Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 3, 2011

July 4th Priority: Protecting and Defending the Constitution

Time Magazine’s cover story this week for the July 4th holiday is a nearly 5,000-word screed about the United States Constitution. The piece, titled, “One Document, Under Siege,” actually seeks to debunk the notion we are in a constitutional crisis. According to author Richard Stengel, the idea the Constitution is under attack is a right-wing myth. Since, as he points out, none of the founders could have envisioned the world in which we live today, we must, as liberal jurists have done for much of the last half century or more, reinterpret and re-write the Constitution to suit our current needs.

The object of his derision is not, however, so much the limitations of the Constitution’s authors, but those who defend it today against the forces seeking to grow our already out-of-control government: the Tea Party movement.

Stengel is correct when he says limiting the power of government was not the entire focus of the framers. The federal government had to be created first in order to be limited. So to say James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the two men who were the driving forces behind the Constitution’s composition and its passage, wished to enhance the power of the federal government at the expense of the states is to merely state the obvious. But they also were very careful not to let any one branch, let alone one person, dominate the structure they so carefully erected. Their abhorrence of unchecked power, the hallmark of modern liberal governance, may seem quaint to those who believe the ideological fads of any moment ought to be able trump constitutional principles. Though it is true they could not have envisioned the challenges that face their successors in 2011, the guidelines they left behind still should inform our decisions. The vast expansion of entitlements and spending to feed the leviathan that our national government has become are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution in that they further diminish individual liberty and create unaccountable bureaucracies.

Time magazine is right when it says these debates are not new. Sometimes, as when Abraham Lincoln ran roughshod over the Constitution in order to defend it against a war launched by rebel secessionists, the innovators were correct. But most often, as is the case in our own day with government health care programs and other vast spending mandates which intrude upon individual rights, it is those who seek to stand firm on constitutional principles who are in the right.

The need to defend our constitutional liberties against intellectuals and politicians who believe they are so smart they ought to be allowed to tell us all what to do has never been greater. For all of the hunger that exists for free government money for entitlements, most Americans still believe they live in a country where the individual takes precedence over the collective. As we witnessed last year during the 2010-midterm elections, whether Time likes it or not, there is a vast constituency of Americans for whom such issues resonate.

On this 236th glorious Fourth of July in our history, it is an apt moment to recall the principles upon which our government was founded and to rededicate ourselves to their defense.

Time Magazine’s cover story this week for the July 4th holiday is a nearly 5,000-word screed about the United States Constitution. The piece, titled, “One Document, Under Siege,” actually seeks to debunk the notion we are in a constitutional crisis. According to author Richard Stengel, the idea the Constitution is under attack is a right-wing myth. Since, as he points out, none of the founders could have envisioned the world in which we live today, we must, as liberal jurists have done for much of the last half century or more, reinterpret and re-write the Constitution to suit our current needs.

The object of his derision is not, however, so much the limitations of the Constitution’s authors, but those who defend it today against the forces seeking to grow our already out-of-control government: the Tea Party movement.

Stengel is correct when he says limiting the power of government was not the entire focus of the framers. The federal government had to be created first in order to be limited. So to say James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the two men who were the driving forces behind the Constitution’s composition and its passage, wished to enhance the power of the federal government at the expense of the states is to merely state the obvious. But they also were very careful not to let any one branch, let alone one person, dominate the structure they so carefully erected. Their abhorrence of unchecked power, the hallmark of modern liberal governance, may seem quaint to those who believe the ideological fads of any moment ought to be able trump constitutional principles. Though it is true they could not have envisioned the challenges that face their successors in 2011, the guidelines they left behind still should inform our decisions. The vast expansion of entitlements and spending to feed the leviathan that our national government has become are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution in that they further diminish individual liberty and create unaccountable bureaucracies.

Time magazine is right when it says these debates are not new. Sometimes, as when Abraham Lincoln ran roughshod over the Constitution in order to defend it against a war launched by rebel secessionists, the innovators were correct. But most often, as is the case in our own day with government health care programs and other vast spending mandates which intrude upon individual rights, it is those who seek to stand firm on constitutional principles who are in the right.

