Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 16, 2013

Old Boy Net Unites Against Liz Cheney

A lot of Republicans have their noses out of joint this afternoon. Though the party is on an extensive talent search to find candidates for Senate races in 2014, most in the GOP establishment are not happy about the decision of Liz Cheney to challenge incumbent Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. Enzi is a lackluster 69-year-old who has been occupying the seat for three terms without exactly covering himself in glory while Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, is widely acknowledged to be among the party’s brightest stars. But for all the talk about the GOP being run these days by Tea Party activists who care about nothing but policy, it appears the old boy network in the Republican Senate caucus is not only closing ranks around Enzi but that outliers like Rand Paul are joining them.

Why are so many leading Republicans lining up against Cheney? They are saying that they are opposing her bid because they don’t like divisive Republican primaries that weaken the party and the eventual winner against the Democrats. But this is bunk. Wyoming is so deep red it’s almost impossible to imagine the scenario in which a GOP primary, no matter how nasty, would lead to a Democratic win. Rather, what they really seem to be mad about is a breach of manners. If Enzi were to disappear from the Senate, few in Washington would even notice, let alone miss him, while Cheney would be a strong asset for a party that needs talented members able to stand up to President Obama and the Democrats as well as strengthening the party’s appeal to women. But many in the establishment are so offended by her not waiting her turn until Enzi left on his own steam that they are prepared to stand by him. Even more interestingly, Senator Rand Paul, who is usually to be found among those least likely to join the go-along-to-get-along crowd, is also backing Enzi, which may have more to do with his disagreement with Cheney’s sensible views on foreign policy than any affection for the incumbent.

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A lot of Republicans have their noses out of joint this afternoon. Though the party is on an extensive talent search to find candidates for Senate races in 2014, most in the GOP establishment are not happy about the decision of Liz Cheney to challenge incumbent Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. Enzi is a lackluster 69-year-old who has been occupying the seat for three terms without exactly covering himself in glory while Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, is widely acknowledged to be among the party’s brightest stars. But for all the talk about the GOP being run these days by Tea Party activists who care about nothing but policy, it appears the old boy network in the Republican Senate caucus is not only closing ranks around Enzi but that outliers like Rand Paul are joining them.

Why are so many leading Republicans lining up against Cheney? They are saying that they are opposing her bid because they don’t like divisive Republican primaries that weaken the party and the eventual winner against the Democrats. But this is bunk. Wyoming is so deep red it’s almost impossible to imagine the scenario in which a GOP primary, no matter how nasty, would lead to a Democratic win. Rather, what they really seem to be mad about is a breach of manners. If Enzi were to disappear from the Senate, few in Washington would even notice, let alone miss him, while Cheney would be a strong asset for a party that needs talented members able to stand up to President Obama and the Democrats as well as strengthening the party’s appeal to women. But many in the establishment are so offended by her not waiting her turn until Enzi left on his own steam that they are prepared to stand by him. Even more interestingly, Senator Rand Paul, who is usually to be found among those least likely to join the go-along-to-get-along crowd, is also backing Enzi, which may have more to do with his disagreement with Cheney’s sensible views on foreign policy than any affection for the incumbent.

Republicans tend to like orderly transitions and generally think ill of insurgents who trod on the toes of veterans like Enzi. But if there were ever a seat where there is no danger of a divisive primary hurting the party’s chances of holding the seat, it is this Wyoming contest. Enzi may have offended no one in his time in Washington, but the idea that the party’s grass roots will rally to him in the name of preserving the sanctity of seniority seems far-fetched. Cheney can hold the seat as easily as Enzi. The difference here is just one between a talented newcomer with the sort of policy experience that any prospective senator would envy and a grizzled veteran that few noticed until the New York Times ran an article earlier this month that tried to portray the prospective Cheney challenge as a heretical development that would destroy the GOP in the state.

