Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 24, 2012

Israel Can’t Solve Africa’s Problems

It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.

That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.

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It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.

That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.

Those who are quick to accuse Israel of racism should remember that it went to great trouble and expense to facilitate the mass immigration of tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the past generation. Though the absorption of these immigrants has been a bumpy road for many, the nation took great pride in their coming and has done its often-inadequate best to care for them.

The Jewish tradition of caring for the homeless and the stranger has created a large degree of sympathy for the African migrants in Israel. But while it was possible for the country to take in the initial small numbers who found their way there, including those seeking political asylum, now that the rate is up to 1,000 new illegals a month, the situation has gotten out of hand. Israel simply hasn’t the ability to care for or employ that many people who have no ties to the place.

Moreover, no matter how immigrant-friendly Israel may be, any nation has the right and the duty to police its borders. As is the case with America’s southern border, there are no easy or simple solutions–people who want to come will find a way to get in. But no nation can be expected to just simply accept such a situation, especially when it brings with it a rise in crime and other social pathologies. Though nothing justifies some of the unfortunate statements made yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel has a right to ask those who arrive without permission to leave and to ensure that those illegals who keep coming are kept out.

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Obama Needs to Settle on a Message

Today, BuzzFeed reports the unsurprising news that the Obama campaign has lost its notorious confidence after a rough couple of weeks. The reasons are what you’d expect: Joe Biden’s gay marriage slipup, the botched Bain attacks, and the public rebukes from fellow Democrats. But toward the end of the article, Doug Schoen points out the source of the confidence problem – the Obama campaign is heading into the summer and still hasn’t settled on a definite vision for a second term:

Critics inside the party and out, however, warn that Obama has a deeper problem: He hasn’t clearly communicated a simple rationale for a second term.

“They have no clear message or overarching theme other than class warfare and attack politics,” pollster Doug Schoen told BuzzFeed. “They don’t have a vision for the second term. No clear sense as to what the administration is offering for a second term. There is widespread dissatisfaction with both parties and both candidates in primary results [Tuesday] — and no clear idea how Obama is going to unite the county and lead us forward.”

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Today, BuzzFeed reports the unsurprising news that the Obama campaign has lost its notorious confidence after a rough couple of weeks. The reasons are what you’d expect: Joe Biden’s gay marriage slipup, the botched Bain attacks, and the public rebukes from fellow Democrats. But toward the end of the article, Doug Schoen points out the source of the confidence problem – the Obama campaign is heading into the summer and still hasn’t settled on a definite vision for a second term:

Critics inside the party and out, however, warn that Obama has a deeper problem: He hasn’t clearly communicated a simple rationale for a second term.

“They have no clear message or overarching theme other than class warfare and attack politics,” pollster Doug Schoen told BuzzFeed. “They don’t have a vision for the second term. No clear sense as to what the administration is offering for a second term. There is widespread dissatisfaction with both parties and both candidates in primary results [Tuesday] — and no clear idea how Obama is going to unite the county and lead us forward.”

Others have noticed as well. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama seems to be focusing more on small-scale objectives, rather than a grand reelection vision. But it also seemed like he was planning to weave these objectives into a larger populist, class warfare message, which he’d been laying the groundwork on since last fall. If that was the plan, it may have to be recalibrated after Democrats publicly balked at Obama’s attacks on Bain Capital this week.

The Romney campaign also seems to have picked up Obama’s vulnerability in this area. His “Day One” ads that outline the steps he’d take on his first day in the White House provide a strong contrast to Obama. What would Obama’s second term look like? At this point, the American people have no idea, and Obama doesn’t seem to either.

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Mayors Must Now Pass Obama Loyalty Test

Republican candidate Mitt Romney took his campaign to inner city Philadelphia today, but the upshot of the event wasn’t so much his education and school choice agenda as the opportunity it provided for the city’s mayor to show that he was no Cory Booker. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter as well as the city’s District Attorney Seth Williams turned out for the event intent on showing they were prepared to be loyal surrogates for President Obama. Nutter, who is an advocate of school reform, stayed outside the charter school Romney visited and gave a speech to a crowd that came out to jeer the Republican saying:

“It’s nice that he decided this late in his [campaign] to see what a city like Philadelphia is about,” Nutter said. But, he added, “I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.”

Such raillery is meaningless and to be expected in any political campaign. Romney made a strong statement at the school, and though it’s not likely he will be winning many votes in that West Philadelphia neighborhood in November, his presence there was appropriate. The interesting aspect to the event is the alacrity with which the White House recruited two of the senior officials of the city — both of which are African-Americans like Booker, who presumably have busy schedules of their own–to show up and basically heckle Romney from a street corner more than a block away. After Newark Mayor Booker’s “Meet the Press” heresy this past weekend, the Democrats seem to have decided to dragoon local office holders to publicly demonstrate their loyalty at a moment’s notice with no questions asked.

