Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 4, 2011

Supreme Court Upholds Tax Credits and Taxpayer Rights

Liberal efforts to end state aid to religious schools were made more difficult today with the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (you can download a .pdf of the ruling here). The conservative majority ruled that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue. They had sought to end an Arizona program that gives taxpayers a state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to scholarship programs for students at private schools, including those specifically intended to help religious schools

Those who sued the state were not in any way injured by the tax credit given to others, the court said, and thus they had no standing. Although the broadly popular credit is similar to programs in other states, teachers’ unions and other liberal groups who are offended by religious schools’ receiving even indirect aid opposed it. They prevailed in the Arizona Supreme Court and the 9th Federal Circuit but were beaten at the Supreme Court.

While the issue appears to be the traditional tilt between extreme church-state separationists and those who hold that state aid for private and religious schools is both constitutional and good public policy, the issue was actually decided on a slightly different point: does even a state credit in which the taxpayer gets to keep more of his money to spend as he likes constitute an government allocation of funds?

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Liberal efforts to end state aid to religious schools were made more difficult today with the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (you can download a .pdf of the ruling here). The conservative majority ruled that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue. They had sought to end an Arizona program that gives taxpayers a state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to scholarship programs for students at private schools, including those specifically intended to help religious schools

Those who sued the state were not in any way injured by the tax credit given to others, the court said, and thus they had no standing. Although the broadly popular credit is similar to programs in other states, teachers’ unions and other liberal groups who are offended by religious schools’ receiving even indirect aid opposed it. They prevailed in the Arizona Supreme Court and the 9th Federal Circuit but were beaten at the Supreme Court.

While the issue appears to be the traditional tilt between extreme church-state separationists and those who hold that state aid for private and religious schools is both constitutional and good public policy, the issue was actually decided on a slightly different point: does even a state credit in which the taxpayer gets to keep more of his money to spend as he likes constitute an government allocation of funds?

To the minority, whose opinion was written by Justice Elena Kagan in her court debut, the question was the right to sue over religious subsidies. Playing off her own Jewish identity, Kagan asked why a citizen could not sue if, say, the state decided to reward Jews for their observance with a tax credit? But this analogy is both inflammatory and irrelevant since the credit was for scholarships to accredited schools (something that few question when it is routinely done at the college level), not a reward for religious observance.

Justice Anthony Kennedy was on target when he said in the majority opinion that the tax credit’s foes think “income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands.” Liberals act as if legislation that merely allows taxpayers to spend their own money as they like rather than going to state schools is theft from the state. But, as Kennedy reminded them, “private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State Treasury.”

Even Kagan had to acknowledge that Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization would not prevent more traditional lawsuits aimed at state aid to religious institutions. The battle over separationist efforts to put a stop to any and everything that would justifiably help religious institutions will continue. But the issue here, as so often, is whether the money in our pockets belongs by rights to the government. For at least today, a 5-to-4 Supreme Court majority has affirmed that it does not.

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Will Goldstone Ask UN to Cancel Report?

The Israeli government has asked for the report to be withdrawn, but the JTA reports that for such a request to be considered, it would have to be made by Justice Richard Goldstone himself:

Richard Goldstone would have to ask the United Nations on behalf of his committee to rescind its report on Israel’s actions during the 2009 Gaza war to set such an action in motion, a U.N. spokesman said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report, has not received such a request, The Associated Press reported Monday.

After admitting that the report’s charges against Israel are inaccurate, Goldstone would seem to have an ethical responsibility to ask for it to be rescinded. But the awkwardness of such a request might make him hesitant. The Israeli government will have to petition him as persuasively as possible on this issue.

Of course, there’s no reason to think a withdrawal of the report will change the mind of the most vehement anti-Israel activists, who cling to it delusionally even after it’s been debunked, universally condemned, and recanted by its author. Even if Goldstone does make the request, at least one of the members of his “fact-finding” mission in Gaza seems prepared to fight Goldstone on the issue.

“[N]o process or acceptable procedure would invalidate the UN Report,” Hina Jilani of Pakistan told the Middle East Monitor; “if it does happen, it would be seen as a suspect move.”

The Israeli government has asked for the report to be withdrawn, but the JTA reports that for such a request to be considered, it would have to be made by Justice Richard Goldstone himself:

Richard Goldstone would have to ask the United Nations on behalf of his committee to rescind its report on Israel’s actions during the 2009 Gaza war to set such an action in motion, a U.N. spokesman said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report, has not received such a request, The Associated Press reported Monday.