It’s true that Cheney isn’t a Tea Party favorite, the usual species of GOP primary challenger for Senate incumbents. But Enzi is no grass roots hero either. And Cheney brings a reputation as an advocate of a strong foreign policy as well as of the alliance with Israel that would immediately elevate her to the ranks of the GOP’s leading figures on defense issues. That probably explains why Paul, whose isolationism is antithetical to Cheney’s worldview, is ready to back Enzi.

It’s been a while since a Cheney ran for office in Wyoming, so there’s no telling how this will turn out. But whatever happens, the faux outrage about her decision rings false. There’s nothing sacred about keeping a dull three-time incumbent in place when a better alternative is available. The GOP’s old boy network in the Senate as well as its libertarian wing may prefer Enzi, but there’s no reason for Cheney to refrain from trying her luck with the voters.

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Egyptians Right to Ignore Obama’s Advice

The Obama administration has been forced to navigate a difficult path in the past week. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has forced it to balance its rhetorical support of democracy with the necessity to acknowledge that the military coup that forced Mohamed Morsi from office was a product of a popular backlash against the Brotherhood’s excesses and drive for total power. But as much as Washington has slowly begun distancing itself from the strategy of embracing the Brotherhood that characterized U.S. policy for the past year, the president still can’t quite grasp the realities of the conflict in Cairo. The U.S. decision to pressure the military to release Islamists they have arrested, or to include them in a new government, is exactly the sort of tone deaf advice that has cratered America’s reputation in Egypt.

But the fact that the military is rejecting Obama’s advice and thereby endangering the more than $2 billion a year they get in U.S. aid shows just how out of touch the administration is with the reality on the ground. The administration is treading a bit more carefully on Egypt than it was a year ago, when they were strong-arming the army into letting the Brotherhood take over. But Obama and his foreign policy team need to wrap their brains around a basic truth that the Egyptian generals are forced to deal with: the conflict with a group like the Brotherhood is a zero-sum game. Allowing the Islamists freedom to organize or letting Morsi re-enter the government would merely give the Brotherhood a leg up in its effort to seize back the reins of power. And anyone, include the fools in the State Department and the White House, who thinks the Brotherhood will stop at anything once they gain back what they have lost, understands nothing about the movement.

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The Obama administration has been forced to navigate a difficult path in the past week. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has forced it to balance its rhetorical support of democracy with the necessity to acknowledge that the military coup that forced Mohamed Morsi from office was a product of a popular backlash against the Brotherhood’s excesses and drive for total power. But as much as Washington has slowly begun distancing itself from the strategy of embracing the Brotherhood that characterized U.S. policy for the past year, the president still can’t quite grasp the realities of the conflict in Cairo. The U.S. decision to pressure the military to release Islamists they have arrested, or to include them in a new government, is exactly the sort of tone deaf advice that has cratered America’s reputation in Egypt.

But the fact that the military is rejecting Obama’s advice and thereby endangering the more than $2 billion a year they get in U.S. aid shows just how out of touch the administration is with the reality on the ground. The administration is treading a bit more carefully on Egypt than it was a year ago, when they were strong-arming the army into letting the Brotherhood take over. But Obama and his foreign policy team need to wrap their brains around a basic truth that the Egyptian generals are forced to deal with: the conflict with a group like the Brotherhood is a zero-sum game. Allowing the Islamists freedom to organize or letting Morsi re-enter the government would merely give the Brotherhood a leg up in its effort to seize back the reins of power. And anyone, include the fools in the State Department and the White House, who thinks the Brotherhood will stop at anything once they gain back what they have lost, understands nothing about the movement.

On the surface, the U.S. position on the current impasse in Egypt seems reasonable. The call to de-escalate the conflict and to reconstruct a democratic process is in line with America’s values as well as a belief that civil war is the worst possible outcome for both Egyptians and regional stability.

But the Egyptian generals understand that this was their one chance to stop the Brotherhood from irrevocably changing their country. Prior to the election they won, the Brotherhood worked hard to improve their image and sell the West on the notion that they were merely religious democrats who wouldn’t impose their beliefs on the rest of the country. But once in power, they proved to be not only incompetent at the business of running the country but quickly moved to seize total power in a way that might make it difficult if not impossible to ever depose them via democratic means. The demonstrators that took to the streets in unprecedented numbers earlier this month understood it was a now-or-never moment in which they sought to take back the country before it was too late.

