Friday, April 26, 2013



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April 26, 2013

Panic on Capitol Hill

By Wes Pruden

When crunch time comes, when the chips are down, when the rubber meets the road – employ the cliché of your choice – Americans can put away their selfish concerns and come together in common cause. Even Congress, our only native criminal class.

Deep in the bowels of the Senate and House Office Buildings, secreted away where there will be no distractions, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have put aside partisan differences to work for the common weal. This particular weal has never had it so good.

The issue at hand transcends taxes, immigration reform, the war on terrorism, even war and peace (if any). The hush-hush conversations, involving House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are about how to exempt Congress and all the little grunions who attend every need of the congresspersons from . . . Obamacare, the health care monstrosity that we were told would be so good for us.

Discussions started months ago, when it suddenly dawned on these worthies that the Affordable Health Care Act would not be affordable for these highly paid daytime residents of Capitol Hill, and they must be exempt from the requirements that will bankrupt everybody else. Democrats and Republicans alike are aware of the “acute sensitivity” of embracing public hypocrisy with such enthusiasm, and the sticking point is whether Democrats can persuade Speaker Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, to commit hari-kari with them. A source close to the talks tells Politico, the Capitol Hill political daily, “everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”

The alternative is to reach deep into savings or borrow the cash to pay for Obamacare in the insurance exchanges, just like everyone else, as mandated by the president’s health-care scheme, and joined with such glee by congressional Democrats, and sanctified by Chief Justice John Roberts. If Congress and its go-fers, the aides who pamper, coddle and on occasion even go to the bathroom for the members, are to be treated like the rest of us, a lot of them will have to retire to K Street’s lobbying shops or go home to find honest work as florists, dog walkers, bicycle mechanics - or rest on the kindness of indulgent kin. “This could lead to a real brain drain,” says one congressional aide, “with the nation losing the counsel and wisdom of many of
 the best and brightest.” (Brains on the Hill. Who knew?)

These worthies are shameless, as we all know, and they’re all hiding in fear in broom closets, little-used toilets or whatever they can find in the shadows under the elms. Harry Reid’s office won’t talk about it. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, sent out an aide to say that he was looking for a way to implement Obamacare in a way that’s workable for everyone, “including members and staff.” John Boehner’s mouthpiece said his boss wants to spare everyone pain. “If the speaker has the opportunity to save anyone from Obamacare, he will.” First the speaker and his aides, of course.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who led the Republican opposition to Obamacare in the Senate, thinks exempting anyone, even a member of Congress, is a bad idea. “I think if this is going to be a disaster, which I think it’s going to be, we ought to enjoy it together with our constituents.” Perhaps Congress could hire out-of-work musicians to play “Nearer My God to Thee” on election eve next November, like the violinists who bucked up the spirits of the doomed on the deck of the unsinkable Titanic as the great ship sank.

Obamacare could be the gift to the Republicans that keeps on giving, as President Obama himself knew it would be when he arranged to have it become effective only after he was safely re-elected to a second term. Democrats are terrified that the full reality of the disaster will become apparent to all just in time for the 2014 congressional elections. They’re being particularly nice to their Republican colleagues, because they must have bipartisan cover.

House Speaker John Boehner

Republicans, being Republicans, are likely to give it to them. The health-care “reform” is tailor-made as a Republican talking point – no need to shout – and nobody knows this better than a Democratic congressman. The prospect of hanging, as Dr. Johnson famously said, “focuses the mind wonderfully.” So, too, the delicious prospect of a congressman having to endure the punishment he devised for someone else.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

Sunday, April 14, 2013



King's 'Letter' and the law
by Jeff Jacoby

The Boston Globe
April 14, 2013  

IN HIS "Letter from Birmingham Jail," written behind bars 50 years ago this week, Martin Luther King invokes God 15 times and mentions the words "Christ" or "Christian" 21 times. But he refers to "law" 41 times – more than both of them combined – and thereby hangs a lesson.

King was a Baptist minister and a scholar of theology. He had come to Birmingham with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to head a nonviolent protest against the city's rigid segregation, and he wasn't the only pastor jailed for disregarding a ban on civil rights demonstrations. In an open letter to the local paper, a group of white religious leaders had publicly criticized the sit-ins, warning that such "extreme measures" – which were "led in part by outsiders" – were apt to "incite … hatred and violence." King read the ministers' statement after he was arrested. "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was his response.

Addressing himself to "My dear fellow clergymen," King explained that he had come to Birmingham "because injustice is here." Like Paul of Tarsus carrying the Christian gospel "to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world," he told them, "so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town." He described the protesters' strategy of nonviolent confrontation as a long-delayed response to the refusal of Birmingham's leaders to soften their city's brutal and humiliating racial policies. "We had no alternative except to … present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the … community."

