Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 14, 2011

The Unfolding Catastrophe

The rolling disaster in Japan — from the earthquake to the tsunami and now to the nuclear horror — gives us a true sense of what it is to be powerless, truly powerless, in the face of forces that cannot be controlled. Brilliant engineers are doing everything they can imagine to contain the nightmare and reduce its effects. The people of Japan are responding with heroic restraint. And now, perhaps, we can only pray.

The same, however, is not true of the roiling changes underway in the Middle East, and the struggles in Libya and Bahrain. There we — we Americans — are not powerless. There we can help effect change for the better. But we’re not.

The rolling disaster in Japan — from the earthquake to the tsunami and now to the nuclear horror — gives us a true sense of what it is to be powerless, truly powerless, in the face of forces that cannot be controlled. Brilliant engineers are doing everything they can imagine to contain the nightmare and reduce its effects. The people of Japan are responding with heroic restraint. And now, perhaps, we can only pray.

The same, however, is not true of the roiling changes underway in the Middle East, and the struggles in Libya and Bahrain. There we — we Americans — are not powerless. There we can help effect change for the better. But we’re not.

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Old Ideologies Never Die, but They Do Fade Away

The disintegration of a reigning worldview is never pretty, but it can be a cause for optimism. This thought has become more insistent over the last 72 hours; its urgency peaked with Stephen Walt’s formulaic, utterly predictable response to the appalling massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar. At line 10 of his post, “On the murders at Itamar,” the litany begins:

Let us therefore condemn every Israeli government since 1967, for actively promoting the illegal effort to colonize these lands.

In a different time, Walt’s salvo might have provoked galvanizing indignation. As it is, the reaction one has is, “Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got?” The foolish banalities of his reflexive bromides are so stark that they render Walt’s opinions harmless. They have no power to anger, convict, or disturb; they have no power at all. The most apposite response to them is the all-purpose solicitude of the adult women of my childhood, who would have said, with quizzical but determined kindness, “Poor Stephen Walt. Bless his heart.”

Similar revelations have been piling up. In the wake of the earthquake off Japan (now upgraded by analysts to a magnitude 9.0), advocates of global-warming theory rushed to tie this tectonic event to “climate change.” The themes of the modern left have never seemed so much like empty, talismanic incantations. Their impotence may have reached a crescendo with the prosaic state-government confrontation in Wisconsin. The coalitions of the left deployed their regiments in full panoply, invoking every political trick and emotional buzzword, but in the end, reality was stronger. The mild-mannered, tentative Republican legislature had to do the politically unthinkable — act without the absent Democratic minority — because there is nothing left in the public till. Without intending to, the Wisconsin GOP demonstrated that the public-agency sinecures of progressivism are not sacrosanct. Read More

The disintegration of a reigning worldview is never pretty, but it can be a cause for optimism. This thought has become more insistent over the last 72 hours; its urgency peaked with Stephen Walt’s formulaic, utterly predictable response to the appalling massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar. At line 10 of his post, “On the murders at Itamar,” the litany begins:

Let us therefore condemn every Israeli government since 1967, for actively promoting the illegal effort to colonize these lands.

In a different time, Walt’s salvo might have provoked galvanizing indignation. As it is, the reaction one has is, “Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got?” The foolish banalities of his reflexive bromides are so stark that they render Walt’s opinions harmless. They have no power to anger, convict, or disturb; they have no power at all. The most apposite response to them is the all-purpose solicitude of the adult women of my childhood, who would have said, with quizzical but determined kindness, “Poor Stephen Walt. Bless his heart.”

Similar revelations have been piling up. In the wake of the earthquake off Japan (now upgraded by analysts to a magnitude 9.0), advocates of global-warming theory rushed to tie this tectonic event to “climate change.” The themes of the modern left have never seemed so much like empty, talismanic incantations. Their impotence may have reached a crescendo with the prosaic state-government confrontation in Wisconsin. The coalitions of the left deployed their regiments in full panoply, invoking every political trick and emotional buzzword, but in the end, reality was stronger. The mild-mannered, tentative Republican legislature had to do the politically unthinkable — act without the absent Democratic minority — because there is nothing left in the public till. Without intending to, the Wisconsin GOP demonstrated that the public-agency sinecures of progressivism are not sacrosanct.

That may not seem like a big loss of territory for America’s ideological left, but it’s a material loss nonetheless. The end of the Cold War showed us the demise of a long-reigning ideology, not in a single, fiery paroxysm but gradually, through losing political territory a little bit at a time. When the noise reached its highest pitch, conditions had already begun to change.

Similar patterns appear likely today, as the hollowness at the core of the hard left’s ideology becomes more and more obvious to our neighbors and countrymen. The ideologues may not wise up, but I’m optimistic that Americans will. Radical-progressive leftism may, like Soviet socialism, be thematic to the last. But it will lose its customers and political branding power. Exposed as bankrupt and unconvincing, it will be unable to outmaneuver reality — which always shows up with the strongest regiment.

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The O’Keefe Video Controversy, and Why it Doesn’t Matter

Last week, a video producer at the Blaze did what every other political reporter wished they’d done first. He sat down and analyzed the raw footage of the James O’Keefe NPR sting, finding several inconsistencies, oddities, and misleading edits in the process.

Liberals immediately declared the NPR sting “debunked,” while some conservatives fervently defended the accuracy of O’Keefe’s editing.

Was NPR executive Ron Schiller actually quoting the condescending opinion of the Tea Party that two anonymous prominent Republican had recently expressed to him? Or was he simply using that as a rhetorical tactic to convey his own thoughts? And when he nodded and smiled at offensive comments made by the fake donors, was he indicating that he agreed with them or just trying to be polite?

While Schiller is clearly voicing his opinion in certain parts of the video — for example, when he says he believes there is an anti-intellectual movement in the Republican Party — some of his other statements and expressions are more ambiguous. We can spend time trying to interpret them, but it’ll probably be futile, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Schiller’s inappropriate remarks certainly don’t reflect well on NPR, but they also aren’t a solid argument for taking away its government funding.

More videos will be released, and they may still prove that NPR has been doing sketchy things with its finances or its news coverage. If so, that will add fuel to the campaign to defund the organization. But the conservative movement had a great argument for ending subsidies to NPR before O’Keefe’s sting operation took place, and the Schiller video — poorly edited or not — isn’t going to change that.

Last week, a video producer at the Blaze did what every other political reporter wished they’d done first. He sat down and analyzed the raw footage of the James O’Keefe NPR sting, finding several inconsistencies, oddities, and misleading edits in the process.

Liberals immediately declared the NPR sting “debunked,” while some conservatives fervently defended the accuracy of O’Keefe’s editing.

Was NPR executive Ron Schiller actually quoting the condescending opinion of the Tea Party that two anonymous prominent Republican had recently expressed to him? Or was he simply using that as a rhetorical tactic to convey his own thoughts? And when he nodded and smiled at offensive comments made by the fake donors, was he indicating that he agreed with them or just trying to be polite?