That’s why the urgings of senior U.S. diplomat William Burns to the military to free the Brotherhood detainees or to bring them into a new coalition are being rejected. Once free, the Islamists won’t be long in seeking to use their supporters to topple the new government and impose a new order that will ensure the end of any independent sources of power in Cairo.

It should also be noted that the Islamists were equally unwilling to listen to Burns. They, too, see the power struggle in terms that seem to have eluded the Americans. Seeking to bridge the gap between the Brotherhood and the secular liberals and their military supporters is as much of a fool’s errand as Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest effort to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

At this point, there are no good options left for the United States. Neither side in the conflict in Egypt is perfect. But what Obama needs to understand is that though the Morsi/Brotherhood government may have been elected, it was as much a threat to freedom as the military. It’s time for the U.S. to step back and let the new government do what it must to ensure the Islamists won’t launch a civil war. A failure to do so won’t help democracy. Nor will it enhance America’s influence in a country where Obama already has zero credibility.

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Deconstructing Reality and Zimmerman

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

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On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

But that hardly seems to matter to some of those on the left and in the media, who are determined to turn this case into an example of a hate crime. Consider NBC News, which doctored recordings by Zimmerman in order to make him appear to be a racist. Here’s how NBC’s March 27, 2012 Today show’s abridged version of Zimmerman’s comments (made the evening of February 26, 2012) went: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” And here’s how the real conversation went:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

So what’s going on here? Part of the answer is that liberals long to use a case like this to transport them to an Atticus Finch-Tom Robinson, Edmund Pettus Bridge moment. They want things like the Zimmerman trial to be at core about a great civil rights struggle, even if it’s actually not. Which leads to my second observation.

What we’re seeing from the left is post-modernism on full display. The facts, the truth and objective reality are subordinate to the progressive narrative. In this particular instance many liberals so want the killing of Trayvon Martin to be driven by bigotry–which would serve as both an indictment of racial attitudes in America and turn a horrible mistake into a “modern-day lynching”–that they will make it so, even if it requires twisting the truth into something unrecognizable. What matters, after all, is The Cause. And everything, including basic facts, must be bent to fit it. This kind of systematic deconstruction of truth is fairly common in college liberal arts courses all across America. But when it becomes the primary mode of interpretation in a murder trial, it is something else again.

Most of us, when we hear the words “justice must be done,” believe that what is right, reasonable, fair and in accordance with the facts be done. But some on the left have something else in mind. For them, justice is a tool in a larger political struggle, a means to an end. Justice can be at odds with reality if reality is at odds with liberalism. Which is why the efforts to turn the Zimmerman verdict into a racial miscarriage of justice is so discouraging and so damaging.

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Buyer’s Remorse from ObamaCare Backers?

One of the key selling points for ObamaCare was President Obama’s repeated promise that if you like your current health insurance plan, you can keep it. This posed a challenge to the president because not only was it clearly untrue, but the health-care reform law was specifically designed to prevent many people from being able to keep their insurance. The most humorous moment in the frantic effort to sell the public on ObamaCare based on false pretenses was when ABC News finally asked Obama to explain the claim:

“When I say ‘If you have your plan and you like it,… or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans,’” the president said after we asked him about this, “what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.”

Ah. The government would merely create the conditions in which people would be forced off their insurance, but there’d be no paper trail on each particular such decision that led directly back to the president, so the rest is just details. ABC News, to its credit, pointed out that the president was acknowledging that his pledge “isn’t literally true.” But now some of the president’s allies who helped elect Democrats and then sell their health-care reform, and who inexplicably believed this ridiculous claim the president was making, feel duped. They are the unions, and they are not happy, as Avik Roy explains:

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One of the key selling points for ObamaCare was President Obama’s repeated promise that if you like your current health insurance plan, you can keep it. This posed a challenge to the president because not only was it clearly untrue, but the health-care reform law was specifically designed to prevent many people from being able to keep their insurance. The most humorous moment in the frantic effort to sell the public on ObamaCare based on false pretenses was when ABC News finally asked Obama to explain the claim:

“When I say ‘If you have your plan and you like it,… or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans,’” the president said after we asked him about this, “what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.”

