Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 5, 2010

Memo to Congress: Do Nothing!

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

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Morning Commentary

You can’t make this up: Charles Rangel is now being investigated for improperly using PAC money to fund his legal defense during his recent ethics violation case.

Cables show that cash is still flowing to terrorists from Arab states, indicating that U.S. efforts to halt terror funding since 9/11 have been woefully ineffective.

Cable Gate was a diplomatic disaster with dangerous consequences for our national security, but it’s undeniable that the leaked documents have also given the public a great deal of insight into the fascinating world of international diplomacy. The Atlantic has looked beyond the political ramifications of the leaked secrets and compiled an archive of the most captivating stories from the cables.

Muslims say that their relations with the FBI have been strained after a mosque informant filed a lawsuit against the bureau alleging that he was pressured to use unfair tactics to entrap Muslims.

While most Hollywood movies that are “based on real events” tend to stretch the truth, the film about Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn, went too far, according to a scathing Washington Post editorial: “Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. [George W.] Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth — not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife — the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.”

“Three meters between life and death” — the gripping story of a Yediot Aharonot photographer who found himself trapped in the Carmel inferno.

Is the Tea Party “wrecking” traditional GOP foreign policy and support for Israel? That’s what Barry Gewen argues in the New Republic. But the Tea Partiers hold such diverse views on foreign policy that it’s impossible to typecast them on this issue. While Ron Paul certainly has some influence over the movement, hawks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Jim DeMint seem to have a far greater pull.

You can’t make this up: Charles Rangel is now being investigated for improperly using PAC money to fund his legal defense during his recent ethics violation case.

Cables show that cash is still flowing to terrorists from Arab states, indicating that U.S. efforts to halt terror funding since 9/11 have been woefully ineffective.

Cable Gate was a diplomatic disaster with dangerous consequences for our national security, but it’s undeniable that the leaked documents have also given the public a great deal of insight into the fascinating world of international diplomacy. The Atlantic has looked beyond the political ramifications of the leaked secrets and compiled an archive of the most captivating stories from the cables.

Muslims say that their relations with the FBI have been strained after a mosque informant filed a lawsuit against the bureau alleging that he was pressured to use unfair tactics to entrap Muslims.

While most Hollywood movies that are “based on real events” tend to stretch the truth, the film about Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn, went too far, according to a scathing Washington Post editorial: “Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. [George W.] Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth — not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife — the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.”

“Three meters between life and death” — the gripping story of a Yediot Aharonot photographer who found himself trapped in the Carmel inferno.

Is the Tea Party “wrecking” traditional GOP foreign policy and support for Israel? That’s what Barry Gewen argues in the New Republic. But the Tea Partiers hold such diverse views on foreign policy that it’s impossible to typecast them on this issue. While Ron Paul certainly has some influence over the movement, hawks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Jim DeMint seem to have a far greater pull.

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The Fire, and the Talk

Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.

In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.

Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.

What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:

1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.

2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.

3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.

4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.

5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.

6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”

7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.

9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.

10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.

Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.

Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.

In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.

Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.

What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:

1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.

2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.

3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.

4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.

5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.

6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”

7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.

9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.

10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.

Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.

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So Much for Civility: Dem Senator Likens Tax Cutters to “Terrorists”

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

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“Holy Cow! Look at That!”

The other day, I posted on the creation of bacteria that use arsenic instead of phosphorus as one of the essential building blocks of life. In the post, I wrote, “I think the true eureka moment will come when we find an exoplanet (one that orbits a star other than the sun) that has a large percentage of molecular oxygen in its atmosphere.” I noted that, so far, only Earth was known to have an atmosphere rich in oxygen, thanks to the abundance of life here.

The very next day, I learned that another heavenly body has been found to have an oxygen-rich atmosphere, and it’s right here in the dear old solar system: Saturn’s second-largest moon, Rhea. The Cassini Solstice Mission to Saturn, which has been one of the most spectacularly successful space missions ever and is still pouring forth data, has just discovered it. It recently detected an atmosphere on Rhea with densities of about 1 billion oxygen molecules and 600 million molecules of carbon dioxide per cubic foot.

