Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2010

Spluttering Democrats

Here’s a clip of Representative Anthony Weiner losing his cool. It’s just the kind of civilized discourse and thoughtful engagement with the issues that the public is thirsting for.

I suppose Representative Weiner could be excused for his outburst; perhaps he just read the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, which Jennifer highlighted earlier today. It shows extremely bad disapproval numbers for Obama on the three issues that are shaping up to be the most important of the mid-term elections: The economy (59 percent), the deficit (65 percent), and health care (55 percent). It also shows Republicans with a double-digit lead on the generic Congressional ballot, which is something I can’t recall having occurred before.

It’s also possible that Representative Weiner had just perused the recent Pew survey, which, among other things, shows that 56 percent of Independents see the Democratic Party as more liberal than they themselves are, compared to only 39 percent who see the Republican Party as more conservative than they are. (h/t: William Galston)

It’s also possible that Mr. Weiner just read the results of the most recent CNN poll, which shows. …

Oh, well, you get the point. These are tough, depressing days for liberals and for liberalism. In both Congress and among the commentariat, heads are beginning to explode. They know what awaits them. And be prepared: it’s only going to get worse as they get more desperate.

Here’s a clip of Representative Anthony Weiner losing his cool. It’s just the kind of civilized discourse and thoughtful engagement with the issues that the public is thirsting for.

I suppose Representative Weiner could be excused for his outburst; perhaps he just read the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, which Jennifer highlighted earlier today. It shows extremely bad disapproval numbers for Obama on the three issues that are shaping up to be the most important of the mid-term elections: The economy (59 percent), the deficit (65 percent), and health care (55 percent). It also shows Republicans with a double-digit lead on the generic Congressional ballot, which is something I can’t recall having occurred before.

It’s also possible that Representative Weiner had just perused the recent Pew survey, which, among other things, shows that 56 percent of Independents see the Democratic Party as more liberal than they themselves are, compared to only 39 percent who see the Republican Party as more conservative than they are. (h/t: William Galston)

It’s also possible that Mr. Weiner just read the results of the most recent CNN poll, which shows. …

Oh, well, you get the point. These are tough, depressing days for liberals and for liberalism. In both Congress and among the commentariat, heads are beginning to explode. They know what awaits them. And be prepared: it’s only going to get worse as they get more desperate.

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Obama: A Gift to the GOP That Keeps On Giving

Jonathan Rauch has written an interesting cover story in the National Journal on “The Tea Party Paradox.” He argues that the country has indeed moved to the right but it’s not clear whether this is happening in a way that helps the GOP in the long run (he does say it will help Republicans in the short term, for sure).

In his article, Rauch quotes from something I recently wrote, in which I pointed to opinion polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans regard the Democrats as too liberal. “What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative,” I wrote. “This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then comes this:

Wrong, replies Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic-leaning political analyst and a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s not Obama that’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s the economy that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a judgment on how things are going in the country. I don’t think it’s a judgment to take the country in a conservative direction.”

Teixeira is repeating an argument some of the New Republic’s bloggers make ad nauseam: the problem isn’t Obama; it’s the economy. If Obama had a roaring economy, he’d be far more popular than he is. Obama’s policies are not to blame; the conditions of the country are. To which one could respond: if during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the inflation and interest rates had been 2 percent instead of topping 18 percent, Carter would have been more popular too. But they weren’t, and he wasn’t. Mr. Carter was judged a failure and jettisoned from office after a single term because people believed the conditions of the country were due, in large measure, to his performance as president.

Teixeira’s argument can work when a president has been in office for one month; it’s harder to pull off when he’s been in office for more than 18 months. And if you read public-opinion polls carefully, what you will find isn’t simply that people are upset by the state of the economy; they are also troubled by Obama’s response to the economy. They believe he’s pursuing policies that are making things worse, not better. That is why Obama’s poll ratings are sinking and why his party is in danger of losing both the House and the Senate come November. And in response to Obamaism, the nation is, in significant respects, moving in a more conservative direction.

This trend is not inexorable. If liberals are correct and the policies that Obama is pursing are wise and necessary, then we will see their manifestation: unemployment figures will tumble, the deficit will shrink, the economy will come roaring back — and Obama will sail to victory in 2012. The country will also give liberalism a second look. But if conservatives are correct and the policies Obama is pursuing are misguided, then we will see that manifest itself, too. And Obama and his party will continue to pay a very heavy price for this.

It’s true that many people ascribe too much influence to the president when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, administration policies matter quite a lot — and when the Obama administration makes grand, sweeping claims for its economic policies and insists the stimulus package will keep unemployment below 8 percent when it ends up topping 10 percent, the public is right to hold the White House responsible.

American voters tend to be pretty fair and reasonable. They don’t expect the president to be a magician — but they do insist on progress, on results, and on accountability. Obama is no exception. These days, liberals comfort themselves by telling each other that in his second year as president, Ronald Reagan was unpopular too, and Obama is really another Reagan. Conservatives hear this comparison and chuckle; Obama is more nearly the antithesis of Reagan — they point out — and the policies Obama is pursuing will not meet with nearly the same success as Reagan’s did.

Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. At this stage, conservatives certainly have the better of the argument, though this political drama has several more acts to play out. But here’s one thing you can be sure of: if unemployment is still high, if the deficit and debt are still exploding, and if the economy is still struggling in 2011 and 2012, then the Teixeira/TNR effort to create miles of distance between Obama and the economic conditions of the country will fail. Appeals to sophisticated political-science models and pleas for more time and understanding will fail. Lashing out at critics and Bush won’t work. And if dogmatic liberals continue to insist, as they have in the past, that “the widespread conclusion that Obama is losing popularity because he’s too liberal … is totally unpersuasive,” they will be seen as increasingly detached from reality.

The public will hold the president accountable for his actions. That is what Obama’s increasingly desperate courtiers are most afraid of.

Jonathan Rauch has written an interesting cover story in the National Journal on “The Tea Party Paradox.” He argues that the country has indeed moved to the right but it’s not clear whether this is happening in a way that helps the GOP in the long run (he does say it will help Republicans in the short term, for sure).

In his article, Rauch quotes from something I recently wrote, in which I pointed to opinion polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans regard the Democrats as too liberal. “What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative,” I wrote. “This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then comes this:

Wrong, replies Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic-leaning political analyst and a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s not Obama that’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s the economy that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a judgment on how things are going in the country. I don’t think it’s a judgment to take the country in a conservative direction.”

Teixeira is repeating an argument some of the New Republic’s bloggers make ad nauseam: the problem isn’t Obama; it’s the economy. If Obama had a roaring economy, he’d be far more popular than he is. Obama’s policies are not to blame; the conditions of the country are. To which one could respond: if during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the inflation and interest rates had been 2 percent instead of topping 18 percent, Carter would have been more popular too. But they weren’t, and he wasn’t. Mr. Carter was judged a failure and jettisoned from office after a single term because people believed the conditions of the country were due, in large measure, to his performance as president.

Teixeira’s argument can work when a president has been in office for one month; it’s harder to pull off when he’s been in office for more than 18 months. And if you read public-opinion polls carefully, what you will find isn’t simply that people are upset by the state of the economy; they are also troubled by Obama’s response to the economy. They believe he’s pursuing policies that are making things worse, not better. That is why Obama’s poll ratings are sinking and why his party is in danger of losing both the House and the Senate come November. And in response to Obamaism, the nation is, in significant respects, moving in a more conservative direction.

This trend is not inexorable. If liberals are correct and the policies that Obama is pursing are wise and necessary, then we will see their manifestation: unemployment figures will tumble, the deficit will shrink, the economy will come roaring back — and Obama will sail to victory in 2012. The country will also give liberalism a second look. But if conservatives are correct and the policies Obama is pursuing are misguided, then we will see that manifest itself, too. And Obama and his party will continue to pay a very heavy price for this.

It’s true that many people ascribe too much influence to the president when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, administration policies matter quite a lot — and when the Obama administration makes grand, sweeping claims for its economic policies and insists the stimulus package will keep unemployment below 8 percent when it ends up topping 10 percent, the public is right to hold the White House responsible.

