Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 24, 2011

The Ryan Boomlet Just Went Boom

All signs right now suggest the Democrats have taken away a Republican House seat in a special election in upstate New York after a particularly screwy race. And great efforts are already underway to explain the GOP defeat on the House budget plan pushed by the remarkable Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Democrats and their proxies were deceitful about the details of the Ryan plan, scaring seniors about how Medicare would change for them when in fact it will be preserved for all current recipients. Those scare tactics seem to have worked to some degree.

A great many people have been looking at Paul Ryan and seeing the perfect presidential antidote to Barack Obama. Last year, watching Ryan tussle with the president, we all saw a superstar politician in the making. And some, like my friends Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer and Rich Lowry, have been saying up until today that Ryan might and should get in. I don’t think that idea is viable now, given the real questions that will be posed about whether Ryan’s budget proposal is an electoral liability.

This is one of those life-isn’t-fair occasions that characterize politics. What Ryan did in drawing up his budget plan was brave, visionary, and direct, and therefore highly controversial. And the words “controversial” and “successful presidential candidate” do not mix.

Ryan is no Gingrich, no Palin. He does not have the manner or mien of someone who accepts and even welcomes division. But by facing down the inescapable problem of the American fiscal future and proposing tough measures to forestall disaster, he has done what politicians spend their careers avoiding—he has staked his claim to leadership by fearless truth-telling. He cleaned the lens. But voters want the chance to view their leaders through gauze. The Ryan 2012 boomlet is over.

All signs right now suggest the Democrats have taken away a Republican House seat in a special election in upstate New York after a particularly screwy race. And great efforts are already underway to explain the GOP defeat on the House budget plan pushed by the remarkable Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Democrats and their proxies were deceitful about the details of the Ryan plan, scaring seniors about how Medicare would change for them when in fact it will be preserved for all current recipients. Those scare tactics seem to have worked to some degree.

A great many people have been looking at Paul Ryan and seeing the perfect presidential antidote to Barack Obama. Last year, watching Ryan tussle with the president, we all saw a superstar politician in the making. And some, like my friends Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer and Rich Lowry, have been saying up until today that Ryan might and should get in. I don’t think that idea is viable now, given the real questions that will be posed about whether Ryan’s budget proposal is an electoral liability.

This is one of those life-isn’t-fair occasions that characterize politics. What Ryan did in drawing up his budget plan was brave, visionary, and direct, and therefore highly controversial. And the words “controversial” and “successful presidential candidate” do not mix.

Ryan is no Gingrich, no Palin. He does not have the manner or mien of someone who accepts and even welcomes division. But by facing down the inescapable problem of the American fiscal future and proposing tough measures to forestall disaster, he has done what politicians spend their careers avoiding—he has staked his claim to leadership by fearless truth-telling. He cleaned the lens. But voters want the chance to view their leaders through gauze. The Ryan 2012 boomlet is over.

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The Bear Aces and the Untold Story of the Achille Lauro

I recently returned from teaching classes on the maiden deployment of the USS George H.W. Bush, our nation’s newest aircraft carrier. It is an amazing ship, and its crew is absolutely top notch. It also is home to our nation’s first squadron of “Growlers.”  I had the opportunity also to interact with the “Bear Aces.” Talk about a storied unit! I won’t got into all their history, but one story caught my attention. On October 10, 1985, U.S. fighter jets intercepted an Egyptian plane carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers and forced the plane to land in Sicily. What I had not known was that it was the Bear Aces who had done the tracking and—without fighter planes in the area at the time—the commanding officer of the squadron simply took advantage of the darkness, pretending to be a fighter jet and ordering the Egypt Air plane to land. The jets got there by the time the plane landed in Sicily, but had it not been for the quick thinking of the surveillance squadron, the hijackers would have gotten away. God bless our pilots!

I recently returned from teaching classes on the maiden deployment of the USS George H.W. Bush, our nation’s newest aircraft carrier. It is an amazing ship, and its crew is absolutely top notch. It also is home to our nation’s first squadron of “Growlers.”  I had the opportunity also to interact with the “Bear Aces.” Talk about a storied unit! I won’t got into all their history, but one story caught my attention. On October 10, 1985, U.S. fighter jets intercepted an Egyptian plane carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers and forced the plane to land in Sicily. What I had not known was that it was the Bear Aces who had done the tracking and—without fighter planes in the area at the time—the commanding officer of the squadron simply took advantage of the darkness, pretending to be a fighter jet and ordering the Egypt Air plane to land. The jets got there by the time the plane landed in Sicily, but had it not been for the quick thinking of the surveillance squadron, the hijackers would have gotten away. God bless our pilots!

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Another Step Backwards for Turkey’s Women?

A couple months ago, I blogged here about some statistics that reflected the declining status of women in Turkey under the current Islamist government. As the Turkish ruling party (AKP) consolidates control, its increasingly shows itself more loyal to a hardline Islamist agenda than any serious reform. In Hurriyet today (alas, only the Turkish version) comes words that a senior AKP official in Istanbul has called for legalizing polygamy again. It is increasingly silly to talk about Turkey reforming and putting itself on a trajectory to join Europe; Turkey is on a trajectory for something else entirely.

A couple months ago, I blogged here about some statistics that reflected the declining status of women in Turkey under the current Islamist government. As the Turkish ruling party (AKP) consolidates control, its increasingly shows itself more loyal to a hardline Islamist agenda than any serious reform. In Hurriyet today (alas, only the Turkish version) comes words that a senior AKP official in Istanbul has called for legalizing polygamy again. It is increasingly silly to talk about Turkey reforming and putting itself on a trajectory to join Europe; Turkey is on a trajectory for something else entirely.

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Point Saudi Arabia toward Reform, or Risk the Explosion

Last week President Obama gave what was billed as landmark address pledging to support Middle Eastern reformers. “It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy,” he declared. Such sweeping pronouncements are easy to propound but much harder to carry out—especially when human rights are being violated by one of our allies.

Nevertheless, it is shameful that the administration is silent about the outrageous arrest in Saudi Arabia of Manal al-Sharif, a women’s rights activists charged with the crime of driving a car in the only country in the world where it is illegal for women to do so. Here is what State Department spokesman Mark Toner had to say on the subject in his daily briefing:

We’re seeking more information at this point about her status. We understand there’s an active debate on a lot of these social issues in Saudi Arabia, and we trust the Government of Saudi Arabia to be – to give careful consideration to these voices of its citizens as they speak about issues of concern.

Questioned further about why there was no mention of Saudi Arabia in Obama’s speech, Toner replied: “Well, certainly it’s an important relationship and it was a fairly wide-sweeping speech, but we can’t address all issues on such a broad region.”

Sorry, but that won’t cut it. The U.S. will have little credibility speaking out about human rights abuses in Libya and Syria if we have nothing whatever to say about blatant human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. No one is suggesting the bombing of Riyadh or even putting U.S. arms sales in danger; but we should at least be willing to make some pointed remarks about the need for Saudi Arabia to grant its citizens, especially its female citizens, certain minimal rights.

I understand why the administration doesn’t want to take on the world’s No. 1 oil producer and an important American ally, but our silence is not doing the Saudi royal family any good. The Saudis need some tough love from us—they need to be told that for their own sake and ours they need to start on the path toward liberal, democratic reforms, or else they risk the possibility of an explosion such as the one that has shaken Bahrain, a neighboring American ally.

Last week President Obama gave what was billed as landmark address pledging to support Middle Eastern reformers. “It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy,” he declared. Such sweeping pronouncements are easy to propound but much harder to carry out—especially when human rights are being violated by one of our allies.

Nevertheless, it is shameful that the administration is silent about the outrageous arrest in Saudi Arabia of Manal al-Sharif, a women’s rights activists charged with the crime of driving a car in the only country in the world where it is illegal for women to do so. Here is what State Department spokesman Mark Toner had to say on the subject in his daily briefing:

We’re seeking more information at this point about her status. We understand there’s an active debate on a lot of these social issues in Saudi Arabia, and we trust the Government of Saudi Arabia to be – to give careful consideration to these voices of its citizens as they speak about issues of concern.

