran named Dale Remmich became so angry at the Obama administration’s mismanagement of the Department of Veterans Affairs that he created an Independence Day float that featured an outhouse marked “Obama Presidential Library.” The float quickly became an Internet meme, eventually making its way to the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, which dispatched a “Community Relations Service” officer to investigate the incident. Once upon a time, Americans knew reflexively that words could not hurt us. Now we send in agents of the state to confirm it.
“There are none left! There are none left!” said Ignace Joseph III Younan, the Syrian Catholic patriarch of Antioch, in answer to an interviewer who asked whether any Christians remained in Mosul. The ancient city, Iraq’s second-largest, was captured by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in June, and by July 19 the jihadist organization was believed to have expelled the last few Christians who had not already fled the ultimatum that they either convert to Islam, submit to dhimmitude, or be executed. The cross atop a cathedral was torn down, and buildings with Christian associations have been ominously marked, in red paint, with the Arabic letter nun, standing for “Nasara,” or “Nazarene,” meaning “Christian,” in a pejorative sense. Present-day Mosul, identified with the Biblical city of Nineveh, is the site of the tomb of Jonah, which reportedly has been attacked, together with other tombs, in accordance with a Muslim belief that veneration of burial sites constitutes blasphemy. Western media have noted the atrocities but largely failed to convey the gravity of the crisis they represent. Muslim leaders who are privately outraged by the crimes being committed in the name of their religion could help by voicing their outrage less quietly.
Hamas fires missiles at Israel regularly. With like regularity, the Israeli missile-defense system, Iron Dome, shoots them down. Thus do the missiles keep from hitting Israeli innocents. We Americans should consider the lesson. In the early days of missile defense, the Democratic party was spectacularly immature. Three months after Reagan launched our program, Senator Ted Kennedy told the kids at Brown University, “We cannot found national policy on fond memories of radio serials, dreams of the Old West, and the thrilling days of yesteryear. We must reject the preposterous notion of a Lone Ranger in the sky, firing silver laser bullets and shooting missiles out of the hands of Soviet outlaws.” You will not hear such sniggering from the Israelis. Rocket attacks are too serious. In a world of Iran, North Korea, and other such actors, we should be serious too.
In a speech commemorating a mass roundup of Jews in wartime Paris, French prime minister Manuel Valls spoke of people today “who hide their hatred of the Jews behind a mask of anti-Zionism and behind the hatred of the Israeli state.” He knew what he was talking about. Several recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris have turned violent. According to Jewish sources, eight synagogues in French cities have just been targeted, and protesters have been heard shouting, “Death to Jews” and “Hitler was right.” A ban on further demonstrations simply had no effect. In Barbès in northern Paris, 17 of the police blocking a march were injured in fighting that ensued, and there were 44 arrests. Things were worse in nearby Sarcelles, where Jewish shops were trashed. Film has been shown on the news of youths trying to break into a synagogue defended by Jewish vigilantes, some of whom needed medical treatment afterwards. A Jewish spokeswoman agreed with Prime Minister Valls: “Anti-Zionism is the new face of anti-Semitism in France.”
Germany ordered the CIA station chief in Berlin out of the country after discovering that a mid-level employee in the Federal Intelligence Service had been feeding info to the CIA for two years. The general principles of spying on one’s allies are these: All allies do it to each other; all allies know they do it to each other; every nation is nevertheless entitled to resent and punish violations of its sovereignty (we imprisoned Jonathan Pollard). What makes this particular case noteworthy is that, after years of liberal sneering at Cowboy W. for bumptiously offending our allies, the Obama administration has presided over a blown spy in Germany — less than a year after the NSA was caught eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel. Spying is dirty work, for cool liberals as well as red-state Republicans.
Australians, having decided that they do not wish to become poor and miserable, have thrown out their so-called carbon tax, which is in fact a tax on energy — and therefore, in effect, a tax on everything. It is the first developed nation to have inflicted such a tax on itself and then to have seen reason. The tax was put forward by a Labor government that promised it would fund substantial tax cuts elsewhere and expanded welfare benefits; but of course the tax intensified the burden on Australians, who did not much notice their increasing cost of living . . . until the economy went soft, the mining boom petered out, and financial trouble in the rest of the world took some of the momentum out of the Aussies’ sails. There are two lessons here. The first is that a carbon tax is not a tax on pollution or on greenhouse gases — it is a tax on modernity, from food to fuel to manufactured goods to home utilities. The second and perhaps more important lesson is that, in a world that contains (1) China, (2) India, and (3) vast amounts of coal waiting to be consumed, even a painful tax on a handful of national economies is going to do nothing to reverse worrisome climate trends. Global warming is global, and not subject to local regulation — not in Australia, not in the United States. Australia has repealed its carbon tax; we should save ourselves the trouble.
