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InsiderOnline Blog: June 2014

Conservatives Need More Novels

And now for something a completely—or at least a little—different. Adam Bellow makes the case that the conservative movement should do more to support conservative novel writers. He might be right. A couple years ago at a conference on social media when we heard a panelist overstate the case for Twitter by a little bit. The conservative movement, she claimed, doesn’t need 100-page think tank papers; it just needs cleverly composed tweets to get its message out. Let’s just stipulate that conservative scholarship has a role to play, too. For starters, it creates and sustains the intellectual climate that makes it possible to issue 140-character bursts that can be understood by a wide audience.

Bellow points to what might be a similar imperialism of method in the area of culture: He writes that conservatives are oversold on the idea that making a great movie is the next step in winning the culture wars. A great conservative movie, he points out, is often based on a great conservative novel:

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis both produced big-budget movies that reached millions of people with what most of us would probably agree is a subtly conservative message. Yet both of these successful movie franchises ultimately pale in comparison with the impact of the books. Even at their best, movies are essentially cartoons and their effects are superficial and fleeting. Books engage the reader much more deeply, at a level of identification with the characters and plot that can instruct the soul and edify the mind. A hundred years from now, moreover, these classic books will still be read all over the world in dozens of languages when the films on which they are based are long forgotten or superseded by new forms of entertainment.

In short, conservatives should remember that mainstream popular culture is still largely driven by books. Fiction therefore is and will remain the beating heart of the new counterculture. This is not just my bias as a publisher. It is a practical reality—and a fortunate one for us, since there are hundreds if not thousands of conservative and libertarian writers out there today producing politically themed fiction. The conservative right brain has woken up from its enchanted sleep and it is thriving. Instead of banging on Hollywood’s front door, a better approach is to go in the back by publishing popular conservative fiction and then turning those books into films.

Conservative funders, writes Bellow, should think about ways to nurture the fiction-writing wing of the conservative movement:

Conservatives must beware of taking too literally their own free-market dogma. Just as funders and institution builders were needed to grow the conservative intellectual movement to the point where it could sustain a commercial entity like Fox News, the conservative counterculture also needs an institutional base and a means of delivering its products to market. […]

We need to invest in the conservative right brain. A well-developed feeder system exists to identify and promote mainstream fiction writers, including MFA programs, residencies and fellowships, writers’ colonies, grants and prizes, little magazines, small presses, and a network of established writers and critics. Nothing like that exists on the right.

This is a major oversight that must be urgently addressed. We need our own writing programs, fellowships, prizes, and so forth. We need to build a feeder system so that the cream can rise to the top, and also to make an end run around the gatekeepers of the liberal establishment. [National Review, June 30]

Posted on 06/30/14 02:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Celebrate America!

• Celebrate the United States of America’s 238th birthday! And when making your plans for the Fourth, don’t forget to put the Leadership Institute’s National Fourth of July Conservative Soiree on your schedule. They’ll have barbeque, face painting, and bluegrass—plus some inspiring speeches. The gathering will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bull Run Regional Park.

Get your Think Tank MBA applications in. Executive directors, directors, and program managers at established think tanks can learn the essentials of strategic planning, evaluation, branding and communications, leadership, personnel management, and fundraising in a 10-day course offered by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. The program runs October 31 – November 11 in Fairfax, Virginia. But you’d better get your application in soon: The deadline is June 30.

Figure out copyrights: Are they like property rights—essential for rewarding creativity—or do they inhibit innovation? Jerry Brito of the Mercatus Center, Stan Liebowitz of the University of Texas at Dallas, Tom Palmer of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, and Mark Schultz of the George Mason University School of Law will examine the topic at an American Enterprise Institute panel discussion. The event will begin at 11:45 a.m. on July 1.

Have drinks with National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty. And read his new book, too. It sounds like a hoot: The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy “demonstrates that life inside the federal Agency of Invasive Species may sound suspiciously similar to your reality, and could hardly be funnier.” You can get a free copy (and a drink) at the restaurant Mission in Washington, D.C. Mr. Geraghty, hosted by the America’s Future Foundation, will be there signing books starting at 6 p.m. on July 1.

Make sure you spend your money in ways that reflect your values. Get the 2nd Vote App, which tells you what the sellers and makers of stuff like to do with their profits.

Find out what pressures, levers, and tactics have proven successful in the effort to reform the United Nations. The Heritage Foundation will host a panel discussion with Christopher Bancroft Burnham, former Under Secretary General of the United Nations for Management; Joseph M. Torsella, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform; and Kim R. Holmes, former State Department Assistant Secretary for International Organizations. The event will begin at 11 a.m. on June 30.

Posted on 06/27/14 10:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

9-0

This week the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the Obama administration’s arguments in NLRB v. Canning (limiting the recess appointment power) as well as Riley v. California (requiring police to have a warrant before searching seized cell phones). As Ilya Somin notes, these are just two of many unanimous losses the administration has suffered at the Supreme Court in recent years. “President Obama,” writes Somin, “has managed to create a measure of unity in one often-divided institution: the Supreme Court.”

The administration’s unanimous defeats in significant constitutional cases cover a wide range of issues, including freedom of religion, property rights, executive power, and the Fourth Amendment. What these otherwise disparate cases have in common is a strong reluctance to accept even modest limits on federal authority.

Unanimous defeats do not in and of themselves prove that the administration’s position was wrong in all these cases. Sometimes, even a unanimous Court can be wrong. Still, when the president’s position in multiple major constitutional cases cannot secure even one vote on an ideologically and methodologically diverse Court that includes two of his own appointees, it is likely there is something wrong with the administration’s constitutional worldview. [Washington Post, June 26]

Fellow Volokh conspirator David Bernstein sees a pattern, too:

Noel Canning, rearranging the ranking of creditors in the Chrysler bankruptcy, appointing “czars” with real policy-making authority to avoid confirmation hearings (see Sollenberger and Rozell, The President’s Czars), DOJ votings rights division lawyers acting on the belief that the Voting Rights Act either doesn’t or shouldn’t be construed to  protect white voters from discrimination in majority-minority districts, the president ordering his underlings not to implement immigration laws to try to accomplish much of what the failed Dream Act was meant to achieve—one can go on and on about the extreme, sometimes truly lawless, “legal positions” this administration has taken. I don’t think this is merely a difference in degree from prior administrations, Democratic and Republican, but of kind. [Washington Post, June 26]

Posted on 06/27/14 08:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

The President Doesn’t Get to Decide When the Senate Is in Session

The President’s constitutional authority to make recess appointments is not nearly as broad as he thought it was in January 2012 when he made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The Senate was actually in session at that time, but the Obama administration said it could make the recess appointments because the sessions were only “pro forma”—sessions during which the Senate conducted no business and did not formally recess.