King admonished the clergymen who criticized him as extremist. Jesus too had been an extremist, he argued. So had the Prophet Amos and the English preacher John Bunyan. There were times when it was wrong not to go to extremes, and this was one of them. A great struggle to end the nightmare of American apartheid was underway, he wrote, and it made him weep to see "white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities."

King was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of preachers; such intensely religious language was normal for him. But King didn't write only about God and theology. "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is also a powerful message about the law, and about the dangerous temptation to venerate law and the legal process as ends in themselves.

King's response to the Alabama clergymen is justly renowned as a defense of civil disobedience. He depicted the casual cruelties of Jim Crow in language so affecting that even white Americans would understand why black civil rights could no longer wait. At the same time he insisted that civil disobedience was not a license for anarchy: "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty." He had been arrested for doing something illegal – parading without a permit – but that didn't mean he had no respect for the law. Far from it: One who disobeys a law on a matter of conscience and freely pays the penalty for doing so "is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

Yet it shouldn't only be in the context of civil disobedience or the civil rights movement that we take to heart King's caution about bowing to the law merely because it is the law. Too often the law is treated as a seal of approval or as a fetish or as a conversation-stopper: If that's what the law says, that settles it.

Think of immigration restrictionists on the right who have insisted for years that nothing is more salient on the issue of illegal immigrants than the fact of their unlawful status. "When something is illegal, it's illegal," the late congressman Sonny Bono famously said. "Enforce the law." Think, to take an opposite example, of the glee on the left when the Clinton administration tore the young Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives at gunpoint and forcibly sent him back to Cuba. The picture of that raid "warmed my heart," Thomas Friedman exulted in his New York Times column. "This picture illustrates what happens to those who defy the rule of law."

Law is indispensable to a civilized society. But the mindless enforcement of bad laws is not a substitute for decency or justice. Neither is mindless deference to those with political power ("When the president does it, that means it is not illegal," Richard Nixon believed). Against such thinking, which is more common than many of us like to think, "Letter from Birmingham Jail" remains a powerful inoculation.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe. His website is
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Monday, April 8, 2013



by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo – for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation and avoidance of responsibility. And fewer people voted. As I write, with almost all the votes counted, President Obama has won fewer votes than John McCain won in 2008, and more than ten million off his own 2008 total. (Note: this was written the day after the election. The final results indicate that Romney exceeded McCain’s total by less than one million votes, while Obama received almost four million votes fewer than he did in 2008 – the first time in history that a president won a second term with fewer votes than he scored in his first victory. RSP)

But as we awake from the nightmare, it is important to eschew the facile explanations for the Romney defeat that will prevail among the chattering classes. Romney did not lose because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy that devastated this area, nor did he lose because he ran a poor campaign, nor did he lose because the Republicans could have chosen better candidates, nor did he lose because Obama benefited from a slight uptick in the economy due to the business cycle.
Romney lost because he didn’t get enough votes to win.

That might seem obvious, but not for the obvious reasons. Romney lost because the conservative virtues – the traditional American virtues – of liberty, hard work, free enterprise, private initiative and aspirations to moral greatness – no longer inspire or animate a majority of the electorate. The notion of the “Reagan Democrat” is one cliché that should be permanently retired.  Ronald Reagan himself could not win an election in today’s America.

The simplest reason why Romney lost was because it is impossible to compete against free stuff. Every businessman knows this; that is why the “loss leader” or the giveaway is such a powerful marketing tool. Obama’s America is one in which free stuff is given away: the adults among the 47,000,000 on food stamps clearly recognized for whom they should vote, and so they did, by the tens of millions; those who – courtesy of Obama – receive two full years of unemployment benefits (which, of course, both disincentivizes looking for work and also motivates people to work off the books while collecting their windfall) surely know for whom to vote; so too those who anticipate “free” health care, who expect the government to pay their mortgages, who look for the government to give them jobs. The lure of free stuff is irresistible.

Imagine two restaurants side by side. One sells its customers fine cuisine at a reasonable price, and the other offers a free buffet, all-you-can-eat as long as supplies last. Few – including me – could resist the attraction of the free food. Now imagine that the second restaurant stays in business because the first restaurant is forced to provide it with the food for the free buffet, and we have the current economy, until, at least, the first restaurant decides to go out of business. (Then, the government takes over the provision of free food to its patrons.)