Ah. The government would merely create the conditions in which people would be forced off their insurance, but there’d be no paper trail on each particular such decision that led directly back to the president, so the rest is just details. ABC News, to its credit, pointed out that the president was acknowledging that his pledge “isn’t literally true.” But now some of the president’s allies who helped elect Democrats and then sell their health-care reform, and who inexplicably believed this ridiculous claim the president was making, feel duped. They are the unions, and they are not happy, as Avik Roy explains:

Last Thursday, representatives of three of the nation’s largest unions fired off a letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, warning that Obamacare would “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The letter was penned by James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Joseph Hansen, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; and Donald “D.” Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE, a union representing hotel, airport, food service, gaming, and textile workers.

“When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act,” they begin, “you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat…We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us.”

The letter goes on to warn of the law’s “unintended consequences” and “perverse incentives.” It’s bad for business and for the health of so many Americans, they say. Their criticisms of the law are correct, of course. The problem with fixing the law, as we’ve already seen with the employer mandate suspension, is that the law’s manifest blunders are connected, and the worst elements of the law are also its funding mechanisms. The whole thing is a terrible piece of legislation, and even its major backers are now either finally admitting or finally realizing that the public had to be misled in order to get the bill passed.

The law remains unpopular for this reason, but it is truly amazing the lengths to which some commentators will go to explain away the public opposition to a plainly bad law sold on dishonest claims. Here’s the Economist, for example, musing about Democrats’ communication deficit:

When Republicans and Democrats use different terms for the same thing, the Republican phrase is nearly always shorter and more concrete, observes Joseph Romm, the author of “Language Intelligence”. He has a point. When arguing about abortion, Republicans favour “life” (evocative) while Democrats talk about “choice” (abstract). Republicans talk about “taxes” and “spending” while Democrats want to raise “revenue” for “investment”. George W. Bush had the “Patriot Act”, whereas Mr Obama has the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. The former is an awful law that is hard to oppose; the latter an awful mouthful that is hard to remember.

Actually, people commonly call it ObamaCare, which is easy to remember and just as easy to dislike according to the public. But of course the rest of that paragraph is risible as well. On the abortion issue, the term “choice” may be (to put it kindly) “abstract,” but surely for Democrats it’s a lot better than the “evocative” version of what they’re advocating. And the point about “taxes” and “spending” versus “revenue” and “investment” is rather obvious: one is literal, the other an attempt by the entity taking your money to avoid saying so.

And that is really what this communication issue is all about, in the end. Democrats are advocating terrible public policy on a whole host of important issues, and admitting what they are doing is a nonstarter for those who want to win reelection. Finding good names for bad ideas is a clever way to get around this, but wouldn’t it just be easier if Democrats came up with good ideas?

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Juror B37 Gets a Lesson in Race Incitement

After two days of silence on the part of the jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial, one member of the panel that voted to acquit him emerged last night in a fascinating interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But if she was thinking that her account of the deliberations wouldn’t be greeted with derision and abuse, she was soon sadly better informed. After a day of non-stop incitement about the verdict, B37’s words were seized upon by the army of racial hucksters shuttling in and out of the studios at CNN and MSNBC as further proof of what they claimed was the unjustness of the outcome as well as the flaws in the trial.

By the time the interview was aired, not only had her plans to write a book about the experience been shelved, but the juror was given a sharp reminder that anyone who dissents from liberal orthodoxy on both the case and the idea that race explains everything that happens is subjected to ridicule and shunning. Rather than listening to her story about the reasoning of the jury, all her critics heard was someone who accepted the defendant’s account of the incident and the claim of self-defense. Like Zimmerman, B37 and the other five jurors—who will probably prefer to keep silent as well as anonymous after this example—are all now marked for life as characters in a morality play in which Trayvon Martin is a martyr to racism and all those who played a part in Zimmerman’s acquittal are the architects of a new era of Jim Crow. Like the willingness to demonize Zimmerman, the smearing of B37 tells us a lot about the desire of the left to trap America in its racial past rather than help the country move on.

