Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 11, 2013

Outrage Lacking on Religious Persecution

The news today from Egypt ought to send a shiver down the spines of all Americans. The protests of millions of Egyptians against the Brotherhood and their leader Mohamed Morsi backed up by the military may have derailed the attempt to transform Egypt into an Islamist state. But the Brotherhood is, as should have been expected, far from finished. The prospect of a counter-revolt or even a long-term Islamist insurgency should not be discounted. But whether or not the Brotherhood can find a way to counter the efforts of the military as well as secular and liberal Egyptians to keep them out of power, the Islamist group is lashing out at a familiar scapegoat: the country’s Christian minority.

As the New York Times reports this afternoon, the Coptic community is bearing the brunt of the Brotherhood’s resentment about the reversal of fortune in Cairo:

Since Mr. Morsi’s ouster on July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.

The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.

Given the way Christians were increasingly targeted for violence—including an attack on their main cathedral—while Morsi was in power, it is hardly surprising that a movement that is determined to squelch all opposition to the creation of a purely theocratic state would focus their attention on the Copts. But while we would hope that the military—which has often been slow to protect Christians—will crack down hard on these outbreaks, these incidents should also prompt not only a strong response from President Obama but also outrage from Americans. Unfortunately, as weak as the administration’s response to events in Egypt has been, there’s also no sign that this apathy toward the fate of religious minorities in the Middle East is something that most Americans care about.

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The news today from Egypt ought to send a shiver down the spines of all Americans. The protests of millions of Egyptians against the Brotherhood and their leader Mohamed Morsi backed up by the military may have derailed the attempt to transform Egypt into an Islamist state. But the Brotherhood is, as should have been expected, far from finished. The prospect of a counter-revolt or even a long-term Islamist insurgency should not be discounted. But whether or not the Brotherhood can find a way to counter the efforts of the military as well as secular and liberal Egyptians to keep them out of power, the Islamist group is lashing out at a familiar scapegoat: the country’s Christian minority.

As the New York Times reports this afternoon, the Coptic community is bearing the brunt of the Brotherhood’s resentment about the reversal of fortune in Cairo:

Since Mr. Morsi’s ouster on July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.

The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.

Given the way Christians were increasingly targeted for violence—including an attack on their main cathedral—while Morsi was in power, it is hardly surprising that a movement that is determined to squelch all opposition to the creation of a purely theocratic state would focus their attention on the Copts. But while we would hope that the military—which has often been slow to protect Christians—will crack down hard on these outbreaks, these incidents should also prompt not only a strong response from President Obama but also outrage from Americans. Unfortunately, as weak as the administration’s response to events in Egypt has been, there’s also no sign that this apathy toward the fate of religious minorities in the Middle East is something that most Americans care about.

It’s a shocking yet all-but-inarguable truth that the rest of the world has been largely content to stand by indifferently as Muslim extremists have targeted religious minorities throughout the Middle East. All too many Western Christians seem to consider their co-religionists to be strictly on their own when it comes to dealing with Islamists.

As New York’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote last month in the New York Daily News:

Religious persecution isn’t just something from the history books. The early 21st century will go down as an age of martyrs, and the situation is only getting worse. It’s hard to believe, but today, more than a billion people live under governments that suppress religious liberty.

In many nations, the lack of religious freedom is a matter of life and death. Believers and non-believers alike suffer as a result of intolerance.

The news is grim. Two Orthodox archbishops on a mission of mercy are kidnapped in Syria. The ancient Christian community of Iraq is alarmingly reduced in the wake of the war. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to intimidate Christians and other religious minorities with the death penalty. And churches are bombed in Nigeria on Christmas and Easter. Shockingly, some 150,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year.

The United States has paid lip service to this issue with a Commission on International Religious Persecution that issues reports, but the gap between rhetoric and policy has often been lacking. The problem isn’t that we don’t know what’s going on so much as the general lack of interest in prioritizing this issue.

That must change.

What is needed is not so much a new set of policy pronouncements but a genuine sense of anger on the part of Americans about the possibility that ten percent of Egypt’s population will be subjected to pogroms. Rather than the chattering classes worrying about the deposition of Morsi being a blow to the cause of Egyptian democracy—a ridiculous charge since there was nothing democratic about the way the Brotherhood went about consolidating power since Morsi’s election—the question of the safety of religious minorities ought to be our top concern. If that fails to materialize, the Islamists will have been sent a message to the effect that the West doesn’t care about religious persecution. No one should pretend that such silence wouldn’t constitute complicity in what will follow.

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Blame Voting Rights Act for Dem Troubles

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

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Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

Edsall laments the way the increase in power to black politicians has been accompanied by a consequent decline of southern Democrats. But rather than being honest about the way the 1965 Act led to the empowerment of blacks as individuals, Edsall prefers to heap opprobrium on a Republican Party that has been the unwitting beneficiary of a legal principle created by liberals. It was, after all, a liberal-dominated judiciary that has treated the Voting Rights Act as not merely a mandate to ensure, as it should, that the government see that every citizen’s right to vote is protected, but that district lines must be drawn in order to see to it that minorities would constitute a plurality or majority in as many places as possible. That has led to the creation, not just in the South but in various places around the United States, of districts that are geographic absurdities but which serve to guarantee that blacks and Hispanics can elect one of their one to legislative bodies. Since blacks (and increasingly Hispanics) give a disproportionate percentage of their votes to Democrats, that means Democrats seeking to compete in mixed districts are placed at a disadvantage. That’s bad news for liberals but claiming that this is the work of nefarious Republican strategists is absurd. If Republicans were to redraw district lines in order to prevent the election of minority members, that would be a clear violation of the law as presently understood.