American voters tend to be pretty fair and reasonable. They don’t expect the president to be a magician — but they do insist on progress, on results, and on accountability. Obama is no exception. These days, liberals comfort themselves by telling each other that in his second year as president, Ronald Reagan was unpopular too, and Obama is really another Reagan. Conservatives hear this comparison and chuckle; Obama is more nearly the antithesis of Reagan — they point out — and the policies Obama is pursuing will not meet with nearly the same success as Reagan’s did.

Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. At this stage, conservatives certainly have the better of the argument, though this political drama has several more acts to play out. But here’s one thing you can be sure of: if unemployment is still high, if the deficit and debt are still exploding, and if the economy is still struggling in 2011 and 2012, then the Teixeira/TNR effort to create miles of distance between Obama and the economic conditions of the country will fail. Appeals to sophisticated political-science models and pleas for more time and understanding will fail. Lashing out at critics and Bush won’t work. And if dogmatic liberals continue to insist, as they have in the past, that “the widespread conclusion that Obama is losing popularity because he’s too liberal … is totally unpersuasive,” they will be seen as increasingly detached from reality.

The public will hold the president accountable for his actions. That is what Obama’s increasingly desperate courtiers are most afraid of.

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Where’s the Palestinian Hadassah?

Today’s Haaretz Magazine profile of Palestinian filmmaker Rima Essa and her new documentary on a Palestinian child with leukemia raises important questions. Essa (and presumably her film) complains mainly about Israel. But she also has harsh words for Palestinian hospitals.

“‘At [Israeli hospital] Hadassah Ein Karem the oncology ward looks very nice and well kept; there’s a playroom and toys and someone who devotes their time to the sick children. … At the hospitals in the territories you don’t find conditions like that. At [West Bank hospital] Al-Hussein, I saw a nicely painted playroom with Lego and puzzles, but it was open only two hours a day because there was no budget and no volunteers.

‘The people who live in the territories don’t have the same kind of awareness. Maybe because they themselves live in difficult conditions; maybe it’s a cultural thing. I saw Ahlam’s mother pleading with neighbors and people from the area to donate blood for her daughter. There’s no awareness in our society about things like donating blood, or organ donations’. …

[Essa] documented Al-Hussein’s use of drugs from Israel that were past their expiration date. In one of the film’s toughest scenes, the medical staff knows that two injections of a certain drug are needed, but the department only has enough for one. The staff decides to divide the one dose they have between Ahlam and another little girl. …”

Clearly, the Palestinian Authority can’t fund its hospitals as Israel does (though it could stop buying expired drugs): It’s a young, struggling state-in-the-making, while Israel is a 62-year-old, comparatively wealthy state. But Israel had relatively good hospitals even when it, too, was a young, struggling state-to-be, thanks to the generosity of overseas Jews, who built, equipped, and staffed them. Hadassah Hospital, for instance, was founded by the American Hadassah organization, which built six hospitals in Israel before the state’s establishment. Even today, donations from overseas Jews contribute greatly to Israel’s cutting-edge medicine.

Like the Jews, Palestinians have a large Diaspora. Also like the Jews, parts of that Diaspora are well-educated and well-off, with estimated assets of $40-80 billion.

But there the similarity ends — because overseas Palestinians evidently have no interest in doing for the PA what overseas Jews did for pre-state Israel. If they did, their hospitals wouldn’t look as Essa described.

Moreover, Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. But there are 22 Arab states and 56 Muslim states, many of them among the richest in the world. Had they any interest in helping their Palestinian brethren, they could easily build hospitals rivaling anything in Israel. But they don’t.

Finally, there are the international-aid organizations that claim to care so deeply about the Palestinians, like Turkey’s IHH, which sponsored May’s flotilla to Gaza. But it turns out most of the medicines they donate are expired and must be tossed: According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, only 30 percent of donated medical aid is actually usable.

With friends like these, Palestinians don’t need enemies. But that’s precisely why, 17 years after the PA’s establishment, they still need Israel so much.

Today’s Haaretz Magazine profile of Palestinian filmmaker Rima Essa and her new documentary on a Palestinian child with leukemia raises important questions. Essa (and presumably her film) complains mainly about Israel. But she also has harsh words for Palestinian hospitals.

“‘At [Israeli hospital] Hadassah Ein Karem the oncology ward looks very nice and well kept; there’s a playroom and toys and someone who devotes their time to the sick children. … At the hospitals in the territories you don’t find conditions like that. At [West Bank hospital] Al-Hussein, I saw a nicely painted playroom with Lego and puzzles, but it was open only two hours a day because there was no budget and no volunteers.

‘The people who live in the territories don’t have the same kind of awareness. Maybe because they themselves live in difficult conditions; maybe it’s a cultural thing. I saw Ahlam’s mother pleading with neighbors and people from the area to donate blood for her daughter. There’s no awareness in our society about things like donating blood, or organ donations’. …

[Essa] documented Al-Hussein’s use of drugs from Israel that were past their expiration date. In one of the film’s toughest scenes, the medical staff knows that two injections of a certain drug are needed, but the department only has enough for one. The staff decides to divide the one dose they have between Ahlam and another little girl. …”

Clearly, the Palestinian Authority can’t fund its hospitals as Israel does (though it could stop buying expired drugs): It’s a young, struggling state-in-the-making, while Israel is a 62-year-old, comparatively wealthy state. But Israel had relatively good hospitals even when it, too, was a young, struggling state-to-be, thanks to the generosity of overseas Jews, who built, equipped, and staffed them. Hadassah Hospital, for instance, was founded by the American Hadassah organization, which built six hospitals in Israel before the state’s establishment. Even today, donations from overseas Jews contribute greatly to Israel’s cutting-edge medicine.

Like the Jews, Palestinians have a large Diaspora. Also like the Jews, parts of that Diaspora are well-educated and well-off, with estimated assets of $40-80 billion.

But there the similarity ends — because overseas Palestinians evidently have no interest in doing for the PA what overseas Jews did for pre-state Israel. If they did, their hospitals wouldn’t look as Essa described.

Moreover, Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. But there are 22 Arab states and 56 Muslim states, many of them among the richest in the world. Had they any interest in helping their Palestinian brethren, they could easily build hospitals rivaling anything in Israel. But they don’t.

Finally, there are the international-aid organizations that claim to care so deeply about the Palestinians, like Turkey’s IHH, which sponsored May’s flotilla to Gaza. But it turns out most of the medicines they donate are expired and must be tossed: According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, only 30 percent of donated medical aid is actually usable.

With friends like these, Palestinians don’t need enemies. But that’s precisely why, 17 years after the PA’s establishment, they still need Israel so much.

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Galston: The Democrats’ Cassandra

William Galston is back at it, warning the Democrats that they ignore polling data at their own peril. Looking at the recent Pew poll, he explains:

On the whole, 58 percent of voters see Democrats as liberal or very liberal, while 56 percent see Republicans as conservative or very conservative; no surprise there. But voters now place themselves much closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party on this left-right continuum. Indeed, the ideological gap between the Democratic Party and the mean voter is about three times as large as the separation between that voter and the Republican Party. And, startlingly, the electorate places itself a bit closer to the Tea Party movement (which is well to the right of the Republican Party) than to the Democratic Party.

As he notes, this is a “major shift from five years ago” and a warning signal that Independents “who helped Democrats score a notable success in the 2006 midterm elections may well do the same for Republicans in 2010.”

Democrats have been reluctant to draw the obvious conclusion from this very stark data. As a result, they’ve not adjusted their agenda or moderated their rhetoric to arrest the Independents’ flight from their party. They prefer to increase the volume on their anti-Bush, anti-conservative vitriol. That — of course — only deepens the disaffection of Independents, who generally loathe partisan nastiness.

Galston advises Obama to think hard about “broadening his appeal beyond his core supporters,” but that would require an acknowledgment of failure and a dramatic re-orientation in his big-government liberalism. Perhaps the shock of an election wipe-out will do the trick. But for now, the Democrats remain stubbornly indifferent to all warning signs and reasoned advice.

William Galston is back at it, warning the Democrats that they ignore polling data at their own peril. Looking at the recent Pew poll, he explains:

On the whole, 58 percent of voters see Democrats as liberal or very liberal, while 56 percent see Republicans as conservative or very conservative; no surprise there. But voters now place themselves much closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party on this left-right continuum. Indeed, the ideological gap between the Democratic Party and the mean voter is about three times as large as the separation between that voter and the Republican Party. And, startlingly, the electorate places itself a bit closer to the Tea Party movement (which is well to the right of the Republican Party) than to the Democratic Party.

