Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 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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Good News and Bad News for Abbas

There’s both good news and bad news for Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The good news is that Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This is good for Abbas because it gives him a chance to play the reluctant prima donna who needs to be bribed to return to peace talks. Even if he never sits down at the table or, as is even more likely, doesn’t stay long if he ever does, Abbas will be able to extract concessions from Israel in order to satisfy Kerry’s hubristic desire to attempt a feat that better men and women than he failed to accomplish.

The bad news? It’s that Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry’s insistence on paying more than the usual lip service to peace negotiations puts Abbas in exactly the position that he has been striving to avoid since fleeing the table after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he wanted including statehood and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas doesn’t want to act in a manner that would place the blame for the lack of peace where it belongs (on himself). But he also can’t afford to be trapped into a process that will allow his Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals to portray him as being willing to accept the legitimacy of Israel. So while Kerry may think he’s being very clever in wheedling concessions out of Netanyahu in order to get Abbas to talk, it is just as likely that, as has happened often in the past, the attempt to push the Palestinians into an agreement will probably do more to create instability than it will bring the region closer to peace.

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There’s both good news and bad news for Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The good news is that Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This is good for Abbas because it gives him a chance to play the reluctant prima donna who needs to be bribed to return to peace talks. Even if he never sits down at the table or, as is even more likely, doesn’t stay long if he ever does, Abbas will be able to extract concessions from Israel in order to satisfy Kerry’s hubristic desire to attempt a feat that better men and women than he failed to accomplish.

The bad news? It’s that Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to the Middle East determined to pursue what virtually no one else believes is an opportunity to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry’s insistence on paying more than the usual lip service to peace negotiations puts Abbas in exactly the position that he has been striving to avoid since fleeing the table after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he wanted including statehood and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas doesn’t want to act in a manner that would place the blame for the lack of peace where it belongs (on himself). But he also can’t afford to be trapped into a process that will allow his Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals to portray him as being willing to accept the legitimacy of Israel. So while Kerry may think he’s being very clever in wheedling concessions out of Netanyahu in order to get Abbas to talk, it is just as likely that, as has happened often in the past, the attempt to push the Palestinians into an agreement will probably do more to create instability than it will bring the region closer to peace.

As Haaretz notes, Abbas is trying to thread the needle when it comes to balancing his desire to avoid being made to appear the obstacle to peace with his equally ardent desire to avoid negotiating with Israel. Thus, he may be softening some of the preconditions he has sought to obtain in advance of talks that would deliver Israeli concessions without the Palestinians giving anything in return. But, as the Israelis already know, the last thing Abbas is likely to do is to keep talking even if he does agree to sit down with Kerry and Netanyahu.

But though virtually no one (except perhaps Kerry) actually believes an accord is possible, the fallout from these talks about talks is not insignificant. As Haaretz reports:

Previously, Abbas had insisted that even before the talks begin, Netanyahu must present a map of the future Palestinian state’s borders; he has now given up this demand. He will now agree to conduct negotiations based on the 1967 lines, land swaps included. Due to Netanyahu’s categorical rejection of this term, Abbas is willing to make do with a commitment from Kerry that the U.S. administration’s position is that the borders of the Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 lines and will include land swaps.

Thus, without really giving an inch, Abbas is being allowed to push the United States even farther away from Israel’s position of talks without preconditions. Like President Obama’s unfortunate squabble with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the 1967 lines in May 2011, the only thing this U.S. move will do is to further isolate Israel without bringing the region closer to peace.

In addition, the Palestinians benefit from the scrutiny the world press devotes to every possible gesture and action from the Israeli government that are consistently interpreted as somehow impacting Abbas’s decisions even though this isn’t remotely the case. Take for example the fuss the New York Times made today about a visit by Netanyahu to a Jewish town in the West Bank. The place, which even the Times conceded is “a 25-year-old community with 500 families,” is located in a settlement bloc near the old green line border that would be included within Israel even if there were a peace deal via the “land swaps” that everyone talks about.