While Schiller is clearly voicing his opinion in certain parts of the video — for example, when he says he believes there is an anti-intellectual movement in the Republican Party — some of his other statements and expressions are more ambiguous. We can spend time trying to interpret them, but it’ll probably be futile, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Schiller’s inappropriate remarks certainly don’t reflect well on NPR, but they also aren’t a solid argument for taking away its government funding.

More videos will be released, and they may still prove that NPR has been doing sketchy things with its finances or its news coverage. If so, that will add fuel to the campaign to defund the organization. But the conservative movement had a great argument for ending subsidies to NPR before O’Keefe’s sting operation took place, and the Schiller video — poorly edited or not — isn’t going to change that.

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David Remnick’s Creative Diplomacy

In the article Alana noted earlier, New Yorker editor David Remnick writes that “commentators” have been waiting “for years” for Benjamin Netanyahu to “transcend his own history” — but that this is a “delusion,” since Netanyahu has a “stubborn ideological legacy” that “blocks such a transformation” and also has an “ingrained wariness” about the U.S. that makes him “smug and lacking in diplomatic creativity.”

Remnick ends with an idea: the U.S. president, a “communicator of enormous gifts,” should visit Israel and present a peace plan. He foresees neither side accepting the plan right away, but it would be a way to show that the U.S. “stands” with those who “accept the moral necessity of a Palestinian state and understands the dire cost of Israeli isolation.”

Talk about diplomatic creativity! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Let’s flesh this idea out. Maybe the president could propose that Israel offer the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and about 95 percent of the West Bank (100 percent with a land swap), with a capital in Jerusalem and an international fund to resettle refugees in the Arab states whose war created them (and who have refused to grant them citizenship for 63 years). There could also be a right of return to the Palestinian state.

It might take time for the Palestinians to agree to this idea. But if they don’t accept the offer of a state the first time, there could be a second offer; if they don’t accept the second offer, there could be a third; if they don’t accept the third, there could be a fourth negotiating process (if they would agree to come to it). In between offers, Israel could turn over half the putative state to the Palestinians so they could demonstrate their ability to live side by side in peace and security.

The beauty of this idea is that it would demonstrate that Israel’s concern about turning over land to the Palestinians is just a stubborn ideological legacy that blocks a transformation that would enable it to transcend its own history and overcome the ingrained wariness of its democratically elected leader. And best of all: the idea does not depend on the leaden prose of a magazine article; all it needs is a communicator of enormous gifts.

In the article Alana noted earlier, New Yorker editor David Remnick writes that “commentators” have been waiting “for years” for Benjamin Netanyahu to “transcend his own history” — but that this is a “delusion,” since Netanyahu has a “stubborn ideological legacy” that “blocks such a transformation” and also has an “ingrained wariness” about the U.S. that makes him “smug and lacking in diplomatic creativity.”

Remnick ends with an idea: the U.S. president, a “communicator of enormous gifts,” should visit Israel and present a peace plan. He foresees neither side accepting the plan right away, but it would be a way to show that the U.S. “stands” with those who “accept the moral necessity of a Palestinian state and understands the dire cost of Israeli isolation.”

Talk about diplomatic creativity! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Let’s flesh this idea out. Maybe the president could propose that Israel offer the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and about 95 percent of the West Bank (100 percent with a land swap), with a capital in Jerusalem and an international fund to resettle refugees in the Arab states whose war created them (and who have refused to grant them citizenship for 63 years). There could also be a right of return to the Palestinian state.

It might take time for the Palestinians to agree to this idea. But if they don’t accept the offer of a state the first time, there could be a second offer; if they don’t accept the second offer, there could be a third; if they don’t accept the third, there could be a fourth negotiating process (if they would agree to come to it). In between offers, Israel could turn over half the putative state to the Palestinians so they could demonstrate their ability to live side by side in peace and security.

The beauty of this idea is that it would demonstrate that Israel’s concern about turning over land to the Palestinians is just a stubborn ideological legacy that blocks a transformation that would enable it to transcend its own history and overcome the ingrained wariness of its democratically elected leader. And best of all: the idea does not depend on the leaden prose of a magazine article; all it needs is a communicator of enormous gifts.

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Re: The Ethics of Surreptitious Taping

The ethics of the sting that stung NPR last week have been much discussed in the blogosphere. Ira Stoll thinks it’s flat-out wrong, calling it the equivalent of the liberal blogger who impersonated David Koch in hopes of entrapping Governor Scott Walker. James Taranto sees a clear distinction:

… we’d draw two distinctions between the Walker prank and the NPR one: First, the guy who prank-called Walker claimed to be an actual person, so that there was a second victim of his prank. Second and more important, as far as we are aware, the governor did not actually say anything that was worse than slightly embarrassing. You can’t fool an honest man.

Both Stoll and Taranto admit that James O’Keefe’s tactics violate journalistic ethics. But while O’Keefe calls himself a “citizen journalist,” he is not any such thing. Journalists gather and disseminate news. O’Keefe is an agent provocateur. He was trying to make news. And unlike the blogger who called Governor Walker and found an honest man, he did so. Of course, there’s a very slippery slope between giving someone an opportunity to prove himself a fool or a hypocrite and entrapping him into doing so.

In this day and age, when TV cameras can be as small as a fountain pen, security cameras are everywhere, and anyone can be wired simply by turning his iPhone to voice notes, it is plain common sense to assume that every mike is hot, every conversation on the record.  Then if you’re an honest man (“I always tell the truth when I can, it’s easier to remember”), there is little to fear.

About 15 years ago, as a referendum on Quebec independence was about to be held, a Montreal disk jockey called Queen Elizabeth while on the air. He had a remarkable ability to sound like the Canadian prime minister of the day, Jean Chrétien, who talked out of the side of his mouth, à la W. C. Fields. Astonishingly, the DJ actually got the Queen on live radio (one imagines heads rolled at the Palace shortly thereafter). By far the most interesting thing about the whole episode was that the Queen, summoned to the telephone from whatever she had been doing, was fully on top of the matter at hand, clearly understood the subtleties of Canadian politics, and gave the man she thought was her prime minister very sensible advice. It was, to put it mildly, an impressive performance.

So sometimes the “victim” of the prank can turn out to be the big winner.

The ethics of the sting that stung NPR last week have been much discussed in the blogosphere. Ira Stoll thinks it’s flat-out wrong, calling it the equivalent of the liberal blogger who impersonated David Koch in hopes of entrapping Governor Scott Walker. James Taranto sees a clear distinction:

… we’d draw two distinctions between the Walker prank and the NPR one: First, the guy who prank-called Walker claimed to be an actual person, so that there was a second victim of his prank. Second and more important, as far as we are aware, the governor did not actually say anything that was worse than slightly embarrassing. You can’t fool an honest man.

Both Stoll and Taranto admit that James O’Keefe’s tactics violate journalistic ethics. But while O’Keefe calls himself a “citizen journalist,” he is not any such thing. Journalists gather and disseminate news. O’Keefe is an agent provocateur. He was trying to make news. And unlike the blogger who called Governor Walker and found an honest man, he did so. Of course, there’s a very slippery slope between giving someone an opportunity to prove himself a fool or a hypocrite and entrapping him into doing so.

