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What the Pope Is Not

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“Progressive Catholics often portray the pope as a kind of supreme dictator of Catholicism,” I write at Bloomberg. They resent the uses to which he puts his power, and want him to put it to other uses. But the pope is not what they think he is, and their misunderstanding is clouding their judgment of Benedict XVI’s papacy.

Re: Presidential Modesty

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Peter, with regard to President Obama’s clarification that “I’m not the emperor of the United States”, in my weekend column I compare him with Charles the Bald, regnant 840-877 and Holy Roman Emperor for the last chunk thereof. Unfavorably, I’m afraid.

By the way, I dislike these protestations from humble citizen-executives that they’re not the emperor. In my book, I quote Tocqueville on the matter:

There was a time in Europe in which the law, as well as the consent of the people, clothed kings with a power almost without limits. But almost never did it happen that they made use of it…

Although the entire government of the empire was concentrated in the hands of the emperor alone, and although he remained, in time of need, the arbiter of all things, the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.

Not now. For the advanced democratic state, no “detail of social life and of individual existence” – from light bulbs to “tooth-level surveillance” – is too minute to escape its control.

NRO Web Briefing

Feb 16, 2013 10:58 AM

Andrew Malcolm: Obama: Have I mentioned we need more jobs?  Investor’s Business Daily

John Matson: What Do We Know about the Russian Meteor?  Scientific American

Ramesh Ponnuru: Pope Benedict is not as powerful as you think.  Bloomberg

Kay Hymowitz: Universal pre-school not the solution.  USA Today

Joe Scarboroug: Jeffrey Sachs, Steve Rattner and Barack Obama agree. Krugman is wrong. We can't wait until 2025 to fix Medicare.  Politico

Matthew Continetti: Conservatives report, liberals whine.  Washington Free Beacon

Editors: The unsung, but massive Obamacare sales tax increase that’s on the way.  Forbes

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A Pope on St. Patrick’s Day?

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The rules say the conclave has to begin 15 to 20 days after the death of the Pope. In the current case, of course, there is no death of the Pope, and thus no need for the traditional Novemdiales period of nine days’ mourning; this, combined with the fact that the world’s cardinals were given ample (17 days) notice of a vacancy in the papal office, made me think it reasonable that the cardinals could move speedily to an election, in the first couple of weeks of March. But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi says the 15-to-20-day clock will start running on the Pope’s actual resignation day, February 28; so the election will begin between March 15 and March 20.

It is of course possible that, immediately after the Pope’s resignation, the cardinals will decide to amend the rules to take account of the unusual circumstances. More likely, they will take the extra time for deliberation and discussion of who should be elected — which increases the likelihood of a bold and surprising choice. Cardinals electing a Pope are a conservative bunch, who don’t want to do anything rash and risky; they will resist doing something bold out of fear that they are being stampeded into an act of imprudence. The extra couple of weeks gives them some more time to reflect on the wisdom of their choice, and thus increases their comfort level with the decision they’re making. Still, the usual minimum 15 days, plus the unusual extra 17 days of advance notice, means that they will start on the early side of the 15-to-20-day window: March 15. One ballot on Friday, March 15, followed by four on Saturday, March 16, and four on every successive day until a Pope is elected.

It is less likely for a Pope to be elected on the first full day of balloting (though, in the past century, Ratzinger, Luciani, and Pacelli were), so the Pope will probably be elected on the second full day, which is Sunday, March 17 — yes, St. Patrick’s Day. So will the cardinals dial O for O’Malley? Cardinal O’Malley is indeed highly respected, but probably won’t get the nod. Still, the cardinals might remember that everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, so whatever happens, the Catholic Church will have its first Irish Pope . . . 

Water-gate, Elton John, and good liberals

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Well, one good man who was, after a fashion, a chastened liberal in this week’s episode of “Need to Know.” Hint: He ran for president. Jay and I bat around the SOTU speech, the tired liberal nostrums on offer, race conscious music, a black conductor who refused to trade on his race, and the heroic Elton John (really!). We also touch on Rubio’s “water-gate” and the weird American obsession with water, water everywhere.

Should Pro-Lifers Be Held Accountable for Single-Parent Families?

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Last month, Naomi Chan and June Carbone authors of Blue Families v. Red Families had an article in Slate criticizing pro-lifers for an increase in single-parent families. They argue that the religious culture in many southern and midwestern states has little impact on adult sexual behavior. However, the religious culture does make women less likely to choose abortion when confronted with an unintended pregnancy. This leads to more single-parent families in red states. Unsurprisingly, Cahn and Carbone scold pro-lifers for neither grappling with the issue nor having policies in place to address this.