This doesn’t mean there are little green Rheans running around. For one thing, it’s far too cold there for anything resembling Earth-like biochemistry to be taking place. With sunlight only about 1 percent as strong as on earth, the temperature on Rhea is about -179° Celsius (-290° Fahrenheit). For another, the atmosphere is extremely tenuous, about five trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere. The wonder is that a body as small as Rhea, only about 900 miles in diameter, has any atmosphere at all.  Our moon, which has more than twice the diameter of Rhea (and is much more dense as well; Rhea is essentially a large ice ball), has none. As one of the scientists involved said, “Rhea’s oxygen appears to come from water ice on Rhea’s surface when Saturn’s magnetic field rotates over the moon and showers it with energetic particles trapped in the magnetic field.”

The significance here, of course, is that life is obviously not the only way to produce an oxygen-rich atmosphere and that “The new results suggest that active, complex chemistry involving oxygen may be quite common throughout the solar system and even our universe.” Still, this wispy-thin atmosphere was detectable only by a probe in very close proximity to Rhea. At interstellar distances, only dense, warm, oxygen-rich atmospheres are going to be discovered anytime soon. And should one be, it would still be a powerful indicator of life.

What a wondrous golden age of astronomy we live in. An astronomer friend of mine, Doug Finkbeiner, leads a team that recently uncovered two vast energy bubbles erupting from the center of the Milky Way. Now oxygen on Rhea. There’s been nothing like it since Galileo first pointed the newly invented telescope at the sky and said,  in a rough translation from the Italian, “Holy cow! Look at that!”

The other day, I posted on the creation of bacteria that use arsenic instead of phosphorus as one of the essential building blocks of life. In the post, I wrote, “I think the true eureka moment will come when we find an exoplanet (one that orbits a star other than the sun) that has a large percentage of molecular oxygen in its atmosphere.” I noted that, so far, only Earth was known to have an atmosphere rich in oxygen, thanks to the abundance of life here.

The very next day, I learned that another heavenly body has been found to have an oxygen-rich atmosphere, and it’s right here in the dear old solar system: Saturn’s second-largest moon, Rhea. The Cassini Solstice Mission to Saturn, which has been one of the most spectacularly successful space missions ever and is still pouring forth data, has just discovered it. It recently detected an atmosphere on Rhea with densities of about 1 billion oxygen molecules and 600 million molecules of carbon dioxide per cubic foot.

This doesn’t mean there are little green Rheans running around. For one thing, it’s far too cold there for anything resembling Earth-like biochemistry to be taking place. With sunlight only about 1 percent as strong as on earth, the temperature on Rhea is about -179° Celsius (-290° Fahrenheit). For another, the atmosphere is extremely tenuous, about five trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere. The wonder is that a body as small as Rhea, only about 900 miles in diameter, has any atmosphere at all.  Our moon, which has more than twice the diameter of Rhea (and is much more dense as well; Rhea is essentially a large ice ball), has none. As one of the scientists involved said, “Rhea’s oxygen appears to come from water ice on Rhea’s surface when Saturn’s magnetic field rotates over the moon and showers it with energetic particles trapped in the magnetic field.”

The significance here, of course, is that life is obviously not the only way to produce an oxygen-rich atmosphere and that “The new results suggest that active, complex chemistry involving oxygen may be quite common throughout the solar system and even our universe.” Still, this wispy-thin atmosphere was detectable only by a probe in very close proximity to Rhea. At interstellar distances, only dense, warm, oxygen-rich atmospheres are going to be discovered anytime soon. And should one be, it would still be a powerful indicator of life.

What a wondrous golden age of astronomy we live in. An astronomer friend of mine, Doug Finkbeiner, leads a team that recently uncovered two vast energy bubbles erupting from the center of the Milky Way. Now oxygen on Rhea. There’s been nothing like it since Galileo first pointed the newly invented telescope at the sky and said,  in a rough translation from the Italian, “Holy cow! Look at that!”

