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Pollard to go Free

Jonathan Pollard is going to be paroled:

In July 2014, after Jonathan J. Pollard had served 29 years of a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel, his hopes for freedom were thwarted when a federal panel denied his request for parole.

But that hearing set in motion an intense scramble by lawyers for Mr. Pollard to ensure a different result a year later, when he would be eligible for parole after serving 30 years. They wrote letters, cited statistics and introduced evidence that their client met two legal standards for parole: that he had behaved well in prison, and that he posed no threat of returning to a life of espionage.

On Tuesday, the effort finally succeeded, as the United States Parole Commission announced that Mr. Pollard, 60, met the legal standards and would be released just before Thanksgiving.

On the strict letter of the law, they were correct. However, the government have objected to it and apparently has not. The official reason is that Pollard is no longer a threat and is in poor health. The rumored reason is that it is to smooth over relations with Israel after the Iran deal (although this appears very unlikely to work).

My position on Pollard has brought me into conflict with some people, including many fellow Jews. I think his sentence was entirely justified. The excuse that he only sold secrets “to our ally” did not impress me. As I have noted many times, even our allies have different interests from us. We keep secrets from them; they keep secrets from us. We spy on them; they spy on us. There’s nothing shameful about that. Pursuing the interests of one’s country is a leader’s job. There’s nothing wrong with Israel spying on us or paying one of our citizens for secrets. But there is something wrong with that citizens selling them. That’s called treason.

And Doug Mataconis reminds us that Pollard’s spying was far from benign:

When Pollard was first sentenced in 1985, for example, then Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger penned a blistering letter to the Judge, some of which classified, in which he laid forth the manner in which Pollard’s actions had endangered American national security. For example, while it wasn’t widely reported at the time, it became known to the United States that the Israelis had used some of the information Pollard had provided to them to trade with the Soviet Union for the safe release of Jews living in the USSR, thus handing vital American intelligence to our principal adversary at the time. Additionally, over the years other leaders in the U.S. intelligence community made it known that Pollard had also offered to sell classified information to three other nations other than Israel, an accusation which certainly makes him a far less sympathetic figure. The antipathy toward Pollard was so high at one point that in 1998, then CIA Director George Tenant threatened to resign if he was released.

As someone who is against massive prison sentences for all but the worst criminals, I suppose I should be OK with this. Pollard is in failing health and it’s not like he’s going to start spying again. But if we are to release Pollard, it’s not a victory. It’s the end of a sad saga that began when Pollard decided to betray his country.

Walker Vindicated … Again

Color me surprised:

Dealing Gov. Scott Walker a victory just as his presidential campaign gets underway, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a sweeping decision Thursday ruled the governor’s campaign and conservative groups had not violated campaign finance laws.

The ruling means the end of the investigation, which has been stalled for 18 months after a lower court judge determined no laws were violated even if Walker’s campaign and the groups had worked together as prosecutors believe.

This is the infamous “John Doe” investigation where government agents basically had an ongoing far-reaching investigation that involved, essentially, harassing Walker’s supporters and any other conservatives within reach with midnight raids, gag orders and endless investigation:

In international law, the Western world has become familiar with a concept called “lawfare,” a process whereby rogue regimes or organizations abuse legal doctrines and processes to accomplish through sheer harassment and attrition what can’t be accomplished through legitimate diplomatic means. The Palestinian Authority and its defenders have become adept at lawfare, putting Israel under increasing pressure before the U.N. and other international bodies. The John Doe investigations are a form of domestic lawfare, and our constitutional system is ill equipped to handle it. Federal courts rarely intervene in state judicial proceedings, state officials rarely lose their array of official immunities for the consequences of their misconduct, and violations of First Amendment freedoms rarely result in meaningful monetary damages for the victims.

Investigators would conduct armed police raids on the houses of Wisconsin conservatives. They seized computers, phones and as many documents as they could get their hands on. They then issued gag orders preventing the targets their neighbors what was going on. All this because of supposed violation of campaign finance laws; laws we now know were not broken.

You can read more from the WSJ:

For the past few days, I’ve been talking to the targets of the task force of Milwaukee Democratic prosecutors, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz. Their experiences, on the record here for the first time, reveal the nasty political sweep of an investigation that invaded privacy with surveillance of email accounts, raided homes with armed law enforcement, and swarmed individuals with subpoenas demanding tens of thousands of documents while insisting on secrecy.