Yet the Times still tried to portray any visit there by Netanyahu as somehow the moral equivalent of the supposed insult suffered by Vice President Biden when Israel announced a housing project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem during his visit. The administration picked a pointless fight with Israel at the time that accomplished nothing but allowing the Palestinians to think the United States was abandoning its ally. Abbas would like the same thing to happen now, but there’s a good chance that even if Kerry is foolish enough to play into the Palestinians’ hands, President Obama realizes any attempt to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction will not entice them to talk peace.

But having encouraged the Palestinians to think they will pressure Israel and force it to make unilateral concessions, Kerry needs to remember that the law of unintended consequences is always at play in the Middle East. Maneuvering Abbas into talks that are bound to lead to nothing could strengthen Hamas at Fatah’s expense. If so, all of Kerry’s well-intentioned diplomacy could actually make a hopeless situation even worse.

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The GOP’s Foreign Policy Candidate?

It’s not clear how seriously Republicans will take Robert Costa’s report in National Review Online today that John Bolton is exploring the idea of a run for president in 2016. While the prospect of a candidacy from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations set off chortles on both the far left and the paleo-con right, Bolton’s interest in the Republican presidential nomination may leave most GOP power-brokers and grass roots activists in early primary states cold. With a deep bench of potential Republican presidential candidates including genuine political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker and even 2012 retreads like Rick Santorum lining up for the next contest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for a Bolton candidacy.

But though the odds are he never makes it to the starting line, let alone the finish line, the idea of a Bolton candidacy is not quite as insane as it may seem at first glance. With many Republicans starting to flock to the neo-isolationist banner put forward by Rand Paul and with many conservative activists now treating the ongoing war on Islamist terror as being not as important as their dislike of Barack Obama, it is arguable that there is no longer a solid Republican consensus in favor of a strong American foreign policy. Though some of the other possible candidates do differ from Paul about the impulse to pull back from a forward posture abroad, none have prioritized that issue. If Bolton is even talking about what would probably be a quixotic run it is only because he knows it is vital for there to be a vigorous debate about foreign and defense policy so as to turn back the Paulite push.

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It’s not clear how seriously Republicans will take Robert Costa’s report in National Review Online today that John Bolton is exploring the idea of a run for president in 2016. While the prospect of a candidacy from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations set off chortles on both the far left and the paleo-con right, Bolton’s interest in the Republican presidential nomination may leave most GOP power-brokers and grass roots activists in early primary states cold. With a deep bench of potential Republican presidential candidates including genuine political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker and even 2012 retreads like Rick Santorum lining up for the next contest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for a Bolton candidacy.

But though the odds are he never makes it to the starting line, let alone the finish line, the idea of a Bolton candidacy is not quite as insane as it may seem at first glance. With many Republicans starting to flock to the neo-isolationist banner put forward by Rand Paul and with many conservative activists now treating the ongoing war on Islamist terror as being not as important as their dislike of Barack Obama, it is arguable that there is no longer a solid Republican consensus in favor of a strong American foreign policy. Though some of the other possible candidates do differ from Paul about the impulse to pull back from a forward posture abroad, none have prioritized that issue. If Bolton is even talking about what would probably be a quixotic run it is only because he knows it is vital for there to be a vigorous debate about foreign and defense policy so as to turn back the Paulite push.

If we had elections for secretary of state, Bolton would be a serious Republican candidate for the job. Though dismissed as a neo-con warmonger by those who prefer appeasement at the UN and apologies to the world rather than a forthright exposition of American values and interests, Bolton’s views on foreign policy are very much in the mainstream of Republican thought. His sensible analyses of foreign policy on Fox News as well as his occasional contributions to COMMENTARY provide eloquent testimony to his expertise on the issues. But not even in wartime are Americans likely to elect someone whose orientation is toward foreign rather than domestic policy. Even in a wide open 2012 GOP presidential field largely populated by easily-dismissed candidates, Bolton’s brief flirtation with a run failed to attract any interest and there’s even less reason to think he’d do any better next time.