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After two days of silence on the part of the jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial, one member of the panel that voted to acquit him emerged last night in a fascinating interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But if she was thinking that her account of the deliberations wouldn’t be greeted with derision and abuse, she was soon sadly better informed. After a day of non-stop incitement about the verdict, B37’s words were seized upon by the army of racial hucksters shuttling in and out of the studios at CNN and MSNBC as further proof of what they claimed was the unjustness of the outcome as well as the flaws in the trial.

By the time the interview was aired, not only had her plans to write a book about the experience been shelved, but the juror was given a sharp reminder that anyone who dissents from liberal orthodoxy on both the case and the idea that race explains everything that happens is subjected to ridicule and shunning. Rather than listening to her story about the reasoning of the jury, all her critics heard was someone who accepted the defendant’s account of the incident and the claim of self-defense. Like Zimmerman, B37 and the other five jurors—who will probably prefer to keep silent as well as anonymous after this example—are all now marked for life as characters in a morality play in which Trayvon Martin is a martyr to racism and all those who played a part in Zimmerman’s acquittal are the architects of a new era of Jim Crow. Like the willingness to demonize Zimmerman, the smearing of B37 tells us a lot about the desire of the left to trap America in its racial past rather than help the country move on.

The CNN interview told us a number of things about the verdict. The most important nugget of information was the fact that the jury was initially split when they began deliberating and then only achieved unanimity within a day after reviewing the evidence and the law, both of which told them they had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman.

But if you turned on CNN or MSNBC since the interview aired all you heard was that B37’s attitudes about Zimmerman (she was considered too sympathetic to him), prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel (she was too dismissive of her credibility) and her belief that the defendant hadn’t racially profiled Trayvon Martin proved she was hopelessly prejudiced and that the jury had effectively decided the case on race rather than on facts or the law. But the reaction to the juror illustrated just the opposite.

The chorus of liberal pundits and race hucksters like Al Sharpton and others heard on the networks weren’t interested in the law or the facts of the case. They are so eager to make Trayvon Martin a martyr to racial intolerance that they won’t consider—as the jury was forced to do by its obligation to decide the case on the merits—that he may have initiated the fight or that, as the facts indicate, he beat up Zimmerman prior to being shot. Rather than understand that Martin seemed to resemble all those who had committed crimes in the area that Zimmerman was eager to prevent, they choose to treat him as the moral equivalent of Rosa Parks. The comparisons to genuine victims of racial intolerance like Emmett Till are not only inexact; they are redolent of desire to keep race consciousness alive even after much of the country that has already elected and reelected an African American to the presidency has demonstrated that it has changed.

The race hucksters need to demonize Zimmerman and B37 because without marking them down as inhuman racists, the country will see the case for what it is rather than the tale of revived Jim Crow that the left is so desirous of promoting. Zimmerman is no hero. He behaved foolishly and found himself in a fight that led to tragedy. But the defendant, who is as much a member of a minority group as the president, isn’t the villain in a morality play about racism. He’s the excuse that liberals wanting to wave the bloody shirt of race needed to prop up their false theories about America.

The mere fact that Trayvon Martin was black does not make the muddled scuffle that led to his death another milestone in the history of racial intolerance. Justice required the jury to weigh the evidence in the case, not to make a political statement that might mollify those who have used it as a false symbol of hate. The vilification of Juror B37 and the demonstrations about the case that turned violent last night are a reminder to all who find themselves involved in such cases that the left takes no prisoners in their campaign to impose their views on the country. Public figures dissent from the narrative of Martin as martyr at their peril. 

