Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 29, 2013

Perfect Example of Why New York Is the “Least Free” State

In a new Mercatus Center survey ranking American states according to the freedom of their citizens, New York found itself dead last. The survey ranked states based on “fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom [and weighed] public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.” A new provision buried in the latest budget out of the New York State legislature perfectly illustrates what earned New York this ranking.

According to reports, this budgetary provision will guarantee an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and taxpayers will be footing a significant portion of the bill until 2016. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the terms of the agreement were made during closed-door negotiations and will not become public until after the provision is passed as part of the state’s budget. The Associated Press reports that “early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.” Given the outcry that would’ve been made if these negotiations were made public, it’s understandable (though completely undemocratic) for Governor Cuomo and state legislatures to reach this agreement hidden from voters.

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In a new Mercatus Center survey ranking American states according to the freedom of their citizens, New York found itself dead last. The survey ranked states based on “fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom [and weighed] public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.” A new provision buried in the latest budget out of the New York State legislature perfectly illustrates what earned New York this ranking.

According to reports, this budgetary provision will guarantee an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and taxpayers will be footing a significant portion of the bill until 2016. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the terms of the agreement were made during closed-door negotiations and will not become public until after the provision is passed as part of the state’s budget. The Associated Press reports that “early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.” Given the outcry that would’ve been made if these negotiations were made public, it’s understandable (though completely undemocratic) for Governor Cuomo and state legislatures to reach this agreement hidden from voters.

Even liberals are uncomfortable with the plan, though not exactly for all the right reasons. Frank Mauro of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute told the AP “You are kind of flying blind on this” and said “[the credit] flies in the face of sound tax policy, good labor market practice, or common sense.” Mauro’s concerns with the credit center on the fact that it will only benefit seasonal workers under the age of 20, which could displace older workers with students. These are valid criticisms of the plan, but they don’t even scratch the surface of what is most problematic about the very idea of redistributing the wealth of some to the paychecks of others.

What Mauro and others quoted in the AP story don’t say, but what is painfully obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of human history, is that what the New York State legislature is proposing is socialism, pure and simple. Students making less than $9 an hour will now have part of their salaries at fast-food restaurants and department stores paid by New York’s taxpayers. The wealth of hardworking New Yorkers will be redistributed to lower paid high school and college students frying burgers at their first jobs. While those crafting this legislation may be thinking that they’re just gouging the “fat-cats” paying taxes in the more wealthy parts of the state like New York City, they will also be siphoning off the salaries of hardworking New Yorkers in the rural areas north of Westchester county. As wealth distribution goes, this is especially uninspiring, as money will be taken from the salaries of mothers and fathers in Rochester and deposited into paychecks of teenagers working at H&M on 34th Street. 

Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate’s Republican conference, called this plan part of a larger budgetary compromise. State Republicans, not to mention Democrats, making agreements like these is the reason why the Mercatus Center has deemed New York State the least free state in the union. If these lawmakers find themselves wondering why they have fewer taxpayers to gouge in coming years, they will have no one to blame but themselves. The outward migration of New Yorkers to more hospitable economic climates was already underway and closed-door decisions like these will only fuel the trend further.

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Time to Redefine Public Education

After decades of struggling to stifle any hope of giving children and their parents a chance to escape from failing schools, liberals are starting to fear their task is inevitably doomed to failure. The decision by the Indiana Supreme Court earlier this week to uphold the constitutionality of the state’s vouchers program that gives low- and middle-income families the right to use state money to attend private schools is a landmark in the long battle for school choice. While this is just one victory in a single state, combined with other developments elsewhere it may not only be the beginning of the erosion of the government education monopoly but a change in the way we define the term public education.

The Indiana case is significant not just because of its size (over 9,000 students took advantage of it this year) but because it challenges the notion that the only proper way for the state to educate children is via the public schools system. As even the New York Times noted in a front-page feature published yesterday, the growing number of efforts to offer families a choice that heretofore was only available to the wealthy is based on the idea that private and religious schools are just as valid a form of public education as those run by the state. More to the point, with so many public schools failing their students, the ideological resistance to vouchers is dooming large numbers of children, especially minorities in urban areas, to a future with no hope of a better life. While choice opponents still hold the upper hand in most states, what is happening in Indiana is bound to have an impact on the rest of the country.