On Thursday, in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, the Supreme Court reversed those appointments in a 9-0 ruling. While the result bolsters the constitutional separation of powers—because it means the President can’t simply decide when the Senate is in session—it does so only slightly. Ilya Shapiro explains:

The only “rule” that emerges from Justice Breyer’s controlling opinion is that a three-day recess, the longest the Senate can adjourn without the House’s consent, isn’t long enough to enable recess appointments. That’s a very pragmatic decision and seems to confirm executive practice prior to recent years. It also happens to lack any connection to constitutional text (as Justice Scalia points out for four justices in concurrence), whose best reading indicates that only recesses between Senate sessions – not when, e.g., the Senate takes two weeks off around Christmas – count for purposes of activating the recess-appointment power. Moreover, that power is only textually justified to fill vacancies that arise during the recess itself, not for openings that the president didn’t happen to fill while the Senate was sitting. In other words, Justice Breyer’s unprincipled opinion, while limiting recent presidential practice, cements a much more expansive reading of that power than the Constitution allows. For practical purposes, we’ll see many more “pro forma” Senate sessions and also the empowerment of those who control the House – because, again, the Senate can’t recess without the House’s consent. Speaker Boehner, call your office. [Cato Institute, June 26]

Justice Antonin Scalia concurred with the result but finds the reasoning very flawed:

The real tragedy of today's decision is not simply the abolition of the Constitution's limits on the recess appointment power and the substitution of a novel framework invented by this Court. It is the damage done to our separation-of-powers jurisprudence more generally. It is not every day that we encounter a proper case or controversy requiring interpretation of the Constitution's structural provisions. Most of the time, the interpretation of those provisions is left to the political branches—which, in deciding how much respect to afford the constitutional text, often take their cues from this Court. We should therefore take every opportunity to affirm the primacy of the Constitution's enduring principles over the politics of the moment. Our failure to do so today will resonate well beyond the particular dispute at hand. Sad, but true: The Court's embrace of the adverse-possession theory of executive power (a characterization the majority resists but does not refute) will be cited in diverse contexts, including those presently unimagined, and will have the effect of aggrandizing the Presidency beyond its constitutional bounds and undermining respect for the separation of powers.

Elizabeth Slattery reports that up to 800 cases decided by the appointees may need to be reheard:

Richard Cordray, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was appointed the same day and under the same circumstances as the NLRB appointees. But Cordray later was later confirmed by the Senate, and he subsequently ratified the agency’s actions taken while he served as a recess appointee.

But the NLRB did not ratify its past actions, even after the Senate approved four new members, giving the board a quorum as of August 2013. Now, it may have to reconsider every case that was appealed to the federal appellate courts on the basis of the lack of a quorum, as well as an unknown number of other cases decided by the board in which the unconstitutional recess appointees participated.

Moreover, parties that lost their cases during this time but had yet to appeal to a federal appellate court still may be able to appeal because the National Labor Relations Act does not include a statute of limitations for appeals […] . [Daily Signal, June 27]

Posted on 06/27/14 08:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

What the VA Scandal Should Teach Us

Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

There’s a naive tendency to believe that whatever a government agency’s mission is supposed to be, is really the mission that its people pursue. That’s seldom the case for long.

Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle, observing such things, has formulated what he calls the Iron Law of Bureaucracy: In every organization there are two kinds of people: those committed to the mission of the organization, and those committed to the organization itself. While the mission-committed people pursue the mission, the organization-committed people take over the organization. Then the mission-committed people tend to become discouraged and leave.

As a result, the strongest priority of most bureaucracies is the welfare of the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats it employs, not whatever the bureaucracy is actually supposed to be doing. That’s worth remembering, whenever someone says they’ve found something else that we should “choose to do together.” [USA Today, June 23]

Posted on 06/27/14 05:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

Howard Baker, R.I.P.

Former Senator Howard Baker died Thursday at the age of 88. Baker represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1967 to 1985. In 1973, during the Watergate scandal, Baker famously asked: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” In 1987, a different scandal was threatening to engulf a President and his agenda: Iran-Contra. At that moment, President Ronald Reagan asked Baker to become his Chief of Staff. As James Carafano notes, Reagan’s choice helped get his presidency back on track:

In the Senate, Baker honed his reputation as a listener, a conciliator and a consensus-seeker. In the White House, he matched those skills with a commitment to serve his president and Reagan’s vision for a free, safe and prosperous nation.

When Baker came on board, President Ronalad Reagan wrote in his private diary, “He’s going to be fine & there was a great feeling in the West Wing of improved morale.”

Reagan was right.

Later, Edwin Feulner, the president of The Heritage Foundation, declared “a lot of my conservative brethren who were skeptical of Baker 15 months ago have got to eat a little crow right now.”

By the time Baker was preparing to step down, Reagan was back on track crafting an historic agenda to change the course of the Cold War, launching a campaign in a speech as the Heritage Foundation for the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty with the Soviets and negotiating a $76 billion compromise to cut the budget deficit. [Daily Signal, June 27]

Posted on 06/27/14 05:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

What We Learned This Week about the Internal Revenue Service

• Lois Lerner had a trigger finger for investigating—even activities that weren’t violations of the tax code. In one of the emails that the IRS did turn over to Congress, the head of the unit that investigated conservative non-profits during the last election cycle wondered whether an investigation should be launched over an invitation for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to speak at an event. The offer raised Lerner’s antennae because it included attendance for Grassley’s wife, too. Lerner knew of the invitation to Grassley only because it had been mistakenly sent to Lerner instead. In the email chain, one of Lerner’s subordinates had to explain to her that there was no violation unless the Senator actually accepted the invitation and then failed to report the ticket for his wife as income. [Human Events, June 25]

• Lack of funding doesn’t explain why the IRS lost Lerner’s emails: “The IRS under the Obama Administration has spent over $4 billion on contracts labeled under information technology and software despite IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testifying this week that budgetary restraints prevented the agency from spending $10 million to save and store emails.” [Washington Free Beacon, June 26]

• The IRS terminated data storage contracts in the months following the “crash” of Lois Lerner’s hard drive:

The IRS, which spent $44.1 million in information technology (IT) hardware maintenance in fiscal year 2011 and $47.8 million in fiscal year 2012, closed out its six-year business relationship with the email archiving-and-recovery company Sonasoft in September 2011. Meanwhile, sophisticated data storage devices were being thrown away in the agency’s national IT offices in Maryland, even though the IRS was still paying for maintenance on the devices.

The IRS prematurely “retired” data-storage devices and filled out “disposal” documents for hardware that still existed and was supposed to still be in use, according to a Sept. 24, 2013 Treasury Inspector General (TIGTA) report entitled “Increased Oversight of Information Technology Hardware Maintenance Contracts Is Necessary To Ensure Against Paying for Unnecessary Services.” [Daily Caller, June 25]

• According to the nation’s archivist, David Ferriero, federal agencies are supposed to notify the national archives when they become aware of a loss or destruction of official records. “They did not follow the law,” Ferriero told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday. [Fox News, June 24]

• The IRS agreed to pay the National Organization for Marriage $50,000 in damages for illegally releasing NOM’s form 990, which revealed the identity of the organization’s donors. An IRS official sent the document to the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay marriage organization, in 2012 as the president campaign was under way. No punitive damages were awarded as NOM was unable to prove the release was deliberate. [Politico, June 24]

• The IRS jokes pretty much write themselves this week, but Jon Stewart’s were especially good:

[Abridgement by Media Research Center]

Posted on 06/27/14 02:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

Liberal Policies Are Hurting Blacks

Jason Riley talks about his new book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed:

Posted on 06/26/14 07:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Fraud and Corruption at the Export-Import Bank

Reports Diane Katz:

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that four employees of the Export-Import Bank have been removed in recent months amid allegations of kickbacks and other corruption. But the Journal article tells only part of the story.