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Medicine and Market Forces

One of the clearest signs that market forces are being stymied is a wide spread between the top and bottom price for a commodity. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in medical services. The price of treating, say, a simple fracture of the arm can, and does, vary by hundreds of percent. A simple remedy for this would be to require medical service providers to post prices for routine procedures. Market forces would immediately begin to cause those prices to converge toward the bottom end.

Would it be a panacea for all that’s wrong with American medicine? Of course not. But would it be a powerful inducement to cut costs and make medicine more efficient, lowering prices further? It could hardly help but be so. And, like that sovereign remedy for all that ails us—chicken soup—it can’t hurt. A big plus would be that it wouldn’t cost government a dime.

Now’s there’s evidence from a clinic, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, that it actually works (h/t Instapundit). It started posting prices, which turned out to be far lower than other facilities, and people started coming from far and wide to take advantage of the lower prices. One of the local TV stations in Oklahoma City did a story on the clinic last week. It’s worth watching.

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One of the clearest signs that market forces are being stymied is a wide spread between the top and bottom price for a commodity. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in medical services. The price of treating, say, a simple fracture of the arm can, and does, vary by hundreds of percent. A simple remedy for this would be to require medical service providers to post prices for routine procedures. Market forces would immediately begin to cause those prices to converge toward the bottom end.

Would it be a panacea for all that’s wrong with American medicine? Of course not. But would it be a powerful inducement to cut costs and make medicine more efficient, lowering prices further? It could hardly help but be so. And, like that sovereign remedy for all that ails us—chicken soup—it can’t hurt. A big plus would be that it wouldn’t cost government a dime.

Now’s there’s evidence from a clinic, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, that it actually works (h/t Instapundit). It started posting prices, which turned out to be far lower than other facilities, and people started coming from far and wide to take advantage of the lower prices. One of the local TV stations in Oklahoma City did a story on the clinic last week. It’s worth watching.

As one of the founders explains:

“When we first started we thought we were about half the price of the hospitals,” Dr. Lantier said. “Then we found out we’re less than half price. Then we find out we’re a sixth to an eighth of what their prices are. I can’t believe the average person can afford health care at these prices.”

There are two things of particular interest in this story. One, the first non-local people to come to the clinic were from Canada. Why would people come from the single-payer paradise of Canada and pay their own money for a procedure they could get locally for free? That’s easy. Unless the condition is life threatening (and even if it is, if the patient is “too old”), you have to wait on line in Canada for elective procedures. And wait and wait and wait. Rationing is how Canadian medicine—totally devoid of market forces—keeps down costs.

Two, while the clinic accepts private insurance, it doesn’t take Medicare or Medicaid. Why? Those government programs forbid posting prices. One can only wonder why. It could be simply that bureaucrats love to promulgate rules, whether they make any sense or not. But I suspect it is because the real, ultimate goal of government health programs is to take control of one-sixth of the American economy. Anything that would make that harder, such as lower costs, is to be discouraged if not forbidden.

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Mindless Hatred on the Ninth of Av

Today is the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar, a date that is synonymous with disaster and mourning. It was on this date that the Babylonians destroyed the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The second Temple also fell to the Romans on the same day. Subsequently, other oppressors also chose to inflict suffering on the Jewish people on the ninth of Av (or Tisha B’Av as it is known in Hebrew). Spain expelled its remaining Jews who had not converted on this day in 1492. The Nazis also selected that date to begin the deportation of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 to death camps.

Observant Jews commemorate Tisha B’Av with fasting and prayer, but it is also traditional to use this day as a starting point for discussions about the concept of sinat hinam or mindless hatred. Jewish teaching has always held that the temples fell not merely because of foreign power but due to the mindless hatred of Jews against each other whose disunity weakened the community to the point where it became easy prey to its enemies. Israeli society, with its divisions along religious lines and divisive arguments, provides plenty of fodder for such discussions and this year, like any other, is a good time to remind all sectors of the Jewish world to try and listen to each other rather than to reflexively demonize their foes. But just as Jews should use the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second Jewish commonwealths to look inward, the day should also be a reminder that the external forces of anti-Semitism and hate that inflicted suffering in the past are far from dead in our own day.