While reading this I was reminded of Matthew 7:3-5. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” The contraceptive culture that Cahn and Carbone promote also bears a great deal of responsibility for the rise in single-parent families. Indeed, several economic studies, notably one by UC Berkeley economists Akerlof, Yellen, and Katz, indicate that expanded access to contraception alters the sex and mating markets. It encourages more women to engage in premarital sex and through risk compensation, actually increases the number of unintended pregnancies. Furthermore, men who impregnate women face considerably less social pressure to marry.

The end result has been more sexual activity, more abortions, and yes, more single-parent households.

However, Cahn and Carbone never address this issue. In their essay, they state that the decline of well-paying blue-collar jobs, has resulted in fewer early marriages and fewer shotgun marriages. There may be an element of truth to this. That having been said, they fail to consider how the widespread availability of contraceptives affected societal and sexual mores in ways that have led to more single-parent homes.

Regardless, Cahn and Carbone consistently demonstrate a misplaced confidence in the efficacy of contraceptive programs. In their essay, they state that despite conservative denials, “Contraception reduces abortions and early births.” However, they only cite one study. It was the 2012 study where a number of St. Louis residents were provided with long acting contraceptives free of charge. However, as I pointed out on National Review Online in November, there are a number of reasons why this particular study greatly overstates the impact of no-cost contraception.   

In fact, throughout the entire book Red Families v. Blue Families, Cahn and Carbone only manage to cite one study that purportedly finds a negative correlation between contraceptive availability and abortion rates. It is a 2003 Guttmacher study, which, in fact, finds that contraceptive use has an inconsistent relationship with abortion rates internationally. The authors remain blissfully unaware of the studies of contraception programs in Scotland, Spain, and San Francisco that show no impact on abortion rates or unintended-pregnancy rates. Perhaps Cahn and Carbone need to address the fact that the contraceptive culture they avidly promote has also played a role in the rise of single-parent households.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

Senator Rubio & the VAWA

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Marco Rubio has made several refreshing choices lately. Everyone knows about his sip of water, but it’s also a good sign that he was willing to cast a politically difficult vote against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

This is a law that is desperately in need of reform, but today’s hashtag-and-run political discourse is promoting the false perception that opponents of this lovely-sounding law are “for” violence against women.

That’s far from the truth of course. There are legitimate reasons to oppose VAWA.

First, VAWA is an intrusion by the federal government into a realm where it doesn’t belong. States and local governments should respond to criminal acts of violence, because they are closer to the people (and because the Constitution gives them this policing power).

Second, VAWA’s ideological foundation assumes that violence against women is caused by pure sexism. This presumption is actually sexist toward men, and ignores proven causes of domestic violence, such as substance abuse, psychological disorders, and marital instability.

Third, the law does not include adequate safeguards against misuse of funds. Both the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General and the GAO have exposed blatant instances of waste and fraud in the use of VAWA grant funds.

Finally, VAWA’s impact, since its original passage in 1994, has been inconclusive. We should celebrate that intimate-partner abuse and fatal partner crimes have declined, but this trend started before the passage of VAWA. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that all attempts to evaluate VAWA programs have been problematic.

Even worse, the law may be counter-productive. For example, although millions of dollars in VAWA funds go to support mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies, a recent Harvard study found that such policies may lead to more intense levels of violence.

The proposed reauthorization that Rubio and other Republicans opposed would introduce other problematic provisions that give too much authority to tribal courts and single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims for special protections. 

Clearly, all victims of violence — male or female, Native or immigrant, gay or straight — deserve equal protection under law. But the Orwellian-named “Violence Against Women Act” is a flawed approach. Rubio may have reached off-screen for a bottle of water, but at least he’s not drinking the VAWA Kool Aid.

— Hadley Heath is senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Thoughts on a Balanced-Budget Amendment

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Ramesh and Mario highlight an interesting debate among conservatives about the best way to structure a proposed balanced-budget amendment. Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) wants a straightforward amendment that would simply require that the budget be balanced. However, the Republican senators are proposing a balanced budget amendment that would include both a supermajority provision to increase taxes and a spending cap. 

Overall, I would be inclined to agree with approach taken by the Republican senators. Currently 49 states have a balanced-budget amendment in effect, and their experience in instructive. In states where the balanced-budget amendment is well enforced, budget deficits typically result in some combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Very often, however, the tax increases are permanent and the spending cuts are temporary — leading to bigger government.

That said, the supermajority requirement may provide fiscal conservatives with a false sense of security, because there’s evidence from the states that judges often fail to enforce conservative fiscal limits. Courts in Idaho and Montana have struck down property-tax limits and supermajority tax limits respectively. Even worse, in 2003, the Nevada supreme court held that the state legislature might disregard a constitutional provision requiring a two-thirds majority to increase taxes. The judges ruled that state education spending was insufficient. Their decision was pretty questionable since the Nevada constitution does not specify a particular level of support for education. However, what was worse is that the judges decided to only selectively enforce the state fiscal constitution. The state still had to abide by the state balanced-budget amendment, but the courts effectively suspended Nevada’s supermajority tax requirement.

