Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 5, 2013

Gay or Liberal? Don’t Even Ask

The gay-advocacy group GLAAD portrays itself as a voice in the LGBT community that “promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.” In the March issue of our magazine James Kirchick discussed the LGBT community’s inability to see past politics in order to do what is best for those who they claim to represent: LGBT individuals. As if on cue, GLAAD were all too willing to prove his point with two recent stunts that show the group to be nothing more than a front for liberals’ favorite pastimes: hating Fox News and promoting flawed heroes like Bill Clinton.  

Last week GLAAD made news and garnered applause from liberal groups like Media Matters when it loudly uninvited future guests with the Fox News network from its events. It soon came out, however, that the group banned Fox News attendees after two of the network’s anchors were invited to and attended their most recent media awards dinner. Hilariously, TVNewser obtained a copy of an email from the director of creative development at GLAAD buttering up a Fox News employee, asking for financial sponsorship of the awards event beforehand. It seems that GLAAD was more than happy to take a principled stand against Fox–but only after they had invited their anchors and quietly asked the network for cash. If GLAAD were really interested in garnering better coverage for LGBT issues and individuals from Fox, publicly humiliating two supporters, one of whom was on the “NY Host Committee” for the event, this was not how to do it. GLAAD’s objective was merely intended to cause a splash among liberals who care more about taking down Fox News, rather than their stated mission of growing their movement’s ranks.

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The gay-advocacy group GLAAD portrays itself as a voice in the LGBT community that “promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.” In the March issue of our magazine James Kirchick discussed the LGBT community’s inability to see past politics in order to do what is best for those who they claim to represent: LGBT individuals. As if on cue, GLAAD were all too willing to prove his point with two recent stunts that show the group to be nothing more than a front for liberals’ favorite pastimes: hating Fox News and promoting flawed heroes like Bill Clinton.  

Last week GLAAD made news and garnered applause from liberal groups like Media Matters when it loudly uninvited future guests with the Fox News network from its events. It soon came out, however, that the group banned Fox News attendees after two of the network’s anchors were invited to and attended their most recent media awards dinner. Hilariously, TVNewser obtained a copy of an email from the director of creative development at GLAAD buttering up a Fox News employee, asking for financial sponsorship of the awards event beforehand. It seems that GLAAD was more than happy to take a principled stand against Fox–but only after they had invited their anchors and quietly asked the network for cash. If GLAAD were really interested in garnering better coverage for LGBT issues and individuals from Fox, publicly humiliating two supporters, one of whom was on the “NY Host Committee” for the event, this was not how to do it. GLAAD’s objective was merely intended to cause a splash among liberals who care more about taking down Fox News, rather than their stated mission of growing their movement’s ranks.

This week GLAAD followed their Fox News announcement with another, far more transparently partisan, one. The group has decided to honor former President Bill Clinton, the signature on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), for its “Advocate for Change award.” The group’s strategic giving officer, Wilson Cruz, told Politico that “leaders and allies like President Clinton are critical to moving our march for equality forward.” What President Clinton has accomplished for the “march for equality” besides repudiating a bill he himself signed into law after leaving office is unclear. There is no indication that the group has extended any sort of similar award to Republican Senators Olympia Snowe, Mark Kirk or Rob Portman, all of whom have, while still in office, made public statements in support of gay marriage. It’s far more politically risky for a Republican to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, yet three sitting Senators have chosen to do so in the last several weeks.

For Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Obama, reversing their previously held positions on the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman has now become politically necessary both for fundraising and for youth support. It would behoove those at GLAAD to support Republican politicians like Snowe, Kirk and Portman who are in a far more precarious position, at risk of alienating a large portion of their party’s base. Democrats don’t need any of the reinforcement that an award from GLAAD would provide, though Republicans wavering on announcing a change of heart could be swayed by a sincere attempt by GLAAD to support their announcement. If GLAAD were really interested in more sitting politicians coming out in support of their message, this political calculus would be taken into account while deciding who should receive an award from the group.

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Can the Wall Become a Symbol of Unity Rather Than Division?

The protest group Women of the Wall is back in the news. They have been fighting for the right to hold prayer services at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for years–drawing fire from the Orthodox for doing so–dressed in prayer shawls and reading from the Torah. These are practices that are normative for Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations in the United States but considered an outrageous violation of the customs of the site that is operated as if it were an Orthodox synagogue rather than a national shrine of the Jewish people, which is the way most Americans think of it. In recent months, members of the group were again arrested when they tried to hold a prayer service. The controversy was further fueled this week when Jerusalem Police Chief Yossi Pariente sent a letter to the head of the protest group warning her that they were prohibited from saying Kaddish—the Jewish prayer of mourning—when they held their monthly service at the Wall.