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The Myth of Jewish-Only Roads

Helen Thomas is at it again.

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book,” she said at an anti-Arab-bias workshop in Detroit, “but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”

She’s right that no American would tolerate white-only roads. Israelis, likewise, would never tolerate roads for Jews only. That’s why such roads don’t exist.

The roads she’s referring to in the West Bank are Israeli, and they’re not just for Jews. Israeli Arabs can drive on them, and so can non-Jewish foreigners, including Arab and Muslim foreigners. Palestinians were once able to drive on them but have not been allowed to do so since the second intifada, when suicide bombers used them to penetrate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to massacre people.

There are also, by the way, Palestinian roads in the West Bank that Israelis can’t use.

I don’t know if Helen Thomas knows this and is lying or if she’s just an ignoramus. What I’ll bet she doesn’t know is that Arab residents of Jerusalem can use both the Israeli roads and the Palestinian roads. They’re the only people who live in the area who can do this. (Foreigners also are allowed to use both.)

This doesn’t remotely line up with her narrative of perfidious Zion. But it’s true.

Helen Thomas is at it again.

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book,” she said at an anti-Arab-bias workshop in Detroit, “but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”

She’s right that no American would tolerate white-only roads. Israelis, likewise, would never tolerate roads for Jews only. That’s why such roads don’t exist.

The roads she’s referring to in the West Bank are Israeli, and they’re not just for Jews. Israeli Arabs can drive on them, and so can non-Jewish foreigners, including Arab and Muslim foreigners. Palestinians were once able to drive on them but have not been allowed to do so since the second intifada, when suicide bombers used them to penetrate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to massacre people.

There are also, by the way, Palestinian roads in the West Bank that Israelis can’t use.

I don’t know if Helen Thomas knows this and is lying or if she’s just an ignoramus. What I’ll bet she doesn’t know is that Arab residents of Jerusalem can use both the Israeli roads and the Palestinian roads. They’re the only people who live in the area who can do this. (Foreigners also are allowed to use both.)

This doesn’t remotely line up with her narrative of perfidious Zion. But it’s true.

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Durable Solutions, Definitions, and Decency

The State Department has released an “Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy” that begins as follows:

At the end of 2009, the estimated refugee population stood at 15.2 million, with 10.5 million receiving protection or assistance from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United States actively supports efforts to provide protection, assistance, and durable solutions to refugees. …

The Overview has a lengthy discussion of “durable solutions” for the 10.5 million refugees but fails to discuss the 4.7 million others. There is a reason — one that helps explain the failure of the “peace process.”

According to the Overview, where opportunities for refugees to return to their homelands are “elusive,” the U.S. and its partners pursue “self-sufficiency and local integration in countries of asylum” — since “resettlement in third countries [is] a vital tool for … durable solutions.” With U.S. support, UNHCR last year referred refugees to 27 countries, and UNHCR says its 10.5 million number is “down 8 percent from a year earlier” — meaning UNHCR found a “durable solution” for nearly a million refugees last year alone. Each year, the number of UNHCR refugees decreases.

The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians — and every year, their number increases, since they have a separate UN organization (UNRWA) that uses a different definition of “refugee.” For Palestinians, a “refugee” includes not only people made homeless by war or political disturbance but also the descendants of such people. Once one is a Palestinian refugee, one’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren become refugees, simply by virtue of being born. The status is a hereditary right (“inalienable,” as the UN likes to say).

Since the opportunities to “return” to Israel are “elusive” (the vast majority of the 4.7 million refugees never lived in Israel in the first place, so the word “return” is itself inapposite) and since no one is working on the “durable solutions” used for the rest of the world’s refugees, the number of refugees simply increases every year. It was about 700,000 in 1948 — and is nearly seven times that number today, by definition.

