Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2012

Ken Livingstone Does It Again, Again

Last month, London’s Labour Party mayoral-candidate Ken Livingstone, speaking before (irony alert) an audience of Labour-supporting Jews, proclaimed that Jews won’t vote for him because they’re rich. The Anglo-Jewish community leadership was finally able to relay its disgust in an anticipated meeting with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband last night.

Previously, Miliband had defended Ken, maintaining that there was not a prejudiced bone in the former mayor’s body – which may be true, given the tongue, brain, and heart aren’t technically ‘‘bones.’’ In any case, Miliband, recognizing his party’s reclamation of the London mayoralty to be a critical boon to his leadership, pushed the usually recalcitrant ‘‘Red Ken’’ to apologize. The candidate agreed, though it seems not so readily: Haaretz reports the precise wording of the apology was the ‘‘subject of lengthy negotiations.’’ Read More

Last month, London’s Labour Party mayoral-candidate Ken Livingstone, speaking before (irony alert) an audience of Labour-supporting Jews, proclaimed that Jews won’t vote for him because they’re rich. The Anglo-Jewish community leadership was finally able to relay its disgust in an anticipated meeting with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband last night.

Previously, Miliband had defended Ken, maintaining that there was not a prejudiced bone in the former mayor’s body – which may be true, given the tongue, brain, and heart aren’t technically ‘‘bones.’’ In any case, Miliband, recognizing his party’s reclamation of the London mayoralty to be a critical boon to his leadership, pushed the usually recalcitrant ‘‘Red Ken’’ to apologize. The candidate agreed, though it seems not so readily: Haaretz reports the precise wording of the apology was the ‘‘subject of lengthy negotiations.’’

Well, that wording was published today in the Jewish Chronicle, and, despite having backed up his claim that Jews are rich and won’t vote for him by insisting that ‘‘Every psychological study I’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve been following politics shows the main factor that determines how people how vote is their income level…And it’s not anti-Semitic to say that,’’ he now acknowledges that ‘‘Jewish voters are not one homogeneous bloc. A 2010 report for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research shows the range of Jewish voting preference. In North London Labour was the preferred party, for example.’’

So what does all this mean? It means that a meeting called to dispel Jewish reservations about voting for Ken Livingstone because of his history of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions ended in controversy about a new anti-Semitic position – a position now retracted. And so London’s Jews find themselves where they were a month ago: looking to Livingstone to dispel reservations about voting for him in May’s election. Now, though, there may not be enough time for another meeting – but maybe that’s good for Livingstone.

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Another Legislative Defeat for Obama

Another (not totally unexpected) defeat for one of President Obama’s legislative proposals today. This time, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal oil company tax breaks, which the president urged them to pass in a stern speech this morning. The vote wasn’t completely split along party lines, with two Republicans supporting the measure and four Democrats opposing it.

Obama will continue to frame this as the GOP protecting the interests of Big Oil, but the fact that it failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate takes the edge off that slightly:

Obama has sought to deflect blame for high gas prices, in part by casting Republicans as allies of big oil companies. He used a Rose Garden speech to urge lawmakers to back the plan.

“Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make,” Obama said. “They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”

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Another (not totally unexpected) defeat for one of President Obama’s legislative proposals today. This time, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal oil company tax breaks, which the president urged them to pass in a stern speech this morning. The vote wasn’t completely split along party lines, with two Republicans supporting the measure and four Democrats opposing it.

Obama will continue to frame this as the GOP protecting the interests of Big Oil, but the fact that it failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate takes the edge off that slightly:

Obama has sought to deflect blame for high gas prices, in part by casting Republicans as allies of big oil companies. He used a Rose Garden speech to urge lawmakers to back the plan.

“Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make,” Obama said. “They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”

I know this fits nicely with Obama’s class warfare strategy, but it sounds completely counterintuitive. Even if there’s no hard evidence that repealing these tax breaks would raise the price of gas at the pump, it still sounds like a reasonable outcome to the average voter. And that’s the argument the GOP has been making:

Republicans alleged the Democratic proposal would hit struggling consumers.

“That was their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices: raise taxes on energy companies; when gas is already hovering around $4 a gallon, then block consideration of anything else, just to make sure gas prices don’t go anywhere but up,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said the bill “is not a policy that will do anything but increase the price at the pump and decrease supply.”

“That is the opposite of what we need,” Vitter said on the floor ahead of the vote.

So there is honest disagreement about whether repealing tax breaks for oil companies would raise gas prices. But everyone can at least agree it certainly won’t lower the price at the pump. Which is why this is a puzzling and politically stupid move for the Democrats. Their plan to deal with high gas prices isn’t even designed to lower high gas prices.

Instead, the plan was to use the extra money from ending the tax breaks to invest in green energy programs and pay down the deficit. Ending the tax breaks would bring in an estimated $2 billion per year. Our national debt is nearly $16 trillion. So, enough said on that.

As for using the money to invest in green energy, Obama’s stimulus allotted $38.6 billion for a green energy loan program that has been a disaster. Another $2 billion per year is not going to change that. The purpose of repealing the tax breaks for oil companies is more about Obama’s views on fairness than about achieving any practical purpose. And that fact isn’t going to be lost on the general public.

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Who Says “Hatikvah” Isn’t for Everybody?

This week in The Forward, the usually superb Philologos sadly decided to give a bit of his intellectual heft to a topic that is becoming a bit of a meme for leftist Jewish writers of late: the supposedly discriminatory nature of Israel’s national anthem,”Hatikvah.” But these attacks on “Hatikvah” are themselves assaults on the liberal democratic values these writers claim to be upholding.

Philologos isn’t as sloppy as others and knows instinctively it would be unjust to throw out or rearrange “Hatikvah” so thoroughly that it would mean “accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Showing his poetic chops, he claims to have discovered a solution by substituting a few choice words that allegedly don’t change the song’s fundamental meaning for Jews but would nevertheless placate the Arab minority allegedly harmed by the song’s Jewish character.

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This week in The Forward, the usually superb Philologos sadly decided to give a bit of his intellectual heft to a topic that is becoming a bit of a meme for leftist Jewish writers of late: the supposedly discriminatory nature of Israel’s national anthem,”Hatikvah.” But these attacks on “Hatikvah” are themselves assaults on the liberal democratic values these writers claim to be upholding.