The ensuing furor was only contained when the rabbi who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the place, said no women would be arrested for saying Kaddish. That assurance was delivered to Natan Sharansky, the hero of the Soviet Jewish movement who now heads the Jewish Agency, the philanthropic group responsible for the absorption of Jews from the Diaspora into the country, who had expressed his dismay at this development.

But the exchange shouldn’t reassure anyone. The problem at the Wall is not only not going away, it is escalating and it’s obviously going to take more than talk from Sharansky, who was asked by Prime Minister Netanyahu to deal with the situation. Israelis need to understand that the damage being done to their country’s image by these goings on is not a minor issue. As much as he dreads any involvement in what appears to him to be a no-win situation, it is high time for him to step in and stop the madness.

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The protest group Women of the Wall is back in the news. They have been fighting for the right to hold prayer services at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for years–drawing fire from the Orthodox for doing so–dressed in prayer shawls and reading from the Torah. These are practices that are normative for Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations in the United States but considered an outrageous violation of the customs of the site that is operated as if it were an Orthodox synagogue rather than a national shrine of the Jewish people, which is the way most Americans think of it. In recent months, members of the group were again arrested when they tried to hold a prayer service. The controversy was further fueled this week when Jerusalem Police Chief Yossi Pariente sent a letter to the head of the protest group warning her that they were prohibited from saying Kaddish—the Jewish prayer of mourning—when they held their monthly service at the Wall.

The ensuing furor was only contained when the rabbi who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the place, said no women would be arrested for saying Kaddish. That assurance was delivered to Natan Sharansky, the hero of the Soviet Jewish movement who now heads the Jewish Agency, the philanthropic group responsible for the absorption of Jews from the Diaspora into the country, who had expressed his dismay at this development.

But the exchange shouldn’t reassure anyone. The problem at the Wall is not only not going away, it is escalating and it’s obviously going to take more than talk from Sharansky, who was asked by Prime Minister Netanyahu to deal with the situation. Israelis need to understand that the damage being done to their country’s image by these goings on is not a minor issue. As much as he dreads any involvement in what appears to him to be a no-win situation, it is high time for him to step in and stop the madness.

As I wrote last December, most American Jews have little understanding of the underlying issues at the Wall. The disinterest most Israelis feel about the question of religious pluralism strikes Americans as shocking. However, it is a reflection of the fact that non-Orthodox Judaism is something that most Israelis think is a foreign import with little relevance to their society. As our Evelyn Gordon wrote here a few days after my piece, Israelis are unsympathetic to a movement such as the Women of the Wall that appears to them to be primarily political and intent on disrupting the existing order of the Wall.

Yet as much as I understand that most Israelis may agree with Evelyn’s evaluation of the issue, this latest absurdity about the Kaddish prayer ought to serve as a reminder that what goes in Jerusalem affects the rest of the Jewish people. As Evelyn noted, the spectacle of women’s rights being violated in this manner hurts Israel’s image, particularly among American Jews. It is hard enough for Israel’s defenders to hold their own against the falsehoods and calumnies launched at the Jewish state’s defense policies. For them to be further burdened by incidents that constitute a violation of women’s rights and an insult to the religious practices of most American Jews is as intolerable as it is unnecessary.

When Sharansky told Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz of the Western Wall Foundation “The Kotel must continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord,” I’m afraid the Orthodox rabbinate may have thought the incident could be papered over with platitudes. But it cannot.

Sharansky is working on a plan which, according to Haaretz, will ensure that “that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site.” If so, that is a formula for confrontation with an Orthodox establishment that has gotten used to the idea that it can dictate policy about the Wall even, as this week’s incident proved, to the police.

It goes without saying that Netanyahu would prefer to avoid such a confrontation if he possibly can. Even while leading a coalition that, for the first time in a long while, has no Orthodox parties among its members, the prime minister knows that knocking heads with the rabbinate will be messy and costly. But he must also know that when American Jews see headlines about women being arrested for praying at the Wall and policemen talking about prohibiting prayers, that is the sort of black eye that neither the country nor the Jewish people can afford.

When Sharansky comes forward with his plan, it will be up to Netanyahu to see that it is adopted and enforced. That won’t make everyone happy but it will end the running sore that the bans on certain services at the Wall has created. Though many, if not most, Israelis don’t identify with the Women of the Wall, the time has come to start treating the place as if it belonged to all Jews, rather than just the rabbinate. That won’t end the ongoing controversy about pluralism or make Reform and Conservative Judaism equal partners with the majority. But it will be a rational step that will strengthen the country and its bonds with the Diaspora. Let’s hope Netanyahu has the guts to see that this happens.

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A Gun-Control Proposal that Is Doomed from the Start

The New York Times carries an op-ed today on gun control that will disappoint readers of every political stripe. The headline, “Rewrite the Second Amendment,” is tantalizingly provocative; unfortunately, the rest of the column fails to cash the check.