As he notes, this is a “major shift from five years ago” and a warning signal that Independents “who helped Democrats score a notable success in the 2006 midterm elections may well do the same for Republicans in 2010.”

Democrats have been reluctant to draw the obvious conclusion from this very stark data. As a result, they’ve not adjusted their agenda or moderated their rhetoric to arrest the Independents’ flight from their party. They prefer to increase the volume on their anti-Bush, anti-conservative vitriol. That — of course — only deepens the disaffection of Independents, who generally loathe partisan nastiness.

Galston advises Obama to think hard about “broadening his appeal beyond his core supporters,” but that would require an acknowledgment of failure and a dramatic re-orientation in his big-government liberalism. Perhaps the shock of an election wipe-out will do the trick. But for now, the Democrats remain stubbornly indifferent to all warning signs and reasoned advice.

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Not Getting any Better for Dems

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics suggests that far from improving their position, the Democrats are continuing their slide. Obama’s current approval ties his all-time low (43 percent) and less than 40 percent of voters approve of his performance on the economy, job creation, immigration, and the deficit. As for the midterm elections, there is no good news in the numbers. Republicans (66 percent) best Democrats (59 percent) when it comes to excitement about the election (“extremely” or “very interested”). And in the generic congressional poll, Republicans have a huge 47-to-36 percent advantage. (Two weeks ago their margin of advantage was only four points.)

Maybe this is a temporary dip. But the Democrats are running out of time. Clearly, a large segment of the electorate would have to be talked out of their current opinion of the president and his party in order for a Democratic wipe-out to be avoided. And if the voters are to be persuaded, Obama isn’t the one to do it. Right now, I suspect far more Republican than Democratic candidates are rooting for him to show up in their districts and states. After all, it did wonders for Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown.

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics suggests that far from improving their position, the Democrats are continuing their slide. Obama’s current approval ties his all-time low (43 percent) and less than 40 percent of voters approve of his performance on the economy, job creation, immigration, and the deficit. As for the midterm elections, there is no good news in the numbers. Republicans (66 percent) best Democrats (59 percent) when it comes to excitement about the election (“extremely” or “very interested”). And in the generic congressional poll, Republicans have a huge 47-to-36 percent advantage. (Two weeks ago their margin of advantage was only four points.)

Maybe this is a temporary dip. But the Democrats are running out of time. Clearly, a large segment of the electorate would have to be talked out of their current opinion of the president and his party in order for a Democratic wipe-out to be avoided. And if the voters are to be persuaded, Obama isn’t the one to do it. Right now, I suspect far more Republican than Democratic candidates are rooting for him to show up in their districts and states. After all, it did wonders for Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown.

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Tracking “Jewish Money”

It’s not often that bald-faced, unashamed anti-Semitism is advertised by supposedly mainstream politicos. But these are no ordinary times. This report explains:

Mike Grimm, a G.O.P challenger for Mike McMahon’s Congressional seat, took in over $200,000 in his last filing.

But in an effort to show that Grimm lacks support among voters in the district, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, the McMahon campaign compiled a list of Jewish donors to Grimm and provided it to the Politicker.

The file, labeled “Grimm Jewish Money Q2,” for the second quarter fundraising period, shows a list of over 80 names, a half-dozen of which in fact do hail from Staten Island, and a handful of others that list Brooklyn as home.

“Where is Grimm’s money coming from,” said Jennifer Nelson, McMahon’s campaign spokesman. “There is a lot of Jewish money, a lot of money from people in Florida and Manhattan, retirees.”

Jewish money. Gosh, even Walt and Mearsheimer are smart enough to use the “Israel lobby” rather than “Jewish money” to incite the public. Nelson immediately began back-peddling, confessing that “she did not know exactly how the finance team knew who was Jewish and who was not,” and bizarrely arguing that “I don’t think ethnicity matters.”

It was not enough to save her job (or most likely, her career). Both Nelson and the staffer who put together the list were canned and McMahon issued a heartfelt apology.

The incident is nevertheless telling. The multiplicity of incidents — like the White House press corps’ indulging Helen Thomas and the dual-loyalty canard that is bandied about by left-leaning bloggers and anonymous White House sources – is becoming hard to ignore. It suggests that the trip wire that snares racists and misogynists is curiously nowhere to be found when it comes to anti-Semitism.

America is not Europe and anti-Semitism is not yet fashionable or commonplace in “polite” company. (At least Nelson was canned rather than lionized and Thomas was finally put out to pasture.) But what was unheard of a few years ago is now popping up with alarming frequency. Peddlers of virulent anti-Semitism now appear in mainstream publications and their arguments are entertained as legitimate. That should concern us all.

Perhaps the Jew-bashing filmmakers and pundits will censor themselves when the public and their peers stop frequenting their movies or reading their bile-soaked columns. And when politicians and staffers are convinced that anti-Semitism is as unacceptable as racism, they too will refrain from fanning the flames of Jew-hatred.

It’s not often that bald-faced, unashamed anti-Semitism is advertised by supposedly mainstream politicos. But these are no ordinary times. This report explains:

Mike Grimm, a G.O.P challenger for Mike McMahon’s Congressional seat, took in over $200,000 in his last filing.

But in an effort to show that Grimm lacks support among voters in the district, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, the McMahon campaign compiled a list of Jewish donors to Grimm and provided it to the Politicker.

The file, labeled “Grimm Jewish Money Q2,” for the second quarter fundraising period, shows a list of over 80 names, a half-dozen of which in fact do hail from Staten Island, and a handful of others that list Brooklyn as home.

“Where is Grimm’s money coming from,” said Jennifer Nelson, McMahon’s campaign spokesman. “There is a lot of Jewish money, a lot of money from people in Florida and Manhattan, retirees.”

Jewish money. Gosh, even Walt and Mearsheimer are smart enough to use the “Israel lobby” rather than “Jewish money” to incite the public. Nelson immediately began back-peddling, confessing that “she did not know exactly how the finance team knew who was Jewish and who was not,” and bizarrely arguing that “I don’t think ethnicity matters.”

It was not enough to save her job (or most likely, her career). Both Nelson and the staffer who put together the list were canned and McMahon issued a heartfelt apology.

The incident is nevertheless telling. The multiplicity of incidents — like the White House press corps’ indulging Helen Thomas and the dual-loyalty canard that is bandied about by left-leaning bloggers and anonymous White House sources – is becoming hard to ignore. It suggests that the trip wire that snares racists and misogynists is curiously nowhere to be found when it comes to anti-Semitism.

America is not Europe and anti-Semitism is not yet fashionable or commonplace in “polite” company. (At least Nelson was canned rather than lionized and Thomas was finally put out to pasture.) But what was unheard of a few years ago is now popping up with alarming frequency. Peddlers of virulent anti-Semitism now appear in mainstream publications and their arguments are entertained as legitimate. That should concern us all.

Perhaps the Jew-bashing filmmakers and pundits will censor themselves when the public and their peers stop frequenting their movies or reading their bile-soaked columns. And when politicians and staffers are convinced that anti-Semitism is as unacceptable as racism, they too will refrain from fanning the flames of Jew-hatred.

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Lindsey Graham Shows His True Colors

Lindsey Graham is second to none when it comes to shameless pandering and preening. Impress the liberal media? Why else slam the Bush administration’s position on detainees and enhanced interrogation techniques? Show he’s about the mere partisanship of his fellow Democrats? Why else vote to confirm unqualified judicial activists for the Supreme Court? But nothing quite tops this:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that he’s talked with other senators about crafting a constitutional amendment that would deny American citizenship to illegal immigrants’ children born in the United States.

Graham’s idea is a stunning reversal for a senator whose advocacy of giving legal status to the country’s 12 million undocumented workers is so well known that conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and many of his listeners call him “Sen. Grahamnesty.”

Graham, along with President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were GOP leaders of a 2007 failed Senate effort to enact comprehensive immigration reforms including a path to legal residency or citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Even the most aggressive figures on immigration reform think this is idiotic. Although we agree on practically nothing concerning this issue, I fully concur with Mark Krikorian on this one:

Children who would have been citizens, Krikorian said, would become illegal aliens were Graham’s constitutional amendment pass Congress and be ratified by the states.