But if both Rubio and Ryan decide against running in 2016, there could be no one willing to take on Paul and his increasingly popular inclination to pull back from the world and pretend the Islamist war on the West is none of our concern. Paul is certain to be a first-tier candidate and strong showings by him in primaries and caucuses could encourage other contenders to start to echo him in an attempt to please war-weary and libertarian-inclined voters. That will leave an opening for someone to speak up on foreign affairs, and perhaps Bolton feels it might as well be a candidate who actually understands the issues.

It is to be hoped that Paul will find himself challenged on foreign and defense policy in 2016 by stronger opposition than a former ambassador who isn’t likely to win a delegate. But though it will probably crash before it takes off, the Bolton trial balloon shows us that there is a desperate need for a GOP foreign policy debate that will head off the surge for Paul. 

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Do Democrats Really Want a War on Coal?

President Obama may think his speech today outlining an unprecedented package of measures aimed at stopping global warming will burnish his legacy. The set of executive orders announced today was exactly what his liberal base has been yearning for throughout his presidency, and the ideological tone of his speech must he highly satisfying for a president who enjoys dictating to what he considers his intellectual inferiors and despises working with a Congress that rejected these measures. But while liberals are cheering Obama’s far-reaching fiat, a lot of Democrats, especially in coal-producing states, must be far from happy.

The president’s orders that will impose new carbon emission levels on existing power plants will raise the price of energy for everyone and harm an already fragile economy that has struggled to maintain an anemic recovery. By itself that may prove to be a political liability for Democrats running in next year’s midterm elections even if by now most Americans have had their natural skepticism about global warming alarmism pounded out of them by an ideological media. But an all-too-candid Obama advisor may have made a crucial gaffe that could kill the president’s party in coal-producing states next year. As the New York Times reported in their piece on the president’s speech:

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

To which Democrats running in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and more than a dozen other coal-producing states may say, “Thanks for nothing.”

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President Obama may think his speech today outlining an unprecedented package of measures aimed at stopping global warming will burnish his legacy. The set of executive orders announced today was exactly what his liberal base has been yearning for throughout his presidency, and the ideological tone of his speech must he highly satisfying for a president who enjoys dictating to what he considers his intellectual inferiors and despises working with a Congress that rejected these measures. But while liberals are cheering Obama’s far-reaching fiat, a lot of Democrats, especially in coal-producing states, must be far from happy.

The president’s orders that will impose new carbon emission levels on existing power plants will raise the price of energy for everyone and harm an already fragile economy that has struggled to maintain an anemic recovery. By itself that may prove to be a political liability for Democrats running in next year’s midterm elections even if by now most Americans have had their natural skepticism about global warming alarmism pounded out of them by an ideological media. But an all-too-candid Obama advisor may have made a crucial gaffe that could kill the president’s party in coal-producing states next year. As the New York Times reported in their piece on the president’s speech:

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

To which Democrats running in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and more than a dozen other coal-producing states may say, “Thanks for nothing.”

Even if one accepts the constant lecturing from the White House and much of the media that claims there is no debate about their dire predictions of warming—a point that was undermined by a New York Times story published earlier this month which spoke of rising temperatures having actually slowed over the last 15 years rather than going through the roof, as we keep being told—the impact of Obama’s plans on the economy could be severe. While the ideological left is more worried about their doomsday predictions for the planet than the job-killing aspects of the president’s proposals, most Americans have their eyes firmly fixed on their wallets in an economy that remains in the doldrums despite the optimism created by housing prices and a booming stock market (until the last week).

Coal is still responsible for 37 percent of America’s energy production and with new technologies for mining it is no longer the ecological nightmare that it was routinely depicted as being for decades. That means that the president’s new regulations will have a drastic impact on energy prices and reduce the income of a vast cross-section of Americans.

By signaling to the country that, despite official denials by the White House, what the administration is contemplating is a “war on coal,” the president is more or less consigning Democrats in coal-producing states to a grim fate. The president’s cheerleaders are quick to remind us that elections have consequences and that since Obama campaigned on these issues, we should not be surprised that he would attempt to govern as he campaigned. They’re right about that. But now that the “war on coal” tag can be directly traced to an architect of the president’s plan rather than being attributed to GOP propaganda, it may be that there will be elections in the future with consequences that Democrats don’t care for as much as the one in 2012.