For anyone following the gun control debate with a strong opinion on the issue, at first glance it appears to finally be the op-ed we’ve all been waiting for. Democrats who don’t much care for the right to bear arms or the general fealty to constitutional doctrine–and they are legion–but don’t have the guts to say so will be expecting the author, University of Texas professor Zachary Elkins, to speak for them. Republicans who wish to paint their antagonists as radical gun-grabbers–and they are legion–will be expecting Elkins to finally put flesh on the straw man. The common ground they are most likely to find, however, is in jointly panning the op-ed for overpromising.

Elkins begins by describing the current political impasse over gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre. He then seems to set us up for the punchline when he writes: “It is actually quite unusual for gun rights to be included in a constitution.”

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The New York Times carries an op-ed today on gun control that will disappoint readers of every political stripe. The headline, “Rewrite the Second Amendment,” is tantalizingly provocative; unfortunately, the rest of the column fails to cash the check.

For anyone following the gun control debate with a strong opinion on the issue, at first glance it appears to finally be the op-ed we’ve all been waiting for. Democrats who don’t much care for the right to bear arms or the general fealty to constitutional doctrine–and they are legion–but don’t have the guts to say so will be expecting the author, University of Texas professor Zachary Elkins, to speak for them. Republicans who wish to paint their antagonists as radical gun-grabbers–and they are legion–will be expecting Elkins to finally put flesh on the straw man. The common ground they are most likely to find, however, is in jointly panning the op-ed for overpromising.

Elkins begins by describing the current political impasse over gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre. He then seems to set us up for the punchline when he writes: “It is actually quite unusual for gun rights to be included in a constitution.”

The obvious response is: so what? But the reader senses that he will follow that by suggesting gun rights be removed from our Constitution. Here comes the set-up:

“What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ do you not understand?” the gun-rights advocate asks. “What part of ‘a well regulated Militia’ do you not understand?” goes the retort.

Partly because of this ambiguity, the Second Amendment seemed almost irrelevant for most of our history. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many American towns and states regulated guns. In the deadly confrontation at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1881, Wyatt Earp was enforcing a ban on carrying guns in public.

But in the 1980s, a movement to interpret the amendment as promoting the right to bear arms for self-defense emerged. It reached an apotheosis of sorts in the 2008 case, which struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns. It was the first time the court had ever restricted gun regulation, but the 5-to-4 vote also suggests that the decision is not fixed doctrine.

This constitutional uncertainty should suggest to both sides the possibility of agreeing on a formal clarification of the constitutional text.

And that clarified constitutional text would say… what exactly? He never says. Offering no guidance, that would be left up to Congress. Which is where we are now. Which is why there’s an impasse, and why Elkins wrote the op-ed. Come to think of it, why did Elkins write the op-ed?

The most recent attempted gun ban failed because it could not garner 50 votes in the Senate, and less restrictive legislation is starting to look like it can’t get to 60 votes in the Senate, let alone the GOP-majority House. So Elkins, to break the stalemate, wants Congress to find a way to enact gun regulation that would need two-thirds of each house of Congress and three-fourths of the country’s state legislatures? I would be curious to know–as would, presumably, everyone else who read that op-ed–what specific regulation language Elkins thinks cannot garner half of Congress but can garner two-thirds.

But one begins to suspect that that was the point all along. Gun regulation of the type liberals want can’t pass Congress, so they want this to be taken out of the hands of politicians altogether and enshrined in a document they have suddenly found useful again. But that won’t solve the problem either in the end, because to amend the Constitution you have to go through the politicians that Elkins would prefer to avoid.

And that, I would guess, is why Elkins’s op-ed ended up saying nothing at all. He obviously thinks it’s silly to have gun rights in the Constitution, but Americans think it would be silly not to. As did the Founders. Elkins’s op-ed seems to be happening in real-time, as we can sense him start to slowly back out of the commitment he was sure to make only minutes ago. And the conclusion we get, instead, is: Never mind.

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Khamenei’s Ever-Changing Nuclear Fatwa

Much ink has been spilled over the alleged nuclear fatwa which Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. If the Deputy of the Messiah on Earth says trust me, many American and European officials appear to believe, it must be so. After all, what could be more a sign of one’s own multiculturalism and sophistication than giving credence to such a declaration? Over at Al-Monitor, a publication whose editor Andrew Parasiliti was once a staffer for current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, an Iranian author gives great credence to the fatwa:

The fatwa against nuclear weapons is not a contingent upon time and circumstances. It is based on the principle that killing innocent people is religiously forbidden…. The fatwa is an Iranian initiative and it is much easier for the United States and EU to respect the fatwa and ask Iran to accept more commitments and transparency as far as its nuclear program is concerned.

The piece is valuable for presenting an official Iranian line, even if Parasiliti’s team for whatever reason identifies the Institute for Political and International Studies simply as a think-tank when it is actually the Foreign Ministry’s academic wing.

