Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 26, 2013

Hate, Not Time, Is the Enemy of Peace

Secretary of State John Kerry is playing with fire. Having embarked on a high-profile effort to revive the moribund Middle East peace process, Kerry has acted as if there is no downside to ratcheting up pressure on the parties with little apparent chance of actually achieving progress. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is eager to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure but rather than picking up on the mixed signals coming from Ramallah, the secretary continued with this line of argument today in a news conference in which he sought to create a deadline for starting talks:

“Long before September we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way because I don’t think we have the luxury of that kind of time,” he said in a joint news conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart.

“Time is the enemy of a peace process,” Mr. Kerry said. “The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”

That sounds wise, but the mention of September—a reference to the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations where the Palestinians are likely to make mischief—is ominous. As much as Kerry likes to think he is the consummate diplomat who is orchestrating a momentous move toward peace, with his decision to try to rush the parties into a negotiation with no evidence of common ground or an opening for an agreement what he is actually doing is setting the region up for a blowup that could have been avoided. Instead of listening to the parties and seeing that the Palestinians are not ready to make the sort of sacrifices needed for peace, Kerry is blundering along, blind to the fact that the real enemy of peace is the hate that fuels the conflict, not an artificial deadline.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is playing with fire. Having embarked on a high-profile effort to revive the moribund Middle East peace process, Kerry has acted as if there is no downside to ratcheting up pressure on the parties with little apparent chance of actually achieving progress. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is eager to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure but rather than picking up on the mixed signals coming from Ramallah, the secretary continued with this line of argument today in a news conference in which he sought to create a deadline for starting talks:

“Long before September we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way because I don’t think we have the luxury of that kind of time,” he said in a joint news conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart.

“Time is the enemy of a peace process,” Mr. Kerry said. “The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”

That sounds wise, but the mention of September—a reference to the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations where the Palestinians are likely to make mischief—is ominous. As much as Kerry likes to think he is the consummate diplomat who is orchestrating a momentous move toward peace, with his decision to try to rush the parties into a negotiation with no evidence of common ground or an opening for an agreement what he is actually doing is setting the region up for a blowup that could have been avoided. Instead of listening to the parties and seeing that the Palestinians are not ready to make the sort of sacrifices needed for peace, Kerry is blundering along, blind to the fact that the real enemy of peace is the hate that fuels the conflict, not an artificial deadline.

The entire premise of Kerry’s initiative is the notion that rushing to peace is necessary since the status quo is untenable and likely to lead to trouble. But what he fails to see is that as unpalatable as the present situation might be for both sides, it is infinitely preferable to one where the Palestinians think they can gain from outrageous behavior or violence. Since Abbas can’t even bring himself to talk without preconditions that would require Israel to accede to all of his demands in advance of negotiations, even if Kerry can drag him to the table, everyone on both sides knows there’s little chance he will stay there. A failure to negotiate is bad enough, as we have seen for the last four and a half years since Abbas last fled talks with Israel in order to avoid giving an answer to an Israeli peace offer. But negotiations that are doomed to failure are even worse. That’s something American diplomats should remember from the last time they tried to muscle Israel and the Palestinians into an agreement at Camp David in the summer of 2000. That led to the second intifada and over a thousand slaughtered Jews and even more dead Palestinians.

Kerry thinks by ignoring Abbas’s prevarications he can somehow get both parties to yes. But he would do better to pay attention to what Abbas is saying to his own people and fellow Arabs rather than the contradictory statements about talks coming from Ramallah aimed at Western audiences.

As Palestine Media Watch reports, Abbas continues to spread libels about Israel and Jews in the Arab media. He recently said the following to the Saudi paper Al Watan earlier this month:

All these [Israeli] actions indicate an evil and dangerous plot to destroy Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and build the alleged Temple. Unfortunately, these dangers, which are clear for everyone to see, have yet to receive proper Arab, Islamic and international responses.”

Abbas’s reference to the “alleged” Temple is of piece with the PA campaign that has long alleged that Jews have no historical connection to Jerusalem. As PMW recalls:

In a speech at the Arab Summit in 2010, Abbas told Arab leaders that taking Jerusalem away from Israel is a religious Islamic obligation of the highest level, a “fard ayn” – a personal Islamic commandment incumbent on every Muslim:

Abbas: “I say to the leaders of our Arab nation and to its peoples: Jerusalem and its environs are a trust that Allah entrusted to us. Saving it [Jerusalem] from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization and confiscation is a personal [Islamic] commandment [Arabic: fard ayn] incumbent on all of us. Therefore, I call all of you to serious and urgent action to save [Jerusalem] and to make available all possibilities in order to strengthen our resolve and to maintain its historical, cultural and religious character.”

It is these attitudes that are the obstacle to peace, not settlements or Israeli skepticism about peace or even time. The artificial deadline Kerry is setting won’t create an accord so long as Abbas continues to believe that any acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy will be seen as a betrayal of Palestinian nationalism. What the region needs is actually more time for the Palestinians to come to grips with the need to alter this culture of hate, not a rush to talks with no solution in sight.

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The UK’s Spiteful Double Standard

Sometimes it helps to restate the obvious. So when Jack Straw, who served as a minister for both domestic and foreign affairs in Tony Blair’s Labor government in the UK, recently told an audience at a literary festival that the “point about living in a democracy is that you have to put up with people expressing views you really disagree with,” he struck exactly the right note in a country still traumatized by the brutal murder, in broad daylight on a south London street, of a British soldier by an Islamist fanatic.

Sadly, Straw’s observation was not heeded by his successor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, who announced today that two prominent American opponents of Islam, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, have been banned from entering the UK. The pair had been due to address a rally convened by the English Defense League, an extremist right-wing organization, this Friday in the same neighborhood where the soldier, Lee Rigby, met his gruesome end.