It should be conceded that the ultimate impact of this court-mandated gerrymandering isn’t good for either party or the country. The majority-minority districts have benefited a few politicians and made their communities proud. But it has been this judicial fiat more than partisan impulses that have led to the dramatic decline in competitive House districts around the nation. Republicans would be better off if more of their members had to appeal to a broad cross section of Americans, and so would Democrats.

As for Edsall, he fails to provide a solution to this problem other than to smear the GOP. What, other than creating rules that would make it illegal for people to vote for Republicans, would he suggest to reverse the decline of Southern Democrats who find themselves disadvantaged by court-mandated districts and incapable of appealing to red state voters on the issues? Does he think Democratic attempts to gerrymander in states they control are just as horrible? Given the way the Voting Rights Act has been interpreted, the damage done by this gerrymander mandate is not something any legislature can remedy by constitutional means.

We would all be better off if the parties were not racially polarized, but the left’s determination to demonize Republicans and to wave the bloody shirt of Jim Crow in a feeble attempt to further divide the nation is no answer. 

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Leverage, Don’t End, Aid to Egypt

Three of the foreign policy analysts I esteem the most–Robert Kagan, Elliott Abrams, and John McCain–argue that Egypt has just experienced a military coup and accordingly under U.S. law the Obama administration must suspend military aid until constitutional governance is restored.

They are clearly right that Egypt has experienced a military coup, albeit a popular coup. They are right, too, about the danger of indefinite military rule. But for the time being, at least, I believe the dangers of cutting off aid outweigh the benefits of doing so. Indeed it is hard to think of any immediate benefit, since an aid cut-off would hardly compel the generals to give up power.

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Three of the foreign policy analysts I esteem the most–Robert Kagan, Elliott Abrams, and John McCain–argue that Egypt has just experienced a military coup and accordingly under U.S. law the Obama administration must suspend military aid until constitutional governance is restored.

They are clearly right that Egypt has experienced a military coup, albeit a popular coup. They are right, too, about the danger of indefinite military rule. But for the time being, at least, I believe the dangers of cutting off aid outweigh the benefits of doing so. Indeed it is hard to think of any immediate benefit, since an aid cut-off would hardly compel the generals to give up power.

The new government in Cairo has just received $8 billion in pledges from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with no strings attached. That far outweighs the $1.5 billion a year that the U.S. provides. All that an American aid cutoff at this point would achieve would be to alienate the Egyptian military and–more importantly–the opposition parties which backed Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.

Liberal Egyptians are already convinced that the U.S. is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood because of the failure of President Obama and his ambassador in Cairo, Anne Patterson, to speak out forcefully against Morsi’s illegal power grab while in the presidency. An aid cutoff now, after Morsi has been overthrown, would only serve to completely alienate our natural allies without winning over the Muslim Brotherhood, which is ideologically opposed to the United States and always will be. An aid cutoff would also take away a major reason for Egypt to abide by the Camp David Accords, which it did even while Morsi was in power. Thus President Obama is right to avoid using the “c” word in public, no matter how much rhetorical legerdemain is required to avoid speaking honestly about what has transpired in Egypt.

Rather than cut off aid, the U.S. should use the leverage that the aid gives us to push for a better long-term outcome that stresses the content of democracy–rule of law, free media, vibrant opposition parties–rather than simply a winner-takes-all vote, which is how Morsi saw his slim electoral mandate. Behind the scenes, the U.S. should be working to help the more liberal parties so that, when the next election comes, they will be able to beat the Muslim Brotherhood fair and square. (For more details of what I have in mind, see this Policy Innovation Memo co-authored with Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution, outlining the need to reinvigorate the U.S. government’s capacity for political warfare.)

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Brahimi Fiddles While Syria Burns

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, has since August 2012 been both the Arab League and United Nations special envoy to Syria. That United Nations mission costs big bucks, but it has little to show for its budget, beyond a large expense account, frequent flier mileage, and 5-star hotel suite bookings. Certainly, Brahimi’s ministrations have not brought peace any closer to Syria; the death toll has escalated sharply over the past year. Neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian opposition appear to take Brahimi’s finger waving seriously.

So what is Brahimi doing? On July 22, along with Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Brahimi will be discussing… the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is doing so as part of the Elders, a self-professed group of wise men and women who say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence, selectivity, and legitimization of terrorists.

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Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, has since August 2012 been both the Arab League and United Nations special envoy to Syria. That United Nations mission costs big bucks, but it has little to show for its budget, beyond a large expense account, frequent flier mileage, and 5-star hotel suite bookings. Certainly, Brahimi’s ministrations have not brought peace any closer to Syria; the death toll has escalated sharply over the past year. Neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian opposition appear to take Brahimi’s finger waving seriously.

So what is Brahimi doing? On July 22, along with Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Brahimi will be discussing… the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is doing so as part of the Elders, a self-professed group of wise men and women who say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence, selectivity, and legitimization of terrorists.