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Much ink has been spilled over the alleged nuclear fatwa which Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. If the Deputy of the Messiah on Earth says trust me, many American and European officials appear to believe, it must be so. After all, what could be more a sign of one’s own multiculturalism and sophistication than giving credence to such a declaration? Over at Al-Monitor, a publication whose editor Andrew Parasiliti was once a staffer for current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, an Iranian author gives great credence to the fatwa:

The fatwa against nuclear weapons is not a contingent upon time and circumstances. It is based on the principle that killing innocent people is religiously forbidden…. The fatwa is an Iranian initiative and it is much easier for the United States and EU to respect the fatwa and ask Iran to accept more commitments and transparency as far as its nuclear program is concerned.

The piece is valuable for presenting an official Iranian line, even if Parasiliti’s team for whatever reason identifies the Institute for Political and International Studies simply as a think-tank when it is actually the Foreign Ministry’s academic wing.

Here at COMMENTARY, Emanuele Ottolenghi, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, addressed the faultiness of the fatwa last year. The key take-away is that while Ali Khamenei—like many Shi’ite religious figures—maintains a website that lists all of his fatwas, the nuclear fatwa is not among them. How convenient.

Over at “Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East,” Ariane Tabatabai has gone further and has shown how when Iranian officials cite the alleged fatwa, they constantly change its meaning and contents:

According to the Iranian 2005 Communication to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the wording of the fatwa was as follows: ‘the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam.’ Yet, in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei message, which was read at the opening of the International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation in 2010, the Supreme Leader’s explicit prohibition has merely encompassed the ‘use’ of these weapons. Recent statements, by the Ayatollah himself, merely highlight a ban of the use, with philosophical and ethical discussion about the production and stockpiling of these weapons, rather than a concrete prohibition. The possession is not mentioned in his statements, leaving a grey area in what is the key issue in Iran’s nuclear debate.

Word from Almaty, where the United States is once again engaged in a “process” with Iran, is that the negotiations are not going well. That is no surprise. The Iranians have made clear that they chose Kazakhstan as the locale to honor Almaty for refusing to abide by many sanctions. Let us hope that the Obama administration will cease the nonsense of paying any heed to the fatwa and demand real signs of Iranian sincerity. These should be measured only in terms of Iranian adherence to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Safeguards Agreement, and subsequent IAEA and UN Security Council Resolutions. Anything else is merely a distraction.

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Hillary and the Lock-Step Democrats

In the last few days Washington experienced what could only be called Hillary Week, as the decision of the former first lady to give her first public speeches since stepping down as secretary of state sent the chattering classes into ecstasy. With 2016 fever already in full bloom only a few months after President Obama’s re-election, the anticipation that Clinton will be the next Democratic standard bearer is intense. While it would be madness for any presidential contender to declare their intentions three years in advance of the race, the presence of a claque of organized cheerleaders bearing printed signs declaring that they were “Ready for Hillary” at her first appearance this week removed much doubt that the formidable Clinton campaign machine was already starting to rev itself up.

However, the assumption that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee is getting some pushback. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has written a column detailing all the reasons why the notion that Hillary is a can’t-miss candidate may be far overstating her strength, and much of it is both smart and persuasive. As he rightly notes, eight years ago pundits were making the same assumptions about Clinton and the 2008 presidential election which, as we all know, turned out to be somebody else’s historic election.

But while I agree with Continetti that Clinton is not a shoo-in to be the next president, I don’t share his skepticism about her chances of winning her party’s nomination. The Democratic Party has become, as Seth wrote last week, a highly disciplined operation with little of the organized anarchy that once characterized it. The reason why many people are speaking of a Clinton candidacy clearing the field of potential challengers is because that is exactly the governing dynamic of Democrats in the age of Obama. If she runs, the odds of a formidable challenger emerging are minimal.

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In the last few days Washington experienced what could only be called Hillary Week, as the decision of the former first lady to give her first public speeches since stepping down as secretary of state sent the chattering classes into ecstasy. With 2016 fever already in full bloom only a few months after President Obama’s re-election, the anticipation that Clinton will be the next Democratic standard bearer is intense. While it would be madness for any presidential contender to declare their intentions three years in advance of the race, the presence of a claque of organized cheerleaders bearing printed signs declaring that they were “Ready for Hillary” at her first appearance this week removed much doubt that the formidable Clinton campaign machine was already starting to rev itself up.

However, the assumption that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee is getting some pushback. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has written a column detailing all the reasons why the notion that Hillary is a can’t-miss candidate may be far overstating her strength, and much of it is both smart and persuasive. As he rightly notes, eight years ago pundits were making the same assumptions about Clinton and the 2008 presidential election which, as we all know, turned out to be somebody else’s historic election.