After admitting that the report’s charges against Israel are inaccurate, Goldstone would seem to have an ethical responsibility to ask for it to be rescinded. But the awkwardness of such a request might make him hesitant. The Israeli government will have to petition him as persuasively as possible on this issue.

Of course, there’s no reason to think a withdrawal of the report will change the mind of the most vehement anti-Israel activists, who cling to it delusionally even after it’s been debunked, universally condemned, and recanted by its author. Even if Goldstone does make the request, at least one of the members of his “fact-finding” mission in Gaza seems prepared to fight Goldstone on the issue.

“[N]o process or acceptable procedure would invalidate the UN Report,” Hina Jilani of Pakistan told the Middle East Monitor; “if it does happen, it would be seen as a suspect move.”

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Obama’s Unconscionable Libya Handoff

Here, in the words of one Libyan rebel leader, is what’s happening in Libya since the U.S. has embraced that global panacea, and virtue of virtues, multilateralism:

“There’s a delay in reacting and lack of response to what’s going on on the ground, and many civilians have died and they couldn’t react to protect them,” the official, Ali al-Essawi, the foreign policy director of the National Transitional Council, said in an interview on Monday in Rome.

Mr. Essawi said the problems began after NATO took charge of the air campaign from the United States, Britain and France, and that he now foresaw a long, drawn-out battle with NATO at the helm.

Many pundits maintain that, today, America not only should act multilaterally in all foreign-policy endeavors, but that it must do so. This is the line pushed by very popular foreign-policy establishment figures, and it has to do with clever notions like “soft power” and the “post-American world.” It’s very cute in a takes-a-global-village kind of way. That it’s also perilous seems not to concern Barack Obama. By handing over the direction of the Libya campaign, Obama is placing the promotion of a popular narrative (America as the humbled ex-superpower) above both American interests and humanitarian responsibilities.

Both Obama and his advisor Samantha Power like to talk about the “stain” that would be left on our consciences should America allow Qaddafi to massacre his people. Powerful stuff, no doubt. Yet, when those very people explicitly request American – not NATO – leadership, the administration is content to soothe its conscience with self-congratulations about multilateralism. If the campaign against Qaddafi fails because of the White House’s coalition fetish, Obama will have to account for betraying his appeals to our collective morality with his insistence on promoting a popular anti-American narrative. There’s no pleading multilateralism after deadly defeat.

Here, in the words of one Libyan rebel leader, is what’s happening in Libya since the U.S. has embraced that global panacea, and virtue of virtues, multilateralism:

“There’s a delay in reacting and lack of response to what’s going on on the ground, and many civilians have died and they couldn’t react to protect them,” the official, Ali al-Essawi, the foreign policy director of the National Transitional Council, said in an interview on Monday in Rome.

Mr. Essawi said the problems began after NATO took charge of the air campaign from the United States, Britain and France, and that he now foresaw a long, drawn-out battle with NATO at the helm.

Many pundits maintain that, today, America not only should act multilaterally in all foreign-policy endeavors, but that it must do so. This is the line pushed by very popular foreign-policy establishment figures, and it has to do with clever notions like “soft power” and the “post-American world.” It’s very cute in a takes-a-global-village kind of way. That it’s also perilous seems not to concern Barack Obama. By handing over the direction of the Libya campaign, Obama is placing the promotion of a popular narrative (America as the humbled ex-superpower) above both American interests and humanitarian responsibilities.

Both Obama and his advisor Samantha Power like to talk about the “stain” that would be left on our consciences should America allow Qaddafi to massacre his people. Powerful stuff, no doubt. Yet, when those very people explicitly request American – not NATO – leadership, the administration is content to soothe its conscience with self-congratulations about multilateralism. If the campaign against Qaddafi fails because of the White House’s coalition fetish, Obama will have to account for betraying his appeals to our collective morality with his insistence on promoting a popular anti-American narrative. There’s no pleading multilateralism after deadly defeat.

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America’s Civic Test

The budget that Representative Paul Ryan will unveil tomorrow will be unprecedented in its scope, its reach, and its structural reforms. He, along with his House colleagues, will have passed the test for political courage. Rather than avoiding entitlements, House Republicans take them on directly–including the main cause of our fiscal crisis, Medicare. All told, Ryan will propose cuts greater than $4 trillion from federal spending over the next decade.

