Fundamentally Transformative

From Myron Magnet:

Anyone who believes the talk about how Barack Obama is already a lame-duck president, detached and irrelevant, is deluding himself. President Obama has accomplished more or less what he set out to accomplish. He has made himself the most consequential and transformative president since Lyndon Johnson. His foreign policy has been more systematically destructive of the world order and American power than LBJ’s Vietnam War. His wrong-headed domestic policy has proved more catastrophic and intentionally hard to correct than Johnson’s madcap War on Poverty, whose consequences still bedevil our society.

On the domestic front, Obama has overturned American health care, one-sixth of the nation’s economy and an industry that affects everyone. True, Obamacare is a mess, but it has destroyed the existing health-insurance system, and it will take the next administration, along with the health and insurance industries, a long time both to figure out what a crazy tangle Obamacare has created and then to untangle the confusion, some of it intentional, some inadvertent. Do we want employer-funded health insurance? Mutual insurance companies? An individual tax deduction for health-insurance premiums? Catastrophic care coverage? National rather than state-regulated insurance companies? What do we do about those with pre-existing conditions? What do we do with those supposedly “covered” by Obamacare? Obama has preempted the option of a slow, Burkean evolution to a better and more rational arrangement from the employer-paid system that grew half-accidentally out of World War II price controls. Now we have anarchy, and it will require leadership and vision beyond what America usually can call upon to hose out Obama’s Augean stables and create order.

Meanwhile, the president has overturned the Constitution to keep his command-and-control health-insurance scheme alive. The law that Congress wrote (but didn’t read, under the shameless leadership of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi) turned out to be, as was inevitable, filled with holes and errors. No matter: a presidential edict a day keeps collapse away. But the Constitution doesn’t allow for government by executive edict. That’s for monarchy or dictatorship. Nevertheless, after such an example, it will take us some time to reestablish the principle that the president’s duty is to see that the laws are faithfully executed, and that his power doesn’t go beyond that—doesn’t extend, for example, to abolishing our national border.

Now that the days of Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster—not to mention Sam Ervin—are almost mythical memories, we live in the less lofty era of Elizabeth Warren and Charlie Rangel, and under the shadow of the 1974 Budget Act, by which the House of Representatives threw away its power of the purse, weakening the Madisonian machinery of checks and balances. As a result, we have a presidency more imperial than Richard Nixon would have dared imagine, and it will take time to restore something resembling our constitutional order. History will remember Reid and Pelosi as being nearly as important as Clay or Calhoun—but with a completely different valuation, diminishing the power and prestige of their institutions by abusing them, like Joe McCarthy or Martin Dies. And if the administrative state conceived in the Progressive Era, and brought to fruition by the New Deal, intentionally overturned the Founding Fathers’ constitutional order, Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board—free of oversight by the people’s elected representatives—or the Dodd-Frank Act’s similarly anti-democratic Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have taken that fourth branch of government (utterly unsanctioned by the Constitution, as Franklin Roosevelt said, even as he was expanding it) to anti-constitutional extremes that make a mockery of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” and would have the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves.

Abroad, we see the ruin that an incoherent American foreign policy and wanton abdication of power has permitted. If President Obama thought President George W. Bush’s freedom agenda naïve—and, to be sure, how can tribal peoples with tribal loyalties and medieval customs develop overnight the rule of law, sanctity of contract, disinterested administration, and rational discourse that it took Western civilization centuries to nurture—why would he and his remarkably maladroit secretaries of state expect the Arab Spring to produce exactly that impossible outcome? Why would the president stick so long by the sectarian bigot Nuri al-Maliki, who can only bring about chaos, division, and bloodshed? Why would Obama not arm the Kurds and let them form their own semi-autonomous region, oil-rich and grateful for U.S. support—if only they had it? Why would he tell Israel to stop interdicting terrorist missiles from Gaza, until our democratic ally, Benjamin Netanyahu, finally told him to shut up, while meanwhile anarchy rages across the blood-drenched region, as the Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad fights off the seventh-century fanatics of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, one tyranny against another, with collateral damage measured in tens of thousands of bodies—and not one word from the Leader of the Free World? And one would have said of Russian czar Vladimir Putin what Max Eastman once wrote of Ernest Hemingway—“Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you”—except that this administration’s “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, meaning meek acquiescence in all that Russia does, has turned a paper tiger into a real one, with almost 20,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border, armed with the most modern engines of murder, as they have already shown with a feral smirk.