The defining moment of the whole campaign was the revelation (by the amoral Obama team) of the secretly-recorded video in which Romney acknowledged the difficulty of winning an election in which “47% of the people” start off against him because they pay no taxes and just receive money – “free stuff” – from the government. Almost half of the population has no skin in the game – they don’t care about high taxes, promoting business, or creating jobs, nor do they care that the money for their free stuff is being borrowed from their children and from the Chinese. They just want the free stuff that comes their way at someone else’s expense. In the end, that 47% leaves very little margin for error for any Republican, and does not bode well for the future.

It is impossible to imagine a conservative candidate winning against such overwhelming odds. People do vote their pocketbooks. In essence, the people vote for a Congress who will not raise their taxes, and for a President who will give them free stuff, never mind who has to pay for it.

That suggests the second reason why Romney lost: the inescapable conclusion that, as Winston Churchill stated so tartly, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Voters – a clear majority – are easily swayed by emotion and raw populism. Said another way, too many people vote with their hearts and not their heads. That is why Obama did not have to produce a second term agenda, or even defend his first-term record. He needed only to portray Mitt Romney as a rapacious capitalist who throws elderly women over a cliff, when he is not just snatching away their cancer medication, while starving the poor and cutting taxes for the rich. Obama could get away with saying that “Romney wants the rich to play by a different set of rules” – without ever defining what those different rules were; with saying that the “rich should pay their fair share” – without ever defining what a “fair share” is; with saying that Romney wants the poor, elderly and sick to “fend for themselves” – without even acknowledging that all these government programs are going bankrupt, their current insolvency only papered over by deficit spending. How could Obama get away with such rants to squealing sign-wavers? See Churchill, above.

During his 1956 presidential campaign, a woman called out to Adlai Stevenson: “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!” Stevenson called back: “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!” Truer words were never spoken.

Similarly, Obama (or his surrogates) could hint to blacks that a Romney victory would lead them back into chains and proclaim to women that their abortions and birth control would be taken away. He could appeal to Hispanics that Romney would have them all arrested and shipped to Mexico (even if they came from Cuba or Honduras), and unabashedly state that he will not enforce the current immigration laws. He could espouse the furtherance of the incestuous relationship between governments and unions – in which politicians ply the unions with public money, in exchange for which the unions provide the politicians with votes, in exchange for which the politicians provide more money and the unions provide more votes, etc., even though the money is gone. How could he do and say all these things ? See Churchill, above.

One might reasonably object that not every Obama supporter could be unintelligent. But they must then rationally explain how the Obama agenda can be paid for, aside from racking up multi-trillion dollar deficits. “Taxing the rich” does not yield even 10% of what is required and does not solve any discernible problem – so what is the answer, i.e., an intelligent answer?

 Obama also knows that the electorate has changed – that whites will soon be a minority in America (they’re already a minority in California) and that the new immigrants to the US are primarily from the Third World and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a different world, and a different America. Obama is part of that different America, knows it, and knows how to tap into it. That is why he won.

Obama also proved again that negative advertising works, invective sells, and harsh personal attacks succeed. That Romney never engaged in such diatribes points to his essential goodness as a person; his “negative ads” were simple facts, never personal abuse – facts about high unemployment, lower take-home pay, a loss of American power and prestige abroad, a lack of leadership, etc. As a politician, though, Romney failed because he did not embrace the devil’s bargain of making unsustainable promises, and by talking as the adult and not the adolescent. Obama has spent the last six years campaigning; even his governance has been focused on payoffs to his favored interest groups. The permanent campaign also won again, to the detriment of American life.

It turned out that it was not possible for Romney and Ryan – people of substance, depth and ideas – to compete with the shallow populism and platitudes of their opponents. Obama mastered the politics of envy – of class warfare – never reaching out to Americans as such but to individual groups, and cobbling together a winning majority from these minority groups. Conservative ideas failed to take root and states that seemed winnable, and amenable to traditional American values, have simply disappeared from the map. If an Obama could not be defeated – with his record and his vision of America, in which free stuff seduces voters – it is hard to envision any change in the future. The road to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and to a European-socialist economy – those very economies that are collapsing today in Europe – is paved.

A second cliché that should be retired is that America is a center-right country. It clearly is not. It is a divided country with peculiar voting patterns, and an appetite for free stuff. Studies will invariably show that Republicans in Congress received more total votes than Democrats in Congress, but that means little. The House of Representatives is not truly representative of the country. That people would vote for a Republican Congressmen or Senator and then Obama for President would tend to reinforce point two above: the empty-headedness of the electorate. Americans revile Congress but love their individual Congressmen. Go figure.