Fiscal conservatives certainly have their work cut out for them. I am a strong supporter of fiscal limits. However, a substantial body of research shows that fiscal limits are only effective when they are either part of the original state constitution or when they are put in place through the referendum process. Legislators generally are not able to place long-term, binding constraints on their own behavior. That having been said, a better approach for fiscal conservatives might be that of a spending limit. If the spending limit is clear and violations are visible, there is some evidence that it can reinforce a consensus to limit government growth.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.

Re: USDA ‘Civil Rights’ Training Video Revealed

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The video posted by Eliana below shows a training program mandated in 2009 by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack because of numerous “civil rights” issues in the Department of Agriculture

Unquestionably,  the biggest such issue was the controversy concerning black farmers who claimed they were denied loans by the USDA on a racially discriminatory basis. The controversy was litigated in a class-action lawsuit brought by the farmers against the department in Pigford v. Glickman. The evidence suggested that between 1983–1997, some black farmers were, indeed, discriminated against (there’s also evidence that the mechanism used by the USDA to process and approve loans was a train wreck generally).

At some point during the litigation, politics and politicians intervened and the evidence necessary to establish eligibility to be part of the class was radically diluted. As a consequence, a flood of claims came in. More than 90,000 claimants sought compensation of at least $50,000 (one settlement alone was for $13,000,000). The federal government set aside more than $2.25 billion in 2011 to be paid out.

The problem is that between 1983–1997 there were nowhere near 90,000 black farmers in the entire United States. How many were there? The USDA itself says that in 1997 there were 18,500. As Dan Foster pointed out at the time, even the most expansive estimate of the number of black farmers during the relevant period puts the figure at just 33,000.

Now, if every single black farmer in the United States (times three) had been discriminated against by the USDA, that would be an epic scandal with major repercussions. It’s precisely the type of matter the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights is charged by statute to address. Yet when I raised the issue with the commission it went . . . nowhere. No hearing. No investigation.

Instead, we get training sessions as depicted in the video. Farce begets farce.

To be fair, by all reports USDA has taken a number of remedial steps to address “civil rights” issues within the department. But while self-examination is critical, a host of questions remain that are best answered by an independent inquiry. For example, who, if anyone, was disciplined for this supposed massive discrimination? Has the system that permitted unbridled discrimination to occur over a 15-year period been scrapped or significantly reformed? How could discrimination on such a supposedly mammoth scale go undetected for so long? Have legitimate claims been squeezed out by, or subordinated to, fraudulent claims?

The questions have relevance today because the USDA is now poised to pay out billions more to Hispanic, Native American, and female farmers in a claims process similar to Pigford.

Hey, it’s only a few billion dollars. And rampant discrimination by the federal government. And cynical political opportunism. And galactic governmental incompetence.

What difference, at this point, does it make?

Presidential Modesty

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As if to dispel recent assertions that his ego has grown even larger since the November election, during yesterday’s Google fireside chat the president  answered a question about his administration’s deportation of illegal immigrants as follows: “This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency. I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States.”

Jay Carney denies that at the time the president made that statement someone was standing just behind his left shoulder, holding a crown and whispering, “All glory is fleeting . . .”

The 19th Amendment

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Mario, while the repeal of the 19th Amendment might be something devoutly to be wished — 

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

— you’re obviously thinking of the 18th Amendment, which was repealed by the 21st. Nevertheless, you’re on to something I’ve been advocating for years now. And that is the repeal of all four of the so-called “Progressive Era” amendments, including the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th, which were passed between 1911 and 1920.

The income-tax amendment was a self-evident attack on capitalism and led to the explosive growth of the federal government we currently enjoy today. (Without it, there’d be no need for a Balanced Budget Amendment.) Direct elections of senators has given us, among other wonders, the elevation of John F. Kerry to, now, secretary of state. Prohibition was directly responsible for the rise of organized crime and its unholy alliance with the big-city Democratic machines. And women’s suffrage . . . well, let’s just observe that without it Barack Obama could never have become president. Time for the ladies to take one for the team.

Who’s with me? 

Libertarian Super PAC Encourages Amash Senate Run, Pledges ‘Six to Seven Figures’

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Liberty for All, a libertarian super PAC, says it’ll put “six to seven figures” behind Justin Amash, should he run for Senate next year.