It is proverbially easy to destroy something but hard to build it up. Faced with such wreckage of policies and systems laboriously constructed by Americans over decades and centuries, who knows where to start the work of repair, and how to do it? And that’s the final, intentional destruction Barack Obama has wrought: he has the Republican opposition, already creaking with ideological strains, in internal turmoil about almost everything, since everything is so out of joint.

“Show our critics a great man,” wrote historian and biographer Thomas Carlyle, “they begin to what they call ‘account’ for him. . . . He was the ‘creature of the Time,’ they say; the Time called him forth, the Time did everything, he nothing. . . . The Time call forth? Alas, we have known Times call loudly enough for their great man; but not find him when they called! . . . [T]he Time, calling its loudest, had to go down to confusion and wreck because he would not come when called.” The present time is calling loudly, too, and we must hope that leaders of vision, courage, eloquence, patriotism, and prudence will step forward to start us on the work of repair.

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A Post-Thinking Era

From Thomas Sowell:

Some have said that we are living in a post-industrial era, while others have said that we are living in a post-racial era. But growing evidence suggests that we are living in a post-thinking era.

Many people in Europe and the Western Hemisphere are staging angry protests against Israel’s military action in Gaza. One of the talking points against Israel is that far more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli military attacks than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel that started this latest military conflict.

Are these protesters aware that vastly more German civilians were killed by American bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II than American civilians killed in the United States by Hitler’s forces?

Talk show host Geraldo Rivera says that there is no way Israel is winning the battle for world opinion. But Israel is trying to win the battle for survival, while surrounded by enemies. Might that not be more important?

Has any other country, in any other war, been expected to keep the enemy’s civilian casualties no higher than its own civilian casualties? The idea that Israel should do so did not originate among the masses but among the educated intelligentsia.

In an age when scientists are creating artificial intelligence, too many of our educational institutions seem to be creating artificial stupidity.

It is much the same story in our domestic controversies. We have gotten so intimidated by political correctness that our major media outlets dare not call people who immigrate to this country illegally “illegal immigrants.”

Geraldo Rivera has denounced the Drudge Report for carrying news stories that show some of the negative consequences and dangers from allowing vast numbers of youngsters to enter the country illegally and be spread across the country by the Obama administration.

Some of these youngsters are already known to be carrying lice and suffering from disease. Since there have been no thorough medical examinations of most of them, we have no way of knowing whether, or how many, are carrying deadly diseases that will spread to American children when these unexamined young immigrants enter schools across the country.

The attack against Matt Drudge has been in the classic tradition of demagogues. It turns questions of fact into questions of motive. Geraldo accuses Drudge of trying to start a “civil war.”

Back when masses of immigrants from Europe were entering this country, those with dangerous diseases were turned back from Ellis Island. Nobody thought they had a legal or a moral “right” to be in America or that it was mean or racist not to want our children to catch their diseases.

Even on the less contentious issue of minimum wage laws, there are the same unthinking reactions.

Although liberals are usually gung ho for increasing the minimum wage, there was a sympathetic front page story in the July 29th San Francisco Chronicle about the plight of a local non-profit organization that will not be able to serve as many low-income minority youths if it has to pay a higher minimum wage. They are seeking some kind of exemption.

Does it not occur to these people that the very same thing happens when a minimum wage increase applies to profit-based employers? They too tend to hire fewer inexperienced young people when there is a minimum wage law.

This is not breaking news. This is what has been happening for generations in the United States and in other countries around the world.

One of the few countries without a minimum wage law is Switzerland, where the unemployment rate has been consistently less than 4 percent for years. Back in 2003, The Economist magazine reported that “Switzerland’s unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9% in February.” The most recent issue shows the Swiss unemployment rate back to a more normal 3.2 percent.

Does anyone think that having minimum wage laws and high youth unemployment is better? In fact, does anyone think at all these days?

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Distinctions

From Fred Schwarz:

This week’s issue of The Economist has an article explaining how Britain’s Labour party is “besotted with Uncle Sam.” This surprised me, because NR’s resident British expat, Charlie Cooke, no Labourite he, has also been effusive in his praise of America. Shouldn’t one side love us and the other hate us? But a close reading of the Economist piece reveals the difference between the two.

According to The Economist, what Labourites love about America is its politics — blogs, biographies of past presidents, think tanks, universities, consultants, advisers, campaign managers, Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio, and of course the unreciprocating object of their most ardent affections, Barack Obama.