Questioned further about why there was no mention of Saudi Arabia in Obama’s speech, Toner replied: “Well, certainly it’s an important relationship and it was a fairly wide-sweeping speech, but we can’t address all issues on such a broad region.”

Sorry, but that won’t cut it. The U.S. will have little credibility speaking out about human rights abuses in Libya and Syria if we have nothing whatever to say about blatant human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. No one is suggesting the bombing of Riyadh or even putting U.S. arms sales in danger; but we should at least be willing to make some pointed remarks about the need for Saudi Arabia to grant its citizens, especially its female citizens, certain minimal rights.

I understand why the administration doesn’t want to take on the world’s No. 1 oil producer and an important American ally, but our silence is not doing the Saudi royal family any good. The Saudis need some tough love from us—they need to be told that for their own sake and ours they need to start on the path toward liberal, democratic reforms, or else they risk the possibility of an explosion such as the one that has shaken Bahrain, a neighboring American ally.

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Mavi Marmara, the Sequel?

Remember the Mavi Marmara incident, when the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (best known by its Turkish acronym, IHH) sought to run the blockade of Gaza and skirmished with Israeli forces boarding it?  In the melee which followed, nine Turks (one of whom held dual American citizenship) died.

Well, get ready for the sequel. With a nod and a wink, members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party are supporting efforts by the IHH to conduct another flotilla at the end of June. According to the Turkish press, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has rebuffed American requests not to pour gasoline onto a fire, and said it is not Turkey’s business because anyone supporting the IHH flotilla will be acting in a private capacity. This is the same strategy Turkey’s Foreign Ministry to parry complaints about Turkish officials’ warm relations and outreach to most radical factions of Hamas.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials are throwing the diplomatic equivalent of a temper tantrum amid reports that the UN investigation into the legality of Israel’s actions appears to back Israel’s case over Turkey’s. Last year, Ambassador Namik Tan took to the pages of the Washington Post to demand that Israel apologize for intercepting the Mavi Marmara. Perhaps rather than reverse that demand, Tan and his fellow travelers in Abdullah Gul’s wing of the ruling party are simply trying again?

Remember the Mavi Marmara incident, when the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (best known by its Turkish acronym, IHH) sought to run the blockade of Gaza and skirmished with Israeli forces boarding it?  In the melee which followed, nine Turks (one of whom held dual American citizenship) died.

Well, get ready for the sequel. With a nod and a wink, members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party are supporting efforts by the IHH to conduct another flotilla at the end of June. According to the Turkish press, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has rebuffed American requests not to pour gasoline onto a fire, and said it is not Turkey’s business because anyone supporting the IHH flotilla will be acting in a private capacity. This is the same strategy Turkey’s Foreign Ministry to parry complaints about Turkish officials’ warm relations and outreach to most radical factions of Hamas.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials are throwing the diplomatic equivalent of a temper tantrum amid reports that the UN investigation into the legality of Israel’s actions appears to back Israel’s case over Turkey’s. Last year, Ambassador Namik Tan took to the pages of the Washington Post to demand that Israel apologize for intercepting the Mavi Marmara. Perhaps rather than reverse that demand, Tan and his fellow travelers in Abdullah Gul’s wing of the ruling party are simply trying again?

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Only Netanyahu

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu basks in the glory from his triumphant speech to a joint meeting of Congress, it’s a moment to consider that he is the only Israeli leader who could have pulled off such a tour de force. His eloquent summation of Israel’s case was not only to the point, it was delivered in a manner that was singularly insightful in its ability to speak straight to the concerns of Americans.

That is not to say that Netanyahu is the wisest or the most adroit of Israeli politicians. He isn’t. His is a flawed character that has often been rightly described as Nixonesque. He combines a simmering resentment against enemies with deep suspicion of his friends. No happy warrior, Netanyahu is a prickly and often unpleasant man. And yet it must be understood that, for all of his shortcomings, Netanyahu is uniquely equipped to handle what must be considered the most important task of any Israeli prime minister: the alliance with the United States. Having spent much of his childhood in the United States (he’s the second most famous graduate of Cheltenham High School in Pennsylvania after baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson), he speaks fluent American English. More than that, unlike most Israelis, including many who have immigrated here, he has an intuitive understanding of American culture.

No other Israeli leader could have spoken with such ease and eloquence as Netanyahu did today in Congress. Indeed, it can be argued that there is no other leader of any foreign country who could have done so with such assurance. He pushed all the right buttons to create waves of ovations that any American president would envy. Rather than being wrong-footed by President Obama last week, he turned the carefully planned ambush into an opportunity to reinforce the wall-to-wall Congressional support for his country’s negotiating positions as well as its right of self-defense against a Palestinian foe that has not accepted Israel’s legitimacy.

There are those who will argue that the frosty relations with Barack Obama that have severely affected the U.S.-Israel alliance on his watch are the result of Netanyahu’s difficult persona. But to accept that premise is to underestimate the extent of Obama’s own flawed agenda. Nevertheless, it is Netanyahu’s keen grasp of American politics has allowed him to outfox the president who wanted to pressure Israel.

Earlier today I compared Netanyahu’s triumph to the similarly ecstatic reception that Winston Churchill received from Congress during World War Two. The comparison is not as far-fetched as it may seem. The point that critics of Israel often forget is that most Americans really do view it as not only a fellow democracy that is under siege from totatalitarians—as Britain was in 1941—but also their closest ally in the struggle against Islamist terror. While Netanyahu is no Churchill, he is half-American (at least culturally) like the immortal Briton. Only such a person could have hit the ball out of the park the way he did today. For all of his flaws and mistakes, Netanyahu was born to give such a speech and in doing so help safeguard his country’s security.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu basks in the glory from his triumphant speech to a joint meeting of Congress, it’s a moment to consider that he is the only Israeli leader who could have pulled off such a tour de force. His eloquent summation of Israel’s case was not only to the point, it was delivered in a manner that was singularly insightful in its ability to speak straight to the concerns of Americans.

That is not to say that Netanyahu is the wisest or the most adroit of Israeli politicians. He isn’t. His is a flawed character that has often been rightly described as Nixonesque. He combines a simmering resentment against enemies with deep suspicion of his friends. No happy warrior, Netanyahu is a prickly and often unpleasant man. And yet it must be understood that, for all of his shortcomings, Netanyahu is uniquely equipped to handle what must be considered the most important task of any Israeli prime minister: the alliance with the United States. Having spent much of his childhood in the United States (he’s the second most famous graduate of Cheltenham High School in Pennsylvania after baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson), he speaks fluent American English. More than that, unlike most Israelis, including many who have immigrated here, he has an intuitive understanding of American culture.

No other Israeli leader could have spoken with such ease and eloquence as Netanyahu did today in Congress. Indeed, it can be argued that there is no other leader of any foreign country who could have done so with such assurance. He pushed all the right buttons to create waves of ovations that any American president would envy. Rather than being wrong-footed by President Obama last week, he turned the carefully planned ambush into an opportunity to reinforce the wall-to-wall Congressional support for his country’s negotiating positions as well as its right of self-defense against a Palestinian foe that has not accepted Israel’s legitimacy.

There are those who will argue that the frosty relations with Barack Obama that have severely affected the U.S.-Israel alliance on his watch are the result of Netanyahu’s difficult persona. But to accept that premise is to underestimate the extent of Obama’s own flawed agenda. Nevertheless, it is Netanyahu’s keen grasp of American politics has allowed him to outfox the president who wanted to pressure Israel.

Earlier today I compared Netanyahu’s triumph to the similarly ecstatic reception that Winston Churchill received from Congress during World War Two. The comparison is not as far-fetched as it may seem. The point that critics of Israel often forget is that most Americans really do view it as not only a fellow democracy that is under siege from totatalitarians—as Britain was in 1941—but also their closest ally in the struggle against Islamist terror. While Netanyahu is no Churchill, he is half-American (at least culturally) like the immortal Briton. Only such a person could have hit the ball out of the park the way he did today. For all of his flaws and mistakes, Netanyahu was born to give such a speech and in doing so help safeguard his country’s security.