A Scottish scientist projects that global warming might lead to the extinction of redheads. His reasoning: The combination of red hair and fair skin was a genetic mutation that allowed greater absorption of Vitamin D in cloudy northern climes. If there are fewer clouds in the future, the mutation will be disfavored, which means redheads will disappear in another few centuries. Fortunately, if that’s the word, scientists soon dismantled the “scientist’s” (well, he has a master’s degree) case: There’s no single gene for red hair; redheads are not especially good at absorbing Vitamin D; there may in fact be more clouds in the future; and having to slather on some sunscreen will not make redheads go extinct. So that’s that, and gingerphiles can rest easy. We only wish that all climate-change scare stories were subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
In April, Brandeis University caved in to pressure from faculty members and revoked plans to bestow an honorary degree on Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her work defending women’s rights in the Muslim world. This month, e-mails from an internal faculty listserv were revealed that offer a further glimpse into the worldview of some of its faculty members. The listserv, entitled “Concerned,” was used to air tirades from professors against “the vile, terrorist Israeli government,” the Jewish president of the university and his wife (referred to in e-mail exchanges as “Mein Leader und Frau”), and “American Jewish financiers,” among others. In one characteristically bizarre 2009 rant, politics professor Donald Hindley, a signatory of the petition against Ms. Hirsi Ali, speculated about the possibility that should he die in “occupied Palestine,” his organs would be harvested by Israelis. A spokesman for Brandeis said that “members of the community may hold many different opinions on a variety of topics.” Funny how many of them seem to hold the same sort of opinions as Professor Hindley.
In Berkeley, Calif., when they say “Everybody must get stoned,” they mean it. Under a proposed city ordinance, scheduled for a final vote in August, medical-marijuana dispensaries would be required to set aside 2 percent of their stash to be dispensed free to the poor. And it can’t be all twigs and seeds, either: “Medical Cannabis provided under this Section shall be the same quality on average as Medical Cannabis that is dispensed to other members.” We smell potential mischief: While legitimate medical uses do exist, marijuana dispensaries tend to regard their product as a panacea and are notoriously undiscriminating about the conditions they treat with it. Nor does the Berkeley plan show promise as an anti-poverty initiative: Will it make the underprivileged want to go out and get a job, or just go out and get some Doritos?
A Fourth of July concert is an American rite, and perhaps even an American right. It ought to be one of the most wholesome events of the year. In Philadelphia (a Fourth of July city if there ever was one), the concert this year was wrecked with profanity: constant F-bombs and other such bombs coming from the performers on the stage. Many families were distressed. The mayor issued an apology. We conservatives have been writing about the “coarsening of our culture” for many years, and liberals and others roll their eyes. Let them roll them: Bad as our economic problems are, they are not our worst.
In early July a photo — snapped by a former Planned Parenthood employee — of a certificate that Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains awarded to its Aurora, Colo., clinic went viral on the Internet. “This certificate awarded to Aurora,” it reads, “for exceeding abortion visits first half of FY12 compared to first half of FY13.” Some pro-lifers are claiming the certificate is proof that Planned Parenthood imposes abortion quotas on its clinics; Planned Parenthood has denied the charge. The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains explained, “Yes, we absolutely do celebrate our progress in ensuring that more people have access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion. And we always will.” “Safe, legal, and rare” long ago gave way to “Safe, legal, and abundant” — and lauded, too.
Thousands stream illegally across our borders, the IRS is a rolling crime wave, Chicago is so dangerous that its residents compare it bitterly to Iraq . . . and, in North Carolina, a mother faces ten years in jail for allowing her daughter to play in the park while she was at work. Imagine trying to explain that to a civilized man not marinated in the strange blend of puritanism and nihilism that is the intellectual climate of our times. Impossible.
Marvel Comics announced that Thor — a superhero, inspired by the Norse god of thunder, who first appeared in the publisher’s pages in 1962 — will become a woman. A few chuckled at what they perceived as a highly publicized metaphor for transgender individuals, while many fans groaned at what seemed like the latest in a series of high-profile stunts in the comics industry: a previously established African-American character claimed the mantle of Captain America, and the grown-up Archie of Riverdale was killed preventing the assassination of a gay senator. The comics industry is seeing its creations make fortunes for Hollywood, but actual four-color-comics readership and circulation are sliding. The industry has periodically grappled with its continuing difficulty of getting girls to read comics, and Marvel undoubtedly hopes girls and women will check out the new feminine Thor. Perhaps the Norse god Odin should make the best of it and think of it not as losing a son but as gaining a daughter.