Based on a review of government documents, The Heritage Foundation has determined that there have been at least 74 cases since April 2009 in which bank officials were forced to act on the basis of “integrity” investigations by the Office of Inspector General. Dozens of other fraud cases involving Ex-Im beneficiaries have been referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution. […]

Meanwhile, dozens of other cases of wrongdoing involving Ex-Im beneficiaries were under IG investigation as of March 31, and 47 criminal judgments and 42 pleas were obtained in the preceding six months.

An examination of Ex-Im fraud cases reveals a disturbing pattern of carelessness in doling out taxpayer subsidies. For example, the bank approved 96 loan transactions in a two-year period for Gangland, USA, which purported to export electronics from Miami to South America. According to prosecutors, company owner Jose L. Quijano received more than $3.6 million in fraudulent loans from the bank.

Similarly, the bank approved 18 loans involving $13.6 million to Leopoldo Parra, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to prosecutors, Parra and his co-conspirators fraudulently obtained the loan proceeds and used them for personal gain. [Daily Signal, June 24]

Posted on 06/25/14 05:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

The National Organization for Marriage Wins Damages from the Internal Revenue Service

Mackenzie Weinger reports:

The IRS will pay the National Organization for Marriage $50,000 to settle a lawsuit over claims the agency improperly disclosed confidential tax information, according to a consent judgment released this week.

The group pushing for laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman had filed suit against the tax agency seeking damages for disclosure of its donors, and the $50,000 the IRS will shell out represents actual damages from the unauthorized release.

The lawsuit stemmed from information an IRS worker sent to an individual who identified himself as a member of the media who requested it in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign, which he then sent to the pro-gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. The Huffington Post then ran a story noting a political action committee linked to Mitt Romney had been a donor to NOM. […]

The IRS admitted that a staffer had improperly disclosed an unredacted copy of the tax information, but a federal district court judge dismissed most of NOM’s case earlier this month. Judge James Cacheris of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a June 3 opinion that NOM offered no evidence that the information was willfully disclosed or the result of gross negligence, and thus the organization could not recover punitive damages. [Politico, June 24]

National Organization for Marriage chairman John Eastman:

It has been a long and arduous process to hold the IRS accountable for their illegal release of our confidential tax return and donor list, which was ultimately given to our chief political rival by the recipient[.] […] In the beginning, the government claimed that the IRS had done nothing wrong and that NOM itself must have released our confidential information. Thanks to a lot of hard work, we’ve forced the IRS to admit that they in fact were the ones to break the law and wrongfully released this confidential information. [National Organization for Marriage, June 24]

Posted on 06/25/14 04:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

Your Favorite Coffee Shop Is Safe from the Environmental Protection Agency—for Now

On Monday, the Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to “tailor” the Clean Air Act to fit its plans to regulate greenhouse gasses. The decision, in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, is a win for the separation of powers and a likely a prelude to other rulings against Obama administration attempts to bypass the legislative process, explains Andrew Grossman:

The Clean Air Act’s 1970’s-era “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” and “Title V” programs are aimed at the few hundred largest industrial sources of pollution in the country and impose what the Court correctly identified as “heavy substantive and procedural burdens,” far beyond the red tape that most businesses are able to shoulder. To that end, the statute limits regulation to sources that emit more than 100 or 250 tons per year of certain “air pollutants.”

EPA’s trick was to redefine “air pollutant,” as used in those programs, to include carbon-dioxide emissions. Because carbon-dioxide is emitted in large quantities even by smaller sources, that interpretation expanded the number of sources subject to regulation from a few hundred to millions altogether. Regulations that had previously been confined to major power plants, chemical factories, and the like would now apply to retail stores, offices, apartment buildings, shopping centers, schools, and churches. To avoid what even EPA recognized to be an “absurd result,” the agency went on to claim authority to decide exactly which sources have to comply—in other words, the power to choose winners and losers by exempting the vast majority of sources from compliance, for the time being at least. It called this approach “tailoring.”

The Court, in a lead opinion by Justice Scalia, called it “patently unreasonable—not to say outrageous.” EPA, it held, must abide by the statute: “An agency has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms.” And if such tailoring is required to avoid a plainly “absurd result” at odds with congressional intentions, then obviously there is obviously something wrong with the agency’s interpretation of the statute. To hold otherwise, the Court recognized, “would deal a severe blow to the Constitution’s separation of powers” by allowing the executive to revise Congress’s handiwork. [Cato Institute, June 23]

Posted on 06/24/14 06:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

In Developing Countries, the Middle Class Has Grown—Thanks to Capitalism

Thomas Piketty’s argument that capitalism produces ever greater economic inequality “runs against the evidence coming out of up-and-coming economies,” writes Alvaro Vargas Llosa:

Three decades ago half the world population was living on less than $1.25 a day; today only one-fifth finds itself in that condition. About 12 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean were extremely poor at the end of the 1990s; the percentage is half of that today. The key is to be found in the rise of the so-called middle classes. Thanks to Latin America’s increasing role in the world economy (though still rather modest), the number of people who fill the space between the rich and the poor has grown impressively—according to some estimates, by as much as 50 percent in the new millennium.

Part of this was due to economic growth and part an effect of income redistribution. We don’t need the many studies that place the main responsibility on the former to conclude that investments seeking a return were crucial. The countries that invested less and redistributed more, such as Venezuela, are the ones where the middle classes have been hurt the most in recent years. In Chile, Peru, and Colombia, where the rate of private investment has reached 20 to 25 percent as a percentage of GDP, they have expanded. Only 14 percent of Chileans are poor, and the percentage of poor Peruvians has dropped almost by half since 2001. The capital invested produced value, which generated jobs and better incomes for millions, which led to an expansion of the middle classes. And what did they do? They got their hands on capital, of course, to create even more value. [The Independent Institute, June 16]

Posted on 06/23/14 05:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Learn about Human Flourishing, Conservative Social Justice, and an Agenda for Prosperity

Learn how conservative reform ideas can help the middle class prosper. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will share his ideas on what a conservative reform agenda should be. He’ll speak at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies at 1 p.m. on June 25.

Advance your understanding of the meaning, foundations, and drivers of human flourishing. The Charles Koch Institute’s Innaugural Well-Being Forum will feature panelists Jon Clifton of Gallup World Poll; Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution; Todd Kashdan of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths at George Mason University; and James R. Otteson of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism at Wake Forest University. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. on June 25 at the Newseum.

Discover what a conservative social justice agenda might look like. Arthur Brooks and Robert Doar of the American Enterprise Institute and Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View will speak at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium at 6 p.m. on June 23.

Learn why the Lone Star State’s cities are leading the country in economic performance. The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Manhattan Institute will host a discussion at the Texas State Capital featuring Midland Mayor Jerry Morales, Tom Gray of the Manhattan Institute, Don Baylor Jr. of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and Chuck DeVore of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The conversation will begin at 11:30 a.m. on June 26.

Nominate your simple, eloquent, and witty writing for the Bastiat Prize for Journalism. The Bastiat Prize is named for the French writer Frederic Bastiat, who had a way of using humor and everyday examples to show how economic liberty is the solution to many problems. First prize is $10,000. The deadline for entry is July 31.

Find out if the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are making another power grab. The Heritage Foundation will host a panel discussion on the agencies’ latest proposed wetlands rules. Speaking will be Virginia S. Albrecht, Special Counsel at Hunton & Williams; Don R. Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation; Julie A. Ufner of the National Association of Counties; and Tabby Waqar of the National Association of Home Builders. The event will begin at noon on June 26.