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Obama’s Bad Bet

Let’s hope that President Obama has learned a lesson this week: do not pick unnecessary political fights with Prime Minister Netanyahu. As Jonathan has pointed out, Netanyahu will return home the clear winner of the 1967 border controversy, a public-relations victory for the Israeli leader.

If Obama expected his preemptive statement on Thursday to put Netanyahu on the defensive, he bet wrong. The prime minister couldn’t have been more relaxed as he walked in to address Congress earlier today, joking with Vice President Joe Biden that he remembered when the two of them were considered the “new kids in town.” Whether intentional or not, Netanyahu was sending an implicit message to Obama that he and Biden have been in this game for a long time, and are more seasoned than the president when it comes to Middle East politics.

Netanyahu didn’t make news during his address, but he didn’t need to. The image of the joint Houses of Congress rising up and down in their seats (I lost track of how many times) for standing ovations was powerful enough on its own. They applauded his assertion that “the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers” in Judea and Samaria, and his declaration that the borders will not return to the 1967 lines.

Contrast this with the reception to President Obama’s argument that border negotiations should be based on the 1967 lines. Not only was his suggestion rebuffed by two of the most prominent Democrats in congress during AIPAC, but other members of his party also released statements harshly criticizing him.

The past week highlighted the massive bipartisan support that Israel enjoys in Congress. This may not be the last time Obama tries to promote anti-Israel policies, but it has certainly shown us that the Democratic Party will not be there to support him if he does.

Let’s hope that President Obama has learned a lesson this week: do not pick unnecessary political fights with Prime Minister Netanyahu. As Jonathan has pointed out, Netanyahu will return home the clear winner of the 1967 border controversy, a public-relations victory for the Israeli leader.

If Obama expected his preemptive statement on Thursday to put Netanyahu on the defensive, he bet wrong. The prime minister couldn’t have been more relaxed as he walked in to address Congress earlier today, joking with Vice President Joe Biden that he remembered when the two of them were considered the “new kids in town.” Whether intentional or not, Netanyahu was sending an implicit message to Obama that he and Biden have been in this game for a long time, and are more seasoned than the president when it comes to Middle East politics.

Netanyahu didn’t make news during his address, but he didn’t need to. The image of the joint Houses of Congress rising up and down in their seats (I lost track of how many times) for standing ovations was powerful enough on its own. They applauded his assertion that “the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers” in Judea and Samaria, and his declaration that the borders will not return to the 1967 lines.

Contrast this with the reception to President Obama’s argument that border negotiations should be based on the 1967 lines. Not only was his suggestion rebuffed by two of the most prominent Democrats in congress during AIPAC, but other members of his party also released statements harshly criticizing him.

The past week highlighted the massive bipartisan support that Israel enjoys in Congress. This may not be the last time Obama tries to promote anti-Israel policies, but it has certainly shown us that the Democratic Party will not be there to support him if he does.

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Scalia’s Blistering Dissent from “Judicial Travesty”

As Alana pointed out yesterday, the Supreme Court ordered California to release 46,000 convicted criminals (“the equivalent of three Army divisions,” in the words of Justice Samuel Alito) to relieve overcrowding, saying that “needless suffering and death” had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot hold them in decent conditions.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking for the majority in Brown v. Plata, said California’s prisons had “fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements” because of overcrowding. The result, the majority argued, was a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Justice Antonin Scalia offered a withering and powerfully argued dissent, saying that what the Court did “affirms what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation’s history.” (Scalia felt so strongly about the decision that he issued a rare oral dissent.)

People should read the Scalia dissent (as well as the dissent by Justice Alito) for themselves, but to summarize his case: The mere existence of the inadequate system does not subject to cruel and unusual punishment the entire prison population in need of medical care, including those who receive it; it is inconceivable that anything more than a small proportion of prisoners in the plaintiff classes have personally received sufficiently atrocious treatment that their Eighth Amendment right was violated; there is no procedural principle that justifies certifying a class of plaintiffs so they may assert a claim of systemic unconstitutionality; and the notion that the plaintiff class can allege an Eighth Amendment violation based on “systemwide deficiencies” is assuredly wrong.

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As Alana pointed out yesterday, the Supreme Court ordered California to release 46,000 convicted criminals (“the equivalent of three Army divisions,” in the words of Justice Samuel Alito) to relieve overcrowding, saying that “needless suffering and death” had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot hold them in decent conditions.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking for the majority in Brown v. Plata, said California’s prisons had “fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements” because of overcrowding. The result, the majority argued, was a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Justice Antonin Scalia offered a withering and powerfully argued dissent, saying that what the Court did “affirms what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation’s history.” (Scalia felt so strongly about the decision that he issued a rare oral dissent.)

People should read the Scalia dissent (as well as the dissent by Justice Alito) for themselves, but to summarize his case: The mere existence of the inadequate system does not subject to cruel and unusual punishment the entire prison population in need of medical care, including those who receive it; it is inconceivable that anything more than a small proportion of prisoners in the plaintiff classes have personally received sufficiently atrocious treatment that their Eighth Amendment right was violated; there is no procedural principle that justifies certifying a class of plaintiffs so they may assert a claim of systemic unconstitutionality; and the notion that the plaintiff class can allege an Eighth Amendment violation based on “systemwide deficiencies” is assuredly wrong.

“It is also worth noting the peculiarity that the vast majority of inmates most generously rewarded by the release order—the 46,000 whose incarceration will be ended—do not form part of any aggrieved class even under the Court’s expansive notion of constitutional violation,” Scalia added. “Most of them will not be prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness; and many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.”

Justice Scalia goes on to point out that finding an entire system to be unconstitutional because it may produce constitutional violations is ludicrous; that the District Court judges engaged in a form of factfinding-as-policymaking that is outside to traditional judicial role; and that structural injunctions do not simply invite judges to indulge policy preferences but invite judges to indulge incompetent policy preferences (“Three years of law school and familiarity with pertinent Supreme Court precedents give no insight whatsoever into the management of social institutions,” he said).

The lower court should be flexible in considering how to carry out its order, Justice Kennedy concluded his majority opinion by saying. Justice Scalia called this concluding part of the majority opinion “a bizarre coda” setting forth “a deliberately ambiguous set of suggestions on how to modify the injunction.”

“Perhaps the coda is nothing more than a ceremonial washing of the hands—making it clear for all to see, that if the terrible things sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order do happen, they will be none of this court’s responsibility,” Scalia wrote. “After all, did we not want, and indeed even suggest, something better?”

At the core of this case, then, was “the incoherence of the eighth Amendment claim.” The results were a “judicial travesty,” taking federal courts “wildly beyond their institutional capability.” And Antonin Scalia didn’t much appreciate it.

In a column written almost 20 years ago, Charles Krauthammer rendered this judgment: “Scalia stands out as the Reagan presidency’s finest legacy.” Yesterday’s dissent is a good reminder as to why that’s still the case.

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Antidote to Declinism

The New York Times, in reporting on the latest (preliminary) crime data released by the FBI, summarizes things this way:  “The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years. “

Among the other findings:

• In all regions, the country appears to be safer.

• The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States.

• Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

• Robberies fell by 9.5 percent last year, after dropping by 8 percent the year before.

• Nationally, murder fell by 4.4 percent last year.

• Forcible rape—which excludes statutory rape and other sex offenses—fell by 4.2 percent.

• Aggravated assault fell by 3.6 percent.

• Property crimes—including burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson—by fell 2.8 percent, after a 4.6 percent drop the year before.

This continues a remarkable social trend in America that began more than a decade-and-a-half ago, when crime was overwhelming many major urban centers and the expectation was that because of demography, crime would get worse, not better. There were concerns that our free democratic institutions could not withstand much more crime without a terrible counterreaction, including a rollback of civil liberties.

Instead, we’ve seen a decline in crime that is simply staggering.

There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology to advances in policing. We are able to spot, and respond to, crime trends far more quickly than ever before.