LeBron James is going home. The basketball superstar, who opted out of his six-year contract with the Miami Heat after four years, has decided to return to the franchise where his NBA career began, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Northeast Ohio native penned an essay for Sports Illustrated’s website to announce his decision, and in it sounded themes of rootedness and community. Expressing his hope to serve the area in which he grew up by mentoring young Ohioans and encouraging them to return to their hometowns after college to build their communities, “King James” observed: “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” There is no telling whether James will stick around if he gets tired of waiting for a ring in Cleveland, which has an average winning percentage of .311 since he left for sunnier prospects four years ago. But if he truly does mean to call Northeast Ohio home again, then Cleveland has much to look forward to — both on and off the court.
Major League Baseball has appointed its first “ambassador for inclusion” of homosexuals. His name is Billy Bean (not to be confused with former A’s general manager Billy Beane), and he is a former major-league outfielder who was driven from the game by anxiety over his secret gay life and a career .226 batting average. There’s nothing new about identity politics in baseball; the Cleveland Indians’ nickname pays tribute to a popular early-20th-century player from the Penobscot tribe, and in the 1920s the New York Giants briefly promoted a slugging right fielder named Mose Solomon as “the Rabbi of Swat.” But it’s different nowadays. An article at MLB.com reports that Bean “works actively to dispel the myth and stereotypes that follow people of diversity.” The next time some sportswriter extols baseball’s timelessness, just try to imagine Kenesaw Mountain Landis speaking the phrase “people of diversity.”
When Hillary Clinton went on the Today show in 1998 and warned of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to bring down her husband’s presidential administration, White House aides made sure everybody knew who she believed sat at the center of it: Richard Mellon Scaife, a Pittsburgh billionaire. The Left is forever inventing bogeymen — nowadays, the Koch brothers play the part — but there was in fact nothing conspiratorial, let alone sinister, about Scaife’s political activism. The heir to a banking and oil fortune, he became one of the great conservative philanthropists of his time, devoting millions of dollars to think tanks, public-interest law firms, and investigative journalism. He also gave generously to medical research, art museums, and even the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He asked for nothing in return except, apparently, common courtesy. In his final days, Scaife told the historian Paul Kengor that he once wrote a check to a non-political group: “They never thanked me. So screw them!” Scaife died on July 4 — a fitting end for a patriot, one who deserves gratitude from conservatives everywhere. R.I.P.
James MacGregor Burns was a veray parfit gentil liberal, mid-century edition: admiring biographer of FDR, somewhat critical biographer of JFK. He named his two golden retrievers Jefferson and Roosevelt — did they ever fight? — and thought the republic needed great leaders in the White House — leading leftward, of course. (He conceded Reagan’s political skills, though he deplored his goals.) Withal Burns was a gracious man, devoted to his students at Williams. He also wrote admiringly about George Washington: Mid-century liberals were, after all, patriots. Dead at 95. R.I.P.
Eduard Shevardnadze was a typical member of the nomenklatura in the death throes of the Soviet Union. A native Georgian, he was trained in the Komsomol, the politicized structure that formed Communist leadership, joining the party in 1948 in the midst of Stalin’s final terror. Facing every which way, his particular skill was saying the right thing to the right person. Latching early onto Gorbachev, he became Soviet foreign minister in 1985, resigning with great foresight just before the 1991 upheavals that brought down Gorbachev and Communism together. A second career as president of Georgia was a disaster involving massive corruption, rigged elections, and assassination attempts until he was thrown out of office. Dead at 86. R.I.P.
Now that Ukrainian separatists have shot down a Malaysian airliner, America and Europe must make their most crucial decisions about Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
They should not focus on holding an international judicial inquiry: There won’t be one unless Russia thinks it can fake evidence convincingly enough. But we know the Russian state is responsible for shooting down a civilian airliner; all that’s in doubt is its precise degree of direct involvement.
Western governments have two options. They can reveal information about the crash, garnered from satellite photographs, communications intercepts (thank you, NSA), and agents on the ground, in graphic detail as part of a strong Western response including further economic sanctions and the supply of advanced arms to Ukraine. Or they can privately threaten to do all these things in tough negotiations with Russia designed to reverse Putin’s aggressive and illegal actions. The second option will be credible only if we have already begun implementing the first.