Philologos isn’t as sloppy as others and knows instinctively it would be unjust to throw out or rearrange “Hatikvah” so thoroughly that it would mean “accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Showing his poetic chops, he claims to have discovered a solution by substituting a few choice words that allegedly don’t change the song’s fundamental meaning for Jews but would nevertheless placate the Arab minority allegedly harmed by the song’s Jewish character.

So “yehudi” (Jew) becomes “yisraeli” (Israeli) since “in traditional rabbinic Hebrew it means “Jew” just like “yehudi.” Jews would then still get to sing about an eye looking east, it would just be to “artzenu” (our land) instead of Zion, “which is a bit too close to ‘Zionism.’” The final resounding call of the anthem to be “a free people in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem” gets tossed in favor of an earlier version which didn’t mention Zion and Jerusalem, instead noting “the city of David,” as Muslims and Christians see David as a part of their traditions as well.

Allegedly having resolved any problems to what should be the satisfaction of Jews and Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, we now have an anthem that all of Israel’s people can share (anyone who doesn’t hold by an Abrahamic faith apparently doesn’t count.) Since “the country’s future depends” on “the successful integration of Israeli Arabs into Israeli life” and it is “unacceptable to have an anthem that can’t be sung by 20 percent of a population,” this is something Israel should do.

This proposal is indicative of more errors in thinking than present space allows. Most troubling is Philologos’ unstated assumption that a state’s identity must perfectly match that of all its citizens.

The dominance of the liberal democratic order in international affairs that we all benefit so greatly from is largely based on the principle of the self-determination of peoples. This principle can only be expressed when all those peoples determining their own destinies get to really do it, which for probably every single one who has been given the opportunity means aligning the identity of their independent state with the people’s own historical identity and heritage, while also making plain the special relationship between that state and its diaspora.

Believing in the right of peoples to determine their political destinies free of the meddling of outside powers means they and they alone truly get to decide what the symbols of their state will look like. Twenty years after the glorious collapse of the Soviet empire, one of the most important ways that we know Poland is truly free is that its people have made the state truly Polish, as they define it. History has shown well that the future health of these states depends foremost on their ability to retain the symbols of their heritage.

So it is with Israel, to no greater or lesser extent. The rights of minorities in states like Israel or Poland who do not share the national identities of the majority must of course be protected for the states to be truly democratic. But that does not mean they must alter their national symbols in order to do so. For the Jewish people, there really is no substitute for Zion and Jerusalem (whatever the original wording of “Hatikvah”), and they have no need to change their anthem to placate those who unjustly see something problematic in the word given over to their national liberation movement, Zionism.

To ask they do otherwise is to assault the very principle of self-determination all peoples enjoy. To stand for “Hatikvah” as it is presently worded is therefore to stand not just for the rights of the Jewish people, but for the rights of all peoples to determine their own fates.

 

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House Set to Approve Ryan’s Budget

The House is set to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget this afternoon, and it’s expected to pass along party lines. Republicans are attempting to build a contrast to the president’s budget, which failed unanimously, 414-0, in the House yesterday – one display of bipartisan unity that the White House probably wasn’t pleased to see.

The L.A. Times reports:

Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House is set to approve a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.

Thursday’s vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting.

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The House is set to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget this afternoon, and it’s expected to pass along party lines. Republicans are attempting to build a contrast to the president’s budget, which failed unanimously, 414-0, in the House yesterday – one display of bipartisan unity that the White House probably wasn’t pleased to see.

The L.A. Times reports:

Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House is set to approve a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.

Thursday’s vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting.

Like last year, Ryan’s budget is unlikely to make it past the Senate. But that’s still one house of Congress more than the president will be able to get his own budget through. Senate Democrats say they won’t bring Obama’s budget to the floor this year, though Senate Republicans may attempt to force a vote on it. When this happened last year, the president’s proposal was defeated unanimously.

Democrats are now frantically trying to shake off the impression that this was a failure for the president. The White House claims the House Republicans brought Obama’s budget to a vote as a political tactic designed to embarrass the president:

“But let’s be very clear: A vote on Congressman Mulvaney’s resolution is not a vote on the president’s budget. This is just a gimmick the Republicans are putting forward to distract from what the Ryan budget does: protects massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while making the middle class and seniors pay,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

House Democrats were reluctant to vote for Obama’s budget because it had no chance of passing and would simply be used against them in election-year attacks. While the same is true of the Republicans and the Ryan budget, apparently they’re willing to take the risk.

But the unanimous rejection isn’t just an embarrassment for the White House, it also complicates Obama’s campaign pitch that he’s running against a “Do Nothing Republican Congress.” The GOP will now argue that it passed a budget in the House, while Democrats in both the House and Senate haven’t voted for a single proposal this year.

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New-Found Rage for “Judicial Dictatorship”

Columnists often fall into familiar patterns. For E.J. Dionne Jr., one of those patterns goes like this: if conservatives don’t act like liberals they’re not really conservatives. The latest example of this writing tic can be found in E.J.’s column today, in which he argues that the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court should – if they’re really and truly conservative – find an unconstitutional law to be constitutional.

There are some amusing elements to Dionne’s column, including his new-found concern about “a judicial dictatorship.” I’m delighted the scales have fallen from Dionne’s eyes, that he has embraced with passionate intensity the belief that “legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches” and not with the judiciary. But I’m tempted to point out that a columnist who heretofore has been enchanted with the idea of a “living Constitution” – rootless, ever-evolving, with no fixed meaning, that is busy inventing new rights and jettisoning old ones – has lost the philosophical ground on which to make this objection (particularly when his objections are in fact baseless). Dionne also says that “conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals” – yet he fails to realize those “weird hypotheticals” served their purpose perfectly. They illustrated that there is no limiting principle for liberals when it comes to the power and reach of the federal government. (For more, see here.)

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Columnists often fall into familiar patterns. For E.J. Dionne Jr., one of those patterns goes like this: if conservatives don’t act like liberals they’re not really conservatives. The latest example of this writing tic can be found in E.J.’s column today, in which he argues that the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court should – if they’re really and truly conservative – find an unconstitutional law to be constitutional.