How sad it is that such a wise man—when tasked with the life-and-death mission of ending bloodshed in Syria—would instead choose to use his time to address the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the international obsession with Israel more than Brahimi’s fiddling while Syria burns.

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The Blind Dissident and the American Left

Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng got a taste of American partisan politics almost immediately after appealing to the U.S. for asylum last year. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile visit to Beijing. She was representing the administration of Barack Obama, who was locked in a general-election campaign against Mitt Romney, who was taking a more hawkish line on Chinese trade and currency shenanigans to try to exploit what he felt was a foreign-policy weakness of the president’s.

That meant that Clinton’s trip would be under the microscope and every word overanalyzed. On top of that, Clinton is mulling a presidential bid in 2016 and her Chinese counterparts were quite aware that they were dealing with Obama’s possible successor. The optics and the politics had to be just right for a whole host of domestic reasons, to say nothing of the pressure from the Chinese side, which was preparing for a leadership shuffle of its own. And that’s when Chen threw everybody’s plans off.

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Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng got a taste of American partisan politics almost immediately after appealing to the U.S. for asylum last year. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile visit to Beijing. She was representing the administration of Barack Obama, who was locked in a general-election campaign against Mitt Romney, who was taking a more hawkish line on Chinese trade and currency shenanigans to try to exploit what he felt was a foreign-policy weakness of the president’s.

That meant that Clinton’s trip would be under the microscope and every word overanalyzed. On top of that, Clinton is mulling a presidential bid in 2016 and her Chinese counterparts were quite aware that they were dealing with Obama’s possible successor. The optics and the politics had to be just right for a whole host of domestic reasons, to say nothing of the pressure from the Chinese side, which was preparing for a leadership shuffle of its own. And that’s when Chen threw everybody’s plans off.

A public spat over human rights may have been the last thing Clinton and her Chinese counterparts needed at the moment, but the hearty attention being paid to her visit made it precisely the right time for Chen, known as the “blind dissident,” to make his move. Not only did his surprise visit to the American embassy add a layer of tension to Clinton’s visit, but he was also famous for warning of the dark side of China’s one-child policy and calling attention to the Chinese government’s forced abortions.

As soon as it became clear that Clinton’s attempts to get the Chinese government to let her grant Chen American asylum were off to a rough start, Romney criticized the administration’s handling of the issue and Republicans in Congress called a hearing to highlight Chen’s case. Romney was criticized for jumping into the case and the press used the incident to highlight division within Romney’s campaign. The congressional hearing, led by the staunchly pro-life Republican Chris Smith, featured a phone call to Chen directly. Chen was officially a partisan issue.

Smith’s hearing was derided by media voices as well, but it later emerged that the hearing is almost surely what secured Chen’s freedom after Clinton’s efforts went nowhere. Considering that back story, today’s New York Times feature claiming Chen’s first year in the U.S., at a brief fellowship with New York University, was beset by controversy and his work somewhat discredited by his association with conservative activists falls flat. The Times reports:

Chen, 41, has found himself enmeshed in controversy. Backed by a coterie of conservative figures, Mr. Chen has publicly accused N.Y.U. of bowing to Chinese government pressure and prematurely ending his fellowship this summer. The university says the fellowship was intended to be for only one year. Some of those around Mr. Chen also accuse the university of trying to shield him from conservative activists.

The sparring has grown fierce, with N.Y.U. officials accusing one of those conservative activists, Bob Fu, the president of a Texas-based Christian group that seeks to pressure China over its religious restrictions, of trying to track Mr. Chen surreptitiously through a cellphone and a tablet computer that Mr. Fu’s organization donated to him.

The controversy kicked up by Mr. Chen’s accusations against N.Y.U. has dismayed some of his supporters so much that a wealthy donor who had pledged to finance a three-year visiting scholar position for him at Fordham University recently withdrew the offer. That means Mr. Chen, who declined to be interviewed for this article and who returns to New York from a visit to Taiwan on Thursday, has to line up another source of financing. If that does not pan out, he will be left with a single job offer: from the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative research organization in New Jersey that is perhaps best known for its opposition to same-sex marriage and stem cell research.

With regard to the NYU controversy, it’s doubtful either side has a monopoly on the truth. The university seems to have wanted to have its cake and eat it too, by welcoming an international celebrity (and doing its part to help end a diplomatic standoff by offering Chen a fellowship) but hoping to keep the feisty dissident quiet enough not to antagonize the Chinese government, since NYU is opening a campus in Shanghai. There is also the matter of the three NYU researchers, all Chinese citizens, who have been charged with accepting bribes from Chinese entities to pass on the information about their work, which was sponsored by a U.S. federal grant from the NIH. Chen’s departure from NYU was unceremonious to say the least.

At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine NYU is guilty of some of the accusations leveled by Chen’s supporters, including that Chen was muzzled by an official NYU minder whose job it was to run interference for the school. There are few places more admiring of Chinese-style statism and authoritarianism than elite American universities, but that doesn’t mean they function as Stalinist reeducation camps or thought prisons.