Now comes a civic test of sorts. What will be the American public’s reaction to the plan that Ryan presents? Will they rally behind it, or rebel against it?

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The budget that Representative Paul Ryan will unveil tomorrow will be unprecedented in its scope, its reach, and its structural reforms. He, along with his House colleagues, will have passed the test for political courage. Rather than avoiding entitlements, House Republicans take them on directly–including the main cause of our fiscal crisis, Medicare. All told, Ryan will propose cuts greater than $4 trillion from federal spending over the next decade.

Now comes a civic test of sorts. What will be the American public’s reaction to the plan that Ryan presents? Will they rally behind it, or rebel against it?

It’s hard to know. Perhaps we find ourselves in a new political moment, in which reforms and cuts that were once unthinkable can now be advocated without danger of self-immolation. On the other hand, it may be that what Ryan will propose goes beyond what the public is willing to accept. What is reasonable to conclude, I think, is that if the public continues to resist reforms to entitlements—either because of ignorance, demagoguery, or selfishness—we will experience, sooner than we think, the kind of “domestic convulsion” the founders warned about (and which Europeans are now experiencing). Demography and mathematics make that inevitable.

The greatest political thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries were quite realistic about human nature. They based self-government on modest rather than heroic virtues. They understood that people acted most often not out of altruism but self-interest. But it was self-interest “properly understood,” in the words of Tocqueville–meaning self-interest that was, especially at key moments, enlightened and public-spirited rather than narrow and selfish.

“That which is new in the history of societies is to see a great people, warned by its lawgivers that the wheels of government are stopping, turn its attention on itself without haste or fear, sound the depth of the ill . . . and then finally, when the remedy has been indicated, submit to it voluntarily without its costing humanity a single tear or drop of blood”—that’s how Tocqueville put it in Democracy in America.

A great people has been warned by its lawgivers–at least the responsible ones–that the wheels of government are stopping. Will the people embrace what they never have before (entitlement reform)? Will they act with sobriety now in order to forestall enormous damage later?

Those questions should begin to answer themselves very soon.

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On Art and Infamy

SMEAR is a familiar graffiti tag seen in Los Angeles. It is the painter Cristian Gheorghiu’s “outlaw persona.” Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that Gheorghiu has been sued by the City. Not, however, for damages related to the removal of his street art or for the repair of damaged property—been there, done that—but for the work he is now doing, paintings on canvas. Gheorghiu describes himself as being rehabilitated and his studio work proves it. The city counters that his past criminal activities act as “free publicity, giving him an unfair advantage over legitimate artists—a violation of [California] laws governing fair competition.”

Clever.

But where does that leave the Presidential court painter, Chris Fairey, creator of the tiresome and ubiquitous Hope poster? Last year the New York Times reported that Fairey had been arrested on an outstanding warrant from 2000 related to his images’ being pasted on a railroad trestle. He pleaded not guilty and was released. Fairey may or may not have been rehabilitated since then, but on his website can still be found instructions for an Urban Renewal Kit, which includes designs that can be printed out and stuck up wherever the user wants. If his stickers end up defacing property, proving that Fairey is the one responsible will be virtually impossible. Even so, he provides the means and the method for free and public advertising on his behalf. Perhaps the City of Los Angeles should consider changing the names on its charges.

SMEAR is a familiar graffiti tag seen in Los Angeles. It is the painter Cristian Gheorghiu’s “outlaw persona.” Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that Gheorghiu has been sued by the City. Not, however, for damages related to the removal of his street art or for the repair of damaged property—been there, done that—but for the work he is now doing, paintings on canvas. Gheorghiu describes himself as being rehabilitated and his studio work proves it. The city counters that his past criminal activities act as “free publicity, giving him an unfair advantage over legitimate artists—a violation of [California] laws governing fair competition.”

Clever.

But where does that leave the Presidential court painter, Chris Fairey, creator of the tiresome and ubiquitous Hope poster? Last year the New York Times reported that Fairey had been arrested on an outstanding warrant from 2000 related to his images’ being pasted on a railroad trestle. He pleaded not guilty and was released. Fairey may or may not have been rehabilitated since then, but on his website can still be found instructions for an Urban Renewal Kit, which includes designs that can be printed out and stuck up wherever the user wants. If his stickers end up defacing property, proving that Fairey is the one responsible will be virtually impossible. Even so, he provides the means and the method for free and public advertising on his behalf. Perhaps the City of Los Angeles should consider changing the names on its charges.

