Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 11, 2013

Obama’s Turkish Crucible

Turkish police stormed Taksim Square in Istanbul tonight, clearing the park of protesters in a brutal show of force. For those who hadn’t quite gotten the message that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had adopted authoritarian methods, the images of the massive use of force against peaceful demonstrators illustrates the way the Islamist government was prepared to suppress dissent. Erdoğan’s arrogant dismissal of criticism and willingness to both attack and delegitimize anyone who dares stand up against him may seem fairly familiar to those who have followed the protests that swept through the Middle East in recent years. But unlike previous chapters of this saga, this Turkish Spring is generating a confused as well as equivocal response from Washington.

We’ve previously noted the way the Turkish protests have highlighted President Obama’s hypocritical and often selective support for freedom abroad. While Obama pushed hard to force Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak out of power, his silence about the effort to stop Erdoğan’s culture war aimed at completing the Islamicization of Turkey has been conspicuous as well as ominous. But the difference between the two situations only highlights the importance of the administration’s willingness to give Obama’s friend Erdoğan a pass for his authoritarian behavior.

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Turkish police stormed Taksim Square in Istanbul tonight, clearing the park of protesters in a brutal show of force. For those who hadn’t quite gotten the message that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had adopted authoritarian methods, the images of the massive use of force against peaceful demonstrators illustrates the way the Islamist government was prepared to suppress dissent. Erdoğan’s arrogant dismissal of criticism and willingness to both attack and delegitimize anyone who dares stand up against him may seem fairly familiar to those who have followed the protests that swept through the Middle East in recent years. But unlike previous chapters of this saga, this Turkish Spring is generating a confused as well as equivocal response from Washington.

We’ve previously noted the way the Turkish protests have highlighted President Obama’s hypocritical and often selective support for freedom abroad. While Obama pushed hard to force Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak out of power, his silence about the effort to stop Erdoğan’s culture war aimed at completing the Islamicization of Turkey has been conspicuous as well as ominous. But the difference between the two situations only highlights the importance of the administration’s willingness to give Obama’s friend Erdoğan a pass for his authoritarian behavior.

Obama has been blamed for Mubarak’s fall, but that conclusion was always more of a myth than anything else. Though the president could be said to have administered the coup de grace to the longtime dictator and U.S. ally when he pushed for his exit, Mubarak’s regime was doomed no matter what Washington did or didn’t do during his last days in power. Despite his desire to claim some influence on the Arab Spring, both the president and the United States were largely marginalized throughout the last two years in Egypt and events elsewhere in the region. Yet though Obama has sought to stay out of the drama unfolding in Turkey, he actually plays a far more important role there.

President Obama has claimed that Erdoğan is among his best friends in the ranks of fellow international leaders. The Turkish prime minister has reciprocated the president’s affection and, as the Associated Press noted today, Obama is understood to be the one foreign counterpart that has any influence on Erdoğan. That impact of that influence has been exaggerated as the so-called rapprochement Obama brokered between Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has not restored the old alliance between those two nations or in any way ameliorated the campaign of hate Turkey has been waging against Israel. So far it seems that the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey has been a one-sided affair, with Obama getting very little from his friend.

But this is the moment when Obama can redeem himself. Having posed as a friend of freedom for the past two years while actually facilitating the rise to power of Erdoğan’s Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt, the president can speak up at a crucial moment when Turkey’s future is still hanging in the balance.

Absent an American switch to a stance of vocal opposition to Erdoğan’s repressive tactics and bold imposition of Islam on a heretofore-secular nation, Turkey’s ultimate fate is not in doubt. Though Erdoğan was democratically elected, his policies to suppress freedom of the press and discourage opposition are making that distinction meaningless. If left unchecked, more than a historic park will be demolished by the time the prime minister is through. While it is true the U.S. is counting on Erdoğan to counter-balance the influence of Iran in the region, the conversion of this NATO ally into an Islamist state is a threat to American influence as well as the freedom of Turkey.

President Obama must understand that while speaking up against Erdoğan will not be without cost, keeping silent will be even more costly. Erdoğan’s Turkey is no role model for the region. American credibility is on the line in the wait for Obama to speak out on Turkey. If he keeps silent, neither the Turks who suffer under Erdoğan nor other nations looking to see if the U.S. really stands for liberty anymore will ever forget it.

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Obama Sees an Immigration Bandwagon

The complexity of writing and enacting comprehensive immigration reform at the congressional level is such that seemingly conflicting news reports of progress and setbacks can both be right. Today is no different. First, the progress: the Senate voted to send the comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for debate, which will likely last for the next few weeks.

Matthew Yglesias reported two weeks ago about a compromise on so-called high-skilled worker visas, or H1-B visas, that helped paved the way for the bill’s passage out of committee and gave it a shove forward. He wrote:

The basic issue is that the Gang of 8 immigration framework both expanded the H1-B skilled guest worker program and added some new hoops that companies have to jump through if they want to hire H1-B workers. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a longtime ally of the technology industry on this issue, had a couple of amendments that would basically pair those hoops back. Dick Durbin, a major ally of the union groups that don’t like H1-B but also a major ally of Latino advocacy organizations, did not like those amendments.