But while I agree with Continetti that Clinton is not a shoo-in to be the next president, I don’t share his skepticism about her chances of winning her party’s nomination. The Democratic Party has become, as Seth wrote last week, a highly disciplined operation with little of the organized anarchy that once characterized it. The reason why many people are speaking of a Clinton candidacy clearing the field of potential challengers is because that is exactly the governing dynamic of Democrats in the age of Obama. If she runs, the odds of a formidable challenger emerging are minimal.

In response, Continetti and other Hillary skeptics remind us of what happened the last time Clinton was the inevitable nominee. She turned out to be, as he rightly notes, a “paper tiger” who was soundly beaten by a better candidate and campaign as the Democrats became the wholly owned subsidiary of Barack Obama rather than the property of Bill and Hillary. Continetti says if it happened once, it can happen again. My response is that while anything is possible, a repeat of 2008 is highly unlikely.

The first reason is that there doesn’t appear to be anyone remotely like Obama waiting in the wings to challenge Clinton.

Once Clinton lost the nomination in 2008 it became fashionable to label her campaign a flop, but that’s more than a bit unfair to her supporters. Clinton’s campaign failed in some important respects. It took the caucuses for granted and allowed Obama to swipe some states through better organization. But it is often forgotten that Clinton actually won more primaries and more votes than Obama. Finishing second in what turned out to be a two-person race after pretenders like Chris Dodd and Joe Biden dropped out is no great honor. But Clinton really was a strong candidate. The result was probably a foregone conclusion after February, but even with the growing sense of Obama’s inevitability, Clinton continued to win important states like Pennsylvania.

The only reason why Clinton was denied the nomination was because she ran into the Obama phenomenon, a factor that many Republicans were still underestimating as recently as last fall’s election. Absent his historic candidacy and enormous personal appeal, there is no way that Clinton would have been denied. The 2012 election, where not even a marginal Democrat dared challenge Obama from the left in the primaries, has set a pattern which could well be repeated.

The woods may be full of would-be Democratic presidents but none of those contemplating a run next time are anywhere close to Obama in terms of political appeal, let alone his claim on the imagination and the enthusiasm of rank and file Democrats. Continetti cites governors like Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper as candidates who could give Hillary a run for her money. But all three are political pygmies in comparison to Clinton. In 2016, Clinton would not only have the full backing of the Democratic establishment but the sense that it is time for a woman president, a dream that was deferred in 2008 in order to elect the first African-American.

Even more to the point, the sense of deference to authority that now prevails among Democrats is such that any of these lesser candidates might be fearful of having their future prospects destroyed by a challenge to Clinton. I doubt any of them would even think of taking her on. Even Vice President Biden, who knows that he wouldn’t have a chance against Clinton, would probably draw the same conclusion.

As for Continetti’s thesis that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick could repeat Obama’s feat by seizing the minority vote from Clinton, there are two problems with that thesis. The first is that Patrick is no Obama in terms of political talent. The second is that only one man can be the first African-American president; no future black Democrat, even one as appealing as Newark Mayor Corey Booker, will ever be able to harness lightening in a bottle in the way that Obama did. Neither Patrick nor any of the other governors whose names are being bandied about would have a prayer of competing with Clinton for major Democratic fundraisers.

Essential to this process is the edge that Clinton will have with the liberal media. As influential as the mainstream media is in determining the winners of general elections, they are even more crucial in Democratic primaries where the voters really do care what liberal editorial pages and talking heads are saying about the candidates.

It is true that Clinton’s history of blunders at the State Department could catch up with her. But concern about the Benghazi fiasco is limited to Republicans. Clinton was on the wrong side of the big issue in 2008 because she voted for the Iraq War while Obama had been a consistent critic. She will have no such problem this time around as she will stick to the liberal party line on every conceivable issue—as her announcement of support for gay marriage indicated. No one is getting to her left as Obama did.

Continetti is right that Clinton’s finances and business relationships as well as those of her husband will be intensely scrutinized in 2016. But those are issues that will affect the general election, not Democrats who will be as eager to line up to back the first woman president and ignore her flaws. There will be plenty of openings for the GOP to exploit, but nothing that would do a Democrat any good against her.

Whether Clinton can then win a general election after eight years of a Democratic incumbent rather than a Republican, as was the case in 2008, remains to be seen. But the betting here is that Hillary will win the nomination in a cakewalk from a party working in lockstep if she wants it.

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Bipartisan Legislation Still Going Nowhere in Harry Reid’s Senate

Last week I wrote about the need to fix Obamacare in the event the legislation cannot be repealed. Since Obamacare is unpopular, there would seem to be plenty of common ground on which Republicans and Democrats could meet to mitigate some of the damage the bill is set to do to the economy and the health sector. That’s not speculation or wishful thinking: Democrats have already gone on record as willing to repeal certain parts of the law, and the Senate recently passed a symbolic nonbinding resolution expressing support for repealing the medical device tax by a 79-20 margin.