Most of the 4.7 million refugees live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria — Arab countries that for more than 60 years have refused to resettle their Arab brothers and sisters, including the ones who have lived there all their lives. In Lebanon, they lack not only the right of citizenship but even such basic human rights as the ability to own property or attend school. Assistance is provided by UNRWA, which each year makes “emergency appeals” for its growing number of “refugees” housed in squalid camps.

The special Palestinian definition is applied in a one-sided manner: if the term “refugee” includes the descendants of Palestinians, then the descendants of the 856,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries as a result of the 1948 war are also “refugees” — but none of them has been compensated for the family homes and properties taken by the Arab states; nor has Israel been compensated for resettling those refugees; nor can they or the 1 percent of Israel’s population killed in the 1948 war (the demographic equivalent of 3 million Americans today) be given a “right of return.”

The Arabs bear the historical and moral responsibility for the refugees their war created: there would not have been a single Palestinian refugee if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s 1947 two-state solution; and there would be few if any Palestinian refugees today — under any definition — if the Arab states were required to provide the “durable solutions” that decency demands. The tragic irony is that the internationally funded culture of dependency run by UNRWA is now itself the biggest barrier to any realistic peace process, as Michael Bernstam argues in his compelling article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat.”

The State Department has released an “Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy” that begins as follows:

At the end of 2009, the estimated refugee population stood at 15.2 million, with 10.5 million receiving protection or assistance from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United States actively supports efforts to provide protection, assistance, and durable solutions to refugees. …

The Overview has a lengthy discussion of “durable solutions” for the 10.5 million refugees but fails to discuss the 4.7 million others. There is a reason — one that helps explain the failure of the “peace process.”

According to the Overview, where opportunities for refugees to return to their homelands are “elusive,” the U.S. and its partners pursue “self-sufficiency and local integration in countries of asylum” — since “resettlement in third countries [is] a vital tool for … durable solutions.” With U.S. support, UNHCR last year referred refugees to 27 countries, and UNHCR says its 10.5 million number is “down 8 percent from a year earlier” — meaning UNHCR found a “durable solution” for nearly a million refugees last year alone. Each year, the number of UNHCR refugees decreases.

The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians — and every year, their number increases, since they have a separate UN organization (UNRWA) that uses a different definition of “refugee.” For Palestinians, a “refugee” includes not only people made homeless by war or political disturbance but also the descendants of such people. Once one is a Palestinian refugee, one’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren become refugees, simply by virtue of being born. The status is a hereditary right (“inalienable,” as the UN likes to say).

Since the opportunities to “return” to Israel are “elusive” (the vast majority of the 4.7 million refugees never lived in Israel in the first place, so the word “return” is itself inapposite) and since no one is working on the “durable solutions” used for the rest of the world’s refugees, the number of refugees simply increases every year. It was about 700,000 in 1948 — and is nearly seven times that number today, by definition.

Most of the 4.7 million refugees live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria — Arab countries that for more than 60 years have refused to resettle their Arab brothers and sisters, including the ones who have lived there all their lives. In Lebanon, they lack not only the right of citizenship but even such basic human rights as the ability to own property or attend school. Assistance is provided by UNRWA, which each year makes “emergency appeals” for its growing number of “refugees” housed in squalid camps.

The special Palestinian definition is applied in a one-sided manner: if the term “refugee” includes the descendants of Palestinians, then the descendants of the 856,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries as a result of the 1948 war are also “refugees” — but none of them has been compensated for the family homes and properties taken by the Arab states; nor has Israel been compensated for resettling those refugees; nor can they or the 1 percent of Israel’s population killed in the 1948 war (the demographic equivalent of 3 million Americans today) be given a “right of return.”

The Arabs bear the historical and moral responsibility for the refugees their war created: there would not have been a single Palestinian refugee if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s 1947 two-state solution; and there would be few if any Palestinian refugees today — under any definition — if the Arab states were required to provide the “durable solutions” that decency demands. The tragic irony is that the internationally funded culture of dependency run by UNRWA is now itself the biggest barrier to any realistic peace process, as Michael Bernstam argues in his compelling article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat.”

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