Hear some straight talk about rape culture and sexual violence on campus. The Independent Women’s Forum will host a conversation with Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute; Stuart Taylor of the Brookings Institution; Cathy Young, contributing editor at Reason; and Andrea Bottner, former director of International Women’s Issues at the State Department in the George W. Bush administration. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at 1706 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.

• When making your plans for the Fourth, don’t forget to put the Leadership Institute’s National Fourth of July Conservative Soiree on your schedule. They’ll have barbeque, face painting, and bluegrass—plus some inspiring speeches. The gathering will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bull Run Regional Park.

Posted on 06/20/14 09:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

No, There Is No Evidence Gov. Walker Broke Campaign Finance Laws

The media have now compounded the abuse of conservatives by Wisconsin prosecutors with false reports of new allegations against Gov. Scott Walker (R). Gabriel Mellor reports on this week’s case of outrageous media malpractice:

Having launched a secret probe that has now been shut down by both the state and federal courts, the Democratic district attorneys find themselves the subject of an ongoing civil rights lawsuit for infringing the First Amendment rights of conservatives. But that is not how the media have reported the case.

Upon the unsealing of some of the probe documents by the federal appeals court, the media worked itself into a frenzy claiming that Walker was part of a criminal conspiracy. The media claim was based entirely on the subpoena document that was denied by the state judge as failing utterly to demonstrate probable cause to believe a crime occurred. In short: the judge, looking at all the evidence, found no reason to believe that a crime had occurred. That has not stopped the media from falsely implying otherwise.

This is largely accomplished by playing with verb tense. For example, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel kicked off this infuriating libel with a piece that claimed, “John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of ‘criminal scheme.’” The more accurate word, of course, would have been “alleged,” past-tense with the addition of the words “in denied subpoena request” or perhaps “in failed partisan investigation” or even “in politically-motivated secret investigation rejected by the state and federal courts.”

The New York Times, trumpeting the story on today’s front page, also uses the present tense to give the wrong impression. The piece begins “Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending.” Again, the true story is that this took place last year and was ended by the courts. You’d have to read all the way down to the tenth paragraph to learn that the subpoenas weren’t granted because there was no probable cause to believe that a crime had occurred. Oddly, the Times piece muses on the electoral consequences for Walker in the third paragraph. [The Federalist, June 20]

Posted on 06/20/14 03:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

Don’t Believe That Report Showing U.S. Health Care Is the Worst

Does the United States really have the worst health care system in the developed world while Britain has the best, as claimed in a new report from the Commonwealth Fund? Betsey McCaughey breaks down how the Commonwealth Fund’s study is reverse-engineered to show that socialized medicine is better:

Commonwealth gives heavy weight to “equity,” meaning equal access to care, so on this measure countries with government-run systems by definition come out on top. Another criterion gives countries points when doctors say “it’s easy to print out lists of patients by diagnosis.” And countries are rewarded when patients are “routinely sent computerized reminder notices for preventive or follow-up care”; the U.S. lost points because it is more common here to telephone patients than e-mail them. Never mind that American women have a better chance of getting regular mammograms than do women in most other countries, a reason for America’s top breast-cancer survival rate.

The report’s biggest trick is penalizing the U.S. for having the highest number of deaths due to preventable diseases, meaning diseases that are curable if treated soon enough. This measure conflates the incidence of disease with the treatment of disease. The U.S. has a high incidence of cardiovascular disease, considered preventable, because for 50 years Americans were the heaviest smokers and now are among the most obese. Bad behavior, not bad medicine, is to blame. As a National Research Council (NRC) panel cautioned in 2010, “It seems inaccurate to attribute ... high death rates from these causes to a poorly performing medical system.”

In fact, when it comes to treating disease – the primary purpose of the health-care system – the U.S. performs extremely well, and not just when it comes to breast cancer. The U.S. is also, for instance, stunningly effective in treating prostate cancer: An American diagnosed with it has a 99.3 percent chance of survival. In Great Britain only 70 percent survive, in Germany only 82 percent, and in Denmark a shockingly low 48 percent. [Real Clear Policy, June 20]

Posted on 06/20/14 03:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

You Should Know the Work of these Four Individuals

Some highlights from this year’s Bradley Prizes, presented Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center:

Four figures received the acclaim of their colleagues—and a $250,000 check—for their work in varied fields. George Will, who emceed the event (and a former Bradley Prize-winner himself), dubbed Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel the “fourth branch of government” for her dogged pursuit of the truth behind what she called “the accepted storylines” advanced by politicos and pundits alike. Goldwater Institute president Darcy Olsen, a preeminent advocate of school choice, asked a question more leaders should take to heart: “What if the solution to Washington isn’t in Washington?” Terry Teachout, the playwright and Wall Street Journal drama critic, gave a provocative talk arguing for art over ideas. He elegantly summarized his job: “I seek to be ever and always alive to the moral force of art whose creators aspire merely to make everything more beautiful, and in so doing to pierce the veil of the visible and give us a glimpse of the transcendently true.”

Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett, one of the country’s greatest legal minds, discussed the two conflicting visions of the Constitution and ended the evening on a particularly stirring note by dismissing the idea that America has become, as the media often have it, too “polarized.” “Our politics seems divisive today because there are now two sides to this fundamental debate,” he argued. [Weekly Standard, June 23]

Posted on 06/20/14 11:49 AM by Alex Adrianson

Order without Government

There was no government on the Oregon Trail in the mid-19th century. But over 300,000 travelers made the trip, the vast majority quite safely. How did they figure out how to do that?  Professor P.J. Hill explains in this recent Learn Liberty video:

Posted on 06/20/14 11:05 AM by Alex Adrianson

Is Policing Offensive Trade Names Really a Job for the Government?

On Wednesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked the trademark registration for the Washington Redskins’ team name. [Washington Times, June 18]

Under the Lanham Act, the Patent Office is supposed to refuse registration of any trademark that “[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute[.]” [15 U.S.C. §1052(a)]

Some commentators who believe that the Redskins name is an ethnic slur have cheered the decision because they believe it will push the team to change its name. But should these kinds of societal debates be resolved by the Patent Office? Or any government office? Is there a First Amendment issue here?

Last month, Eugene Volokh wrote about another case of the Patent Office denying a trademark registration that it felt was disparaging to a group of people: The agency decided not to register “Stop the Islamization of America” mark. Volokh wrote:

My tentative view is that the general exclusion of marks that disparage persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols should be seen as unconstitutional. Trademark registration, I think, is a government benefit program open to a wide array of speakers with little quality judgment. Like other such programs (such as broadly available funding programs, tax exemptions, or access to government property), it should be seen as a form of “limited public forum,” in which the government may impose content-based limits but not viewpoint-based ones. An exclusion of marks that disparage groups while allowing marks that praise those groups strikes me as viewpoint discrimination. But I’m not sure that courts will ultimately see this my way; so far they haven’t been inclined to do so, precisely because the exclusion of a mark from federal registration leaves people entirely free to use the mark. [Washington Post, May 13]

The American Civil Liberties Union says the Redskins name is offensive, but nevertheless shares Volokh’s view that the Patent and Trademark Office shouldn’t be in the business of policing the decorum of trademarks. In a post about the Redskins from this past December, Gabe Rottman wrote:

At first blush, it might seem obvious that the USPTO should have the ability to deny registration to racist or vulgar trademarks. But, as with all things free speech, who gets to decide what’s racist or vulgar? That’s right, the government, which is just ill-equipped to make these kinds of determinations. […]

To its credit, the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) engages in a very searching inquiry into whether a particular mark is offensive and considers extensive testimony and evidence by social scientists, advocacy groups, linguists, lexicographers, and others.