“If he runs, he can count on six to seven figures,” says Preston Bates, the super PAC’s executive director, in an interview with National Review Online. “He represents a fresh start for a state whose economy has been devastated by sugar-high economics and crony capitalism.”

NRO broke the news on Thursday that Amash, a 32-year-old Michigan Republican, is seriously considering a bid. Democrat Carl Levin, the incumbent, is up for reelection in 2014, but he is reportedly considering retirement.

John Ramsey, a 22-year-old venture capitalist, has poured millions into Liberty for All, which he founded after supporting Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

According to Bates, the super PAC spent more than $3 million in several 2012 contests, including Jeff Flake’s Senate race in Arizona and Thomas Massie’s House race in Kentucky.

Sources close to Amash say the congressman is in no rush to decide, but Bates and Ramsey are hoping their pledged financial support will encourage him to jump in.

A(nother) Conscience Plea from Catholic Bishops to Congress

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In asking Congress to move to enact conscience protections that would safeguard Constitutional freedoms against the increasing encroachment on religious freedom, most notably the Obama administration in its health-care law, Baltimore’s archbishop William E. Lori warns of a: “new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power.”

He cites the the Department of Health and Servies abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization employer mandate for its “coercive element” that “remains unchanged.”

After offering an analysis as to why it is still problematic, Archbishop Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, writes:

I fear that the federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives.  The new approach even threatens to undermine access to quality health care, by telling providers as well as those who offer or purchase insurance that they need to drop their participation in the health care system if they want to preserve their religious and moral integrity. 

A restoration of full respect for one of our Nation’s founding values is urgently needed.  I urge you in the strongest terms possible to incorporate the provisions described above in the upcoming legislative proposals to fund the federal government.

If the White House were serious about religious liberty, this letter would not have had to be written. 

Here’s the letter.

You Can’t Assist Seniors without Abortion-Drug Coverage

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“Plaintiff Stephen W. Briscoe is a believing and practicing Evangelical Christian,” the brief in the case filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom in federal district court in Colorado explains. Briscoe runs several assisted-living centers and skilled nursing facilities for seniors and “sincerely holds religious beliefs that God mandates respect for the sanctity of each human life and that abortion and abortion-inducing drugs result in the wrongful taking of a human life. Mr. Briscoe seeks to run his businesses in accord with his sincerely held religious beliefs,” the brief reads. Briscoe, who became the first business owner to join over 130 plaintiffs suing over the HHS mandate since the latest insufficient “accommodation” was issued, talked to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez


KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
: Why are you suing the federal government over this mandate?

STEPHEN W. BRISCOE: This mandate requires me and the business I own, built, and operate with God’s blessing to cover abortion-inducing drugs in violation of my religious beliefs. I built this business and should be free to run it according to my values and faith. Washington politicians should not be able to run roughshod over the God-given freedom to live and do business according to my faith.


LOPEZ: What does abortion have to do with running centers for seniors?

BRISCOE: Abortion involves the destruction of a human being created, at the moment of conception, in the image of God. The government should not be able to force my business to provide free abortion-inducing drugs in the health-insurance plan I provide for the employees of my business. The insurance plan I provide to our employees is very generous. But I should be free to conduct my business according to my convictions and without being forced by the government to violate my beliefs in order to stay in business.


LOPEZ: Why does your religious faith have anything to do with your employees?

BRISCOE: The employees of my business are free to exercise their faith as they see fit. The only one imposing its views in this abortion-pill mandate is the government. As an American and family-business owner, I should be free to live and do business according to my faith.
 

LOPEZ: But is this really about religious liberty when you still retain the right to go to church on Sunday and say your prayers when you like?

BRISCOE: In America, we have the God-given freedom, protected by our First Amendment, to live according to our faith seven days a week — at home, in church, in our place of business, or in the public square. The government cannot take that right away from us and require us to confine our beliefs to the four walls of our church or home.


LOPEZ: Does it bother you that all the focus has been on the birth-control aspect of this mandate in the media, while there’s been almost no attention given to the abortion-drug aspect?

BRISCOE: The government’s entire abortion-pill mandate is a deception. The government calls these drugs “contraceptives” when really many of them are abortion-inducing drugs. I don’t really have any objections to covering contraceptives. I do object to being mandated to cover abortion-inducing drugs. The media should fairly cover these issues.

Jesse’s Girl

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So former representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D., Ill. — No, I’m not making an insensitive pun. The man represented Illinois, so get off my case, okay?) is pleading guilty to federal fraud charges, and appears poised to admit to conspiring to redirect $750,000 in campaign contributions to personal expenses. Jackson could face hefty fines and between four and five years in prison.

And who did Jackson “conspire” with? As part of a plea deal, the son of the civil rights leader will reportedly give up his wife, Sandi Jackson, who has served as the congressman’s campaign treasurer. 