But any intellectual romance Chen hoped to have with the American left or academia was doomed from the very start. The defense of unlimited, unregulated abortion is sacred to the American left. So is the idea that increasing the size and scope of government is the solution to virtually any problem, including those created by big government in the first place. The language the left deploys in these fights dehumanizes unborn children and deemphasizes individual rights and individual identity–“the government is us,” as President Obama said just this week. Chen has dedicated his life to warning of the consequences when those principles are taken to their frightful extremes. And he doesn’t seem to have any interest in stopping now.

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Will China Experience Islamist Blowback?

For the better part of two decades, China has paid nothing and benefited greatly from the American willingness to secure international waterways and police the Persian Gulf. While Washington did the heavy lifting, Beijing played it both ways: Trade with oil-rich American allies and markets guaranteed by U.S. security, while at the same time supporting rogue regimes as part of an anti-American chess match.

In both Syria and Pakistan, China may finally learn that it can only play both sides of an issue for so long. While the Chinese government supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Muslims have been fighting within the Syrian opposition. Jihadi chat forums have posted eulogies, for example, to Chinese Uighurs who came to Syria to fight alongside Turkish, Saudi, Swedish, and British co-religionists.

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For the better part of two decades, China has paid nothing and benefited greatly from the American willingness to secure international waterways and police the Persian Gulf. While Washington did the heavy lifting, Beijing played it both ways: Trade with oil-rich American allies and markets guaranteed by U.S. security, while at the same time supporting rogue regimes as part of an anti-American chess match.

In both Syria and Pakistan, China may finally learn that it can only play both sides of an issue for so long. While the Chinese government supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Muslims have been fighting within the Syrian opposition. Jihadi chat forums have posted eulogies, for example, to Chinese Uighurs who came to Syria to fight alongside Turkish, Saudi, Swedish, and British co-religionists.

At its root, China is an imperialist power, one more brutal than Europe’s formerly colonialist powers who, to this day, continue to beat themselves up over their nineteenth and early twentieth century pasts. The Tibetans have been victims, Taiwan—whose unique identity is apparent to any visitor—might become a victim, and the Uighur Muslims are victims, as are any group who are not Han Chinese. Muslim restaurants in touristy areas of Beijing are one thing, but real cultural and religious diversity is another. Few Uighurs in far Western China like being part of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

As my colleague Dan Blumenthal points out, China is increasingly wary about Islamist blowback from the Middle East (and South Asia). Beijing has recently blamed Syrian rebels for Xinjiang violence, and may finally be recognizing in the way that Russia has that the American retreat from Afghanistan will put them on the front lines of Islamist radicalism. Indeed, Chinese President Xi has already put Pakistani Islamist assistance to the Uighur Muslims on the bilateral agenda.

If China believes that international jihadism derives from grievances against Western countries only and that China will be immune, the Chinese are mistaken: Islamist radicalism promotes hatred toward both West and East. China may soon find that being a global power has a cost, and that not all countries care enough or are even able to restrain Islamists who may be unwilling to turn their back on their Chinese brethren. Get ready, China: The next decade is going to be a very bumpy ride.

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Luke Russert, Journalist and Advocate

A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

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A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

Mr. Russert’s question was delivered in the form of commentary that was both tendentious and arrogant. For example, Russert decided to establish a premise before his question, telling Boehner, “it’s well known you guys got your rear ends handed to you in the Latino community in the 2012 election.” He made opposition to a pathway to citizenship seem unreasonable, saying, “Do you not risk putting Republicans at a disadvantage with the fastest-growing electoral voting group for another generation?” And as Boehner was attempting to move on after answering the question, Russert continued to press ahead, wondering if the GOP “brand” would be hurt with Hispanics and make it impossible to win future national elections with a party comprised of “all white folks.” It’s not simply what Russert said; it’s also the tone with which he said it. I say all this as someone who is actually somewhat sympathetic to the view being advocated by Russert.

(What Russert said was also ignorant, referring to Marco Rubio as the “presumptive 2016 nominee” for the Republican Party. Senator Rubio may or may not run for president, and he may or may not win. But it’s silly to state that he’s the “presumptive” nominee at this stage.)

Speaker Boehner responded to Russert’s questions by stating, “I didn’t know this was an opinion show.” But increasingly these days to be a journalist means to be an advocate. Why else do so many journalists get into the profession in the first place, if not to advance an ideology and a political agenda without having to go through the hassle of winning elections?

There’s certainly a place for opinion shows in journalism, but Russert is supposed to be a correspondent, not a person advocating a particular point of view. Yet increasingly that distinction is lost on journalists and young progressives like Luke Russert. His profession is suffering, and should suffer, as a result.

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New Technology Belies Tax Justification

Over the weekend, the New York Times had a fascinating piece about the quick development of driverless cars, and the implications for urban areas:

Imagine a city where you don’t drive in loops looking for a parking spot because your car drops you off and scoots off to some location to wait, sort of like taxi holding pens at airports. Or maybe it is picked up by a robotic minder and carted off with other vehicles, like a row of shopping carts… Inner-city parking lots could become parks. Traffic lights could be less common because hidden sensors in cars and streets coordinate traffic. And, yes, parking tickets could become a rarity since cars would be smart enough to know where they are not supposed to be. As scientists and car companies forge ahead — many expect self-driving cars to become commonplace in the next decade — researchers, city planners and engineers are contemplating how city spaces could change if our cars start doing the driving for us.