There are some amusing elements to Dionne’s column, including his new-found concern about “a judicial dictatorship.” I’m delighted the scales have fallen from Dionne’s eyes, that he has embraced with passionate intensity the belief that “legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches” and not with the judiciary. But I’m tempted to point out that a columnist who heretofore has been enchanted with the idea of a “living Constitution” – rootless, ever-evolving, with no fixed meaning, that is busy inventing new rights and jettisoning old ones – has lost the philosophical ground on which to make this objection (particularly when his objections are in fact baseless). Dionne also says that “conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals” – yet he fails to realize those “weird hypotheticals” served their purpose perfectly. They illustrated that there is no limiting principle for liberals when it comes to the power and reach of the federal government. (For more, see here.)

But the most revealing thing about Dionne’s column is its tone: snide, angry, and condescending toward the conservatives on the Court. It is evidence that he and other progressives are beginning to lash out as they see Barack Obama’s health care law – an unworkable, unconstitutional monstrosity they were convinced was a permanent part of the American political landscape – slip through their fingers. If that in fact occurs – and I’ll believe it when I see it – then prepare for a level of rage from the left that we haven’t seen since the worst days of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

 

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Adelson: Newt’s “At the End of His Line”

Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.

“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.

“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”

The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.

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Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.

“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.

“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”

The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.

“This man has no history whatsoever of creating anything or taking risks. Now that being said, I know Rick. I like him. We’re friendly. But I got to tell you something, I don’t want him running my country.”

Adelson also said he’d talked to both Gingrich and Romney about potentially coming to a deal to run on the same ticket. He said Gingrich told him that would go against his strategy, and Romney didn’t give him a direct answer.

It makes you wonder whether that sort of deal was raised at the secret meeting Romney and Gingrich reportedly had on Saturday. The Washington Times reports Gingrich made no deal to end his bid, but just the fact that there was a meeting suggests that may have been on the table:

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich met secretly with GOP rival Mitt Romney on Saturday, according to a source close to the campaign, but the former House speaker says he has made no deal to end his bid for the GOP nomination.

Mr. Gingrich, responding to questions from the Washington Times, did not deny the meeting, but explicitly said he hasn’t been offered a position in a potential Romney administration in exchange for dropping out.

Nor, he said, is there a deal to have Mr. Romney’s big donors help retire Mr. Gingrich’s campaign debt of more than $1 million.

As Gingrich’s primary financial backer indicated, his campaign has no realistic path to the nomination at this point. The former speaker already announced yesterday that he’s running out of money and downsizing his staff. While a few weeks ago, he may have been able to cut a deal with Santorum or Romney to either act as a spoiler in the race or drop out, and at this point, he has basically nothing to offer either of them. The idea that Romney would promise Gingrich a position or even pay down his debt seems incredibly unlikely.

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Azeris Strengthen Israel’s Hand on Iran

The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

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The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

On that score, there’s no question that Iran must regard the decision of the Azeris to assist an Israeli strike as being a mortal threat to their ability to defend themselves. Prior to this, all discussion of a possible Israeli strike had been tempered by the knowledge that their ability to attack Iran was severely limited by the vast distance between the two countries. When compared to the ability of the United States to project airpower from carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf as well as other bases in the Middle East, it made an Israeli attack on Iran look like a poor substitute for U.S. action. But bases in Azerbaijan completely transform the military equation between Israel and Iran. They remove the need for the Israeli Air Force to refuel planes in midair in order to secure their safe return. Support staff stationed along Iran’s northern border would also make it easier for IAF to execute repeated sorties on nuclear targets and facilitate the rescue of downed planes and pilots. The bases would vastly increase the likelihood that an Israeli air campaign against Iran would achieve a high degree of success and lower the potential for losses.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a total disaster. While they have always known they stood no chance of mounting an effective defense against a massive U.S. air campaign on their nuclear plants, an Israeli attack from 2,200 miles away did not seem as formidable a challenge. The Azeri factor does not quite put the Israeli military on a par with that of the United States but it does act as a multiplying factor with regard to Israel’s ability to launch repeated strikes.

Though the Haaretz report that spoke of Israel’s plans to attack Iran as being put on hold until next spring may encourage Tehran, the fact that the sources for the Azeri story in Foreign Policy appear to be senior U.S. military and diplomatic figures shows the Obama administration is by no means certain Netanyahu can be counted on to hold his fire until after the president is safely re-elected. The American motive for leaking the story is clear. By making public the fact that the Azeris have more or less been bribed by Israel to give them access to bases that will enable them to easily attack Iran, the United States may be hoping to accomplish two things.

One is to scare the Iranians into finally waving the white flag on its nuclear project. The story ought to make it clear to the ayatollahs there is no way they can protect themselves from either Israel or the United States if push comes to shove. The odds of the Iranians coming to their senses in this manner are slim, but the administration is determined to do whatever it can to keep the window for diplomacy on the nuclear question open for as long as it can.

The second motive is to forestall any Israeli attack. Making public the Azeri role in the military plan might force the Jewish state’s Asian ally to back away from any involvement in the project.

Whether the revelation will actually deter Israel from acting should Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak determine it is in their country’s interest to strike prior to November is still to be determined. The belief that the extra money for Iron Dome guarantees Israel won’t attack Iran this year is based on the assumption that Obama and Netanyahu came to some agreement on the issue when they met in early March. The Iranians must certainly hope this is the case. But the one thing we know today that we didn’t a few weeks ago is that Israel’s hand in this game of nuclear poker is far stronger than most people thought.

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Making a Federal Case Out of Jerusalem

Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!

Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.

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Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!

Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.

State’s spokesperson was tortured with a series of questions about whether Jerusalem is part of Israel. Given the position the administration is still defending in court, she had to refuse to acknowledge even West Jerusalem (where Zivotofsky was born) as part of Israel. She thus repeatedly had to dodge the question, obviously acting on instructions to say only that Jerusalem is an issue to be resolved by negotiations. She gave the same answer to the question, “What is the capital of Israel?”

The reporter might have referenced the State Department website, which identifies Israel’s capital as Jerusalem (and says Israel’s area is 20,330 square kilometers, “including Jerusalem”); or the CIA website, which says the same thing; or the Department of Defense website, which is replete with references to “Jerusalem, Israel” – including a picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu “during a working lunch meeting in Jerusalem, Israel.” But for the same reason the White House scrubbed its website of references to Vice President Biden in “Jerusalem, Israel” and scrubbed references even in Bush administration documents, the official policy had to be restated yesterday no matter how the question was asked.

This all could have been avoided if the White House had followed my advice last year; ended the charade about the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950; and stopped fighting a nine-year old boy’s passport designation in the Supreme Court and beyond. Sometimes I think the White House doesn’t read my posts.