One hopes he sprang for fancy chocolates and flowers yesterday.

USDA ‘Civil Rights Training’ Video Revealed

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In response to a number of allegations of civil rights violations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack mandated in 2009 that all political appointees in the department attend government-sponsored, government-funded “civil rights training” sessions. The training was made available to other department employees as well. 

According to a memo circulated by Vilsack, the trainings were intended in part to “make USDA a model employer.”  

Newly disclosed video of one training session shows the diversity expert Samuel Betances — a self-described ”biracial, bicultural, and bilingual citizen of the world” — providing instruction in a course of revisionist history. 

“I want you to say that America was founded by outsiders. Say that,” Betances says. “Who are today’s insiders. Who are very nervous about today’s outsiders. I want you to say, ‘The Pilgrims were illegal aliens.’ Say, ‘The Pilgrims never gave their passports to the Indians.’”

The footage was intended to be confidential, according to Judicial Watch, the watchdog group whose Freedom of Information Act request resulted in the video’s release. The group points to an e-mail from USDA training administrator Vincent Loran in which he says that the footage “will not be used for or show [sic] in any way shape or form.” 

Video of the training session in its entirety is available here

On Drones, Contra Krauthammer

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Charles Krauthammer writes: “Once you take up arms against the United States, you become an enemy combatant, thereby forfeiting the privileges of citizenship and the protections of the Constitution, including due process. You retain only the protection of the laws of war — no more and no less than those of your foreign comrades-in-arms.” Krauthammer, like practically everybody who has written about the case of Anwar al-Awalaki, Samir Khan, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and other American citizens who have been or may be put to death by the U.S. government, is begging the question. Anwar al-Awlaki certainly was affiliated with al-Qaeda and unquestionably propagandized and organized on behalf of the organization, but it is far from clear that that is the same as “taking up arms against the United States.” And even if we conclude that he did in effect take up arms against the United States, the case is hardly clear-cut enough to justify unilateral executive action with no review and no constraint imposed by the separation of powers.

Anwar al-Awlaki was first and foremost an al-Qaeda propagandist. He was a preacher and a blogger who first began to provoke U.S. authorities through the online bile that earned him the faintly ridiculous sobriquet “the bin Laden of the Internet.” Was he an active participant in planning acts of terrorism against the United States? The FBI did not think so, at least in the wake of the 9/11 attacks; the bureau interviewed him four times and concluded that he was not involved. The Defense Department famously invited him to dine at the Pentagon as part of its Islamic-outreach efforts, and in 2002 he was conducting prayers in the U.S. Capitol. Throughout the following years, al-Awlaki became a sort of al-Qaeda gadfly, dangerous principally because he was fluent in English and therefore a more effective propagandist. It was not until the first Obama administration that al-Awlaki was promoted by U.S. authorities from propagandist to operations man. You may remember the context: The Obama administration had been planning to try the 9/11 conspirators in New York City when the country was thrown into a panic by the machinations of would-be underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The Obama administration made an interesting about-face: Whereas it had been planning to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his coconspirators in Manhattan — definitively turning our national back on the hated Gitmo and all it stands for — the administration used the Abdulmutallab case to argue that it could do far worse to Anwar al-Awlaki than send him to Gitmo. According to the administration, Abdulmutallab had sought out al-Awlaki in Yemen, and al-Awlaki had blessed his bomb plot and had even introduced him to a bomb-maker.

That, according to the Obama administration, is what justified treating al-Awlaki as a man-at-arms, earning him a place on the secret national hit list.

If sympathizing with our enemies and propagandizing on their behalf is the equivalent of making war on the country, then the Johnson and Nixon administrations should have bombed every elite college campus in the country during the 1960s. And as satisfying as putting Jane Fonda on a kill list might have been, I do not think that our understanding of the law of war would encourage such a thing, even though she did give priceless aid to the Communist aggressors in Vietnam. Students in Ann Arbor, Mich., were actively and openly raising funds for the Viet Cong throughout the war. Would it have been proper to put them on kill lists? I do not think that it would. There is a difference between sympathizing with our enemies and taking up arms against the country; there is even a difference between actively aiding our enemies and taking up arms against the country, which is why we have treason trials rather than summary execution.

The question of whether al-Awlaki in fact took up arms against the United States is unanswered, at least in my mind. The evidence suggests that he was very much the “bin Laden of the Internet” rather than a man at arms. What perplexes me is that so many conservatives trust the same government authorities who got it so spectacularly wrong about al-Awlaki the first time around — feting him at the Pentagon, treating him as an Islamic voice of reason — to get it right the second time around. This is not a libertarian criticism but a conservative one. It is entirely possible that the same unique strain of stupidity that led to al-Awlaki’s being invited to the Pentagon as an honored guest of the U.S. military is alive and well in the Obama administration. This is precisely why we have institutions such as the separation of powers, congressional oversight, and trials. Killing a U.S. citizen in the heat of battle is one thing, but Al-Awlaki was not killed in a battle; he was not at arms, but at breakfast. Enemy? Obviously. Combatant? Not obviously. 

