A Walk on the Supply Side

A third installment of my conversation with CRB editor Charles Kesler about Ronaldus Magnus on the Claremont Institute’s “American Mind” is now up, just 6:30 long–perfect for a cup of espresso.  This time we look back on supply-side economics and spending controversies.  (Stand by, incidentally, for several Reagan-related announcements and items in the coming days.)

Verboten in Tehran

The Telegraph reports that six Iranian singers who were arrested for appearing in a viral video dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” have been sentenced to six months in prison and 91 lashes. The video appears to have received well over a million views at this point. Oliver Duggan writes:

The group became famous in May when their music video for the hit song circulated on YouTube, racking up more than 150,000 views before attracting the attention of Iranian authorities.

It featured three men and three unveiled women singing and dancing along to the four minute song in the street and rooftops of Tehran, mimicking the style of Pharrell’s official video.

Authorities arrested the group for contravening Iran’s strict vulgarity laws, which prohibit public displays of dancing, and paraded the six on state television, forcing them to express remorse for their behaviour.

The Islamic Republic condemned the video as a “vulgar clip which hurt public chastity” and in a trial on Wednesday sentenced the participants to a suspended sentence of six months in prison.

The director of the video was handed a suspended sentence of one year, while the whole group was told they would receive 91 lashes each.

Duggan also reports that the six have previously “confessed,” as featured on Iranian state television:

Speaking shortly after the group’s initial arrest, the brother of one of the video’s star told The Telegraph that their confessions on state television were “outrageous.”

Siavash Taravati, who lives in the US, said: “The IRIB’s (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) action in showing the “confession” of my sister and her friends…is just outrageous.

“Apparently they first arrest people without any charge or civil right to defend themselves, then interrogate them and then make them confess and finally broadcast their show.”

Duggan quotes Pharrell Williams commenting via Twitter this past May: “It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.” The late singer/songwriter Tim Buckley had an album he titled Happy Sad. That doesn’t quite cover this situation, but it’s getting there. The video is below.

At FOX News, Lisa Daftari combines the video story with another piece of Iranian justice showing that the singers could have met a worse fate if they had been found guilty of “insulting the Prophet.” Daftari reports that an Iranian blogger found guilty of the offense will receive “the ultimate penalty.”

Via Stephen Gutowski/Free Beacon.

Bill Henck: Inside the IRS, part 7

William Henck has worked inside the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel as an attorney for over 26 years. We posted his personal account, including his testimony to a retaliatory audit conducted by the IRS against him, this past February in “Inside the IRS.” We followed up with subsequent posts including, most recently, “Inside the IRS, part 5″ and, most recently, “Inside the IRS, part 6,” both regarding the promotion of Fred Schindler to a senior position within the Office of Chief Counsel. Bill now writes to suggest how a competent investigation of politically targeted IRS audits could be conducted:

According to a recent column by Jay Sekulow on the FOX News website and a statement by House Ways and Means Committee member Charles Boustany, 10 percent of the conservative donors whose names were improperly obtained by the IRS in the section 501(c)(4) scandal were subjected to individual audits. This is an extraordinarily high individual audit rate for any random subset of the population.

Mr. Sekulow discussed in his article the possibility that this high audit rate may be connected to the “special research project” initiated by Lois Lerner and others in the IRS. This is disturbing news, but it also presents an opportunity for Congress to break free from the current trench warfare involving missing hard drives and BlackBerries; a situation recently described by a congressman as “Ground Hog Day.”

Congressional investigators presumably know or could obtain the names of the specific conservative donors who were among the 10 percent audited by the IRS. If these taxpayers provided privacy waivers, congressional investigators could then trace back each individual audit and ascertain who and what triggered each audit.

Audits do not arise out of thin air; any given IRS audit is initiated by a Service employee in one manner or another. It would be relatively easy to trace back each audit to its ultimate source. It may be that the source in many, if not all, of the audits in question was the “special research project.” If so, that would explain much of the Service’s behavior toward the congressional investigations and would also explain Lois Lerner’s decision to take the Fifth.

To state the obvious, the Service is a labyrinth. In addition, the Service has “lawyered up” and is only forthcoming with relevant information if the congressional investigators ask the exact right questions. In this environment, congressional investigators would be better off reversing field from a focus on the IRS bureaucracy and focus their attention on the specific audits that may have been retaliatory.

I know for a fact that the Service conducts retaliatory audits; Leigh and I experienced one up close and personal. The issue now is whether the Service did it to a whole bunch of people for political purposes. We know that these people were audited and we know that there is nothing in the IRS organizational culture to prevent audits from being retaliatory in nature. The only question is why these individuals were audited. If they sign waivers, Congress has a golden opportunity to get to the heart of the IRS scandal. Furthermore, if the 10 percent audit rate is a statistical quirk, the Service has every reason to fully cooperate with such an investigation.