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After decades of struggling to stifle any hope of giving children and their parents a chance to escape from failing schools, liberals are starting to fear their task is inevitably doomed to failure. The decision by the Indiana Supreme Court earlier this week to uphold the constitutionality of the state’s vouchers program that gives low- and middle-income families the right to use state money to attend private schools is a landmark in the long battle for school choice. While this is just one victory in a single state, combined with other developments elsewhere it may not only be the beginning of the erosion of the government education monopoly but a change in the way we define the term public education.

The Indiana case is significant not just because of its size (over 9,000 students took advantage of it this year) but because it challenges the notion that the only proper way for the state to educate children is via the public schools system. As even the New York Times noted in a front-page feature published yesterday, the growing number of efforts to offer families a choice that heretofore was only available to the wealthy is based on the idea that private and religious schools are just as valid a form of public education as those run by the state. More to the point, with so many public schools failing their students, the ideological resistance to vouchers is dooming large numbers of children, especially minorities in urban areas, to a future with no hope of a better life. While choice opponents still hold the upper hand in most states, what is happening in Indiana is bound to have an impact on the rest of the country.

While there have been other vouchers experiments, the Indiana program is the largest and most generous such program since it is the most broad-based such experiment. As the Indianapolis Star reports:

A family of four that earns less than $42,000 annually can receive up to 90 percent of the state aid for a child’s public school education. Families of four making $42,000 to $62,000 can receive 50 percent of the state aid amount.

The key to understanding this concept is that it is not a gift from the state to private or parochial schools but merely a re-allocation of the funding that would ordinarily follow the student wherever he or she might go in the public system. In Indiana the purpose of the money devoted to education is now regarded as geared to the welfare of each individual child rather than to government institutions and their bureaucracies. Instead of the state deciding where all of the money should go, now poor and middle-class families are empowered to make decisions for their children.

The teachers’ unions and the rest of the state education establishment that oppose school choice tell us that this drains money from public schools and will hurt children. But the well-funded legal and political struggle they have been waging to squelch every attempt to provide choice is defending is their education monopoly, not the best interests of those interred in schools that don’t give kids a chance.

Far from destroying public schools, the availability of private and other options, such as charters, provide the system with the competition that is the only way to incentivize their improvement. Without that, the bureaucracy will continue to process kids more than educate them, as is the case in all too many places around the country where the families with the means to choose other options have fled the public system.

While charters are often highly successful, they remain under the purview of the public schools bureaucracy that has more to gain from their failure than success. That’s why any real education reform program must open up the gates for underprivileged kids to attend private and religious schools that are forced to succeed without the government backing that often means failure is not punished.

Choice opponents also claim there is no proof vouchers can succeed in improving achievement, but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy since almost every previous experiment has been so limited and often cut off by liberal politicians before they had a chance to succeed.

An excellent example of this was seen in Washington D.C. where Congress established a limited school choice program that offered a small number of poor kids a chance to attend private schools that were previously restricted to the capital’s elite. But after Democrats took back control of both the White House and Congress in 2008, the experiment was ended. That meant that in the future the poor urban African-American kids no longer could hope to attend Sidwell Friends, the private school where President Obama sends his two daughters.

The hypocrisy of Obama and other limousine liberals who are prepared to condemn the children of the poor to attend disastrous public schools they would never dream of sending their children to is breathtaking. But it is exactly that attitude that is at the heart of this issue.

The question for Obama and his friends in the teachers’ unions is the same it has been for years. For all of the lip service such liberals pay to the welfare of the poor and the need for education to break the cycle of poverty, they refuse to take the one step that actually offers a path to a better life for these kids. They do so because they regard the sanctity of the public education monopoly to be a higher priority than the needs of ordinary Americans.

The question for them is the same that they are quick to pose to their opponents on other equal access issues. Are they prepared to acknowledge that the children of the poor are made in God’s image the same as their own? Are they really willing to sacrifice another generation of the poor on the altar of the failed god of public schools merely in order to prop up an education bureaucracy and unions that are their political allies?