The medical device tax will harm both innovation and the health-sector job market, and Democrats representing states that will be hurt by this, like Minnesota’s Al Franken, have led the charge to get rid of the tax. Republicans are happy to have located a tax cut that could pass both houses of Congress, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly begun encouraging House Republicans to take up such legislation. The resulting bill would represent a win for common sense and a boon to those frustrated by the gridlocked nature of divided government by uniting most of Congress to fix an unpopular provision of an unpopular law. But as you might expect, there is a familiar problem: Harry Reid. David Drucker reports:

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Last week I wrote about the need to fix Obamacare in the event the legislation cannot be repealed. Since Obamacare is unpopular, there would seem to be plenty of common ground on which Republicans and Democrats could meet to mitigate some of the damage the bill is set to do to the economy and the health sector. That’s not speculation or wishful thinking: Democrats have already gone on record as willing to repeal certain parts of the law, and the Senate recently passed a symbolic nonbinding resolution expressing support for repealing the medical device tax by a 79-20 margin.

The medical device tax will harm both innovation and the health-sector job market, and Democrats representing states that will be hurt by this, like Minnesota’s Al Franken, have led the charge to get rid of the tax. Republicans are happy to have located a tax cut that could pass both houses of Congress, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly begun encouraging House Republicans to take up such legislation. The resulting bill would represent a win for common sense and a boon to those frustrated by the gridlocked nature of divided government by uniting most of Congress to fix an unpopular provision of an unpopular law. But as you might expect, there is a familiar problem: Harry Reid. David Drucker reports:

So, why wouldn’t these House Republicans be eager to run a tax reduction bill that would ding Obamacare, surely pass their chamber and force some vulnerable Senate Democrats to choose between taking another whack at the Affordable Care Act or protecting the law at the potential cost of electoral peril? To begin with, they don’t trust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Additionally, some House Republicans fear, legitimately, that Reid might gut and amend the bill, turning it into a Democratic shopping cart full of tax increases. Constitutionally, tax measures must start in the House, but there’s nothing preventing Reid from stripping and replacing a tax bill’s contents. Or, Reid could keep the medical device tax repeal but load up the legislation with enough revenue raising poison pills to either sink it or turn the tables on Republicans by forcing them to vote on legislation with politically uncomfortable measures.

Reid, the champion of partisan obstruction, has by now so distorted the normal democratic process and the traditional actions of the Senate that no one trusts him. Repealing the device tax should be an open-and-shut case. But you can’t just hand Reid a bill, because he’ll make sure it does the opposite of its intent.

As I’ve previously written, Reid has become a master at manipulating Senate procedure to rig the amendment process and shut the Republicans out of legislating. Reid benefits from a mostly compliant press, which has gladly pushed the line that Republicans are the primary source of obstruction in the Senate, a false narrative that has contributed to Democrats’ refusal for years to fulfill even basic Senate responsibilities.

So is there a way, in the age of Harry Reid, to still get broadly bipartisan, popular, and commonsense legislation through Congress? Republicans in the House think there is. Drucker explains:

[Ways and Means Chairman Dave] Camp and those who agree with him are committed to pushing through the repeal as a part of comprehensive tax reform legislation, which the Ways and Means panel is in the process of writing.

“The chairman is focused on tax reform and supports repeal of the medical device tax. He is committed to repealing the tax in tax reform,” a Camp aide told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday.

Broad reform efforts are more difficult to pass than piecemeal legislation, which is exactly the problem that proponents of immigration reform have run into. Additionally, as Politico reported this week, the pro-tax reform coalition has begun to fray, further dimming its chances.

It’s possible, however, that the inclusion of repealing the device tax will make a larger tax reform bill more attractive to all parties, since the repeal is popular and might help garner support from the business community, which is seen as essential to the prospects for tax reform. But the extra effort it will take to get the tax repeal to the Senate floor shows some of the institutional damage Reid has inflicted upon the Senate in his time as majority leader.

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The Jobs Report

It’s a status quo jobs report this month, with little significant change in the numbers. The good news is the unemployment rate went down by a tick to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent. The bad news is that the civilian labor force declined as well, by 493,000 people, and the participation rate, the percentage of the adult population in the labor force, declined to 63.1 percent, the lowest number in the 21st century. When President Obama took office, it was 65.7 percent. So the decline in unemployment is almost entirely due to a declining labor force, not a growing job pool. The number of new jobs in March was a mere 88,000, nowhere near enough to reduce unemployment on its own.

What is causing this stagnant job market after so deep a recession? The answer is that the amount of uncertainty in the marketplace is not declining, indeed it is growing, and there is nothing markets hate more than uncertainty. Europe’s deteriorating financial and economic situation is surely not helping, nor is the forthcoming implementation of Obamacare, with a legion of unanswered questions about how it will affect businesses from the Fortune 500 on down. When even two-thirds of Democrats think that Obamacare will either adversely impact them personally or have no effect, there is going to be a strong tendency to wait and see what happens.