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Lewis on the Islamic World

Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s preeminent scholars on Islam, is neither sanguine nor gloomy about events unfolding in the Arab world. He is, rather, uncertain. “I think that the tyrannies are doomed,” he tells Bari Weiss of the Wall Street Journal. “The real question is what will come instead.”

Professor Lewis describes himself as “delighted” by the popular movements and believes that the U.S. should do all it can to bolster them. But he also warns against insisting on Western-style elections in Muslim lands:

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Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s preeminent scholars on Islam, is neither sanguine nor gloomy about events unfolding in the Arab world. He is, rather, uncertain. “I think that the tyrannies are doomed,” he tells Bari Weiss of the Wall Street Journal. “The real question is what will come instead.”

Professor Lewis describes himself as “delighted” by the popular movements and believes that the U.S. should do all it can to bolster them. But he also warns against insisting on Western-style elections in Muslim lands:

We have a much better chance of establishing—I hesitate to use the word democracy—but some sort of open, tolerant society, if it’s done within their systems, according to their traditions. Why should we expect them to adopt a Western system? And why should we expect it to work?

Elections should be the culmination—not the beginning—of a gradual political process. “To lay the stress all the time on elections, parliamentary Western-style elections, is a dangerous delusion,” Lewis says. (It’s not clear from the interview what the best way is to achieve open, tolerant societies apart from elections and holding those in power accountable to the public).

The “main reason” the Islamic world “fell behind the West” is not the want of elections, in Lewis’s opinion. The “greatest defect of Islam” is its treatment of women. “Think of a child that grows up in a Muslim household where the mother has no rights, where she is downtrodden and subservient,” Lewis says. “That’s preparation for a life of despotism and subservience. It prepares the way for an authoritarian society.”

Although he opposes American military action against the Iranian regime, Lewis does not think it can be contained if it does go nuclear. The mullahs “are religious fanatics with an apocalyptic mindset,” he says. “In Islam, as in Christianity and Judaism, there is an end-of-times scenario—and [the mullahs] think it’s beginning or has already begun.”

Mutually assured destruction, then? For Iran it is “not a deterrent,” Lewis says—“it’s an inducement.”

Lewis’s analysis of Turkey is almost equally as bleak. “In Turkey, the movement is getting more and more toward re-Islamization,” he tells the Journal. “The government has that as its intention—and it has been taking over, very skillfully, one part after another of Turkish society. The economy, the business community, the academic community, the media. And now they’re taking over the judiciary, which in the past has been the stronghold of the republican regime.”

As for Islamic fundamentalism. Precisely because it has “no political center, no ethnic identity,” because it is “Arab and Persian and Turkish and everything else,” it is different in kind from the popular Arab movements. Lewis explains:

It is religiously defined. And it can command support among people of every nationality once they are convinced. That marks the important difference. I think the struggle will continue until they either obtain their objective or renounce it. At the moment, both seem equally improbable.

The bottom line, then, seems to be this. The tectonic plates in the Middle East and North Africa are shifting. The world that eventually emerges from the Revolution of 2011 will be fundamentally different. But precisely how this all plays out is impossible to know and, for America, frustratingly difficult to influence.

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White House: Libya a Distraction from Obama’s Economic Message

Most Americans have lost faith in President Obama’s leadership, and the administration seems to be desperately trying to fix that. According to the Politico, the White House is concerned that the war is undermining Obama’s self-portrait as an “economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery, especially the devastating and politically poisonous rise in gas prices”:

Obama staffers have made it clear to Democratic allies they are worried about the effect of Libya on their economic message and that one of the factors pushing the administration to hand over control of military operations is the perception that the president is more focused on the Middle East than on Middle America.

How impatient is this administration? Only a few weeks into the war in Libya, and already they sound as if they’re growing tired of it.

But it does seem likely that Obama is eager to refocus on domestic challenges. Released today, his first reelection video didn’t contain a single mention of any issues–foreign or domestic. It’s not hard to see why: his approval rating on the economy has remained below 40 percent since early 2010, and his sole political success–healthcare–is viewed negatively by the majority of Americans.

Most Americans have lost faith in President Obama’s leadership, and the administration seems to be desperately trying to fix that. According to the Politico, the White House is concerned that the war is undermining Obama’s self-portrait as an “economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery, especially the devastating and politically poisonous rise in gas prices”:

Obama staffers have made it clear to Democratic allies they are worried about the effect of Libya on their economic message and that one of the factors pushing the administration to hand over control of military operations is the perception that the president is more focused on the Middle East than on Middle America.