More and more Americans are starting to realize that if the object of public education is to give children a chance, they must widen their horizons and start letting the flow of taxpayer dollars to the schools follow the kids rather than the bureaucrats and the unions. What happened this week in Indiana could be the moment when the tide began to turn in favor of education rather than liberal ideology.

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Ashley Judd and the Will Rogers Democrats

As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

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As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

Some Democrats started encouraging Judd to run for the Senate from Kentucky. GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat is up in 2014, and liberals think he’s more vulnerable than in past cycles. Following their old Will Rogers instincts, some Democrats saw an entertaining way to blow their chances by nominating a classic Hollywood liberal instead of a conservative Democrat. McConnell’s campaign was giddy at the prospect.

At some point the story went from being “hey, wouldn’t it be fun if Ashley Judd ran for Senate” to “Ashley Judd is seriously considering running for Senate” and the Dean Democrats panicked. They called in party elders to do something, and party elders called in Bill Clinton to run Judd’s budding campaign off the road, which Clinton gladly did. It soon became clear why Democrats feared nominating Judd. “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell,” Judd said about the race last month.

Then on Wednesday came the moment national Democrats were waiting for: ABC News reported that Judd announced—“in a series of tweets,” naturally—that they could rest easy:

After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate…. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!

Judd’s decision not to run—which, it seems from the ABC report, was made for her by Bill Clinton—represents the new Democratic Party, in which discipline is enforced from the top along with a willingness to completely get in line and have party leaders make the decisions. (Witness my earlier post about Democrats who voted for Obamacare expressing shock and disbelief at discovering over the course of three years what was actually in the bill.)

Democrats don’t even seem to want a primary fight for the 2016 presidential nomination, preparing instead to pave the way for Hillary Clinton, wife of the previous Democratic president and secretary of state in the current Democratic president’s first term. The other plausible challenger for the nomination is the current vice president.

Republicans, on the other hand, tried to nominate anyone but the next in line last time and have no next in line for 2016 unless Paul Ryan runs. And as far as congressional races are concerned, Republicans are the minority in the Senate in large part because the so-called establishment is unable to pick and choose its candidates around the country, ending up with Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and the like to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, these days the lack of establishment money and support is more likely than not to win you the nomination; call yourself a “Tea Party” candidate and watch the primary votes roll in.

That phenomenon of course often yields far better candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ted Cruz. It connects the party agenda with the zeitgeist of the grassroots, and thus makes a candidate’s principles more valuable than his campaign war chest. (This concept is unimaginable to Democrats, as is the idea that political principles can have any intrinsic value beyond their immediate utility in any given election cycle.)

The post-Dean era Democrats have neither the benefits nor the drawbacks of such a state. For 2014, that means no Ashley Judd.

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Another “Mug Him Again” Moment

Last year when liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed, the New York Post editorial page used it to recall one of the late Ed Koch’s favorite anecdotes:

Back when he was first running for mayor, Ed Koch used to tell of the time he told some senior citizens about a judge he knew who’d been mugged.

The judge, said Koch, told a group that “this mugging will not influence any of my decisions from the bench” — whereupon a woman yelled, “Mug him again!”

While the Post was roundly criticized in some quarters for insensitivity, the lesson was apt. Those who can’t learn from their encounters with violent criminals lack credibility when they render judgment on dealing with related issues.

This anecdote came to mind when reading of the encounter of leftist Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz–who was in Aubagne, France to pick up an award at a film festival for his film Rock the Casbah–had with a gang of Arab toughs. Though his movie is a cinematic attack on Israeli policies and a bouquet thrown in the direction of the Palestinians, the Arabs proved to be uninterested in his politics and instead subjected him to the same treatment they have accorded to many another Jew: he was badly beaten.

But like the judge in the Ed Koch story, Horowitz won’t let it influence him. When he regained consciousness, he refused to press charges against his attackers. Nor did he draw any conclusions about the intent of the mob that beat him up.

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Last year when liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed, the New York Post editorial page used it to recall one of the late Ed Koch’s favorite anecdotes:

Back when he was first running for mayor, Ed Koch used to tell of the time he told some senior citizens about a judge he knew who’d been mugged.

The judge, said Koch, told a group that “this mugging will not influence any of my decisions from the bench” — whereupon a woman yelled, “Mug him again!”