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Sometimes it helps to restate the obvious. So when Jack Straw, who served as a minister for both domestic and foreign affairs in Tony Blair’s Labor government in the UK, recently told an audience at a literary festival that the “point about living in a democracy is that you have to put up with people expressing views you really disagree with,” he struck exactly the right note in a country still traumatized by the brutal murder, in broad daylight on a south London street, of a British soldier by an Islamist fanatic.

Sadly, Straw’s observation was not heeded by his successor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, who announced today that two prominent American opponents of Islam, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, have been banned from entering the UK. The pair had been due to address a rally convened by the English Defense League, an extremist right-wing organization, this Friday in the same neighborhood where the soldier, Lee Rigby, met his gruesome end.

One does not have to an admirer of Geller and Spencer–to my mind, their views are terrifyingly shrill and bigoted–in order to consider this decision outrageous. The letter which Geller received from the Home Office informed her that she was being excluded by the “British government’s measures for excluding or deporting extremists under the Unacceptable Behaviour policy.” It expressed concern at two remarks made by Geller, one in which she equated Islam with al-Qaeda, the other in which she claimed that the survival of Muslims depends on “constant jihad,” before concluding that her espousal of such views on UK soil would not be “conducive to the public good.”

No explanation was offered as to exactly how Geller and Spencer’s presence in Britain might “foment or justify terrorist violence” or “foster hatred that might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.” There will be those who argue that their sledgehammer rhetoric encourages violence, but that same slippery logic could be applied to almost anyone, including the myriad Islamist organizations for whom the UK is a convenient base. According to Student Rights, a British group that monitors Islamist extremism in universities, over the last year speakers with “a history of extreme or intolerant views” addressed meetings at 60 different institutions, many of which were gender-segregated. 

Is it, then, reasonable to accuse the UK government of operating a double standard, especially as there is a long-standing anxiety that the policy of keeping out Muslim extremists is faltering? It’s true that Geller and Spencer are not the first rabble-rousers to be banned from Britain. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, was famously prohibited from entering the country back in 1986, a decision which led to a 20-year court battle that finally resulted, in 2008, in the ban against him being upheld. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi was eventually banned in 2008, four years after he was feted by the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a key proponent of an alliance between the far left and Islamist organizations.

The problem with these bans, however, is that they are reactive–and frequently imposed after the offending individual has spent substantial time in the UK. For example, Omar Bakri Mohammed spent several years in the UK advocating jihadist violence against Jews, gays and other groups before being deported to Lebanon, while the Jordanian-born cleric Abu Qatada still remains in Britain despite government efforts to have him thrown out once and for all. In marked contrast, neither Geller nor Spencer has a criminal past, nor a track record of involvement with groups promoting violence. Their sole offense appears to be the promulgation of ideas and beliefs that are indecent–exactly the sorts of beliefs that any healthy democracy should be able to withstand in the name of freedom of speech.

The real challenge for Britain is that extremism of all stripes is homegrown. Just as the EDL doesn’t need Geller and Spencer to promote its message, neither do British Islamists–whose proclivity for violence has been amply demonstrated over the last decade, from the London subway bombings of 2005 to the murder of Lee Rigby this year–require foreign-born clerics to fire up their own supporters.

In the weeks since Rigby’s death, the country has engaged in a furious debate about whether to ban Islamist preachers from the airwaves and block Islamist websites. As Shiraz Maher and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation pointed out in their paper “Jihad at Home,” the case of a Muslim couple arrested for conspiring to attack Jewish targets in the north of England:

highlights the ongoing threat of ‘self-radicalisation’ through the internet, and the continued influence of jihadist publications, such as Inspire magazine, which are aimed at Westerners.  It also demonstrates the lingering potency of deceased ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki, whose ideas continue to present a challenge to Western security agencies.

Banning Geller and Spencer will not mollify those British Muslims already on the path to self-radicalization. Nor is it likely to end the disturbing spate of attacks on mosques in the wake of Lee Rigby’s killing. The main result of Theresa May’s decision will be to make British democracy look weak and spiteful at precisely the time it needs to look strong and confident.

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Weiner’s Strategy Already Paying Dividends

The latest poll of the New York mayoral race is awakening the public to what many seem to find a horrifying prospect: Anthony Weiner can win. Weiner has, the report alerts us, gone “in just a few weeks from disgraced has-been to mayoral front-runner.” In truth, this may trade underestimating the former congressman’s chances for overestimating them in one breath. There were always certain elements of the race that promised to make it competitive, even if Weiner was an underdog.

But aside from Weiner’s campaign war chest, they cut both ways. For example, he had full name recognition early in the race. But that name recognition also meant there wasn’t much room for him to get a fresh start in the minds of voters. He also hails from the boroughs, having represented Queens and Brooklyn, and thus he has an advantage over Manhattan’s Christine Quinn with regard to New York’s famously important identity politics. At the same time, since the sex scandal that drove him from office painted him as a bit of a cad, it’s not clear voters actually want to identify themselves with Weiner (and perhaps it’s even more troubling if they do).

All is not lost for Quinn–far from it. Indeed, while the NBC report calls Weiner the frontrunner, he would actually still lose the Democratic primary under conditions that mimicked the poll results. NBC explains:

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The latest poll of the New York mayoral race is awakening the public to what many seem to find a horrifying prospect: Anthony Weiner can win. Weiner has, the report alerts us, gone “in just a few weeks from disgraced has-been to mayoral front-runner.” In truth, this may trade underestimating the former congressman’s chances for overestimating them in one breath. There were always certain elements of the race that promised to make it competitive, even if Weiner was an underdog.

But aside from Weiner’s campaign war chest, they cut both ways. For example, he had full name recognition early in the race. But that name recognition also meant there wasn’t much room for him to get a fresh start in the minds of voters. He also hails from the boroughs, having represented Queens and Brooklyn, and thus he has an advantage over Manhattan’s Christine Quinn with regard to New York’s famously important identity politics. At the same time, since the sex scandal that drove him from office painted him as a bit of a cad, it’s not clear voters actually want to identify themselves with Weiner (and perhaps it’s even more troubling if they do).