At the end of the day, however, the ultimate determination is inherently subjective and the TTAB and reviewing courts have a significant amount of discretion in deciding what’s disparaging and what’s not. It’s not unlike “I know it when I see it” in obscenity law, and it raises similar problems. [American Civil Liberties Union, December 10, 2013]

Posted on 06/19/14 12:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare Didn’t Make Health Insurance Cheaper; It Just Changed Who Is Paying for It

The Obama administration wants you to think ObamaCare is working because premiums remain affordable for those in the federal exchanges. According to data released on Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services:

[P]eople who selected silver plans, the most popular plan type in the federal Marketplace, with tax credits paid an average premium of $69 per month. In the federal Marketplace, 69 percent of enrollees who selected Marketplace plans with tax credits had premiums of $100 a month or less, and 46 percent of $50 a month or less after tax credits. [Department of Health and Human Services, June 18]

But the price to the insurance buyer excludes the cost of the subsidies, which, by definition, are paid for by taxpayers. Peter Suderman reports:

[I]f you strip away the subsidies, individual market health insurance has, on average, become significantly more expensive in the wake of Obamacare, according to a newly published analysis by the Manhattan Institute.

Relying on a 3,137 county comparison of the five cheapest individual plans available prior to Obamacare with the five cheapest plans through the exchanges, the study by health policy fellow Yevgeniy Feyman found that, on average, premiums were up 49 percent under Obamacare. Again, that’s an average, and it masks some variation—in New York, which had unusually restrictive, badly designed health insurance market rules prior to Obamacare, premiums are actually down quite a bit—but it indicates that the overall trend for unsubsidized premiums is up.

The difference, then, is being made up by federal subsidies. According to the administration’s report, those subsidies are carrying 76 percent of the total cost of subsidized insurance plans selected in the federal exchange. The out-of-pocket average is $82. But the actual average premium price, without subsidies, is $346.

To the extent that insurance is relatively cheap, it’s because taxpayers are footing a big chunk of the bill. […]

As the Los Angeles Times reports today, “while the generous subsidies helped consumers, they also risk inflating the new health law’s price tag in its first year.” If premiums and subsidy levels in the state-run exchanges that were left out of the report generally match up with the federal government, then the Times estimates that the total for subsidies this year could run as high as $16.5 billion—significantly more than the roughly $10 billion estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. [Reason, June 18]

So ObamaCare has preserved the biggest flaw of the pre-ObamaCare health insurance market: Most consumers most of the time are shielded from the costs of their health care consumption decisions, which, of course, gives consumers an incentive to consume more. And as consumers have paid less, health care has taken a bigger and bigger bite out of the economy:

[Graph from “Fix Health Care by Tackling the Wedge,” by Arthur Laffer, Donna Arduin, and Wayne Winegarden, The Insider, Summer 2009.]

Posted on 06/18/14 06:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Ballad of Uber and Lyft

Neither taxis nor their regulators like the fact that Uber and Lyft give riders an easier way to find a ride, and they are attempting to use the force of government to put those companies out of business. A. Barton Hinkle tells the story of how consumers will lose if that happens—in a poem. Here’s how it starts:

What can be said about Uber and Lyft
That hasn’t been said before?
The e-hailing upstarts make catching a cab
The simplest possible chore.

A map on your phone shows drivers nearby
That you call with a single tap
And after you ride you can rate your driver
In a separate part of the app. [Richmond Times Dispatch, June 17]

If you read the rest, you’ll understand not only the taxi cartels, but why Hinkle won a Bastiat Prize in 2008.

Posted on 06/18/14 03:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Internal Revenue Service Is Either Lying or Terrible at Keeping Records

Late last week, the Internal Revenue Service informed the House of Representatives Ways and Mean Committee, which is looking into the agency’s treatment of conservative non-profit groups, that it had lost two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s emails. Lerner was the head of the IRS unit that reviewed groups’ applications for tax exempt status. That unit is the one that was found, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, to have targeted conservative groups with invasive and burdensome questioning during the 2010-2012 election cycle. Here are a few details on the latest development in the investigation of the scandal from the Washington Post:

The IRS said technicians went to great lengths trying to recover data from Lerner’s computer in 2011. In emails provided by the IRS, technicians said they sent the computer to a forensic lab run by the agency’s criminal investigations unit. But to no avail.

The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 because Lerner had copied in other IRS employees. The agency said it pieced together the emails from the computers of 82 other IRS employees.

But an untold number are gone. Camp’s office said the missing emails are mainly ones to and from people outside the IRS, “such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices.” [Washington Post, June 13]

In other words, the error affects only the emails that might have provided answers to the question: Who outside of the IRS was involved in targeting conservative groups?

There’s more, Eliana Johnson reports:

It’s not just Lois Lerner’s e-mails. The Internal Revenue Service says it can’t produce e-mails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, according to two Republicans investigating the scandal.

The IRS told Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany that computer crashes resulted in additional lost e-mails, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal. [National Review, June 17]

If we are to believe the IRS’s explanation for how the loss of emails happened, writes John Hinderaker, then the agency may be in violation of laws governing record retention in the government:

The IRS has told us that after six months, backup tapes are erased and emails will survive, in all likelihood, only on an individual’s desktop computer (and that, only if the employee took the trouble to archive the email locally). Was such a policy even legal under the Code of Federal Regulations? I have not yet been able to figure that out. But it clearly was contrary to the guidance on document retention from the National Archives and Records Administration, which has broad oversight over the handling and retention of records by federal agencies.

In its Agency Recordkeeping Requirements: a Management Guide, NARA addresses the inadequate system that the IRS says that it used until last year. NARA says it is improper:

Agency files and record keeping systems must be available to all authorized staff members. Consequently, Federal records in electronic form should not be maintained solely on a staff member’s computer hard disk, diskettes, or directories assigned only for an individual’s use. This would be the electronic equivalent of maintaining agency paper records in an individual’s locked desk drawer.

As the IRS investigation continues, Koskinen and others at the Agency should not be allowed to get away with the facile suggestion that Lerner’s emails–all of them!–were not “records” and therefore could be destroyed with impunity. It would be interesting to know what documents the IRS did preserve as “records” during the relevant time period. Unless the IRS was simply thumbing its nose at its statutory duty to maintain records of its actions and deliberations, a large number of emails should have been preserved in some fashion.

A final point: the IRS whines that it has 90,000 employees and that managing its internal documents is therefore difficult. But take a look at the IRS’s budget. In fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the IRS’s budget for “Information Services” was in excess of $1.8 billion annually! Nearly two billion dollars in “information services,” and the agency can’t keep track of emails? And that doesn’t count another $330 million, annually, for “Business Systems Modernization.” [Powerline, June 20]

Sharyl Attkisson reports that the IRS had the gall to suggest—in the same letter informing Congress of the lost emails—that Congress should end its investigation. Instead, says Attkisson, the IRS needs to show the paper trail on the alleged IT glitch, including a timeline of the crash, the names of all officials and technicians involved in attempting to fix the crash, and all IRS communications about the crash. [SharylAttkisson.com, June 14]

If you know your political history, this story might make you feel some déjà vu. Thirty-two years ago this very week (June 17, 1972), five men were arrested for burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. That was the beginning of the Watergate scandal that would lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 8, 1974.

