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Posts For: December 29, 2012

The Tragic Cruelty of Vladimir Putin

It is hard to overstate the cynicism and cruelty of Vladimir Putin. He is willing to use orphans as his pawns in his public-relations battle against the West. That’s no exaggeration, given that he has just signed a law forbidding Americans to adopt Russian children. Approximately 650,000 of them live in orphanages and foster care including a substantial number who are sick or disabled and are unlikely to ever find a permanent home. Russian orphanages have a reputation for terrible conditions and rampant abuse. They are some of the grimmest places to live in the industrialized world.

If the new law had not been passed, a few of the kids stuck there would undoubtedly have benefitted from being adopted by well-meaning Americans such as Heather and Aaron Whaley of Frederick, Maryland, who say they are devout Christians eager to adopt a 4-year-old Russian girl with developmental issues. But now that is not to be.

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It is hard to overstate the cynicism and cruelty of Vladimir Putin. He is willing to use orphans as his pawns in his public-relations battle against the West. That’s no exaggeration, given that he has just signed a law forbidding Americans to adopt Russian children. Approximately 650,000 of them live in orphanages and foster care including a substantial number who are sick or disabled and are unlikely to ever find a permanent home. Russian orphanages have a reputation for terrible conditions and rampant abuse. They are some of the grimmest places to live in the industrialized world.

If the new law had not been passed, a few of the kids stuck there would undoubtedly have benefitted from being adopted by well-meaning Americans such as Heather and Aaron Whaley of Frederick, Maryland, who say they are devout Christians eager to adopt a 4-year-old Russian girl with developmental issues. But now that is not to be.

And why not? Because Putin signed the adoption-ban as a way to retaliate for the Sergei L. Magnitsky Act passed by Congress, which prevents Russians accused of human rights abuses from visiting the U.S. or owning property here. (Magnitsky was a crusading Russian lawyer who tried to expose official malfeasance and was thrown into prison, where he died after being denied medical care.) In other words Putin is compounding one human rights violation (against Magnitsky) with another–against orphans eager for a better future.

This gesture is so heartless and calculated that only someone like Putin–“Tsar”Vladimir–would be capable of it. The pity is that he has such complete control of Russian politics that there is little that his opponents can do to block his whims, no matter how inhumane.

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The GOP’s Weak Hand

In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel writes about two lessons the GOP should take from the fiscal cliff negotiations. One is that President Obama is not, and will never be, a serious negotiating partner. The second is that a house divided is a losing house. Ms. Strassel goes on to counsel the GOP to internalize these recent experiences, since the political dynamic won’t change much. In the future, she writes, Republicans “can continue the folly of believing this president will compromise” — or they can “realize that [Obama] will never be reasonable on taxes — and so they can’t give anything away.”

Ms. Strassel is always intelligent and always worth reading. But in this case there are some elements to the story that may complicate her analysis. It could be House Speaker John Boehner, based on his previous negotiations with Obama, went into the talks with the president hopeful but unconvinced he would get a deal this time. Still, Boehner may have made the calculation that he had to offer a plan that was viewed by the public as reasonable and flexible. Why? Because many Americans have (unfortunately) bought into Obama’s critique of the GOP as being obstinate. That is, even if Obama was not intent on compromising with Republicans, Boehner felt like he had to offer a deal that demonstrated the GOP was not being obstructionist and unyielding. So the speaker first offered raising $800 billion in revenues and then offered a second plan raising taxes on those making a million dollars or more.

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In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel writes about two lessons the GOP should take from the fiscal cliff negotiations. One is that President Obama is not, and will never be, a serious negotiating partner. The second is that a house divided is a losing house. Ms. Strassel goes on to counsel the GOP to internalize these recent experiences, since the political dynamic won’t change much. In the future, she writes, Republicans “can continue the folly of believing this president will compromise” — or they can “realize that [Obama] will never be reasonable on taxes — and so they can’t give anything away.”