And perhaps the changes in crime are due to a shift in our cultural attitudes as well. In The Great Disruption, Francis Fukuyama cited historical examples of societies undergoing periods of moral decline followed by periods of moral recovery. In the case of America, he argued, the aftermath of the cultural breakdown of the 1960’s has given way to a reassessment and recovery of social and moral norms. Such “re-norming” will not occur in every social class all at once; in some instances it may take hold in one stratum but not in another. But partial progress is progress nonetheless.

The drop in crime over the last 15 years or so is among the greatest social success stories in our history, and it should act as an antidote to cultural pessimism and fatalism.

The New York Times, in reporting on the latest (preliminary) crime data released by the FBI, summarizes things this way:  “The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years. “

Among the other findings:

• In all regions, the country appears to be safer.

• The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States.

• Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

• Robberies fell by 9.5 percent last year, after dropping by 8 percent the year before.

• Nationally, murder fell by 4.4 percent last year.

• Forcible rape—which excludes statutory rape and other sex offenses—fell by 4.2 percent.

• Aggravated assault fell by 3.6 percent.

• Property crimes—including burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson—by fell 2.8 percent, after a 4.6 percent drop the year before.

This continues a remarkable social trend in America that began more than a decade-and-a-half ago, when crime was overwhelming many major urban centers and the expectation was that because of demography, crime would get worse, not better. There were concerns that our free democratic institutions could not withstand much more crime without a terrible counterreaction, including a rollback of civil liberties.

Instead, we’ve seen a decline in crime that is simply staggering.

There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology to advances in policing. We are able to spot, and respond to, crime trends far more quickly than ever before.

And perhaps the changes in crime are due to a shift in our cultural attitudes as well. In The Great Disruption, Francis Fukuyama cited historical examples of societies undergoing periods of moral decline followed by periods of moral recovery. In the case of America, he argued, the aftermath of the cultural breakdown of the 1960’s has given way to a reassessment and recovery of social and moral norms. Such “re-norming” will not occur in every social class all at once; in some instances it may take hold in one stratum but not in another. But partial progress is progress nonetheless.

The drop in crime over the last 15 years or so is among the greatest social success stories in our history, and it should act as an antidote to cultural pessimism and fatalism.

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“A Place that Boycotts Books Isn’t Far From One That Burns Them”

Seventy-eight years after Joseph Goebbels consigned the works of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaser, and Erich Kastner to the flames, a regional council in Scotland has approved a disturbing law that will ban newly published Israeli books from public libraries in West Dunbartonshire. These include books written by Israeli authors, as well as translations of novels produced in Israel.

The large Scottish city of Dundee also joined West Dunbartonshire (though to avoid potential lawsuits, the city won’t technically enforce the boycott). Instead, Dundee officials will hang posters throughout the city, asking residents to refrain from purchasing Israeli products. According to Ynet, the city will also “apply a special mark on Israeli products, in order to make them easily identifiable.”

By banning books, the boycott movement reveals itself for what it actually is. It’s not a campaign to pressure the Israeli government economically. It’s a campaign to isolate and dehumanize the Israeli people, including its artists, writers, and intellectuals. This is aimed at ultimately creating a culture of resentment and hatred for the Jewish state, and all of its citizens.

“A place that boycotts books is not far from a place that burns them,” said Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Prosor is right. The two forms of censorship are frighteningly close. And as the German writer Heinrich Heine presciently noted a century before the Holocaust, “where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”

Seventy-eight years after Joseph Goebbels consigned the works of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaser, and Erich Kastner to the flames, a regional council in Scotland has approved a disturbing law that will ban newly published Israeli books from public libraries in West Dunbartonshire. These include books written by Israeli authors, as well as translations of novels produced in Israel.

The large Scottish city of Dundee also joined West Dunbartonshire (though to avoid potential lawsuits, the city won’t technically enforce the boycott). Instead, Dundee officials will hang posters throughout the city, asking residents to refrain from purchasing Israeli products. According to Ynet, the city will also “apply a special mark on Israeli products, in order to make them easily identifiable.”

By banning books, the boycott movement reveals itself for what it actually is. It’s not a campaign to pressure the Israeli government economically. It’s a campaign to isolate and dehumanize the Israeli people, including its artists, writers, and intellectuals. This is aimed at ultimately creating a culture of resentment and hatred for the Jewish state, and all of its citizens.

“A place that boycotts books is not far from a place that burns them,” said Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Prosor is right. The two forms of censorship are frighteningly close. And as the German writer Heinrich Heine presciently noted a century before the Holocaust, “where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”

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Win or Lose, NY-26 Is No Bellwether

Although the results of the special election for New York’s 26th Congressional District won’t be known until sometime tonight, the Democrats are already preparing to spin a victory in that race as not only a rebuke to Republicans who want to reform Medicare but the moment when they began to take back control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats have good reason to be optimistic about the outcome. This is a district with a big Republican registration advantage, but morale of the local GOP was depressed by the absurd scandal that brought down incumbent Congressman Christopher Lee only a few months after an easy reelection victory. Democrats have run a strong campaign, bringing in tons of outside money and have an attractive candidate in Kathy Hochul, who has worked hard to tie Republican Jane Corwin to Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare reform plan.

But as even savvy liberal analysts like the New York Times’s Nate Silver have written, NY-26 is no bellwether. The presence of third-party candidate Jack Davis on the ballot makes it difficult to interpret tonight’s results. Davis was the Democrats’ standard-bearer in this district in 2004, 2006, and 2008, but is now running on a Tea Party line in spite of the fact that he has nothing to do with the national movement of that name. By splitting the GOP vote, Davis’s false-flag candidacy has played a key role in transforming a safe Republican seat into a competitive one.

Davis’s influence on the outcome has been largely under-reported, especially in stories in national outlets that have tried to paint the special election as a referendum on Ryan’s Medicare plan. If Hochul winds up winning with a total in the mid-40’s (as late polls indicate she might) that will approximate past Democratic results in that district for both Congressional and presidential races, it will be a stretch to say that it means that the people of suburban Buffalo are telling the country to reject the GOP’s budget plans.

That said, Republicans shouldn’t be too blasé about the results.

First, because even though Democratic spin about this being a rejection of Ryan might be bogus, a story repeated as often as this one will tend to be accepted as the truth. At this point, Republican arguments that point to Davis’s spoiler role will be dismissed as sour grapes.

Second, there is a real danger that a reverse in New York-26 will give the Democrats enough momentum to carry this theme into districts that will be a fairer test. With Republicans like Senator Scott Brown already defecting from the ranks of Ryan’s supporters, we should expect more to do so if Corwin loses.

Of course, should Corwin come from behind and hold onto the seat for the Republicans, no one will hear anything more from the national media about this seat’s being a bellwether.

Although the results of the special election for New York’s 26th Congressional District won’t be known until sometime tonight, the Democrats are already preparing to spin a victory in that race as not only a rebuke to Republicans who want to reform Medicare but the moment when they began to take back control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats have good reason to be optimistic about the outcome. This is a district with a big Republican registration advantage, but morale of the local GOP was depressed by the absurd scandal that brought down incumbent Congressman Christopher Lee only a few months after an easy reelection victory. Democrats have run a strong campaign, bringing in tons of outside money and have an attractive candidate in Kathy Hochul, who has worked hard to tie Republican Jane Corwin to Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare reform plan.

But as even savvy liberal analysts like the New York Times’s Nate Silver have written, NY-26 is no bellwether. The presence of third-party candidate Jack Davis on the ballot makes it difficult to interpret tonight’s results. Davis was the Democrats’ standard-bearer in this district in 2004, 2006, and 2008, but is now running on a Tea Party line in spite of the fact that he has nothing to do with the national movement of that name. By splitting the GOP vote, Davis’s false-flag candidacy has played a key role in transforming a safe Republican seat into a competitive one.

Davis’s influence on the outcome has been largely under-reported, especially in stories in national outlets that have tried to paint the special election as a referendum on Ryan’s Medicare plan. If Hochul winds up winning with a total in the mid-40’s (as late polls indicate she might) that will approximate past Democratic results in that district for both Congressional and presidential races, it will be a stretch to say that it means that the people of suburban Buffalo are telling the country to reject the GOP’s budget plans.