In this day and age, when TV cameras can be as small as a fountain pen, security cameras are everywhere, and anyone can be wired simply by turning his iPhone to voice notes, it is plain common sense to assume that every mike is hot, every conversation on the record.  Then if you’re an honest man (“I always tell the truth when I can, it’s easier to remember”), there is little to fear.

About 15 years ago, as a referendum on Quebec independence was about to be held, a Montreal disk jockey called Queen Elizabeth while on the air. He had a remarkable ability to sound like the Canadian prime minister of the day, Jean Chrétien, who talked out of the side of his mouth, à la W. C. Fields. Astonishingly, the DJ actually got the Queen on live radio (one imagines heads rolled at the Palace shortly thereafter). By far the most interesting thing about the whole episode was that the Queen, summoned to the telephone from whatever she had been doing, was fully on top of the matter at hand, clearly understood the subtleties of Canadian politics, and gave the man she thought was her prime minister very sensible advice. It was, to put it mildly, an impressive performance.

So sometimes the “victim” of the prank can turn out to be the big winner.

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Obama Hesitates as Saudis Send in Troops to Quell Protests

While President Obama dithers about a military commitment in Libya, our Saudi allies aren’t standing still. No, they’re not sending troops to help the Libyan rebels — or any other rebels. They are sending an armored column into Bahrain to quell the protests there. Shades of 1848, when Habsburg Austria and Romanoff Russia acted as the “policemen of Europe” by sending troops to put down liberal and nationalist revolts.

This is yet another challenge to the “Arab spring” and implicitly to U.S. power. One might speculate that the Saudis have been encouraged by U.S. inaction while Qaddafi slaughters his own rebels. Certainly it is hard to imagine that the Saudis, who are so dependent on us for their own protection, would act if they feared a serious backlash from President Obama.

Obama has not exactly been out front in backing the Bahraini protesters, but he has insisted on nonviolence. As a recent White House statement put it: “We urge the government of Bahrain to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force.” Asking for Saudi armed intervention does not sound like the way to pursue “peaceful and meaningful dialogue.”

While President Obama dithers about a military commitment in Libya, our Saudi allies aren’t standing still. No, they’re not sending troops to help the Libyan rebels — or any other rebels. They are sending an armored column into Bahrain to quell the protests there. Shades of 1848, when Habsburg Austria and Romanoff Russia acted as the “policemen of Europe” by sending troops to put down liberal and nationalist revolts.

This is yet another challenge to the “Arab spring” and implicitly to U.S. power. One might speculate that the Saudis have been encouraged by U.S. inaction while Qaddafi slaughters his own rebels. Certainly it is hard to imagine that the Saudis, who are so dependent on us for their own protection, would act if they feared a serious backlash from President Obama.

Obama has not exactly been out front in backing the Bahraini protesters, but he has insisted on nonviolence. As a recent White House statement put it: “We urge the government of Bahrain to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force.” Asking for Saudi armed intervention does not sound like the way to pursue “peaceful and meaningful dialogue.”

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The Proper Response to Terror

The murderous attack on a Jewish family in Itamar has, once again, raised the question of what is the proper response on the part of a democracy to terrorism. Israelis are justifiably outraged by the horrifying slaughter of Udi Fogel, 36; Ruth Fogel, 35; and their children, Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and Hadas, three months. But today’s decision by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to the killings by announcing that it would build hundreds of new apartment units inside the major West Bank settlement blocs is being dismissed by some critics of Israel as pointless revenge intended to assuage the anger of the settlers and a hindrance to the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The assumptions behind these criticisms hold that the purpose of such terrorist acts is to sabotage the peace talks and that building new Jewish homes in the territories — even in existing Jewish towns and neighborhoods that everyone from the Bush administration to the Palestinian Authority has conceded would be part of Israel in any peace agreement — will only foment more hatred and terrorism. According to this point of view, Jewish home-building is part of a cycle of violence that obstructs the path to peace. For peace process proponents, the proper way for Israel to respond to such attacks is to avoid antagonizing the Palestinians and to redouble efforts to entice them to make peace, which is to say to make more concessions.

But the history of Israel’s struggle with the Arabs contradicts these assumptions. Read More

The murderous attack on a Jewish family in Itamar has, once again, raised the question of what is the proper response on the part of a democracy to terrorism. Israelis are justifiably outraged by the horrifying slaughter of Udi Fogel, 36; Ruth Fogel, 35; and their children, Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and Hadas, three months. But today’s decision by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to the killings by announcing that it would build hundreds of new apartment units inside the major West Bank settlement blocs is being dismissed by some critics of Israel as pointless revenge intended to assuage the anger of the settlers and a hindrance to the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The assumptions behind these criticisms hold that the purpose of such terrorist acts is to sabotage the peace talks and that building new Jewish homes in the territories — even in existing Jewish towns and neighborhoods that everyone from the Bush administration to the Palestinian Authority has conceded would be part of Israel in any peace agreement — will only foment more hatred and terrorism. According to this point of view, Jewish home-building is part of a cycle of violence that obstructs the path to peace. For peace process proponents, the proper way for Israel to respond to such attacks is to avoid antagonizing the Palestinians and to redouble efforts to entice them to make peace, which is to say to make more concessions.

But the history of Israel’s struggle with the Arabs contradicts these assumptions.

First, it is simply wrong to assume that Palestinian attacks on Jews are in some way “provoked” by Israeli actions, unless one is prepared to accept the idea that the mere presence of Jews in the country is so inherently humiliating to Palestinian Arabs (as some accounts of the Itamar massacre were worded) that a violent response is in some way justifiable or at least understandable. It is a simple but unfortunate fact that Palestinian political culture glorifies anti-Jewish terror in such a way as to make such acts not merely acceptable but the currency on which Palestinian political movements base their credibility. So long as such violence carries no political price, we can expect it to continue. While those actions that enhance the chances of peace are obviously in everyone’s best interests, passivity in the face of terror does not strengthen Palestinian moderates; it weakens them.

When attacked, any country, even the State of Israel, has a right and a duty to respond. Of course, the first response must be in terms of military action to interdict terrorists and to wipe out their bases. Building homes in established Jewish communities such as Gush Etzion won’t accomplish that. But it does make it clear to the Palestinians that every act of terror will have a price tag attached to it. Though Netanyahu’s decision won’t convince Hamas and its fellow travelers to lay down their arms, it will impress upon most Palestinians that a policy of violence is not going to convince Israel to give up the territories. Seen in that context, Netanyahu’s announcement may actually do more to bring the Palestinians to their senses and thus enhance the chances of peace than the Israel-bashing sessions at the United Nations and elsewhere.

Most of all, it should be understood that acts such as the murder of the Fogels do not occur in a Palestinian political vacuum. It should be noted that yesterday, while 20,000 Israelis attended the funeral of the Itamar victims, members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction celebrated the memory of the perpetrator of another such crime. Dalal Mughrabi, the leader of a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road in which 37 Israelis, including 13 children, were murdered in cold blood, was honored yesterday by the naming of the town square in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, in her memory. So long as the Palestinians continue to lionize those who murder Jews, atrocities are bound to follow.

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How Is Prison Life Actually Going for Bradley Manning?