The result was that they basically met somewhere in the middle, with the amended version of the bill passing out of committee with 13 yes votes and 5 no votes; Hatch was a yes vote. Hatch wouldn’t promise to vote for the final bill, but his support gave the bill momentum and allowed the process to take a not-insignificant step forward. Yglesias approvingly noted that this is “how the legislative process in the United States is supposed to work,” but acknowledged that the high-skilled visa portion is far from the most controversial aspect of the bill. Nonetheless, the bill proceeded with key support from both sides.

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The complexity of writing and enacting comprehensive immigration reform at the congressional level is such that seemingly conflicting news reports of progress and setbacks can both be right. Today is no different. First, the progress: the Senate voted to send the comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for debate, which will likely last for the next few weeks.

Matthew Yglesias reported two weeks ago about a compromise on so-called high-skilled worker visas, or H1-B visas, that helped paved the way for the bill’s passage out of committee and gave it a shove forward. He wrote:

The basic issue is that the Gang of 8 immigration framework both expanded the H1-B skilled guest worker program and added some new hoops that companies have to jump through if they want to hire H1-B workers. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a longtime ally of the technology industry on this issue, had a couple of amendments that would basically pair those hoops back. Dick Durbin, a major ally of the union groups that don’t like H1-B but also a major ally of Latino advocacy organizations, did not like those amendments.

The result was that they basically met somewhere in the middle, with the amended version of the bill passing out of committee with 13 yes votes and 5 no votes; Hatch was a yes vote. Hatch wouldn’t promise to vote for the final bill, but his support gave the bill momentum and allowed the process to take a not-insignificant step forward. Yglesias approvingly noted that this is “how the legislative process in the United States is supposed to work,” but acknowledged that the high-skilled visa portion is far from the most controversial aspect of the bill. Nonetheless, the bill proceeded with key support from both sides.

The setback of the day comes from Evan McMorris-Santoro. President Obama has generally been less than helpful to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform, working to kill such efforts both as a senator and then as president. Obama also has a habit of calling press conferences to goad and taunt Republicans while they are engaged in the actual work of crafting bipartisan legislation–something that does not put anyone in the mood to compromise. So you would think that the one thing the president would know not to do if he finally wants immigration reform to pass would be to dive into the process in the middle of negotiations and call a press conference to slam some of the bill’s critics as people who “think that a broken system is the best America can do.” But of course that’s exactly what he did today.

Regardless of the contents of the speech, McMorris-Santoro notes the chilly reception the polarizing president is getting for even talking about the process. So why would the president jump in? McMorris-Santoro explains:

President Obama, who has been deliberately absent from the debate until now, has reemerged, hoping to cross the finish line along with the lawmakers who have championed the bill.

Yes, it’s about Obama. As always. The president has never before been truly supportive of immigration reform, always working to undermine the process when he can use its failure to demagogue Republicans to win elections. Throughout the current push for immigration reform, it has been an open question as to whether the president wants it to succeed this time or if he’d prefer to have it fail in order to fire up the Democratic base in time for the mid-term congressional elections next year.

Although the president’s decision to take counterproductive actions would seem to undercut the idea that he genuinely wants reform to pass, his speech today at least demonstrates that he thinks the legislation is likely to pass. If he thought the bill didn’t stand a chance, he wouldn’t want to tie himself too closely to a failing effort. That way, if the bill fails, he can use it as an issue in the midterms but without taking ownership in its failure.

But the president doesn’t want to pass up an opportunity to share credit for someone else’s success. It’s far too early to tell if the bill will pass in its final version, but today’s progress was enough to convince the president that it’s time to jump on the bandwagon.

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The Dangers of Unrestricted Plan B Access

The battle over universal access to the sale of emergency contraception, known as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill” has, it seems, reached a conclusion. In April the FDA announced that it was lowering the minimum age for over-the-counter sales of the drug to 15 from 17, and today the White House announced it was withdrawing its previous opposition to the ruling, and removing all opposition to age restrictions in general, making it possible for any girl, of any age, to obtain the drug. Previously President Obama said he was “bothered by the idea of 10- or 11-year-old girls buying the drugs as easily as ‘bubble gum or batteries.’” President Obama went from being uncomfortable with 15-year-olds obtaining the pill to comfortable with 11-year-olds doing so in two short months. Like other “evolutions” by the Obama White House, this was likely spurred on by pressure from his far-left base, in this case “reproductive rights” advocates who see any attempt to regulate birth control or abortion as an affront. The Obama administration has reversed its opposition to over-the-counter sales of the pill, now putting it within reach of any consumer, regardless of age. 