If we accept the rest of Krauthammer’s argument, we still need an operative definition for “taking up arms against the United States.” I have not heard a convincing one, and I have not heard a convincing case that the president should be empowered to make these decisions free of oversight from at least one of the other branches of government. Andy McCarthy’s argument that the judiciary should remain at arm’s length from question of national defense is persuasive, but our constitutional arrangements clearly demand that Congress have a substantial role in questions of war, which only Congress is constitutionally empowered to declare.

Krauthammer also suggests that those who see the containment of terrorism as a law-enforcement matter rather than as warfare are “living on a different and distant planet.” A few thoughts about that: I do not think that anybody honestly thinks that combating terrorism is solely a question of warfare; after all, we do investigate terrorists, charge them with crimes, and lock them up. Sometimes that makes perfect sense; we did not declare war on militant peckerwood kookery in the wake of the Oklahoma City attack. We use military tactics when appropriate, we use intelligence tactics where appropriate, and we use law-enforcement tactics where appropriate; questioning the balance of those three does not a space cadet make. Those who blame the Clinton-era reliance on the law-enforcement/intelligence paradigm for allowing al-Qaeda to plot 9/11 might consider the possibility that what was lacking during the overlawyered Clinton years was not sufficient war footing but plain competence. If our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies — particularly the State Department — had been doing a minimally competent job vis-à-vis visa overstays and application screening, at least 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers would not have set foot on American soil, and we would have been spared an enormous toll in blood and treasure. Law-enforcement and intelligence tools can be very effective against terrorism, provided you do not entrust them to incompetents. 

UPDATE: Andrew C. McCarthy writes to assure me that under current federal law, Jane Fonda would indeed be considered an “enemy combatant” and therefore eligible for a place on the secret federal kill list. I suspect that whether you regard that as a sign of progress or a sign of regress communicates a great deal about your conception of citizenship. 

Re: Simplify the Balanced Budget Amendment

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Ramesh hits on an issue that will doom the chances of any balanced-budget amendment if conservatives can’t agree among themselves what the best approach is.

Conservatives mostly agree that a balanced-budget amendment of some kind is necessary. The question is, should it be the simple one generally preferred by House Republicans, which would just eliminate the government’s capacity to run deficits? Or should it be the complex belt-and-suspenders approach devised by the Senate, which requires super-majorities for increasing taxes and running deficits, and limits taxing and spending to no more than 18 percent of prior-year GDP.  

Grover Norquist was implacably opposed to the former, warning House Republicans that support for it would break their tax pledge. Norquist argued that a “weak” balanced-budget amendment (i.e., one that merely prohibited running deficits) would just result in a massive automatic tax increase — and no spending restraint. 

I was initially swayed by this argument, but two considerations have led me to conclude that Norquest is wrong. The simpler one is that those who vote for big government should get a taste of how much it actually costs. Obama’s State of the Union speech was within the ballpark of sanity only in a world where there is no limit or consequence to deficit spending. Alas, Americans have come to believe, or at any rate vote as if they believe, that there is no problem with letting the federal government mortgage the nation into insolvency. If Americans were forced to feel the pain of what all this government intemperance actually costs, they would quickly demand budget discipline.  

I can just hear Rich Lowry saying, “Jee, Mario, that’s so high-minded of you,” but there’s an even more compelling consideration. Before the 20th century, the federal government’s sources of revenue were severely constrained, and as a result, so was its ability to borrow. But the 16th Amendment, which gave Congress, power to levy income taxes without apportionment among the states, vastly increased its taxing power, and hence also its ability to borrow.

Though the size of the federal government ballooned dramatically, some combination of political constraints and Hauser’s law have kept federal tax revenue under 19 percent of GDP since WWII. Meanwhile, over the last 30 years, Congress has run deficits averaging 3.4 percent of GDP. Nearly all of this deficit revenue has been transferred to state governments in order to inflate all of their budgets far beyond what they could ever afford, thereby reducing them to servile dependents of Congress. As Michael Greve observes, nearly all of the modern expansion in the American public sector has occurred at the state and local level, a result of Congress engorging state budgets with borrowed funds.

Here is the proposition to be proved for proponents of the simple balanced-budget amendment: If Congress were not able to mortgage the nation’s future in order to purchase control of state governments, the result would be sustainable budget discipline and lean government at both the federal and state level. If that is correct, then a simple balanced-budget amendment would necessarily result in a dramatic and permanent reduction in the size of the American public sector.