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Republican candidate Mitt Romney took his campaign to inner city Philadelphia today, but the upshot of the event wasn’t so much his education and school choice agenda as the opportunity it provided for the city’s mayor to show that he was no Cory Booker. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter as well as the city’s District Attorney Seth Williams turned out for the event intent on showing they were prepared to be loyal surrogates for President Obama. Nutter, who is an advocate of school reform, stayed outside the charter school Romney visited and gave a speech to a crowd that came out to jeer the Republican saying:

“It’s nice that he decided this late in his [campaign] to see what a city like Philadelphia is about,” Nutter said. But, he added, “I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.”

Such raillery is meaningless and to be expected in any political campaign. Romney made a strong statement at the school, and though it’s not likely he will be winning many votes in that West Philadelphia neighborhood in November, his presence there was appropriate. The interesting aspect to the event is the alacrity with which the White House recruited two of the senior officials of the city — both of which are African-Americans like Booker, who presumably have busy schedules of their own–to show up and basically heckle Romney from a street corner more than a block away. After Newark Mayor Booker’s “Meet the Press” heresy this past weekend, the Democrats seem to have decided to dragoon local office holders to publicly demonstrate their loyalty at a moment’s notice with no questions asked.

Given the power of the presidency to make lesser party members — especially those dependent on federal funding to help keep their cities afloat — we can expect this will be one of many examples of Obama’s party taking the equivalent of a public loyalty oath. After Booker, Democratic governors and mayors are on notice and will be required to toe the line when it comes to uncritical praise of the president and unstinting and gratuitous attacks on his opponent at every conceivable opportunity.

Like Booker, Nutter is not your typical machine politician but a bright, popular and innovative politician who has been forced to deal with budget and educational funding issues in ways that left-wing Democrats don’t always applaud. Under normal circumstances he might have been happy to welcome some national attention for Philadelphia charter schools. But after the spectacle of Booker’s “hostage video” recantation this past weekend, Democrats are not taking any chances about being seen as remiss in their loyalty to their peerless leader.

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NYT Accidentally Vindicates Chris Christie

Today on a popular blog about New York City on the New York Times‘ website, the history of recent public transportation projects was rehashed in light of a recent announcement on the extension of the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal. Every single project, from this project to the longest standing joke in New York City, the 2nd Avenue subway, had one thing in common: They consistently run over budget and behind schedule.

Tucked in the end of the post the Times’ Clyde Haberman lists the trans-Hudson rail tunnel as one of the projects that has faced a “construction delay.” What was the delay? There was none. The project has been nixed because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to fund a project that he believed would run over budget and behind schedule. Christie explained that even according to the most recent cost projections for the project the state would be unable to pay, and given the tri-state area’s history of mismanaged public transportation construction projects, the state would go bankrupt before finding the true cost, which would inevitably come to light millions of dollars and years later. Read More

Today on a popular blog about New York City on the New York Times‘ website, the history of recent public transportation projects was rehashed in light of a recent announcement on the extension of the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal. Every single project, from this project to the longest standing joke in New York City, the 2nd Avenue subway, had one thing in common: They consistently run over budget and behind schedule.

Tucked in the end of the post the Times’ Clyde Haberman lists the trans-Hudson rail tunnel as one of the projects that has faced a “construction delay.” What was the delay? There was none. The project has been nixed because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to fund a project that he believed would run over budget and behind schedule. Christie explained that even according to the most recent cost projections for the project the state would be unable to pay, and given the tri-state area’s history of mismanaged public transportation construction projects, the state would go bankrupt before finding the true cost, which would inevitably come to light millions of dollars and years later.

I found it amusing that Haberman, albeit accidentally, vindicated Christie’s decision on the tunnel with his piece chronicling the sorry history of public works projects in and around the New York area. The New York Times has a list of articles on the tunnel here and from the headlines you can surmise staff opinions on the dispute. Here are a few headlines: “Cannibalize the Future“, “In Christie’s Policies, Pain for Commuters“, “Report Disputes Christie’s Reason for Halting Tunnel Project in 2010.”

The last article cited begins by saying:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey exaggerated when he declared that unforeseen costs to the state were forcing him to cancel the new train tunnel planned to relieve congested routes across the Hudson River, according to a long-awaited report by independent congressional investigators.

Did Christie exaggerate? Haberman’s piece makes it clear that unless one is in possession of a time machine, it is impossible to know just how much any given public works project will eventually cost.