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Obama’s Message to Iran?

According to Reuters and other news sources, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have carried a message from President Obama to Iran’s leaders during his two-day visit to Iran. Erdogan discussed Iran with Obama at the Seoul nuclear summit, so it is plausible he was asked to deliver a message to Iran.

What that message could be is, of course, entirely a matter of speculation. But like what Obama said to Russian outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev about giving him space until after the election, one could imagine a similar message to Tehran: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

According to Reuters and other news sources, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have carried a message from President Obama to Iran’s leaders during his two-day visit to Iran. Erdogan discussed Iran with Obama at the Seoul nuclear summit, so it is plausible he was asked to deliver a message to Iran.

What that message could be is, of course, entirely a matter of speculation. But like what Obama said to Russian outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev about giving him space until after the election, one could imagine a similar message to Tehran: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

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Liberals, the Supreme Court, and “Speaking Conservative”

In the New York Post today, I diagnose the shock at the powerful Constitutional arguments advanced against Obama’s health-care plan as another example of the self-defeating parochialism of American liberals, who are continually surprised that conservative ideas and conservative arguments are formidable and can only be bested if they are taken seriously: “the strength of the conservative arguments only came as a surprise to [Jeffrey] Toobin, [Linda] Greenhouse and others because they evidently spent two years putting their fingers in their ears and singing, ‘La la la, I’m not listening’ whenever the conservative argument was being advanced.” (There is nothing new under the son, as the “fingers in their ears” analogy was, it turns out, rather more wittily deployed by James Taranto in February 2011 in a column called “Law Law Law.”)

Indeed, yesterday, as I was writing my column, liberal New York Times columnist Gail Collins literally wrote these words: “How can this law not be constitutional?…Really, I have my hands over my ears. Not listening.”

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In the New York Post today, I diagnose the shock at the powerful Constitutional arguments advanced against Obama’s health-care plan as another example of the self-defeating parochialism of American liberals, who are continually surprised that conservative ideas and conservative arguments are formidable and can only be bested if they are taken seriously: “the strength of the conservative arguments only came as a surprise to [Jeffrey] Toobin, [Linda] Greenhouse and others because they evidently spent two years putting their fingers in their ears and singing, ‘La la la, I’m not listening’ whenever the conservative argument was being advanced.” (There is nothing new under the son, as the “fingers in their ears” analogy was, it turns out, rather more wittily deployed by James Taranto in February 2011 in a column called “Law Law Law.”)

Indeed, yesterday, as I was writing my column, liberal New York Times columnist Gail Collins literally wrote these words: “How can this law not be constitutional?…Really, I have my hands over my ears. Not listening.”

But this gets at a more fundamental point about American discourse. Until very recently, American conservatives were, by necessity, bilingual. To be sure, they were fluent in the language of conservative or classical liberal thought—the language of Burke and Adam Smith, the language of enumerated rights and governmental limits, the distinction between freedom and egalitarianism and between liberty and license.

But they were also entirely conversant with liberal concepts—the centrality of fairness as an organizing principle, the notion that justice (in John Rawls’s understanding) involves redistributing goods to repair the injustices of nature and human nature, the elevation of reason over faith.

That has never been true of American liberals. They know their own language but they don’t know the language of their ideological and partisan opposite numbers, and usually default to a form of prosecutorial analysis or psychoanalytic diagnosis to explain how so many people could come to so wrong a conclusion about things. They ascribe it to naked self-interest (i.e., greed), or irrational hatred and fear (i.e., ignorance), or mere stupidity.

So conservatives speak liberal, but for liberals in the United States, conservatism might as well be Esperanto.

This is less and less true in a way that is both fair (in the liberal sense) and relativistic (in the conservative sense). It is possible, now, for a young conservative to be born and raised and come to adulthood in a world in which liberal ideas are seen entirely through a conservative prism—through Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio and homeschooling. This represents an enormous cultural advance for the Right, in that it is no longer forced to make its way through entirely hostile precincts.

But there is something lost at the same time—the comparative advantage of knowing two languages and using that knowledge to strengthen arguments and blindside the opposition. Paul Clement and Mike Carvin, the two conservative lawyers at the Supreme Court this week, show just what is possible intellectually as a result of this bilingualism. It would be more than a shame if the rise of the conservative bubble proved just as blinding as the liberal bubble has been for the past 40 years.

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State Department Spin on Jerusalem Meltdown is Already Wrong

This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.

The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace. Read More

This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.

The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace.

As it so happens, the claim is false. Previous administrations have recognized Israel’s right to at least part of its capital city. The debate has turned on whether the Jewish State is entitled to “all” of Jerusalem, not whether it’s entitled to any part of the city. It was always about not prejudicing whether Israel would have share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state, not whether the entire city was up for grabs (let alone whether the Palestinians can retroactively veto Israel’s sovereign decision to make the parts of Jerusalem it controlled pre-1967 its capital).

White Houses have declined to move the embassy out of Tel Aviv because it would be treated as a symbolic acknowledgement of Israel’s rights over all Jerusalem, e.g. a statement that Israel wouldn’t have to share the city. Sitting on their hands on the embassy allowed presidents to dodge broader questions, which had the benefit of not running contrary to black-letter American law going back to 1995 recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Until now, no administration has ever put Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem as such on the table, or implied that even West Jerusalem was up for grabs. Bush even used to insert language into his waivers stating “My administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

Also, there’s this from President Clinton: “the benefits of the agreement… [include] the incorporation of most of the settlers into Israel, and the Jewish capital of Jerusalem recognized by all, not just the United States, by everybody in the world.”

Also, there’s this from President Bush: “Mr. Bush said the Palestinians must elect ‘new and different’ leaders who were not ‘compromised by terror’… As soon as the Palestinians changed their leadership, stopped terrorist attacks on Israel and moved towards democracy, the U.S. would boost their economy and push Israel into meaningful negotiations… He refused to speculate on the three major sticking points: Palestinian demands that Israel return the territory won in the 1967 war, share Jerusalem as the capital and allow millions of Palestinian refugees to return.”

Also, there’s this from Senator Barack Obama. Note that while he took back the part of the speech that spoke of Israel’s capital remaining undivided, even his clarification emphasized “that Israel has a legitimate claim on” at least part of Jerusalem. Apparently that position has changed in the last few years, but the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend this is just the way things have always been.