There’s been a lot of hysteria over the alleged “abuse” Manning has been forced to endure in a military detention center. The Pentagon has e-mailed the Cable’s Josh Rogin to clarify how Manning has been treated. And considering that Manning is charged with the despicable crime of being a traitor to his own country, it sounds like life is pretty good for him in the brig.

According to the Pentagon, Manning is being kept in a “single-occupancy cell, like all of the other detainees.” He’s being held in the “same quarters section with other pre-trial detainees.” He has access to TV and newspapers and is allowed exercise time; he receives visitors, can write letters, make phone calls, and “routinely meets with doctors and his attorney.” All in all, “PFC Manning is being treated just like every other detainee in the brig,” says the Pentagon.

Yes, he is considered a maximum custody detainee — but that’s in his own self-interest. He’s been charged with aiding the enemy, not exactly something that would endear him to his fellow soldiers in detention. Calling on the military to lower his custody status is akin to welcoming physical attacks against him.

The Pentagon also responded to claims that Manning has been forced to stand naked in his cell:

Also, there is no “daily disrobing and various other humiliations.” In recent days, as the result of concerns for PFC Manning’s personal safety, his undergarments were taken from him during sleeping hours. PFC Manning at all times had a bed and a blanket to cover himself. He was not made to stand naked for morning count … but on one day, he chose to do so. There were no female personnel present at the time. PFC Manning has since been issued a garment to sleep in at night. He is clothed in a standard jumpsuit during the day.

The panic from the left over Manning’s “mistreatment” is nothing more than a pose. His supporters don’t believe he should be in detention in the first place, and the sudden concern about “abuse” in prison is just a way to put pressure on the Pentagon without saying this directly.

There’s been a lot of hysteria over the alleged “abuse” Manning has been forced to endure in a military detention center. The Pentagon has e-mailed the Cable’s Josh Rogin to clarify how Manning has been treated. And considering that Manning is charged with the despicable crime of being a traitor to his own country, it sounds like life is pretty good for him in the brig.

According to the Pentagon, Manning is being kept in a “single-occupancy cell, like all of the other detainees.” He’s being held in the “same quarters section with other pre-trial detainees.” He has access to TV and newspapers and is allowed exercise time; he receives visitors, can write letters, make phone calls, and “routinely meets with doctors and his attorney.” All in all, “PFC Manning is being treated just like every other detainee in the brig,” says the Pentagon.

Yes, he is considered a maximum custody detainee — but that’s in his own self-interest. He’s been charged with aiding the enemy, not exactly something that would endear him to his fellow soldiers in detention. Calling on the military to lower his custody status is akin to welcoming physical attacks against him.

The Pentagon also responded to claims that Manning has been forced to stand naked in his cell:

Also, there is no “daily disrobing and various other humiliations.” In recent days, as the result of concerns for PFC Manning’s personal safety, his undergarments were taken from him during sleeping hours. PFC Manning at all times had a bed and a blanket to cover himself. He was not made to stand naked for morning count … but on one day, he chose to do so. There were no female personnel present at the time. PFC Manning has since been issued a garment to sleep in at night. He is clothed in a standard jumpsuit during the day.

The panic from the left over Manning’s “mistreatment” is nothing more than a pose. His supporters don’t believe he should be in detention in the first place, and the sudden concern about “abuse” in prison is just a way to put pressure on the Pentagon without saying this directly.

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The Palestinian Authority, Still Celebrating Terrorism

Palestinian officials such as Mahmoud Abbas have put on a convincing show of disgust over the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar. Today Abbas said that the attack was a “despicable act” that was “inhuman and immoral.” But are these genuinely felt statements and accurate representations of Palestinian rejection of terrorism, or are they cynical attempts at relieving temporary political and media pressure?

We know that Abbas and the PA are not credible — and that their supporters in various governments and in the Western media are giving them a free pass — because of how they treat terrorism when it is not on the front pages of newspapers. The Israeli government is trying to get that message across by releasing an “incitement index,” a compilation of recent official Palestinian celebrations of terrorism.

From the incitement index, we learn that only a few days ago, one of Mahmoud Abbas’s senior advisers called for the naming of a square in an Arab town in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a leader of the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978, in which close to 40 Israeli civilians were burned alive in a hijacked bus; a few days before that, the PA’s official newspaper announced that a youth club in Ramallah would hold a soccer tournament in honor of Wafa Idris, a Fatah suicide bomber who used a Palestinian ambulance to enter Israel; and a few days before that, official PA television again celebrated Dalal Mughrabi as part of a “Women as Exemplars” program (over the summer, a number of children’s summer camps were also named after her); and a few days before that, the governor of Jenin awarded $2,000 to the family of a Fatah suicide bomber.

That is all merely in the past two months. The list goes on at nauseating length, documenting the incontrovertible fact that the Palestinian Authority is very much still in the terrorism game — and, it must be added, all while funded by the United States and European governments. The incitement index raises troubling questions: Isn’t it time for Congress to hold hearings on the use of U.S. funds by the Palestinian Authority to promote terrorism?

It is also long past time that U.S. officials asked an even more important question of their Palestinian counterparts: Why do you denounce terrorism that happened a few days ago, but celebrate terrorism that happened a few years ago? Does the passage of time transform murder from a “despicable act,” as Abbas said today, into a cause for celebration? It is clear once again that Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are simply playing their old game — criticizing terrorism in English while glorifying it in Arabic. Israel cannot make peace with people who do that.

Palestinian officials such as Mahmoud Abbas have put on a convincing show of disgust over the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar. Today Abbas said that the attack was a “despicable act” that was “inhuman and immoral.” But are these genuinely felt statements and accurate representations of Palestinian rejection of terrorism, or are they cynical attempts at relieving temporary political and media pressure?

We know that Abbas and the PA are not credible — and that their supporters in various governments and in the Western media are giving them a free pass — because of how they treat terrorism when it is not on the front pages of newspapers. The Israeli government is trying to get that message across by releasing an “incitement index,” a compilation of recent official Palestinian celebrations of terrorism.

From the incitement index, we learn that only a few days ago, one of Mahmoud Abbas’s senior advisers called for the naming of a square in an Arab town in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a leader of the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978, in which close to 40 Israeli civilians were burned alive in a hijacked bus; a few days before that, the PA’s official newspaper announced that a youth club in Ramallah would hold a soccer tournament in honor of Wafa Idris, a Fatah suicide bomber who used a Palestinian ambulance to enter Israel; and a few days before that, official PA television again celebrated Dalal Mughrabi as part of a “Women as Exemplars” program (over the summer, a number of children’s summer camps were also named after her); and a few days before that, the governor of Jenin awarded $2,000 to the family of a Fatah suicide bomber.

That is all merely in the past two months. The list goes on at nauseating length, documenting the incontrovertible fact that the Palestinian Authority is very much still in the terrorism game — and, it must be added, all while funded by the United States and European governments. The incitement index raises troubling questions: Isn’t it time for Congress to hold hearings on the use of U.S. funds by the Palestinian Authority to promote terrorism?