All is not lost for Quinn–far from it. Indeed, while the NBC report calls Weiner the frontrunner, he would actually still lose the Democratic primary under conditions that mimicked the poll results. NBC explains:

Weiner, who entered the race two years after resigning his congressional seat amid a sexting scandal, now leads City Council Speaker Christine Quinn 25 percent to 20 percent among registered Democrats, the poll by Marist found. That’s a flip-flop from the last survey in May, when Quinn, the longtime front-runner, led Weiner 24 percent to 19 percent.

And a runoff in the Democratic contest seems increasingly likely — no candidate appears close to capturing the 40 percent needed on Sept. 10, which would force a second contest between the top two finishers.

The poll shows that, in those scenarios, Weiner does not lead, but has gained a great deal of ground since the previous survey. In a runoff between Quinn and Weiner, she beats him 44 percent to 42 percent, with 14 percent undecided. That’s a change from last month’s poll that found 48 percent for Quinn, 33 percent for Weiner and 18 percent undecided.

According to the poll, former comptroller and previous Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson would also edge Weiner in a run-off round. The important part of the story, for Weiner, is the direction of the numbers. Not only are his current poll numbers better than they were, but the number of New York voters who said they wouldn’t consider voting for him has dropped from 52 percent to 45 percent. That means his name recognition isn’t stopping him from changing minds and the sexting scandal isn’t a dealbreaker for most voters.

However, as I wrote yesterday, the scandal may not be completely in the past since Weiner has admitted there are still incriminating photographs of him that could surface. Voters may be willing to forgive Weiner for past indiscretions, but they will not look kindly on the possibility that those headlines will return and dominate the news cycle not only for the fall election but also throughout a theoretical first mayoral term. He’s far from in the clear.

So what will Weiner do to shore up his lead? He received a bit of good luck this week when Quinn, who is currently speaker of the City Council, approved a law that would hamper the New York Police Department’s ability to identify suspects. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the NYPD’s tactics have been the subject of some astoundingly ignorant reporting and malicious misinformation, which may obscure their sky-high approval ratings. One such poll, released in January, found Kelly’s approval to be well above water across ethnic and racial lines; black voters gave him his worst showing at 63 percent approval. (His overall approval/disapproval was 75/18.)

As I’ve explained in the past, New Yorkers may be liberal by and large, but even liberals like safe neighborhoods. Before Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy, Quinn may have been able to claim to be the rightward edge of the Democratic field of candidates with regard to the NYPD, but she is still too far left on the issue for many voters. In March, for example, she threw her support behind the establishment of an inspector general for the NYPD.

Weiner didn’t. And when he spoke this month at a gathering hosted by Al Sharpton, Weiner only said the city’s successful stop and frisk policy should not be used “as a racial tool.” He didn’t say that it was being used that way, and would get no more specific about his own police policy except to say that he, too, wouldn’t be “using stop-and-frisk as a racial tool” if elected mayor.

Weiner shouldn’t yet be considered the true frontrunner. But Quinn is running her campaign as if Weiner is not in the race, and the latest poll is an early verdict on that strategy.

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Lies About al-Dura Prolong Conflict

Today a ruling by a French court confirmed, after years of legal wrangling, that a French media critic was guilty of libeling a journalist who was largely responsible for turning a Palestinian child into a martyr for opponents of Israel. France 2, the television channel that employed Charles Enderlin, the reporter that first told the story of al-Dura, is representing the conviction of Phillipe Karsenty as a victory for French journalism. Karsenty was first convicted of libeling Enderlin in 2006 for saying he had fabricated parts of the original story. That verdict was reversed on appeal in 2008, but that ruling was overturned by France’s highest court last year allowing a lower court to fine Karsenty 8,000 euros.

Those who cling to the claim that the iconic image of the boy dying in his father’s arms after being killed by Israeli gunfire was accurate will take this as a vindication of their cause. Even some who call themselves friends of Israel will hope this will put an end to the ongoing discussion about al-Dura, which they claim is a distraction from the need to seek peace with the Palestinians. But Karsenty, who rightly called the final verdict “outrageous,” isn’t going to shut up. And, since the Israeli government has endorsed his account, neither should anyone else who cares about Israel. As I wrote at length about this story last month, the al-Dura blood libel still matters because the demonization of Israel that Enderlin’s fakery helped reinforce is at the heart of the conflict with the Palestinians.

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Today a ruling by a French court confirmed, after years of legal wrangling, that a French media critic was guilty of libeling a journalist who was largely responsible for turning a Palestinian child into a martyr for opponents of Israel. France 2, the television channel that employed Charles Enderlin, the reporter that first told the story of al-Dura, is representing the conviction of Phillipe Karsenty as a victory for French journalism. Karsenty was first convicted of libeling Enderlin in 2006 for saying he had fabricated parts of the original story. That verdict was reversed on appeal in 2008, but that ruling was overturned by France’s highest court last year allowing a lower court to fine Karsenty 8,000 euros.

Those who cling to the claim that the iconic image of the boy dying in his father’s arms after being killed by Israeli gunfire was accurate will take this as a vindication of their cause. Even some who call themselves friends of Israel will hope this will put an end to the ongoing discussion about al-Dura, which they claim is a distraction from the need to seek peace with the Palestinians. But Karsenty, who rightly called the final verdict “outrageous,” isn’t going to shut up. And, since the Israeli government has endorsed his account, neither should anyone else who cares about Israel. As I wrote at length about this story last month, the al-Dura blood libel still matters because the demonization of Israel that Enderlin’s fakery helped reinforce is at the heart of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Critics of Karsenty and the Israeli government claim that those who point out that al-Dura wasn’t shot by Israeli fire and perhaps was not even killed that fateful day at the start of the second intifada are fighting a losing battle whose only purpose is to evade the necessity of putting away old grudges. But this formulation has it backwards. It is the willingness of the Palestinians to cling to their blood libels against Israel and to concoct endless variations on them as they seek to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state that continue to fuel the conflict.