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Rubio’s Endorsement Makes Romney That Much More Inevitable

The ranks of those who have any doubt about the outcome of the Republican presidential race got a bit thinner yesterday when Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Mitt Romney. The Tea Party favorite’s backing of Romney is yet another sign that even hard-core conservative Republicans have come to the conclusion the only way to win in November is to close ranks behind the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum looking at almost certain defeat in the next round of primaries to be held next week and Newt Gingrich having basically thrown in the towel, the prospect of Romney as the GOP nominee has now gone from being likely to almost certain.

Rubio’s endorsement, along with recent comments from other Senate conservative stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey vouching for Romney’s bona fides, should help ease the way for the rest of their party’s right-wing to start coming back in from the ledge onto which they had walked during the winter. As many on the right have spent much of the last year speaking of Romney in the most harsh terms, it’s not going to be easy for them to walk back the charge that he is indistinguishable from President Obama and a certain loser in November. But as is always the case in politics, once the bandwagon starts rolling, it gets easier to hop on. But even as he formally put himself behind Romney, Rubio also continued to discourage talk of the vice presidency.

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The ranks of those who have any doubt about the outcome of the Republican presidential race got a bit thinner yesterday when Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Mitt Romney. The Tea Party favorite’s backing of Romney is yet another sign that even hard-core conservative Republicans have come to the conclusion the only way to win in November is to close ranks behind the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum looking at almost certain defeat in the next round of primaries to be held next week and Newt Gingrich having basically thrown in the towel, the prospect of Romney as the GOP nominee has now gone from being likely to almost certain.

Rubio’s endorsement, along with recent comments from other Senate conservative stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey vouching for Romney’s bona fides, should help ease the way for the rest of their party’s right-wing to start coming back in from the ledge onto which they had walked during the winter. As many on the right have spent much of the last year speaking of Romney in the most harsh terms, it’s not going to be easy for them to walk back the charge that he is indistinguishable from President Obama and a certain loser in November. But as is always the case in politics, once the bandwagon starts rolling, it gets easier to hop on. But even as he formally put himself behind Romney, Rubio also continued to discourage talk of the vice presidency.

Twice on Wednesday, Rubio characterized the notion of his being nominated for the vice presidency as something “that’s not going to happen.” The manner in which he said this went way beyond the usual attempt of potential veep candidates to deflect attention from their obvious desire to be picked. Listening to him both on the Sean Hannity show (where he made his endorsement of Romney) and with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, you got the feeling Rubio meant it when he said he had no intention of leaving the Senate.

Yet, it must also be understood that Rubio’s comments stopped well short of a Shermanesque refusal to serve under any circumstances. And given the fact that he has attempted to get out ahead of the various smears that have been circulating in the blogosphere, there is still reason to think a Rubio vice presidential nomination is a possibility. There is also the fact that by getting behind Romney while there is still some value to be had from such endorsements, Rubio has, whether he likes it or not, increased speculation about his future.

But whether Rubio is serious about not wanting the vice presidency or not, his endorsement is just one more reason for Republicans to believe the endgame of the nomination battle is at hand. Though Rick Santorum can still talk about winning primaries in May and Romney’s delegate math not adding up, with leading conservatives now conceding the race is over, it’s going to be harder for any challenger to maintain any momentum. Though Santorum will continue to try to sow doubt about Romney in the upcoming weeks, the inevitability factor is now at the point where it has become a serious impediment to his hopes to win any primary, including his home state of Pennsylvania.

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Santorum’s Jeremiah Wright Moment?

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a video yesterday criticizing Rick Santorum for sitting and listening and then later applauding a sermon by Reverend Dennis Terry at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana. The video shows Terry encouraging those who do not believe that America is a “Christian nation” — specifically Buddhists and Muslims — to “get out” of America. The RAC’s leader, Rabbi David Saperstein, took Santorum to task for going up to Terry after this tirade to get the pastor’s blessings. While acknowledging that Santorum later distanced himself from Terry’s views, Saperstein said the Republican presidential candidate had a special responsibility as someone who has given issues of faith a prominent role in his campaign to address “hateful” or “bigoted” speech.

Saperstein is right about that. Candidates who sit and listen to hate speech by their supporters, especially when it is spouted from religious pulpits, have a duty to draw a bright line between such views and the political mainstream. In that respect, Santorum appears to have failed. He was clearly more interested in getting the endorsement of Terry and the backing of other evangelicals in the Louisiana Primary than in doing the right thing during his visit to Greenwell Springs. But while I think the pointed questions that Saperstein posed to Santorum are very much on target, if the subject of politicians sitting and listening to hateful sermons seems vaguely familiar, maybe we should flash back to 2008 when a longtime member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation was running for president.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a video yesterday criticizing Rick Santorum for sitting and listening and then later applauding a sermon by Reverend Dennis Terry at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana. The video shows Terry encouraging those who do not believe that America is a “Christian nation” — specifically Buddhists and Muslims — to “get out” of America. The RAC’s leader, Rabbi David Saperstein, took Santorum to task for going up to Terry after this tirade to get the pastor’s blessings. While acknowledging that Santorum later distanced himself from Terry’s views, Saperstein said the Republican presidential candidate had a special responsibility as someone who has given issues of faith a prominent role in his campaign to address “hateful” or “bigoted” speech.

Saperstein is right about that. Candidates who sit and listen to hate speech by their supporters, especially when it is spouted from religious pulpits, have a duty to draw a bright line between such views and the political mainstream. In that respect, Santorum appears to have failed. He was clearly more interested in getting the endorsement of Terry and the backing of other evangelicals in the Louisiana Primary than in doing the right thing during his visit to Greenwell Springs. But while I think the pointed questions that Saperstein posed to Santorum are very much on target, if the subject of politicians sitting and listening to hateful sermons seems vaguely familiar, maybe we should flash back to 2008 when a longtime member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation was running for president.

Then-candidate Barack Obama managed to evade criticism for the fact that he spent 20 years listening to Wright’s hate speech and received his blessing at his wedding. Using some verbal jujitsu, Obama turned the whole issue into one about race rather than hate or anti-Semitism in his Philadelphia speech on the subject. It was only much later after Wright attacked him as a sellout that Obama went so far as to actually condemn his pastor.

Saperstein asked Santorum:

What responsibility do you believe elected officials or candidates have to address hateful or bigoted speech when it takes place in their presence? Is the responsibility greater if it is said by one of the candidate’s supporters? Are there are circumstances in which you would refuse to stand by someone espousing hate speech? What are they and why not here?