The new technology raises other questions, which the paper addressed in a follow-up article:

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Over the weekend, the New York Times had a fascinating piece about the quick development of driverless cars, and the implications for urban areas:

Imagine a city where you don’t drive in loops looking for a parking spot because your car drops you off and scoots off to some location to wait, sort of like taxi holding pens at airports. Or maybe it is picked up by a robotic minder and carted off with other vehicles, like a row of shopping carts… Inner-city parking lots could become parks. Traffic lights could be less common because hidden sensors in cars and streets coordinate traffic. And, yes, parking tickets could become a rarity since cars would be smart enough to know where they are not supposed to be. As scientists and car companies forge ahead — many expect self-driving cars to become commonplace in the next decade — researchers, city planners and engineers are contemplating how city spaces could change if our cars start doing the driving for us.

The new technology raises other questions, which the paper addressed in a follow-up article:

In Washington, an average of six parking tickets are issued every minute of a normal workday. That is about 5,300 tickets on each of those days. Those slips of paper have added up to $80 million in parking fines a year, according to a report by AAA Mid-Atlantic… Mr. Walker Smith said that while traditional revenue sources from tickets, towing cars and gasoline taxes could dry up, cities and states will come up with new ways to make money on vehicles.

Automation will also impact the insurance industry, technology writer Nick Bilton reports, as well as taxis and meter maids. Such costs should not be lamented: Cities and states like to maintain the fiction that they ticket for safety, not revenue, and they should have to live by that fiction. Some professions do not stand the test of time. Spare a moment for the poor typewriter factory workers; they deserve more public sympathy than the meter maids.

Already, new technologies are challenging traditional tax policy. After years of pushing higher fuel standards for environmental reasons, states now complain that they derive less revenue because cars require fewer gallons of gas. Certainly, states want revenue for roads, but it is also true that fuel efficient cars cause less wear and tear because they are lighter; fuel efficiency comes at the expense of weight and, too often, safety.

Automobiles are not the only technology whose advancement has challenged justification for tax collection. It took more than a century to get rid of the telephone excise tax whose original justification was to help fund the Spanish-American War. Pennsylvania still has an occupation tax, a legacy of the colonial period in which occupations were granted by writ and often considered property. The Internet has also challenged traditional tax collection, especially from brick-and-mortar stores.

The government may make myriad excuses for taxation, but new technologies and the evolution of society should force governments to acknowledge both the basic and the obvious: Tax is about revenue, not safety, and the government’s increasingly insatiable appetite for new and expensive programs. Putting lipstick on a pig does not make it more palatable. When governments lie about their motivation for taxation and fines, it only breeds cynicism and resentment about government, moods corrosive to both community and citizenship.

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Abortion Horrors Make Texas Look Smart

The prevailing narrative about our contemporary political situation for liberals is that it is conservatives and Republicans who oppose compromise on every front. While that might be a fair characterization of the stand many House Republicans have taken on immigration reform, as a rule of thumb, that is a hypocritical and false position when analyzing the debate about taxes, entitlements, health care and many other issues since Democrats are no less ideological than the GOP on these questions. But that doesn’t stop liberal publications from continuing to put forward this line, especially with regard to social issues such as abortion. Today, the New York Times attempts to point out the folly of Texas conservatives who have pushed for a new law imposing limits (no abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for the mother’s health) and standards on the practice of abortion by comparing it to a new set of regulations that have promulgated in Maryland. But although the conceit of the piece is ostensibly about the sensible conduct of Maryland officials in contrast to the alleged extremism of the Texas GOP, it isn’t entirely supported by much of the content of the article.

Though the editors of the Times may have intended this feature to be another salvo on behalf of the pro-choice position in the culture war over abortion, the tale it tells underlines the concerns about illegal and dangerous practices that is driving the debate in Texas and elsewhere. By pointing out that the Maryland rules were impelled by abuses by abortionists and by also letting slip that one of the key elements of the Texas bill—compelling abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers—was already in place in Pennsylvania without making it impossible for women to obtain first trimester abortions, the Times undermines the claim that what was filibustered in Austin to the cheers of liberals around the nation was either extreme or unreasonable. Nor do the claims that abortion is universally safe sound convincing after the account of yet another Gosnell-like atrocity.

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The prevailing narrative about our contemporary political situation for liberals is that it is conservatives and Republicans who oppose compromise on every front. While that might be a fair characterization of the stand many House Republicans have taken on immigration reform, as a rule of thumb, that is a hypocritical and false position when analyzing the debate about taxes, entitlements, health care and many other issues since Democrats are no less ideological than the GOP on these questions. But that doesn’t stop liberal publications from continuing to put forward this line, especially with regard to social issues such as abortion. Today, the New York Times attempts to point out the folly of Texas conservatives who have pushed for a new law imposing limits (no abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for the mother’s health) and standards on the practice of abortion by comparing it to a new set of regulations that have promulgated in Maryland. But although the conceit of the piece is ostensibly about the sensible conduct of Maryland officials in contrast to the alleged extremism of the Texas GOP, it isn’t entirely supported by much of the content of the article.