The need to defend our constitutional liberties against intellectuals and politicians who believe they are so smart they ought to be allowed to tell us all what to do has never been greater. For all of the hunger that exists for free government money for entitlements, most Americans still believe they live in a country where the individual takes precedence over the collective. As we witnessed last year during the 2010-midterm elections, whether Time likes it or not, there is a vast constituency of Americans for whom such issues resonate.

On this 236th glorious Fourth of July in our history, it is an apt moment to recall the principles upon which our government was founded and to rededicate ourselves to their defense.

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A Moment of Clarity from Hamas’ Supporters in America

According to Adam Shapiro, the speaker of the Free Gaza flotilla (Wadi):

What we’ve been doing over the last ten years with the Internatio­nal Solidarity Movement, Free Gaza, and all the other outgrowth organizati­ons and movements and groups is to …work with Palestinia­n society to ramp up the resistance­. This is all part of a Palestinia­n movement for Palestine.­.. This is truly an internatio­nal movement … It’s only Palestine, this cause that has been going on for over 60 years, that generates this kind of activism, this kind of resistance­… Free Gaza is but one tactic of a larger strategy, to transform this conflict from one between Israel and the Palestinia­ns, or Israel and the Arab world…to one between the rest of the world and Israel…

It’s about time the international media drop the fiction the Gaza flotilla is motivated by humanitarian concerns. It is not about resolving conflict; its aim is to create conflict. Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to its organizers.

According to Adam Shapiro, the speaker of the Free Gaza flotilla (Wadi):

What we’ve been doing over the last ten years with the Internatio­nal Solidarity Movement, Free Gaza, and all the other outgrowth organizati­ons and movements and groups is to …work with Palestinia­n society to ramp up the resistance­. This is all part of a Palestinia­n movement for Palestine.­.. This is truly an internatio­nal movement … It’s only Palestine, this cause that has been going on for over 60 years, that generates this kind of activism, this kind of resistance­… Free Gaza is but one tactic of a larger strategy, to transform this conflict from one between Israel and the Palestinia­ns, or Israel and the Arab world…to one between the rest of the world and Israel…

It’s about time the international media drop the fiction the Gaza flotilla is motivated by humanitarian concerns. It is not about resolving conflict; its aim is to create conflict. Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to its organizers.

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Egemen Bağış: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

In an interview with Balkanalysis.com that had escaped my attention until now, Egemen Bağiş, Turkey’s minister for European Union Affairs and its chief negotiator with the European Union, said Turkey is “determined to continue reforms on freedom of expression and press, which are not only crucial for our path towards European Union accession, but also for deepening democracy.”

Bağiş highlights the danger of taking Turkish officials at their word. During the past few years, press freedom in Turkey has plummeted. Turkey now rates among the worst countries in the world in terms of press freedom.

The richness of Bağiş’s quote, however, is that he is actively involved in suing anyone who criticizes him, either in Turkey or the United States. When in a 2008 interview with a Turkish publication, I reported Bağiş had a reputation among American officials for, let’s say, being a little less than transparent on some financial issues, he tried unsuccessfully to serve me, apparently with the assistance of Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States. Wikileaks, however, subsequently came to the rescue. A 2004 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara fully supported the description of his reputation, not only among American officials, but also among his colleagues:

With regard to Islamist influences on Erdoğan, DefMin Gonul, who is a conservative but worldly Muslim, recently described Gul associate Davutoglu to us as “exceptionally dangerous.” Erdogan’s other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to MPs and party intellectuals.

That Turkish officials continue to harass journalists and analysts, and have grown so cocky as to try to chill discourse in other countries, suggests just how deep-rooted antipathy to basic freedoms are under the current government and how insincere Turkish officials from Erdoğan to Bağiş to Tan are, no matter how they talk to Western liberals. It was Bağiş’ threats and behavior which convinced me of the AKP’s and Tan’s insincerity on fundamental rights: Turkish officials simply do not throw around lawsuits without approval.

The Bağiş example is crucial as some American analysts look at Turkey as a model for the Arab spring, and the AKP as an example of the confluence of Islamism and democracy. The rhetoric of democracy, however, is not the same as democracy itself, in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, or anywhere else. Unless Washington judges Turkey on defined metrics: press freedom, the safety of women, and the right to free speech and association, and holds it accountable for its actions, both Turkish and Arab officials will conclude that talking the talk is enough, even as they backslide into illiberalism.