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It’s a status quo jobs report this month, with little significant change in the numbers. The good news is the unemployment rate went down by a tick to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent. The bad news is that the civilian labor force declined as well, by 493,000 people, and the participation rate, the percentage of the adult population in the labor force, declined to 63.1 percent, the lowest number in the 21st century. When President Obama took office, it was 65.7 percent. So the decline in unemployment is almost entirely due to a declining labor force, not a growing job pool. The number of new jobs in March was a mere 88,000, nowhere near enough to reduce unemployment on its own.

What is causing this stagnant job market after so deep a recession? The answer is that the amount of uncertainty in the marketplace is not declining, indeed it is growing, and there is nothing markets hate more than uncertainty. Europe’s deteriorating financial and economic situation is surely not helping, nor is the forthcoming implementation of Obamacare, with a legion of unanswered questions about how it will affect businesses from the Fortune 500 on down. When even two-thirds of Democrats think that Obamacare will either adversely impact them personally or have no effect, there is going to be a strong tendency to wait and see what happens.

If a Republican were in the White House, the mainstream media would be howling in outrage about this continuing terrible job market and demanding action. But since it’s Obama in the White House the MSM will undoubtedly be doing its usual oh-look!-a-squirrel! routine.

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How Long Will Obama Continue the Diplomatic Charade with Iran?

The P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran resumed today in Almaty, Kazakhstan with Western negotiators hoping that the concessions they made to the Islamist regime in their last meeting would pay off with something they could label as “progress.” Acting on behalf of the United States and its allies, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had offered Iran the possibility of easing up on sanctions if only they would demonstrate that they were telling the truth about not working to build a nuclear weapon. But despite these high hopes and the certain knowledge that the West was willing to compromise about letting them keep some of their nuclear toys, the Iranians showed up today offering Ashton and company nothing.

As they have done in every other negotiation with the West over the last decade, the Iranians stiffed the P5+1 group by arriving at the table unprepared to give an inch, even in exchange for the concessions previously offered. As Laura Rozen reports from Almaty, this left Western negotiators “puzzled” as the Iranians insisted on discussing “modalities for negotiations rather than specific steps discussed at two recent rounds of talks this spring.” While the Iranians described their approach as one that offered a new plan for resolving the impasse, what they were really doing was what they have always done: running out the clock. With their reported 10,000 centrifuges continuing to enrich uranium that can be eventually used to build a weapon, they are getting closer every day to realizing their nuclear ambition while the West continues to sputter and demand new opportunities for the ayatollahs’ representatives to make fools of them.

This latest fiasco raises the question of how long President Obama, who pointedly said that he did not see the negotiating process with Iran as being open-ended during his trip to Israel last month, will continue the charade that diplomacy has a chance to stop Tehran’s nuclear threat.

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The P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran resumed today in Almaty, Kazakhstan with Western negotiators hoping that the concessions they made to the Islamist regime in their last meeting would pay off with something they could label as “progress.” Acting on behalf of the United States and its allies, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had offered Iran the possibility of easing up on sanctions if only they would demonstrate that they were telling the truth about not working to build a nuclear weapon. But despite these high hopes and the certain knowledge that the West was willing to compromise about letting them keep some of their nuclear toys, the Iranians showed up today offering Ashton and company nothing.

As they have done in every other negotiation with the West over the last decade, the Iranians stiffed the P5+1 group by arriving at the table unprepared to give an inch, even in exchange for the concessions previously offered. As Laura Rozen reports from Almaty, this left Western negotiators “puzzled” as the Iranians insisted on discussing “modalities for negotiations rather than specific steps discussed at two recent rounds of talks this spring.” While the Iranians described their approach as one that offered a new plan for resolving the impasse, what they were really doing was what they have always done: running out the clock. With their reported 10,000 centrifuges continuing to enrich uranium that can be eventually used to build a weapon, they are getting closer every day to realizing their nuclear ambition while the West continues to sputter and demand new opportunities for the ayatollahs’ representatives to make fools of them.

This latest fiasco raises the question of how long President Obama, who pointedly said that he did not see the negotiating process with Iran as being open-ended during his trip to Israel last month, will continue the charade that diplomacy has a chance to stop Tehran’s nuclear threat.

While expectations for this round of a process that has been dragging on for over a year were modest, the Iranians’ refusal to directly respond to the last Western offer is disappointing even by the low standards set by past negotiations. The West was hoping for at least some give and take on their bargaining position, which would have allowed Iran to keep its program but require it to shut down its hardened mountain bunker facility at Fordow and stop enriching uranium at percentages that make it obvious they are working toward a bomb rather than research as they claim.