That said, Republicans shouldn’t be too blasé about the results.

First, because even though Democratic spin about this being a rejection of Ryan might be bogus, a story repeated as often as this one will tend to be accepted as the truth. At this point, Republican arguments that point to Davis’s spoiler role will be dismissed as sour grapes.

Second, there is a real danger that a reverse in New York-26 will give the Democrats enough momentum to carry this theme into districts that will be a fairer test. With Republicans like Senator Scott Brown already defecting from the ranks of Ryan’s supporters, we should expect more to do so if Corwin loses.

Of course, should Corwin come from behind and hold onto the seat for the Republicans, no one will hear anything more from the national media about this seat’s being a bellwether.

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Netanyahu’s Triumph

President Obama may have thought he could upstage Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled address to a joint meeting of Congress by delivering his own Middle East policy speech that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians favor the day before the Israeli arrived in Washington. Obama’s declaration that the 1967 lines must be the basis for peace talks was widely interpreted as a challenge to Netanyahu for which the prime minister was thought to have no effective answer.

But Obama was wrong. Netanyahu’s gutsy decision to refuse to take the ambush planned by the White House lying down was thought impertinent by many observers but it was the right decision. Rather than being cowed by the administration’s pressure play, Netanyahu’s assertion of Israel’s rights and security illustrated something that his country’s critics don’t seem to understand: the American people back Israel.

Rather than Obama’s speech overshadowing Netanyahu’s address, it merely served to increase interest in the prime minister’s remarks. When Netanyahu arrived in the House chamber, he was given a warmer greeting than most American presidents receive. During the course of an eloquent and brilliant speech that laid out Israel’s desire for peace as well as the threats that face it, Netanyahu was interrupted with standing ovations from the assembled Congress more than two dozen times. The cheers were not mere form; they were a genuine expression of the heartfelt support that huge majorities of both parties in both chambers feel for Israel. The speech was a triumph that can well be compared to the applause earned by Winston Churchill when he spoke to Congress as a wartime ally. It didn’t just highlight the bonds between Israel and America but the willingness of this Congress to view Netanyahu personally as a special friend of the American people.

Rather than boxing Netanyahu into a corner from which he would be forced to accept Obama’s terms, the Israeli will return home secure in the knowledge that Congress has his back and that he will be able to withstand the pressure that both the White House and America’s European allies plan to put on his country. Obama’s Middle East speech broke new ground but it will ultimately lead to nothing since the Palestinians will continue to refuse to make peace with Israel. But the support for the Jewish state that Netanyahu’s speech illustrated is a fact of political life that Obama will have to learn to live with. As he did when he outmaneuvered Obama the previous times when the president picked fights with Israel, Netanyahu emerged triumphant.

President Obama may have thought he could upstage Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled address to a joint meeting of Congress by delivering his own Middle East policy speech that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians favor the day before the Israeli arrived in Washington. Obama’s declaration that the 1967 lines must be the basis for peace talks was widely interpreted as a challenge to Netanyahu for which the prime minister was thought to have no effective answer.

But Obama was wrong. Netanyahu’s gutsy decision to refuse to take the ambush planned by the White House lying down was thought impertinent by many observers but it was the right decision. Rather than being cowed by the administration’s pressure play, Netanyahu’s assertion of Israel’s rights and security illustrated something that his country’s critics don’t seem to understand: the American people back Israel.

Rather than Obama’s speech overshadowing Netanyahu’s address, it merely served to increase interest in the prime minister’s remarks. When Netanyahu arrived in the House chamber, he was given a warmer greeting than most American presidents receive. During the course of an eloquent and brilliant speech that laid out Israel’s desire for peace as well as the threats that face it, Netanyahu was interrupted with standing ovations from the assembled Congress more than two dozen times. The cheers were not mere form; they were a genuine expression of the heartfelt support that huge majorities of both parties in both chambers feel for Israel. The speech was a triumph that can well be compared to the applause earned by Winston Churchill when he spoke to Congress as a wartime ally. It didn’t just highlight the bonds between Israel and America but the willingness of this Congress to view Netanyahu personally as a special friend of the American people.

Rather than boxing Netanyahu into a corner from which he would be forced to accept Obama’s terms, the Israeli will return home secure in the knowledge that Congress has his back and that he will be able to withstand the pressure that both the White House and America’s European allies plan to put on his country. Obama’s Middle East speech broke new ground but it will ultimately lead to nothing since the Palestinians will continue to refuse to make peace with Israel. But the support for the Jewish state that Netanyahu’s speech illustrated is a fact of political life that Obama will have to learn to live with. As he did when he outmaneuvered Obama the previous times when the president picked fights with Israel, Netanyahu emerged triumphant.

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If Only Elections Were More Like 1800!

The 2012 election will be another nasty affair, with the media lamenting incivility and trivial debates even as they do all they can to elevate them. But as the political debate intensifies, we need to keep things in the proper frame.

One of the more extravagant claims we hear is that politics has never been as vicious and personal. In fact, there have been plenty of elections that were much uglier—and perhaps none as much as the election of 1800, which pitted Thomas Jefferson against John Adams. It’s regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns in American history and nearly tore apart our young nation.

What’s less well known is the remarkable arc of friendship between the two men. They first met in 1775 as delegates to the Second Continental Congress. But differences over the French Revolution and, later, the bitterness of the election drove them apart. After a dozen years, the process of reconciliation (through letters) began, thanks to the intervention of America’s most eminent physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush.

According to the late Professor Merrill D. Peterson, author of Adams and Jefferson: A Revolutionary Dialogue:

The correspondence continued without interruption for fourteen years, until they were both ready to die. A marvelous vindication of the spirit of friendship over the spirit of party, it also carried symbolic meaning for the nation at large. Adams and Jefferson were well aware of this. As their revolutionary comrades fell away one by one, they became the last of the founders, the great patriarchs of the nation’s heritage, and it almost seemed that renewal of the ancient friendship was the highest service they might yet render their country. The correspondence … was an expression of the late landscape of the philosophical genius that had guided the early steps of the republic. It testified to, and in time became a testament of, the intellectual spaciousness that distinguished the founders’ generation and would not be seen in American statesmanship again.

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The 2012 election will be another nasty affair, with the media lamenting incivility and trivial debates even as they do all they can to elevate them. But as the political debate intensifies, we need to keep things in the proper frame.

One of the more extravagant claims we hear is that politics has never been as vicious and personal. In fact, there have been plenty of elections that were much uglier—and perhaps none as much as the election of 1800, which pitted Thomas Jefferson against John Adams. It’s regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns in American history and nearly tore apart our young nation.

What’s less well known is the remarkable arc of friendship between the two men. They first met in 1775 as delegates to the Second Continental Congress. But differences over the French Revolution and, later, the bitterness of the election drove them apart. After a dozen years, the process of reconciliation (through letters) began, thanks to the intervention of America’s most eminent physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush.

According to the late Professor Merrill D. Peterson, author of Adams and Jefferson: A Revolutionary Dialogue:

The correspondence continued without interruption for fourteen years, until they were both ready to die. A marvelous vindication of the spirit of friendship over the spirit of party, it also carried symbolic meaning for the nation at large. Adams and Jefferson were well aware of this. As their revolutionary comrades fell away one by one, they became the last of the founders, the great patriarchs of the nation’s heritage, and it almost seemed that renewal of the ancient friendship was the highest service they might yet render their country. The correspondence … was an expression of the late landscape of the philosophical genius that had guided the early steps of the republic. It testified to, and in time became a testament of, the intellectual spaciousness that distinguished the founders’ generation and would not be seen in American statesmanship again.

This account bears upon our era in two respects. The first is that American politics has been characterized by angry, fractious elections since our founding. That is more or less a constant, and it’s unlikely to change very much.

Perhaps the most we can realistically hope for are elections that are much more than mud-throwing contests. What separated elections at the founding of America from many others wasn’t that the former were more genteel; it was the quality of argumentation. The debates were carried on by philosopher-statesmen about the true meaning of the American Revolution. It isn’t that the ugliness of politics was cast aside; it’s that there was something else competing with, and overshadowing, the ugliness and triviality.