In an interview with Balkanalysis.com that had escaped my attention until now, Egemen Bağiş, Turkey’s minister for European Union Affairs and its chief negotiator with the European Union, said Turkey is “determined to continue reforms on freedom of expression and press, which are not only crucial for our path towards European Union accession, but also for deepening democracy.”

Bağiş highlights the danger of taking Turkish officials at their word. During the past few years, press freedom in Turkey has plummeted. Turkey now rates among the worst countries in the world in terms of press freedom.

The richness of Bağiş’s quote, however, is that he is actively involved in suing anyone who criticizes him, either in Turkey or the United States. When in a 2008 interview with a Turkish publication, I reported Bağiş had a reputation among American officials for, let’s say, being a little less than transparent on some financial issues, he tried unsuccessfully to serve me, apparently with the assistance of Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States. Wikileaks, however, subsequently came to the rescue. A 2004 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara fully supported the description of his reputation, not only among American officials, but also among his colleagues:

With regard to Islamist influences on Erdoğan, DefMin Gonul, who is a conservative but worldly Muslim, recently described Gul associate Davutoglu to us as “exceptionally dangerous.” Erdogan’s other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to MPs and party intellectuals.

That Turkish officials continue to harass journalists and analysts, and have grown so cocky as to try to chill discourse in other countries, suggests just how deep-rooted antipathy to basic freedoms are under the current government and how insincere Turkish officials from Erdoğan to Bağiş to Tan are, no matter how they talk to Western liberals. It was Bağiş’ threats and behavior which convinced me of the AKP’s and Tan’s insincerity on fundamental rights: Turkish officials simply do not throw around lawsuits without approval.

The Bağiş example is crucial as some American analysts look at Turkey as a model for the Arab spring, and the AKP as an example of the confluence of Islamism and democracy. The rhetoric of democracy, however, is not the same as democracy itself, in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, or anywhere else. Unless Washington judges Turkey on defined metrics: press freedom, the safety of women, and the right to free speech and association, and holds it accountable for its actions, both Turkish and Arab officials will conclude that talking the talk is enough, even as they backslide into illiberalism.

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Does Experience Matter in Government? Perry Proves the Point.

In the past two and a half years, the American people have gotten yet another lesson in the perils of electing a president without executive experience. Barack Obama had no background in running anything, let alone a contraption as complicated as the federal government. His failures dealing with Congress as well as controlling the bureaucracy have been legion. Though Democrats thought a slim resume was only an issue with regards to the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, the president’s lack of familiarity with the business of managing a government has come back to haunt the nation.

The experience factor is one that obviously plays into the hands of the former governors who are seeking to replace Obama. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty’s status as former governors ought to be a huge leg up for them, especially when compared to the record of Michele Bachmann, who has more legislative experience than Obama had but the same paucity of familiarity with the executive branch. However, the man who seems to be standing on the precipice of joining this trio as mainstream contenders for the GOP nomination has them all trumped.

Rick Perry has been governor of Texas since George W. Bush left that office in December 2000. In the past 11 years, he has not only amassed a vast wealth of governing experience, he has apparently become an expert in the business of dealing with a legislature and a state bureaucracy. While not everyone in the Lone Star State is in love with Perry, there seems to be a consensus he is not only a highly effective executive but one who has increased the power of an office that was once put down as among the least important governorships in the nation.

In today’s New York Times, Perry’s reign in Austin is given the once over and though the piece is not consistently flattering about the governor’s style, there’s no way to read it without being impressed by his skill. Perry has reversed the traditional balance of power ration between the state legislature and the governor’s office, getting his way far more often than not.

But, in the article, there is some confusion about Perry’s ideology. On the one hand, he is lambasted for his ruthless determination in pushing through business friendly measures that some blast as corporate welfare while at the same time he is denounced as the ultimate small government Tea Party activist. But no matter what label you slap on him, he is in position to claim credit for the economic boom that has made his state an outlier at a time when rising unemployment is the keystone of the economy during Barack Obama’s presidency.

We don’t know whether Rick Perry will decide to run for president. Nor do we know how he will fare on the campaign trail in states where governors in cowboy boots may not impress voters, especially only four years after the end of George W. Bush’s presidency.  Yet, as this Times’ article demonstrates, there’s no doubt Perry brings more to the table in terms of successful governing experience than anyone else seeking to challenge Obama.