Liberals have been delighted with the idea that the president would use his executive powers to enact measures that have already been turned down by Congress. Though cap and trade bills were defeated by huge margins, Obama is now putting them into effect for all intents and purposes by a vote of 1-0. Yet it is exactly the freedom to act with impunity by a reelected president that should scare many Democrats. Were these issues put to congressional debate and votes, Democrats in coal states could count on using the legislative process to derail any war on coal.

But with Obama acting alone all they can do is stand by and watch in horror. The war on coal may cost American consumers dearly. But it may cost some Democrats their seats in the House and the Senate.

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Was Weiner Ethically Obliged Not to Run?

Today’s New York Times story on the continuing harassment and humiliation of the women at the center of the Anthony Weiner scandal is a play in two acts. Two weeks ago the Times first posted the story, but it was immediately taken off the website and replaced with a production note: “An article was posted on this page inadvertently, before it was ready for publication.”

The Times declined to comment further in response to Politico’s inquiries, but pointed readers to a post by the Times’s public editor, explaining: “From what I’ve been able to piece together, there was a miscommunication among Times editors. Some thought the article was ready to go, and sent it on through the editorial production cycle. At least one other editor — higher up on the food chain — disagreed about its readiness and did not intend it to be published, at least not at that point.”

Yet as time went by, the story didn’t reemerge on the paper’s website. So Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski used Google searches to try to piece together the story, and published his findings yesterday. You can probably guess what happened next: the Times immediately published the article–for good (it appears), denying, of course, that their decision had anything to do with Kaczynski’s piece. The result is that the former liberal hero Weiner’s coverage in the Times goes from bad to worse.

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Today’s New York Times story on the continuing harassment and humiliation of the women at the center of the Anthony Weiner scandal is a play in two acts. Two weeks ago the Times first posted the story, but it was immediately taken off the website and replaced with a production note: “An article was posted on this page inadvertently, before it was ready for publication.”

The Times declined to comment further in response to Politico’s inquiries, but pointed readers to a post by the Times’s public editor, explaining: “From what I’ve been able to piece together, there was a miscommunication among Times editors. Some thought the article was ready to go, and sent it on through the editorial production cycle. At least one other editor — higher up on the food chain — disagreed about its readiness and did not intend it to be published, at least not at that point.”

Yet as time went by, the story didn’t reemerge on the paper’s website. So Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski used Google searches to try to piece together the story, and published his findings yesterday. You can probably guess what happened next: the Times immediately published the article–for good (it appears), denying, of course, that their decision had anything to do with Kaczynski’s piece. The result is that the former liberal hero Weiner’s coverage in the Times goes from bad to worse.

Whereas the June 12 Times article explained to readers that Weiner was a vicious, shallow, disloyal, and ineffectual congressman, today’s reminds readers that his sexting scandal was not just about him. And he’s not the only one trying to put this incident in the past. The headline is “For Women in Weiner Scandal, Indignity Lingers,” and the story reads as if the intent is to shame Weiner for running for mayor:

Anthony D. Weiner’s improbable campaign for mayor of New York City is a wager that voters have made peace with his lewd online behavior, a subject he has largely left behind as he roils the race with his aggressive debating style and his attention-getting policy proposals.

But for the women who were on the other end of Mr. Weiner’s sexually explicit conversations and photographs, his candidacy is an unwanted reminder of a scandal that has upended their lives in ways big and small, cutting short careers, disrupting educations and damaging reputations.

It should be noted that for some of these women the scandal is the result of choices they have made. They knew who Weiner was when they got involved with him, and presumably knew the risks. For one of them, Weiner’s political star power was much of the draw. But that’s not true of all the women. One young college student said she only talked politics with him, and that she “was shocked by his unwanted advance.” And then Weiner made a famous misstep:

When Mr. Weiner inadvertently posted the image publicly on Twitter, the Internet quickly rendered its own verdict, branding Ms. Cordova, incorrectly, she says, a participant in his online dalliances. The news media dug up Ms. Cordova’s old yearbooks and sifted through police records, publicizing her youthful indiscretions. The attention prompted her to withdraw from academic classes. She moved from Seattle to New York City, before Mr. Weiner’s decision to run for mayor, eager to leave a place where she had become known for her ties to the unfolding drama.