How impatient is this administration? Only a few weeks into the war in Libya, and already they sound as if they’re growing tired of it.

But it does seem likely that Obama is eager to refocus on domestic challenges. Released today, his first reelection video didn’t contain a single mention of any issues–foreign or domestic. It’s not hard to see why: his approval rating on the economy has remained below 40 percent since early 2010, and his sole political success–healthcare–is viewed negatively by the majority of Americans.

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Obama’s National Security Ratings Fall to New Low

Over the past week, Americans have continued to lose confidence in President Obama’s national security performance. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, 40 percent of likely voters now disapprove of how the president has handled national security, while 37 percent approve. That is a significant dip from last week when 34 percent of voters disapproved, while 43 percent approved.

And Obama’s address on Libya apparently didn’t help matters:

President Obama’s address doesn’t appear to have made voters more confident about his handling of the situation in Libya, nor has it made them feel more strongly that Libya is important to U.S. national security. Just 27% of voters say Libya is important to our nation’s national security, while 48% disagree.

It’s important to keep in mind that voters disapprove of the president’s performance, but not necessarily of the intervention in Libya. A plurality of Americans approve of the military action, according to a recent Gallup poll. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been closely associated with the war in Libya, has a record-high approval rating of 66 percent.

Over the past week, Americans have continued to lose confidence in President Obama’s national security performance. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, 40 percent of likely voters now disapprove of how the president has handled national security, while 37 percent approve. That is a significant dip from last week when 34 percent of voters disapproved, while 43 percent approved.

And Obama’s address on Libya apparently didn’t help matters:

President Obama’s address doesn’t appear to have made voters more confident about his handling of the situation in Libya, nor has it made them feel more strongly that Libya is important to U.S. national security. Just 27% of voters say Libya is important to our nation’s national security, while 48% disagree.

It’s important to keep in mind that voters disapprove of the president’s performance, but not necessarily of the intervention in Libya. A plurality of Americans approve of the military action, according to a recent Gallup poll. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been closely associated with the war in Libya, has a record-high approval rating of 66 percent.

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Did the Times Reject Goldstone’s Retraction?

Ynet is reporting this morning that Judge Richard Goldstone offered the New York Times his retraction of the scurrilous United Nations report about Israel’s Gaza war, but that the Grey Lady turned him down. The op-ed by Goldstone disavowing the major conclusions of his report was first published on the Washington Post’s website on Friday night. The Times took notice of the retraction a day later.

The Ynet report is short on details. It is not clear whether the Times was given the first shot at the piece or if the paper was merely asked to run it on the same day as the Washington Post. But if, as seems far more likely, the Times flatly rejected Goldstone’s retraction, its editors have got a lot of explaining to do.

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Ynet is reporting this morning that Judge Richard Goldstone offered the New York Times his retraction of the scurrilous United Nations report about Israel’s Gaza war, but that the Grey Lady turned him down. The op-ed by Goldstone disavowing the major conclusions of his report was first published on the Washington Post’s website on Friday night. The Times took notice of the retraction a day later.

The Ynet report is short on details. It is not clear whether the Times was given the first shot at the piece or if the paper was merely asked to run it on the same day as the Washington Post. But if, as seems far more likely, the Times flatly rejected Goldstone’s retraction, its editors have got a lot of explaining to do.

What would motivate the paper to allow its Washington rival to scoop it? Other than an editorial agenda that is heavily skewed against Israel, I mean. Surely the editors of the Times understood that Goldstone’s recanting was newsworthy even if his article, vindicating Israel’s behavior and debunking the reckless accusations against it advanced originally by the South African Jewish jurist, was not to their liking.

Ynet speculates about Goldstone’s motives for his retraction. The disgrace he has rightly endured since his report’s publication is balanced against the possibility of a guilty conscience. We may never know his actual motives, but given his stubborn nature, the notion that the former judge’s actions were motivated by a belated understanding that he had been exploited by those who seek to destroy Israel makes the most sense. Nevertheless, friends of Israel who bristle at its grudging tone and its tardiness are right to blast Goldstone’s recantation. The damage that Goldstone has done to the Jewish state cannot be undone so easily. Nor can the benefits that accrued to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas be belatedly wished away.