EU leaders seem receptive to still-stronger policies. But what policies exactly? A logical response to Moscow’s breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear arms in return for guarantees of its independence) would be to return tactical battlefield nuclear weapons to Ukraine. That would render a full-scale Russian invasion impossible and undermine Putin in domestic politics for bringing nuclear weapons to the borders of Russia.
Such a bold move is unlikely: It would violate anti-proliferation policies, complicate Ukraine’s attempt to recover Donetsk, alarm Ukraine’s other neighbors, and — most important — greatly reduce the West’s control of the crisis. Still, it should be discussed, to underline the risks that ignoring treaties and international law invites.
Failing that, the West should ensure that Ukraine receives as many conventional armaments as it needs. Reviving earlier plans for anti-missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and moving more NATO troops to Poland and frontline NATO states, should also be on the table. These strategic measures should be backed by tougher economic sanctions that do not ignore Germany’s energy imports from Russia, France’s sale of warships to Russia, and Russian money in the London markets.
Ever since the Ukraine crisis began, Putin has consistently wrong-footed himself. His economic blackmail persuaded President Yanukovych to break off EU-membership negotiations, but this led to mass popular protests. When Moscow pressured Yanukovych into repressing these protests brutally, his government fell and was replaced by a pro-EU one. In response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the Western alliance has imposed moderate but escalating sanctions on Russia. And when Putin encouraged eastern Ukrainians to rebel, he unified the nation against Russia.
It would be better for everyone if Russia used this tragedy as an excuse to retreat from Ukraine. But strongmen don’t do retreats well. Still, there must now be many Russians, including some in the Kremlin, who, in the light of the burning airliner, wonder if Putin is worth it. The West should strengthen their hand by raising the cost of keeping him to more painful levels.
Fighting Terror in Gaza
For the third time in recent years, Hamas has brought catastrophe to Gaza, to the very people it claims to be representing. A branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas offers proof — if further proof were needed — of the inhumanity of which political Islam is capable. The steadfast purpose of Hamas is the death of the Jews of Israel and the destruction of that state. Suicide bombers, infiltration of terrorists through a network of concealed tunnels, and hostage-taking are the everyday tactics of this anti-Israeli campaign. Secretly Iran was building up an arsenal said to consist of 10,000 missiles. The firing of these missiles into Israel month after month prompted Mahmoud Abbas to ask on behalf of Palestinians outside Hamas, “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” Here was a cynical ploy that served to test Israel’s powers of endurance to the breaking point. And so to retaliation.
The Israeli air force began by flying hundreds of sorties in an attempt to take out missiles and launch pads. From previous experience, Hamas understood that Israel would go to extreme lengths to avoid killing civilians, and therefore exploited them to shield targets. Warned by Israel of coming air strikes, civilians were then ordered by Hamas by stay put, in effect condemned to be human sacrifices. By way of consolation, a Hamas TV host explained that the dead receive the rewards of martyrdom in paradise.
Blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Gazans, Israel is accused of “disproportion.” Behind this fiction is pure animus. What standards of proportion apply in the circumstances? As missiles by the hundred and even by the thousand rain down on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities, Hamas spokesmen like to declare that all Israelis are “legitimate targets.” Nor do they give any advance warning. Few Israeli civilians have been killed because Iron Dome, the national missile screen, proves brilliantly effective.
The Israeli government responded by ordering a ground incursion into Gaza. Evidently this is the only way to neutralize or capture the missiles still in store, and to locate and blow up the complex of tunnels (where Hamas leaders have headquarters and shelter not available to ordinary folk). Hand-to-hand warfare adds to the costs Israel has to pay, and as of now about 25 of its soldiers have been killed.
President Obama concedes that Israel has the right to defend itself. However, he treats the casualty figures as if they were the only relevant consideration, and calls for a ceasefire. Advised by Israel that the army was undertaking pinpoint attacks, Secretary of State Kerry was overheard and recorded in a television studio sarcastically repeating to a colleague, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.” The sole possible broker of a ceasefire is Egyptian president Abdul Fattah Sisi. Kerry publicly criticized him for taking power at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he will have one hell of an operation persuading Sisi that he has changed his mind. Hamas shares the delusion of all extremists that the worse things are, the better they are, and its response to the suggestion of ceasefire so far has been to fire more missiles.
War settles issues by establishing a winner and a loser — except when Israel is involved. Ceasefire is a euphemistic fiction. So long as Hamas remains in possession of its weaponry and its tunnels, it guarantees a fourth round of fighting, and yet more catastrophe for Gaza.