But, with Mr. Weiner back in the spotlight, the story has followed her across the country. A few weeks ago, a reporter showed up, unannounced, at her office, asking her about Mr. Weiner.

You can argue that if Cordova wanted to get away from the attention brought on by her association with Anthony Weiner, moving from Seattle to New York City–Weiner’s home town and the media capital of the world–wasn’t the best choice. But Cordova at least seems to have wanted neither the lascivious attention of Anthony Weiner nor the prying attention of the news media. One of the other women involved, who exchanged explicit messages with the former congressman and is now writing a book about it, is a far less sympathetic figure in this story.

Another of the women, a former adult film actress, asked Weiner not to run for mayor because of the story. That brings up an interesting question: Does Anthony Weiner have a responsibility to these women to stay out of the limelight? The answer with regard to the women who sought Weiner’s affections and now the publicity of a book tour is clearly no. But what about the others?

I suppose that’s one question the voters of New York City will answer in the fall election. They may think–as the Times seems to–that Weiner is humiliating these women all over again to feed his own ego and desire for power. But the election will truly test how difficult it is to regain political stature after a sex scandal. Weiner has admitted that there are more lewd photos out there, which means the mayoral election won’t take place after the scandal, but amid the scandal. If he’s elected in those conditions, it will prove voters to be forgiving and the rest of the field of candidates to be even less formidable than they seemed.

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Left Lives in the Past on Voting Rights

Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

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Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

The Voting Rights Act was needed in 1965 because for a century the federal government had failed to enforce the 15th Amendment—that guaranteed the right to vote of former slaves and any other American citizen—in the states of the old Confederacy. Though Americans were long taught that the period of “Radical Reconstruction” that followed the Civil War was an abuse that was rightly abandoned, the truth is the attempt to reconstruct the south didn’t go far enough and was ended too soon. What ensued was a Jim Crow regime in the south that was kept in place by a Democratic coalition of northern liberals and southern racists and enabled by apathetic Republicans. That is a sorry chapter of American history, but the achievements of the civil rights era have put it firmly in our past.

The reality of 2013 is that even the left is hard pressed to find anyplace in the country where anyone who is legally entitled to vote and wants to exercise their franchise is being prevented from doing so. Stating that is not to deny that racism still exists in some quarters of American society anymore than any other species of hatred. Nor does it imply that our electoral system is perfect or incapable of betterment. But to leave in place a legal formula that treated some states differently than others solely because of history is not only absurd, it is unconstitutional discrimination. In a country where, as it was argued before the court, Mississippi may have a more healthy voting rights environment in some respects than Massachusetts, preserving the battle lines of the fight against Jim Crow is not only meaningless, it actually hampers efforts to combat illegal practices.

But the main interest of those dedicated to preserving the status quo wasn’t in preventing states from denying a right to vote that is not in question. It was in holding onto their capacity to use federal law to prevent some states from passing voter ID laws that have been wrongly branded as a form of discrimination or voter suppression. The vast majority of Americans—including the members of those groups that civil rights advocates claim will be injured by voter ID laws—think these measures are merely a matter of common sense to ensure the integrity of the election system. But by disingenuously waving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow, the left has sought to brand race-neutral laws like voter ID a form of racism.

Opponents of the majority decision claim this is a judicial usurpation of the prerogative of the legislature since Congress has re-authorized the Voting Rights Act without changing the formula that placed all or parts of 15 states under the Justice Department’s control with regard to voting. But that is due to the fact that the vote to retain the act became a ritual by which members were forced to prove their anti-racist bona fides, not a rational debate about the actual provisions of the law. Congress lacked the courage to face facts on a part of the law that had past its expiration date, so the court was forced to deal with it.

Neither this decision nor the debate that will follow it will affect the ability of Americans to vote because that is a right that is no longer in dispute. What it will do is send a reminder to Americans that we have moved on from our unhappy past and that if we are to protect voting rights, it must be done on the basis of reality rather than sentiment or symbolism. That will make it harder for the left to accuse their opponents of racism without basis. But an American society that has thankfully moved on from this debate will be better off for it.