In the past two and a half years, the American people have gotten yet another lesson in the perils of electing a president without executive experience. Barack Obama had no background in running anything, let alone a contraption as complicated as the federal government. His failures dealing with Congress as well as controlling the bureaucracy have been legion. Though Democrats thought a slim resume was only an issue with regards to the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, the president’s lack of familiarity with the business of managing a government has come back to haunt the nation.

The experience factor is one that obviously plays into the hands of the former governors who are seeking to replace Obama. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty’s status as former governors ought to be a huge leg up for them, especially when compared to the record of Michele Bachmann, who has more legislative experience than Obama had but the same paucity of familiarity with the executive branch. However, the man who seems to be standing on the precipice of joining this trio as mainstream contenders for the GOP nomination has them all trumped.

Rick Perry has been governor of Texas since George W. Bush left that office in December 2000. In the past 11 years, he has not only amassed a vast wealth of governing experience, he has apparently become an expert in the business of dealing with a legislature and a state bureaucracy. While not everyone in the Lone Star State is in love with Perry, there seems to be a consensus he is not only a highly effective executive but one who has increased the power of an office that was once put down as among the least important governorships in the nation.

In today’s New York Times, Perry’s reign in Austin is given the once over and though the piece is not consistently flattering about the governor’s style, there’s no way to read it without being impressed by his skill. Perry has reversed the traditional balance of power ration between the state legislature and the governor’s office, getting his way far more often than not.

But, in the article, there is some confusion about Perry’s ideology. On the one hand, he is lambasted for his ruthless determination in pushing through business friendly measures that some blast as corporate welfare while at the same time he is denounced as the ultimate small government Tea Party activist. But no matter what label you slap on him, he is in position to claim credit for the economic boom that has made his state an outlier at a time when rising unemployment is the keystone of the economy during Barack Obama’s presidency.

We don’t know whether Rick Perry will decide to run for president. Nor do we know how he will fare on the campaign trail in states where governors in cowboy boots may not impress voters, especially only four years after the end of George W. Bush’s presidency.  Yet, as this Times’ article demonstrates, there’s no doubt Perry brings more to the table in terms of successful governing experience than anyone else seeking to challenge Obama.

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Obama Cannot Escape Bitter Fruits of His Policies

It’s hard to recall, I know, but once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to do away the what he derisively called the “politics of the past” – meaning the childish assertions, the dishonest claims, the incessant, non-stop spin. What we needed, Obama insisted, was someone who is “able to see all sides of an argument.” We needed politicians who would undo the cynicism about and around politics. We needed intellectual integrity and intellectual honesty.

I thought about all that during the president’s press conference last week, when he mentioned eliminating a tax loophole for corporate jets six different times, pretending it’s the GOP’s commitment to those loopholes standing in the way of a grand bargain to lower the deficit. Beyond that, Obama spoke about the tax loopholes as if they were fiscally significant, offering us the choice between allowing tax loopholes for corporate jet and gutting student loans, food safety, the weather service, and more.

The game Obama was playing was both ludicrous and self-indicting. Read More

It’s hard to recall, I know, but once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to do away the what he derisively called the “politics of the past” – meaning the childish assertions, the dishonest claims, the incessant, non-stop spin. What we needed, Obama insisted, was someone who is “able to see all sides of an argument.” We needed politicians who would undo the cynicism about and around politics. We needed intellectual integrity and intellectual honesty.

I thought about all that during the president’s press conference last week, when he mentioned eliminating a tax loophole for corporate jets six different times, pretending it’s the GOP’s commitment to those loopholes standing in the way of a grand bargain to lower the deficit. Beyond that, Obama spoke about the tax loopholes as if they were fiscally significant, offering us the choice between allowing tax loopholes for corporate jet and gutting student loans, food safety, the weather service, and more.

The game Obama was playing was both ludicrous and self-indicting.

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post decided to fact-check the Obama claim. “It’s a potent image, but in the context of a $4-trillion goal, it is essentially meaningless,” according to Kessler. “The item is so small the White House could not even provide an estimate of the revenue that would be raised, but other estimates suggest it would amount to $3 billion over 10 years.” Meanwhile, student financial assistance, just for 2011, is roughly $42 billion.