Based on a link in Mr. Sekulow’s article, the House Ways and Means Committee is only looking at the general audit selection procedures used by the Service, as opposed to investigating the specific audits themselves. I contacted the House Ways and Means Committee with the idea of looking at specific audits, but I never heard back from them. I have written this post because people on Capitol Hill are a lot more likely to read this website than my e-mail. I hope this helps them.

Thoughts from the ammo line

Our friend Ammo Grrrll reflects on SCHADENFREUDE. She writes:

Many years ago, when I still had to navigate the Minnesota highways in winter, I had one of those experiences that fall under the category of Schadenfreude. That is, of course, a fancy word for taking unseemly pleasure when someone is hoisted on his own petard.

Petards being in short supply generally, my first Schadenfreude involved a car.

After a couple of terrifying spin-outs, one with my 3-year-old baby in the car, I admit that I was a very cautious winter driver. On this day, we had icy, blizzard conditions, and I was driving on the freeway in the hinterlands. A red Corvette was tailgating my slow-moving little Saturn, honking and giving me the finger in a very un-Minnesotan manner. The approved method of indicating driving dismay in Minnesota is to pull even with the offender, make eye contact, and shake your head slowly while clucking your teeth.

The guy would not let up. Though I was in the right lane, he was clearly demanding that I drive faster and refusing to go around me. After many scary miles of almost touching my bumper, he pulled around in fury and gunned it. I had nearly pitted out my down coat and was very happy to see him go.

Not five miles down the road I saw just the top of a red Corvette buried in the right-hand snowbank. I’m pretty sure the Christian – and definitely the Jewish – thing to do would have been to stop to offer assistance. But, it was only a few short weeks until Spring thaw, and I didn’t want to ruin his teachable moment. I’m confident he couldn’t hear the giddy laughter over Merle Haggard singing about always being on a mountain when he falls.

The second memorable Schadenfreude event happened in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Naples, Florida. My room was not ready when I checked in. They apologized profusely, and I was waiting patiently in the lobby, sipping on the third tropical drink that was supplying the patience.

At last, the front desk clerk motioned for me to come up to the desk to get my keys. Before I could get there, a furious young woman pushed ahead of me, nearly knocking me over. She was dressed in designer clothes from head to toe. Her purse and briefcase cost more than everything in my closet put together, including the exercise bike behind the muu-muus. With no offense to Scott, John or Paul, I’m pretty sure she was a young lawyer. She was waving the room assignment she had in her beautifully-manicured hand.

She harangued the desk clerk in a loud imperious tone: “I clearly informed you that I wanted a room on the water when I made this reservation! This is completely unacceptable. How can you people be so incompetent?? You have put me on the golf course!”

And the desk clerk replied in that icy, yet courteous tone mastered by gay men: “Madam, ALL our rooms are on the water. We do not have a golf course. That room is on the Gulf.”

Oh Lord, I wish y’all had been there. Sadly, this time my laughter was not covered by Merle. If looks could kill, your humble humor columnist would not be alive at this time.

And so, this brings us to the present day and Barack Hussein Obama, mmm, mmm, mmm.

He is still our President, the only one we’ve got, and Commander in Chief in what may or may not be “war”-time, depending on the spokes-tool or the definition du jour of “war” or “terrorist” or “Islamic.” Bill was only unsure of the definition of “is.” Clearly, this whole crew needs a good dictionary.

When I think of the way that President Bush was treated by a sniping Mr. Vote Present and the left-wing of his party with the towers still smoking on the ground, it is really hard not to feel some measure of Schadenfreude that The Ocean Lowerer is being swamped by events. You can take months to decide which puppy most reminds you of the lapdogs in your press corps. You know they will wait forever, tails wagging, legs twitching, with their little reporter’s notebooks in their teeth. But you cannot dither forever acting on intelligence to rescue a hostage without disastrous consequences and “bad optics.”

I clearly remember a discussion in the letters section of the Minneapolis paper about whether it was moral to hope for America’s war plan to succeed if it meant that the Evil “Bushitler” – gosh, what cleverness! – would get credit for it.

I’d like to think that our side is better than that. Or at least better than me.

Scotland rejects independence

The Scots have voted not to become independent from Great Britain. I haven’t seen a final count, but it looks the “no” tally will slightly exceed 55 percent.

That’s not as close as some expected, but probably close enough to induce more pandering to the Scots in order to avoid a different result in a future referendum.

I would like to have seen Scotland vote to go it alone for the reasons stated here. At the same time, I wouldn’t have minded a resounding defeat of the referendum. A close vote in favor of maintaining the Union seemed like the worst outcome, and today’s vote, though not a “near death experience,” was too close for comfort.