Those who would like to write off the efforts to uncover the truth about al-Dura as a crackpot conspiracy theory are way off base. Legitimate journalists of all stripes have looked at it and long ago realized that Enderlin’s initial story had more holes in it that a piece of Swiss cheese and didn’t make much sense. Yet the French pressman has consistently refused to re-examine what happened or to own up to the fact that the edited tape he first broadcast blatantly misrepresented the facts and was a triumph for Palestinian propaganda.

The problem is the Palestinians and their cheerleaders seem to think it is important to cling to the idea that the famous photograph of al-Dura wasn’t a hoax because they see it as validating a larger truth about Israeli misbehavior. But while Israel is far from perfect, this obsession with portraying the Jewish state as guilty until proven innocent speaks to a conception of the conflict as being one between Israelis who steal land and murder children and Palestinian victims. It is that mindset that has allowed Palestinians to think of their violent culture of terrorism in which the indiscriminate shedding of Jewish blood—over 1,000 Israelis were slaughtered by terrorists in the conflict that followed the al-Dura incident—is not only permissible but a laudable act.

The al-Dura myth is significant not so much because it annoys Israelis and their friends but because it reinforces the way Palestinians think of themselves and gives them carte blanche to commit any outrage. Debunking it is not pointless. It is the starting point for any effort to answer the lies about Israel that have become the foundation for efforts to isolate and boycott the Jewish state. Friends of Israel ignore it at their peril.

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That Didn’t Take Long

In my post yesterday, after quoting White House press secretary Jay Carney’s expressions of frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China, I wrote, “the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, ‘Who cares?’” Then I opened the New York Times today and came across this headline: “China Shrugs at U.S.’s Snowden Warning.”

I’d love to take credit for prescience, but this was about as hard to predict as the sun rising in the east. And as Seth points out, Secretary of State Kerry is already backing away from his initial tough talk aimed at Russia. And why not? Everyone in the world knows that the Obama administration is good at blustering but little else. The humiliation of America continues in ways large and small. It’s quite a depressing spectacle, and it will likely continue until Barack Obama finally leaves office. And even when he does, the damage will be very hard to undo. 

In my post yesterday, after quoting White House press secretary Jay Carney’s expressions of frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China, I wrote, “the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, ‘Who cares?’” Then I opened the New York Times today and came across this headline: “China Shrugs at U.S.’s Snowden Warning.”

I’d love to take credit for prescience, but this was about as hard to predict as the sun rising in the east. And as Seth points out, Secretary of State Kerry is already backing away from his initial tough talk aimed at Russia. And why not? Everyone in the world knows that the Obama administration is good at blustering but little else. The humiliation of America continues in ways large and small. It’s quite a depressing spectacle, and it will likely continue until Barack Obama finally leaves office. And even when he does, the damage will be very hard to undo. 

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On Turning Political Opponents into Moral Monsters

I want to second what Jonathan has written about the Supreme Court’s two decisions related to same-sex marriage.

The worst possible outcome was that the high court would, in an exercise of raw judicial power, invent a constitutional right to gay marriage, forcing all 50 states to abide by it. We averted that outcome, which would have split the nation in a manner similar to what Roe v. Wade has done for two generations. It is in the nature of conservatism to be grateful when things that can go wrong don’t go wrong; and in this instance, we avoided a decision that would have had ruinous effects.

I also want to focus on one section of Justice Scalia’s dissent, in which he wrote this:

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I want to second what Jonathan has written about the Supreme Court’s two decisions related to same-sex marriage.

The worst possible outcome was that the high court would, in an exercise of raw judicial power, invent a constitutional right to gay marriage, forcing all 50 states to abide by it. We averted that outcome, which would have split the nation in a manner similar to what Roe v. Wade has done for two generations. It is in the nature of conservatism to be grateful when things that can go wrong don’t go wrong; and in this instance, we avoided a decision that would have had ruinous effects.

I also want to focus on one section of Justice Scalia’s dissent, in which he wrote this:

In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad. A reminder that disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage can still be politically legitimate would have been a fit task for what in earlier times was called the judicial temperament. We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide. But that the majority will not do.

It’s worth pausing over what Justice Scalia is saying here, which is that we’re all susceptible to weaving narratives that are black and white, that truth is often more complicated than that, and that it’s hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one.

I’ve written in the past about this phenomenon. We often deny to those with whom we disagree any benefit of the doubt, since we assume they see facts, events and justice just as we do. This makes their differing conclusions from us very nearly impossible to comprehend–and in turn makes it easy to characterize one’s opponents as pernicious. It would help our political culture if we understood that every one of us has an imperfect angle on reality; that our perception of justice is always at least a bit distorted; and that all of us see through a glass darkly and know things only in part. 

To be sure, this is not an argument against spirited and intense disagreements (I’ve been involved in a few of those myself over the years). Nor do I mean to imply that some people aren’t closer to perceiving truth and wisdom than others. It’s simply to say that Justice Scalia is correct; in politics, in judicial and theological disputes, and in life generally, it’s sometimes hard to admit that our political opponents, while they may be wrong, are not monsters. They are, in fact, fellow citizens. Which is probably worth remembering on days like this and in the aftermath of decisions like this.

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A Ruling Without Reason

This morning the Supreme Court voted by a 5-4 margin that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife for the purpose of federal law, is unconstitutional. But why? Is it because Section 3 violates long-standing principles of federalism that favor state power to define and regulate family relations? Or is it because Section 3 violates the Fifth Amendment rights of gays and lesbians to equal protection of the laws? The answer, in effect, is none of the above. In a 26-page opinion brimming with constitutional catch phrases but containing no coherent rationale, the Court delivered an outcome that many find politically favorable but that no serious reader could possibly find legally sound.