Here’s Kessler’s verdict: “So the corporate jet loophole — which involves the fact that such assets can be depreciated over five years, rather than the seven for commercial jets — just is not going to raise a lot of money. It certainly wouldn’t save many student loans.”

Bloomberg ran the math as well and found Obama’s proposal to end a tax break for corporate jet owners would achieve less than one-tenth of one percent of his target for reducing the federal deficit.

In other words, the most memorable example Obama used in his press conference – the need to eliminate a tax loophole for corporate jets – is comparable to trying to dig a tunnel with a teaspoon. And it’s not simply that Obama resorts to this bit of sophistry; it is that in the process he presents himself as the only adult in Washington, America’s intrepid truth teller, our modern-day Socrates.

His intellectual dishonesty and unparalleled self-image would be difficult enough to take separately. Together, it’s all a bit much. The good news is, in the end the truth will out. And I’m betting regardless of how many false statements the president makes, regardless of how many straw men he trots out, he cannot escape the bitter fruits of his policies. In 2008, Obama relied on promises of what he would do. In 2012, he will have to rely on deeds he has done. That will make all the difference.

Events have unmasked Obama. At this juncture it looks as if the president is likely to lose his re-election bid. It’s a shame he is besmirching his public character in the process.


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Leading From Way Behind

At the State Department press conference Friday, spokesman Mark Toner repeatedly dodged questions about the U.S. position on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said it is “not something that we need to decide,” because it is “really something that’s being driven by the Syrian people.” It is the same excuse for silence he gave six weeks ago.

These days, we do not hear about the Obama Doctrine (“when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people … [he] needs to leave now”), or about R2P, or the Arab Spring. The administration cannot even articulate an acceptable outcome in Syria:

MR. TONER: Again, it doesn’t matter what’s an acceptable outcome to us. It matters whether it’s an acceptable outcome to the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Give us the answer. … Do you support the demands of protesters in Syria?

MR. TONER: Do we support the demands of protesters? We support, as we’ve said all along, their right to protest peacefully and to express their demands, and that’s something that we’ve seen time and time again the Syrian Government refuse to honor that and to continue to carry out a vicious crackdown on peaceful protestors. …

QUESTION: Does the United States – the Administration or the United States is supporting the protesters in Syria?

MR. TONER: Again, we support their peaceful – their right to peacefully demonstrate, to make their demands against the Syrian Government and to, frankly, have the Syrian Government listen to their demands. … it’s not for us to say what those demands should or should not be.

QUESTION: … I think [the] overwhelming chant in these demonstrations is calling on Assad to be gone. Do you support that? …

MR. TONER: Again, [blah, blah, blah for 112 words] … again, this is something – so I just would say that the Syrian Government, Assad, have continued to make themselves less and less part of any future equation in Syria. They’re doing a good job of making themselves a pariah state and of losing their capacity to lead any real change or reform …

QUESTION: … why didn’t you ask President Assad to leave, as you did with Leader Qaddafi?

MR. TONER: … This is something that’s in the hands of the Syrian people. They’re the ones driving this process. It’s not for us to say that this transition should look like A, B, or C. It’s something for the Syrian people to decide how this looks going forward.

With respect to Egypt, Obama announced Mubarak must go “now” — and sent a personal envoy to reinforce the message. With respect to Libya, Obama announced Qaddafi “needs to go” — and joined a coalition currently trying to hasten the process by assassinating him.

With respect to Syria, Obama reprises the leadership role he displayed in the 2009 Iranian demonstrations. The administration reportedly regrets its hesitation then. But what explains its stance in 2011? An experienced observer concludes what we are witnessing is much more, and much worse, than mere hesitation.

At the State Department press conference Friday, spokesman Mark Toner repeatedly dodged questions about the U.S. position on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said it is “not something that we need to decide,” because it is “really something that’s being driven by the Syrian people.” It is the same excuse for silence he gave six weeks ago.

These days, we do not hear about the Obama Doctrine (“when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people … [he] needs to leave now”), or about R2P, or the Arab Spring. The administration cannot even articulate an acceptable outcome in Syria:

MR. TONER: Again, it doesn’t matter what’s an acceptable outcome to us. It matters whether it’s an acceptable outcome to the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Give us the answer. … Do you support the demands of protesters in Syria?