During the legal tussle over the tapes of President Nixon’s Oval Office conversations, the administration revealed that that there was an 18½ minute gap on the tape of a conversation between the President and his aide H.R. Haldeman on July 20, 1972—three days after the Watergate break-in. The President’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, claimed that she had accidentally recorded over five minutes of the original conversation when she reached to answer the phone while transcribing the tapes. Few believed her account, which included an unlikely stretch to reach a phone with her left hand while holding down a transcription pedal with her right foot for five minutes. The rest of the gap was never accounted for. The participants appear to have taken knowledge of what was said during that conversation to their graves.

But it didn’t matter because there was a smoking gun in the Oval Office tapes that were released: a conversion on June 23, 1972, in which Nixon and Haldeman discussed having the Central Intelligence Agency tell the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the Watergate break-in involved sensitive national security issues that should not be investigated.

Ultimately, destroying the evidence didn’t help Nixon because he didn’t destroy all the evidence.

Posted on 06/17/14 06:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Mocking, Satirical, and Winning

The funniest amicus brief ever—funniest we’ve read, anyway—now has the virtue of having argued for the winning side of a case. In February, the Cato Institute poked fun at political discourse in a brief to the Supreme Court that argued that an Ohio law criminalizing untruthful campaign speech violates the First Amendment. “[M]ocking and satire are as old as America, and if this Court doesn’t believe amici, it can ask Thomas Jefferson, ‘the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father,’” said the brief, which continued in that vein for numerous pages. And to demonstrate just how thorny it would be to put a government body in charge of determining what is true, the brief even poked fun at Chief Justice Robert’s ruling in the ObamaCare case: “Amici are unsure how true the allegation is given that the healthcare law seems to change daily, but it certainly isn’t as truthy as calling a mandate a tax.” [Amicus Brief of the Cato Institute, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, February 28, 2014]

If the Chief Justice or any of the other Justices were offended, they didn’t let it stop them from agreeing with Cato (and about 20 other amici). On Monday, the Court ruled unanimously that a First Amendment challenge to the Ohio law in question may go forward. Walter Olson notes that while that ruling was based on standing, the justices, including Justice Thomas, who wrote the opinion for the Court, seemed very skeptical that the law could survive a First Amendment challenge. [Overlawyered, June 16]

Posted on 06/16/14 05:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Let’s Hear It for Barnett, Olsen, Strassel, and Teachout!

Celebrate the accomplishments of four champions of the free society. On June 18, the Bradley Foundation will award its Bradley Prizes to Georgetown University law professor Randy E. Barnett, Goldwater Institute president Darcy Olsen, Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel, and Wall Street Journal drama critic and Commentary critic-at-large Terry Teachout. The awards will take place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, starting at 7:30 p.m. And if the cleaners lose your tux, you can still watch festivities online. You can register to stream the event at: http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=99631.

Discover how creative freedom lovers are finding new and provocative ways to communicate the ideas of liberty. The Cato Institute will host a discussion on how graphic novels, comics, videos, memes, and more are being used teach economic liberty. Amity Shlaes and Paul Rivoche, author and illustrator, respectively, of The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition: A New History of the Great Depression will be featured speakers. The event will begin at 6 p.m. on June 17 at the Cato Institute.

Get the full story of the Justice Department’s transformation into a stronghold of progressive legal activism. Hans Von Spakovsky and John Fund will discuss their new book Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department. The talk will begin at noon on June 17 at The Heritage Foundation.

Explore the history of Hollywood’s portrayals of the American heartland. This summer the Hudson Institute will screen six films on the theme “Middle America and the Movies.” Next up is Kings Row at 5:30 p.m. on June 17. A short discussion will follow the screening.

Celebrate 30 years of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The theme of this year’s CEI dinner, naturally, will be the 1980s. Author Matt Ridley will keynote and Kennedy will serve as master of ceremonies. The reception will kick off at 6 p.m. on June 19 at the JW Marriot Washington.

Get your application in to be a Heritage Foundation Intern for the Fall 2015 semester. There’s still time to apply—barely: The deadline is June 15.

Interns, register now for the Leadership Institute’s Conservative Intern Workshop. You’ll learn skills such as networking, time management, and dressing for success. The workshop will take place at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va., at 9 a.m. on June 26.

Posted on 06/13/14 09:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

Are School Homicides Becoming More Frequent?

The data up to 2011 say no. This chart is from a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

[Chart from “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2014; h/t: Reason, June 11]

Posted on 06/13/14 07:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Export-Import Bank Threatens U.S. Jobs

The Export-Import Bank, whose charter Congress is considering renewing, helps foreign companies compete against U.S. companies—and U.S. workers. The bank, using U.S. taxpayers’ dollars, gives subsidized financing to foreign companies so that they can buy American products. As Diane Katz points out, however, the bank rarely considers the secondary consequences of its operations on other U.S. companies:

The following Ex-Im deals have been cited by lawmakers and industry experts as examples of just some of the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that put domestic firms at a competitive disadvantage:

• Australia’s Roy Hill mine ($694 million). The mine’s expected output (over the life of the financing) is expected to displace nearly $600 million worth of U.S. iron ore exports and cause a reduction of some $1.2 billion in U.S. domestic sales.

• South Africa’s Kusile Coal power plant ($805 million); India’s Sasan coal power plant and mine ($917 million). Notwithstanding the Obama Administration’s war on coal, Ex-Im has been a generous source of public financing for coal projects abroad. These and other projects have exacerbated a 70 percent decline in coal prices since 2008.

• Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi copper mine ($500 million). The copper from this open-pit and underground mine competes with excavations in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana just as global refined copper production is expected to exceed demand by more than 390,000 metric tons this year.

• Papua New Guinea’s Liquid Natural Gas Project ($3 billion). Despite regulatory challenges faced by U.S. producers of liquid natural gas, Ex-Im approved $3 billion in financing for development of gas fields, on-shore and off-shore pipelines extending 400 miles, a gas liquefaction plant, and marine export facilities.

• Air India ($3.4 billion). The financing will guarantee the purchase of 27 Boeing aircraft intended for international service, including U.S. destinations. According to the Air Line Pilots Association, Air India will enjoy rates and terms that are not available to U.S. airlines, giving it a cost advantage of about $2 million per airplane. Surplus seat capacity resulting from Ex-Im airline subsidies—totaling about $50 billion between 2005 and 2011—has resulted in the loss of approximately 7,500 U.S. jobs. [The Heritage Foundation, June 2]

Posted on 06/13/14 07:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

Some History of Soviet Crimes

As we noted in the previous item, the annual wreath-laying at the Victims of Communism Memorial took place on Wednesday this week, and two Ukrainian human rights advocates were honored with the Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal. The recognition is both well deserved and very timely, as the Russian boot is once again poised over Ukraine.

To help to make sure the crimes of the Soviet state against the Ukrainians are never forgotten, we present below a passage from Timothy Snyder’s recent book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. As Snyder points out, Ukraine was victimized thrice over by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, first in the famine of the early 1930s that the regime deliberately created by confiscating all the grain in the Ukrainian countryside, then in the anti-Kulak campaign of 1937-1938, and finally in the late 1930s purge of suspected Polish spies, which, naturally, fell most heavily on the nationality sharing a border with Poland—Ukrainians. Snyder estimates that at least 3.3 million Ukrainians and possibly millions more died in the famine terror. Here is a passage from Snyder’s book that tells the stories of some of the famine victims:

In Soviet Ukraine in early 1933, the communist party activists who collected the grain left a deathly quiet behind them. The countryside has its own orchestra of sound, softer and slower than the city, but no less predictable and reassuring for those born to it. Ukraine had gone mute.