While the Post was roundly criticized in some quarters for insensitivity, the lesson was apt. Those who can’t learn from their encounters with violent criminals lack credibility when they render judgment on dealing with related issues.

This anecdote came to mind when reading of the encounter of leftist Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz–who was in Aubagne, France to pick up an award at a film festival for his film Rock the Casbah–had with a gang of Arab toughs. Though his movie is a cinematic attack on Israeli policies and a bouquet thrown in the direction of the Palestinians, the Arabs proved to be uninterested in his politics and instead subjected him to the same treatment they have accorded to many another Jew: he was badly beaten.

But like the judge in the Ed Koch story, Horowitz won’t let it influence him. When he regained consciousness, he refused to press charges against his attackers. Nor did he draw any conclusions about the intent of the mob that beat him up.

As Ruthie Blum aptly noted in her column in Israel Hayom, as awful as this incident was, it is also the sort of thing that it is hard not to laugh at. As she writes, one of the drawbacks about being an Israeli Israel-basher is that it doesn’t earn you much applause or even a hearing from European or Arab opponents of the country:

This is not the only example of Israelis with impeccable left-wing credentials being shunned by their like-minded counterparts abroad. Academic boycotts of Israeli professors also point to this pathetic phenomenon. Like the art world, academia is a sector that can be relied upon to side with its country’s detractors. Yet, this does not guarantee immunity for even the most pro-Palestinian Israeli lecturers. …

What this goes to show, for the millionth time, is that ill will and stupidity are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the Israeli radicals are foolish for assuming that their ideology makes them any less Jewish in the eyes of the enemy.

Israeli left-wingers may answer that their critiques of their country are meant to improve it rather than to aid the efforts of those who seek its destruction. But the incident in Aubagne ought to be another wake-up moment about the nature of the conflict. When Palestinians cheered Saddam Hussein for shooting missiles at Israel during the Gulf War, some on the left said the experience would change their view of their neighbors. Others said the same thing when Palestinian suicide bombers indiscriminately slaughtered Jewish men, women and children and were treated as heroes by their people during the second intifada.

The point here is not to assert that all Arabs are bad or that Israel can do no wrong, but that it is important to understand that the core of the conflict is the hatred and intolerance of Jews. After decades of failed attempts by Israel to make peace that have been answered with murder and terror, anyone who won’t own up to this reality may need to get mugged again.

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Beyond Repeal: If Obamacare Survives, It Must Be Fixed

This National Journal piece, titled “The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’,” has come in for a fair amount of mocking on the right. The “secret plan” turns out to be the GOP leadership’s very public, well-known, high-profile desire to … vote to repeal Obamacare. Just last week the GOP put up yet another (failed) amendment to repeal the health care reform law.

If the Republican Party is trying to keep its plan to repeal Obamacare a secret, it isn’t succeeding. The political press has been unable to conceal its annoyance at the GOP’s stubborn fight to rid the country of an unpopular law. Conservatives are, appropriately, unfazed by the president’s palace guard in the media doing their best to dictate the policy agenda. The left says the fight is over, and Obamacare is here to stay. But if that’s true, they’re only half right: if Obamacare is here to stay, the fight is only beginning. The law is so shoddy and onerous that it is going to take sustained effort for lawmakers to fix the worst parts of the bill just to make it workable. Obamacare is unsustainable as-is.

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This National Journal piece, titled “The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’,” has come in for a fair amount of mocking on the right. The “secret plan” turns out to be the GOP leadership’s very public, well-known, high-profile desire to … vote to repeal Obamacare. Just last week the GOP put up yet another (failed) amendment to repeal the health care reform law.

If the Republican Party is trying to keep its plan to repeal Obamacare a secret, it isn’t succeeding. The political press has been unable to conceal its annoyance at the GOP’s stubborn fight to rid the country of an unpopular law. Conservatives are, appropriately, unfazed by the president’s palace guard in the media doing their best to dictate the policy agenda. The left says the fight is over, and Obamacare is here to stay. But if that’s true, they’re only half right: if Obamacare is here to stay, the fight is only beginning. The law is so shoddy and onerous that it is going to take sustained effort for lawmakers to fix the worst parts of the bill just to make it workable. Obamacare is unsustainable as-is.