It is also long past time that U.S. officials asked an even more important question of their Palestinian counterparts: Why do you denounce terrorism that happened a few days ago, but celebrate terrorism that happened a few years ago? Does the passage of time transform murder from a “despicable act,” as Abbas said today, into a cause for celebration? It is clear once again that Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are simply playing their old game — criticizing terrorism in English while glorifying it in Arabic. Israel cannot make peace with people who do that.

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Answering Andy McCarthy

Andy McCarthy, responding to a post by me, writes this:

No serious person I know is saying Muslims aren’t up to democracy (and what we’re talking about here is a Muslim issue more than an Arab issue). This is not a question of ignorance or incompetence. They understand the principles of our democracy. They just don’t want them. Any democracy worth promoting is a democracy that runs afoul of key sharia-law principles. Muslims don’t want our democracy because they believe their civilization — including its law and desired political structure — is superior. I think they are terribly wrong about that, but it’s a considered choice and one that is theirs to make. What’s condescending is to insist that we know better than they do what’s good for them.

Andy is bright and knowledgeable, but in this instance, let me offer a dissent from his claims, which I believe are far too sweeping.

In arguing that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, Andy has to overlook millions of Muslim Americans, the vast majority of whom are quite happy with American democracy and fit in perfectly well. Moreover, his claim is undermined by hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world — including in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on the planet and its third-largest democracy; in India, the world’s largest democracy and home to the largest Muslim-minority population in the world (in excess of 150 million); and Iraq, the only functioning Arab democracy (it includes multiparty elections and a relatively free press). There is also Mali and Turkey, which until recently was the only democratic secular state in the world with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. And during the recent historic uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, what has been so striking are the cries not for a theocracy and the imposition of sharia law but rather for emancipation and political liberalization.

Several caveats are necessary here. Democracies with majority-Muslim populations have different levels of maturity and stability; some are imperfect, and others are fragile. Some, like Turkey, are heading in the wrong direction. And Islamists will try to hijack the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. On a more fundamental level, there are factors within Islam that have inhibited the widespread development of liberal societies. James Q. Wilson discusses some of them here and here. “Separating religion from politics was the key to the development of liberal nations in the West,” according to Wilson, “and it will be the key to the emergence of such states in the Muslim world.” Read More

Andy McCarthy, responding to a post by me, writes this:

No serious person I know is saying Muslims aren’t up to democracy (and what we’re talking about here is a Muslim issue more than an Arab issue). This is not a question of ignorance or incompetence. They understand the principles of our democracy. They just don’t want them. Any democracy worth promoting is a democracy that runs afoul of key sharia-law principles. Muslims don’t want our democracy because they believe their civilization — including its law and desired political structure — is superior. I think they are terribly wrong about that, but it’s a considered choice and one that is theirs to make. What’s condescending is to insist that we know better than they do what’s good for them.

Andy is bright and knowledgeable, but in this instance, let me offer a dissent from his claims, which I believe are far too sweeping.

In arguing that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, Andy has to overlook millions of Muslim Americans, the vast majority of whom are quite happy with American democracy and fit in perfectly well. Moreover, his claim is undermined by hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world — including in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on the planet and its third-largest democracy; in India, the world’s largest democracy and home to the largest Muslim-minority population in the world (in excess of 150 million); and Iraq, the only functioning Arab democracy (it includes multiparty elections and a relatively free press). There is also Mali and Turkey, which until recently was the only democratic secular state in the world with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. And during the recent historic uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, what has been so striking are the cries not for a theocracy and the imposition of sharia law but rather for emancipation and political liberalization.

Several caveats are necessary here. Democracies with majority-Muslim populations have different levels of maturity and stability; some are imperfect, and others are fragile. Some, like Turkey, are heading in the wrong direction. And Islamists will try to hijack the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. On a more fundamental level, there are factors within Islam that have inhibited the widespread development of liberal societies. James Q. Wilson discusses some of them here and here. “Separating religion from politics was the key to the development of liberal nations in the West,” according to Wilson, “and it will be the key to the emergence of such states in the Muslim world.”

Islam faces greater theological hurdles than Christianity when it comes to the emergence of liberal societies, in part because Muhammad and Jesus represented such dramatically different approaches to the relationship between faith and the state. Still, theological authorities in Islamic countries, like the Grand Mufti of Egypt, make distinctions between the ideals of sharia and their seventh-century cultural application. So while militant Islam is incompatible with a liberal society, it is not — as McCarthy seems to argue — the only possible and proper expression of Islam.

Andy bases his argument on the assertion that all Muslims want to bring about and live under sharia law. But that’s empirically false. Undoubtedly some Muslims/Islamic movements do, while other Muslims want to live under some type of modified sharia (sharia, after all, has multiple interpretations and implementations). But many other Muslims around the world don’t want to live under sharia and certainly don’t support government efforts to bring it about. In this regard, it is telling that there are actually very few nations whose governments are based on a fanatical interpretation of sharia law, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. And even they don’t reflect the will of many of their own people (see the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009).

There is also this: according to a December 2, 2010, Pew Global Attitudes Project report, “Many Muslims see a struggle between groups that want to modernize their countries and Islamic fundamentalists, and in five of the seven countries [Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt, and Jordan] where the question was asked, more of those who see a struggle identify with the modernizers than with fundamentalists.” [emphasis added]

Boiled down to its essence, Andy’s argument, at least as I understand it, is that everywhere and always Islam = sharia = anti-democratic. This formulation is neat and clean. It’s also, I believe, wrong. It simply doesn’t add up in the light of global facts.

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As Turkey Embraces Islamism, Turkish Women’s Staggering Inequality Grows

Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S. and the chief spin artist for the Islamist and anti-Semitic government in Ankara, tweets first that “In Turkey, women’s suffrage was first recognized in 1930, earlier than many other European countries such as France, Spain and Belgium,” and second that “In Turkey, women make up 39% of academicians, 44% of undergraduate and 46.8 of postgraduate students are women.”

Alas, Tan forgot many more recent statistics:

  • The murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent under the current government.
  • Only two of Turkey’s 26 ministers are women; those two cover education and women’s affairs.
  • None of the ruling party’s undersecretaries are women.
  • Only 3.5 percent of deputy undersecretaries are women.
  • Less than 6 percent of director-generals are women.
  • Less than 0.5 percent of regional directors are women.
  • Just over 2 percent of provincial directors are women.
  • None of the top finance officials are women.
  • None of the top Justice Ministry officials are women.
  • The UN Development Program ranked Turkey 101 out of 109 in women’s empowerment.
  • Turkey boasts 26 women’s shelters; not good for a country of more than 70 million.
  • 37 percent of Turkish marriages involve child brides.

Women were once equal in Turkey, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip “I am the Imam of Istanbul” Erdoğan has reversed course. Tan may promote Turkey’s progressive past as a public-relations strategy, but this is dishonest. When it comes to the present, the situation of women in Turkey is comparable not to that in Europe but rather to that in Iran or Egypt.

Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S. and the chief spin artist for the Islamist and anti-Semitic government in Ankara, tweets first that “In Turkey, women’s suffrage was first recognized in 1930, earlier than many other European countries such as France, Spain and Belgium,” and second that “In Turkey, women make up 39% of academicians, 44% of undergraduate and 46.8 of postgraduate students are women.”