“I’m exactly against changing this,” he said. “I think it’s sort of a stupid thing. You would end up with lots of U.S.-born illegal immigrants. There’s something like 300,000 kids born here to illegal immigrants every year.”

Graham is, of course, talking about changing the Fourteenth Amendment, which has become the cornerstone of civil-rights jurisprudence for a century and a half. The idea of mucking with the definition of citizenship and tossing out those born to foreigners on American soil is so alarming and lacking in common sense that one has to question what Graham is doing on the Senate Judiciary Committee. That after all, is the committee meant to host those senators who have some interest in and grasp of our Constitutional traditions. Graham routinely demonstrates he is short on both. Maybe it’s about time he were booted from his perch.

Lindsey Graham is second to none when it comes to shameless pandering and preening. Impress the liberal media? Why else slam the Bush administration’s position on detainees and enhanced interrogation techniques? Show he’s about the mere partisanship of his fellow Democrats? Why else vote to confirm unqualified judicial activists for the Supreme Court? But nothing quite tops this:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that he’s talked with other senators about crafting a constitutional amendment that would deny American citizenship to illegal immigrants’ children born in the United States.

Graham’s idea is a stunning reversal for a senator whose advocacy of giving legal status to the country’s 12 million undocumented workers is so well known that conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and many of his listeners call him “Sen. Grahamnesty.”

Graham, along with President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were GOP leaders of a 2007 failed Senate effort to enact comprehensive immigration reforms including a path to legal residency or citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Even the most aggressive figures on immigration reform think this is idiotic. Although we agree on practically nothing concerning this issue, I fully concur with Mark Krikorian on this one:

Children who would have been citizens, Krikorian said, would become illegal aliens were Graham’s constitutional amendment pass Congress and be ratified by the states.

“I’m exactly against changing this,” he said. “I think it’s sort of a stupid thing. You would end up with lots of U.S.-born illegal immigrants. There’s something like 300,000 kids born here to illegal immigrants every year.”

Graham is, of course, talking about changing the Fourteenth Amendment, which has become the cornerstone of civil-rights jurisprudence for a century and a half. The idea of mucking with the definition of citizenship and tossing out those born to foreigners on American soil is so alarming and lacking in common sense that one has to question what Graham is doing on the Senate Judiciary Committee. That after all, is the committee meant to host those senators who have some interest in and grasp of our Constitutional traditions. Graham routinely demonstrates he is short on both. Maybe it’s about time he were booted from his perch.

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A Stroll Down Memory Lane

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

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Who Can Trust Sestak on Israel?

Rep. Joe Sestak’s “shut up” strategy followed by his “I’m really, honestly a friend of Israel” isn’t working. The local media have figured out that Sestak’s keynote speech to CAIR is far more revealing than his recent avowals of devotion to the Jewish state. Benyamin Korn writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Does it matter if a candidate for U.S. Senate served as a keynote speaker for an extremist group? Does it matter if he hired one of the group’s staff to serve on his staff? These are some of the questions being asked about Rep. Joe Sestak as voters learn about his ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

After reciting CAIR’s affection for Hamas (“CAIR executive director Nihad Awad has said, ‘I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO,’ the Palestine Liberation Organization”) and its well-known ties to terrorists, Korn observes:

Despite all this, Sestak hired CAIR’s director of communications in Philadelphia, Adeeba Al-Zaman, to work in his new Washington office in 2007. Soon thereafter, Al-Zaman had arranged for Sestak to be invited to speak at CAIR’s Philadelphia dinner that year.

Sestak accepted the invitation to headline the dinner. Members of the Jewish community met with him beforehand and pleaded with him to cancel, citing CAIR’s terrorism ties. But Sestak wouldn’t budge. To this day, Sestak refuses to acknowledge that his appearance at the dinner was a mistake. Instead, his campaign has tried to pressure Comcast to stop broadcasting an advertisement challenging his record on Israel. A letter from Sestak’s lawyer demanded that the ad be suppressed because it falsely characterized Sestak as anti-Israel.

Nor does Korn buy Sestak’s resume puffery that he “put his life on the line to defend Israel.” (“Pardon me for doubting that an Arab army would attack Israel during a joint American-Israeli military exercise.”)

Despite all of Sestak’s huffing and puffing, he has dodged the central concerns about his Israel record. Did he not realize that the Gaza 54 letter was a left-wing slam on Israel? Does he regret his slobbery praise for CAIR and now recognize that it is, in fact, a terrorist front group? Why hasn’t he — if he’s so devoted to Israel — demanded that the U.S. leave and refuse to fund the UN Human Rights Council?

Sestak is walking a fine line here. J Street has ponied up cash and run ads for him, so Sestak can’t fully embrace a robust pro-Israel line. But now that he has been exposed as a pol who “plays footsie with CAIR,” he’s had to rush toward a mainstream position on Israel. In the end, the Israel-bashing left and pro-Israel voters may very well both conclude he can’t be trusted. But CAIR still stands by their man (and he by the group). That should help clarify matters.

Rep. Joe Sestak’s “shut up” strategy followed by his “I’m really, honestly a friend of Israel” isn’t working. The local media have figured out that Sestak’s keynote speech to CAIR is far more revealing than his recent avowals of devotion to the Jewish state. Benyamin Korn writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Does it matter if a candidate for U.S. Senate served as a keynote speaker for an extremist group? Does it matter if he hired one of the group’s staff to serve on his staff? These are some of the questions being asked about Rep. Joe Sestak as voters learn about his ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

After reciting CAIR’s affection for Hamas (“CAIR executive director Nihad Awad has said, ‘I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO,’ the Palestine Liberation Organization”) and its well-known ties to terrorists, Korn observes:

Despite all this, Sestak hired CAIR’s director of communications in Philadelphia, Adeeba Al-Zaman, to work in his new Washington office in 2007. Soon thereafter, Al-Zaman had arranged for Sestak to be invited to speak at CAIR’s Philadelphia dinner that year.

Sestak accepted the invitation to headline the dinner. Members of the Jewish community met with him beforehand and pleaded with him to cancel, citing CAIR’s terrorism ties. But Sestak wouldn’t budge. To this day, Sestak refuses to acknowledge that his appearance at the dinner was a mistake. Instead, his campaign has tried to pressure Comcast to stop broadcasting an advertisement challenging his record on Israel. A letter from Sestak’s lawyer demanded that the ad be suppressed because it falsely characterized Sestak as anti-Israel.

Nor does Korn buy Sestak’s resume puffery that he “put his life on the line to defend Israel.” (“Pardon me for doubting that an Arab army would attack Israel during a joint American-Israeli military exercise.”)

Despite all of Sestak’s huffing and puffing, he has dodged the central concerns about his Israel record. Did he not realize that the Gaza 54 letter was a left-wing slam on Israel? Does he regret his slobbery praise for CAIR and now recognize that it is, in fact, a terrorist front group? Why hasn’t he — if he’s so devoted to Israel — demanded that the U.S. leave and refuse to fund the UN Human Rights Council?

Sestak is walking a fine line here. J Street has ponied up cash and run ads for him, so Sestak can’t fully embrace a robust pro-Israel line. But now that he has been exposed as a pol who “plays footsie with CAIR,” he’s had to rush toward a mainstream position on Israel. In the end, the Israel-bashing left and pro-Israel voters may very well both conclude he can’t be trusted. But CAIR still stands by their man (and he by the group). That should help clarify matters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Obama economy isn’t getting better anytime soon: “The U.S. economic recovery will remain slow deep into next year, held back by shoppers reluctant to spend and employers hesitant to hire, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists. The latest quarterly AP Economy Survey shows economists have turned gloomier in the past three months. They foresee weaker growth and higher unemployment than they did before.”

The Obama Justice Department isn’t shy about its preferences. “The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad.”

The Obama presidency isn’t what liberals imagined it would be (subscription required): “The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 57 Democrats, two independents that caucus with Democrats, and 41 Republican Senators. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 3 to 5 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican Governors.”

The Obama era isn’t “business as usual” inside the Beltway — it’s worse. “The House ethics committee announced 13 charges Thursday against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is accused of breaking House rules as well as federal statutes.”

The Obama administration isn’t about to take responsibility for anything. According to Obama, firing Shirley Sherrod was the media’s fault. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t find a way to blame George W. Bush for this.