There are many strong arguments against the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. As I argued in the May issue of COMMENTARY, the most compelling argument is that the statute represents an unprecedented encroachment by the federal government upon the power of the states to regulate and define marital relations. Indeed, at the opinion’s outset, this seems to be the line of reasoning the majority is going to adopt in overturning Section 3. “By history and tradition,” the majority writes, “the definition and regulation of marriage … has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.” The majority continues in this vein for about seven pages… before announcing that federalism is irrelevant to the case!

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This morning the Supreme Court voted by a 5-4 margin that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife for the purpose of federal law, is unconstitutional. But why? Is it because Section 3 violates long-standing principles of federalism that favor state power to define and regulate family relations? Or is it because Section 3 violates the Fifth Amendment rights of gays and lesbians to equal protection of the laws? The answer, in effect, is none of the above. In a 26-page opinion brimming with constitutional catch phrases but containing no coherent rationale, the Court delivered an outcome that many find politically favorable but that no serious reader could possibly find legally sound.

There are many strong arguments against the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. As I argued in the May issue of COMMENTARY, the most compelling argument is that the statute represents an unprecedented encroachment by the federal government upon the power of the states to regulate and define marital relations. Indeed, at the opinion’s outset, this seems to be the line of reasoning the majority is going to adopt in overturning Section 3. “By history and tradition,” the majority writes, “the definition and regulation of marriage … has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.” The majority continues in this vein for about seven pages… before announcing that federalism is irrelevant to the case!

“The State’s power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance in this case quite apart from principles of federalism,” the majority writes–and not because the state has exclusive sovereignty over the regulation of marital relations. Rather, according to the majority, the power of the state is central because in this case New York State passed a statute of which the majority approved. The recognition by New York State of same-sex marriage “enhanced the recognition, dignity, and protection of the class in their own community.” According to the majority, the federal government snatched away that “recognition, dignity, and protection” in a fit of homophobic animus with the Defense of Marriage Act. “What the State of New York treats as alike the federal law deems unlike by a law designed to injure the same class the State seeks to protect.”

This is starting to look like an equal protection argument until the majority again veers off course. It does not engage in a rigorous equal protection analysis based on an established standard of constitutional scrutiny–the rational basis test, which seeks some legitimate government interest underpinning a statute, or the strict scrutiny test, which seeks some compelling government interest supporting a statute, or even the heightened scrutiny test, which is an intermediate level of review. Instead, the Court declares DOMA a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection component demanding “careful consideration.”

Careful consideration of what?

The Court does not say. To wit, careful consideration is a standard of review conferred upon menus, brochures, and resumes, not constitutional claims for equal protection of the laws. So while supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate the outcome in United States v. Windsor, the victory may well prove pyrrhic. The degree of constitutional protection to which homosexuals are entitled is no more clear today than it was on the day that DOMA was enacted in 1996. What is more, proponents of federalism have cause for concern. By refusing to hold categorically that the states are sovereign over the regulation of familial relations within their boundaries, the Court left open the possibility of future federal legislation in that field. The Court’s decision in Windsor has neither vindicated gay rights nor championed federalism. Rather, with what Justice Scalia scathingly characterizes as a “disappearing trail of . . . legalistic argle-bargle,” the majority has presented the nation with a policy choice clothed in tatters of doctrine.

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Texas Filibuster Ignores Gosnell Lessons

Liberals have a new folk heroine today. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis is the idol of the left after her 11-hour filibuster in the Texas legislature helped derail a bill that sought to restrict late-term abortions and enforce new health regulations for clinics that perform the procedure. As far as Davis was concerned, the legislation that would have banned (with some exceptions) abortions after 20 weeks was nothing less than an attack on a woman’s right to choose and had to be stopped at all costs. A crowd of supporters that had thronged to the Austin statehouse agreed with the Fort Worth Democrat and their demonstration disrupted the proceedings long enough to prevent the bill’s passage before time ran out on the legislature’s session. The president of the United States also applauded the spectacle. As the Washington Post noted, President Obama took time out from his African tour to tweet about the Austin dustup in a post that read, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight” and added the hashtag #StandWithWendy.

As far as the mainstream liberal media is concerned, not only is Davis the winner of the exchange but the attempt to pass the bill is yet another example of the extremism driving Republicans these days. The GOP legislators who sponsored the bills are, we are told, just another bunch of Todd Akins who will, if unhindered, doom the Republicans to perpetual defeat as an enlightened America rejects their unhinged efforts to impinge on the freedom of women.

But I have one question for those insisting that this is the only possible interpretation of what happened yesterday: Doesn’t anybody remember the Gosnell case? After what we saw happen in Philadelphia, no matter whether you favor abortion rights or oppose them, how can any measure that is aimed at preventing late term abortions (which are already illegal in most parts of the country after 24 weeks) and ensuring the places where they occur will be prepared to deal with medical emergencies including live births be dismissed so cavalierly?

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Liberals have a new folk heroine today. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis is the idol of the left after her 11-hour filibuster in the Texas legislature helped derail a bill that sought to restrict late-term abortions and enforce new health regulations for clinics that perform the procedure. As far as Davis was concerned, the legislation that would have banned (with some exceptions) abortions after 20 weeks was nothing less than an attack on a woman’s right to choose and had to be stopped at all costs. A crowd of supporters that had thronged to the Austin statehouse agreed with the Fort Worth Democrat and their demonstration disrupted the proceedings long enough to prevent the bill’s passage before time ran out on the legislature’s session. The president of the United States also applauded the spectacle. As the Washington Post noted, President Obama took time out from his African tour to tweet about the Austin dustup in a post that read, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight” and added the hashtag #StandWithWendy.