The message this sends to children and parents alike is troubling, to say the least. In a world where a 26-year-old is young enough to still qualify as a child on their parent’s health insurance, a child of 10 years of age can walk into any neighborhood drug store and purchase a massive dose of hormones with no oversight or supervision, not from their parents and not from medical professionals. As any parent will tell you, they are deluged with permission slips–to ride the bus, to participate in after-school activities, for the school nurse to administer Tylenol or prescription drugs. In this culture of treating young adults as toddlers, which the president and his fellow liberals do nothing but perpetuate, the FDA and White House’s decision is glaringly hypocritical. A child cannot decide to take a pain reliever for a headache while on the school campus, but they can have full access to a powerful drug that might have an impact on their development.

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The battle over universal access to the sale of emergency contraception, known as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill” has, it seems, reached a conclusion. In April the FDA announced that it was lowering the minimum age for over-the-counter sales of the drug to 15 from 17, and today the White House announced it was withdrawing its previous opposition to the ruling, and removing all opposition to age restrictions in general, making it possible for any girl, of any age, to obtain the drug. Previously President Obama said he was “bothered by the idea of 10- or 11-year-old girls buying the drugs as easily as ‘bubble gum or batteries.’” President Obama went from being uncomfortable with 15-year-olds obtaining the pill to comfortable with 11-year-olds doing so in two short months. Like other “evolutions” by the Obama White House, this was likely spurred on by pressure from his far-left base, in this case “reproductive rights” advocates who see any attempt to regulate birth control or abortion as an affront. The Obama administration has reversed its opposition to over-the-counter sales of the pill, now putting it within reach of any consumer, regardless of age. 

The message this sends to children and parents alike is troubling, to say the least. In a world where a 26-year-old is young enough to still qualify as a child on their parent’s health insurance, a child of 10 years of age can walk into any neighborhood drug store and purchase a massive dose of hormones with no oversight or supervision, not from their parents and not from medical professionals. As any parent will tell you, they are deluged with permission slips–to ride the bus, to participate in after-school activities, for the school nurse to administer Tylenol or prescription drugs. In this culture of treating young adults as toddlers, which the president and his fellow liberals do nothing but perpetuate, the FDA and White House’s decision is glaringly hypocritical. A child cannot decide to take a pain reliever for a headache while on the school campus, but they can have full access to a powerful drug that might have an impact on their development.

Previously, any teen under the age of 17 had to get a prescription to obtain the drug, which, taken up to 72 hours after intercourse, greatly lowers the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy. The reasoning behind the previous ruling was the hope that medical professionals would ensure that 14-year olds having intercourse were doing so with due care and legally (i.e. not as victims of statutory or forcible rape). According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), a left-leaning policy organization with strong ties with Planned Parenthood:

Concerns about statutory rape are particularly acute in regard to the youngest adolescents. Although relatively small proportions of 13-14-year-olds have had intercourse, those who become sexually active at an early age are especially likely to have experienced coercive sex: Seventy-four percent of women who had intercourse before age 14 and 60% of those who had sex before age 15 report having had a forced sexual experience. As policymakers and the public have become increasingly aware that the sexual partners of minor adolescent women are often not adolescents themselves but men 3-6 years older, concern has grown that protective measures, in the form of increasing enforcement of statutory rape laws, are necessary to guard these young women from abuse and exploitation.

With the Obama administration’s decision to provide access to these young women, one outside barrier between a child and victimization has disappeared. 

How likely is it that a young girl would be able to secretly make an appointment with her family doctor in order to obtain more reliable forms of birth control? If Plan B is the only accessible form, how many young girls will start to use the hormone as their primary source of birth control? Does the FDA know how regularly taking large doses of Plan B (it’s called “emergency” contraception for a reason) in girls as young as 11 years of age will affect their biological development as they reach puberty? While the Obama administration was still against the ruling to allow unrestricted access to the drug, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said:

After careful consideration of the F.D.A. summary review, I have concluded that the data submitted by Teva [an Israeli pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug] do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age.

Despite the fact that outside studies haven’t been conducted on the safety of the drug for girls as young as 10 and 11 by any agency besides the company most likely to profit from the drug going over-the-counter, the Obama White House has changed course after they themselves stated the need for independent review of the safety of these drugs for 10- and 11-year-old girls, 10 percent of whom can bear children.

The justification for this reversal seems to be the desire to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies. The argument is that if girls were required to gain their parents’ consent for using Plan B, fear of punishment or shame about becoming pregnant would prevent them from speaking about their problem. That would, we are told, make unwanted pregnancies and abortions more likely to happen. When the pill was first introduced onto the market, many claimed the frequency of abortion in the United States would plummet. Yet that has not been the case. In 2007 the Washington Times reported:

A review of 23 studies on EC “demonstrate convincingly that greater access [to the pills] increases use,” Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, James Trussell and Chelsea B. Polis said in their article in this month’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

But predictions that easier access to EC would produce “a direct, substantial impact … may have been overly optimistic,” they wrote, calling for more research “to explain this finding.”

“To date, no study has shown that increased access to this method reduces unintended pregnancy or abortion rates,” the authors concluded, adding that while some of the 23 studies taken individually have deficiencies, “the consistency of their primary findings is hard to ignore.”