Peasants had killed their livestock (or lost it to the state), they had killed their chickens, they had killed their cats and their dogs. They had scared the birds away by hunting them. The human beings had fled, too, if they were lucky; more likely they too were dead, or too weak to make a noise. Cut off from the attention of the world by a state that controlled the press and the movements of foreign journalists, cut off from official help or sympathy by a party line that equated starvation with sabotage, cut off from the economy by intense poverty and inequitable planning, cut off from the rest of the country by regulations and police cordons, people died alone, families died alone, whole village died alone. Two decades later, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt would present this famine in Ukraine as the crucial event in the creation of a modern “atomized” society, the alienation of all from all.

Starvation led not to rebellion but to amorality, to crime, to indifference, to madness, to paralysis, and finally to death. Peasants endured months of indescribable suffering, indescribable because of its duration and pain, but also indescribable because people were too weak, too poor, too illiterate to chronicle what was happening to them. But the survivors did remember. As one of them recalled, no matter what peasants did, “they went on dying, dying, dying.” The death was slow, humiliating, ubiquitous, and generic. To die of starvation with some sort of dignity was beyond the reach of almost everyone. Petro Veldii showed rare strength when he dragged himself through his village on the day he expected to die. The other villagers asked him where he was going: to the cemetery to lay himself down. He did not want strangers coming and dragging his body away to a pit. So he had dug his own grave, but by the time he reached the cemetery another body had filled it. He dug himself another one, lay down, and waited.

A very few outsiders witnessed and were able to record what happened in these most terrible of months. The journalist Gareth Jones had paid his own way to Moscow, and, violating a ban on travel to Ukraine, took a train to Kharkiv on 7 March 1933. He disembarked at random at a small station and tramped through the countryside with a backpack full of food. He found “famine on a colossal scale.” Everywhere he went he heard the same two phrases: “Everyone is swollen from starvation” and “We are waiting to die.” He slept on dirt floors with starving children, and learned the truth. Once, after he had shared his food, a little girl exclaimed: “Now that I have eaten such wonderful things I can die happy.”

Maria Lowinska traveled that same spring through Soviet Ukraine, accompanying her husband as he tried to sell his handiworks. The villages they knew from previous treks were now deserted. They were frightened by the unending silence. If they heard a cock crow they were so happy that they were alarmed by their own reaction. The Ukrainian musician Yosyp Panasenko was dispatched by central authorities with his troupe of bandura players to provide culture to the starving peasants. Even as the state took the peasants’ last bit of food, it had the grotesque inclination to elevate the minds and rouse the spirits of the dying. The musicians found village after village completely abandoned. Then they finally came across some people: two girls dead in a bed, two legs of a man protruding from a stove, and an old lady raving and running her fingernails through the dirt. The party official Victor Kravchenko entered a village to help with the harvest one evening. The next day he found seventeen corpses in the marketplace. Such scenes could be found in villages throughout Soviet Ukraine, where in that spring of 1933 people died at a rate of more than ten thousand a day. [Internal citations omitted.] [Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, Basic Books, 2010.]

Posted on 06/13/14 06:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

Remember the Victims of Communism

More than 100 million people were murdered by Communist governments in the 20th century. To make sure that fact is never forgotten, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation led by Lee Edwards commissioned a 10-foot bronze statue and dedicated it as the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2007. The statue is a replica of the Goddess of Democracy that became the symbol of the Chinese students protesting their government’s repressive policies at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989. Every year, the Foundation hosts a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial in order to ensure the Communist crimes are never forgotten. Lee Edwards writes:

Joshua Muravchik has written that “if we cannot get straight the rights and wrongs of the struggle between Communism and anti-Communism, itself perhaps the greatest moral struggle of the [20th] century, then it is hard to see what other issues we will ever be able to address intelligently.”

It is to help separate the rights and the wrongs, the facts and the fictions, the myths and the realities about the collapse of Communism that the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is dedicated. This is the theme of our annual ceremony on Capitol Hill, at which the representatives of some 25 foreign embassies and ethnic communities lay wreaths and offer a moment of silence for those who died under Communism in their homelands.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters understand what is at stake. They understand that history must not be forgotten lest it be repeated. Even so, we cannot, we must not, we will not forget the victims of Communism. We will continue to tell the truth about Tiananmen Square and the Gulag and the Isle of Pines and the killing fields of Cambodia and the boat people of Vietnam and all those who still live, and not by their choice, under Communism. [National Review, June 12]

The Foundation also bestows its Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom annually to individuals who have demonstrated a life-long commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny. At this year’s the ceremony, held on Wednesday, June 11, the Foundation awarded the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to Mustafa Dzhemilev, political leader of the Crimean Tartars, and Myrolsav Marynovych, Vice-Rector of Ukrainian Catholic University and founder of Amnesty International Ukraine. The Foundation describes the contributions that Dzhemilev and Marynovych have made to Ukrainian liberty:

A heroic example of bravery throughout his life, Mustafa Dzhemilev spent decades defending the political rights of Crimean Tatars from Soviet aggression. A member of the Ukrainian parliament, Dzhemilev has now come to be one of the most prominent critics of Vladimir Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea. In late April Mr. Dzhemilev’s office building was attacked by unmarked soldiers and in recent days Russian-backed Crimean authorities have reportedly barred Dzhemilev, the political leader of the Crimean Tatars and a lifelong human rights advocate, from entry into Russian-occupied lands.

Myroslav Marynovych is vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University and founder of Amnesty International Ukraine. Despite having suffered as a prisoner of conscience for nearly a decade during the Brezhnev era, Marynovych has worked tirelessly to strengthen civil society in his native country. In recent months he has also been an eloquent spokesman for human rights and Ukrainian sovereignty. Mr. Marynovych has dedicated his life to first freeing Ukraine from Soviet oppression and then to building institutions of freedom in Ukraine. [Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, May 15]

Posted on 06/13/14 06:01 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Economics of WALL-E

WALL-E was a fun movie about a junk-filled Earth in the year 2700, but its warnings about the perils of technology and consumerism are wrong. Andrew Heaton explains in the latest episode of EconPop:

Posted on 06/13/14 12:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

Why Are There Terrorists Marching Through Northern Iraq?

The forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities this week. The Iraqi Army abandoned a trove of tanks and other military hardware. ISIS also obtained about $429 million from Mosul’s central bank. That makes ISIS, whose leader has threatened to attack the heart of America, the richest terror group in history. How did that disaster happen?