As far as the mainstream liberal media is concerned, not only is Davis the winner of the exchange but the attempt to pass the bill is yet another example of the extremism driving Republicans these days. The GOP legislators who sponsored the bills are, we are told, just another bunch of Todd Akins who will, if unhindered, doom the Republicans to perpetual defeat as an enlightened America rejects their unhinged efforts to impinge on the freedom of women.

But I have one question for those insisting that this is the only possible interpretation of what happened yesterday: Doesn’t anybody remember the Gosnell case? After what we saw happen in Philadelphia, no matter whether you favor abortion rights or oppose them, how can any measure that is aimed at preventing late term abortions (which are already illegal in most parts of the country after 24 weeks) and ensuring the places where they occur will be prepared to deal with medical emergencies including live births be dismissed so cavalierly?

It is likely true that many of those who supported the Texas bills were motivated by a desire to chip away at abortion rights. But, like the battle over background checks for gun purchases, you don’t have to be against the Second Amendment to understand that some gun regulations are sensible and even necessary. In this day and age when medical science has made it possible for babies born after 20 weeks to often survive outside the womb, the discussion about late term abortions can’t be conducted in absolute terms about choice in the way they once were.

Exceptions to this provision are possible due to health concerns or other problems (something the Texas bill took into account), but as the evidence in the Gosnell case showed, the line between a permissible abortion and infanticide can become very hazy at that late stage. The willingness of the pro-abortion rights community to embrace such procedures and to view any limits on them as a threat to all women is no different from the way the National Rifle Association views background checks as the thin edge of the wedge that threatens to take away all Second Amendment rights.

More to the point, the main argument of Davis and the chorus that is echoing her points in the media today is that the impact of the bill’s new health regulations would have closed down every abortion clinic in Texas and thus created a de facto ban. This is almost certainly an exaggeration, as it is likely that some clinics in Texas already meet the standards set by the state for hospital-style surgical centers and that doctors who work there should have admitting privileges to local hospitals or could do so without going out of business. Indeed, we would certainly hope that Planned Parenthood clinics–which we are assured provide the best care for women–would already do so.

But if that is not currently the case with most clinics in Texas, then the question should be: why not? Rather than flaying those seeking to require these standards and questioning their motives, those who truly care about the health of women should be asking the owners of these clinics why they are operating without being prepared to assure the safety of their patients.

If the Gosnell case—in which Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an otherwise respected and experienced Philadelphia physician and clinic owner was found to have murdered live infants who were the result of botched late-term abortions and to have operated a facility that did not meet even the most minimal health standards—should have taught us anything it is that abortion providers need to be held accountable and to be required to be prepared to assure the safety of those who make use of their services.

Amid the cheers Senator Davis is hearing today, there ought to be someone asking whether she or her highly-placed supporters really believe the American people think there is something extreme about opposing the abortion of a healthy baby that has been in the womb for 21 weeks or in demanding that those who perform such procedures be able—unlike Gosnell—to give assurances about the health of the mother.

It needs to be repeated that you don’t need to oppose abortion in the early stages of pregnancy—something most Americans don’t wish to be made illegal—to understand that a defense of late-term abortion or inadequate clinics is not about women’s health or constitutional rights.

Some on the left feared that the Gosnell case might discredit the pro-choice cause and that is almost certainly what caused most of the media to initially ignore the story and then to downplay or minimize it once they did notice it. If this country can have a discussion about late-term abortions of healthy fetuses and inadequate clinics without Gosnell being mentioned—as was the case with almost every account of the Texas filibuster—then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Gosnell case and the awful lessons that must be drawn from it about the state of the abortion industry have already been forgotten.

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China’s Challenge to Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famously tough on terrorism–a reputation that dates back to his days as a member of the Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s version of the SAS and Delta Force, in the 1970s. (His brother Jonathan served in the same unit and was killed during the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976.) But now his tough-on-terrorism credentials are on the line as he must decide how far to push a legal case that has implicated the Bank of China in allowing itself to be used to move money for Palestinian terrorists.

Israeli officials had initially encouraged a Jewish-American couple, Tully and Sheryl Wultz of Florida, to sue the Bank of China, because of evidence that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “the bank knowingly allowed Iran to use it to deliver funds to the Palestinian militant group that killed their 16-year-old son Daniel in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famously tough on terrorism–a reputation that dates back to his days as a member of the Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s version of the SAS and Delta Force, in the 1970s. (His brother Jonathan served in the same unit and was killed during the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976.) But now his tough-on-terrorism credentials are on the line as he must decide how far to push a legal case that has implicated the Bank of China in allowing itself to be used to move money for Palestinian terrorists.

Israeli officials had initially encouraged a Jewish-American couple, Tully and Sheryl Wultz of Florida, to sue the Bank of China, because of evidence that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “the bank knowingly allowed Iran to use it to deliver funds to the Palestinian militant group that killed their 16-year-old son Daniel in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.”

But the case, in a New York federal court, only has a chance of succeeding if the Israeli government allows “a pending deposition by a former Israeli intelligence official, who is expected to testify that he was present at 2005 meetings in which Israeli officials told China that Bank of China accounts were being used to fund militant organizations including Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian outfit that claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Daniel Wultz.” The official’s testimony could establish the bank’s negligence and culpability–but will he be allowed to testify?

Last year, Netanyahu approved the testimony, and informed the family and members of Congress of his decision. But now things are far from clear because of reports that Netanyahu, who visited China last month, is wavering under heavy Chinese pressure. Israel and the People’s Republic of China already have well-established trade links–China is one of the best customers for Israel’s arms industry. In fact Israel has gotten into hot water with the U.S. in the past for its willingness to sell sophisticated technology to Beijing that could one day be used against the U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. allies. Now China appears to be upping the ante.