The safety of sexual intercourse for minors, however, is a topic that has been widely studied. The risk of cervical cancer for women is higher for women who became sexually active before their 18th birthdays due to an increased risk of contracting the HPV virus. It is recommended that any woman, regardless of age, receive the Gardasil vaccine to prevent HPV before they become sexually active and that they receive regular exams every year after becoming sexually active. The likelihood is that 11-year-old girls are not aware of this and wouldn’t act on it even if they did. But if their parents are not aware of their sexual activity, how can these girls be protected? 

Given all of this information, which the Obama administration was aware of when it opposed unrestricted access just last week, the decision to reverse course and allow 10-year-old girls access to this medication is the wrong decision. While these ideologues claim to have the best interests of young girls in mind, you don’t have to be an opponent of abortion to understand they have instead made it more dangerous for young girls and women who need the protection of our society most. 

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Edward Snowden’s Parallel Universe

Edward Snowden, the NSA turncoat, sounds coherent and measured at first blush, but the more he keeps talking the more he emerges as a paranoid narcissist with a messiah complex. He believes that there is a vast, overarching conspiracy within the U.S. government to abrogate the liberties of ordinary citizens, and he is the only person who has the courage and the idealism to expose this monstrous misdoing. 

Of the stated goals for NSA’s programs—to keep us safe from external threats—he has not a word to say. Perhaps he thinks such threats do not exist or do not need to be countered. Nor does he offer a single instance of actual abuse by the NSA: say, a colleague using all of this high-tech equipment to spy on his ex-wife or to blackmail some anti-government activist. Instead he assumes that because surveillance capabilities exist, they will be misused—and therefore they should not exist at all. One might as well disarm the police because we know that occasionally a cop will commit misconduct.

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Edward Snowden, the NSA turncoat, sounds coherent and measured at first blush, but the more he keeps talking the more he emerges as a paranoid narcissist with a messiah complex. He believes that there is a vast, overarching conspiracy within the U.S. government to abrogate the liberties of ordinary citizens, and he is the only person who has the courage and the idealism to expose this monstrous misdoing. 

Of the stated goals for NSA’s programs—to keep us safe from external threats—he has not a word to say. Perhaps he thinks such threats do not exist or do not need to be countered. Nor does he offer a single instance of actual abuse by the NSA: say, a colleague using all of this high-tech equipment to spy on his ex-wife or to blackmail some anti-government activist. Instead he assumes that because surveillance capabilities exist, they will be misused—and therefore they should not exist at all. One might as well disarm the police because we know that occasionally a cop will commit misconduct.

His worldview is of the classic paranoid variety. One wonders if he has seen too many Jason Bourne movies or other classics of the genre such as Enemy of the State and The Parallax View, all of which are premised on the notion of the U.S. government as an infinitely malevolent and infinitely powerful surveillance state that can watch anyone anywhere and that will kill without qualm to cover its own tracks.

In fact Snowden told the Washington Post that the U.S. intelligence community “will most certainly kill you if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure and make them the sole owner of this information.” In the real world, of course, the U.S. intelligence community kills terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen–not leakers or even spies, whether in Hawaii or Hong Kong. There is no real-world counterpart to Jason Bourne.

Snowden also told the Post: “I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents.” In the real world, of course, the greatest threat to “our freedom and way of life” comes not from an “omniscient” American government but from jihadist groups like al-Qaeda; rogue states like North Korea and Iran; and of course from our emerging great power rival, China, where Snowden has sought refuge, at least temporarily.

China not only limits its own people’s access to basic information on the Internet but it is constantly attacking American computer networks, stealing our intellectual property and our national security secrets. The NSA is our best line of defense against these actual threats to our privacy and liberty. 

That’s the real world. But Snowden seems to inhabit some parallel universe where he is in rebellion against a 1984-like state that bears no relation to the actual U.S. government as it exists today (or has ever existed). He is entitled to his fantasies, but he is not entitled to act on them to the detriment of our national security by telling our enemies what they should not know about our covert collection capabilities.

What is truly disturbing is that so many seek to justify his actions as if he were a dissident behind the Iron Curtain rather than a well-paid employee of a democratic government that provides multiple avenues to redress actual abuses—from the NSA inspector general’s office to the House and Senate intelligence committees. He availed himself of none of these channels. But then he has no actual abuses to cite. He has a policy disagreement with the determination made by two administrations—one Republican, one Democratic—to collect information on telephone calls and Internet traffic, a decision ratified by Congress and overseen by the judiciary. 

Snowden, a high school dropout with limited knowledge and experience beyond the world of computing, prefers to substitute his own judgment about what the United States government should be doing for the considered judgment of our elected leaders and national-security professionals. He claims to be defending democracy but actually he is subverting it. What makes our system of government work is that decisions are taken collectively and even those who disagree carry out directives unless they are illegal or unethical—which is not the case, based on the evidence so far presented, with the programs Snowden has ill-advisedly revealed. Alas, his narcissism will only be fed by all of the news coverage—some of it decidedly adulatory—he has generated.

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Are Obama’s Scandals Hurting Markey?