Though the editors of the Times may have intended this feature to be another salvo on behalf of the pro-choice position in the culture war over abortion, the tale it tells underlines the concerns about illegal and dangerous practices that is driving the debate in Texas and elsewhere. By pointing out that the Maryland rules were impelled by abuses by abortionists and by also letting slip that one of the key elements of the Texas bill—compelling abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers—was already in place in Pennsylvania without making it impossible for women to obtain first trimester abortions, the Times undermines the claim that what was filibustered in Austin to the cheers of liberals around the nation was either extreme or unreasonable. Nor do the claims that abortion is universally safe sound convincing after the account of yet another Gosnell-like atrocity.

The centerpiece of the Times account is the story of Dr. Steven C. Brigham, a New Jersey-based practitioner who was charged with fetal deaths as the result of botched abortions that took place at his Elkton, Maryland clinic. The Elkton office, which was no more than a bare office in a mall, was where he completed late-term abortions that were begun in New Jersey where he had no legal right to conduct such procedures. Though he had a long record of abuses (he was banned from practicing medicine in Pennsylvania—the state that failed for decades to uncover the horrors committed at Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic) and had already transferred corporate ownership of his clinics to his mother, Brigham had a thriving business doing questionable and clearly unsafe late term procedures. He was found out when an 18-year-old patient with a 21-week-old fetus had her uterus and bowels pierced during an abortion carried out by Brigham and an inexperienced associate. Only after his victim was taken to Johns Hopkins University to save her life and one of the doctors there reported what had happened was Brigham called to account. After an investigation, he was charged with murdering numerous fetuses that were 24 or more weeks old. But the charges were dropped since prosecutors had no confidence that they could convict him. He lost his license to practice medicine but otherwise got off scot-free.

The article is at pains to give abortion advocates space to claim that it is generally safe. But after reading the Gosnell story and this one, it’s not clear to me why any objective observer would think that most abuses or problems are being accurately reported. It is likely that most first-term abortions are generally safely conducted in most places in this country. But the dangerous abortions are the ones being done on late-term fetuses that are either already illegal or being done in clinics that are not authorized to carry out the practice. To assume, as one doctor quoted in the piece asserts, “having an abortion is safer than an injection of penicillin,” is a leap of faith that isn’t borne out by the accounts of horrors provided in this same article.

The new Maryland regulations are less stringent in some respects than the ones proposed in Texas. They focus on whether clinics can respond effectively to emergencies, and do not require them to adhere to all the minute requirements imposed on hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers in most states. Nor do they require all doctors practicing in them to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. But they do impose standards on abortion providers that butchers like Gosnell and Brigham could not satisfy.

The implication is that Texas should pass laws that are equally lenient. That is debatable, but it is a reasonable position. However, liberal arguments about the Texas law haven’t been about how it can be changed in order to be more workable but instead have operated under the premise that any new regulations aimed at protecting women’s health in these clinics are, by definition, an attack on the right to abortion.

Moreover, as even the Times points out, the more restrictive path offered by Texas Republicans isn’t, as the left has tried to argue, synonymous with banning abortion. The article rightly notes that in 2011, Pennsylvania adopted one of the key elements of the Texas bill, requiring abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers. That has forced some of their owners to spend money to make their facilities safer, but it has not shut them down. The claims that the changes will invariably bankrupt abortionists are belied by the generally profitable nature of their trade.

But no matter how much they claim that Gosnell and Brigham are exceptions, we know that the abortion industry—like any other big business or trade association—has a vested interest in underreporting problems and cooking statistics that might otherwise hurt public confidence in them. Though abortion rights advocates claim the alternative to preserving the laws as they now stand are back-alley coat hanger abortions, it’s becoming obvious that there are licensed doctors who are currently spilling blood in this manner and claiming they are following the law.

Like Gosnell, what Brigham was doing was slaughtering otherwise healthy babies that were clearly viable if taken out of the womb. You don’t have to oppose all abortions to know that late term procedures under these circumstances are morally repugnant. What conservatives in Texas are trying to do is to make it harder for such atrocities to happen and to make legal abortions safer. The Times may have thought it was illustrating how wrong the Texans have been. But the more we learn about this troubled industry, the weaker the arguments of their defenders sound.

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The GOP’s Immigration Crackup

Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

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Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion about the need for Republicans to pass immigration reform has centered on the supposed political advantages that will accrue to them if they do it. Critics of the gang of eight bill are right when they say its passage won’t guarantee Republicans a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2016. But the problem is not so much whether Hispanics can be enticed to become GOP voters as it is the spectacle of a Republican Party that seems willing to fall over itself in order to pander to people who are openly hostile to immigration or any form of legalization for the 11 million people who are already here and aren’t going to be deported.

While Kristol and Lowry in their well argued manifesto against the reform bill claim that the current debate has been notable for the absence of “hostility to immigrants” that characterized so much of the arguments that shot down President Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, I think they are not listening much to talk radio or reading the comments sections of newspapers and magazines that report on the issue. Kristol and Lowry claim, “you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.” While I think that is undoubtedly true about that formidable pair of conservative editors, the same cannot be said for many of those who agree with them that “nothing” would be better than passing the legislation.

While they and other critics of the bill have attempted to pose the question as a no-confidence vote in the Obama administration’s trustworthiness, the idea that any fix to immigration must wait until a Republican is elected president doesn’t strike me as a particularly effective argument on policy. If the legalization-first element is what is really bothering some conservatives, then they can craft a bill that would reverse the order of some of its provisions. But what they seem to be saying is that any measure that cannot guarantee a hermetically sealed border or magically prevent those who come here legally but then overstay their visas from doing so is unacceptable. That, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” idea, is not a serious position.