The mass media’s complicity in Obama’s re-election cannot be denied. One example suffices. In 2004, CBS News forged a letter in order to imply that President Bush did not fulfill his Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War, all to impugn Bush and impair his re-election prospects. In 2012, President Obama insisted – famously – during the second debate that he had stated all along that the Arab attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was “terror” (a lie that Romney fumbled and failed to exploit). Yet, CBS News sat on a tape of an interview with Obama in which Obama specifically avoided and rejected the claim of terrorism – on the day after the attack – clinging to the canard about the video. (This snippet of a “60 Minutes” interview was not revealed  - until two days ago!) In effect, CBS News fabricated evidence in order to harm a Republican president, and suppressed evidence in order to help a Democratic president. Simply shameful, as was the media’s disregard of any scandal or story that could have jeopardized the Obama re-election.

One of the more irritating aspects of this campaign was its limited focus, odd in light of the billions of dollars spent. Only a few states were contested, a strategy that Romney adopted, and that clearly failed. The Democrat begins any race with a substantial advantage. The liberal states – like the bankrupt California and Illinois – and other states with large concentrations of minority voters as well as an extensive welfare apparatus, like New York, New Jersey and others – give any Democratic candidate an almost insurmountable edge in electoral votes. In New Jersey, for example, it literally does not pay for a conservative to vote. It is not worth the fuel expended driving to the polls. As some economists have pointed generally, and it resonates here even more, the odds are greater that a voter will be killed in a traffic accident on his way to the polls than that his vote will make a difference in the election. It is an irrational act. That most states are uncompetitive means that people are not amenable to new ideas, or new thinking, or even having an open mind. If that does not change, and it is hard to see how it can change, then the die is cast. America is not what it was, and will never be again.

For Jews, mostly assimilated anyway and staunch Democrats, the results demonstrate again that liberalism is their Torah. Almost 70% voted for a president widely perceived by Israelis and most committed Jews as hostile to Israel. They voted to secure Obama’s future at America’s expense and at Israel’s expense – in effect, preferring Obama to Netanyahu by a wide margin. A dangerous time is ahead. Under present circumstances, it is inconceivable that the US will take any aggressive action against Iran and will more likely thwart any Israeli initiative. That Obama’s top aide Valerie Jarrett (i.e., Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett) spent last week in Teheran is not a good sign. The US will preach the importance of negotiations up until the production of the first Iranian nuclear weapon – and then state that the world must learn to live with this new reality. As Obama has committed himself to abolishing America’s nuclear arsenal, it is more likely that that unfortunate circumstance will occur than that he will succeed in obstructing Iran’s plans.

Obama’s victory could weaken Netanyahu’s re-election prospects, because Israelis live with an unreasonable – and somewhat pathetic – fear of American opinion and realize that Obama despises Netanyahu. A Likud defeat – or a diminution of its margin of victory – is more probable now than yesterday. That would not be the worst thing. Netanyahu, in fact, has never distinguished himself by having a strong political or moral backbone, and would be the first to cave to the American pressure to surrender more territory to the enemy and acquiesce to a second (or third, if you count Jordan) Palestinian state. A new US Secretary of State named John Kerry, for example (he of the Jewish father) would not augur well. Netanyahu remains the best of markedly poor alternatives. Thus, the likeliest outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections is a center-left government that will force itself to make more concessions and weaken Israel – an Oslo III.

But this election should be a wake-up call to Jews. There is no permanent empire, nor is there is an enduring haven for Jews anywhere in the exile. The most powerful empires in history all crumbled – from the Greeks and the Romans to the British and the Soviets. None of the collapses were easily foreseen, and yet they were predictable in retrospect.

The American empire began to decline in 2007, and the deterioration has been exacerbated in the last five years. This election only hastens that decline. Society is permeated with sloth, greed, envy and materialistic excess. It has lost its moorings and its moral foundations. The takers outnumber the givers, and that will only increase in years to come. Across the world, America under Bush was feared but not respected. Under Obama, America is neither feared nor respected. Radical Islam has had a banner four years under Obama, and its prospects for future growth look excellent. The “Occupy” riots across this country in the last two years were mere dress rehearsals for what lies ahead – years of unrest sparked by the increasing discontent of the unsuccessful who want to seize the fruits and the bounty of the successful, and do not appreciate the slow pace of redistribution.

Two bright sides: Notwithstanding the election results, I arose this morning, went to shul, davened and learned Torah afterwards. That is our reality, and that trumps all other events. Our relationship with G-d matters more than our relationship with any politician, R or D. And, notwithstanding the problems in Israel, it is time for Jews to go home, to Israel. We have about a decade, perhaps 15 years, to leave with dignity and without stress. Thinking that it will always be because it always was has been a repetitive and deadly Jewish mistake. America was always the land from which “positive” aliya came – Jews leaving on their own, and not fleeing a dire situation. But that can also change. The increased aliya in the last few years is partly attributable to young people fleeing the high cost of Jewish living in America. Those costs will only increase in the coming years. We should draw the appropriate conclusions.