Our military leaders’ frustration with Obama boils over

It’s become so obvious that the Washington Post feels compelled to report it — “Rift widens between Obama, U.S. military over strategy to fight Islamic State,” says the Post headline. The main rift is over President Obama’s insistence that he will not use ground troops to fight the “Islamic State.”

As the Post notes, “Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took the rare step of publicly suggesting that a policy already set by the commander in chief could be reconsidered.” Dempsey’s stance, stunning though it is, represents only the tip of the iceberg:

Military leaders have increasingly suggested that Obama’s political promises are restricting their ability to fight. On Wednesday, former defense secretary Robert M. Gates, still an influential figure at the Pentagon, bluntly criticized his former boss.

“There will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy,” Gates said in an interview with CBS News, adding that “the president in effect traps himself” by repeating his mantra that he won’t send U.S. troops into combat.

Actually, the president isn’t trapping himself at all. He would rather have an unsuccessful air-based campaign than engage in a real war. Our military leaders understand this and that’s the main source of their frustration.

There are other sources. Obama announced that he intends to attack ISIS from the air in Syria, but no such attacks have occurred or seem to be in the works. The Post reports:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testified Wednesday that he and Dempsey had approved a plan to conduct strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, and that Obama had received a briefing from [General] Austin that same day at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa.

When asked if the president had endorsed the plan, however, Hagel acknowledged that Obama had not but did not elaborate.

Obama’s lack of urgency can’t be playing well at the Pentagon. By delaying, Obama gives ISIS the opportunity to move its military assets into less vulnerable places, such as heavily populated areas that Obama would probably be unwilling to strike.

As I wrote the night that Obama told the nation of his intention to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, there was an air of unreality about the alleged enterprise. That air of unreality has thickened in recent days. Is this going to be a serious, though limited campaign, or is it (as John says) just a device to get the Democrats through the November election?

Our military leaders (as well as others in the military who pay attention) must be asking themselves the same question. They have already seen the election-driven nature of Obama’s approach to Afghanistan and Iraq. Surely they worry (or realize) that Obama is demoting the defense of America from his sacred responsibility to a political problem he must manage.

If the campaign against ISIS fails to materialize to any appreciable degree or if it materializes but, in the absence of U.S. “boots on the ground,” does not succeed, our military leaders will not take the humiliation lying down. The fact that they are going on the record to such an unusual degree shows, I think, both their expectation of failure and their determination to hold Obama accountable for it.

Rand Paul and the Foreign Policy Delusions of Libertarianism

Rand Paul spoke today on the Senate floor, opposing the administration’s proposal to arm and train moderate Syrian elements. In recent months, Paul has tried to position himself in the mainstream on foreign policy, and has objected bitterly to being called an isolationist. Yet the very first words of his speech encapsulated the Libertarian delusion: that problems in the world are the result of American actions, and that by remaining inert, we can prevent them from arising, or cause them to go away:

If there is one theme that connects the dots in the Middle East, it is that chaos breeds terrorism.

What much of the foreign policy elite fails to grasp is that intervention to topple secular dictators has been the prime source of that chaos. 

From Hussein to Assad to Ghaddafi we have the same history. 

Intervention topples the secular dictator. Chaos ensues and radical jihadists emerge.

The pattern has been repeated time after time and yet what we have here is a failure to understand, a failure to reflect on the outcome our involvement in Arab civil wars.

Is American interventionism really the “prime source” of the chaos that breeds terrorism? And are “secular dictators” really the key to peace in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim regions? Let’s test those claims.

The number one sponsor of terrorism over the last thirty years has been Iran. Did the mullahs take control because of an ill-advised American intervention? No. The Shah was, perhaps, the paradigm of the benign Middle Eastern dictator, and he was our ally. While one can argue–I certainly do–that the Carter administration should have done more to support him, it wasn’t U.S. intervention that overthrew the Shah, it was a fundamentalist Muslim revolt.

How about the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan and harbored al Qaeda? Was the Taliban’s takeover the result of America’s toppling of a secular dictator? No, not unless the dictator was the Soviet Union, back in the 1980s.

No groups have contributed more to chaos in the Middle East than Hezbollah and Hamas. Does either organization owe its existence to some foreign policy mistake on the part of the U.S.? No.

A great deal of chaos in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Somalia and Nigeria, has been caused by radical Muslim groups (including, in Somalia’s case, al Qaeda). In either instance, was the cause of the chaos or the rise of terrorist groups, American intervention? No.