Any objective analysis of the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts has to begin with the fact that 2013 is not 2010 and Gabriel Gomez is not Scott Brown. There are a number of reasons why Gomez is facing an uphill slog to duplicate Brown’s amazing upset in which the GOP snagged a seat in a deep blue state. With Politico reporting that Democrats are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into this battle, it’s clear they are going all-out to ensure that this time the GOP won’t steal a safe Democratic seat. But recent polls are showing that Gomez is still in striking distance of Democratic Representative Ed Markey in the race to replace John Kerry in a seat that will again be up for grabs in 2014.

With only two weeks to go before the June 25 vote, Markey led Gomez by seven points in a Suffolk University poll, a considerable narrowing of the 17-point margin he enjoyed just a month ago. With Gomez lacking so many of the advantages that Brown had when he upset Martha Coakley, the question is why does this political neophyte still have a chance?

The answer may be found in the problems of the man who is flying into Massachusetts tomorrow to buck up Markey: President Obama. The president’s decision to involve himself personally in the vote is a sign of Democratic confidence, since Obama would be loath to intervene if he thought Markey was really going down to defeat. But the ability of Gomez to stay in a race that ought to be a cakewalk may be more about the general growing dissatisfaction with an administration mired in a trio of scandals than distaste for the political dinosaur that Democrats have nominated for the Senate.

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Any objective analysis of the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts has to begin with the fact that 2013 is not 2010 and Gabriel Gomez is not Scott Brown. There are a number of reasons why Gomez is facing an uphill slog to duplicate Brown’s amazing upset in which the GOP snagged a seat in a deep blue state. With Politico reporting that Democrats are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into this battle, it’s clear they are going all-out to ensure that this time the GOP won’t steal a safe Democratic seat. But recent polls are showing that Gomez is still in striking distance of Democratic Representative Ed Markey in the race to replace John Kerry in a seat that will again be up for grabs in 2014.

With only two weeks to go before the June 25 vote, Markey led Gomez by seven points in a Suffolk University poll, a considerable narrowing of the 17-point margin he enjoyed just a month ago. With Gomez lacking so many of the advantages that Brown had when he upset Martha Coakley, the question is why does this political neophyte still have a chance?

The answer may be found in the problems of the man who is flying into Massachusetts tomorrow to buck up Markey: President Obama. The president’s decision to involve himself personally in the vote is a sign of Democratic confidence, since Obama would be loath to intervene if he thought Markey was really going down to defeat. But the ability of Gomez to stay in a race that ought to be a cakewalk may be more about the general growing dissatisfaction with an administration mired in a trio of scandals than distaste for the political dinosaur that Democrats have nominated for the Senate.

The Suffolk poll showed that a majority of Massachusetts’s voters are not prepared to think the worst of President Obama in terms of any direct link to the Benghazi, IRS or press snooping scandals. But the high levels of distrust in government may be depressing enthusiasm for the Democrats at time when Republicans lack the advantages they had in 2010.

Gomez can campaign on his biography as a former Navy SEAL and successful businessman who is a new face seeking to oppose a veteran politician in Markey, whose ’70s-style haircut is a standing reminder that he’s been in Congress since Gerald Ford was president. But as a neophyte, he lacks Brown’s political experience as well as his natural charm. He also doesn’t have the ability to rally both his party loyalists as well as most independents that Brown had with his campaign against ObamaCare. While Markey is no political genius, he is not easing up in the way that Coakley did once she won the Democratic primary. As Brown’s subsequent attempt to hold onto his seat last year showed, the circumstances that produced his victory in this deep blue state were unique and not necessarily capable of duplication even with the same charismatic candidate.

National Review is reporting that Gomez’s internal polling is showing him virtually even with Markey. But even if we dismiss such a poll as partisan spin, the mere fact that he is seen in more credible surveys as trailing only by single digits may show that something is going on that ought to trouble Democrats. The accumulation of scandals that seems to grow by the day has to be hurting Markey and helping Gomez. It’s highly unlikely that the impact of these problems will be enough to allow Gomez to win, but the Democratic confidence in the idea that no one outside of Washington cares about Obama’s scandals is about to be put to the test and the and the results may not provide his party with much comfort.

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Hillary’s State Department Sex Scandal

If Hillary Clinton thought the soft glow of the good press she received while roaming the globe to no great effect during her four years as secretary of state would last until her planned 2016 coronation as president, it’s time to for her to rethink her strategy. Public anger about the lies that were told about the Benghazi terror attack as well as her failure to provide adequate security to diplomats that were placed in harm’s way was bad enough. But the latest State Department scandal linked to her office is the sort of thing that could begin the process by which Clinton’s status as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee starts to unravel.

As CBS first reported yesterday, investigation into a series of cases involving sexual misconduct by both ambassadors as well as security personnel were called off on the orders of senior State Department officials on Clinton’s watch. Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills gave the order in one case while other top-level officials stopped other probes. The confirmation of the cases in an internal State Department memo shows a pattern of sexual misconduct—including on the part of those charged with protecting Clinton—that is troubling. But the manner in which higher-ups consistently suppressed these embarrassing investigations is even more worrisome. While Clinton is not personally named as the one ordering the cover-ups, the links between the secretary and those committing the bad behavior as well as those shutting down the probes are clear.