Ms. Strassel is always intelligent and always worth reading. But in this case there are some elements to the story that may complicate her analysis. It could be House Speaker John Boehner, based on his previous negotiations with Obama, went into the talks with the president hopeful but unconvinced he would get a deal this time. Still, Boehner may have made the calculation that he had to offer a plan that was viewed by the public as reasonable and flexible. Why? Because many Americans have (unfortunately) bought into Obama’s critique of the GOP as being obstinate. That is, even if Obama was not intent on compromising with Republicans, Boehner felt like he had to offer a deal that demonstrated the GOP was not being obstructionist and unyielding. So the speaker first offered raising $800 billion in revenues and then offered a second plan raising taxes on those making a million dollars or more.

As for the House sticking together: The premise here is that in presenting a unified front, Republicans can force Obama to “fully own his mistakes” on issues like the stimulus legislation and ObamaCare. But the difference is that the stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act were considerably less popular than Obama’s stand on raising taxes on the highest income brackets. That’s why Republicans were able to stay united on the former but have broken ranks on the latter. It may be that in this particular circumstance, if Republicans stand shoulder-to-shoulder against raising any taxes, even on those making a million dollars or more, it won’t have the effect of strengthening the GOP but rather weakening it. Going over the fiscal cliff would allow the president to come back with a proposal early next year in which he cuts taxes for 98 percent of the tax-paying public, which is hardly ideal for the Republican Party.

To state the obvious: There are no good options for Republicans, who are playing an exceedingly weak hand. The president knows it. Republicans therefore have to find a way to extricate themselves from this mess while inflicting minimum damage on themselves and the country. They have to embrace a tactical retreat in order to live to fight another day. Agreeing to a bad deal in order to avoid an even worse (political and economic) outcome is not an appealing choice for Republicans. But it may be the most prudent one.

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FISA Reflects Bipartisan Consensus on Antiterror Tactics

At a time when partisan gridlock in Washington threatens to send us plunging over the fiscal cliff, it is comforting to know that at least in some areas lawmakers can still reach bipartisan consensus. Not many admittedly, but there are some–such as the Senate’s vote, 73 to 23, to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as amended in 2008, when lawmakers gave their imprimatur to what had been an executive initiative undertaken by President George W. Bush to monitor potential terrorists’ communications after 9/11.

Bush had torn down the wall which had prohibited monitoring foreign terrorists’ communications with people in the U.S. absent a court order. This had become controversial when it was publicly revealed, but Congress stepped in to provide the authority needed. Now Congress has extended that authority, and in so doing, senators turned back numerous attempts by lawmakers on both the far-left and far-right to stop or water down this legislation, which is badly needed by our intelligence agencies.

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At a time when partisan gridlock in Washington threatens to send us plunging over the fiscal cliff, it is comforting to know that at least in some areas lawmakers can still reach bipartisan consensus. Not many admittedly, but there are some–such as the Senate’s vote, 73 to 23, to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as amended in 2008, when lawmakers gave their imprimatur to what had been an executive initiative undertaken by President George W. Bush to monitor potential terrorists’ communications after 9/11.

Bush had torn down the wall which had prohibited monitoring foreign terrorists’ communications with people in the U.S. absent a court order. This had become controversial when it was publicly revealed, but Congress stepped in to provide the authority needed. Now Congress has extended that authority, and in so doing, senators turned back numerous attempts by lawmakers on both the far-left and far-right to stop or water down this legislation, which is badly needed by our intelligence agencies.

This shows how, after the initial controversies over the war on terror, a remarkable degree of bipartisan consensus has been reached in favor of measures such as wiretapping, drone strikes and detentions atGuantanamo that were once highly controversial. Other measures, such as “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which could not survive popular scrutiny, have been shelved. But the fact is that President Obama has continued most of the anti-terrorism measures begun under the previous administration and he has done so with the support of the Democratic-controlled Senate. That is good for the fight against terrorism and good for the country in general.

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