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Congress to Investigate Koran Burning

As riots continue to spread through Afghanistan, members of congress are debating whether to issue an official condemnation of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who recently burned a copy of the Koran. Islamic leaders used the Koran-burning incident to incite the protests, which have already killed 22 UN workers:

U.S. lawmakers said Sunday they would consider a request by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to formally condemn a Florida pastor’s decision to burn the Koran, after the act triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan.

The protests entered their third day Sunday as demonstrators battled police in the southern city of Kandahar and, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, blocked a highway and burned an effigy of President Obama.

Burning the Koran is uninspired, disrespectful, and adds little to the public discourse. But it’s also a perfectly legitimate and legal form of expression–a reality that seems to have irked some lawmakers.

Sen. Harry Reid said that the incident might have to be investigated by the senate. “We’ll take a look at this of course. . . . As to whether we need hearings or not, I don’t know,” he said on Face the Nation yesterday.

As riots continue to spread through Afghanistan, members of congress are debating whether to issue an official condemnation of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who recently burned a copy of the Koran. Islamic leaders used the Koran-burning incident to incite the protests, which have already killed 22 UN workers:

U.S. lawmakers said Sunday they would consider a request by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to formally condemn a Florida pastor’s decision to burn the Koran, after the act triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan.

The protests entered their third day Sunday as demonstrators battled police in the southern city of Kandahar and, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, blocked a highway and burned an effigy of President Obama.

Burning the Koran is uninspired, disrespectful, and adds little to the public discourse. But it’s also a perfectly legitimate and legal form of expression–a reality that seems to have irked some lawmakers.

Sen. Harry Reid said that the incident might have to be investigated by the senate. “We’ll take a look at this of course. . . . As to whether we need hearings or not, I don’t know,” he said on Face the Nation yesterday.

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Truth in Borrowing

Yesterday on Face the Nation Bob Schieffer made a moving statement on the nature of truth, how it’s always the best way, and in any event, will win out in the end so you might as well tell it from the start. Good advice.

On the same program, of course, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid told a pack of lies, and Schieffer didn’t challenge any of them. You can watch the interview here, but there’s little need to. It’s the usual everything-is-the-Republicans’-fault boilerplate. The Daily Caller details the howlers that Schieffer let Reid get away with here.

But I was struck by one thing Reid said: “We, during the Clinton years, reduced the debt for four years. We paid down the debt, we know how to do this, but we don’t do it on the backs of middle-class Americans.”

Reid is referring to the budget “surpluses” for 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. But we didn’t “pay down” the debt in those years; we increased it.

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Yesterday on Face the Nation Bob Schieffer made a moving statement on the nature of truth, how it’s always the best way, and in any event, will win out in the end so you might as well tell it from the start. Good advice.

On the same program, of course, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid told a pack of lies, and Schieffer didn’t challenge any of them. You can watch the interview here, but there’s little need to. It’s the usual everything-is-the-Republicans’-fault boilerplate. The Daily Caller details the howlers that Schieffer let Reid get away with here.

But I was struck by one thing Reid said: “We, during the Clinton years, reduced the debt for four years. We paid down the debt, we know how to do this, but we don’t do it on the backs of middle-class Americans.”

Reid is referring to the budget “surpluses” for 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. But we didn’t “pay down” the debt in those years; we increased it.

At the end of fiscal 1997, the debt was $5.369 trillion. After a surplus of $69 billion in 1998, the debt stood at $5.478 trillion. In other words, after supposedly taking in $69 billion more than it spent that year (the definition of  “surplus”), the government debt nevertheless rose $109 billion. In 1999 it took in $125 billion more than it spent, and the debt rose $127 billion. In 2000 it had a surplus of $236 billion, but the debt rose $23 billion. In 2001 the surplus  was $128 billion and the debt rose $141 billion.

In sum, we had four years of surpluses totaling $558 billion while the debt rose $400 billion in those same years.

How did we run surpluses but still go deeper into debt every year? Easy. We lied. We called Social Security surpluses income to the government when, in fact, the government borrowed the money, issuing bonds to cover it. The last year when we actually paid down the debt was 1957, when the debt declined by a little under one percent to $270.6 billion from $272.7 billion.

Mr. Schieffer is all in favor of the truth. He just doesn’t seem to care when a Democrat lies on his program.

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Fukushima on the Med?

No sooner had an earthquake and tsunami unleashed a series of events that led to disaster for a Japanese nuclear reactor than Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey planned to erect nuclear power stations in an earthquake zone.