Gabriel Malor shows just how empty this investigation was:

The theory of the prosecutor’s case was that conservative groups had illegally coordinated with candidates for office by means of issue advocacy. Applying well-settled principles of election law, the Wisconsin high court holds that this goes too far because “[d]iscussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election.” The courts have long treated express advocacy—that is, speech directly supporting a candidate for election—as wholly separate from issue advocacy—that is, speech about political issues. The court explains that, insofar as the Wisconsin statute purports to regulate issue advocacy the way that it does express advocacy, it is overbroad and vague under both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Wisconsin’s own Article 1, Section 3.

Read the whole thing. The judges were brutal on the prosecutors saying their investigation was “unsupported by reason” and “employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing”. This isn’t just saying there’s no evidence; this is saying the investigation was a complete travesty designed entirely to harass Wisconsin conservatives.

The Democrats had a lot riding on this. Just a few months ago, they were writing smug posts on how the John Doe investigation was going to crush Walker’s Presidential campaign. Now the investigation is in ruins, their slimy tactics open for the world to see.

I am honestly amazed by what we’ve seen in Wisconsin. Vicious election fights. Recall elections. The legislature fleeing the state. An aggressive intrusive useless investigation from the people who’ve spent the last decade vilifying Ken Starr for his “politicized investigations” that … um … produced thirty felony convictions.

And all of this just to get one governor. What the heck?

The Cuomo Apple Doesn’t Fall Far

At one point, I was optimistic that Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t be the big disaster for New York that his father was. Fat chance:

Under a plan approved by New York’s Fast Food Wage Board, a $15-per-hour minimum wage would be phased in over three years in New York City and six years across upstate New York, whose economy has long been the American equivalent of East Germany. The mandate would apply to any restaurant chain with 30 or more locations in the state.

Speaking at a rally in Manhattan, Cuomo pledged that he’s just gettin’ started:

“You cannot live and support a family on $18,000 a year in the state of New York — period….This is just the beginning. We will not stop until we reach true economic justice.”

The legal status of the diktat is not immediately clear. Cuomo created this particular board after failing to push a broader minimum wage hike through the legislature. Chains are expected to fight the rules, which single them out for particular treatment.

OK, do we have to go over this again? You’re not supposed to raise a family on minimum wage. It’s an entry level wage. Yeah, I know Roosevelt referred to it as a “living wage”. It’s still an entry-level wage that we have set up all kinds of anti-poverty programs around to make surviving on it easier.

(Obama’s former cabinet member Janet Napolitano is also raising the minimum wage to $15 in California schools. Expect, in a few years, to see a bunch of think pieces asking why the UC system is having to raise tuition again.)

We are now engaged in one of the most massive economic experiments in history, seeing if governments can magically create wealth and prosperity by fiat. That’s fine … if you don’t care about the people affected by it. But when prices go up and employment goes down, it will be cold comfort to people to learn that the liberals were wrong and the Law of Supply and Demand actually exists.

(As it happens, New York and California already have two of the highest minimum wages in the country. They also have two of the highest levels of income inequality and, if you account for cost of living, very high levels of poverty. It’s a mystery as to why that is.)

Cuomo has a bunch of other idiotic policies you can find at the link. But the minimum wage hike takes the cake. It applies to everyone in the state, whether they live in areas with a high cost-of-living or a low cost-of living. It singles out a particular industry with the hope of diving and conquering. It’s not even clear that it’s legal. But, I guess nothing will stand in the way of idiotic liberals determined to achieve “social justice”.

This sort of crap almost has me hoping that Hillary Clinton wins the election next year. Because there should be a Democrat around to take credit for the mess they’re creating.

Sandra Bland

The big news this week is the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland. An activist soon to start a job at Prairie View A&M, she was arrested after being pulled over for failing to signal a turn, then found dead in her cell. Her death was ruled a suicide but is now being investigated as a murder

Yesterday, dash cam footage was released. In it, Bland is told to put out her cigarette by the officer. When she refuses, the situation escalates almost immediately as the officer orders out of the car, threatens her with a taser and arrests her. There is then a confrontation off camera where the officer says she assaulted him, which was the reason she went to jail (although she was arrested before the assault).