MR. TONER: Do we support the demands of protesters? We support, as we’ve said all along, their right to protest peacefully and to express their demands, and that’s something that we’ve seen time and time again the Syrian Government refuse to honor that and to continue to carry out a vicious crackdown on peaceful protestors. …

QUESTION: Does the United States – the Administration or the United States is supporting the protesters in Syria?

MR. TONER: Again, we support their peaceful – their right to peacefully demonstrate, to make their demands against the Syrian Government and to, frankly, have the Syrian Government listen to their demands. … it’s not for us to say what those demands should or should not be.

QUESTION: … I think [the] overwhelming chant in these demonstrations is calling on Assad to be gone. Do you support that? …

MR. TONER: Again, [blah, blah, blah for 112 words] … again, this is something – so I just would say that the Syrian Government, Assad, have continued to make themselves less and less part of any future equation in Syria. They’re doing a good job of making themselves a pariah state and of losing their capacity to lead any real change or reform …

QUESTION: … why didn’t you ask President Assad to leave, as you did with Leader Qaddafi?

MR. TONER: … This is something that’s in the hands of the Syrian people. They’re the ones driving this process. It’s not for us to say that this transition should look like A, B, or C. It’s something for the Syrian people to decide how this looks going forward.

With respect to Egypt, Obama announced Mubarak must go “now” — and sent a personal envoy to reinforce the message. With respect to Libya, Obama announced Qaddafi “needs to go” — and joined a coalition currently trying to hasten the process by assassinating him.

With respect to Syria, Obama reprises the leadership role he displayed in the 2009 Iranian demonstrations. The administration reportedly regrets its hesitation then. But what explains its stance in 2011? An experienced observer concludes what we are witnessing is much more, and much worse, than mere hesitation.

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The Times’ Flotilla of Moral Equivalence

In today’s Sunday New York Times, Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner attempts to unravel what he considers a sea of spin about the Gaza flotilla being organized in Greece. Following the model of moral equivalence that has guided virtually all coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in recent decades, the conceit of his piece in the paper’s Sunday Review is that both Israel and the flotilla organizers are attempting to manipulate the narrative of the dispute through spin.

Bronner takes a plague on both your houses approach to both sides. Arabs claim Gaza is starving and the flotilla is analogous to Jewish refugee ships that tried to break the British blockade of Palestine in the 1940s. Israelis claim the flotilla is a plot to destroy their country when all it is is a bunch of middle-aged pacifists trying to do good. According to Bronner’s version of events, all are equally wrong and therefore equally responsible not only for the standoff over Gaza but for the worsening of the conflict.

Such a stance allows the Times to assume a pose of Olympian detachment about the war on Israel–something Bronner and the paper clearly thinks is more important than actually telling the truth about the situation.

Gaza needs no humanitarian aid. It doesn’t now, as Bronner concedes, and it didn’t a year ago before the fatal clashes on a similar flotilla led to further easing of restrictions on goods allowed into Hamas-ruled Gaza. The only purpose of the flotilla is political. Breaking the blockade means breaking the international isolation of the Hamas government of Gaza. Doing this strengthens a tyrannical Islamist terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist. Anyone who aids Hamas in this matter is taking a stand on that group’s ongoing war on Israel via murder and kidnapping. If, as Bronner asserts, Gaza is a “sad and deprived place,” the blame should be laid at the feet of its rulers, not Israel.

Bronner concludes by saying Israelis are misinterpreting the flotilla as “an attack on its essence” rather than mere criticism of government policies. But this charge, in which, unbelievably, besieged democratic Israel is compared to the Soviet Union, is an absurd distortion of the truth.

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In today’s Sunday New York Times, Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner attempts to unravel what he considers a sea of spin about the Gaza flotilla being organized in Greece. Following the model of moral equivalence that has guided virtually all coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in recent decades, the conceit of his piece in the paper’s Sunday Review is that both Israel and the flotilla organizers are attempting to manipulate the narrative of the dispute through spin.

