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Iran: Walk Away

06/29/15

June 30 is the current deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran.  What should President Obama do?  Perhaps grit his teeth and take a page from the Gipper.

Ronald Reagan would have won a Nobel Peace Prize.  The New York Times, no less, was singing his praises.  He was about to be proclaimed the greatest man in the world.  

The scene was Reykjavík, Iceland in October of 1986.  Mikhail Gorbachev proposed eliminating half of all Soviet and American strategic arms, including long-range missiles.  The Gipper then stunned the world by going Gorby one better.  He offered to scrap -- all -- ballistic missiles within 10 years.  

But there was a catch.  Reagan wanted to keep testing the Strategic Defense Initiative that critics called “Star Wars.”  And not as a compliment; as a testament to Reagan’s supposed idiocy and fixation on his old movie career. 


Gorbachev knew better.  He knew that the missile defense shield might work, as indeed later proved to be the case.  And he knew the Soviet Union could not keep up without bankrupting itself, as also later proved to be the case. 

Gorbachev insisted that Reagan drop SDI.  So Reagan faced this dilemma:  Should he accept the Russians’ assurance that they would destroy all their missiles?  Or should he surrender the mantle of peacemaker and instead confirm his reputation among liberals as a gunslinger? 

The world held its breath. 

And Reagan stuck to his guns.   The Reykjavík Summit collapsed.  Reagan pursued SDI and also medium-range missiles in Europe.  The New York Times howled.  The 1986 Nobel Peace Prize went to Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.  

And Eastern Europe regained its freedom in 1989.  The Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991.

Peacefully.

President Barack Obama now faces a dilemma.  He desperately wants to rescue a foreign policy legacy that includes backing Muslim terrorists in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq while backing down against Russia and watching it seize Crimea.  Obama says cutting a nuclear deal with Iran that lifts the current sanctions would increase Iran's lag time to acquire nuclear weapons.  This is quite different from President Obama’s original vow that Iran would never acquire nuclear weapons.  

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, among others, believes it would be impossible under the deal now being negotiated to verify Iran’s arms program, and he just told FOX News: “I would actually fear that the Iranians have the upper hand right now. I actually fear we have painted ourselves into a corner where we believe that any deal is better than no deal at the present time.”

If that is true, we can only hope that President Obama will have the courage to walk away, and perhaps instead increase pressure on Iran, as Reagan did with the Soviet Union.   

Reagan never won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he won the peace, ending the 45-year-long Cold War.  President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize only months after he took office, in 2009.  He still has a chance to earn it.




Replacing History

06/27/15

Striking the Confederate flag from state grounds is long overdue.  But now some demand more.  Whoopi Goldberg wants to treat that flag like the Nazi swastika, which is banned throughout Germany.  And CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield suggests dismantling the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson owned slaves.  George Washington did too, so perhaps the Washington Monument should be next.

The new civil war over the Confederate flag cannot be won by those who claim they only seek to preserve history.  Just as objections to same-sex marriage can’t be sustained by citing thousands of years of tradition, much less theology.

That’s because we’re now at what’s called an inflection point in history.  The long dominant culture of “dead white European males” is being supplanted by new groups on the rise, within America and overseas, from the Middle East to China.

Inflection points bring upheavals.  The oppressed clear the ground to punish their oppressors and make way for their own growth.  They seldom keep even what’s best from the past. 

The first emperor to unify China, Qin Shi Huangdi, reputedly burned all books and buried scholars because he wanted to erase any memory of prior regimes.  Rome leveled Carthage and left it a waste land.  Early Christians and so-called barbarians alike destroyed Roman texts and temples.  More recently the Taliban dynamited the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, declaring them an affront to Islam. 

The West has been declining for quite a while.  Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West in 1918 as the Great War that hastened cultural anarchy was grinding to a halt.  Long before that, skepticism about established religion, morality, and even rationality undermined the West’s faith in itself, while its various underclasses and colonial subjects seethed.  The upshot is what today’s conservatives might call a demand to “repeal and replace” -- not Obamacare, but anything that smacks of conservatism, from limited government to public schools teaching Shakespeare

But there is danger for the rising classes, including minorities, women, LGBT, and the young.  They can be seduced by tyrants.  The class that will rise fastest is the one that controls government and confers benefits.  Caesar secured power by providing bread and circuses.  Today's progressives and establishment Republicans hook the poor on government subsistence and the rich on crony capitalism, including rigged markets. That's the bread.  The circuses are a no-nothing pop culture.