A lot of things to unpack here.

First, was the officer within his power to order her out of the car? Jacob Sullum goes over the legal issues and the answer is “maybe”.

Based on their comments in the video, Encinia and Bland clearly agreed that the escalation from warning to arrest was ridiculous, but they had diametrically opposed views of who was to blame. If only Bland had been more respectful and cooperative, Encinia thought, she could have been on her way. If only Encinia had not been so determined to assert his authority for its own sake, Bland thought, he never would have forced her out of the car, let alone handcuffed her and knocked her down.

Second, I keep thinking of what Radley Balko often says about police shootings: even if the shooting itself was justified, there were often errors and bad decisions leading up to that point. Even if arresting Bland for assaulting an officer was justified, the decisions leading up to that are questionable at best. I think that pulling Bland out of her car, threatening her with a taser and arresting her was a bit of an over-reaction to someone for talking back (mildly at first, but becoming more confrontational as the arrest proceeds as she yells at him and calls him “a pussy”).

Finally, there is the big issue of the circumstances of Bland’s death. All indications are that Bland was not the kind to kill herself and I think a full and thorough investigation is warranted. We’ve had a few of these incidents, including at least two incidents were a person who had been searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car supposedly found a gun and shot himself to death.

That having been said … we should be prepared if it turns out that she did indeed kill herself. Suicides tend to be impulsive and Bland’s family wouldn’t be the first to be shocked by a unexpected suicide. Last year, we were told over and over again that there was no way Michael Brown would attack a police officer and then charge into gunfire. The argument convinced me to be skeptical of the officer’s version of events. But it turned out to be the truth. Sometimes people do stupid, irrational and tragic things.

So, yes, let’s investigate the death. And let’s also ask questions about why a routine traffic stop ended in an arrest. And let’s accept the answers, whatever they are.

The Nanny State Strikes Again

Every time I think we’ve reached a new low with people freaking out about kids, we manage to break through the bottom of the barrel:

Laura Browder said she had her 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son with her at Memorial City Mall for a job interview because she didn’t have enough time to line up child care. Browder sat her children down inside the food court near a McDonald’s and went to her interview, she said. The interview wasn’t for a job at the mall, but the food court was a meeting ground for each party.

Browder said she wasn’t more than 30 feet away from her children at any point and they were always in her line of sight. After Browder returned to her children, a police officer was on scene and arrested her.

The arrest came moments after Browder had accepted a job. She said she’s unsure how her arrest that day will affect her opportunity with that job.

CPS officials said they’re still in the early stages of their investigation, but added they could offer services to help Browder find suitable daycare.

This isn’t just ridiculous, it’s cruel. This is a single mother going to college trying to get a job. I’d be a bit nervous about leaving a 6-year-old and a toddler by themselves as way, but arresting her and charging her with abandonment is just absurd. Maybe there’s more to the story, but the information we have now makes it seem like an absurd over-reaction.

Science Sunday: The Anti-GMO Crackpots

This week’s science blog is an excuse to point you at Will Saletan’s thorough article exposing the deceptions used by the forces opposed to genetically modified foods. After a year of reporting, he has unveiled a long post thick with links to studies by scientists and claims by anti-GMO activists. It is very very damning. The anti-GMO crowd make the Intelligent Designers look like Marie Curie:

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.

Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.

Saletan focuses on three examples of anti-GMO nutbaggery. The first the is the ringspot virus-resistant papaya, engineered to save the papaya industry in Hawaii. Environmentalist groups unleashed every trick in the book: claiming it was unsafe to consume a viral protein that people were consuming anyway; claiming it was bankrupting farmers (because of their opposition); claiming it had not been proven safe. All of these were lies and distortions, pushed by people with an agenda.

Next is crops containing Bt — a protein that kills predatory insects. Anti-GMO activists insist that plants contain Bt are poison … when they aren’t claiming they are ineffective. They do this while pushing Bt-containing sprays as safe and sustainable and attributing harms from Bt sprays to Bt-engineered crops.

Finally, he gets to the golden rice, which we’ve mentioned before. The golden rice could save the eyesight of hundreds of thousands of children. Anti-GMO activists opposed it because it didn’t have enough vitamin A. Then opposed because it had too much.