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If Hillary Clinton thought the soft glow of the good press she received while roaming the globe to no great effect during her four years as secretary of state would last until her planned 2016 coronation as president, it’s time to for her to rethink her strategy. Public anger about the lies that were told about the Benghazi terror attack as well as her failure to provide adequate security to diplomats that were placed in harm’s way was bad enough. But the latest State Department scandal linked to her office is the sort of thing that could begin the process by which Clinton’s status as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee starts to unravel.

As CBS first reported yesterday, investigation into a series of cases involving sexual misconduct by both ambassadors as well as security personnel were called off on the orders of senior State Department officials on Clinton’s watch. Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills gave the order in one case while other top-level officials stopped other probes. The confirmation of the cases in an internal State Department memo shows a pattern of sexual misconduct—including on the part of those charged with protecting Clinton—that is troubling. But the manner in which higher-ups consistently suppressed these embarrassing investigations is even more worrisome. While Clinton is not personally named as the one ordering the cover-ups, the links between the secretary and those committing the bad behavior as well as those shutting down the probes are clear.

The most egregious in a list of potentially explosive stories involves Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium who was accused of routinely ditching his security detail and then soliciting prostitutes, including minors. But Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, ordered the investigation shut down. Gutman was apparently given a stern lecture but otherwise got off without any sanctions and is still serving as America’s envoy in Brussels. According to the State Department report, Gutman’s security detail and staff were well aware of what he was up to.

Gutman first came to our attention back at the end of 2011 for declaring that Israel was to blame for the rise of anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe. That might have been enough to end a normal diplomatic career but Gutman, who earned his post by bundling more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions for President Obama, hung onto his job with no trouble as a State Department spokesman said the views Gutman expressed were his own rather than official U.S. policy.

The implication of the shutting down of an investigation into Gutman’s behavior is clear. Senior people at the State Department, including those who report to Clinton, were obviously under the impression that a scandal involving in a major Obama giver and appointee would be political poison for the president during an election year.

The same applies to the fact that similar investigations into Clinton’s personal security detail were also shut down. Apparently those tasked with protecting the secretary were believed to have hired prostitutes during her trips to Russia and Colombia. The practice was said to be endemic and going on in the same hotel where the secretary stayed.

You don’t have to be a CIA spook or John le Carre to understand the implications of such misconduct in terms of security breaches and possible blackmail by foreign intelligence agencies. Yet none of those involved got anything more than a slap on the wrist.

In yet another case, Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and personal enforcer, intervened directly in order to shut down an investigation into possible misconduct by Brett McGurk, Clinton’s choice to be ambassador to Iraq.

Taken in total, the reports present a picture of a Clinton State Department lacking in accountability and mired in a culture of cronyism in which anyone connected to either Clinton or President Obama had a permanent “get out of jail free” card. Like Benghazi and other administration scandals in which President Obama’s defenders are forced to claim he knew nothing about misconduct in order to preserve him from accusations of involvement, Clinton must now use the same excuse. There is no way to avoid the conclusion that if she did not take part in the ordering of these cover-ups, she was completely out of touch with what was happening under her nose.

No doubt, Clinton’s apologists will use the same tactic as these scandals unravel. But if Mrs. Clinton is truly looking ahead to 2016, she might consider that a bumper sticker that reads “Incompetent Rather Than Corrupt” does not make for an appealing campaign slogan.

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Policing Succeeds Where Gun Control Fails

When it comes to preventing gun violence, there are two avenues to pursue: target legal gun owners or the criminals those gun owners are trying to protect their families from. In January, NPR ran a program segment that perfectly captured this dichotomy, titled “Chicago’s Gun Ban Fails To Prevent Murders,” about the Windy City’s skyrocketing violence. In its description of the segment, NPR included this: “We discussed police focus on ‘hot spots,’ and the dissolution of gangs. But listeners asked: What about gun bans?”

The title of the program gives it away, but restrictions on gun ownership–of which Chicago had some of the toughest–failed utterly to stop the bleeding. But what about the other side of that coin? What if, in other words, rather than targeting legal gun owners interested in protecting themselves, the city attempted to fulfill its responsibility to protect them? What if, instead of succumbing to the inevitability of murder in certain city neighborhoods and thus following the inexcusable liberal tendency to concretize urban inequality, the city aimed to restore the dignity of American life to every street corner of Chicago?

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When it comes to preventing gun violence, there are two avenues to pursue: target legal gun owners or the criminals those gun owners are trying to protect their families from. In January, NPR ran a program segment that perfectly captured this dichotomy, titled “Chicago’s Gun Ban Fails To Prevent Murders,” about the Windy City’s skyrocketing violence. In its description of the segment, NPR included this: “We discussed police focus on ‘hot spots,’ and the dissolution of gangs. But listeners asked: What about gun bans?”