The Israeli press is reporting that a state-owned Chinese construction company is offering to build a new city of 30,000 homes near the Israeli town of Latrun–with an estimated $3 billion in financing to be provided by none other than the state-owned Bank of China. Neither the Chinese construction firm nor the Bank of China has a history of building homes in Israel before. Perhaps this is a straight commercial proposition, but there is cause to wonder if the Chinese state is trying to pay off the government of Israel to drop an embarrassing lawsuit that could seriously affect Bank of China’s ability to expand in the lucrative U.S. market. (Being tagged as a terrorist financier does not endear a foreign bank to American banking regulators.)

Netanyahu has a tough choice to make–alienate Beijing or not? If he remains true to his anti-terrorist outlook, he should run the risk of upsetting the Israel-China relationship in favor of establishing a broader and more important principle: that banks should not get into bed with terrorist groups. By showing that the state of Israel and the victims of terrorism will stop at nothing to punish financiers of terror, this case could serve as a deterrent to banks in the future that are thinking of doing business with groups such as Islamic Jihad.

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Why It Matters that Kerry Blinked First

“Of course you can have a copy of the transfer order for the file, Danny. I’m here to help in anyway I can,” Col. Nathan Jessup says to Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men, after Kaffee requests some paperwork important to his investigation that threatens to bring down Jessup’s career. “You believe that, don’t you, Danny? That I’m here to help anyway I can? The corporal will take you by Personnel on your way out to the flight line, and you can have all the transfer orders that you want.”

As Kaffee’s team turns to leave, Jessup adds, the smile gone from his face: “But you have to ask me nicely.” Kaffee, at first stunned, sheepishly complies.

It seems John Kerry either had a similar experience with his Russian counterpart or he had recently watched A Few Good Men, because no sooner was he making demands of Russia and China than he suddenly expressed a marked change in tone. For those who hoped Kerry’s initial tough talk on Russia’s hesitation to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden represented a foreign-policy team suddenly infused with a dose of self-respect, think again:

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“Of course you can have a copy of the transfer order for the file, Danny. I’m here to help in anyway I can,” Col. Nathan Jessup says to Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men, after Kaffee requests some paperwork important to his investigation that threatens to bring down Jessup’s career. “You believe that, don’t you, Danny? That I’m here to help anyway I can? The corporal will take you by Personnel on your way out to the flight line, and you can have all the transfer orders that you want.”

As Kaffee’s team turns to leave, Jessup adds, the smile gone from his face: “But you have to ask me nicely.” Kaffee, at first stunned, sheepishly complies.

It seems John Kerry either had a similar experience with his Russian counterpart or he had recently watched A Few Good Men, because no sooner was he making demands of Russia and China than he suddenly expressed a marked change in tone. For those who hoped Kerry’s initial tough talk on Russia’s hesitation to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden represented a foreign-policy team suddenly infused with a dose of self-respect, think again:

When Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia on Monday as a repressive country, he personally offended Mr. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. On Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov lashed out at the United States, saying, “There are no legal grounds for this kind of behavior from American officials toward us.”

Within hours, though, the two sides appeared to pull back. Mr. Kerry told reporters traveling with him in Saudi Arabia that the United States was “not looking for a confrontation.” And American and Russian officials meeting in Geneva on Tuesday scheduled a session next week between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov to discuss Syria.

Russia is a repressive country. Kerry said so. Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. has no right to even talk that way about Russia. Kerry seems to think he has a point. The Obama White House’s decision to permit Hillary Clinton to essentially veto Susan Rice’s possible nomination to be secretary of state was always going to have certain repercussions, especially because Kerry was widely viewed as the obvious understudy. One of those repercussions was that it no doubt pleased Lavrov’s crew, who complained about Rice at the UN.

At the mere prospect of Rice continuing on as U.S. ambassador to the UN, her Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin joked that he would ask for “double pay.” Rice was criticized for her undiplomatic language toward the UN envoys from corrupt, authoritarian states, but if she was tough on Churkin it was because she knew more than her critics. Just how much more is clear from today’s investigative report published on the website of Foreign Policy magazine from UN reporter Colum Lynch.

Lynch writes that “For much of the past decade, Russia has been engaged in a systematic effort to stymie attempts to root out corruption in U.N. spending. The Russians have pushed out U.N. reformers. They’ve defanged watchdogs. And they’ve blocked internal budget reforms aimed at saving costs.” For most of that time, Churkin has been the Russian envoy to the UN. Of course, he carries out the diplomatic wishes of Lavrov and Vladimir Putin, but Rice’s job was to scold Churkin, not the others.

But Kerry’s job is to deal with Lavrov, who is no doubt appreciating that fact this week. And Lynch’s story on Russia’s UN corruption demonstrates why the timidity of the Obama administration, most awkwardly embodied by Kerry this week, matters to the functionality of the international system. The New York Post is having some fun with the administration today:

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The fact that Russia has been able to thoroughly corrupt various activities of the UN while also using the world body to obstruct efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear drive and protect murderous dictators like Bashar al-Assad illustrates an irony that Obama has never quite understood. In order to pull back on America’s global responsibilities without chaos, there has to be a robust international order in which multilateral cooperation can replace unilateral action. But that international order cannot emerge without strong U.S. leadership.

It’s not the easiest balance to strike, but the current administration is clearly not even close to doing so, and it has chosen a secretary of state who will continue that trend.

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On DOMA, SCOTUS Follows the Culture

Today’s gay marriage decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court were decided on the law as interpreted by the majority. But there’s little question that the ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act is rooted in a fundamental shift in American culture that took place in the last generation. The sweeping language used by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his DOMA opinion spoke of the need to extend equal protection to gay spouses in states that permitted such marriages. In doing so, he not only struck down the federal act that did not recognize them but characterized it in such a way as to consign it to the dustbin of history along with other restrictions, whether about race or religion, that are now regarded as indefensible.