That summary doesn’t do justice to what’s going on. All along the way, the anti-GMO forces have been … well, lying. They distort studies, they misquote studies, they ignore studies that contradict their opinion. They denounce things as dangerous when they come from genetic engineering but proclaim them safe when they come from other means.

Now you might say, “Hey, what’s the harm in labeling GMO foods?” Here’s the harm:

GMO labels don’t clarify what’s in your food. They don’t address the underlying ingredients—pesticides, toxins, proteins—that supposedly make GMOs harmful. They stigmatize food that’s perfectly safe, and they deflect scrutiny from non-GMO products that have the same disparaged ingredients.

In other words, that safe organic banana might actually have more pesticide, more bacteria and more “toxins” than the supposedly dangerous GMO product. Putting a scarlet letter on GMO products isn’t “informing the public”. It’s trying to scare them into supporting an agenda.

This isn’t a trivial matter. Right now, we are seeing the spread of the UG-99 wheat rust. This rust has the potential to wreck the world’s wheat production, causing mass starvation and economic chaos. We desperately need to engineer strains of wheat that can resist the rust. But if the anti-GMO forces get their way, we’ll only be able to use the slow and less certain process of traditional breeding. Millions could die as a result.

(Saletan, like everyone who defends GMO’s, is being accused of being paid off by Monsanto. Monsanto had a clever reply to this.)

Saletan doesn’t ignore legitimate issues with GMO crops, such as the arms race they are creating in weed control. But those are solvable problems. Solvable problems that are not getting enough attention because the green luddites have us focused on the wrong things.

GMO crops are safe. This is the conclusion of every scientific study that has been done. There are issues around GMO’s that need some work. Let’s concentrate on that.

Trump Implodes

If you had July 18th in the pool for when Trump self-destructed, collect your winnings:

Donald Trump ignited a political firestorm Saturday by questioning whether Sen. John McCain — who spent over five years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War — is a war hero.

By mid-afternoon, Trump tried to walk back his blunder on Twitter, saying “captured or not, all our soldiers are heroes!”

But his attempt at damage control seemed unlikely to diminish the anger his remarks had caused. They provoked an immediate outcry from his 2016 presidential rivals and the Republican National Committee, which has expressed concern about the impact his controversial remarks on immigration have had on the GOP brand.

The controversy began early Saturday afternoon, when Trump, speaking at a question-and-answer session at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, commented on McCain, with whom he’s recently feuded over illegal immigration.

“He is not a war hero,” Trump told pollster Frank Luntz, who was hosting the session.

“He is a war hero,” Luntz interjected.

“He is a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said, cutting him off. “I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you. He is a war hero because he was captured. OK, you can have — I believe perhaps he is a war hero.”

Let’s review John McCain’s record here. When we got into Vietnam, McCain requested a combat assignment. While on the Forrestal, he barely escaped with his life during the Forrestal fire and was injured trying to save another pilot. He then volunteered for combat duty again, during which he was shot down and captured.

“Shot down and captured” is a nice word for breaking both arms and a leg, being beaten by Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, bayoneted and put into the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He refused early release (the Vietnamese wanted to use his release for propaganda), which resulted in more torture.

No one — not even McCain’s harshest critics — questions that he was a war hero, both before his capture and especially during it. Trump, who appears to have received at least five deferments, including a medical one, should not be surprised with how people are reacting.

This is the problem with having a Presidential candidate who “says what he thinks”. Politics is the art of saying what you think without pissing off half the country. You frequently have to against what the majority of Americans want. If you look at some of our best Presidents — like Reagan — they had a way of expressing their point of view while not driving away the other party. They had a way of negotiating with foreign leaders while not driving them from the table. It’s a skill and a critical one. And I’ve seen no evidence that Trump has it.

I’m open a brash interloper who shakes things up. Hell, I’ve been a big fan of the Pauls for a while. I’m even a fan of third party candidates. I don’t think our budget would have gotten balanced in the 90’s if not for the Perot insurgency. But what is the issue that Trump’s trying to make noise about? Immigration? The economy? The deficit? Anything other than himself? Rand Paul is trying to open the party to young people and minorities. Marco Rubio has been trying to expand the party’s appeal to the middle and working class. Both of these men have done a good job this year of stating their views without driving anyone away. Who exactly is Trump trying to open the party to?