The title of the program gives it away, but restrictions on gun ownership–of which Chicago had some of the toughest–failed utterly to stop the bleeding. But what about the other side of that coin? What if, in other words, rather than targeting legal gun owners interested in protecting themselves, the city attempted to fulfill its responsibility to protect them? What if, instead of succumbing to the inevitability of murder in certain city neighborhoods and thus following the inexcusable liberal tendency to concretize urban inequality, the city aimed to restore the dignity of American life to every street corner of Chicago?

“I said the most fundamental of civil rights is the guarantee that government can give you a reasonable degree of safety,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani once said in a speech looking back on the police reform he instituted that saved a city. “The fact is that all the civil rights that we posses–the right to travel, interstate commerce, the right to a public education–all of those rights are essentially meaningless if you are afraid to exercise those rights.”

That gives you an idea of what it has been like in some parts of Chicago, where parents are afraid to let their children go outside to play or are concerned there is literally no safe route for their children to take to get to school. Wealthier neighborhoods don’t have the same worries, so Chicago is effectively two cities: one to which the city is able to provide the dignity of life in the free world, and one in which that city provision is an absent luxury. It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: legal handguns are not the cause of this.

What Giuliani did was to revamp the city’s police force through the use of the data-driven CompStat system and by reorienting itself toward preventing, instead of simply solving, violent crimes. Giuliani gave poorer neighborhoods back their dignity, and now, reports the New York Times, that attitude is being imported with success to Chicago by a desperate Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

So far in 2013, Chicago homicides, which outnumbered slayings in the larger cities of New York and Los Angeles last year, are down 34 percent from the same period in 2012. As of Sunday night, 146 people had been killed in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city — 76 fewer than in the same stretch in 2012 and 16 fewer than in 2011, a year that was among the lowest for homicides during the same period in 50 years.

In recent months, as many as 400 officers a day, working overtime, have been dispatched to just 20 small zones deemed the city’s most dangerous. The police say they are tamping down retaliatory shootings between gang factions by using a comprehensive analysis of the city’s tens of thousands of suspected gang members, the turf they claim and their rivalries. The police also are focusing on more than 400 people they have identified as having associations that make them the most likely to be involved in a murder, as a victim or an offender.

And where did this policing transformation come from? As Time magazine noted in its cover story on Emanuel’s mayoralty:

On taking office, Emanuel moved quickly to hire a new superintendent of police. He picked Newark, N.J., police commissioner Garry McCarthy, a Bronx-born veteran of the New York City police and a disciple of the law-enforcement guru William Bratton. As the officer in charge of New York’s CompStat system of data-driven policing for seven years, McCarthy was revolutionary to the core, but with the streetwise demeanor of a beat cop.

Emanuel imported the training, strategy, and even attitude that worked to such effect in New York. Emanuel doesn’t like to highlight the fact that what works contradicts his typically obnoxious grandstanding on gun bans and his support for the very gun restrictions that failed so miserably in his own city. But it’s a start.

It’s also important to note that the jury is still out on whether Chicago can maintain these positive trends. The increased police patrols are expensive–the Times says the city is already closing in on its annual budget outlays for police overtime. Some worry that the bad weather has kept people off the streets and that upon their return crime will join them. Others object that last year’s crime numbers were too high to use as a fair baseline for comparison.

Additionally, the city still needs expanded emergency medical care facilities in areas close enough to violent neighborhoods to save lives. But the numbers don’t lie: there is a notable improvement that can’t be explained away by the weather. (It rained last year too.) And the fact that the program is still in its early stages is reason to be optimistic about further improvement. And there’s another metric: Emanuel was approached by a mother who said she was beginning to feel comfortable letting her child walk to school. Emanuel told the Times: “That to me is the biggest, most important, most significant measure — that a mother feels comfortable and confident enough where she didn’t in past years to have her child walk to school.”

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Yes, Assad Can Be Defeated

The Obama administration is stubbornly consistent on Syria: It is for inaction under any and all circumstances. Only the excuses for inaction change.

Until recently the official line from Washington was that Bashar Assad’s downfall was “only a matter of time,” and therefore the U.S. did not have to do much to nudge him out of power. Now, following Assad’s victory in Quasayr, and his expanding offensive to retake more territory from the rebels, many administration officials have concluded that “Assad is gaining momentum in the country’s civil war with aid from Hezbollah and is unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future.” This realization is triggering a debate in the administration about whether to send arms to the rebels or take other measures to influence the outcome on the ground.

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The Obama administration is stubbornly consistent on Syria: It is for inaction under any and all circumstances. Only the excuses for inaction change.

Until recently the official line from Washington was that Bashar Assad’s downfall was “only a matter of time,” and therefore the U.S. did not have to do much to nudge him out of power. Now, following Assad’s victory in Quasayr, and his expanding offensive to retake more territory from the rebels, many administration officials have concluded that “Assad is gaining momentum in the country’s civil war with aid from Hezbollah and is unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future.” This realization is triggering a debate in the administration about whether to send arms to the rebels or take other measures to influence the outcome on the ground.