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Today is the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar, a date that is synonymous with disaster and mourning. It was on this date that the Babylonians destroyed the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The second Temple also fell to the Romans on the same day. Subsequently, other oppressors also chose to inflict suffering on the Jewish people on the ninth of Av (or Tisha B’Av as it is known in Hebrew). Spain expelled its remaining Jews who had not converted on this day in 1492. The Nazis also selected that date to begin the deportation of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 to death camps.

Observant Jews commemorate Tisha B’Av with fasting and prayer, but it is also traditional to use this day as a starting point for discussions about the concept of sinat hinam or mindless hatred. Jewish teaching has always held that the temples fell not merely because of foreign power but due to the mindless hatred of Jews against each other whose disunity weakened the community to the point where it became easy prey to its enemies. Israeli society, with its divisions along religious lines and divisive arguments, provides plenty of fodder for such discussions and this year, like any other, is a good time to remind all sectors of the Jewish world to try and listen to each other rather than to reflexively demonize their foes. But just as Jews should use the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second Jewish commonwealths to look inward, the day should also be a reminder that the external forces of anti-Semitism and hate that inflicted suffering in the past are far from dead in our own day.

The trouble with most discussions of sinat hinam in the contemporary Jewish world is that introspection is fairly rare among those on all sides of the disputes that do the most to exacerbate divisions within Jewry. Jews who do not consider themselves more sinned against than having sinned are unusual.

When those sectors of the Haredi community that routinely abuse and demonize those Jews who worship differently or are not observant speak of the concept, they generally refer only to the statements and actions of their non-Orthodox or secular opponents, and vice versa. Haredim consider themselves an oppressed minority fighting to preserve their way of life against secular oppression never thinking of the way they have exploited the system with regard to funding of institutions or evading Israel’s draft laws, let alone the contempt and coercion against those who do not share their beliefs. Secular and non-Orthodox Jews only see the way the Haredim manipulate the law or misbehave without stopping to think of the contempt they readily display for the observant, a trait that is shared by many American Jews.

Suffice it to say that there is plenty of room for soul searching in a Jewish world in which Haredi Jews who serve in the Israeli army are singled out for abuse by their co-religionists and where non-Orthodox American Jews regard the growing Orthodox community in Greater New York with fear and loathing. No matter where you stand in the secular/religious divide, you have something to account for and need to acknowledge the need to work for communal harmony, no matter how steep an uphill slog that cause might be.

But as much as internal divisions continue to rend the fabric of the Jewish community, it is pointless to ignore the growing spirit of intolerance and hatred against Jews and Israel that continues to rage both in the Middle East and Europe.

In much of the Arab and Muslim world, the Ramadan holiday is being observed with television blockbusters that often feature anti-Semitic themes. This year’s entry is Khaiber—a miniseries produced in Dubai and aired around the region—which depicts the destruction of the Jews of 7th century Arabia and portrays them as evil enemies of Islam that deserve their fate. But, as anyone who reads websites such as memri.org and Palestinian Media Watch (palwatch.org) knows, such anti-Semitic programming is nothing out of the ordinary as hatred for Israel and Jews and support for terrorism against them is mainstream thought, not the opinions of outliers. On the day that Jews remember their ancient temples, the Arab media continues to spew material that denies any connection between the Jewish people and their ancient homeland and capital.

Iran, a country that has promoted Holocaust denial, gets closer every day to a nuclear weapon that could help their fanatical Islamist leaders perpetrate another.

In Europe, what the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism continues to grow, fed by both traditional Jew-hatred and hostility to Israel as Jews now feel themselves at risk in various parts of the continent as well as finding themselves having to defend their religious practices.

In the United States, a movement dedicated to boycotting Israel that is steeped in anti-Semitic attitudes that single out Jews and the Jewish state for prejudicial treatment also continues to grow, even if it is more marginal than its European counterparts.