So while Saperstein is on firm ground when he points out Santorum is at fault in this case, it’s worth remembering that candidate Obama didn’t exactly measure up to the standard he’s asking the Republicans to live up to. That’s especially true as Obama’s connection with Wright was a lot more serious than Santorum’s with Terry. We wish the RAC, which did condemn Wright’s hate speech, and its constituency had been as frank with Obama when he was running for office.

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The Supreme Court: Conservatism’s Intellectual Crown Jewel

Listening to the oral arguments on the Supreme Court during the last three days is a reminder of why it is, in many respects, the intellectual crown jewel for conservatives, and why it’s vital that those appointed to the high court aren’t simply reliable votes but are capable of making compelling arguments.

To hear Justices Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and even Kennedy slice and dice Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was sheer delight, as they exposed one bad argument and one flawed premise after another. Among other things, they pressed Verrilli on what the limiting principle was under the Commerce Clause. “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Kennedy asked. Justice Alito brought up the market for burial services and asked if the government could mandate funeral insurance (the argument being that because we all die eventually, why shouldn’’t we transfer the costs of our deaths to the rest of society). When Justice Scalia asked Verrilli to defend the individual mandate provision of ObamaCare, he wondered why the federal government couldn’t also make citizens buy vegetables. “Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia asked. Justice Roberts asked if the federal government can make you buy a cell phone.

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Listening to the oral arguments on the Supreme Court during the last three days is a reminder of why it is, in many respects, the intellectual crown jewel for conservatives, and why it’s vital that those appointed to the high court aren’t simply reliable votes but are capable of making compelling arguments.

To hear Justices Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and even Kennedy slice and dice Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was sheer delight, as they exposed one bad argument and one flawed premise after another. Among other things, they pressed Verrilli on what the limiting principle was under the Commerce Clause. “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Kennedy asked. Justice Alito brought up the market for burial services and asked if the government could mandate funeral insurance (the argument being that because we all die eventually, why shouldn’’t we transfer the costs of our deaths to the rest of society). When Justice Scalia asked Verrilli to defend the individual mandate provision of ObamaCare, he wondered why the federal government couldn’t also make citizens buy vegetables. “Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia asked. Justice Roberts asked if the federal government can make you buy a cell phone.

The solicitor general wasn’t able to offer a principled reason why, if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is ruled as constitutional, the federal government won’t have the power to regulate virtually every area of our lives. Perhaps because there is none. The belief of the founders — that the federal government has limited and enumerated powers — would be dealt a crushing blow. That is why this case is so important and has garnered so much intense interest. The stakes could hardly be higher.

I have no idea what the final vote will be and whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will live or die. But the last three days have provided us with a blessed reprieve from the silliness that often characterizes political campaigns. What we’ve been able to witness is a serious, substantive, and at times even an elevated debate about the Constitution, self-government, and American first principles. Conservatives had their most able advocates articulating their case and their cause. It was an intellectual treat. And it was a rout.

 

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Pope’s Divisions Need Some Help in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba presented a unique challenge to the Communist dictatorship that continues to oppress the island. Though Raul Castro met with the Pope and did his best to associate the regime with the religious spectacle of the public Mass, there was no mistaking the Pontiff’s message. Calling for “authentic freedom,” he said spiritual freedom isn’t possible without political liberty.

Yet while Pope Benedict’s words will inspire the Cuban people to hope for something better in the future, Cuba remains one of the least free nations on the planet. Reportedly, the Communist authorities took no chances about the papal visit encouraging agitation for freedom by arresting known dissidents and blocking their cell phone transmissions. The question now is whether Western intellectuals and others who have been campaigning for more trade with Cuba and efforts to normalize relations with the Castro government will draw the right conclusions from these events.

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Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba presented a unique challenge to the Communist dictatorship that continues to oppress the island. Though Raul Castro met with the Pope and did his best to associate the regime with the religious spectacle of the public Mass, there was no mistaking the Pontiff’s message. Calling for “authentic freedom,” he said spiritual freedom isn’t possible without political liberty.

Yet while Pope Benedict’s words will inspire the Cuban people to hope for something better in the future, Cuba remains one of the least free nations on the planet. Reportedly, the Communist authorities took no chances about the papal visit encouraging agitation for freedom by arresting known dissidents and blocking their cell phone transmissions. The question now is whether Western intellectuals and others who have been campaigning for more trade with Cuba and efforts to normalize relations with the Castro government will draw the right conclusions from these events.

Much of the recent discussion about Cuba in the United States has centered on the idea that American sanctions and continued attempts to isolate the island are counter-productive. It’s true that the Castro brothers and their minions have used the U.S. boycott to foster a sense of paranoia that has buttressed the Communists’ hold on power. But the idea that Cuban freedom can be won by American trade is a myth. In the best case scenario, the Communists might move toward a hybrid systems like China’s in which capitalism is encouraged while allowing the regime to maintain its vise-like grip on political power. The result might be more wealth but no freedom. That’s why the Pope’s clarion call for “authentic freedom” is so important.

Soviet mass-murderer Josef Stalin once mocked the power of the Papacy by asking how many divisions the Pope had. The answer was one that wouldn’t be properly understood in the Kremlin until a generation later when the courageous Pope John Paul II used his bully pulpit to advance the cause of liberty in Eastern Europe. But the Pope’s spiritual divisions didn’t topple the Berlin Wall by themselves. They needed the assistance of an American superpower whose leader wasn’t afraid to speak up for the cause of freedom.

But Pope Benedict can’t count on the assistance of a president like Ronald Reagan. In its three-plus years in office the Obama administration has been the least interested of any American government in a generation. Though U.S. officials asked the Vatican for assistance in securing the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who is unjustly incarcerated in Cuba, the Castro regime knows it need not fear a concerted push from Washington.

The Pope’s divisions in Cuba should not be underestimated but, like the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, they need active and vocal assistance from the United States. Were President Obama to prioritize Cuban freedom, the pressure on the weakened regime might make a difference. It’s time for this administration to put itself on the side of those actively working for the Cuban people, not businessmen looking to profit from cooperating with tyrants.