The second thing take away from the Adams-Jefferson relationship was what Peterson called “the vindication of the spirit of friendship over the spirit of party.”

This is harder than it seems, in part because there’s a perfectly understandable human tendency to seek out a community of like-minded individuals who can offer support and encouragement along the way. In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis writes that a friendship is born when two people discover they not only share common interests but see the same truth, who stand not face-to-face (as lovers do) but shoulder-to-shoulder. We’re naturally drawn to people who affirm rather than constantly challenge our worldview.

In addition, if two people look at the same set of facts and events in entirely opposite ways, it puts a strain on things. It’s easy to say we should separate out our political views and personal relationships, and for those who are disengaged from politics, it may well be. But for those of us whose political/philosophical views aren’t incidental but are fundamental to who we are, such disaggregation is more difficult than we like to admit.

All of which makes the Adams and Jefferson relationship so remarkable. A friendship that was forged in the crucible of the American Revolution, it became a casualty of the French Revolution. But time and distance from the intensity of partisan politics helped restore perspective and renew their bonds of affection. Adams and Jefferson famously died within hours of each other, on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, their lives having reminded us that partisan affiliations are not proxies for human character, that honorable people occupy every point on the political spectrum, and that political differences need not lead to lasting personal estrangement. Reconciliation is possible, even in politics, even across ideological divides, even after many years.

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Why Has Peace Eluded Us? Ask the Palestinians, Not Bibi.

During the course of his rousing welcome from both houses of Congress this morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit on the one big question about the peace process: why has peace eluded us?

During the past few days, those cheering President Obama’s ambush of Netanyahu have repeated over and over again that Israel must make “hard choices” and must act boldly to snatch a last chance of peace. But as Netanyahu rightly asserted, Israel has already offered the Palestinians an independent state twice in the past few years. Until Palestinian leaders are prepared to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state of Israel the way Netanyahu has accepted a Palestinian one, there can be no peace.

Pressure on Israel like the kind being plotted by Obama and the leaders of the G-8 this week will achieve nothing since the only hope for peace is today, as it always has been, in the hands of those who refuse to live in peace with Israel.

During the course of his rousing welcome from both houses of Congress this morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit on the one big question about the peace process: why has peace eluded us?

During the past few days, those cheering President Obama’s ambush of Netanyahu have repeated over and over again that Israel must make “hard choices” and must act boldly to snatch a last chance of peace. But as Netanyahu rightly asserted, Israel has already offered the Palestinians an independent state twice in the past few years. Until Palestinian leaders are prepared to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state of Israel the way Netanyahu has accepted a Palestinian one, there can be no peace.

Pressure on Israel like the kind being plotted by Obama and the leaders of the G-8 this week will achieve nothing since the only hope for peace is today, as it always has been, in the hands of those who refuse to live in peace with Israel.

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How to Make American Tornadoes

It’s been a terrible year for tornadoes. An outbreak on April 27th created 305 tornadoes in the Deep South that killed 326 people. That was the worst one-day death toll from tornadoes since 1973. The disaster in Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday has killed at least 117, the worst death toll from a single twister since 1947.  The total of tornado deaths this year, 480 and sure to rise, is the worst since 1953. The New York Times has an animated chart detailing each year’s tornado numbers and deaths since 1950.

Climate change, inevitably, will be blamed for this year’s disasters because climate change is the currently fashionable explanation for “crazy weather.” In the 1950s the fashionable explanation for the equally crazy weather was atomic-bomb testing.

But if you want to know what’s actually responsible, the answer is North America. It’s a tornado-generating machine. If you want a means for creating the maximum number of tornadoes, here’s what you do. You take a vast landmass that covers both temperate and arctic latitudes, with a huge ocean to the west. Along the entire west coast of that landmass you place a range of high mountains that trends NNW to SSE. East of the mountains place a large expanse of relatively flat land. Finally, to the south of the plains, place a warm, subtropical sea. Voilà, you will create a lot of tornadoes every spring as cold, dry air flows down the east side of the mountains and warm, moist air flows up from the subtropical sea.

The United States has more tornadoes than the rest of the planet put together. It’s not climate change or God’s wrath or atomic testing. It’s the intersection of meteorology and topography.

It’s been a terrible year for tornadoes. An outbreak on April 27th created 305 tornadoes in the Deep South that killed 326 people. That was the worst one-day death toll from tornadoes since 1973. The disaster in Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday has killed at least 117, the worst death toll from a single twister since 1947.  The total of tornado deaths this year, 480 and sure to rise, is the worst since 1953. The New York Times has an animated chart detailing each year’s tornado numbers and deaths since 1950.

Climate change, inevitably, will be blamed for this year’s disasters because climate change is the currently fashionable explanation for “crazy weather.” In the 1950s the fashionable explanation for the equally crazy weather was atomic-bomb testing.

But if you want to know what’s actually responsible, the answer is North America. It’s a tornado-generating machine. If you want a means for creating the maximum number of tornadoes, here’s what you do. You take a vast landmass that covers both temperate and arctic latitudes, with a huge ocean to the west. Along the entire west coast of that landmass you place a range of high mountains that trends NNW to SSE. East of the mountains place a large expanse of relatively flat land. Finally, to the south of the plains, place a warm, subtropical sea. Voilà, you will create a lot of tornadoes every spring as cold, dry air flows down the east side of the mountains and warm, moist air flows up from the subtropical sea.

The United States has more tornadoes than the rest of the planet put together. It’s not climate change or God’s wrath or atomic testing. It’s the intersection of meteorology and topography.

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In Spite of Obama’s Ambush, Netanyahu Still Goes Home a Winner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today will illustrate a fact that was largely obscured by the controversy over President Obama’s Middle East policy speech. The Jewish state enjoys overwhelming and bipartisan support in this country.

Cynics will ascribe the support to the “Israel Lobby”—a.k.a. AIPAC—which has been holding its annual conference in the capital the last couple of days — or some other pro-Zionist force. But what conspiracy theorists like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (authors of The Israel Lobby) and their media ilk never seem to understand is that the cabal they believe manipulates U.S. policy is so large it encompasses both major political parties and an overwhelming majority of the American people.

As some have noted, the Republican Party seems to be trending more pro-Israel and the Democrats less in recent years. Yet as Alana reported earlier this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer both implicitly rebuked the president in their speeches to AIPAC. The reservoir of support for Israel and even for Netanyahu, who has again become something of a lightening rod for those who dislike his country, is strong both in Congress and the country. In spite of the fact that Obama specifically chose to ambush Netanyahu by lobbing his bombshell about the 1967 lines a day before the Israeli arrived in Washington for a visit, then—an almost unprecedented discourtesy for an ally—the prime minister will be loudly cheered today when he explains why Israel will not and cannot be forced back to those insecure borders.

Obama’s policy shift has made Israel’s diplomatic position more difficult and has presented an undeserved gift to the Palestinian Authority, which is determined in any event to torpedo negotiations by going to the United Nations to acquire a state without recognizing Israel’s legitimacy or promising an end to the conflict. But the alliance, based on both common values and a level of security cooperation that is so entrenched that it is almost beyond the capacity of any president now to destroy it, is still solid.

It is important to keep things in perspective. Last week, over at Jewish Ideas Daily, Elliot Jager wrote about the difficulties that David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister encountered on a trip to the United States in 1962 to meet President Kennedy. Kennedy wouldn’t even receive Ben Gurion at the White House, insisting instead on a “private” meeting at a New York hotel. Ben Gurion did not walk away with much from the summit. JFK prevaricated about selling—not giving—Israel anti-aircraft missiles (he would later agree to the sale) and demanded that the tiny Jewish state consider admitting Arab refugees. Kennedy and the State Department hoped that such a gesture would mollify Israel’s hostile Arab neighbors who were not prepared to accept it even within the borders that are now associated with the date 1967.