We’ve seen these debates before, and there is no reason to think they will have a different outcome than in the past. Now, instead of assuming that there is nothing we need do to bring Assad down, many in the administration will no doubt assume there is nothing that we can do. Odds are we will continue to drift along in a fog of indecision even as Iran and Hezbollah continue their massive, and so far successful, intervention on Assad’s side.

Personally, I never believed that Assad’s downfall was assured in the past and I don’t believe his continuation in power is assured now. If the U.S. and our allies–Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France, Jordan, and others–were to step up aid to the rebels, providing everything from air cover to arms, the balance of power would tip against Assad again.

The argument against doing this–besides a general war-weariness and non-interventionism which has taken root in this administration–is that we would be aiding the kinds of extremists who execute a teenager for a casual mention of the Prophet. But of course a big part of the reason why extremists have taken a leading role in the rebellion is that the U.S. has done so little to help the more moderate factions. I still believe it is not too late to tip the balance of power not only between Assad and the rebels but also between rebel factions, empowering the more mainstream groups and draining power from the Al Nusrah Front and its ilk.

The intervention of Hezbollah into the conflict has only added more compelling reasons for action. As Lee Smith has noted in the Weekly Standard, the U.S. has a lot of scores to settle with Hezbollah stretching all the way back to its murderous bombings of our embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in the 1980s. This is a perfect opportunity to settle accounts and in the process weaken this Iranian proxy movement. Syrian rebels are fighting hard against Hezbollah and inflicted serious losses on Hezbollah fighters in Quasayr. They will inflict more losses in the future if only we would provide them the means to do so.

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How Anti-Israel Zealotry Threatens Europe

Two recent developments show the extent to which the mainstreaming of rabid anti-Israel sentiment in Europe is harming Europe itself. One, a new exhibit glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers at one of France’s most famous museums, undermines France’s security. The other, a British union’s decision to effectively bar members from contact with another British workers’ group because the latter opposes boycotting Israel, undermines Britons’ civil liberties.

The exhibit at the Jeu de Paume Museum, which is funded by the French government, features 68 photos of Palestinian “martyrs” who “lost their lives fighting against the occupation.” For instance, there’s Osama Buchkar, who “committed a martyr mission in Netanya”–aka a 2002 suicide bombing in an open-air market that killed three people and wounded 59.

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Two recent developments show the extent to which the mainstreaming of rabid anti-Israel sentiment in Europe is harming Europe itself. One, a new exhibit glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers at one of France’s most famous museums, undermines France’s security. The other, a British union’s decision to effectively bar members from contact with another British workers’ group because the latter opposes boycotting Israel, undermines Britons’ civil liberties.

The exhibit at the Jeu de Paume Museum, which is funded by the French government, features 68 photos of Palestinian “martyrs” who “lost their lives fighting against the occupation.” For instance, there’s Osama Buchkar, who “committed a martyr mission in Netanya”–aka a 2002 suicide bombing in an open-air market that killed three people and wounded 59.

The danger here is that fame and glory are powerful motivators for terrorists. Indeed, one Israeli study based on interviews with failed suicide bombers (people caught before blowing themselves up) concluded that it was the leading motivator. But the Jeu de Paume is far more important to Frenchmen–even marginalized ones–than to Palestinians. Thus being lionized by one of France’s most famous cultural institutions is primarily an inducement to its own citizens.

Granted, the museum only intended this accolade for people who killed Israelis. But Islamic terrorists have proven remarkably impervious to the European view that killing Israelis and Jews (Islamists rarely distinguish between the two) is more acceptable than killing other people. Take, for instance, France’s own Mohammed Merah, who murdered three (non-Jewish) French soldiers in two separate attacks before going on a shooting spree at a Jewish day school in Toulouse. Thus by glorifying anti-Israel terrorism, France is inadvertently encouraging the homegrown variety.

But the decision by GMB, one of Britain’s largest unions, may be even more chilling: Last week, it voted to bar its chapters from visiting Israel on any trip organized by Trade Union Friends of Israel, a British group that supports cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian workers, or addressing any TUFI event. Nor was this just the decision of a few radical activists at the top. GMB’s leadership actually opposed the motion, but the union’s annual congress adopted it anyway.

Just consider how many different civil liberties this one resolution undermines: It restricts freedom of speech, as GMB members can no longer speak wherever they please. It limits freedom of association, since they can’t associate with TUFI. And perhaps above all, it constrains freedom of information: Union delegations can’t participate in trips to Israel that risk exposing them to information that might contradict GMB’s anti-Israel narrative. GMB chapters can still join trips organized by, say, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign; they just can’t join trips organized by TUFI.

A GMB spokesman insisted that the ban didn’t apply to individuals, which appears to be technically true: A GMB chapter couldn’t send people on a TUFI trip, but an individual could theoretically join one on his own, as long as his chapter didn’t help in any way. Yet how many ordinary union members would risk doing so, knowing they would thereby incur the wrath of union leaders for flouting GMB’s ambition to “take a lead” in the anti-Israel boycott?

One has to wonder when Europeans will finally realize that their anti-Israel zealotry is exacting too high a price at home. Judging by the latest developments, it should have happened long ago.

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