Many on the Left, clearly including the New York Times, harpooned Christie’s decision, claiming the pro-business governor was playing politics by denying a project that would bring a much needed infusion of business into the state. Despite the Times‘ clear bias against Christie on this issue (and many others), they have, 19 months later and quite unintentionally, vindicated the New Jersey governor’s axing of the project.

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GOP Shouldn’t Waste Time on Biden

It hasn’t been a very good couple of weeks for Joe Biden, and the polls show it. Though President Obama followed his vice president’s lead and endorsed gay marriage, White House resentment about the incident lingers. There has been a torrent of leaks about the president’s dissatisfaction with his number two, and Republicans have taken to targeting the veep and pointing out his numerous gaffes at every opportunity. Though the only person whose opinion he needs to care about — President Obama — has been publicly silent, all this has taken a toll on Biden’s public standing. So yesterday’s Gallup Poll in which the vice president is shown to have a negative approval rating for the first time since taking office is likely to feed the rumors circulating around Washington about Biden being dumped from the Democratic ticket this summer. It will also tempt Republicans to double down on their attacks on the vice president.

But while none of this comforts Biden, it would also be a mistake for Republicans to put much stock in any of it. Biden may not be much of an asset to Obama, but it’s not likely that he will cost him any more votes than he will win for him this year. The same was true in 2008, although the comparison with his GOP counterpart Sarah Palin helped him play the statesman. Though we spend a good deal of time handicapping the unofficial run for the vice presidency every four years, it’s a rare election in which they have any but the most marginal impact. Rumors notwithstanding, the president understands that dumping the veep would be a sign of panic. While some Republicans will enjoy slugging away at his gaffes, any effort diverted from the main task of taking down the president’s record is a waste of time.

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It hasn’t been a very good couple of weeks for Joe Biden, and the polls show it. Though President Obama followed his vice president’s lead and endorsed gay marriage, White House resentment about the incident lingers. There has been a torrent of leaks about the president’s dissatisfaction with his number two, and Republicans have taken to targeting the veep and pointing out his numerous gaffes at every opportunity. Though the only person whose opinion he needs to care about — President Obama — has been publicly silent, all this has taken a toll on Biden’s public standing. So yesterday’s Gallup Poll in which the vice president is shown to have a negative approval rating for the first time since taking office is likely to feed the rumors circulating around Washington about Biden being dumped from the Democratic ticket this summer. It will also tempt Republicans to double down on their attacks on the vice president.

But while none of this comforts Biden, it would also be a mistake for Republicans to put much stock in any of it. Biden may not be much of an asset to Obama, but it’s not likely that he will cost him any more votes than he will win for him this year. The same was true in 2008, although the comparison with his GOP counterpart Sarah Palin helped him play the statesman. Though we spend a good deal of time handicapping the unofficial run for the vice presidency every four years, it’s a rare election in which they have any but the most marginal impact. Rumors notwithstanding, the president understands that dumping the veep would be a sign of panic. While some Republicans will enjoy slugging away at his gaffes, any effort diverted from the main task of taking down the president’s record is a waste of time.

Biden’s negative ratings  — 45 percent disapprove of him while 42 percent approve — actually aren’t all that much worse than the ratings he has received in the last three years. Though he was favored by margins of 42-40, 43-41 and 46-41 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively, none of these results are dramatic enough to affect the Democratic ticket. Democrats still favor him by a margin of 73-17 even if independents and Republicans don’t care for Biden. And it should be pointed out that even his recent bad numbers are not all that much worse than those of his boss, who has a 52-46 favorability rating in the most recent poll.

It also bears pointing out that it is more than likely that those floating the rumors about Biden’s fate have ulterior motives. Some Democrats may see promoting the idea of promoting Hillary Clinton as Biden’s replacement as way to get on her bandwagon early should she try again for the presidency in 2016. It is also more than likely that those Republicans who have been harping on the idea of dumping Biden may be merely seeking to make mischief rather than providing any genuine insight as to the thinking of their rivals.

But either way, the focus on Biden is a sideshow, and President Obama’s high opinion of himself is certainly enough to make him think he can win re-election with anybody — even a gaffe-prone crazy uncle gasbag like Joe Biden. Republicans should take a lesson from this and confine their focus to the man at the top of the other ticket.

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Cherokee Controversy Not Hurting Warren

Suffolk University finds that Elizabeth Warren’s support is actually holding steady in Massachusetts, despite the ongoing controversy about her dubious Cherokee ancestry claims. Sen. Scott Brown and Warren still appear to be in a dead heat:

Republican incumbent Scott Brown (48 percent) clings to a one-point lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren (47 percent) in the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH-Boston) poll of likely general-election voters in Massachusetts.