Bronner takes a plague on both your houses approach to both sides. Arabs claim Gaza is starving and the flotilla is analogous to Jewish refugee ships that tried to break the British blockade of Palestine in the 1940s. Israelis claim the flotilla is a plot to destroy their country when all it is is a bunch of middle-aged pacifists trying to do good. According to Bronner’s version of events, all are equally wrong and therefore equally responsible not only for the standoff over Gaza but for the worsening of the conflict.

Such a stance allows the Times to assume a pose of Olympian detachment about the war on Israel–something Bronner and the paper clearly thinks is more important than actually telling the truth about the situation.

Gaza needs no humanitarian aid. It doesn’t now, as Bronner concedes, and it didn’t a year ago before the fatal clashes on a similar flotilla led to further easing of restrictions on goods allowed into Hamas-ruled Gaza. The only purpose of the flotilla is political. Breaking the blockade means breaking the international isolation of the Hamas government of Gaza. Doing this strengthens a tyrannical Islamist terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist. Anyone who aids Hamas in this matter is taking a stand on that group’s ongoing war on Israel via murder and kidnapping. If, as Bronner asserts, Gaza is a “sad and deprived place,” the blame should be laid at the feet of its rulers, not Israel.

Bronner concludes by saying Israelis are misinterpreting the flotilla as “an attack on its essence” rather than mere criticism of government policies. But this charge, in which, unbelievably, besieged democratic Israel is compared to the Soviet Union, is an absurd distortion of the truth.

The Arab analogies to the 1947 Jewish refugee ship Exodus are a specious attempt to steal and distort history. Bronner quotes a leftist Israeli as saying the flotilla is trying to make the same point as those who were trying to thwart British attempts to stifle Zionism. But this is a lie. In 1947, the Jews were fighting for survival, not trying to destroy the Arabs. Hamas, aided by its foreign cheerleaders, is waging war on the one Jewish state in the world in order to replace it with one more Arab majority country. How can anyone view an attempt to aid Hamas as mere political criticism rather than support for that war?

Efforts aimed at delegitimizing Israel through deceitful exercises such as the “aid” flotilla for Gaza are part of this war. The only way to describe reporting that treats Israel’s attempts to defend itself against Hamas and its propaganda as morally equivalent to the assault on the country is exactly the same word Bronner uses to describe the back and forth between the antagonists: mendacity.

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See What I Mean About the Perp Walk?

I hate to be an old I-told-you-so, but….

Shortly after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with rape and assorted other major crimes, he was subjected to a perp walk, led into court in handcuffs before hundreds of photographers. The pictures appeared in just about every newspaper and TV news show on the planet.

Now it seems, the case has fallen apart, with the alleged victim’s testimony severely compromised. The judge, while not dismissing the charges, has released Strauss-Kahn on his own recognizance–not exactly normal in a rape case. One has the sense the charges will be dropped before long.

Of course, Strauss-Kahn has lost his job as head of the International Monetary Fund, and his once leading candidate status to run against President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s French elections is also gone. And those pictures will never go away.

There are two things, at the very least, to take away from this debacle. One, certainly, is the perp walk should be outlawed, as it is in virtually every democratic country in the world. Anglo-American law is based on the presumption of innocence, but the perp walk is based on the presumption of guilt. It only came about because the office of district attorney in this country (and, in most states, the office of attorney general as well) is fundamentally a political office, and so DAs take politics (and their own political advantage) far too much into account. That too is uniquely American.

The second thing is because DA’s are politicians first and seekers of justice second, anyone who is famous is especially vulnerable. Does anyone think  had Martha Stewart been simply a very rich woman from the suburbs of New York, she would have been criminally charged with lying to a federal official about an insider trading scandal that resulted in no charges of insider trading? But the opportunity to be a major player in a case guaranteed to get their names on the front pages, especially if the case is rich with the schadenfreude of bringing low the mighty, is too much for most DAs to resist.

This is not America at its best.

I hate to be an old I-told-you-so, but….

Shortly after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with rape and assorted other major crimes, he was subjected to a perp walk, led into court in handcuffs before hundreds of photographers. The pictures appeared in just about every newspaper and TV news show on the planet.

Now it seems, the case has fallen apart, with the alleged victim’s testimony severely compromised. The judge, while not dismissing the charges, has released Strauss-Kahn on his own recognizance–not exactly normal in a rape case. One has the sense the charges will be dropped before long.