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Nations Swinging Away at the Obama Pinata

White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this. 

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

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White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this. 

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

If there is anything good that might emerge from what has happened to America during the Obama presidency, it might be that we have tested in the real world the theories and ideas that animate Mr. Obama’s progressive foreign policy vision. They include the belief that American power is the source of animosity against us; that serial apologies for America’s past would win us the favor of our adversaries; and that “leading from behind” would increase America’s influence in the world. Each of those myths has been exploded by events. So, too, has Mr. Obama’s belief that placating our enemies would win us their favor (it hasn’t) and that losing wars is the same thing as ending wars (it is not).

Over and over again during the 2008 campaign, and early in his presidency, Barack Obama said he would “restore America’s standing in the world” and make us more “respected.” He has done neither. America today, under Obama, is viewed as feeble, supine, and enervated.

I am reminded of what Ronald Reagan said (in 1980) about America under Jimmy Carter. “Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve,” according to Reagan:

but the Carter Administration gives us weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness. Why?  Because the Carter Administration live in the world of make-believe.  Every day, it dreams up a response to that day’s troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  The Administration lives in a world where mistakes, even very big ones, have no consequence. The rest of us, however, live in the real world.  It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from the White House… Who does not feel a growing sense of unease as our allies, facing repeated instances of an amateurish and confused Administration; reluctantly conclude that America is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as leader of the free world? Who does not feel rising alarm when the question in any discussion of foreign policy is no longer, “Should we do something?”, but “Do we have the capacity to do anything?”

Reagan went on to describe the Carter years as “years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence.”

What once was, is again. And America, now as then, is paying a high price for the irresolution and weakness of its commander in chief. 

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How the Case for Race-Based Admissions Fell Apart

When the Supreme Court signaled it was about to rule on its most prominent race-based admissions case yesterday, advocates on both sides of the contentious issue prepared to erupt either in outrage or celebration. Neither, it turned out, was called for in the end. The court voted overwhelmingly to send Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the system of race-based admissions in higher education, back to the lower court to apply a stricter level of scrutiny to the admissions process and rule again.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, yesterday’s decision “is a disappointment for those who hoped the High Court would overturn its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed racial preferences in higher education.” But the (victorious) defendant in that case, current Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, isn’t too enthused by yesterday’s decision either. He takes to the pages of the New York Times today to express his disapproval of what he considers the court’s overly technical approach to the issue, in which it deferred to colleges’ judgment of the educational benefit of racial diversity in admissions but called for a rigorous process to determine the necessity and extent of race-based considerations.

Bollinger thinks the justices erred in focusing so closely on the constitutional aspect of the case because the Supreme Court “is as much an educator, a moral instructor, as an interpreter of the fundamental law of the land.” Bollinger’s frustration is representative of the broader, if tacit, acknowledgement on the American left that their side on this argument is weak on the merits but will resort to public moral shaming of those who disagree as a last resort. But the real heart of this case, and where it completely falls apart for Bollinger’s side, is when he writes this:

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When the Supreme Court signaled it was about to rule on its most prominent race-based admissions case yesterday, advocates on both sides of the contentious issue prepared to erupt either in outrage or celebration. Neither, it turned out, was called for in the end. The court voted overwhelmingly to send Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the system of race-based admissions in higher education, back to the lower court to apply a stricter level of scrutiny to the admissions process and rule again.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, yesterday’s decision “is a disappointment for those who hoped the High Court would overturn its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed racial preferences in higher education.” But the (victorious) defendant in that case, current Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, isn’t too enthused by yesterday’s decision either. He takes to the pages of the New York Times today to express his disapproval of what he considers the court’s overly technical approach to the issue, in which it deferred to colleges’ judgment of the educational benefit of racial diversity in admissions but called for a rigorous process to determine the necessity and extent of race-based considerations.