Nor am I convinced that it is now a core conservative principle that any large compromise bill on any measure must be stopped. Liberals who have pointed out that conservatives were ready to make compromises of all sorts to defend policy measures that were important to them in the past, like tax cuts, are right. Unless we are to adopt a parliamentary style of government in which the majority can more or less pass anything they like so long as the whip is out without the constitutional checks and balances of our system, compromises on big issues are always going to be necessary. Any idea that passage of separate House bills that are not necessarily compatible with each other, let alone capable of Senate passage, is a rational plan is daft.

But those House members who appear determined to ignore the pleadings of Boehner and Ryan are not so much being influenced by the intellectual arguments mustered by Kristol and Lowry as they are the fear of offending those who think any solution to the 11 million illegals that offers legalization and/or citizenship is an offense to the rule of law or a threat to the future of the culture of the nation. Kristol and Lowry don’t use the word “amnesty” to characterize the gang’s bill, but most opponents of the bill do. The fixation on punishing or getting rid of the present population of illegals leaves the impression that malice is driving the discussion. So long as conservatives are heard to argue that the bill is a formula for the creation of more Democratic voters or a plot by the Obama administration to permanently marginalize the GOP, Hispanics and many other Americans are likely to interpret opposition to reform as an appeal to nativist sentiment, not a policy prescription.

I think Kristol and Lowry are wrong about the urgency of the matter not so much because we can’t live with a long-broken system for another few years but because the longer so many Republicans give the country the impression that they fear immigration—legal or illegal—they will be harming their image in a manner that will go beyond the putative impact on the Hispanic vote.

A lot of leading conservatives seem to think that they can’t survive if they oppose the net roots on this issue, and perhaps there is some truth to that. Boehner would probably lose his speakership if he allows a vote on the reform bill or anything like it that is produced in the House. It’s also possible that getting labeled as RINOs or establishment cat’s-paws will damage individuals and institutions that agree with conservatives like Ryan, George W. Bush and Marco Rubio that an immigration compromise is the right thing to do as well as good politics for the GOP. But the failure to deal with this issue will do conservatism far more harm in the long run than those who believe it can wait until a Republican president or Senate arrives in Washington think. If the GOP listens to the naysayers, it may be a long wait before either of those outcomes arrives.

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Pentagon Might Demolish Unused HQ

It’s never good to read the reports of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction without having a bottle of antacid nearby. On July 8, John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin III, and ISAF commander General Joseph Dunford Jr., which read in part:

I was told by senior U.S. military officials that the recently completed Regional Command-Southwest (RC-SW) Command and Control Facility, a 64,000 square feet building and related infrastructure with a contract award value of $34 million that was meant to serve as a command headquarters in Helmand to support the surge, will not be occupied. Based on documents provided to SIGAR, it appears that military commanders in Afghanistan determined as early as May 2010 that there was no need for the facility, yet the military still moved ahead with the construction project and continued to purchase equipment and make various improvements to the building in early 2013. Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped. In addition, I was told that U.S. military officials expect that the building will be either demolished or turned over to the Afghan government as our military presence in Afghanistan declines and Camp Leatherneck is reduced in size. Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling—destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a “white elephant” to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.

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It’s never good to read the reports of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction without having a bottle of antacid nearby. On July 8, John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin III, and ISAF commander General Joseph Dunford Jr., which read in part:

I was told by senior U.S. military officials that the recently completed Regional Command-Southwest (RC-SW) Command and Control Facility, a 64,000 square feet building and related infrastructure with a contract award value of $34 million that was meant to serve as a command headquarters in Helmand to support the surge, will not be occupied. Based on documents provided to SIGAR, it appears that military commanders in Afghanistan determined as early as May 2010 that there was no need for the facility, yet the military still moved ahead with the construction project and continued to purchase equipment and make various improvements to the building in early 2013. Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped. In addition, I was told that U.S. military officials expect that the building will be either demolished or turned over to the Afghan government as our military presence in Afghanistan declines and Camp Leatherneck is reduced in size. Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling—destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a “white elephant” to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.

Photos of the facility are here. To be fair, Hagel, Austin, and Dunford were not in the positions of authority they were in May 2010: Robert Gates, David Petraeus, and Stanley McChrystal were. If the special inspector general’s report is true, and the Defense Department went ahead with building a $34 million structure that they knew at the time was not going to be used, then it is well past time that Congress use its authority to investigate what the Pentagon likely will not: A failure of leadership that came at the expense of the American taxpayer. Perhaps Gates, Petraeus, and McChrystal were not the figures who approved such waste, but they might assist in understanding how and where such a decision was made. After all, if the military can conduct lessons learned on the battlefield, its administrators can also conduct lessons learned in their scope of work. That such waste is exposed against the backdrop of civilian defense workers taking 20 percent pay cuts for the next 11 weeks simply adds insult to injury.

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ObamaCare’s “More Cowbell” Moment

There has been a strange new narrative emerging from the left seeking to blame congressional Republicans for not being more willing to save ObamaCare–and thus the Democratic Party–from itself. This is, to put it charitably, not exactly a well-considered line of argument for three reasons. First, it is demonstrably false, as it conflicts with an easily observable reality. Second, it is based on the idea that Republicans were right all along about ObamaCare, which undercuts the argument that it’s high time for everyone to get on board the law’s sinking ship.