Charlie, by contrast, loves America for its technology, for the Southwest, for Patsy Cline, for its citizens’ restlessness and their no-nonsense approach to national defense, but most of all for its freedom — particularly the Second Amendment. Not even Obama can diminish this admiration.

In other words, liberals wish America had a people worthy of their government, while conservatives wish America had a government worthy of its people. That’s true of Americophiles on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Cease the Ceasefires

From Thomas Sowell:

Many years ago, on my first trip around the world, I was struck by how the children in the Middle East — Arab and Israeli alike — were among the nicest-looking little children I had seen anywhere. It was painful to think that they were going to grow up killing each other. But that is exactly what happened.

It is understandable that today, many people in many lands just want the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians to stop. Calls for a ceasefire are ringing out from the United Nations and from Washington, as well as from ordinary people in many places around the world.

According to the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping for a ceasefire to “open the door to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for a long-term solution.” President Obama has urged Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” — again, with the idea of pursuing some long-lasting agreement.

If this were the first outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, such hopes might make sense. But where have the U.N., Kerry, and Obama been during all these decades of endlessly repeated Middle East carnage?

The Middle East must lead the world in ceasefires. If ceasefires were the road to peace, the Middle East would easily be the most peaceful place on the planet. “Ceasefire” and “negotiations” are magic words to “the international community.” But just what do ceasefires actually accomplish? In the short run, they save some lives. But in the long run they cost far more lives by lowering the cost of aggression.

At one time, launching a military attack on another nation risked not only retaliation but annihilation. When Carthage attacked Rome, that was the end of Carthage. But when Hamas or some other terrorist group launches an attack on Israel, the aggressor knows in advance that whatever Israel does in response will be limited by calls for a ceasefire, backed by political and economic pressure from the United States.

It is not at all clear what Israel’s critics can rationally expect the Israelis to do when they are attacked. Suffer in silence? Surrender? Flee the Middle East? Or — most unrealistic of all — fight a “nice” war, with no civilian casualties? General William T. Sherman said it all, 150 years ago: “War is hell.”

If you want to minimize civilian casualties, then minimize the danger of war, by no longer coming to the rescue of those who start wars.

Not only was Israel attacked by vast numbers of rockets, but it was also invaded — underground — through mazes of tunnels. There is something grotesque about people living thousands of miles away, in safety and comfort, loftily second-guessing and trying to micromanage what the Israelis are doing in a matter of life and death. Such self-indulgences are a danger, not simply to Israel, but to the whole Western world, for they betray a lack of realism that shows in everything from the current disastrous consequences of our policies in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq to future catastrophes from a nuclear-armed Iran.

Those who say that we can contain a nuclear Iran, as we contained a nuclear Soviet Union, are acting as if they are discussing abstract people in an abstract world. Whatever the Soviets were, they were not suicidal fanatics, ready to see their own cities destroyed in order to destroy ours.

As for the ever-elusive “solution” to the Arab–Israeli conflicts in the Middle East, there is nothing faintly resembling a solution anywhere on the horizon. Nor is it hard to see why.

Even if the Israelis were all saints — and sainthood is not common in any branch of the human race — the cold fact is that they are far more advanced than their neighbors, and groups that cannot tolerate even subordinate Christian minorities can hardly be expected to tolerate an independent, and more advanced, Jewish state that is a daily rebuke to their egos.

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Blindingly Clear

From Charles Krauthammer:

Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.

Apologists for Hamas attribute the bloodlust to the Israeli occupation and blockade. Occupation? There is not a soldier, not a settler, not a single Israeli in Gaza. Does no one remember anything? It was less than ten years ago that worldwide television showed the Israeli army pulling diehard settlers off synagogue roofs in Gaza as Israel uprooted it settlements, expelled its citizens, withdrew its military, and turned every inch of Gaza over to the Palestinians.

There was no blockade. On the contrary. Israel wanted this new Palestinian state to succeed. To help the Gaza economy, Israel gave the Palestinians its 3,000 greenhouses that had produced fruit and flowers for export. It opened border crossings and encouraged commerce.

The whole idea was to establish the model for two states living peacefully and productively side by side. No one seems to remember that simultaneous with the Gaza withdrawal, Israel dismantled four smaller settlements in the northern West Bank as a clear signal of Israel’s desire to leave the West Bank too and thus achieve an amicable two-state solution.

