Friday, January 10, 2014

Cruising the Web

One thing we've learned from the whole Fort Lee bridge-closing story is, as Mollie Hemingway argues, is that obscure government officials have too much authority over our lives and it has gone to their heads. As one commenter wrote on my blog yesterday, this whole story is reminiscent of how members of the executive branch during last Fall's government shutdown deliberately shut down parts of the government to deliberately harm the public in petty ways.
Knowing that essentially all men having power ought to be mistrusted, this leaves us with no other option but to restrain politicians’ ability to make our lives nightmares. Mostly this means restraining our government. Anything that government touches, it can use against us in ways large and small. Perhaps we’d do a better job of keeping politicians in line if the size and scope of government wasn’t so expansive.

It also means demanding transparency over government actions. We know about these conversations out of New Jersey because Democratic lawmakers there subpoenaed the documents. It would be nice to have the conversations that led to the shuttering of the WWII Memorial or the IRS’ actions against political opponents, but our federal government is taking its sweet time responding to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests on these. (On that note, the Navy this week mistakenly emailed a reporter its plans to dodge his FOIA requests. It would be comedy gold if it weren’t a sign of a deeply unhealthy system of government.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re Dick Nixon or the head of the condo association, there is something about wielding authority that turns us into petty tyrants. Restraining the power supply is the least we can do.

As long as nothing else comes out to indicate that Chris Christie had any prior information about the lane-closings in Fort Lee or that other petty attacks by his aides on political opponents, his amazing press conference may very well have not only cauterized the political wound. He may well benefit from people's perceptions that he is willing to meet the press and answer questions until they run out of them. It is rather how JFK's poll ratings went up after the Bay of Pigs fiasco since he was willing to come out and take blame. He was certainly more open and forthcoming than Hillary Clinton's "pretty-in-pink" press conference in which she said she didn't remember key details about Whitewater, her billing records, or her amazing skill at making money on cattle futures. We'll see if the media are as impressed with Christie as they were with Hillary's performance back in 14. And wouldn't it be nice if President Obama would have behaved similarly about the unnecessary actions taken during the government shutdown or what the IRS did against conservative groups in the lead-up to the 2012 election? As the WSJ writes,
Which brings us to the Obama Administration, which quickly leaked to the media that the U.S. Attorney is investigating the lane closures as a criminal matter. Well, that sure was fast, and nice of Eric Holder's Justice Department to show its typical discretion when investigating political opponents.

This is the same Administration that won't tell Congress what resources it is devoting to the IRS probe, and appears to be slow-rolling it. It has also doubled down by expanding the political vetting of 501(c)(4) groups seeking tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS tax-exempt shop and took the Fifth before Congress, was allowed to "retire," presumably with a pension. Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller resigned under pressure but no other heads have rolled. Yet compared to using the IRS against political opponents during an election campaign, closing traffic lanes for four days is jaywalking.

Senator Lamar Alexander lays out how Harry Reid has steadily eroded the traditions of the Senate, which in turn is destroying the ability of the parties to reach a compromise. We are a long way from the original purpose of the Senate as described by George Washington.
An oft-quoted story about the "coolness" of the Senate involves George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who was in France during the Constitutional Convention. Upon his return, Jefferson visited Washington and asked why the Convention delegates had created a Senate. "Why did you pour that tea into your saucer?" asked Washington. "To cool it," said Jefferson. "Even so," responded Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."
Not as Harry Reid has transformed the Senate.

This is really amazing - the much derided Walmart health-care benefits are much better than one could buy under Obamacare. Premiums are steeply lower for Walmart recipients, as are the required deductibles. And Walmart insurance gives employees access to more hospitals and many more doctors than are in the Obamacare exchanges. Will we see the same sort of protests against Obamacare as we've seen against Walmart? Of course not.

The Obama administration would like to claim credit for slower growth of health care costs, but David Freddoso demonstrates how that decrease in the growth of costs actually began in 2003 and has actually been reversed since 2011.

Jim Geraghty tries to cheer up Frank Luntz.

Al Qaeda now controls more territory in the Middle East than it ever has before. Obama couldn't now trumpet how he has Al Qaeda on the run as he had previously.

Charles Krauthammer takes on the despicable boycotts against Israel and calls it what it is - pure anti-Semitism.
For decades, the American Studies Association labored in well-deserved obscurity. No longer. It has now made a name for itself by voting to boycott Israeli universities, accusing them of denying academic and human rights to Palestinians.

Given that Israel has a profoundly democratic political system, the freest press in the Middle East, a fiercely independent judiciary and astonishing religious and racial diversity within its universities, including affirmative action for Arab students, the charge is rather strange.

Made more so when you consider the state of human rights in Israel’s neighborhood. As we speak, Syria’s government is dropping “barrel bombs” filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror on its own cities. Where is the ASA boycott of Syria?

And of Iran, which hangs political, religious and even sexual dissidents and has no academic freedom at all? Or Egypt, where Christians are being openly persecuted? Or Turkey, Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, massively repressive China and Russia?

Which makes obvious that the ASA boycott has nothing to do with human rights. It’s an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism.

And don’t tell me this is merely about Zionism. The ruse is transparent. Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation — is to engage in a gross act of discrimination.

And discrimination against Jews has a name. It’s called anti-Semitism.

Former Harvard president Larry Summers called the ASA actions “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” I choose to be less polite. The intent is clear: to incite hatred for the largest — and only sovereign — Jewish community on Earth.
He recommends that scholars follow the reaction of Alan Dershowitz and Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg who organized declarations by thousands of other scholars to say in response to a previous anti-Israel boycott by declaring that they want to also be considered Israelis. It's time for another such effort.

Michael Barone ridicules the "Democrats feckless attacks on income inequality."