I have been strongly supportive of the Senate’s comprehensive approach. But I am increasingly inclined to agree with those who think it might be too complicated to work. The best constitutional amendment since the Bill of Rights — “the 18th Amendment is hereby repealed” — was a marvel of clarity and simplicity. Its proponents didn’t try to accommodate critics by adding layer upon layer of complexity. Instead, they focused on winning the underlying argument. That’s what we have to do here. 

 Mario Loyola is director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Editor’s Note: This post initially incorrectly identified the amendment repealed by the 21st Amendment as the 19th Amendment.

Breakfast of Champion (the Wonder Horse)

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Europe’s tasty horsemeat scandal canters on, providing hours of fun for photoshoppers, triggering speculation about disappearing Irish horses, fuelling euroskeptic discontent,  and  offering a series of entertaining revelations such as this story about an Amsterdam steakhouse (it is worth it for the picture of the cook with his frying pan alone).

Of course, consumers have a contractual right to expect that they are getting the meat they think that they are paying for (raising some interesting questions as to what could reasonably expected of a kebab), but some of the furor is just sentimental venting, and, as such venting generally is, it’s ridiculous. Horse? Cow? Whatever.

The Spectator’s Bruce Anderson is not a sentimental man:

[A] group of us were discussing horse–eating, marvelling at the confusion and sentimentality of our fellow countrymen while telling hippophagic anecdotes. I mentioned a typically Provençal street market in Apt. There had been a group of horses. They were not looking happy. More intelligent than Boxer on his way to the knacker’s, they clearly sensed that the good days were over and were summoning reserves of stoicism to help them through the (brief) final phase. ‘What’s going to happen to those horses?’ inquired an English female member of the party. ‘Well, er, it is either the Sunday Joint Derby or the Hamburger Cup.’ ‘Oh no, I can’t bear it.’ I tried to console her by pointing out that in France, clapped-out old nags at least had the privilege of joining the human food chain. In the UK, it would have been the dog-food stakes (or so one then thought).

…It did not help matters when someone revealed that I had bought both saucisson d’âne and saucisson de cheval from a stall, although I expressed doubts about the âne. ‘Every Provençal market overflows with the stuff,’ I said, ‘but you never see any donkeys in the fields.’ ‘That’s because they’ve all been eaten by heartless monsters like you,’ came the quick and obvious rejoinder. ‘Even so, there ought to be paddocks full of young Eeyores braying, regardless of their doom: scoffing grass and, one hopes, the odd apple to fatten -themselves up for next year’s saucisson harvest.’

As the news from Europe now makes clear, I’ve obviously snacked on horse myself rather more frequently than I realized. I have, however, only eaten it on purpose on one occasion, in Brussels. Horseburger. Nice enough, as I recall, but not a patch on the puffin—oh yes—that  I once enjoyed in Iceland.

Rubio Rules (to Placate the MSM)

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Lest any of us missed the dog whistle the MSM let out in obsessing over Senator Marco Rubio’s abhorrent sipping of water in his SOTU response, the message could not have been clearer. Should the senator decide higher office is in his future, any movement he makes, down to the molecular level, will be relentlessly parsed, exploited, and mocked. (Suffice it to say this is because he strikes fear into the heart of the Democratic media in a way no one since Reagan has; I would pay to know how many nights Ezra Klein has lain awake, sweating and burning his fingertips on cigarette stubs plotting how to destroy the junior senator from Florida.)

Nonetheless, we and the senator have been forewarned. Hence, in the interest of bringing about comity between Senator Rubio and those who nightly stick pincushions into small Marco dolls, I thought a list of Rubio Rules would save us yet another national nightmare in 2016.

1. You can chew food, but don’t swallow.

2. Don’t walk too quickly. Or slowly.

3. Never sweat. And if you do, don’t wipe it away.

4. Don’t smile too widely. Never frown.

5. Avoid sitting on the edge of your chair. Don’t slouch back, either.

6. Never be seen going into a barber shop or shop of any kind, driving a car, waving to a neighbor, watching television, reading a book, unlocking a door, locking a door, putting on shoes, taking off shoes, etc.

7. Never take the stairs two at a time, but avoid using handrails, as well.

8. Try not to breathe too noticeably.

Feel free to add so that we can help the media learn to love the senator. 

Former Syrian PM: Iran is ‘Running Syria’

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In an interview with Al-Arabiya, former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab, who defected six months ago, said that “Syria is occupied by the Iranian regime. Who runs the country isn’t Bashar Assad but Kassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s al-Quds Brigades [within the Revolutionary Guards].” 