The Obama “smart” diplomatic set isn’t going to take smart advice from Aaron David Miller: “One of the most enduring myths in the lore surrounding Arab-Israeli diplomacy is that direct negotiations provide the key to successful peacemaking. They don’t. The actual history of negotiations tells a far different story. Direct talks are often necessary, but have never been sufficient to ensure success. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the Obama administration, should stop raising expectations and deluding themselves and the rest of us into thinking otherwise.”

The Obama UN team isn’t exactly wowing them. In fact, Susan Rice’s record is downright “embarrassing”: “Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. … Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence.  Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues.”

The Obama economy isn’t getting better anytime soon: “The U.S. economic recovery will remain slow deep into next year, held back by shoppers reluctant to spend and employers hesitant to hire, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists. The latest quarterly AP Economy Survey shows economists have turned gloomier in the past three months. They foresee weaker growth and higher unemployment than they did before.”

The Obama Justice Department isn’t shy about its preferences. “The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad.”

The Obama presidency isn’t what liberals imagined it would be (subscription required): “The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 57 Democrats, two independents that caucus with Democrats, and 41 Republican Senators. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 3 to 5 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican Governors.”

The Obama era isn’t “business as usual” inside the Beltway — it’s worse. “The House ethics committee announced 13 charges Thursday against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is accused of breaking House rules as well as federal statutes.”

The Obama administration isn’t about to take responsibility for anything. According to Obama, firing Shirley Sherrod was the media’s fault. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t find a way to blame George W. Bush for this.

The Obama “smart” diplomatic set isn’t going to take smart advice from Aaron David Miller: “One of the most enduring myths in the lore surrounding Arab-Israeli diplomacy is that direct negotiations provide the key to successful peacemaking. They don’t. The actual history of negotiations tells a far different story. Direct talks are often necessary, but have never been sufficient to ensure success. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the Obama administration, should stop raising expectations and deluding themselves and the rest of us into thinking otherwise.”

The Obama UN team isn’t exactly wowing them. In fact, Susan Rice’s record is downright “embarrassing”: “Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. … Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence.  Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues.”

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Peace in Our Time: All Trust, No Verify

With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled to vote on the New START treaty on August 3, pundits left and right are using the State Department’s most recent report on arms-treaty compliance to make their respective points about the new treaty’s advisability. Sarcasm, disdain, and semantic disputes seem to be taking center stage in the argument, but there is a very clear bottom line to the whole debate, and it can be expressed in one word: verification — and specifically the lack thereof.

The State Department report acknowledges disagreements between the U.S. and Russia over some compliance measures specified in the old START treaty (which expired in December 2009), along with a persistent inability to verify Russian compliance with provisions of the international conventions on biological and chemical weapons. Technically, these concerns don’t amount to evidence that Russia violated the old START treaty, as claimed in a Washington Times headline yesterday. On the other hand, they cast doubt on the State Department assertion that Russia was in compliance with the treaty’s central provisions for strategic-arms limitation.

The most significant compliance measures in question involved verifying the number of re-entry vehicles on a Russian warhead, measuring the canisters mounted on mobile ICBM launchers, and Russia’s failure to provide all the test-launch telemetry data required by the old treaty. The Bush administration listed these as open issues in its 2005 compliance report. In 2010, the first two are implied to have been “resolved,” with no explanation. Resolution of the telemetry issue is not explicitly addressed at all. These are not minor or picayune concerns; they bear directly on the integrity of the verification process.

While Russia considered itself bound to the ongoing START process, and saw its own performance as a means of securing U.S. commitments, verification disputes like these were a tolerable form of low-level friction. But New START would be inaugurated under much different circumstances: verification measures that are considerably relaxed and a Russia with little incentive to show good faith.

In September, President Obama dealt away his biggest bargaining chip — the silo-based missile-defense array in Europe — without obtaining any concessions in return. In signing New START in April, he agreed to additional limits on America’s latitude to improve our national missile defenses. He has already made the principal concessions desired by Russia’s leaders, while accepting a verification regime much less stringent than that of the old START treaty. The question of supreme importance for New START, therefore, is precisely what right-wing critics suggest it is: can Russia be trusted?

In the best of circumstances, concluding a treaty of questionable verifiability with a partner who lacks incentive to keep it is a bad idea. And as Russia’s record on START and the other weapons conventions indicates, these are not the best of circumstances. Skeptical Republican senators are right to view the New START treaty with profound concern. However the treaty’s advocates try to shift the argument with inverted reasoning, the bottom line on it is that it abandons the Reagan principle — trust, but verify — in favor of a principle with a terrible track record: trust, period.

With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled to vote on the New START treaty on August 3, pundits left and right are using the State Department’s most recent report on arms-treaty compliance to make their respective points about the new treaty’s advisability. Sarcasm, disdain, and semantic disputes seem to be taking center stage in the argument, but there is a very clear bottom line to the whole debate, and it can be expressed in one word: verification — and specifically the lack thereof.

The State Department report acknowledges disagreements between the U.S. and Russia over some compliance measures specified in the old START treaty (which expired in December 2009), along with a persistent inability to verify Russian compliance with provisions of the international conventions on biological and chemical weapons. Technically, these concerns don’t amount to evidence that Russia violated the old START treaty, as claimed in a Washington Times headline yesterday. On the other hand, they cast doubt on the State Department assertion that Russia was in compliance with the treaty’s central provisions for strategic-arms limitation.

The most significant compliance measures in question involved verifying the number of re-entry vehicles on a Russian warhead, measuring the canisters mounted on mobile ICBM launchers, and Russia’s failure to provide all the test-launch telemetry data required by the old treaty. The Bush administration listed these as open issues in its 2005 compliance report. In 2010, the first two are implied to have been “resolved,” with no explanation. Resolution of the telemetry issue is not explicitly addressed at all. These are not minor or picayune concerns; they bear directly on the integrity of the verification process.

While Russia considered itself bound to the ongoing START process, and saw its own performance as a means of securing U.S. commitments, verification disputes like these were a tolerable form of low-level friction. But New START would be inaugurated under much different circumstances: verification measures that are considerably relaxed and a Russia with little incentive to show good faith.

In September, President Obama dealt away his biggest bargaining chip — the silo-based missile-defense array in Europe — without obtaining any concessions in return. In signing New START in April, he agreed to additional limits on America’s latitude to improve our national missile defenses. He has already made the principal concessions desired by Russia’s leaders, while accepting a verification regime much less stringent than that of the old START treaty. The question of supreme importance for New START, therefore, is precisely what right-wing critics suggest it is: can Russia be trusted?

In the best of circumstances, concluding a treaty of questionable verifiability with a partner who lacks incentive to keep it is a bad idea. And as Russia’s record on START and the other weapons conventions indicates, these are not the best of circumstances. Skeptical Republican senators are right to view the New START treaty with profound concern. However the treaty’s advocates try to shift the argument with inverted reasoning, the bottom line on it is that it abandons the Reagan principle — trust, but verify — in favor of a principle with a terrible track record: trust, period.

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RE: The Farce Ends

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

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Stone’s Apologies Don’t Erase Link Between the Left and Anti-Semitism

Oliver Stone added to his reputation as an incorrigible conspiracy monger this past week in an interview in the Times of London in which he claimed that America’s “obsession” with the Holocaust was caused by Jewish control of the media, sought to put Hitler “in context,” and denounced the “Jewish lobby” and Israel for controlling American foreign policy. The leftist director also defended the Jew-hating regime in Iran as well as Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez (who is featured in a flattering documentary produced by Stone), whose dictatorial government has terrorized that country’s Jewish community and made common cause with Tehran.

The Anti-Defamation League appropriately denounced this. But while, as Jennifer noted, Stone was not exactly deluged with criticism — the mainstream media generally ignored the controversy — he did issue two apologies within the next three days. The first backed away from his remarks about the Jews controlling the media and Hollywood, but, as the ADL rightly noted in a release, he failed to deal with his charges about Israel and the “Jewish lobby.” In response to this, Stone, obviously listening to his PR people, again apologized, saying: “I do agree that it was wrong of me to say that Israel or the pro-Israel lobby is to blame for America’s flawed foreign policy. Of course that’s not true and I apologize that my inappropriately glib remark has played into that negative stereotype.”

Feeling that this was sufficient, the ADL quickly declared victory in a statement in which its director, Abe Foxman, was quoted as saying, “I believe he now understands the issues and where he was wrong, and this puts an end to the matter.”