The poll result is well within the margin of error. Five percent of voters were undecided in a race that has drawn interest from across the country, even though the primaries are months away. The race has closed since a February Suffolk University/7NEWS poll showed Brown leading Warren 49 percent to 40 percent, with 11 percent either undecided or choosing someone else.

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Suffolk University finds that Elizabeth Warren’s support is actually holding steady in Massachusetts, despite the ongoing controversy about her dubious Cherokee ancestry claims. Sen. Scott Brown and Warren still appear to be in a dead heat:

Republican incumbent Scott Brown (48 percent) clings to a one-point lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren (47 percent) in the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH-Boston) poll of likely general-election voters in Massachusetts.

The poll result is well within the margin of error. Five percent of voters were undecided in a race that has drawn interest from across the country, even though the primaries are months away. The race has closed since a February Suffolk University/7NEWS poll showed Brown leading Warren 49 percent to 40 percent, with 11 percent either undecided or choosing someone else.

As you can see, Warren has gained significant ground since Suffolk’s last poll in February, while Brown’s support has stagnated just below 50 percent. While the Cherokee story makes for delicious headlines and entertaining blog fodder, Massachusetts voters don’t seem to view it as a negative reflection on Warren’s personal ethics. On that point, Allahpundit points out perhaps the most telling finding in the entire poll: when asked which candidate respondents trusted more to tell the truth, 40 percent said Elizabeth Warren as opposed to 37 percent who said Scott Brown.

As AmSpec’s Aaron Goldstein writes: “If voters in Connecticut didn’t care about Richard Blumenthal misrepresenting his military service, is it really a stretch to imagine that Massachusetts voters won’t care if Elizabeth Warren lied about being Native American to advance her career?” Good point. If the state GOP is able to tie the ancestry issue to an angle Massachusetts voters do care about, maybe they can get some more mileage out of the scandal. Otherwise, it looks like Warren may be in the clear.

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Dems’ Plan B: Resurrect War on Women

So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.

Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.

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So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.

Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.

In case some people were left wondering whether this was just a shameless political ploy to try to turn women against the GOP, Sen. Barbara Boxer clarified it with all her usual subtlety:

“As I look at the record of Republicans on women, it is not good,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Personally I say it’s a war on women, and the more they protest it the more I say it. Because I really, truly believe it. They filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act before. They left millions of women out of the Violence Against Women Act. They launched repeated attacks on women’s health including denying affordable access to birth control. They want to criminalize a woman’s right to choose. And they tried to repeal health reform, which prohibits discrimination because of gender — not to mention, makes investments in prevention.”

The legislation obviously puts Republicans in a tricky position. While the debate about the birth control mandate earlier this spring didn’t seem to cause any lasting damage for the party, it was still a major distraction that ate up a month of time that could have been spent talking about the economy. The GOP likely has no interest in rehashing that again.

But Senate Democrats have also put themselves in an awkward position. The Washington Free Beacon reports today that Senate Democrats – including some of the female lawmakers who participated in the news conference – pay their female staffers significantly less than male staffers:

Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.

Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a “war a women,” is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 35.2 percent.

That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide. The figure is based on a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, and is technically accurate. However, as CNN’s Lisa Sylvester has reported, when factors such as area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace are taken into account, the gap shrinks to about 5 percent.

That’s probably not because Sen. Murray and others are paying female staffers less for doing the same work as male staffers. It’s likely that men simply have more upper-level positions in the office, which come with higher salaries. But that hypocrisy is something these senators should have to answer to if they’re going to bash Republicans for opposing pro-women policies.

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Don’t Let Door Hit You on Way Out, Pat

No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

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No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

But hey, a special prosecutor’s gotta do what a special prosecutor’s gotta do: indict someone for something. In this case, the anointed ham sandwich was Scooter Libby, indicted and then convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice — the “crime” of giving investigators an account of a conversation he’d had years earlier with Tim Russert that differed from Russert’s recollection.

Putting away Rod Blagojevich and a bunch of New York Mafiosi won’t make up for that. Nor will the conviction of the blind sheik.

So, as Mr. Fitzgerald goes off to a lucrative future in a fancy law firm, or even possibly to a status stint as FBI director, we should bid him goodbye and good riddance.

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Obama’s Weak on the Real Civil Rights Issue

President Obama may be planning to run for re-election in part by touting his schemes to create more “fairness” by raising the taxes of the wealthy, but his Republican opponent is wisely choosing to try to trump him by focusing on the most important factor behind inequality in America: education. Mitt Romney used his appearance yesterday before the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to not just pay lip service to the issue of education but to announce his support for a step that could actually be the beginning of a sea change in governmental thinking about funding. Romney stated that if elected he would ensure that federal education funds will follow the students rather than merely being poured into the public schools in the areas where they live. If he follows through on this promise he would take the United States a significant way down the road toward a genuine system of school choice that would enable all parents, and not just the wealthy, to choose the best schools for their children rather than being stuck in what Romney rightly called failing institutions.