If a disaster occurred in Japan, if it is likely in Iran, why not have Turkey make the same mistake for a third time? “We are now counting the months, even weeks, before we start our project with Russia for the nuclear plant at Akkuyu [in Mersin, on the Mediterranean],” Erdogan told reporters last month.

Alas, not only would the reactor be vulnerable to the devastating earthquakes which strike Turkey every decade or so, but Turkish construction is notoriously shoddy. No worries, though. “There is no investment without risk,” Erdogan helpfully explained. When Erdogan rushes the state into a massive construction project, it usually involves pushing contracts toward his son-in-law’s Calik Holding. But as long as it enriches Erdogan and his family, what’s a few tens of thousands dead? If the worst-case scenario happens, if a natural disaster, PKK terrorism, or simple incompetence destroys Erdogan’s nuclear power plant, one thing is certain. He’ll find a way to blame the Jews.

No sooner had an earthquake and tsunami unleashed a series of events that led to disaster for a Japanese nuclear reactor than Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey planned to erect nuclear power stations in an earthquake zone.

If a disaster occurred in Japan, if it is likely in Iran, why not have Turkey make the same mistake for a third time? “We are now counting the months, even weeks, before we start our project with Russia for the nuclear plant at Akkuyu [in Mersin, on the Mediterranean],” Erdogan told reporters last month.

Alas, not only would the reactor be vulnerable to the devastating earthquakes which strike Turkey every decade or so, but Turkish construction is notoriously shoddy. No worries, though. “There is no investment without risk,” Erdogan helpfully explained. When Erdogan rushes the state into a massive construction project, it usually involves pushing contracts toward his son-in-law’s Calik Holding. But as long as it enriches Erdogan and his family, what’s a few tens of thousands dead? If the worst-case scenario happens, if a natural disaster, PKK terrorism, or simple incompetence destroys Erdogan’s nuclear power plant, one thing is certain. He’ll find a way to blame the Jews.

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Bachmann and “Burr”

Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is generally viewed by liberals as yet another not-ready-for-primetime Republican Tea Partier. The front-page New York Times feature about her today, however, treats her possible presidential candidacy with great seriousness, especially since she seems to have a leg up in the crucial Iowa caucuses.

Bachmann, who has been beating the bushes in the Hawkeye State recently, is a native Iowan and thus can claim native daughter status as well as being from a neighboring state. And though, as the Times notes, she is not liked or respected by the GOP Congressional leadership, she has been impressing voters on the hustings. Admittedly, the standard by which she is being judged is not a high one. Most of the praise for Bachmann seems to be that she is more substantial than Sarah Palin.

One part of her stump speech, as the Times reports, has the leftist blogosphere worked up.

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Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is generally viewed by liberals as yet another not-ready-for-primetime Republican Tea Partier. The front-page New York Times feature about her today, however, treats her possible presidential candidacy with great seriousness, especially since she seems to have a leg up in the crucial Iowa caucuses.

Bachmann, who has been beating the bushes in the Hawkeye State recently, is a native Iowan and thus can claim native daughter status as well as being from a neighboring state. And though, as the Times notes, she is not liked or respected by the GOP Congressional leadership, she has been impressing voters on the hustings. Admittedly, the standard by which she is being judged is not a high one. Most of the praise for Bachmann seems to be that she is more substantial than Sarah Palin.

One part of her stump speech, as the Times reports, has the leftist blogosphere worked up.

Bachmann likes to tell audiences that she was once a loyal Democrat who worked for Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976. But unlike other conservatives who saw the light after reading William F. Buckley or even Ayn Rand, for Bachmann it was novelist and onetime liberal cultural icon Gore Vidal. According to the congresswoman, her epiphany came when reading Vidal’s 1973 bestseller Burr, a historical novel in which the founders’ story is turned upside down. The treacherous Burr is Vidal’s hero, while Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton are depicted as wicked bunglers and fakes. Her reading of this book was the moment when she realized that liberals hate America, Bachmann says, and that it was time to cross the aisle.

The conversion narrative may be a little unusual, but it does tell the familiar story of a liberal who has been mugged by reality—Irving Kristol’s definition of a neoconservative. Predictably, though, Bachmann’s Vidal-bashing has provoked much laughter on the part of leftist wits at Alternet and Talking Points Memo, who have praised Burr for its sophisticated view of American history and abused Bachmann for her Parson Weems approach to our past.