But does it?

Stone’s comments were hardly out of character. He had previously talked about putting Hitler “in context,” and his denunciations of Israel and defense of the anti-Semitic regimes in Iran and Venezuela are still a matter of the record. Last fall the ADL went out of its way to try to wrongly connect mainstream conservative and Republican critiques of President Obama with lunatic extremists and anti-Semites in a report. But as Stone’s comments illustrated, the lesson here is the slippery slope between the leftist conspiracy theories that Stone has championed in his films and public utterances and traditional anti-Semitic invective. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. The line between lionizing Jew-haters like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and overt anti-Semitism is razor-thin if it exists at all. While it is appropriate for the ADL director to acknowledge the speed with which Stone has tried to flee from justified accusations of anti-Semitism, he should have used this moment to make it clear that this story is bigger than just one interview. Instead, he has produced a statement that will serve to allow Stone to escape any further opprobrium. The problem with Oliver Stone is not his big mouth but the ideas that he has spent his adult life propagating. What Stone has done is to once again highlight the nexus between far-left conspiracy theories and Jew-hatred. And that is something that can’t be put to rest with a mere blessing from Mr. Foxman.

Oliver Stone added to his reputation as an incorrigible conspiracy monger this past week in an interview in the Times of London in which he claimed that America’s “obsession” with the Holocaust was caused by Jewish control of the media, sought to put Hitler “in context,” and denounced the “Jewish lobby” and Israel for controlling American foreign policy. The leftist director also defended the Jew-hating regime in Iran as well as Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez (who is featured in a flattering documentary produced by Stone), whose dictatorial government has terrorized that country’s Jewish community and made common cause with Tehran.

The Anti-Defamation League appropriately denounced this. But while, as Jennifer noted, Stone was not exactly deluged with criticism — the mainstream media generally ignored the controversy — he did issue two apologies within the next three days. The first backed away from his remarks about the Jews controlling the media and Hollywood, but, as the ADL rightly noted in a release, he failed to deal with his charges about Israel and the “Jewish lobby.” In response to this, Stone, obviously listening to his PR people, again apologized, saying: “I do agree that it was wrong of me to say that Israel or the pro-Israel lobby is to blame for America’s flawed foreign policy. Of course that’s not true and I apologize that my inappropriately glib remark has played into that negative stereotype.”

Feeling that this was sufficient, the ADL quickly declared victory in a statement in which its director, Abe Foxman, was quoted as saying, “I believe he now understands the issues and where he was wrong, and this puts an end to the matter.”

But does it?

Stone’s comments were hardly out of character. He had previously talked about putting Hitler “in context,” and his denunciations of Israel and defense of the anti-Semitic regimes in Iran and Venezuela are still a matter of the record. Last fall the ADL went out of its way to try to wrongly connect mainstream conservative and Republican critiques of President Obama with lunatic extremists and anti-Semites in a report. But as Stone’s comments illustrated, the lesson here is the slippery slope between the leftist conspiracy theories that Stone has championed in his films and public utterances and traditional anti-Semitic invective. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. The line between lionizing Jew-haters like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and overt anti-Semitism is razor-thin if it exists at all. While it is appropriate for the ADL director to acknowledge the speed with which Stone has tried to flee from justified accusations of anti-Semitism, he should have used this moment to make it clear that this story is bigger than just one interview. Instead, he has produced a statement that will serve to allow Stone to escape any further opprobrium. The problem with Oliver Stone is not his big mouth but the ideas that he has spent his adult life propagating. What Stone has done is to once again highlight the nexus between far-left conspiracy theories and Jew-hatred. And that is something that can’t be put to rest with a mere blessing from Mr. Foxman.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Nil, Baby, Nil

“Where is the outrage? Where are the millions marching in the streets, where is the round-the-clock roadblock coverage tracking every moment of the crisis?” Such were the questions asked by the Huffington Post’s Peter Daou in late May. And the declarations were no less bracing. “We are at an inflection point, one that will likely determine the fate of our species,” he informed readers. The “planetary emergency” to which he was referring was not, as one may be forgiven for thinking, the appearance of alien spacecraft above civilization’s greatest structural landmarks. Daou’s concerns were grounded in earthly developments. Or, rather, a single earthly development: a pipe broke.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

“Where is the outrage? Where are the millions marching in the streets, where is the round-the-clock roadblock coverage tracking every moment of the crisis?” Such were the questions asked by the Huffington Post’s Peter Daou in late May. And the declarations were no less bracing. “We are at an inflection point, one that will likely determine the fate of our species,” he informed readers. The “planetary emergency” to which he was referring was not, as one may be forgiven for thinking, the appearance of alien spacecraft above civilization’s greatest structural landmarks. Daou’s concerns were grounded in earthly developments. Or, rather, a single earthly development: a pipe broke.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Defending Our Afghanistan Policy

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

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Plus ça Change Department

There is a move afoot in Congress to legalize Internet gambling by repealing a 2006 law that forbade banks to transmit payments to or from Internet-gambling operators.

The law hasn’t stopped Internet gambling, which, it is estimated, Americans spend $6 billion a year on. There are just too many ways these days — prepaid credit cards, online payment processors such as PayPal, etc. – to transmit money. But the effort to repeal the law does not stem merely from the fact that it doesn’t work. It also comes from the need for tax revenue, which might reach as high as $42 billion over 10 years. According to the Times, “Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said in an interview that the money was an attractive source of financing for other programs. ‘We will not pass an Internet gaming bill,’ Mr. Sherman predicted. ‘We will pass a bill to do something very important, funded by Internet gaming.’”

This is all very reminiscent of an earlier effort to stamp out bad habits among the general population by a means that didn’t work. That effort also was repealed in order not to correct a mistake — being a politician means never having to say you’re sorry — but instead to raise revenue.

Prohibition was supposed to get rid of demon rum so that husbands would go home to their families and not spend their paychecks at the local saloon. What it got us was Al Capone. It proved impossible in a democratic society to prevent the illegal production and distribution of alcohol, which millions in the population saw nothing wrong with. Rum runners imported millions of gallons of illegal alcohol over the border from Canada and by sea. Moonshiners produced millions more. Bootleggers distributed all this efficiently. Lavish bribes corrupted police and local officials, who looked the other way (and often drank themselves). Organized crime received a vast new cash flow and grew exponentially. Commercial disputes were settled in parking lots and alleyways rather than in court, the tommy gun being the means of choice. At least Prohibition produced a rich literary and cinematic genre that now rivals the western in extent. And NASCAR developed out of the souped-up cars used to deliver booze and, if necessary, outrun the police cars chasing them.

But it is axiomatic that it is much easier to pass a law than to repeal it. And it was only when the Great Depression caused unemployment to soar and tax revenues to plummet that the federal government moved to loosen and then repeal the 18th Amendment. Shortly after taking office, Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to the Volstead Act, which had given legislative flesh to the constitutional bones of the 18th Amendment. It changed the definition of “intoxicating beverage” from .5 percent alcohol to 3.2 percent. On signing it, FDR — no teetotaler he — said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” The brewing industry, moribund since 1920, sprang back to life, hiring thousands of workers in places like St. Louis and Milwaukee.

Congress had already proposed repealing the Amendment (on February 20). Knowing that many state legislatures were firmly in the grip of the “preachers and the bootleggers,” Congress specified that the 21st Amendment be ratified by a special convention in each state instead of by the legislatures, the only time that they have been used to amend the Constitution. Ironically, Utah, dominated by non-drinking Mormons, was the 36th state to ratify, the number needed to put the 21st Amendment into the Constitution. The most calamitous social-engineering experiment in American history was dead, and tax revenues began to flow copiously into federal and state coffers.

There is a move afoot in Congress to legalize Internet gambling by repealing a 2006 law that forbade banks to transmit payments to or from Internet-gambling operators.

The law hasn’t stopped Internet gambling, which, it is estimated, Americans spend $6 billion a year on. There are just too many ways these days — prepaid credit cards, online payment processors such as PayPal, etc. – to transmit money. But the effort to repeal the law does not stem merely from the fact that it doesn’t work. It also comes from the need for tax revenue, which might reach as high as $42 billion over 10 years. According to the Times, “Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said in an interview that the money was an attractive source of financing for other programs. ‘We will not pass an Internet gaming bill,’ Mr. Sherman predicted. ‘We will pass a bill to do something very important, funded by Internet gaming.’”