Of course, Strauss-Kahn has lost his job as head of the International Monetary Fund, and his once leading candidate status to run against President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s French elections is also gone. And those pictures will never go away.

There are two things, at the very least, to take away from this debacle. One, certainly, is the perp walk should be outlawed, as it is in virtually every democratic country in the world. Anglo-American law is based on the presumption of innocence, but the perp walk is based on the presumption of guilt. It only came about because the office of district attorney in this country (and, in most states, the office of attorney general as well) is fundamentally a political office, and so DAs take politics (and their own political advantage) far too much into account. That too is uniquely American.

The second thing is because DA’s are politicians first and seekers of justice second, anyone who is famous is especially vulnerable. Does anyone think  had Martha Stewart been simply a very rich woman from the suburbs of New York, she would have been criminally charged with lying to a federal official about an insider trading scandal that resulted in no charges of insider trading? But the opportunity to be a major player in a case guaranteed to get their names on the front pages, especially if the case is rich with the schadenfreude of bringing low the mighty, is too much for most DAs to resist.

This is not America at its best.

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Bachmann and the Mujahideen e-Khalq

While I welcome Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presence in the presidential debate, I am agnostic on her candidacy. Certainly, she has a compelling personal story. Because I believe in small government, prioritize individual liberty and freedom, and am libertarian on most social issues, I also sympathize with the Tea Party movement, and I certainly also value a strong national defense. That said, I also believe the science supporting the theory of evolution is compelling and that science, rather than religion, should form the basis of science classes, and so I am somewhat put off by Bachmann’s apparent support of intelligent design. When push comes to shove, however, national security is my key issue.

I was disappointed, therefore, to see Bachmann’s uncritical support (see 3:25) for the Mujahideen e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which the State Department defines as a terror group. While I agree the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Islamic Republic against MKO members–including the infamous purge of political prisoners–is inexcusable, and I also welcome the debate on whether the MKO is a terrorist group or not (I believe it is), there are certain incontrovertible facts: (1) the MKO has targeted Americans in past terrorist attacks; (2) they have embraced Saddam; (3) they operate as a cult which remains hostile to freedom, liberty, and democracy; and (4), they have very little if any support among Iranians in Iran.

Read More

While I welcome Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presence in the presidential debate, I am agnostic on her candidacy. Certainly, she has a compelling personal story. Because I believe in small government, prioritize individual liberty and freedom, and am libertarian on most social issues, I also sympathize with the Tea Party movement, and I certainly also value a strong national defense. That said, I also believe the science supporting the theory of evolution is compelling and that science, rather than religion, should form the basis of science classes, and so I am somewhat put off by Bachmann’s apparent support of intelligent design. When push comes to shove, however, national security is my key issue.

I was disappointed, therefore, to see Bachmann’s uncritical support (see 3:25) for the Mujahideen e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which the State Department defines as a terror group. While I agree the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Islamic Republic against MKO members–including the infamous purge of political prisoners–is inexcusable, and I also welcome the debate on whether the MKO is a terrorist group or not (I believe it is), there are certain incontrovertible facts: (1) the MKO has targeted Americans in past terrorist attacks; (2) they have embraced Saddam; (3) they operate as a cult which remains hostile to freedom, liberty, and democracy; and (4), they have very little if any support among Iranians in Iran.

If any presidential candidate wishes to embrace freedom and liberty in Iran, great.  Iranians have suffered disproportionately in their history and deserve a real chance at freedom and democracy. Should the regime fall in Tehran, Iran could become as much a force for stability as it is now a catalyst for instability, After all, the Iranian people will have been immunized against the disease of populism and the misuse of religion for political purposes.

However, support for the MKO is the best way to preserve the Islamic Republic. Iranians recognize while what they have is bad, embrace of Masoud and Maryam Rajavi’s cult would be analogous to embrace of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. The only thing that can make Iranians rally around their current leadership is American outreach to the MKO. Having lived and traveled in Iran, the best analogy to understand how Iranians feel about the MKO is to imagine how Americans would react if, in a misguided attempt to show solidarity with Americans, some outside force promoted John Walker Lindh as a force for freedom. The logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” does not always hold true. If Bachmann wants to be serious on Iran, she should repudiate Obama’s naive outreach, but she shouldn’t accept the propaganda of an equally undemocratic cult.

Read Less




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