Gays and their supporters are rightly celebrating this as a historic turning point in American history. But it must be understood that this ruling would have been unthinkable 20 years ago when even a liberal President Bill Clinton eagerly signed DOMA after Congress had passed it. How did this sea change come about? Liberals may consider it a natural evolution of thought to more progressive opinion (since as we saw with President Obama and gay marriage, reversals on such issues that end with an endorsement of the more liberal position are regarded as evolution rather than a flip-flop). But it could never have happened outside of the context of American popular culture that has normalized gays and gay marriage in films and TV to the point that they are now regarded as unexceptionable. As my colleague John Podhoretz noted on Twitter this morning after the ruling, the credit for the decision on DOMA belongs as much to the producers of the Will and Grace television show as it does to any legal scholar.

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Today’s gay marriage decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court were decided on the law as interpreted by the majority. But there’s little question that the ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act is rooted in a fundamental shift in American culture that took place in the last generation. The sweeping language used by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his DOMA opinion spoke of the need to extend equal protection to gay spouses in states that permitted such marriages. In doing so, he not only struck down the federal act that did not recognize them but characterized it in such a way as to consign it to the dustbin of history along with other restrictions, whether about race or religion, that are now regarded as indefensible.

Gays and their supporters are rightly celebrating this as a historic turning point in American history. But it must be understood that this ruling would have been unthinkable 20 years ago when even a liberal President Bill Clinton eagerly signed DOMA after Congress had passed it. How did this sea change come about? Liberals may consider it a natural evolution of thought to more progressive opinion (since as we saw with President Obama and gay marriage, reversals on such issues that end with an endorsement of the more liberal position are regarded as evolution rather than a flip-flop). But it could never have happened outside of the context of American popular culture that has normalized gays and gay marriage in films and TV to the point that they are now regarded as unexceptionable. As my colleague John Podhoretz noted on Twitter this morning after the ruling, the credit for the decision on DOMA belongs as much to the producers of the Will and Grace television show as it does to any legal scholar.

While Justice Kennedy derided the willingness of Congress to step into what most Americans consider a point about morality and to, in effect, discriminate against gay couples, the question of whether such discrimination is legal or not has always tended to be based on popular opinion as much as law. This is a key point because as Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in his dissent in the 5-4 vote on DOMA, Congress has always considered itself to have the right to legislate on morality. But that is only true so long as there is a consensus about what is moral and what is not. In the 1990s, the long held consensus that the traditional definition of marriage is the only one the government should recognize still held. If that is no longer true, and it is obvious that this is the case, then it is inevitable that the law will follow the culture.

For example, even today as much of America celebrates the newly enshrined concept of marriage equality, few seem to have any problem prohibiting two or three women from marrying the same man and in treating such “Big Love” marriages as being beyond the pale of the law’s protection. Under the logic of the DOMA decision, that ought not to be true. But even to ask the advocates of gay marriage if their victory should extend to polygamous spouses would probably be viewed as a provocation rather than a reasonable question. Perhaps that will no longer be true in a generation, but unless the entertainment industry is prepared to start including more “plural marriage” characters in its situation comedies, I wouldn’t bet on it.

The defenders of traditional marriage can console themselves that the majority in the DOMA case did not overreach in the manner of the authors of the Roe v. Wade decision and have not attempted to mandate gay marriage throughout the country. They have wisely left the decision about whether to legalize such unions to the states. Doing so reaffirms the basic concepts of federalism and allows those states that refuse to accept gay marriage to go on doing so. That may change if Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016 and is able to replace some of the court’s conservatives with liberals. At that point the court may strike down all state laws or constitutional amendments that do not conform to this standard, which is something they refused to do in the California Proposition 8 case today where they merely said the plaintiffs had no standing to defend the statute.

But the point here is that gay marriage advocates won the legal war because they first won the culture war. Those conservatives who hope to avoid the same outcome on other issues would do well to remember that. 

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Is Bloomberg a Lobbyist or a Mayor?

Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

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Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

The trip, and the earlier revelation that the city’s own Web hosting services were used by the group, raised eyebrows. Bloomberg’s staff have claimed that the group’s activities, even in Nevada, impact New Yorkers, thus justifying the expense with their tax dollars. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011 Fred Siegel and Sol Stern wrote for our magazine about how Bloomberg had used his private largess to wield unprecedented political power in the city:

Bloomberg [has] spent tens of millions of dollars annually between elections to make sure that not too many influential New Yorkers would risk criticizing him. Mayor Bloomberg’s predecessors, from Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani, had also been tempted, and had at times given into the temptation, to use the power of incumbency and control of taxpayer funds to reward allies and punish enemies. The difference is that Bloomberg was able to channel his private philanthropic giving each year to hundreds of the city’s arts and social-service groups with the reasonable expectation that the gratitude these groups felt to their patron would extend to their patron’s political causes. At the very least, it would make the groups and their influential boards of trustees think twice before criticizing the mayor’s policies.

At an event last week the group held a rally where the names of victims of gun violence were read in solemn remembrance. Famously, or perhaps infamously would be the better word, the name of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a bomber in the Boston Marathon attack, was read. The group later claimed that the name found its way on the list thanks to a list found on the Salon website. Considering Tsarnaev was on his way to bomb Times Square when he was, thankfully, shot dead by the Boston Police Department, is a fact that someone on the group’s staff should have been aware of.

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has used city resources to pay for his own pet projects. In his campaign against sugary drinks, advertisements on the subway have been ever present, and recently sponsored tweets were even purchased by the city warning about the dangers of juice. If the mayor cared to be careful with New Yorkers’ money he would be best advised to store it away for a rainy day.

That rainy day might come soon, as a pending $40 million lawsuit by the family of a young girl was recently filed. While the mayor was spending his energies campaigning against guns and telling New Yorkers what to eat, he was also forcing the implementation of a deeply flawed 9-1-1 system. The pending lawsuit involves the death of a young girl who died while waiting for medical attention after Bloomberg’s newly installed multimillion dollar system crashed inexplicably for several minutes just days after its launch. Instead of sending city staffers to Nevada, there are more than a few problems the Bloomberg administration could and should be addressing that are much more immediate to the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers much closer to home.

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