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Love for Iran Takes Ayatollahs Off the Hook

A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

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A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

Saturday’s demonstration is most remarkable for its curious intellectual undercurrent. The protesters seemed to have expressed a remarkable sense of inflated self-importance that stems from the fallacy that all of the Middle East’s problems are the result of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Contrary to this myth, Israel doesn’t hold the key to regional stability and peace. The blind faith that a little less bellicosity from Israel will solve everything is based on a premise that treats Iranian domestic politics, American interests in Iraq, the destabilization of Syria, the rise of Sunni neo-Ottomanism on Iran’s western front, and Iran’s paranoia over its disgruntled non-Persian minorities as if they were problems that can all be resolved by a wave of the Jewish magic wand.

Beyond the pure naiveté of assuming that taking the military option off the table will somehow turn down the political temperature of an increasingly heated Middle East, the demonstration exposed beliefs underpinning much of the discourse on the Israeli Left: beliefs in Israel’s ability to control the trajectory of current affairs.

Such assumptions are not only factually unfounded, they are also downright dangerous to peace.

To say the Jewish state pulls the levers of conflict and resolution at its own convenience is to believe the other sides involved in any of the region’s conflict have little, if any, responsibility for how events transpire. The image of Jews having absolute control over international politics (especially in the Middle East) has equally plagued much (though not all) of the criticism toward AIPAC, America’s largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby. Not surprisingly, AIPAC also came under attack on Saturday in the Tel Aviv demonstration, with one malicious sign reading “AIPAC Damn You” surrounded by pictures of skulls.

These charges usually lead to a distorted perception of regional and domestic politics, and, consequently, to unfair allegations against Israel. The tacit assumption being that if Israel (with the help of AIPAC) is in complete control of Middle Eastern peace and stability, then a lack of peace and stability can only be Israel’s fault. Why is this belief dangerous? Because these unilateral narratives, as we have seen so clearly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lead to nothing but the kind of romanticized victimization that excuses Palestinians and Iranians from responsibility for their own faults.

Luckily, marginalized political groups such as those chanting on Saturday on Tel Aviv’s King George Street will never have to put their money where their mouth is. Shouting irresponsible and unfounded slogans is the one advantage radical opposition groups can still enjoy.

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The Peter Panization of a Generation

The Department of Education, one of the nation’s leading student loan lenders, is getting serious about collecting on $67 billion in defaulted loans. Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported the mob-like lengths the government agency is going to in order to cash in:

The debt collector on the other end of the phone gave Oswaldo Campos an ultimatum:

Pay $219 a month toward his more than $20,000 in defaulted student loans, or Pioneer Credit Recovery, a contractor with the U.S. Education Department, would confiscate his pay. Campos, disabled from liver disease, makes about $20,000 a year.

“We’re not playing here,” Campos recalled the collector telling him in December. “You’re dealing with the federal government. You have no other options.”

Campos agreed to have the money deducted each month from his bank account, even though federal student-loan rules would let him pay less and become eligible for a plan — approved by Congress and touted by President Barack Obama – requiring him to lay out about $50 a month. To satisfy Pioneer, Campos borrowed from friends, cut meat from his diet and stopped buying gas to drive his 82-year-old mother to doctor’s visits for her Parkinson’s Disease.

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The Department of Education, one of the nation’s leading student loan lenders, is getting serious about collecting on $67 billion in defaulted loans. Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported the mob-like lengths the government agency is going to in order to cash in:

The debt collector on the other end of the phone gave Oswaldo Campos an ultimatum:

Pay $219 a month toward his more than $20,000 in defaulted student loans, or Pioneer Credit Recovery, a contractor with the U.S. Education Department, would confiscate his pay. Campos, disabled from liver disease, makes about $20,000 a year.

“We’re not playing here,” Campos recalled the collector telling him in December. “You’re dealing with the federal government. You have no other options.”

Campos agreed to have the money deducted each month from his bank account, even though federal student-loan rules would let him pay less and become eligible for a plan — approved by Congress and touted by President Barack Obama – requiring him to lay out about $50 a month. To satisfy Pioneer, Campos borrowed from friends, cut meat from his diet and stopped buying gas to drive his 82-year-old mother to doctor’s visits for her Parkinson’s Disease.

The average student graduating with a bachelor’s degree comes away with over $25,000 in loans, which would require a monthly repayment of more than $200 for at least ten years. If the average is more than $25,000 — however — there is a large group of students who are walking away with significantly more, especially if they have then gone on to complete a post-graduate degree.

I’ve heard it argued that the student loan bubble burst will be bigger than the housing burst — the debt is held by a large proportion of one age bracket of the population, unlike a home cannot be sold (even at a loss), and unlike other debt is virtually impossible to be rid of, even after filing for bankruptcy. This year, the amount of debt held by America’s students will surpass the debt held by all of America’s credit card holders, while the rate of borrowing continues to increase for student loans at a faster rate than for any other kind of debt.

Instead of putting a stop to the extension of credit, the Obama administration has continued to allow the Department of Education to blindly loan tens of thousands of dollars to America’s students without so much as a notice informing borrowers how much their monthly payments will be upon graduation. After they are unable to pay it back, the Department of Education farms out the collection to private agencies who will stop at nothing to collect. Another solution, limiting the amount of debt offered to 18-year-olds, has seemingly never been considered as an option.

A new Pew Research Center survey found that almost 30 percent of people between 25 and 34 are living at home — and they are actually okay with the arrangement. The Pew study also showed the numbers of multigenerational households in the United States is at its highest level since the 1950s.

An entire generation of Americans is now reliant on their parents much later in life than any previous generation. Under ObamaCare, Americans can expect to be on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26, and they can also expect to be still living at home, putting off marriage until the average age of 27.

President Obama has fought to keep adults on their parents’ healthcare plans long after they should have moved out, gotten married, and started independent lives. He is trapping a generation (which he has narcissistically dubbed Gen44 after his presidency) in a cycle of personal debt, preventing them from being able to survive when the weight of the national debt comes crashing down. When the bell does start to toll on our historic debt burden, turning Washington, D.C., into Athens, don’t expect Gen44 to do anything but lead riots from their parents’ basements.

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With ObamaCare in Danger, Liberals Decide the Court’s Power Should Be Limited

For most of the last century, liberals have preached that the Constitution is a living document that needs to be interpreted and re-interpreted to fit the needs of the times. In the name of this legal faith they have championed a vast expansion of government power as well as the enumeration of various rights that are nowhere to be found in the actual text of the document. Generations of liberal activist judges have consistently thwarted the will of both the legislative and executive branches of government without a blush as they imposed their own ideas about every conceivable issue on the country. In doing so they changed the way we think about government and established its presence in our lives in ways that the founders would have thought unthinkable.