This is all very reminiscent of an earlier effort to stamp out bad habits among the general population by a means that didn’t work. That effort also was repealed in order not to correct a mistake — being a politician means never having to say you’re sorry — but instead to raise revenue.

Prohibition was supposed to get rid of demon rum so that husbands would go home to their families and not spend their paychecks at the local saloon. What it got us was Al Capone. It proved impossible in a democratic society to prevent the illegal production and distribution of alcohol, which millions in the population saw nothing wrong with. Rum runners imported millions of gallons of illegal alcohol over the border from Canada and by sea. Moonshiners produced millions more. Bootleggers distributed all this efficiently. Lavish bribes corrupted police and local officials, who looked the other way (and often drank themselves). Organized crime received a vast new cash flow and grew exponentially. Commercial disputes were settled in parking lots and alleyways rather than in court, the tommy gun being the means of choice. At least Prohibition produced a rich literary and cinematic genre that now rivals the western in extent. And NASCAR developed out of the souped-up cars used to deliver booze and, if necessary, outrun the police cars chasing them.

But it is axiomatic that it is much easier to pass a law than to repeal it. And it was only when the Great Depression caused unemployment to soar and tax revenues to plummet that the federal government moved to loosen and then repeal the 18th Amendment. Shortly after taking office, Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to the Volstead Act, which had given legislative flesh to the constitutional bones of the 18th Amendment. It changed the definition of “intoxicating beverage” from .5 percent alcohol to 3.2 percent. On signing it, FDR — no teetotaler he — said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” The brewing industry, moribund since 1920, sprang back to life, hiring thousands of workers in places like St. Louis and Milwaukee.

Congress had already proposed repealing the Amendment (on February 20). Knowing that many state legislatures were firmly in the grip of the “preachers and the bootleggers,” Congress specified that the 21st Amendment be ratified by a special convention in each state instead of by the legislatures, the only time that they have been used to amend the Constitution. Ironically, Utah, dominated by non-drinking Mormons, was the 36th state to ratify, the number needed to put the 21st Amendment into the Constitution. The most calamitous social-engineering experiment in American history was dead, and tax revenues began to flow copiously into federal and state coffers.

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Wikileaks and the Goldstone Precedent

Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society makes an important point about the classified documents on Afghanistan that Wikileaks revealed this week: the descriptions of “accidental killings by our soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians — revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” — sound very much like the kinds of accidental civilian deaths for which the Goldstone Committee wants Israel charged with war crimes.

In both cases, Shepherd notes, the civilian casualties were the inevitable result of combat against a terrorist organization that “systematically hides behind the civilian population”: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza. Yet several coalition countries have been “cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations,” not realizing that the precedent they’re setting could eventually be used against their own soldiers.

Shepherd doesn’t give the numbers, but they are shocking: of the 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, only 12 voted against endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly. Twelve voted in favor, and 21 abstained.

Notable abstainers included Britain and France — which, as the second- and fourth-largest troop contributors to Afghanistan, are among the most vulnerable to Goldstone-style charges — and Georgia, which faces allegations of similar “war crimes” during its 2008 war with Russia. Turkey, which routinely kills civilians in its battles with the PKK, voted “yes.”

Granted, the Goldstone Report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which has never shown any interest in investigating any country but Israel. So coalition members probably don’t have anything to fear from that quarter. But the HRC is not the only player on this field.

An acquaintance recently reported being shocked when, at an academic conference, a guest speaker from the International Criminal Court explicitly described the court’s plan as establishing a precedent via the “easy” cases it’s tackling now (egregious human rights violators like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Sudanese officials involved in the Darfur genocide) that will grant it legitimacy to prosecute anyone for anything, worldwide, thereafter. And once it establishes this precedent, it intends to use it, the speaker added.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s what smart courts do when trying to establish a new power (as anyone who has seen Israel’s Supreme Court in action would know). They always start with “easy” cases — ones where the public will like the outcome and will therefore ignore the dangerous procedural precedent. And Israel, due to its global unpopularity, is precisely such a case.

Then, with the precedent set, courts can proceed to “hard” cases, with potentially unpopular outcomes, without fearing serious backlash. After all, you can’t accuse a court of behaving improperly if it’s merely doing what it has done many times before without anyone objecting.

Thus if the Goldstone Report isn’t stopped, the U.S. and its allies will eventually pay the price. But since many of those allies clearly haven’t grasped this, it’s Washington’s job to drive the point home.

Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society makes an important point about the classified documents on Afghanistan that Wikileaks revealed this week: the descriptions of “accidental killings by our soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians — revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” — sound very much like the kinds of accidental civilian deaths for which the Goldstone Committee wants Israel charged with war crimes.

In both cases, Shepherd notes, the civilian casualties were the inevitable result of combat against a terrorist organization that “systematically hides behind the civilian population”: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza. Yet several coalition countries have been “cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations,” not realizing that the precedent they’re setting could eventually be used against their own soldiers.

Shepherd doesn’t give the numbers, but they are shocking: of the 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, only 12 voted against endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly. Twelve voted in favor, and 21 abstained.

Notable abstainers included Britain and France — which, as the second- and fourth-largest troop contributors to Afghanistan, are among the most vulnerable to Goldstone-style charges — and Georgia, which faces allegations of similar “war crimes” during its 2008 war with Russia. Turkey, which routinely kills civilians in its battles with the PKK, voted “yes.”

Granted, the Goldstone Report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which has never shown any interest in investigating any country but Israel. So coalition members probably don’t have anything to fear from that quarter. But the HRC is not the only player on this field.

An acquaintance recently reported being shocked when, at an academic conference, a guest speaker from the International Criminal Court explicitly described the court’s plan as establishing a precedent via the “easy” cases it’s tackling now (egregious human rights violators like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Sudanese officials involved in the Darfur genocide) that will grant it legitimacy to prosecute anyone for anything, worldwide, thereafter. And once it establishes this precedent, it intends to use it, the speaker added.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s what smart courts do when trying to establish a new power (as anyone who has seen Israel’s Supreme Court in action would know). They always start with “easy” cases — ones where the public will like the outcome and will therefore ignore the dangerous procedural precedent. And Israel, due to its global unpopularity, is precisely such a case.

Then, with the precedent set, courts can proceed to “hard” cases, with potentially unpopular outcomes, without fearing serious backlash. After all, you can’t accuse a court of behaving improperly if it’s merely doing what it has done many times before without anyone objecting.

Thus if the Goldstone Report isn’t stopped, the U.S. and its allies will eventually pay the price. But since many of those allies clearly haven’t grasped this, it’s Washington’s job to drive the point home.

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The Un-Obama Governors

Gov. Chris Christie continues to earn kudos from conservatives and liberals alike. Gov. Bob McDonnell has a 64 percent approval after less than a year as Virginia’s governor. Both Christie and McDonnell are garnering praise for doing what inside-the-Beltway Democrats refuse to do — cut spending, resist calls to hike taxes, and stand up to public-employee unions. They, and others like Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Tim Pawlenty, undermine the Democrats’ patter that Republicans are too wacky or too unrealistic to govern. They provide a vivid contrast to Obamaism and to the notion that only by a massive increase in the size of government and corresponding tax increases can we pull out of our economic tailspin.

Any one of these conservatives would be a formidable rival to Obama in 2012. Obama will no doubt try, as he did in 2008, to run against someone not on the ballot — George W. Bush. By 2012 that will, I suspect, provoke groans if not laughter. The choice, if Republican primary voters are savvy, will not be Obama vs. Bush but Obama vs. a not-Obama reformer.

As Noemie Emery points out, it didn’t have to be this way. She explains that Obama could have lived up to his billing as a transformative leader if, on ObamaCare, for example, he had “built the bill out from the center, in a way that held on to the unhappy left, appealed to the center, and became a wedge issue that split Republicans.” Obama, in contrast to the GOP governors who are drawing applause from those on both ends of the political spectrum, has undermined his own popularity, his party’s electoral prospects, and his own agenda. (“Since Obama became president, everything that he wants has become more unpopular: more intrusive and much bigger government, more taxing and spending, more state control.”)