This reinforces the reports that Iran is preparing a proxy regime for Syria in the event of Bashar Assad’s fall. According to a senior official in the Obama administration, Iran is backing 50,000 militiamen in Syria: “It’s a big operation. The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”

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Susan Rice: Benghazi Critics ‘Dead Wrong,’ ‘Doing a Disservice to Those We Lost’

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Appearing on The Daily Show last night, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice told host Jon Stewart that “it feels good to be out of the hotspot” after being the focus of the Obama administration’s explanation of the Benghazi consulate attacks as well as her potential candidacy for secretary of state. Discussing the Sunday talk-show talking points she used that blamed the attacks on protests over a YouTube video, Rice said, “I shared the best information that our intelligence community had at the time,” and that the “bigger tragedy . . . is that we’ve spent all of these months trying to figure out the origin of some talking points.”

In response to why requests from slain ambassador Christopher Stevens for increased security at the Benghazi consulate were ignored from the State Department, Rice told Stewart that “folks were doing the very best with what they had, and it wasn’t good enough in these circumstances.” When Stewart asked what she would say to her critics as well as critics of how the administration has handled the aftermath of the attacks, Rice said they are “dead wrong” and that “they are, in fact, doing a disservice to those we lost.”

MSNBC: Why Support President’s Education Proposals? ‘Chicks Dig It’

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Glenn Thrush of Politico had an awkward explanation for why the president’s recent proposals for universal pre-school should receive support: “The other thing I’d like to point out, chicks dig it.”

Rep. Trent Franks: Simplify the Balanced-Budget Amendment

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Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), a longtime proponent of the Balanced Budget Amendment, says House Republicans have not yet united around the version of that amendment being promoted by Senate Republicans — and he thinks they ought to go with a different version.

The Senate Republicans’ version of the amendment is unlike the one that has at different times in the past gotten supermajority support in the House and the Senate. It requires budgets to be balanced, but also imposes supermajority requirements for raising taxes (or the debt ceiling) and caps federal spending at 18 percent of GDP. For Franks, the virtue of a stripped-down amendment — one that only requires balance — is that it is “so simple, so easy to understand.”

Some Republicans worry that the simple amendment would lead to tax increases. Franks, though one of the most conservative members of the House, does not share this worry, arguing that new tax increases would not yield much revenue and that congressional and popular resistance to tax increases would carry the day.

Franks believes that Republicans should be willing to pass a bill increasing the debt ceiling to cover the rest of the Obama presidency — but taking effect only once the House and Senate have (on a two-thirds vote of each chamber) sent the balanced-budget amendment to the states. “Why is that so unreasonable?” he asks. The states, he notes, would still be free to reject the idea.

“Ronald Reagan said stand behind an 80 percent issue and smile,” Franks says, and some polls show an amendment getting nearly that much support. House Republicans generally agree that they should move forward with a balanced-budget amendment. It remains to be seen whether they can reach a consensus on which one, and how.

Fact-Checking the President on the Minimum Wage and Poverty

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President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour has led economists to explain, yet again, how this seemingly benign measure will lead to lost jobs, especially for teenagers. But to my knowledge, nobody has challenged Obama’s core assertion — namely, that a raise is needed to lift full-time workers with children out of poverty. I have good news for the president: These workers have already been lifted out of poverty.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama said:

We know our economy’s stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong.

He’s right that $14,500 is below the poverty line for a family of three (presumably a mother and two children; a family with two full-time workers — a mom and a dad — would earn well above the poverty line). But he seems to forget one of the most significant anti-poverty measures introduced in recent years: the earned-income tax credit. This family of three would be eligible for more than $5,000 from the EITC, putting its total income at almost $20,000 — above the $18,500 poverty threshold (my thanks to anti-poverty guru Ron Haskins at the Brookings Institution, who provided these figures).

Nor does that count other non-cash benefits that such a family receives automatically (food stamps, Medicaid, and free school lunches) or for which it qualifies (housing subsidies, childcare, etc.). All told, governments at the federal, state, and local level provide more than $1 trillion a year to help low-income families like this one.

I don’t mean to be churlish; a family living on such meager means will struggle mightily to make ends meet; there’s a strong humanitarian case for helping them live better (and for encouraging the mother to continue working). But there’s a better way to do so than raising the minimum wage: Raise the value of the EITC, instead.

— Michael J. Petrilli is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Adam Winkler on Background Checks

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I’m open to the idea of requiring background checks for all gun transfers. But as Adam Winkler points out, even if we start with the assumption that universal checks are a good idea, the president’s proposal for expanding checks fails on two counts: One, it exempts transfers between family members, which are a major source of crime guns; two, it will make people pay to exercise a constitutional right.

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