In an account of the speech that seemed cribbed from the Democratic campaign talking points, the New York Times tried to portray Romney’s stance as just a faint echo of Obama’s efforts on education that they claim have co-opted some traditional Republican positions. That is a gross exaggeration, because the president remains firmly in the pocket of the teacher unions and other supporters of the educational status quo. But whatever common ground may exist between the two on charter schools, Romney’s pledge on choice provides a stark contrast to the Democrat’s and one that can work to his advantage as a campaign issue. For all of his talk about equality, Obama is vulnerable here because of his ideological opposition to empowering parents rather than the government educational monopoly.

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President Obama may be planning to run for re-election in part by touting his schemes to create more “fairness” by raising the taxes of the wealthy, but his Republican opponent is wisely choosing to try to trump him by focusing on the most important factor behind inequality in America: education. Mitt Romney used his appearance yesterday before the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to not just pay lip service to the issue of education but to announce his support for a step that could actually be the beginning of a sea change in governmental thinking about funding. Romney stated that if elected he would ensure that federal education funds will follow the students rather than merely being poured into the public schools in the areas where they live. If he follows through on this promise he would take the United States a significant way down the road toward a genuine system of school choice that would enable all parents, and not just the wealthy, to choose the best schools for their children rather than being stuck in what Romney rightly called failing institutions.

In an account of the speech that seemed cribbed from the Democratic campaign talking points, the New York Times tried to portray Romney’s stance as just a faint echo of Obama’s efforts on education that they claim have co-opted some traditional Republican positions. That is a gross exaggeration, because the president remains firmly in the pocket of the teacher unions and other supporters of the educational status quo. But whatever common ground may exist between the two on charter schools, Romney’s pledge on choice provides a stark contrast to the Democrat’s and one that can work to his advantage as a campaign issue. For all of his talk about equality, Obama is vulnerable here because of his ideological opposition to empowering parents rather than the government educational monopoly.

By treating federal education funds as the equivalent of vouchers that would be transferred to any school a child attends — be it public, charter or private — Romney is opening the door to a national re-examination of school choice measures that could revolutionize the educational system. Many states currently allow education funds to follow students, especially on items that are required by all schools, such as standard text books or busing. But the rigid opposition of both the unions and liberal ideologues has served as an impassable obstacle to changing the system so as to recognize the principle that all schools that serve the children of the nation, including those that are private or religious, are in effect public schools. That would mean the local as well as federal education funding should be distributed to all accredited schools rather than just those with the public label.

Doing so would advance the cause of education. It would create the competitive pressure for excellence that has often been lacking in the public system.

This is a critical issue for all Americans but even more so for minorities and the poor. While the wealthy have the ability to choose the best schools for their kids, those without the same resources are stuck in failed public schools where children don’t have much of a chance. The president played a prominent role in ending a successful experiment in school choice in the District of Columbia that allowed poor children to attend the elite Sidwell Friends School (where his own two daughters go) rather than a Washington public school. The glaring hypocrisy of his position that effectively closes out a quality option for the people he claims to represent is one that ought not to be forgotten.

Though the movement of federal education funds is more of a symbolic move than anything else, Romney has still thrown down the gauntlet to Obama on an issue where it is the Republican and not the president who is defending the interests of minorities and the poor. If this is to be an election fought on the question of equality, Romney has found a good place to stand his ground.

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Obama’s Hollywood Double Standard

Republicans aren’t the only ones furious at the Obama administration for giving a group of Hollywood filmmakers access to potentially classified information on the Osama bin Laden raid. Government transparency advocates and press freedom groups say the incident highlights a double standard, in which filmmakers are favored for access over professional journalists:

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the special treatment given to the filmmakers “outrageous.”

“If these filmmakers got access that trained national security and military reporters did not, then it’s telling the public: ‘We are not going to allow trained journalists to tell this story. If you want to know what happened, go buy a ticket to a movie,’” she told The Daily Beast in an interview.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists said, “The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”

Did the filmmakers access classified information? The White House is denying it, but government emails and transcripts obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request this week show that the filmmakers went to classified facilities and met with officials whose names had to be redacted — a sign they were given treatment that journalists typically aren’t.

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Republicans aren’t the only ones furious at the Obama administration for giving a group of Hollywood filmmakers access to potentially classified information on the Osama bin Laden raid. Government transparency advocates and press freedom groups say the incident highlights a double standard, in which filmmakers are favored for access over professional journalists:

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the special treatment given to the filmmakers “outrageous.”