Alas, Tan forgot many more recent statistics:

  • The murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent under the current government.
  • Only two of Turkey’s 26 ministers are women; those two cover education and women’s affairs.
  • None of the ruling party’s undersecretaries are women.
  • Only 3.5 percent of deputy undersecretaries are women.
  • Less than 6 percent of director-generals are women.
  • Less than 0.5 percent of regional directors are women.
  • Just over 2 percent of provincial directors are women.
  • None of the top finance officials are women.
  • None of the top Justice Ministry officials are women.
  • The UN Development Program ranked Turkey 101 out of 109 in women’s empowerment.
  • Turkey boasts 26 women’s shelters; not good for a country of more than 70 million.
  • 37 percent of Turkish marriages involve child brides.

Women were once equal in Turkey, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip “I am the Imam of Istanbul” Erdoğan has reversed course. Tan may promote Turkey’s progressive past as a public-relations strategy, but this is dishonest. When it comes to the present, the situation of women in Turkey is comparable not to that in Europe but rather to that in Iran or Egypt.

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Remnick Slams the Israel Lobby as Barrier to a Two-State Solution

New Yorker editor David Remnick, who seems to be growing increasingly disenchanted with Israel, is now blaming the absence of a peace deal almost entirely on the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups.

Remnick’s entire column ignores reality, but this Stephen Walt–esque paragraph on the “right-leaning” Israel lobby is especially noteworthy:

For decades, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and other such right-leaning groups have played an outsized role in American politics, pressuring members of Congress and Presidents with their capacity to raise money and swing elections. But Democratic Presidents in particular should recognize that these groups are hardly representative and should be met head on. Obama won seventy-eight per cent of the Jewish vote; he is more likely to lose some of that vote if he reverses his position on, say, abortion than if he tries to organize international opinion on the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, some senior members of the Administration have internalized the political restraints that they believe they are under, and cannot think beyond them. Some, like Dennis Ross, who has served five Presidents, can think only in incremental terms.

Forget the tinge of paranoia in his statement for a second. As Remnick must know (but for some reason chooses to ignore in this paragraph), it’s not only the Jews who support Israel. According to a Gallup poll from late last month, 63 percent of Americans take the Israeli side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. U.S. lawmakers don’t simply stand with Israel because Jewish lobbying groups tell them to — they do it because it’s a position that the majority of Americans believes in.

New Yorker editor David Remnick, who seems to be growing increasingly disenchanted with Israel, is now blaming the absence of a peace deal almost entirely on the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups.

Remnick’s entire column ignores reality, but this Stephen Walt–esque paragraph on the “right-leaning” Israel lobby is especially noteworthy:

For decades, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and other such right-leaning groups have played an outsized role in American politics, pressuring members of Congress and Presidents with their capacity to raise money and swing elections. But Democratic Presidents in particular should recognize that these groups are hardly representative and should be met head on. Obama won seventy-eight per cent of the Jewish vote; he is more likely to lose some of that vote if he reverses his position on, say, abortion than if he tries to organize international opinion on the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, some senior members of the Administration have internalized the political restraints that they believe they are under, and cannot think beyond them. Some, like Dennis Ross, who has served five Presidents, can think only in incremental terms.

Forget the tinge of paranoia in his statement for a second. As Remnick must know (but for some reason chooses to ignore in this paragraph), it’s not only the Jews who support Israel. According to a Gallup poll from late last month, 63 percent of Americans take the Israeli side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. U.S. lawmakers don’t simply stand with Israel because Jewish lobbying groups tell them to — they do it because it’s a position that the majority of Americans believes in.

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Israel Calls on UN to Cancel Miral Film Premiere

It looks like the screening of the anti-Israel film Miral at the UN General Assembly Hall is still set to take place tomorrow as planned. Today the Israeli government called on the UN to cancel the premiere:

In a statement, Israel accused the UN of making “a politicised decision” that showed “a lack of even-handedness”.

A UN spokesman denied a “political link” to the film, saying the General Assembly hall was “just a venue”.

“Several films have been shown at the UN,” spokesman Jean-Victor Nkolo added.

But Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Haim Waxman, said: “We are not aware of any other films with such contentious political content that have received this kind of endorsement from the president of the General Assembly.”

Yesterday, the American Jewish Committee sent a letter to the UN General Assembly president, Joseph Deiss, urging him to call off the screening.

Miral, which depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of a young Palestinian girl, has been criticized as exceptionally skewed and anti-Israel. Robert Fulford at the National Post has described the movie as “a piece of blatant propaganda.”

This decision of the UN General Assembly, which isn’t usually in the business of hosting movie premieres, is highly unusual, to say the least. But more than that, it’s a direct snub of Israel. The U.S. should join the Israelis in calling on the UN to cancel the screening.

It looks like the screening of the anti-Israel film Miral at the UN General Assembly Hall is still set to take place tomorrow as planned. Today the Israeli government called on the UN to cancel the premiere:

In a statement, Israel accused the UN of making “a politicised decision” that showed “a lack of even-handedness”.

A UN spokesman denied a “political link” to the film, saying the General Assembly hall was “just a venue”.

“Several films have been shown at the UN,” spokesman Jean-Victor Nkolo added.

But Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Haim Waxman, said: “We are not aware of any other films with such contentious political content that have received this kind of endorsement from the president of the General Assembly.”

Yesterday, the American Jewish Committee sent a letter to the UN General Assembly president, Joseph Deiss, urging him to call off the screening.

Miral, which depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of a young Palestinian girl, has been criticized as exceptionally skewed and anti-Israel. Robert Fulford at the National Post has described the movie as “a piece of blatant propaganda.”

This decision of the UN General Assembly, which isn’t usually in the business of hosting movie premieres, is highly unusual, to say the least. But more than that, it’s a direct snub of Israel. The U.S. should join the Israelis in calling on the UN to cancel the screening.

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NIF-Funded Groups Organize ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ Event

Last November, supporters of the New Israel Fund were justifiably outraged when they learned that NIF was funding groups involved with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. NIF later published its funding guidelines and stated that it would no longer finance groups that engage in BDS or that work “to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel.”

So what’s it doing funding two groups that are organizing an “Israel Apartheid Event” at Tel Aviv University later this week? Here’s the information on the event from a flier:

Tel Aviv University Student Organizations
Haq Movement, Tajamua-Balad, Jabha-Hadash, Abna-Al  Balad
With the Coalition of Women for Peace 
invite

Israel Apartheid Week 2011

Life and Struggle in Apartheid

Wednesday, 16/03/2011 Saraya Theater in Jaffa at 7 p.m.

Screening of the film “Have You Heard From Johannesburg”

Panel and Discussion with:
Director Connie Field
Dr. Nadera Shalhub Kaborkian: Apartheid – Birth and Death in Jerusalem
Researcher and Activist Janan Abdu: Apartheid in the name of Law: Political Prisoners and their Families

Two groups involved in the event, the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Mada al-Carmel, receive NIF funding. According to NGO Monitor, Mada al-Carmel co-authored the 2007 Haifa Declaration, which called for a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state,” and claims that Israel has exploited the Holocaust “at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Further, one of the speakers at the event, Dr. Nadera Shalhub Kaborkian, was a former board member of NIF and currently serves on the board of another NIF-funded group, called Gisha.