It’s been decades since I myself read the book. I remember finding it entertaining but hopelessly cynical. Those who would like a sharper view of the novel could do no better than Jane Larkin Crain’s review in the March 1974 issue of COMMENTARY. Crain acknowledged the book’s entertainment quotient, but observed that its “primary energy” derived from the author’s hatred for America. She concluded by expressing the hope that the great numbers of Americans who bought the novel would “never take Vidal’s lofty contempt for their country to heart.” Perhaps it is Bachmann, then, and not the leftist wiseacres who has the surer grasp of the book.

The historical Aaron Burr was, as a recent biographer noted, a truly modern political figure. His ruthless cynicism and willingness to switch positions to suit the whims of the electorate foreshadowed our contemporary political culture. Burr was an outlier among the generation of founding fathers, because unlike the giants with whom he fought, he found the purpose of public life in self-aggrandizement rather than in promoting enduring principles.

Bachmann’s personal narrative—in which she was transformed into a conservative by the liberal glorification of a low politician who deserves his villain status in American history—makes not only for good politics, but may reveal a finer mind for literature than the leftist wags who have put her down as yet another conservative dunce.

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Asking the Wrong Question about Goldstone

The lede in the New York Times follow-up to the Goldstone retraction first published on its website on Sunday afternoon spoke volumes about the paper’s difficulty in grasping the international assault on Israel. Rather than focus on the embarrassment of the foreign-funded leftist NGOs that trumpeted slanders about Israel’s counter-attack against Gaza-based terrorism, the paper had this to say: “Israel grappled on Sunday with whether a retraction by a United Nations investigator regarding its actions in the Gaza war two years ago could be used to rehabilitate its tarnished international image or as preemptive defense in future military actions against armed groups.”

The answer to the question is so obvious that it hardly even needs to be asked. Of course, the retraction of inaccurate and inflammatory accusations ought to bolster the country’s reputation. Since Goldstone’s lies were the United Nations-funded legal prop that served as the foundation for false charges of Israeli war crimes, why wouldn’t Israel and its foreign friends seek to give the recantation at least as much publicity as the international press gave the original report?

Even to ask the question you would have to believe that any effort on Israel’s part to defend itself against terror attacks deliberately aimed at civilians is somehow wrong.

But as to whether the damage Goldstone did can be completely undone, that is a thornier query.

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The lede in the New York Times follow-up to the Goldstone retraction first published on its website on Sunday afternoon spoke volumes about the paper’s difficulty in grasping the international assault on Israel. Rather than focus on the embarrassment of the foreign-funded leftist NGOs that trumpeted slanders about Israel’s counter-attack against Gaza-based terrorism, the paper had this to say: “Israel grappled on Sunday with whether a retraction by a United Nations investigator regarding its actions in the Gaza war two years ago could be used to rehabilitate its tarnished international image or as preemptive defense in future military actions against armed groups.”

The answer to the question is so obvious that it hardly even needs to be asked. Of course, the retraction of inaccurate and inflammatory accusations ought to bolster the country’s reputation. Since Goldstone’s lies were the United Nations-funded legal prop that served as the foundation for false charges of Israeli war crimes, why wouldn’t Israel and its foreign friends seek to give the recantation at least as much publicity as the international press gave the original report?

Even to ask the question you would have to believe that any effort on Israel’s part to defend itself against terror attacks deliberately aimed at civilians is somehow wrong.

But as to whether the damage Goldstone did can be completely undone, that is a thornier query.

Building on the campaign of anti-Zionist invective that has gained increased support and vigor in the years since Israel recognized the PLO and began a peace process aimed at empowering Palestinians, Goldstone’s lies and credulousness about Hamas were eagerly embraced by the Jewish state’s foes. Although his recantation is a blow to them, they are unlikely to be shamed into similar retractions. A spokeswoman for B’Tselem told the Times that despite Goldstone’s disavowals much of the report remains valid. B’Tselem is a leftist NGO “human rights” group that devotes itself to vilifying Israel. Its personnel performed much of the legwork for Goldstone’s team. But rather than press B’Tselem to account for its part in a report that was filled with inaccuracies and false assertions, the Times merely repeats their calls for further investigation of Israel.

Indeed, the article abandoned any pretense of neutrality about Goldstone, let alone objectivity, when it baldly stated that the report “had been misrepresented by those with agendas both pro- and anti-Israel.” But if even Goldstone has now admitted that “its central charge” (in the Times’ phrase) was dead wrong, how exactly were those “pro-Israel” types misrepresenting the report?

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