Trump won’t get the nomination, obviously. Despite “leading the polls” (i.e, drawing 17% in a big field based on name recognition), his negatives among the Republican party are off the charts. But the longer he is sucking up the oxygen in the room, the more likely it is that the Republicans establishment will panic and go with an ultra-safe candidate like Jeb Bush. And indeed, Jeb is getting the lion’s share of contributions right now.

I really hope this is the end of Trump’s publicity stunt, but I doubt it. He’s getting too much attention from the wing of the party that has long been dissatisfied with the leadership. It tells you how disaffected they are that they support someone like this:

In public statements, he has advocated government healthcare, a woman’s right to an abortion, an assault weapons ban, and paying off the national debt by forcing rich people to forfeit 14.25 percent of their total wealth. When the man married his third wife, he invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to the wedding, and he has given many thousands to their political campaigns and their foundation. He’s donated many thousands more that helped elect Democrats to the Senate and the House. And George W. Bush was “maybe the worst president in the history of this country,” the man said in 2008. “He was so incompetent, so bad, so evil.”

Look, I understand the frustration a lot of people have the GOP, especially on issues like immigration .We have a lot of problems right now that need to addressed: big future deficits, big current deficits, the bill coming due for Obamacare, a broken immigration system, a broken justice system, Russia rattling the saber, a brewing Sunni-Shia War in the Middle East. I like the idea of supporting an insurgent candidate but Trump is not that candidate. He’s a circus freak biting the heads of chickens. And his comments on John McCain are just the wool coming off of a few million eyes.

Shooting in Chattanooga

Yesterday, a man opened fire on a National Guard office and a Naval Reserve Centre, killing four marines before being killed by police. Right now, we don’t know what motivated him. He might have terrorist ties, he might be a lone wolf, he might have just gone crazy.

Of course … if he were not a Muslim … we’d be speculating to hell that he was motivated by the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh and Ted Cruz. Hell, we might get some shitwit Professor trying to blame Amy Schumer.

I like being circumspect about someone’s motives. I just wish that circumspection were applied to everyone.

New Horizons is Alive and Well

The last time we did a flyby of a planet, I was in high school. It was 1989 — Bush the Elder was President — and we had a TV on in my physics class showing us a live feed from NASA of the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune. I was enthralled … everyone was. Here was a world we had only glimpsed through a telescope and now it was so close you could touch it.

(I could say something about that inspired me to enter astronomy but that would be a lie. I liked astronomy but it never occurred to me to do it for a living until my junior year of college.)

I felt some of that excitement last night as we awaited the signal from New Horizons that would indicate a successful flyby. And today we have some stunning images coming down. Here is Charon, Pluto’s moon, that was a dot even for the Hubble Space Telescope:

newhorizons-charon_1stlook.jpg.CROP.original-original

You can read some of the details of the picture over at Bad Astronomy.

It’s impossible for me to express how much I love this … all of it. I love the fiddly engineering and amazing work that go into planning a mission. I love the facilities down at Goddard where they do every test imaginable on the hardware of upcoming missions. I love watching the rockets leap from the pad on a pillar of fire. I love the seemingly impossible task of sending a probe over a nine-year three-billion-mile mission and having it still work. I love the technical jargon as the Mission Operations Center monitors the spacecraft (a lot of which I now understand, having worked for a NASA mission). I love the excitement space aficionados and even hardened astronomers feel as the images come down and reveal a distant and mysterious world. It is all exciting and wonderful and thrilling and inspiring.

Here’a closeup of that heart-shaped region of Pluto.

newhorizons_pluto_1stlook.jpg.CROP.original-original

Pluto has vast mountains of ice, canyons miles deep, a surface that was repaved within the last hundred million years by some process we can only guess at right now. In a few hours, New Horizons gathered data that will keep scientists busy for years and may change our understanding of the Kuiper Belt.

I’ve said this before about our space program: this is the way to waste taxpayer money. You want to talk to me about American exceptionalism? This is American exceptionalism. America is defined by many things but our exploration of space has to be our country’s greatest achievement. We’ve sent probes to every planet; we’ve put men on the moon; we’ve glimpsed the fires of creation through space telescopes. No other nation can match us. Russia sorta could for a while (and right now, they’re embarrassingly the only means of getting astronauts into space). Europe sorta can in their European way. India and China are trying to get things going. But when you really break it down, we are the country of space. We are the explorers. We are the pioneers. And this a commitment we should be devoting more resources to, not less.