It’s commendable that NIF has released its funding guidelines to the public, but the rules obviously aren’t transparent or comprehensive enough if it’s still able to fund events like this one.

Last November, supporters of the New Israel Fund were justifiably outraged when they learned that NIF was funding groups involved with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. NIF later published its funding guidelines and stated that it would no longer finance groups that engage in BDS or that work “to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel.”

So what’s it doing funding two groups that are organizing an “Israel Apartheid Event” at Tel Aviv University later this week? Here’s the information on the event from a flier:

Tel Aviv University Student Organizations
Haq Movement, Tajamua-Balad, Jabha-Hadash, Abna-Al  Balad
With the Coalition of Women for Peace 
invite

Israel Apartheid Week 2011

Life and Struggle in Apartheid

Wednesday, 16/03/2011 Saraya Theater in Jaffa at 7 p.m.

Screening of the film “Have You Heard From Johannesburg”

Panel and Discussion with:
Director Connie Field
Dr. Nadera Shalhub Kaborkian: Apartheid – Birth and Death in Jerusalem
Researcher and Activist Janan Abdu: Apartheid in the name of Law: Political Prisoners and their Families

Two groups involved in the event, the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Mada al-Carmel, receive NIF funding. According to NGO Monitor, Mada al-Carmel co-authored the 2007 Haifa Declaration, which called for a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state,” and claims that Israel has exploited the Holocaust “at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Further, one of the speakers at the event, Dr. Nadera Shalhub Kaborkian, was a former board member of NIF and currently serves on the board of another NIF-funded group, called Gisha.

It’s commendable that NIF has released its funding guidelines to the public, but the rules obviously aren’t transparent or comprehensive enough if it’s still able to fund events like this one.

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Small Change We Can Believe In

Come April 1, the United States will have the highest corporate income tax in the developed world. On that day, Japan’s record rate will drop by 4.5 percentage points, bringing it below the United States’s rate of 39.2 percent (averaging federal and state rates). For 20 years, the United States has resisted the worldwide trend to lower corporate tax rates. In an ever more globalized economy, that’s just dumb.

There are many reasons why the United States has bucked the trend. The left, of course, has never seen a tax it didn’t like, and for a tax on corporations — a word that causes an autonomic shudder down liberal spines — that goes double. But many very large corporations don’t pay that rate. Some pay none at all. General Electric in 2010 paid 3.6 percent of its profits in federal income taxes. In 2009, GE made $10.8 billion in profits but paid no taxes at all and, indeed, received $1.1 billion in tax credits to carry forward against future earnings. GE is not alone.

The corporate tax code, like the personal one, is riddled with loopholes, and these benefit primarily the rich and powerful. General Electric, the very model of the modern global corporation and with an army of tax lawyers at its disposal, can — and does — game the system very successfully. The corporation that has 150 employees in its one plant in Des Moines cannot. And it is the latter that creates most new jobs in this country. So, as usual, liberals harm the little guy in the name of sticking it to the big guy, who is largely unstuck.

In a perfect world (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, this one is not), there would be no corporate income tax at all. Instead, the tax liability on profits would flow through to the stockholders. That way, corporations would concentrate on pretax profit — a measure of wealth creation — not after-tax profit, which is largely a measure of corporate lobbying effectiveness. But liberals and their quiet allies, the giant multinational corporations, will fight any fundamental reform of the corporate-tax status quo.

Come April 1, the United States will have the highest corporate income tax in the developed world. On that day, Japan’s record rate will drop by 4.5 percentage points, bringing it below the United States’s rate of 39.2 percent (averaging federal and state rates). For 20 years, the United States has resisted the worldwide trend to lower corporate tax rates. In an ever more globalized economy, that’s just dumb.

There are many reasons why the United States has bucked the trend. The left, of course, has never seen a tax it didn’t like, and for a tax on corporations — a word that causes an autonomic shudder down liberal spines — that goes double. But many very large corporations don’t pay that rate. Some pay none at all. General Electric in 2010 paid 3.6 percent of its profits in federal income taxes. In 2009, GE made $10.8 billion in profits but paid no taxes at all and, indeed, received $1.1 billion in tax credits to carry forward against future earnings. GE is not alone.

The corporate tax code, like the personal one, is riddled with loopholes, and these benefit primarily the rich and powerful. General Electric, the very model of the modern global corporation and with an army of tax lawyers at its disposal, can — and does — game the system very successfully. The corporation that has 150 employees in its one plant in Des Moines cannot. And it is the latter that creates most new jobs in this country. So, as usual, liberals harm the little guy in the name of sticking it to the big guy, who is largely unstuck.

In a perfect world (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, this one is not), there would be no corporate income tax at all. Instead, the tax liability on profits would flow through to the stockholders. That way, corporations would concentrate on pretax profit — a measure of wealth creation — not after-tax profit, which is largely a measure of corporate lobbying effectiveness. But liberals and their quiet allies, the giant multinational corporations, will fight any fundamental reform of the corporate-tax status quo.

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The Ethics of Surreptitious Tapings

One of the reasons the secretly recorded video of National Public Radio’s Ron Schiller was so damaging is that he confirmed the impression many people have of those who work at NPR — that they are not simply liberal but also contemptuous of conservatives, of Christians, of Israel. The Tea Party, according to Schiller, is Islamophobic, xenophobic, and racist. Zionists are in control of American newspapers — but thankfully, not NPR. Mr. Schiller’s views may not reflect the attitude of everyone associated with NPR, but he obviously fit right in with its culture and ethos (who can forget Nina Totenberg saying she hoped that Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren would get AIDS from a blood transfusion). And given how disgracefully NPR treated its former employee Juan Williams, conservatives could be forgiven for a touch of schadenfreude.

That said, the technique that James O’Keefe used to snag Schiller does, on reflection, leave me a bit queasy. I understand that sting operations can serve a useful role. But surreptitiously recording conversations of either NPR executives or governors (see the liberal blogger, pretending to be conservative donor David Koch, who taped a phone conversation with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) can easily cross into dangerous terrain. Human nature is weak and can be easily exploited. I and virtually every person I know have said things in private conversations that we would not want recorded and broadcast publicly. And when you add to the mix people who are play-acting and goading their interlocutors, concerns about how the tape was subsequently edited, not to mention the offer of a multimillion-dollar donation, and you are in questionable ethical territory.

I don’t pretend to know where the line should be drawn between responsible investigative journalism on the one hand and irresponsible entrapment on the other. Deceit in the cause of some other aim and some other good is sometimes morally justifiable; sometimes it’s not. But I do know that the tendency we all have to battle is to take delight in watching our ideological opponents trip up in a sting operation but squawk when our allies step into a similar trap, to react one way when James O’Keefe does the recording and another if a liberal blogger or 60 Minutes does it. In thinking through what’s fair, it’s probably worth taking into account this question among others: how would I feel if I were on the receiving end of the sting operation?