More selfless leaders would tell their dispossessed followers: “Yes.  You’ve been oppressed. But we can offer you something better than demonizing enemies and leveling the past. We can offer something better than a bleak Orwellian future -- for you, not for us. We can preserve what made America a beacon for people everywhere.  Not an expanding government class doling out benefits to an ever expanding class of victims, but a land of  freedom for those willing to build their success and take responsibility for their failures. That’s the true meaning of American Exceptionalism. 

Thomas Jefferson was a deeply flawed idealist.  But let's not tear down his memorial.  Let's expand Jefferson's ideals to embrace all people.       




Obamacare's Chicago Subsidies

06/24/15

(See June 25 postscript below)

The Supreme Court usually rules on big constitutional issues.  As I’ve shown here, that will certainly be the case with same-sex marriage. 

But that’s not the case with Affordable Care Act subsidies.  The King vs. Burwell  appeal is not about the Constitution.  It's about Chicago bare knuckle politics.  Democrats tried pummeling the states into accepting Obamacare.  Instead, Democrats punched themselves in the face.  The only question is whether the justices will once again bail them out with a split decision.

The Affordable Care Act includes several provisions about setting up exchanges.  But it says federal subsidies will be offered only to people who buy health insurance on “an Exchange established by the State.”

A key Obamacare adviser, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, couldn’t help boasting that the idea was to strong-arm states where Obamacare was as popular as a sucker punch.  According to Gruber,  “(I)f you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”  

In other words, kowtow or else.  And Democrats expected the states to knuckle under.

But guess what?  Only 16 states set up exchanges.  Even Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich -- who controversially accepted Obamacare’s short-term incentives to expand Medicaid -- even Kasich refused to create a state exchange.

So the administration told the Supreme Court, hold on.  No one in his right mind could  imagine we meant to let Obamacare hinge on how states reacted.  President Obama’s accused opponents of having a “twisted interpretation” of the law and he chided the Supreme Court for hearing the appeal, claiming: "This should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn't even have been taken up."

Critics agree this case should be easy.  They say Congress and the President wrote the statute the way they did because they wanted to bully the states.  They wanted to make the states complicit in Obamacare. They did not expect the states to fight back.

Still, this court may side with the administration.  Remember that a majority of the justices accepted Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion that Obamacare itself violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by requiring Americans to buy government-sanctioned health insurance.  However, Roberts then shocked everyone and saved Obamacare by calling it a constitutional  tax measure.  

Will Roberts save Obamacare again -- perhaps joined this time by Justice Kennedy and others?  

As they say in Chicago, it ain’t over till we’ve counted all the votes. And in Chicago they’ve got a funny way of counting.

June 25 postscript: Well, Roberts and Kennedy did give Democrats a do-over.  But rather than cry foul, conservatives ought to recall what Roberts wrote when he saved Obamacare the first time: Critics must rely not on the courts but the ballot box.  More important, I would add, they must change the course of popular culture, including our culture of dependency on government by rich and poor alike.  But that's a much taller order than winning the occasional election. 




Same-Sex Marriage: Two Big Issues

06/22/15

Shakespeare wrote, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.”  For better or for worse, the US Supreme Court is about to decide whether there can still be an impediment for same sex-sex couples.   Let’s quickly look at the two biggest issues the justices may weigh. 

States’ Rights   The US Constitution does not address marriage, so requirements traditionally have been left to the states.  Right now, 37 states accept same-sex marriage and 13 states ban them.

Congress and President Clinton underscored states’ rights in 1996 by enacting the Defense of Marriage Act.  DOMA lets states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that are legal in other states.  In 2013 the US Supreme Court invalidated DOMA, but only as it applies to federal benefits.  State bans on same-sex marriage -- like the one in Ohio -- at this point can still stand.    

But maybe not for long.   Not if the Supreme Court rules that states cannot define marriage in a way that violates an individual’s constitutional rights.

In the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.  The road to that decision was easier than it is for same sex couples because the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution and the 1960s Civil Rights Laws specifically prohibit laws that violate the equal protection of African-Americans. 

Will the Supreme Court now rule that gays and lesbians are entitled to equal protection? 

So far the Court has only prohibited laws that criminalize homosexual conduct;  the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas outlawed anti-sodomy laws.  That’s not the same thing as requiring a state to recognize a marriage -- unless a majority of the justices make the extension.  

Why would they?  They may decide that by recognizing some marriages but not others, states confer privileges and benefits that are denied to same-sex couples. 