In spite of the criticism he has taken for having the chutzpah to talk back to Obama, Netanyahu will return home with the cheers of Congress still echoing in his ears secure in the knowledge that there is only so far that the president can go in his campaign to pressure Israel. That is a feeling that David Ben Gurion would have loved to experience.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today will illustrate a fact that was largely obscured by the controversy over President Obama’s Middle East policy speech. The Jewish state enjoys overwhelming and bipartisan support in this country.

Cynics will ascribe the support to the “Israel Lobby”—a.k.a. AIPAC—which has been holding its annual conference in the capital the last couple of days — or some other pro-Zionist force. But what conspiracy theorists like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (authors of The Israel Lobby) and their media ilk never seem to understand is that the cabal they believe manipulates U.S. policy is so large it encompasses both major political parties and an overwhelming majority of the American people.

As some have noted, the Republican Party seems to be trending more pro-Israel and the Democrats less in recent years. Yet as Alana reported earlier this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer both implicitly rebuked the president in their speeches to AIPAC. The reservoir of support for Israel and even for Netanyahu, who has again become something of a lightening rod for those who dislike his country, is strong both in Congress and the country. In spite of the fact that Obama specifically chose to ambush Netanyahu by lobbing his bombshell about the 1967 lines a day before the Israeli arrived in Washington for a visit, then—an almost unprecedented discourtesy for an ally—the prime minister will be loudly cheered today when he explains why Israel will not and cannot be forced back to those insecure borders.

Obama’s policy shift has made Israel’s diplomatic position more difficult and has presented an undeserved gift to the Palestinian Authority, which is determined in any event to torpedo negotiations by going to the United Nations to acquire a state without recognizing Israel’s legitimacy or promising an end to the conflict. But the alliance, based on both common values and a level of security cooperation that is so entrenched that it is almost beyond the capacity of any president now to destroy it, is still solid.

It is important to keep things in perspective. Last week, over at Jewish Ideas Daily, Elliot Jager wrote about the difficulties that David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister encountered on a trip to the United States in 1962 to meet President Kennedy. Kennedy wouldn’t even receive Ben Gurion at the White House, insisting instead on a “private” meeting at a New York hotel. Ben Gurion did not walk away with much from the summit. JFK prevaricated about selling—not giving—Israel anti-aircraft missiles (he would later agree to the sale) and demanded that the tiny Jewish state consider admitting Arab refugees. Kennedy and the State Department hoped that such a gesture would mollify Israel’s hostile Arab neighbors who were not prepared to accept it even within the borders that are now associated with the date 1967.

In spite of the criticism he has taken for having the chutzpah to talk back to Obama, Netanyahu will return home with the cheers of Congress still echoing in his ears secure in the knowledge that there is only so far that the president can go in his campaign to pressure Israel. That is a feeling that David Ben Gurion would have loved to experience.

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Marrying Function to Location

Recently the American Folk Art Museum sold its building to her neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art. The folk art museum has had financial trouble since building and then moving to their new location on 53rd street. One might think hiring top architects like Tod Williams and Billie Tsien with avant-garde ideas would increase attendance just as it did at the Bilbao, no? Well, wouldn’t you think that being next to MoMA would help? Not really.

As the New Yorker, the New York Times, and New York magazine squabble over the merits of the building—gem or tomb, you decide—Dan Duray at the Observer actually took the time to consider the issue carefully. Holly Hotchner, the director of the Museum of Art and Design (a former neighbor to MoMA), explained that the competition with the Modern was too great. After all, most people come to 53rd street to see Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s Starry Night. And after two hours even I’m done looking at art for the day.

While those who admire the Folk Art Museum building do so for its beauty, Hotchner discusses her own new building on Columbus Circle. Her museum renovated the old Edward Durell Stone edifice. Conservationists wanted to preserve its iconic design, but Hotcher is a bit more realistic. “A building is not a façade,” she says in criticism of current architectural thinking; “a building is not a skin.” Both the Museum of Art and Design and the American Folk Art Museum are in desirable locations, but one was designed to be monumental while the other took down its imposing façade.

Which adage is truest? Form follows function? Or location, location, location? Perhaps if MoMA turns its new acquisition into a boutique hotel then the two would be married as well as they are by the Museum of Art and Design’s new home.

Recently the American Folk Art Museum sold its building to her neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art. The folk art museum has had financial trouble since building and then moving to their new location on 53rd street. One might think hiring top architects like Tod Williams and Billie Tsien with avant-garde ideas would increase attendance just as it did at the Bilbao, no? Well, wouldn’t you think that being next to MoMA would help? Not really.

As the New Yorker, the New York Times, and New York magazine squabble over the merits of the building—gem or tomb, you decide—Dan Duray at the Observer actually took the time to consider the issue carefully. Holly Hotchner, the director of the Museum of Art and Design (a former neighbor to MoMA), explained that the competition with the Modern was too great. After all, most people come to 53rd street to see Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s Starry Night. And after two hours even I’m done looking at art for the day.

While those who admire the Folk Art Museum building do so for its beauty, Hotchner discusses her own new building on Columbus Circle. Her museum renovated the old Edward Durell Stone edifice. Conservationists wanted to preserve its iconic design, but Hotcher is a bit more realistic. “A building is not a façade,” she says in criticism of current architectural thinking; “a building is not a skin.” Both the Museum of Art and Design and the American Folk Art Museum are in desirable locations, but one was designed to be monumental while the other took down its imposing façade.

Which adage is truest? Form follows function? Or location, location, location? Perhaps if MoMA turns its new acquisition into a boutique hotel then the two would be married as well as they are by the Museum of Art and Design’s new home.

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No UN Vote Can Create a Palestinian State

Everyone should be relieved that Peter Beinart is not in charge of the world. In his latest criticism of the Israeli government, he warns about the catastrophic consequences of a UN General Assembly vote recognizing a Palestinian state. He writes:

In a few months, the U.N. General Assembly will vote, probably overwhelmingly, to recognize a Palestinian state along Israel’s 1967 borders. No one knows exactly what will happen after that, but from the Israeli government’s point of view, it won’t be good. According to international law, Israel will be occupying a sovereign nation. The result will likely be a bonanza of lawsuits, divestment campaigns and cancelled business deals. Israelis will feel more and more besieged. More and more of the country’s educated, tech-savvy young will realize you can get pretty good falafel in Menlo Park.

Of course, Beinart is right that a resolution by the UN General Assembly recognizing a Palestininan state will be bad for Israel. It will begin a process in which a great many states feel pressure to recognize the new Palestine, leading Israel to retaliate through unilateral annexation. Depending on what the PA does after that, it could well lead to war.

But in his understanding of international law, Beinart is flat-out wrong. The General Assembly does not have the authority to create binding law by a simple vote. It is not a global legislature, just as the UN is not a world government. Its resolutions are symbolic. Never mind the fact that the UN charter never gives the General Assembly such authority. Just think about it: Does anybody believe that in creating the UN, sovereign states like the U.S. and the Soviet Union handed over their own sovereign authority to a body in which tyrannical regimes and democratic ones, friends and allies, get an equal vote? That if, one day, the General Assembly decides to grant independence to Quebec, or Minnesota, or the Confederacy, that suddenly it will be binding on all member states, including Canada and the U.S.?

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Everyone should be relieved that Peter Beinart is not in charge of the world. In his latest criticism of the Israeli government, he warns about the catastrophic consequences of a UN General Assembly vote recognizing a Palestinian state. He writes:

In a few months, the U.N. General Assembly will vote, probably overwhelmingly, to recognize a Palestinian state along Israel’s 1967 borders. No one knows exactly what will happen after that, but from the Israeli government’s point of view, it won’t be good. According to international law, Israel will be occupying a sovereign nation. The result will likely be a bonanza of lawsuits, divestment campaigns and cancelled business deals. Israelis will feel more and more besieged. More and more of the country’s educated, tech-savvy young will realize you can get pretty good falafel in Menlo Park.

Of course, Beinart is right that a resolution by the UN General Assembly recognizing a Palestininan state will be bad for Israel. It will begin a process in which a great many states feel pressure to recognize the new Palestine, leading Israel to retaliate through unilateral annexation. Depending on what the PA does after that, it could well lead to war.