Rand Paul offers Iraq as an instance where the “prime source” of chaos that breeds terrorism was our “intervention to topple [a] secular dictator.” But is that really what happened in Iraq? Put aside for a moment the assumption that Saddam–who had a Koran written in his own blood and sponsored terrorism by Muslim extremists–was “secular.” Likewise, forget that Saddam was a bitter enemy of the United States, so that, when George W. Bush took office as president, there was one place on Earth where American servicemen were routinely being shot at–Iraq. We certainly did topple Saddam, a feat of which, in my view, we should be proud. Was chaos the necessary result? No. As of last year, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were hailing a stable, prosperous Iraq as one of their administration’s greatest achievements. Chaos and the ascendancy of ISIS in Iraq was the result of our needless abandonment of that country.

And where did ISIS come from? Syria. Here, Paul’s words are mystifying. He includes Assad as a secular dictator who was mistakenly “toppled” by U.S. intervention. But that is ridiculous: rightly or wrongly, America hasn’t intervened to overthrow Assad, nor has any other Western nation. The rebellion against Assad arose from two distinct sources: popular dissatisfaction with his dictatorial rule, largely on behalf of the Alawite minority, and radical Islam as embodied in ISIS. Syria disproves Rand’s implicit assumption that “secular dictators” will be secure and will maintain the sort of order that precludes terrorism, if only we leave them alone or support them. Saddam, ruling on behalf of a Sunni minority, would not have been able to preserve order (such as it was) indefinitely in Iraq, for the same reasons that Assad couldn’t in Syria.

Paul is right, I think, about Libya. That is a case where the West overthrew a dictator that, while once a sponsor of terrorism, had been de-fanged, and what followed was much worse. The Libyan venture was a serious mistake by the Obama administration.

I don’t understand why Paul didn’t add Egypt to his catalog. In Egypt, Mubarak was not only a secular dictator, but one who was friendly to the U.S. We didn’t start the movement to overthrow Mubarak, the Egyptian Brotherhood did. But President Obama, to his everlasting shame, supported the Brotherhood and helped force Mubarak from power. True, terrorists have not taken over Egypt, but that is only because the Army has taken power–over the Obama administration’s objections–and suppressed the Brotherhood.

Rand Paul began his speech today by saying that “there is one theme that connects the dots in the Middle East.” He was wrong. The Middle East, and more broadly the Islamic world, are complex places. There are many causes of their dysfunction, but the most important one is the cultural heritage of Islam. The West has tried a variety of policies toward the Middle East, and none has been conspicuously successful. In that region, as elsewhere, different situations call for different remedies. The idea that there is only “one theme”–that terrorism is the result of chaos, which is the result of overthrowing otherwise-stable and benign secular dictators–is false.

The second major problem with Paul’s approach is the way he characterizes those who disagree with him. Listening to Paul, you would think that Washington is populated by 21st-century Strangeloves, eager to launch bombs on the slightest provocation:

The moss covered too-long-in-Washington crowd cannot help themselves. War, war, what we need is more, more war…
Amidst the interventionist’s disjointed and frankly incoherent rhetoric,
Amidst the gathering gloom that sees enemies behind every friend,
And friends behind every enemy,
The only consistent theme is war.

These barnacled enablers have never met a war they didn’t like.

They beat their chests in rhythmic ode to failed policies.

Their drums beat to policies that display their outrage but fail to find a cure. ..

To those who wish unlimited intervention and boots on the ground everywhere: Remember the smiling poses of politicians pontificating about so-called freedom fighters and “heroes” in Libya, in Syria, in Iraq …

When will we quit listening to the advocates of perpetual war?

When does a track record of being consistently wrong stop you from being a so-called expert when the next crisis arises?

We should remember that they were wrong, that there were no WMD’s, that Hussein, Khaddifi, and Assad were no threat to us. …

We should remember that those who believe that war is the answer for every problem, were wrong.

We should remember that war against Hussein, that war against Khaddafi, that war against Assad led to chaos.

This is completely over the top. No one wants “perpetual war,” no one wants “boots on the ground everywhere,” no one believes that “war is the answer for every problem.” To the extent he is talking about members of his own party, Paul is choosing a peculiar path to the presidential nomination.

Much of what Rand Paul said today was sensible. It is certainly true, as he argued, that arming supposedly moderate Syrian rebels is at best fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. Arms that we send to Syria may well end up in enemy hands, and our efforts could make the situation there even worse. Paul’s opposition to the administration’s plan may turn out to be well-founded. As I wrote earlier today, I don’t think the administration has a serious plan to succeed in Syria or elsewhere in the region, but is only interested in pretending to deal with ISIS until November.

But Paul could have made those points without asserting his overarching claim that the “prime source” of Middle Eastern turmoil and terrorism is America’s actions. That comes perilously close to the “blame America first” philosophy of the Democrats in the 1970s. Likewise, he could have made his more cogent arguments just as well–and gotten a better hearing from his fellow Senate Republicans–if he had stuck to the topic immediately at hand, Syria. Rand Paul needs to decide whether he wants to be the leader of one of America’s two great political parties, or of a bunch of fringe college students.