“If these filmmakers got access that trained national security and military reporters did not, then it’s telling the public: ‘We are not going to allow trained journalists to tell this story. If you want to know what happened, go buy a ticket to a movie,’” she told The Daily Beast in an interview.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists said, “The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”

Did the filmmakers access classified information? The White House is denying it, but government emails and transcripts obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request this week show that the filmmakers went to classified facilities and met with officials whose names had to be redacted — a sign they were given treatment that journalists typically aren’t.

There are several risks involved with giving filmmakers access to classified information, including the fact that they’re not bound by the same ethics as journalists – off the record, on the record, protecting anonymous source identity, etc. A filmmaker may feel he can speak about this information with impunity, because he does not have to worry about burning sources of information that he needs to work with down the line or damaging his professional reputation.

There’s also the fact that this information is being used for entertainment, not news value, which is Glenn Greenwald’s criticism. The administration has been very tight-lipped regarding the bin Laden raid. If they’ve decided to share some information, then it should be going to journalists serving the public interest – not to filmmakers serving the administration’s interest.

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Media Hypes Manufactured Iran Optimism

Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

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Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

And then as if to prove Abdo’s point about pretenses, the New York Times headlined its article yesterday as “Iran Talks Are Extended as Signs of Common Ground Are Seen.” But even the Times, which has been doing yeoman’s work helping the Obama administration minimize Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon, had to open with the observation that there was no actual evidence of common ground. Luckily, the paper managed to track down an anonymous administration source to assert it exists. Very convenient, and good enough for a headline:

Iran appeared to balk Wednesday at a detailed proposal presented by six world powers to address urgent concerns about its nuclear program, including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel, because of what the Iranian side suggested was an insufficient easing of sanctions in exchange.

But after a long day of diplomatic negotiations, both sides agreed to keep talking into Thursday. A senior American official said that despite disagreements some common ground had been reached, suggesting that diplomats had extended the constructive atmosphere that has prevailed since the talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program were resumed last month.

“We’re getting to things that matter,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “Even if we disagree on the shape, we think there is the beginning of a negotiation.”

That’s really what passes for a “constructive atmosphere” these days, isn’t it? Iran’s lead negotiator preemptively closing the door on compromise, Iran’s military holding war games aimed at P5+1 members, and the West pretending that none of that is true. “Despite little progress,” by the by, the next round of negotiations have been set for mid-June. It’s almost difficult to understand why the Israelis have no confidence in the talks.

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The GOP’s Under-the-Radar Veep Candidate

With half a year left in the presidential election, the intrigue surrounding Mitt Romney’s eventual selection of a running mate has given political prognosticators an outlet for their energy that doesn’t require analyzing much polling data. It’s a human-interest story set against the background of the 2008 election, in which the GOP’s vice presidential nominee was a genuinely fascinating political personality and the Democratic nominee was an avuncular, gaffe-prone senator the president is constantly being encouraged to drop from the ticket this November.

But it is highly unlikely the public will be treated to such a spectacle this time around. Romney is pretty much defined by his aura of caution and his devotion to data and analysis, and has never shown a desire to make splashing headlines if he can avoid it. Even when he seems to be dipping his toes in the water of identity politics, there is an empirical approach to it. For example, if he were to select a woman for the ticket, the name that has come up the most has been that of Condoleezza Rice, and the most common Latino name suggested for the vice-presidential nod is that of Marco Rubio–a swing-state senator. But another distinct possibility is Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and the Washington Post profile of Portman calls attention to just how surprisingly under-the-radar Portman has flown throughout his career:

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With half a year left in the presidential election, the intrigue surrounding Mitt Romney’s eventual selection of a running mate has given political prognosticators an outlet for their energy that doesn’t require analyzing much polling data. It’s a human-interest story set against the background of the 2008 election, in which the GOP’s vice presidential nominee was a genuinely fascinating political personality and the Democratic nominee was an avuncular, gaffe-prone senator the president is constantly being encouraged to drop from the ticket this November.

But it is highly unlikely the public will be treated to such a spectacle this time around. Romney is pretty much defined by his aura of caution and his devotion to data and analysis, and has never shown a desire to make splashing headlines if he can avoid it. Even when he seems to be dipping his toes in the water of identity politics, there is an empirical approach to it. For example, if he were to select a woman for the ticket, the name that has come up the most has been that of Condoleezza Rice, and the most common Latino name suggested for the vice-presidential nod is that of Marco Rubio–a swing-state senator. But another distinct possibility is Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and the Washington Post profile of Portman calls attention to just how surprisingly under-the-radar Portman has flown throughout his career:

A young trade lawyer steeped in Republican politics, he honed policy ideas for the administration of George H.W. Bush as an associate White House counsel. Soon, he rose to become the president’s chief liaison to Congress, as director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

In no small part since, he has ascended on the strength of his connections to two different Bush administrations. During the 2000 presidential campaign, the staff for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush asked him to play the part of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman in mock debates that the Bush team had arranged for Richard B. Cheney, its desired running mate. Portman proved so formidable that, before the last of Bush’s three debates, he found himself in the dining room of the Texas governor’s mansion, playing Al Gore against Bush. He had prepared for the practice session by watching tapes of virtually every Gore debate he could find….