Instead, the Iranians are continuing to grandstand about the need for the talks to enshrine their “right” to enrich uranium and to insist that the West drop sanctions as part of a confidence building process rather than after the nuclear threat is actually defused. Indeed, they are making it quite clear that they won’t stop the enrichment until the sanctions are halted. Since even those most determined to appease Iran understand that once sanctions are eased they are unlikely to be restored, this would be a virtual guarantee that Iran gets its nuke long before the diplomatic process concludes.

This is a significant indicator of just how confident Iran feels about its ability to withstand Western pressure as well as how unimpressed it is by President Obama’s threats about the use of force still being an option.

If they had taken up the West’s offer, there is every chance that a deal that would have allowed them to hold onto their nuclear program would have eventually resulted in a bomb. Just like their friends in North Korea, who also took Western bribes in exchange for ending their nuclear development, Iran would have found it easy to cheat. But apparently the Iranians don’t feel the need to show that kind of patience. They think Obama and his allies are bluffing and that they can continue to prevaricate in the P5+1 talks or any other diplomatic forum for as long as necessary until they get their weapon.

While we can expect the Almaty meeting to end with the promise to meet again, the Iranian response to the West’s offer is ironclad proof that the diplomatic process has conclusively failed. The only question is how long it will take for President Obama to admit it. The clock continues to tick down until the moment when Iran achieves its goal. If the president is to make good on his repeated promises never to allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, that’s an admission that will have to come sooner rather than later.

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With Gas, Israel Should Wean Itself off Foreign Aid

Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to highlight the importance of the Tamar gas field coming online, and the impact that exploitation of the Leviathan field will have once that too comes online. In the course of his post, he notes, “It is yet another sign that the country that was once a basket case dependent on foreign aid from America and world Jewry in order keep its finances afloat irrespective of defense needs is on its way to becoming a major economic power.”

Much of the credit for Israel’s economic turnaround lies with Benjamin Netanyahu, during his tenure as Minister of Finance between 2003 and 2005. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon likely awarded Netanyahu the post as a career-killer. Israel’s finances were a mess, and both its unions and old guard socialist traditions made substantive reform seem impossible. Netanyahu tackled the challenge and while he did not win many friends in certain outmoded sectors, he did win enough respect to propel himself to the top slot. Indeed, Netanyahu’s financial reforms will likely trump his premierships when his legacy is written.

Let us hope that Israel’s energy windfall does not simply get wasted in public entitlements and social subsidies. Israel should not aspire to become fat and lazy like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Let it truly be a start-up nation, rather than a subsidy nation.

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Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to highlight the importance of the Tamar gas field coming online, and the impact that exploitation of the Leviathan field will have once that too comes online. In the course of his post, he notes, “It is yet another sign that the country that was once a basket case dependent on foreign aid from America and world Jewry in order keep its finances afloat irrespective of defense needs is on its way to becoming a major economic power.”

Much of the credit for Israel’s economic turnaround lies with Benjamin Netanyahu, during his tenure as Minister of Finance between 2003 and 2005. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon likely awarded Netanyahu the post as a career-killer. Israel’s finances were a mess, and both its unions and old guard socialist traditions made substantive reform seem impossible. Netanyahu tackled the challenge and while he did not win many friends in certain outmoded sectors, he did win enough respect to propel himself to the top slot. Indeed, Netanyahu’s financial reforms will likely trump his premierships when his legacy is written.

Let us hope that Israel’s energy windfall does not simply get wasted in public entitlements and social subsidies. Israel should not aspire to become fat and lazy like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Let it truly be a start-up nation, rather than a subsidy nation.

Certainly, Israel’s defense needs are real—and will not likely diminish in the next 50 years given how incitement has poisoned new generations of Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Lebanese. Iran continues to pose an existential threat. It’s all well and good to describe ordinary Iranians as moderate and even cosmopolitan—they are—but when push comes to shove, it’s the guys with the guns who matter, and the Iranians who would control Iran’s nuclear program would be the most radical and ideological core of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Likewise, apology or not, Turkey—where anti-Semitic incitement has become a staple of newspaper and television discourse—will pose an increasing threat to peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whom John Kerry will fete this weekend, threatened both Israel and Cyprus with military force over their plans to develop further energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Defense needs mean that the United States should continue to guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge, but they do not mean that an energy-rich Israel should receive U.S. aid in order to supply its military. Israel should be allowed to purchase what it needs, but if can afford to do so without assistance, it should be a matter of pride for Israel and Israelis that they secure themselves without subsidy. Neither Singapore nor Taiwan receive substantial foreign aid, nor does Japan. Israel should not either. Perhaps if Israel forgoes its remaining American assistance, it can not only regain some hearts and minds amidst inward-looking Americans, but it can also spark a debate about why the United States continues to fund so many states and entities that undermine regional security and are detrimental not only to the United States’s security, but to Israel’s as well.

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