And how did the Gaza Palestinians react to being granted by the Israelis what no previous ruler, neither Egyptian, nor British, nor Turkish, had ever given them — an independent territory? First, they demolished the greenhouses. Then they elected Hamas. Then, instead of building a state with its attendant political and economic institutions, they spent the better part of a decade turning Gaza into a massive military base, brimming with terror weapons, to make ceaseless war on Israel.

Where are the roads and rail, the industry and infrastructure of the new Palestinian state? Nowhere. Instead, they built mile upon mile of underground tunnels to hide their weapons and, when the going gets tough, their military commanders. They spent millions importing and producing rockets, launchers, mortars, small arms, even drones. They deliberately placed them in schools, hospitals, mosques, and private homes to better expose their own civilians. And from which they fire rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counter fire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

In a world of such Kafkaesque ethical inversions, Hamas’ depravity begins to make sense. This is a world in which the Munich massacre is a movie and the murder of Klinghoffer is an opera — both deeply sympathetic to the killers. This is a world in which the U.N. ignores humanity’s worst war criminals while incessantly condemning Israel, a state warred upon for 66 years which nonetheless goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid harming the very innocents its enemies use as shields.

It’s to the Israelis’ credit that amid all this madness they haven’t lost their moral scruples. Or their nerve. Those outside the region have the minimum obligation, therefore, to expose the madness and speak the truth. Rarely has it been so blindingly clear.

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Bush’s War?

VDH refreshes our collective memory regarding the Iraq War:

So who lost Iraq?

The blame game mostly fingers incompetent Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Or is Barack Obama culpable for pulling out all American troops monitoring the success of the 2007–08 surge?

Some still blame George W. Bush for going into Iraq in 2003 in the first place to remove Saddam Hussein.

One can blame almost anyone, but one must not invent facts to support an argument.

Do we remember that Bill Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that supported regime change in Iraq? He gave an eloquent speech on the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

In 2002, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution authorizing the removal of Saddam Hussein by force. Senators such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Harry Reid offered moving arguments on the Senate floor why we should depose Saddam in a post-9/11 climate.

Democratic stalwarts such as Senator Jay Rockefeller and Representative Nancy Pelosi lectured us about the dangers of Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. They drew on the same classified domestic- and foreign-intelligence reports that had led Bush to call for Saddam’s forcible removal.

The Bush administration, like members of Congress, underestimated the costs of the war and erred in focusing almost exclusively on Saddam’s supposed stockpiles of weapons. But otherwise, the war was legally authorized on 23 writs. Most of them had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and were unaffected by the later mysterious absence of such weapons — which is all the more mysterious given that troves of WMD have turned up in nearby Syria and more recently in Iraqi bunkers overrun by Islamic militants.

Legally, the U.S. went to war against Saddam because he had done things such as committing genocide against the Kurds, Shiites, and the Marsh Arabs, and attacking four of his neighbors. He had tried to arrange the assassination of a former U.S. president, George H. W. Bush. He had paid bounties for suicide bombers on the West Bank and was harboring the worst of global terrorists. Saddam also offered refuge to at least one of the architects of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and violated U.N.-authorized no-fly zones.

A number of prominent columnists, Right and Left — from George Will, David Brooks, and William F. Buckley to Fareed Zakaria, David Ignatius, and Thomas Friedman — supported Saddam’s forcible removal. When his statue fell in 2003, most polls showed that over 70 percent of Americans agreed with the war.

What changed public opinion and caused radical about-faces among the war’s most ardent supporters were the subsequent postwar violence and insurgency between 2004 and 2007 and the concurrent domestic elections and rising antiwar movement. Thousands of American troops were killed or wounded in mostly failed efforts to stem the Sunni–Shiite savagery.

The 2007–08 surge engineered by General David Petraeus ended much of the violence. By Obama’s second year in office, American fatalities had been reduced to far below the monthly accident rate in the U.S. military. “An extraordinary achievement,” Obama said of the “stable” and “self-reliant” Iraq that he inherited — and left.

Prior to our invasion, the Kurds were a persecuted people who had been gassed, slaughtered, and robbed of all rights by Saddam. In contrast, today a semi-autonomous Kurdistan is a free-market, consensual society of tolerance that, along with Israel, is one of the few humane places in the Middle East.

In 2003, the New York Times estimated that Saddam Hussein had killed perhaps about 1 million of his own people. That translated into about 40,000 deaths for each year he led Iraq.