If this election proves one thing, it is that the Old America is gone. And, sad for the world, it is not coming back.

Friday, April 5, 2013



APRIL 5, 2013

A useful pipeline spill in Arkansas


It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, and a pipeline leaking on somebody else’s front yard can be a godsend, too. The environmentalists who were waging a losing war against the proposed Keystone pipeline woke up to the news of a small pipeline leak in Arkansas and thought it was Christmas morning.

If environmentalists were the praying kind, they would say the Arkansas leak was an answer to their prayers. They think it ends the debate over the Keystone pipeline. One green lobbyist says “this should be the nail in the coffin of the Keystone pipeline.” They’re eager to pressure President Obama to veto Keystone.

The Arkansas pipeline, called the Pegasus, was laid down and buried two feet under in 1947, and runs from Patooka, Ill., where it connects to pipelines from western Canada, to refineries in Nederland, Texas. It sprang the leak March 29 at tiny Mayflower, Ark., a bedroom suburb of Little Rock, and spilled up to 5,000 barrels of tar-sands crude through ditches and across lawns of tidy middle-class brick houses, and was stopped just short of the shore of Lake Conway, popular with fishermen. It’s a catastrophe that didn’t happen.

ExxonMobil, operators of the pipeline, moved quickly when a drop in pressure signaled a leak. Valves 18 miles apart were closed within 16 minutes, shutting off movement of the sluggish crude. About 20 families were required to leave their homes and were put up at nearby hotels by ExxonMobil. Exxon dispatched 120 workmen and 15 vacuum trucks with 33 storage tanks to collect the 12,000 barrels of the oil and water mixture from streets, ditches and lawns. This week they’re steam-cleaning the streets.

To the Luddite environmentalists, life is just one endless tragedy, brought to you by fat Republicans, self-righteous Christians and greedy capitalists who keep inventing evil contraptions like electric lights, indoor plumbing, automobiles, computers and 10-speed blenders. Even bicycles are suspect. They all soak up energy. The Arkansas spill, unless you’re someone on a quiet Mayflower street with oil in the petunia patch, is not insignificant, but not a tragedy.

Mayflower, says one breathless commentator at The Atlantic Wire website, is “a scene straight out of the beginning of a post-apocalyptic movie – thick, black oil running down a suburban street . . . even more dangerous than it looks.”

Most of the people who live in Mayflower are working-class folk, who aren’t happy to see their lawns turned black by oil and are eager to get back into their houses, but they typically understand that “life happens.” Allen Dodson, the county judge (corresponding to county supervisor or manager in other places) says his constituents are mostly concerned about getting home. The oil fumes have “died down,” he says, “and to the untrained nose, it has greatly improved. It smells better than if you were just paving a road.” (Of course, unpaved streets don’t smell at all, if you can keep dogs, horses and pigs away from the dirt.)

Most Mayflower residents, like most Americans elsewhere, are unaware of the thousands of miles of pipeline that run under houses, shopping centers and even schools and hospitals, buried several feet below ground. No one was killed or even hurt at Mayflower, and moving oil in a pipeline is far safer than moving it by train or truck. The difference between a pipeline spill and a train-wreck spill, as the Wall Street Journal observes, is “a lesson in political opportunism.”

Such opportunism is what really smells. The Sierra Club, which never met an endangered slug or snake it wouldn’t embrace, says the Mayflower spill proves that “it’s not a matter of ‘if’ spills will occur on dangerous pipelines like Keystone XL, but rather ‘when’.”

Some oil spills are more fashionable in the compliant media than others. Last week, a Canadian Pacific Railway oil train derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 barrels of crude. This was more than three times the oil spilled at Mayflower, but it went largely unremarked. The implications on safety are profound. As pipelines reach carrying capacity, the volume of oil carried on rail increases – up from 9,000 carloads five years ago to 233,000 carloads last year.

The environmentalists should embrace Keystone if they’e really interested in public safety and pristine countryside. Keystone, with abundant new failsafe technology, will replace pipelines like the Pegasus line through Arkansas. When the 36-inch Pegasus was built right after World War II, few safety requirements were in place, and pipelines, like other parts of the infrastructure, were thrown across the landscape in a hurry, the better to sate pent-up demand for oil and all the things oil makes possible. The mantra was familiar: “Build it and they won’t have to come, because they’re already here.”

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.