It won’t lower insurance costs. It also won’t achieve universal coverage. It is designed to kick millions of Americans off insurance plans they are satisfied with and they can afford. It will depress wages and full-time employment. It forces religious institutions to violate their faith by removing the separation of church and state and defining Catholic practice outside the bounds of law in the age of Obamacare. It is, in almost every way, a colossal failure of governance and reveals as fiction the left’s self-identification as an intellectual, fact-driven political movement.

But it also has to be fixed. Conservatives will not be satisfied for the law to stand as a monument to liberalism’s inability to govern, because the American people rightly have no interest in being Democrats’ lab rats. That’s why the GOP keeps trying to repeal the law, but it’s also why, absent repeal, the fight over Obamacare will continue for years to come. It creates too many problems to be left alone. As Shikha Dalmia writes at the Washington Examiner:

The Iraq War cost $1 trillion and produced a quagmire abroad. Obamacare will cost $1 trillion and will create a quagmire at home. Americans need an exit strategy.

I don’t endorse the comparison of any domestic policy law to the horrors of war, but Dalmia’s framing of the issue is more useful than the simplistic repeal/don’t repeal argument the two sides have conducted for three years now. Republicans lost an opportunity to repeal the law when they failed to take the Senate and White House in November. They will, however, have the support of some Democrats to help alleviate the burden Obamacare has forced onto the American public.

One example is the law’s medical device tax, which will hurt medical innovation and cost jobs. The Senate passed a nonbinding, symbolic expression of repeal this past week with 79 votes in favor of getting rid of the excise tax. Obamacare’s discriminatory contraception mandate was, according to Democrats, “un-American,” “a bad decision,” “a violation of conscience rights,” among other critiques of the policy.

Those are only some of the battles in Obamacare’s future, since those parts of the law are so obviously harmful that even Democrats—now that they’ve found out what was in the law they voted for—would support eliminating them. But the rest of the bill is more complex. Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Avik Roy penned an op-ed last month explaining how to use Obamacare to fix Obamacare—in part by utilizing the insurance exchanges to open the system up to more traditional market pressures. Such ideas require an acceptance that Obamacare won’t be repealed. But their support among politicians, and not just think-tankers, also indicates that conservatives are getting serious about health care reform in a way they weren’t before Obamacare captured the debate.

It’s a shame it took the Obamacare monstrosity to focus congressional Republicans’ attention on health care. But it’s encouraging that the debate over repeal is the beginning, not the end, of the political class’s efforts to correct the Obama administration’s mistakes.

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Don’t Insult the King of Palestine

Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.

A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?

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Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.

A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?

The consensus in Israel dating back to Yitzhak Rabin has always been that it didn’t matter how beastly the Palestinian Authority was so long as it kept terrorists in line. Rabin famously defended the wisdom of putting Arafat in power by saying that he could fight terror “without a Supreme Court, without B’Tselem, and without bleeding heart liberals.” But unfortunately, Rabin’s prediction that the lack of Palestinian democracy would enhance Israel’s security was a colossal miscalculation. If anything, the lack of transparency only made it easier for Arafat to quietly subsidize terror by factions of his own Fatah Party even if he was also hoping to suppress his Hamas rivals.

Ariel Sharon also had little interest in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority toward its own people. He mocked Natan Sharansky for insisting that Israel’s security depended on the creation of a stable, democratic partner and that true peace would never happen until the PA stopped being a kleptocracy run by unaccountable tyrants.

As it turned out, Rabin and Sharon were both wrong and Sharansky’s predictions were proven prophetic; not only has the PA been a source of terror but its lack of legitimacy has undermined any hope that it could be a bulwark against the Islamists of Hamas.

It is true that Israel relies on the PA to keep the West Bank from being the terror base that Gaza has become under Hamas rule. But so long as it is looked upon by the Palestinian people with contempt and fear it will not have the ability to keep a peace agreement with Israel even if its leaders had the courage or the wisdom to sign one.