In 2008, Portman served as a sparring partner for John McCain during a presidential debate practice, playing the role of Barack Obama. A Portman friend recalls receiving a phone call from a glum McCain aide shortly after a mock debate ended. “Portman just annihilated our guy,” the aide said. Adds former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, who also watched the practices: “Anybody who saw Rob Portman in the role of Barack Obama during debate preps has no doubt about his ability to compete, debate and campaign effectively at the highest levels.”

Portman comes across as intensely prepared, steady, and creative. He has been an ideas man for much of his career—though that may well be a double-edged sword as it calls attention to his ties to the Bush administration.

The full profile is worth a read, and is notable for the absence of what has become something of a staple for the Post’s profiles on up-and-coming Republicans: bizarre, unfounded accusations of bigotry or crude, obsessive investigations that turn up nothing but are published along with a headline claiming something the story never proves. It is, in other words, a piece of serious journalism about a serious public servant.

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Romney Gaining Ground in Swing States

Today’s Marist/NBC poll still shows President Obama with the lead in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, but Mitt Romney has apparently gained considerable ground since the March poll:

In Florida and Virginia, Obama leads Romney by an identical four-point margin, 48 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a particular candidate.

In Ohio, the president is ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.

In March NBC/Marist polls — conducted during the middle of the GOP primary season — Obama led Romney by 12 points in Ohio (50 percent to 38 percent), and by a whopping 17 points in Virginia (52 percent to 35 percent). In January, Obama was ahead of Romney by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent).

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Today’s Marist/NBC poll still shows President Obama with the lead in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, but Mitt Romney has apparently gained considerable ground since the March poll:

In Florida and Virginia, Obama leads Romney by an identical four-point margin, 48 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a particular candidate.

In Ohio, the president is ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.

In March NBC/Marist polls — conducted during the middle of the GOP primary season — Obama led Romney by 12 points in Ohio (50 percent to 38 percent), and by a whopping 17 points in Virginia (52 percent to 35 percent). In January, Obama was ahead of Romney by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent).

The poll shows Romney’s support is increasing, while Obama’s support still lags below 50 percent. Obviously, there has been some predictable consolidation behind Romney since the peak of the GOP primaries in March. But the fact that Obama can’t get above 50 percent is a sign that these states are going to be more competitive than Democrats expected.

Ed Morrissey also sees some problems in the poll’s party breakdowns:

In other words, Marist uses a model in Florida that assumes Democratic turnout will be six points higher than in 2008 and seven points higher than in 2010, while Republican turnout remains largely the same, which means that independents vanish. In Ohio, Marist assumes Democratic turnout will be only slightly lower than 2008, while Republican turnout craters below their nadir in 2008 and ignores the big GOP turnout in 2010.  Only Virginia looks like a somewhat rational predictive model for the 2012 election, although they significantly oversample independents.

Because the poll also shows that Republican enthusiasm is actually higher than Democrat enthusiasm in Florida and Virginia, the actual connotation of the poll might actually be worse for Obama than it looks at the outset.

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Oil Exploration Calls for Expanded Security

The New York Times has a lengthy report on Shell’s plans this summer to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. Much of the article focuses on the politicking and lobbying behind President Obama’s decision to let the drilling go forward which holds the possibility of tapping a million barrels a day of crude, or close to Qatar’s entire production. One of the many oddities which goes unexplained is why drilling in the Arctic Ocean–an inherently risky undertaking given the existence of icebergs, storms, monster waves, and other dangers–is permitted while drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away–which not only has more oil (upwards of six billion barrels in all) but also could be drilled in greater safety–is not. But let’s leave that aside. What I want to address here is another neglected dimension of this important issue–the security dimension.

I saw this for myself last week when I traveled to Alaska, along with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, to meet with Coast Guard officials and to do an Arctic overflight that took me from Anchorage to Barrow–America’s northernmost city which remains, even now, frigid and snowy. The expansion of oil exploration calls for expanded security–to protect against terrorists and extreme environmentalists who might try to sabotage these operations (Greenpeace is said to be chartering a vessel to try to block Shell) and to guard against other Arctic nations such as Russia that might try to grab for themselves oil fields that rightfully belong to the U.S., Canada or other nations. There is also a need for expanded safety operations to ensure an adequate response in case of accidents or oil spills.