In sum, Obama has opened the way for any number of reformist, grown-up Republicans to present voters with a choice in 2012 and an alternate vision to the liberal statism against which voters have already rebelled.

Gov. Chris Christie continues to earn kudos from conservatives and liberals alike. Gov. Bob McDonnell has a 64 percent approval after less than a year as Virginia’s governor. Both Christie and McDonnell are garnering praise for doing what inside-the-Beltway Democrats refuse to do — cut spending, resist calls to hike taxes, and stand up to public-employee unions. They, and others like Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Tim Pawlenty, undermine the Democrats’ patter that Republicans are too wacky or too unrealistic to govern. They provide a vivid contrast to Obamaism and to the notion that only by a massive increase in the size of government and corresponding tax increases can we pull out of our economic tailspin.

Any one of these conservatives would be a formidable rival to Obama in 2012. Obama will no doubt try, as he did in 2008, to run against someone not on the ballot — George W. Bush. By 2012 that will, I suspect, provoke groans if not laughter. The choice, if Republican primary voters are savvy, will not be Obama vs. Bush but Obama vs. a not-Obama reformer.

As Noemie Emery points out, it didn’t have to be this way. She explains that Obama could have lived up to his billing as a transformative leader if, on ObamaCare, for example, he had “built the bill out from the center, in a way that held on to the unhappy left, appealed to the center, and became a wedge issue that split Republicans.” Obama, in contrast to the GOP governors who are drawing applause from those on both ends of the political spectrum, has undermined his own popularity, his party’s electoral prospects, and his own agenda. (“Since Obama became president, everything that he wants has become more unpopular: more intrusive and much bigger government, more taxing and spending, more state control.”)

In sum, Obama has opened the way for any number of reformist, grown-up Republicans to present voters with a choice in 2012 and an alternate vision to the liberal statism against which voters have already rebelled.

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Shut Up, They Instructed

As I noted yesterday, the totalitarian impulse on the left is all too apparent these days. Their frenzy to silence opposition voices increases in direct proportion to their growing unpopularity and panic over the coming electoral wipeout. They seem to have lost the ability to engage in not only civil debate but in any debate. A case in point:

A private university in Chicago that refuses to host former senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, arguing that welcoming a “political” speaker ahead of the midterm elections could threaten its tax-exempt status, has added an Obama administration appointee to address the student body.

Loyola University Chicago is hosting Eboo Patel, an Obama appointee to the White House interfaith council, next month, calling into question the school’s rationale for rejecting Rove’s appearance.

“The news that Eboo Patel, an appointee of the Obama administration, will be allowed to speak at Loyola University Chicago, while Karl Rove was essentially barred, is further proof that the (university) administration either has zero understanding of tax law or is unabashedly biased,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for Young America’s Foundation, a conservative outreach group that was sponsoring the Rove speech.

The university’s rationale is patently contrived, given its past conduct. (“In September 2004, the school hosted Howard Dean, who ran for president that year. A couple of weeks after his speech, political activist Ralph Nader, who also ran for president that year, spoke on campus — a speech that was advertised as a campaign event in which donations were solicited.”) Their speaker-selection “rules” are a facade. The university is quite obviously trying to shield its students from one half of the political discussion.

Now, as a legal matter, a private university can invite whomever it pleases. But the example it is setting for students and faculty alike is about as far from the ideal of a university education as you can get. Academic freedom? A free exchange of ideas? Puhleez.

This incident does, however, perfectly embody the modus operandi of the left these days — disingenuous explanations for shutting down opponents and classification of critics as “political” (in contrast to their own side, which is, they tell us, high-minded and apolitical). It is not the behavior of a self-confident movement anxious to engage and best their intellectual rivals.

As I noted yesterday, the totalitarian impulse on the left is all too apparent these days. Their frenzy to silence opposition voices increases in direct proportion to their growing unpopularity and panic over the coming electoral wipeout. They seem to have lost the ability to engage in not only civil debate but in any debate. A case in point:

A private university in Chicago that refuses to host former senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, arguing that welcoming a “political” speaker ahead of the midterm elections could threaten its tax-exempt status, has added an Obama administration appointee to address the student body.

Loyola University Chicago is hosting Eboo Patel, an Obama appointee to the White House interfaith council, next month, calling into question the school’s rationale for rejecting Rove’s appearance.

“The news that Eboo Patel, an appointee of the Obama administration, will be allowed to speak at Loyola University Chicago, while Karl Rove was essentially barred, is further proof that the (university) administration either has zero understanding of tax law or is unabashedly biased,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for Young America’s Foundation, a conservative outreach group that was sponsoring the Rove speech.

The university’s rationale is patently contrived, given its past conduct. (“In September 2004, the school hosted Howard Dean, who ran for president that year. A couple of weeks after his speech, political activist Ralph Nader, who also ran for president that year, spoke on campus — a speech that was advertised as a campaign event in which donations were solicited.”) Their speaker-selection “rules” are a facade. The university is quite obviously trying to shield its students from one half of the political discussion.

Now, as a legal matter, a private university can invite whomever it pleases. But the example it is setting for students and faculty alike is about as far from the ideal of a university education as you can get. Academic freedom? A free exchange of ideas? Puhleez.

This incident does, however, perfectly embody the modus operandi of the left these days — disingenuous explanations for shutting down opponents and classification of critics as “political” (in contrast to their own side, which is, they tell us, high-minded and apolitical). It is not the behavior of a self-confident movement anxious to engage and best their intellectual rivals.

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The Farce Ends

The worst-kept secret in the Middle East “peace process” has been that Mahmoud Abbas was never serious about a peace deal. This was apparent to anyone who has observed him over the years, who has followed his duplicitous rhetoric (incitement in Arabic, peace lingo in English), and who understands that he is incapable of making an enforceable peace agreement that would recognize the Jewish state, ensure that Israel retains defensible borders, renounce the dream of a one-state solutions with Jerusalem as its Muslim capital, and commit to disarmament and the renunciation of terror. Even to list what is required reveals how misplaced were the expectations of Obama and his “smart” diplomats.

After 18 months of badgering and bullying Israel and sucking up to the Muslim World, that world is on the verge of dealing a stinging blow to their patron: “Despite pressure from the US and EU, Abbas has signaled in recent days that he does not intend to enter direct talks until Israel stops all settlement construction, as well as construction in east Jerusalem, and commits itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, lines.” And he’s gone scurrying to the Arab League to bless this.

Hmm, maybe it isn’t Israel’s fault that we don’t have peace in our time. Maybe Obama’s mere presence and his suck-uppery to Palestinians in Cairo (and ever since) did not transform the Middle East. Maybe the Middle East is not just like Northern Ireland. Maybe putting political hacks in charge of foreign policy wasn’t a swell idea. Maybe the Obami were the least-”smart” diplomats ever to take on the Middle East conflict. And maybe — finally — we can all agree that the peace process is a counterproductive farce that provides cover only for Palestinian rejectionism.

The worst-kept secret in the Middle East “peace process” has been that Mahmoud Abbas was never serious about a peace deal. This was apparent to anyone who has observed him over the years, who has followed his duplicitous rhetoric (incitement in Arabic, peace lingo in English), and who understands that he is incapable of making an enforceable peace agreement that would recognize the Jewish state, ensure that Israel retains defensible borders, renounce the dream of a one-state solutions with Jerusalem as its Muslim capital, and commit to disarmament and the renunciation of terror. Even to list what is required reveals how misplaced were the expectations of Obama and his “smart” diplomats.

After 18 months of badgering and bullying Israel and sucking up to the Muslim World, that world is on the verge of dealing a stinging blow to their patron: “Despite pressure from the US and EU, Abbas has signaled in recent days that he does not intend to enter direct talks until Israel stops all settlement construction, as well as construction in east Jerusalem, and commits itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, lines.” And he’s gone scurrying to the Arab League to bless this.

Hmm, maybe it isn’t Israel’s fault that we don’t have peace in our time. Maybe Obama’s mere presence and his suck-uppery to Palestinians in Cairo (and ever since) did not transform the Middle East. Maybe the Middle East is not just like Northern Ireland. Maybe putting political hacks in charge of foreign policy wasn’t a swell idea. Maybe the Obami were the least-”smart” diplomats ever to take on the Middle East conflict. And maybe — finally — we can all agree that the peace process is a counterproductive farce that provides cover only for Palestinian rejectionism.

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