But now that there is a possibility that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court might rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, liberal thinkers are doing a 180-degree turn. In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the case in which it was apparent that several justices were skeptical about the government’s argument that it could force citizens to engage in commerce which it could then regulate, the editorial writers at the New York Times were up in arms at the mere notion that the court would have the temerity to overturn a bill passed by Congress. As the Times put it, “the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are shocked at the notion of judges stepping in to teach the legislature a lesson.

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For most of the last century, liberals have preached that the Constitution is a living document that needs to be interpreted and re-interpreted to fit the needs of the times. In the name of this legal faith they have championed a vast expansion of government power as well as the enumeration of various rights that are nowhere to be found in the actual text of the document. Generations of liberal activist judges have consistently thwarted the will of both the legislative and executive branches of government without a blush as they imposed their own ideas about every conceivable issue on the country. In doing so they changed the way we think about government and established its presence in our lives in ways that the founders would have thought unthinkable.

But now that there is a possibility that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court might rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, liberal thinkers are doing a 180-degree turn. In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the case in which it was apparent that several justices were skeptical about the government’s argument that it could force citizens to engage in commerce which it could then regulate, the editorial writers at the New York Times were up in arms at the mere notion that the court would have the temerity to overturn a bill passed by Congress. As the Times put it, “the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are shocked at the notion of judges stepping in to teach the legislature a lesson.

The irony of this outrage is clearly lost on the Times and the rest of President Obama’s cheering section in the mainstream press. The Times believes if the court overturns ObamaCare it will be a “willful rejection” of “established constitutional principles that have been upheld for generations.”

In a sense that’s true. For more than a century, liberal judges trashed the original meaning of the Commerce Clause and twisted it to allow the federal government the right to intervene in virtually any activity that struck its fancy. The individual mandate is an unprecedented expansion of the “principle” of untrammeled federal power. But it certainly is well within the scope of previous decisions that created the leviathan in Washington that is sinking the nation in debt.

But the idea that all precedents must be respected is not one that any serious legal theorist can support. The passage of ObamaCare is one such instance. The idea that the court must “hew to established law” would have prevented every famous liberal victory in which the expansion of government power was justified. Times change and the law sometimes must change with it. If the court was able to justify the expansion of the scope of Washington’s power in the 20th century in order to do what a majority of judges deemed to be good, the same principle can allow the courts to step in and say that the current situation demands that someone establish clear limits on federal power.

The genius of our constitutional system is that the checks and balances that the three braches of government can exercise serve to prevent the aggregation of too much power in one at the expense of the people. The truth is the court has always crafted the law to “argue the merits of the bill” as Justice Breyer said of those arguing against ObamaCare. In the past, this worked in favor of liberal goals. Today, it works against them.

We don’t know whether the panic on the left about the court’s inclinations on this case is justified. We certainly hope so. But the idea that the Supreme Court must forebear from striking down this unconstitutional power grab by Washington because to do so would transgress the limits of its power is not a serious argument. Especially when it comes from those who have long held that the court can exercise any authority it likes so long as it is promoting liberal objectives.

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Dems Spinning Possible Health Care Loss

These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.

“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”

“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”

“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.

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These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.

“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”

“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”

“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.

Carville’s probably correct to the extent that it will energize Democratic voters to get another liberal on the Supreme Court (though it’s not as if they weren’t already trying). But in terms of a general public campaign message, I’m not sure this is really very effective. Are we supposed to believe the average independent voter will suddenly be fired up to vote Democrat, based on the hope that there might be a chance to appoint a new justice in the next four years who will support the individual mandate? Considering the fact that the majority of Americans oppose the mandate, this seems highly unrealistic.

No matter how it’s spun, the Supreme Court striking down ObamaCare would be a major blow to the Democratic Party, just as it would be a blow to the Republican Party if the law was upheld in full. There are silver linings for both parties no matter what the outcome – for example, if ObamaCare is upheld, the only way for Americans to get rid of the unpopular law may be to vote Republican – but it’s a stretch to say that would be the best possible scenario for the GOP.

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Conservatism and the Common Good

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”

These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by  Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.

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In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”

These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by  Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.

In this case, the confusion is that “preferential treatment for the poor” is synonymous with a massive, centralized state. Au contraire. A positive role for government means a limited role for government. I recall a similar debate in the 1990s, when conservatives championed welfare reform over the fierce criticisms of the left. (In effect, the new law ended the legal entitlement to federally funded welfare benefits, imposing a five-year time limit on the receipt of such benefits and requiring a large percentage of current recipients to seek and obtain work.) Liberal religious figures like Jim Wallis said that reforms championed by conservatives would lead to an explosion of poverty and hunger. Millions of innocent children would suffer. What was being proposed was cruel, brutal, Darwinian.

In fact, the 1996 welfare-reform bill was the most dramatic and successful social innovation in decades, reversing 60 years of federal policy that had long since grown not just useless but positively counterproductive. State welfare rolls plummeted—and poverty, instead of rising, decreased. A decade after the 1996 welfare-reform bill was passed into law, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers rose. Rather than giving up on the poor, the new policy assumed that the able-bodied were capable of working, expected them to work, and was rooted in a confident belief that, materially and otherwise, they would be better off for it. In each of these particulars, welfare reform advocates were proved correct.

The thundering moral condemnations of the left were wrong then and they are wrong now. What progressives don’t seem to understand is that if we don’t reform entitlement programs, it will leave virtually no room for anything else, including domestic discretionary spending. The crowding out effects of keeping the current Medicare program in place will be massive, then catastrophic, and eventually unsustainable. Unless we alter the current course of fiscal events, we will end up like European nations, in which cuts in government programs are drastic, painful, immediate, and disproportionately targeted on the vulnerable and powerless.

In our current moment, understanding fiscal reality, including the ability to read charts and graphs and do basic math, has become something of an ethical imperative. What Representative Ryan appreciates, unlike some of his critics, is that putting forth a responsible governing document is more challenging (and more satisfying) than moral preening.

Paul Ryan’s budget provides a path to opportunity and greater prosperity; if it were to become law, it would avert considerable heartache and human suffering. That is an impressive moral achievement, one that puts human dignity at the heart of public policy. Genuine solidarity with the poor was once a hallmark of liberalism. I hope it becomes so again one day.

 

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