But in his understanding of international law, Beinart is flat-out wrong. The General Assembly does not have the authority to create binding law by a simple vote. It is not a global legislature, just as the UN is not a world government. Its resolutions are symbolic. Never mind the fact that the UN charter never gives the General Assembly such authority. Just think about it: Does anybody believe that in creating the UN, sovereign states like the U.S. and the Soviet Union handed over their own sovereign authority to a body in which tyrannical regimes and democratic ones, friends and allies, get an equal vote? That if, one day, the General Assembly decides to grant independence to Quebec, or Minnesota, or the Confederacy, that suddenly it will be binding on all member states, including Canada and the U.S.?

The UN was created for the purpose of fostering international dialogue and giving international imprimatur to a whole web of international agreements and conventions that are binding inasmuch as a sovereign state enters them of its own volition. But when the UN General Assembly voted in 1975 to declare that “Zionism is Racism,” it didn’t make regimes that supported the Zionist entity into criminal states. From Israel’s perspective, agreeing to that kind of authority for the General Assembly would have been absurd. It would mean, for example, that the actual legally recognized borders of Israel are not those of 1967 or 2011, but rather 1947—the borders set by UN resolution 181 (also known as the UN partition plan), the borders that did not include Western Jerusalem or the corridor leading to it, or large chunks of the Galilee. This was, after all, the only time the General Assembly has voted on Israel’s borders. By Beinart’s logic, Israel has been illegally occupying sovereign land since 1948. Which lines him up nicely with the most extreme Palestinian claims.

For proof that I’m right and Beinart is wrong, we need look no further than President Obama’s speech at AIPAC earlier this week. What, exactly, did the president mean when he declared that “No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state”? That the President is so confident in his ability to prevent a General Assembly vote from passing that he was promising to do so? Hardly. A much more reasonable interpretation is that even if such a vote passes, it will not create an independent state. The UN just doesn’t have the power to do that.

None of which makes a UN General Assembly vote into a picnic for Israel. Symbolism is not toothless, and many of Israel’s greatest allies around the world will be put in a tight spot to recognize such a state—regardless of its endorsement of terrorism, its oppression of its own citizens, or its permanent war footing. It will be a diplomatic blow to Israel—and by implication, to the U.S. as well. Which is why President Obama committed himself to doing everything in his power to prevent it.

Beinart, of course, isn’t the only person who wants to believe that GA resolutions create international law. He quotes another Daily Beast article by Leslie Gelb, which makes the same assertion. And the user-created Wikipedia entry on “Sources of International Law” asserts that “it may be argued” that the UN’s resolutions are indeed one of many such sources. The question is an old one, dividing those who adopt an expansive, wishful-thinking, global-governance stance on international law and those, like the Founding Fathers, who preferred national sovereignty and the principle that law be conferred only by the consent of the governed.

Good to know which side Beinart’s on—and that his views are not shared by the American people, or the President of the United States.

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Top Democrats Rebuff Obama at AIPAC

President Obama has been widely criticized for suggesting that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should start at the 1967 borders, but even members of his own party openly rebuked his comments during the AIPAC conference this week.

“No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building, or about anything else,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared at the conference dinner last night, to cheers and a standing ovation from an audience of over 10,000 Israel supporters.

“The place where negotiating will happen must be at the negotiating table—and nowhere else,” Reid added. “Those negotiations . . . will not happen—and their terms will not be set—through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who spoke to AIPAC minutes before President Obama went onstage on Sunday, was slightly more cautious in his critique. “Israel’s borders must be defensible and must reflect reality on the ground,” he said. “Peace can only be achieved by a return to the negotiating table without preconditions.”

Obama attempted to clarify his comments on the 1967 borders during his AIPAC address yesterday, saying that he realizes those won’t be the final parameters of a future two-state solution. But he still insinuated that Israel should negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, something that both Reid and Hoyer firmly rejected.

The fact that two of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress implicitly criticized the president’s proposals indicates two things. The first is that there is a disconnect between Obama and congressional Democrats on Israel policy. And the second is that top Democrats are now willing to disparage the president’s proposals publicly. Even if Obama wants to push anti-Israel policies (and there’s evidence to that he does), his own party won’t stand behind him on it.

President Obama has been widely criticized for suggesting that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should start at the 1967 borders, but even members of his own party openly rebuked his comments during the AIPAC conference this week.

“No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building, or about anything else,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared at the conference dinner last night, to cheers and a standing ovation from an audience of over 10,000 Israel supporters.

“The place where negotiating will happen must be at the negotiating table—and nowhere else,” Reid added. “Those negotiations . . . will not happen—and their terms will not be set—through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who spoke to AIPAC minutes before President Obama went onstage on Sunday, was slightly more cautious in his critique. “Israel’s borders must be defensible and must reflect reality on the ground,” he said. “Peace can only be achieved by a return to the negotiating table without preconditions.”

Obama attempted to clarify his comments on the 1967 borders during his AIPAC address yesterday, saying that he realizes those won’t be the final parameters of a future two-state solution. But he still insinuated that Israel should negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, something that both Reid and Hoyer firmly rejected.

The fact that two of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress implicitly criticized the president’s proposals indicates two things. The first is that there is a disconnect between Obama and congressional Democrats on Israel policy. And the second is that top Democrats are now willing to disparage the president’s proposals publicly. Even if Obama wants to push anti-Israel policies (and there’s evidence to that he does), his own party won’t stand behind him on it.

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Re: Bibi at AIPAC

In describing American support for Israel during his AIPAC address Sunday morning, President Obama virtually exhausted the synonyms for “strong” in the English language—using “unbreakable,” “ironclad,” “steadfast,” “unshakeable,” and “unwavering” in the course of his speech.

But the scene last night at the AIPAC banquet was worth more than a thousand words, and a better indication than mere rhetoric. More than two-thirds of both the House and Senate attended (including the Majority and Minority leaders of both branches, and the Speaker of the House), along with Israeli and foreign dignitaries and conference attendees that included 1500 student body presidents—more than 10,000 people in all, in a dinner hall whose length could have accommodated the Washington Monument.

Benjamin Netanyahu ended the evening with a paean to “real democracy” (not just elections, but freedom of speech, rule of law, and rights for women, gays, and minorities) as the solution to the problems of the Middle East. He got sustained applause for his statement that “Israel is not what’s wrong about the Middle East; Israel is what’s right” about it. As John notes, he responded to the hecklers’ interruptions by wondering how such protests would be handled in Gaza.

Netanyahu concluded by quoting, in both English and the original Hebrew, the phrase from Leviticus 25:10 that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (and in Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem): “Proclaim liberty throughout the land (ukratem dror baarets).” It was a reminder, in the country of the “almost chosen people” (in Lincoln’s remarkable phrase), that the United States and Israel represent the true alliance of hope and change in the world.

In describing American support for Israel during his AIPAC address Sunday morning, President Obama virtually exhausted the synonyms for “strong” in the English language—using “unbreakable,” “ironclad,” “steadfast,” “unshakeable,” and “unwavering” in the course of his speech.

But the scene last night at the AIPAC banquet was worth more than a thousand words, and a better indication than mere rhetoric. More than two-thirds of both the House and Senate attended (including the Majority and Minority leaders of both branches, and the Speaker of the House), along with Israeli and foreign dignitaries and conference attendees that included 1500 student body presidents—more than 10,000 people in all, in a dinner hall whose length could have accommodated the Washington Monument.

Benjamin Netanyahu ended the evening with a paean to “real democracy” (not just elections, but freedom of speech, rule of law, and rights for women, gays, and minorities) as the solution to the problems of the Middle East. He got sustained applause for his statement that “Israel is not what’s wrong about the Middle East; Israel is what’s right” about it. As John notes, he responded to the hecklers’ interruptions by wondering how such protests would be handled in Gaza.

Netanyahu concluded by quoting, in both English and the original Hebrew, the phrase from Leviticus 25:10 that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (and in Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem): “Proclaim liberty throughout the land (ukratem dror baarets).” It was a reminder, in the country of the “almost chosen people” (in Lincoln’s remarkable phrase), that the United States and Israel represent the true alliance of hope and change in the world.

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