One of the reasons the secretly recorded video of National Public Radio’s Ron Schiller was so damaging is that he confirmed the impression many people have of those who work at NPR — that they are not simply liberal but also contemptuous of conservatives, of Christians, of Israel. The Tea Party, according to Schiller, is Islamophobic, xenophobic, and racist. Zionists are in control of American newspapers — but thankfully, not NPR. Mr. Schiller’s views may not reflect the attitude of everyone associated with NPR, but he obviously fit right in with its culture and ethos (who can forget Nina Totenberg saying she hoped that Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren would get AIDS from a blood transfusion). And given how disgracefully NPR treated its former employee Juan Williams, conservatives could be forgiven for a touch of schadenfreude.

That said, the technique that James O’Keefe used to snag Schiller does, on reflection, leave me a bit queasy. I understand that sting operations can serve a useful role. But surreptitiously recording conversations of either NPR executives or governors (see the liberal blogger, pretending to be conservative donor David Koch, who taped a phone conversation with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) can easily cross into dangerous terrain. Human nature is weak and can be easily exploited. I and virtually every person I know have said things in private conversations that we would not want recorded and broadcast publicly. And when you add to the mix people who are play-acting and goading their interlocutors, concerns about how the tape was subsequently edited, not to mention the offer of a multimillion-dollar donation, and you are in questionable ethical territory.

I don’t pretend to know where the line should be drawn between responsible investigative journalism on the one hand and irresponsible entrapment on the other. Deceit in the cause of some other aim and some other good is sometimes morally justifiable; sometimes it’s not. But I do know that the tendency we all have to battle is to take delight in watching our ideological opponents trip up in a sting operation but squawk when our allies step into a similar trap, to react one way when James O’Keefe does the recording and another if a liberal blogger or 60 Minutes does it. In thinking through what’s fair, it’s probably worth taking into account this question among others: how would I feel if I were on the receiving end of the sting operation?

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A Conflict Between Idealism and Pragmatism in Foreign Policy?

A recent New York Times article, explaining the Obama administration’s reticence on Libya, tells us that the president is “recognizing a stark reality that American national security interests weigh as heavily as idealistic impulses.” What we’re seeing is an “emphasis on pragmatism over idealism.”

When considering this supposed conflict between pragmatism and idealism, between American national-security interests and “idealistic impulses,” it’s important to recall that America was founded on a political creed that is the source of our legitimacy. More than any nation on earth, moral considerations need to inform the conduct of American foreign policy. Our national security should be guided in large measure by certain propositions about the human person.

“[N]ot only should human rights play a central role in U.S. foreign policy,” Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in a COMMENTARY symposium in November 1981 (subscription required), “no U.S. foreign policy can possibly succeed that does not accord them a central role. The nature of politics and the character of the United States alike guarantee that this should be the case.”

Kirkpatrick went on to argue that if public policies are to command popular assent, they must be consistent with the core identity of a people. “Our national interest flows from our identity, and our identity features a commitment to the rights of persons,” she wrote.

This doesn’t mean that foreign policy is simply and only an exercise in morality; or that national interests will never collide with moral principles; or that (to borrow from Peter Berger) there is an elegant formula that can be devised by which American foreign policy can be conducted with regard to human rights. Still, America political decisions need to be animated by a conception of the moral good.

“There is a desire for Obama — not the American president, but Obama — to speak to their [the Arab people's] aspirations,” one official told the Times. “But,” he added, “[Obama's] first job is to be the American president.”

There was a time, not all that long ago, when American presidents didn’t see a conflict between their job and giving voice to the aspirations of people fighting and dying for emancipation. When our moral voice was stronger and louder than the Arab League or France. When we were a city on a hill rather than a nation hiding its lamp under a basket.

A recent New York Times article, explaining the Obama administration’s reticence on Libya, tells us that the president is “recognizing a stark reality that American national security interests weigh as heavily as idealistic impulses.” What we’re seeing is an “emphasis on pragmatism over idealism.”

When considering this supposed conflict between pragmatism and idealism, between American national-security interests and “idealistic impulses,” it’s important to recall that America was founded on a political creed that is the source of our legitimacy. More than any nation on earth, moral considerations need to inform the conduct of American foreign policy. Our national security should be guided in large measure by certain propositions about the human person.

“[N]ot only should human rights play a central role in U.S. foreign policy,” Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in a COMMENTARY symposium in November 1981 (subscription required), “no U.S. foreign policy can possibly succeed that does not accord them a central role. The nature of politics and the character of the United States alike guarantee that this should be the case.”

Kirkpatrick went on to argue that if public policies are to command popular assent, they must be consistent with the core identity of a people. “Our national interest flows from our identity, and our identity features a commitment to the rights of persons,” she wrote.

This doesn’t mean that foreign policy is simply and only an exercise in morality; or that national interests will never collide with moral principles; or that (to borrow from Peter Berger) there is an elegant formula that can be devised by which American foreign policy can be conducted with regard to human rights. Still, America political decisions need to be animated by a conception of the moral good.

“There is a desire for Obama — not the American president, but Obama — to speak to their [the Arab people's] aspirations,” one official told the Times. “But,” he added, “[Obama's] first job is to be the American president.”

There was a time, not all that long ago, when American presidents didn’t see a conflict between their job and giving voice to the aspirations of people fighting and dying for emancipation. When our moral voice was stronger and louder than the Arab League or France. When we were a city on a hill rather than a nation hiding its lamp under a basket.

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Iranian Calls for Murder of Americans Worldwide

According to the Iranian press (in Persian, h/t Ali Alfoneh), Mohsen Rafiqdoost, the former minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, called for the murder of Americans abroad. “Wherever the United States has a military presence should be its graveyard. We must tell the people of that place to kill the first American soldier who sets foot on their soil,” he declared. Rafiqdoost, who made his statement against the backdrop of his own prediction of an American attack on Libya, is a close associate of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamanei.

Alas, the cost of the Obama administration’s refusal to understand the Islamic Republic, no matter how bluntly Iranian officials telegraph their intentions, will ultimately be measured in American body bags.

According to the Iranian press (in Persian, h/t Ali Alfoneh), Mohsen Rafiqdoost, the former minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, called for the murder of Americans abroad. “Wherever the United States has a military presence should be its graveyard. We must tell the people of that place to kill the first American soldier who sets foot on their soil,” he declared. Rafiqdoost, who made his statement against the backdrop of his own prediction of an American attack on Libya, is a close associate of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamanei.

Alas, the cost of the Obama administration’s refusal to understand the Islamic Republic, no matter how bluntly Iranian officials telegraph their intentions, will ultimately be measured in American body bags.

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Ahmadinejad’s Chief-of-Staff Gets U.S. Visa?

The Iranian press is reporting (here, in Persian) that the State Department has granted Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief-of-staff, a visa to come to the United States. If true, once again it seems that President Barack Obama is reaching out to the Iranian regime at the very time it is seeking to crush protesters in the streets. That would be disgraceful, but, alas, disgrace seems to be the core of the Obama doctrine.

The Iranian press is reporting (here, in Persian) that the State Department has granted Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief-of-staff, a visa to come to the United States. If true, once again it seems that President Barack Obama is reaching out to the Iranian regime at the very time it is seeking to crush protesters in the streets. That would be disgraceful, but, alas, disgrace seems to be the core of the Obama doctrine.

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