Last year, the Houston Chronicle ran a great series about the foundering of our space policy. The big problem I see is that no President has been really committed to it. They come up with their pet projects — a mission to Mars, an asteroid capture, a return to the Moon — and that gets vaguely funded only to have another pet project to take its place when the presidency changes hands. What we need is a more realistic long-term strategy, something NASA can commit to for the next twenty years or more. NASA’s focus should be astrophysics, identifying potentially dangerous asteroids, continuing to explore the Solar System with unmanned probes and, most importantly, trying to devise cheaper ways of getting people and cargo into space. The last part is the only way human exploration of space will ever be feasible.

This should go hand-in-hand with supporting private space programs and commercial exploitation of space. What I’d really like to see is a bunch of billionaires get together, pool their funds, and set a course for the next few decades of private space flight, with NASA committed to supporting them.

But that’s tomorrow. Today, enjoy the amazing pictures of a distant world coming down from New Horizons. And thank your stars that you’re part of a species smart enough to think of this and a country rich enough and daring enough to pull it off.

(Post Scriptum: I said this on Twitter, but will mention it here. I sometimes get asked what I think about Pluto no longer being a planet. My opinion is this: call it what you want.

I understand why the change was made. If Pluto is a planet, that means Eris, Haumea, Ceres and Makemake have to be planets, to be consistent. And it means that, in a few decades, we might have identified hundreds of planets. Pluto is very different from the other planets and much more like the vast sea of Kuiper Belt objects that probably lurks out there. This doesn’t take away from Clyde Tombaugh’s achievement. On the contrary, he discovered something even more amazing than Planet X.

But … I really don’t think it would have killed us to just call Pluto a planet for historical reasons. Consistency is, after all, the hobgoblin of small minds. And Pluto doesn’t care what you call it.)

Iran Deal

Hmmm:

World powers have reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions.

US President Barack Obama said that with the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off” for Iran.

And President Hassan Rouhani said the “historic” deal opened a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.

Mr Obama, who is trying to persuade a sceptical US Congress of the benefits, said it would oblige Iran to:

remove two-thirds of installed centrifuges and store them under international supervision

get rid of 98% of its enriched uranium

accept that sanctions would be rapidly restored if the deal was violated

permanently give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access “where necessary when necessary”

Sanctions relief would be gradual, Mr Obama said, with an arms embargo remaining in place for five years and an embargo on missiles for eight years.

The major drawback is the end of the sanctions. Jonah Goldberg explains:

The lifting of crippling sanctions, which will come about as part of the nuclear deal struck in Vienna, means that at least $150 billion, a sum Barack Obama first invoked in May, will soon enough flow to Tehran. With this very large pot of money, the regime will be able to fund both domestic works and foreign adventures in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere.

It is hard to imagine a scenario—at least in the short term—in which Hezbollah and other terror organizations on the Iranian payroll don’t see a windfall from the agreement. This is a bad development in particular for the people of Syria. Iran, as the Assad regime’s funder, protector, and supplier of weapons, foot soldiers, and strategists, is playing a crucial role in the destruction of Syria. Now Syrians will see their oppressor become wealthier and gain international legitimacy (legitimacy not just for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, which this deal will leave in place.)

Goldberg, however, points out that, despite these problems, the deal achieves our main objective of delaying Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, possibly for decades. I would also add that it prevents us from not reaching a deal and seeing the sanctions regime collapse, particularly from the Russian side, where Moscow is trying to form a stronger alliance with Iran.

A key point for me is that the sanctions are set to snap back automatically if Iran is found to have violated the deal, which is a key point. It would take a new UN resolution to remove them again.

Liberals are praising the deal; conservatives are denouncing it. I expect to see Chamberlain cited about a million times in the next sixty days (it is, after all, the only history the neocons are familiar with). But I don’t see that there was much of a choice here. Bombing Iran sounds good, but it would spark a massive international crisis and might not even work. Maintaining the sanctions would be fine, but that coalition is already crumbling and would collapse completely if we walked away from a deal.

In short, I think this is probably the least bad option given the cards we have.