Bollinger thinks the justices erred in focusing so closely on the constitutional aspect of the case because the Supreme Court “is as much an educator, a moral instructor, as an interpreter of the fundamental law of the land.” Bollinger’s frustration is representative of the broader, if tacit, acknowledgement on the American left that their side on this argument is weak on the merits but will resort to public moral shaming of those who disagree as a last resort. But the real heart of this case, and where it completely falls apart for Bollinger’s side, is when he writes this:

In many school districts, racial segregation is as bad as it was before Brown. About 40 percent of black and Hispanic children attend K-12 schools where 10 percent or fewer of their classmates are white. Residential racial segregation remains deeply entrenched. Proposition 209, a voter-sanctioned ban on affirmative action at California’s public universities, led to a sharp decrease in representation of black students at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses.

Bollinger’s point about “residential” segregation is true. But it is not an argument for basing college admissions on systematized racial discrimination. It is an argument against the government monopoly on pre-college education and in favor of school choice. Indeed, Bollinger’s argument collapses from one sentence to the next. He bemoans residential racial segregation–which is currently the basis of liberal education policy in this country–and then moves on to university admissions. What’s the difference? Universities, unlike public high schools, don’t care which town you grew up in.

But it’s also important to point out that Bollinger is dishonestly framing the effects of Proposition 209. First of all, the year after the ban was passed the Berkeley campus announced a 30 percent increase in minority students over the previous year. Second, many of the students who didn’t get into the two UC campuses Bollinger mentions simply went to other UC campuses. And third, as a Duke University study found, “minority graduation rates increased after Prop 209 was implemented, a finding consistent with the argument that affirmative action bans result in better matching of students to colleges.”

Even more importantly, they were found in California to have positive effects on the education of minority students at the grade school and high school level. As the New York Times reported in 1999:

Finally, ending affirmative action has had one unpublicized and profoundly desirable consequence: it has forced the university to try to expand the pool of eligible minority students. Outreach programs like the one underwritten by Proposition 3 have proliferated; the State Legislature authorized $38.5 million for such efforts last year and has required the public schools to spend an additional $31 million on similar initiatives. U.C. campuses are now reaching down into the high schools, the junior highs and even the elementary schools to help minority students achieve the kind of academic record that will make them eligible for admission, thus raising the possibility that diversity without preferences will someday prove to be more than a fond hope. Academics and administrators throughout the system admit that the university would never have shouldered this burden had it not been for the elimination of affirmative action; and many say that the price is worth paying.

In other words, the educators are educating now that the law compels them to. There are too many variables to know which way the issue will go in the coming years. But it is simply wrong to imply that because racism has not been completely eradicated we must enforce racial discrimination in college admissions. It’s also wrong to claim this discrimination is beneficial; the evidence suggests it is not.

And we should take Bollinger and his ilk at their word and enlist them in the efforts to bring educational opportunities to all those minorities currently being excluded by the government’s policy of residential racial segregation in public education. After all, if Bollinger thinks a Supreme Court justice is “an educator, a moral instructor,” certainly a university president is as well.

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Taliban Again Prove the Obvious

If the Taliban are supposed to be making peace, their suicide bombers don’t seem to have gotten the message.

On Tuesday four suicide bombers, driving coalition-style vehicles and dressed in coalition uniforms complete with fake badges, tried to bluff their way into the presidential palace compound in Kabul–and also allegedly into the CIA headquarters at the Ariana hotel. Three security guards, along with all four attackers, wound up being killed in the ensuing shoot-out.

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If the Taliban are supposed to be making peace, their suicide bombers don’t seem to have gotten the message.

On Tuesday four suicide bombers, driving coalition-style vehicles and dressed in coalition uniforms complete with fake badges, tried to bluff their way into the presidential palace compound in Kabul–and also allegedly into the CIA headquarters at the Ariana hotel. Three security guards, along with all four attackers, wound up being killed in the ensuing shoot-out.

The Taliban proudly claimed credit for the attack while noting that it would not affect “the political track”–i.e., the peace talks which are supposed to happen in Doha. Actually such actions should affect the negotiations because they underline the obvious point–the Taliban aren’t interested in peace. They are doing everything they can to escalate the conflict. It is only a wonder that the Obama administration–desperate for a face-saving way out of Afghanistan–can possibly convince itself otherwise.

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