Highlighting the tyrannical nature of the PA—something once again made clear by Abbas’s unwillingness to allow even the mildest criticism of his rule—isn’t merely a matter of showing the contrast between democratic Israel and its antagonists. So long as Abbas—who is currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the PA—presides over a government of this nature any hope that he can be trusted to keep the peace is science fiction. Peace with such a king of Palestine would not be worth the paper it was printed on even were he willing to sign on the dotted line.

When Palestinians are ready to treat each other with dignity and respect, it will be possible to imagine that they will do the same to their Jewish neighbors. Until then, more talk about the PA being a partner for peace is pious hogwash.

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Will Somalia Backslide Again?

That may seem like a silly question to those whose memory of Somalia stopped with Black Hawk Down and piracy, but over the past year there has been some real progress in the east African country which has become synonymous with state failure.

Somalia has made surprising progress. Mogadishu Airport is open to real airlines, piracy is on the decline thanks to a robust international military presence and, in January 2013, the U.S. re-established formal relations with the Somali government for the first time in decades.

Responsibility for progress on the ground in Somalia rests not with international diplomats, but with AMISOM, an African Union military mission manned by Kenyans, Ugandans, Djibouti, and Burundi. Sometimes, military force matters far more than the best intentions of diplomats and UN debates.

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That may seem like a silly question to those whose memory of Somalia stopped with Black Hawk Down and piracy, but over the past year there has been some real progress in the east African country which has become synonymous with state failure.

Somalia has made surprising progress. Mogadishu Airport is open to real airlines, piracy is on the decline thanks to a robust international military presence and, in January 2013, the U.S. re-established formal relations with the Somali government for the first time in decades.

Responsibility for progress on the ground in Somalia rests not with international diplomats, but with AMISOM, an African Union military mission manned by Kenyans, Ugandans, Djibouti, and Burundi. Sometimes, military force matters far more than the best intentions of diplomats and UN debates.

For years, southern Somalia was a no go-area. Several years ago, I had arranged a trip to Mogadishu (a trip that, because of some subsequent events on the ground, never came off). Planning the trip, however, was eye-opening. I spoke with former intelligence officials, Somali businessmen, and assorted Somalia-watchers. I was urged by them to fly into a former Italian airfield north of Somalia accessible by various privately-owned Somali airlines which operate out of Dubai. Whatever I did, they said, don’t try to enter Somalia from Kenya because southern Somalia was the most dangerous region and had become, essentially, a stronghold for Islamist terrorists.

Southern Somalia is home to Kismayo, a port city which acts as the commercial capital of the country. By controlling the port, the terrorist group Ash-Shabaab was able to survive financially. After all, not every militant is a true believer: Many are in it for the patronage. For years, the assumption was that because of Kismayo’s economic importance, Ash-Shabaab and other terrorists would fight to the death in order to maintain their stranglehold over the city. Diplomats dawdled for years about whether AMISOM forces should enter, and what the diplomatic ramifications would be. But last September, AMISOM went in and Ash-Shabaab fled. Local officials—not necessarily subordinate to Mogadishu authorities–resumed their control of the city. One wonders what death might have been prevented had diplomats not been so reticent and blessed the move months earlier.

Now, all the gains not only in Kismayo but across the region appear in jeopardy. Earlier this month, the UN lifted the decades-long arms embargo on Somalia. Doing so allowed the UN to pretend to be relevant, and to confirm progress on the ground. The logic for the UN move was to strengthen the Somali army and central government control. The reality has been the opposite: Corruption is rife throughout Somalia and the lifting of the arms embargo has flooded the black market.  Now, it seems extremists are making a comeback in Kismayo as political deadlock between the Somali central government and local clans in Kismayo exacerbate the problem.

Ash-Shabaab may not be as much of an al-Qaeda affiliate as it claims, but that’s neither here nor there. It is an Islamist extremist group and readily engages in terrorism. It is responsible for thousands of deaths, some in the most brutal fashion. It is not enough to claim victory; such affiliates and terrorist groups have to be hunted into oblivion. That certainly does not mean U.S. intervention is needed. AMISOM is doing the job. The key for the White House is to make sure that nothing is allowed to get in their way. While AMISOM’s formation and activities are blessed by the UN, that should not mean that Ban Ki-moon and his legions of ill-intentioned meddlers should interfere with success. If they do, any progress will be quickly lost. It already is in Kismayo.

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