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The New York Times has a lengthy report on Shell’s plans this summer to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. Much of the article focuses on the politicking and lobbying behind President Obama’s decision to let the drilling go forward which holds the possibility of tapping a million barrels a day of crude, or close to Qatar’s entire production. One of the many oddities which goes unexplained is why drilling in the Arctic Ocean–an inherently risky undertaking given the existence of icebergs, storms, monster waves, and other dangers–is permitted while drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away–which not only has more oil (upwards of six billion barrels in all) but also could be drilled in greater safety–is not. But let’s leave that aside. What I want to address here is another neglected dimension of this important issue–the security dimension.

I saw this for myself last week when I traveled to Alaska, along with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, to meet with Coast Guard officials and to do an Arctic overflight that took me from Anchorage to Barrow–America’s northernmost city which remains, even now, frigid and snowy. The expansion of oil exploration calls for expanded security–to protect against terrorists and extreme environmentalists who might try to sabotage these operations (Greenpeace is said to be chartering a vessel to try to block Shell) and to guard against other Arctic nations such as Russia that might try to grab for themselves oil fields that rightfully belong to the U.S., Canada or other nations. There is also a need for expanded safety operations to ensure an adequate response in case of accidents or oil spills.

All of this calls for a greater Coast Guard presence, yet this perennially underfunded service is hard put simply to base two helicopters in Barrow for a few months–an operation which will require renting scarce hanger space. The entire Coast Guard has but one modern icebreaker, the Healy, commissioned in 1999; there is an urgent need for more icebreakers but despite years of talk, Congress has never budgeted the funds. (A new icrebreaker would cost $1 billion if built in America–considerably less if in South Korea.) The money coud be assessed directly as a user fee on oil companies, but that would require a change in current laws which send all oil taxes straight to the the general funds of the U.S. Treasury and the state of Alaska where they are used for myriad other purposes.

A broader struggle for control of the Arctic looms as age-old ice melts, uncovering not only oil but other valuable resources from minerals to fish stocks and creating new shipping lanes, at least in the summertime, which cut the time of travel between the Pacific and Atlantic. Other nations, such as China and Russia, are investing in icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships to take advantage of these new opportunities; as my Council on Foreign Relations colleague, Coast Guard Captain Melissa Bert points out, the U.S. lags behind. That is only one of many national security challenges that need to be addressed, but it is hard to imagine dealing with this issue, or others, if military spending is subjected to an indiscriminate sequester come January 1.

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How Irrelevant is Amnesty International?

The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.

The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.

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The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.

The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.

It’s not clear there was ever a time when Amnesty International deserved the moral standing that some in the press have accorded it. The human rights group’s greatest strength was its willingness to take on all countries, including those beloved of the left. That meant rather than just focus its attention on the alleged abuses of the West, it also devoted a great deal of attention on those nations where denial of human rights was not the exception to the rule but the whole point of the state apparatus. If that meant treating the Soviet Union as being on the same moral plane as the United States, we were instructed that this was the price to be paid for having a group lionized by the left pay some attention to the plight of those imprisoned in the Gulag Archipelago. But a willingness to treat genuine problems in democratic countries where the rule of law is respected as no different from dictatorships and totalitarian regimes was always absurd. Now it has been overshadowed by the group’s inability to comprehend that states have a right to defend themselves against terrorists.

In the case of Israel, the group largely ignores the fact that Gaza became a Hamas terrorist state after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, and then its tyrannical Islamist masters allowed its territory to be used as a launching pad for terror strikes. Gaza’s leaders are at war with Israel, but AI treats the Jewish state’s attempts to keep military hardware out of the hands of those terrorists as a violation of human rights even though the flow of food and medicine into the area has not stopped. Israel is not perfect, but it is a functioning democracy where all have access to courts and a free press. The fact that AI also criticizes Hamas and Fatah for their tyrannical rule over Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank doesn’t provide legitimacy for the group’s stands that have the effect of delegitimizing democratic Israel’s right of self-defense.

It’s not that every instance cited by AI is false. Many of their reports are reliable, especially those that note problems in the Third World, that few in the so-called human rights community that is obsessed with destroying Israel, care about. The organization’s commitment to neutrality in conflicts is fine, the problem is that this has always brought with it a willingness to treat every country and cause as morally equivalent. Such a stance has led them to condemn the raid on Osama bin Laden and in the same report condemn Canada for not arresting former President George W. Bush on bogus human rights charges. AI isn’t just a joke anymore; it’s rendered itself completely irrelevant to the cause that it claims to cherish.

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