And third, it is an acknowledgement that the Obama administration is acting lawlessly in suspending parts of the law yet attempts to paint Republican bystanders as the irresponsible ones. Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post is the latest example of this contradictory and illogical allegation. Where Milbank and others seem to get tripped up is in their eternal quest for Republican hypocrisy and their underlying assumption that everything Republicans do is for the express purpose of impeding basic governance. Milbank writes:

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There has been a strange new narrative emerging from the left seeking to blame congressional Republicans for not being more willing to save ObamaCare–and thus the Democratic Party–from itself. This is, to put it charitably, not exactly a well-considered line of argument for three reasons. First, it is demonstrably false, as it conflicts with an easily observable reality. Second, it is based on the idea that Republicans were right all along about ObamaCare, which undercuts the argument that it’s high time for everyone to get on board the law’s sinking ship.

And third, it is an acknowledgement that the Obama administration is acting lawlessly in suspending parts of the law yet attempts to paint Republican bystanders as the irresponsible ones. Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post is the latest example of this contradictory and illogical allegation. Where Milbank and others seem to get tripped up is in their eternal quest for Republican hypocrisy and their underlying assumption that everything Republicans do is for the express purpose of impeding basic governance. Milbank writes:

This unqualified opposition is counterproductive for House Republicans. On health care, as on immigration, their approach amounts to a search-and-destroy mission. They could work with Democrats to remove problematic pieces in the health-care law, and they could compromise with Democrats on legislation that would secure the borders. But instead they are devoted to shutting down both.

He adds:

In the case of the “employer mandate,” even a number of liberals agree that it’s a bad policy. Republicans could probably find support for repealing that provision, if they weren’t hellbent on repealing the whole law.

So is Milbank right? It is true that congressional Republicans aren’t interested in repealing the employer mandate and that Democrats are simply waiting for the GOP to ask them to dance? No, of course not. Republican Congressman Charles Boustany has introduced legislation to repeal the employer mandate. That’s an awfully long list of Republican cosponsors at that link; maybe Milbank can pick up the phone and rally the Democrats to the cause.

Another paragraph Milbank uses to frame the debate is representative of the nonsense coming from much of the left on this issue. He writes:

Last week, the administration announced it was delaying by a year the implementation of one of Obamacare’s provisions, the requirement that large employers provide health insurance. You’d think the opposition party, which has spent four years denouncing the health-care reforms, would be delighted by the reprieve. But on Wednesday, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing to condemn the administration — for incomplete enforcement of the law they hate.

Imagine the hypocrisy! Later, he writes:

It’s a safe bet that Republicans aren’t really concerned about the delay, which the administration said last week that it had granted at the request of employers and which was applauded by business groups.

So what are Republicans complaining about? They don’t like the employer mandate, and now it’s been delayed. Businesses didn’t like the mandate, and President Obama listened to their complaints and suspended it. But look at the groundwork the left has to lay to try and make this point. Businesses requested, and then applauded, the suspension of the mandate because it was always a terrible idea. It was included in ObamaCare to cut costs, which means that without it the law doesn’t do what its backers swore it would do in order to get the bill through Congress. The whole bill, then, was always a terrible idea.

Republicans were right, voters were right, Democrats were wrong. It is really that simple. And now the left wants Republicans to pitch in and own some of this colossal liberal failure. And why would Republicans complain about the suspension of the mandate? Because it’s far from clear the administration has the legal power to do what it’s doing. That’s not just conservative troublemaking; Milbank’s Post colleague Ezra Klein said that the mandate suspension “is a regulatory end-run of the legislative process.” Klein says Republicans are also right that the employer mandate should be repealed, officially.

This follows the common theme: once again, Republicans were right, Democrats were wrong. It’s a familiar pattern in the discussion of ObamaCare, because the law is such an unwieldy mess and because federal laws these days are written more to obfuscate than enlighten the public about what their government is doing to them. Nancy Pelosi’s infamous plea to pass the bill to find out what’s in it wasn’t outrageous because one House Democrat had finally been honest about it–no one ever expected Pelosi to oppose a government expansion written by Democrats–but because it was indicative of her colleagues’ attitude as well.

The administration passed a law to reform a significant chunk of the economy without having any real idea what it was doing. Now that it has discovered just how ill conceived parts of the law were, it has legal means at its disposal to remedy it–by, for example, following the Republican lead in repealing the employer mandate. But the administration’s instinctive response is always “more cowbell”–the law is the result of liberal government overreach, and the solution must be more liberal government overreach. The fact that Republicans won’t play along with this farce shows their good judgment.

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Samantha Power’s First Test

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

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Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

When questions of morality arise, UN officials often hide behind procedure. Perhaps it is worthwhile asking Power what damage such traditions and procedures have inflicted on the United Nations, and both how and whether she will seek to reverse them. Not only UN effectiveness, but also American interests are at stake. If Power is not able to compel the UN to reform its myriad organizations, senators might ask whether Power would advocate diminishing funding for the UN by the budgets in question. If not, it might seem Power sees the UN much like her “Atrocities Prevention Board” and seeks more to posture than truly tackle human rights abuses.

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