A Saddam-led Iraq over the last decade would not have been a peaceable place.

We can also imagine that Saddam would not have sat idly by the last decade as Pakistan and North Korea openly sold their nuclear expertise, and as rival Iran pressed ahead with its nuclear enrichment program.

Nor should we forget that the U.S. military decimated al-Qaeda in Iraq. Tens of thousands of foreign terrorists flocked to Anbar Province and there met their deaths. When Obama later declared that al-Qaeda was “on the run,” it was largely because it had been nearly obliterated in Iraq.

Launching a costly campaign to remove Saddam may or may not have been a wise move. But it is historically inaccurate to suggest that the Iraq War was cooked up by George W. Bush alone — or that it did not do enormous damage to al-Qaeda, bring salvation for the Kurds, and by 2009 provide a rare chance for the now-bickering Iraqis to make something out of what Saddam had tried to destroy.

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Bureaucratic Collectivism

From Jonah Goldeberg:

For understandable reasons, the IRS scandal has largely focused on the political question of whether the White House deliberately targeted its opponents. To date there’s no evidence that it did. That’s good for the president, but it may not be good for the country, because if the administration didn’t target opponents, that would mean the IRS has become corrupt all on its own.

In 1939, Bruno Rizzi, a largely forgotten Communist intellectual, wrote a hugely controversial book, The Bureaucratization of the World. Rizzi argued that the Soviet Union wasn’t Communist. Rather, it represented a new kind of system, what Rizzi called “bureaucratic collectivism.” What the Soviets had done was get rid of the capitalist and aristocratic ruling classes and replace them with a new, equally self-interested ruling class: bureaucrats.

The book wasn’t widely read, but it did reach Bolshevik theoretician Leon Trotsky, who attacked it passionately. Trotsky’s response, in turn, inspired James Burnham, who used many of Rizzi’s ideas in his own 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, in which Burnham argued that something similar was happening in the West. A new class of bureaucrats, educators, technicians, regulators, social workers, and corporate directors who worked in tandem with government were reengineering society for their own benefit. The Managerial Revolution was a major influence on George Orwell’s 1984.

Now, I don’t believe we are becoming anything like 1930s Russia, never mind a real-life 1984. But this idea that bureaucrats — very broadly defined — can become their own class bent on protecting their interests at the expense of the public seems not only plausible but obviously true.

The evidence is everywhere. Every day it seems there’s another story about teachers’ unions using their stranglehold on public schools to reward themselves at the expense of children. School-choice programs and even public charter schools are under vicious attack, not because they are bad at educating children but because they’re good at it. Specifically, they are good at it because they don’t have to abide by rules aimed at protecting government workers at the expense of students.

The Veterans Affairs scandal can be boiled down to the fact that VA employees are the agency’s most important constituency. The Phoenix VA health-care system created secret waiting lists where patients languished and even died, while the administrator paid out almost $10 million in bonuses to VA employees over the last three years.

Working for the federal government simply isn’t like working for the private sector. Government employees are essentially unfireable. In the private sector, people lose their jobs for incompetence, redundancy, or obsolescence all the time. In government, these concepts are virtually meaningless. From a 2011 USA Today article: “Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.”

In 2010, the 168,000 federal workers in Washington, D.C. — who are quite well compensated — had a job-security rate of 99.74 percent. A HUD spokesman told USA Today that “his department’s low dismissal rate — providing a 99.85 percent job security rate for employees — shows a skilled and committed workforce.”

Uh huh.

Obviously, economic self-interest isn’t the only motivation. Bureaucrats no doubt sincerely believe that government is a wonderful thing and that it should be empowered to do ever more wonderful things. No doubt that is why the EPA has taken it upon itself to rewrite American energy policy without so much as a “by your leave” to Congress.

The Democratic party today is, quite simply, the party of government and the natural home of the managerial class. It is no accident, as the Marxists say, that the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the IRS, gave 94 percent of its political donations during the 2012 election cycle to Democratic candidates openly at war with the Tea Party — the same group singled out by Lois Lerner. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the VA, gave 97 percent of its donations to Democrats at the national level and 100 percent to Democrats at the state level.

We constantly hear how the evil Koch brothers are motivated by a toxic mix of ideology and economic self-interest. Is it so impossible to imagine that a class of workers might be seduced by the same sorts of impulses? It’s true that the already super-rich Kochs would benefit from a freer country. It’s also true that the managerial class would benefit from the bureaucratization of America.

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