Dexter Filkins:

When the Americans invaded, in March, 2003, they destroyed the Iraqi state—its military, its bureaucracy, its police force, and most everything else that might hold a country together. They spent the next nine years trying to build a state to replace the one they crushed. By 2011, by any reasonable measure, the Americans had made a lot of headway but were not finished with the job. For many months, the Obama and Maliki governments talked about keeping a residual force of American troops in Iraq, who would act largely to train Iraq’s Army and to provide intelligence against Sunni insurgents. (They would almost certainly have been barred from fighting.) Those were important reasons to stay, but the most important went largely unstated: it was to continue to act as a restraint on Maliki’s sectarian impulses, at least until the Iraqi political system was strong enough to contain him on its own. The negotiations between Obama and Maliki fell apart, in no small measure because of a lack of engagement by the White House. Today, many Iraqis, including some close to Maliki, say that a small force of American soldiers—working in non-combat roles—would have provided a crucial stabilizing factor that is now missing from Iraq. Sami al-Askari, a Maliki confidant, told me for my article this spring, “If you had a few hundred here, not even a few thousand, they would be cooperating with you, and they would become your partners.” President Obama wanted the Americans to come home, and Maliki didn’t particularly want them to stay.

The trouble is, as the events of this week show, what the Americans left behind was an Iraqi state that was not able to stand on its own. What we built is now coming apart. This is the real legacy of America’s war in Iraq. [New Yorker, June 11]

James Philips:

Although the resurgence of ISIS has been enabled by Maliki’s heavy-handed rule and the spillover of the increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria, the Obama Administration also played a counterproductive role in downplaying the prospects for an al-Qaeda comeback in Iraq.

The Administration early on made it clear to Iraqis that it was more interested in “ending” rather than winning the war against al-Qaeda in Iraq. As Heritage Foundation analysts repeatedly warned, the abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 deprived the Iraqi government of important counterterrorism, intelligence, and training capabilities that were needed to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and allowed it to regain strength in a much more permissive environment. [Daily Signal, June 11]

Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt:

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011. [New York Times, June 12]

Posted on 06/12/14 05:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Lessons of World War I

The real lesson of World War I (and World War II), says Victor Davis Hanson, is that when you win a war you have to humiliate the enemy, impose a peace that puts the blame for the war squarely on the defeated, and impose your political ideology on the vanquished. Otherwise you will invite another war that attempts to reverse your victory. The Obama administration, notes Hanson, seems not to have studied World Wars I and II.

Posted on 06/12/14 04:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

Global Warming Science Marches On—Into the Courts

In the past few months, there have been some developments in Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against Mark Steyn, National Review, Rand Simberg, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. That’s the lawsuit, you may recall, that was prompted by an unsavory comparison of Mann’s treatment of climate data to Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky’s treatment of children. If Mann wins, criticizing experts may no longer be fully protected by the First Amendment.

Jonathan Adler has summarized the developments at the Volokh Conspiracy. Here’s an even shorter version: Steyn has hired his own lawyers because he wants to dispense with anti-SLAPP motions and get to the merits of the case. Says Steyn: “I want to get to court as soon as possible, and put Michael E Mann, PhD (Doctor of Phraudology) on the stand under oath. I haven’t wasted two years on this guy to be denied my moment in court.”

National Review, Simberg, and CEI are still working the anti-SLAPP angle (filing to dismiss the suit as lacking merit). On May 29, these three defendants won a procedural judgment allowing them to appeal the denial of their anti-SLAPP motion before the discovery phase of the case begins.

Adler has this warning for the environmentalists rooting for Mann:

[I]t’s understandable that many environmentalists hope Mann will win. Yet should he prevail, many on his side may come to rue this result. Should Mann win, it will not be long before defamation suits are filed in the other direction. Every time an environmental activist suggests someone on the other side is “bought” by fossil fuel interests, they had better be able to substantiate their claim, or they will be inviting a lawsuit. [Washington Post, June 9]

Mann’s employer, Penn State investigated and cleared Mann of scientific fraud charges. Therefore, says Mann, nobody else can legally say his work was fraudulent. Meanwhile, in Australia, a University of Queensland professor claims his study shows that 97 percent of climate research supports the anthropogenic global warming view—i.e., supports Michael Mann’s view. The university, however, has threatened legal action against the publication of the raw data behind the study, claiming it was obtained illegally by a blogger. [Daily Caller, May 16]

Hey, who needs the scientific method when you can just sue anyone who challenges what you know to be true? We’re not credentialed scientists or anything like that, but we feel safe making this prediction: When global warming gets into the courts, you won’t find 97 percent of the lawyers on one side of the issue.

Posted on 06/11/14 02:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

J. Stanley Marshall, R.I.P.

J. Stanley Marshall, former president of Florida State University and founder of the James Madison Institute died on Sunday. He was 91.

Marshall served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He taught high school science in upstate New York and then physics at the State University of New York before heading Florida State’s program training high school science teachers. Marshall served as president at Florida State from 1969 to 1976, a time of much student activism and many protests. Marshall later wrote an account of the period, The Tumultuous Sixties: Campus Unrest and Student Life at a Southern University.

Marshall founded the James Madison Institute, a free market think tank focused on Florida state issues in 1987. He served on the institute’s board of directors until earlier this year. The James Madison Institute’s tribute to Marshall recounts his leadership:

After a visit to California and a subsequent consultation with British thinker Sir Antony Fisher, Dr. Marshall summoned several of his Tallahassee friends to a meeting that subsequently led to the founding of The James Madison Institute in 1987.

Under his leadership, JMI became a champion of parental choice in education, serving as a provider of what former Governor Jeb Bush called “intellectual ammunition,” a sentiment seconded by former House Speaker Allan Bense, who currently chairs JMI’s Board of Directors, as well as the FSU Board of Trustees.

“A mentor, a family man, a future-focused leader, a kind soul—those are only a few words out of so many that describe Dr. Marshall. I was a student at FSU in the 70′s when he was president and under his leadership FSU flourished. To know him as a leader and to then be able to call him a friend is a true honor,” said Speaker Bense. “He was known by so many across the state and nation for his dedication to the people and causes he cared about. We will all miss him dearly.” [James Madison Institute, June 8]

Posted on 06/10/14 05:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

Joseph Shattan, R.I.P.

Joseph Shattan, author and speechwriter for many conservative leaders, died on Saturday, June 7. He was 63.

Shattan was the author of Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War, which he wrote from 1997 to 1999 as a Bradley Fellow for The Heritage Foundation. Shattan worked frequently as a speechwriter, including stints with both Vice President Dan Quayle and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as Elliott Abrams, Bill Bennett, Ed Feulner, Phil Gramm, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and George Shultz. Shattan wrote frequently for The Wall Street Journal and The American Spectator. In 2009, he returned to The Heritage Foundation, where he helped Sen. Jim DeMint with his book, Falling in Love with America Again.

Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol remembered Shattan’s talents: “His unusual skill as a wordsmith and thinker meant that he was always in demand as a speechwriter […] .” [Weekly Standard, June 8] Carsten Walter of The Heritage Foundation said: “To say that Joe’s words reached tens of millions of people around the world is just the tip of the iceberg of the impact he had on the world.” [Daily Signal, June 7]

Roger Kaplan remembered Shattan this way:

Joe always had a kind of shyness about him, a certain Chaplinesque quality of bumbling along and getting a bit into awkward positions. But that was the symptom of a profoundly civilized man in a world gone horribly vulgar. He was a gentleman who could not for all his knowledge of the social wreckage around us ever get used to the notion that people were not as correct and polite and well meaning as he. Actually, I think that was why people liked him so well, they recognized someone who was what they vaguely knew was the way a man ought to be. [American Spectator, June 9]

Posted on 06/09/14 02:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

D-Day

Seventy years ago today, the liberation of Europe began. D-Day. June 6, 1944. Ronald Reagan has the story:

Posted on 06/06/14 11:56 AM by Alex Adrianson

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