Some people say the answer is to get states out of the marriage business.  Let any couple enter into a civil union recognized by the state, and leave marriage to religious or other groups.  

Traditional Definition of Marriage   For thousands of years in cultures around the world, marriage has been confined to heterosexual unions.  A majority of the Supreme Court may be loath to change that as a matter of constitutional law.  Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested as much at oral argument -- but he's generally sympathetic to gay rights.

The counter-argument is that traditions change.   For instance, for centuries divorce was almost impossible in Catholic countries.  And in many countries sodomy is still a crime.  But see above. 

Like it or not, same-sex marriage has been accepted at dizzying speed in recent years, fueled by popular culture and social media.  Click here to see a previous blog about the milestones in movies and TV.

Traditional marriage in America is founded in Judeo-Christian law.  But supporters of same-sex marriage argue that the Constitution bans the establishment of religion.

It seems the new tradition in America, harkening back to John Stuart Mill, is that adults should be free to do anything that does not infringe on the liberty of others.  This applies  to drugs, sex -- and marriage.  To this opponents argue the slippery slope.  If you’re free to marry someone of the same sex, why should you be banned from marrying several people of whatever sex, since polygamy is sanctioned by some major religions?  Or why should you be banned from adult incest?  (Most everyone accepts that children don’t have the maturity to make legal decisions, including about sex -- but that may be next).  

Conclusion   I have no idea how the Supreme Court will decide.  It seems a safe bet that the liberal justices (Breyer Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor) will support federalizing same-sex marriage while the conservatives (Alito, Scalia and Thomas) will not.  Kennedy is usually a swing vote but nobody expected Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind and rule in favor of Obamacare by calling it a tax measure.  So he’s now a wild card in all major cases.  And this case is as major as they get.  What's your guess?




Charleston: Evil and Ideology

06/18/15

America is in mourning for the nine church congregants murdered in Charleston, South Carolina.  Our tears well up as we learn what good people they were.  Our prayers go out to their families.  And our anger demands swift justice for their killer.

Reports of his hate-filled invectives during the massacre show that the suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is a racist.  Facebook postings suggest he’s a white supremacist.

It would be comforting to call him simply evil; even more comforting to claim he was insane.  But this blog deals with politics and, sadly, there are political implications to this atrocity.

Sometimes it’s clear that racism or religious fanaticism undergird politics.   Relying on its 1935 Nuremberg Laws, Nazi Germany killed six million Jews because it believed they infected the Fatherland with communism, degenerate art and racial pollution.  For the same reasons Hitler killed five million more homosexuals, Roma gypsies, Catholics, Poles and other non-Aryans.  

Today, adherents of the ISIS Islamic State, seeking to expand what they call a caliphate, are slaughtering  Shia Muslims, Christians and anyone else they consider apostate.

By contrast the overwhelming majority of Americans believe racism is evil.  We don’t have the space here to review the post-Civil War amendments to our Constitution, the Civil Rights Laws of the 1960s and the continuing drive for full racial justice. 


Yet events like the Charleston massacre will have many questioning the motives of those who want to debate how best to achieve racial justice -- and justice for all people.

Because he’s been gracious to me during two interviews, and a brilliant and thought-provoking White House aide, candidate and commentator for more than a half-century, I hesitate to single out Patrick J. Buchanan.  Yet his views are considered incendiary by many and worthy of censure -- though not censorship, because we do still protect free speech.  


Buchanan believes we should limit not only illegal but also legal immigration.  One reason is that he believes America’s historically white, European and Christian culture must be preserved.  See for example here  and here.

I cite Buchanan because, though he is prominent, I don’t believe he is representative of mainstream conservative, much less libertarian, thought.  It is not necessary to think as he does to argue that change through the rule of law, as well as limited decentralized government, self-reliance and, as I have urged here, the preservation of all cultures -- world-wide and throughout the ages -- will provide a better life for people of all races and creeds.

In other words, conservatism and libertarianism are not by their nature bigoted.  And liberalism and progressivism do not necessarily raise up individuals and communities. Even in the wake of the Charleston tragedy, there must be room for debate. 


South Carolina and the nation were still trying to recover from the unjustified April 4 police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston.  Now this evil at a historic Charleston church has many wondering if South Carolina remains unreconstructed.   So recall that it’s also the state that recently reelected Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, governor, and that appointed Tim Scott, an African-American man, to the United States Senate. 

South Carolina, like our entire country, is still a work in progress.  But we are not a nation of bigots.  And as Dylann Roof will find, we are not a nation of evil.  <




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