The traditional reading of the Book of Lamentations on this date provides a sobering reminder of the horrors of war as well as the fruit of disunity. For Jews, it should be the starting point for discussions about how to step back from the abyss of demonization that seems to escalate with every year. But it should also serve as a wake-up call for those who think the only enemies to be seen are those from within. Mindless hatred of Jews on the part of Israel’s enemies is a growing force that cannot be ignored.

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EU Seeks to Sabotage Kerry’s Peace Talks

There is much to be said about the European Union’s latest move toward boycotting Jews in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. The most damning reaction, however, probably comes from those the EU might have expected to support them: the Knesset’s two-state caucus. Labor Knesset member Hilik Bar, for example, founded the two-state caucus and vocally opposes any Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank without official Palestinian acquiescence.

Yet when the European Union, as Haaretz reports, “published a guideline for all 28 member states forbidding any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” even supporters of the two-state solution such as Bar were scratching their heads. Bar told the Times of Israel that “This directive is simply a mistake, a stupid move that strengthens the right’s sense that we are under siege,” and that it will only serve to keep Mahmoud Abbas from negotiating in good faith.

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There is much to be said about the European Union’s latest move toward boycotting Jews in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. The most damning reaction, however, probably comes from those the EU might have expected to support them: the Knesset’s two-state caucus. Labor Knesset member Hilik Bar, for example, founded the two-state caucus and vocally opposes any Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank without official Palestinian acquiescence.

Yet when the European Union, as Haaretz reports, “published a guideline for all 28 member states forbidding any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” even supporters of the two-state solution such as Bar were scratching their heads. Bar told the Times of Israel that “This directive is simply a mistake, a stupid move that strengthens the right’s sense that we are under siege,” and that it will only serve to keep Mahmoud Abbas from negotiating in good faith.

Bar is right: the EU directive is “a stupid move” that will only make peace less likely. But the stupidity of the EU’s decision is only the beginning. Bar tried to give the EU the benefit of the doubt, telling the Times of Israel that EU leaders are unintentionally sabotaging peace talks–that they want peace, but are simply too ignorant and incompetent not to undermine those who have to live among the wreckage of the EU’s reverse-Midas touch.

Bar may be giving the EU too much credit. There isn’t much evidence the EU actually wants peace. If they can agree to shun Jews from Jerusalem but not Hezbollah, then it’s quite the leap to assume they only want what’s best for everyone. But intentions aside, the EU’s attempt to sabotage the peace process is actually two-pronged, and Haaretz followed up with an explanation of the other element of the EU’s scheme: a signal to Abbas that as long as he refuses to accept any peace plans, Europe will reward him with additional actions targeting Jews in the region. As Haaretz reports:

A senior American official involved in efforts to kick-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians has warned that should U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts fail, European Union members states will adopt additional measures against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. …

The U.S. administration and the political echelon in Jerusalem surmise that European countries will blame Israel should Kerry’s efforts fail – and that they will then move ahead with plans to label goods produced in Israeli settlements across the 28-member union. Other European proposals that have been raised include requiring visas for Israeli settlers wishing to travel to the EU.

It almost makes you pity John Kerry. The secretary of state will travel to the region again next week, and seems to think he has no choice but to walk right into the bear trap the EU has set for him. This is not to suggest that the prospects for peace were any good before the EU got involved. But they have made Kerry’s task impossible. Even for Brussels, this is some serious chutzpah: the EU has decided to use a Jewish period of national mourning to target Jerusalem’s Jews as well as preempt the chief American diplomat’s work by sabotaging his trip and setting him up for a humiliating public failure they engineered.

Obviously, if the Palestinians think they can get concessions without having to negotiate with Israel or give anything up, that’s exactly what they’ll do. But beyond the current fracas, this continues two troubling trends with regard to the European Union. In December, I wrote about one of them: the fact that the EU had seemingly set its “red line” for a two-state solution such that it conflicts with Israel’s “red line.” The ramifications, I wrote, were that “No peace plan that would be acceptable to the Israeli people would be acceptable to the EU.”

Seen in that light, the EU’s actions this week (and threats about future actions) shouldn’t be too surprising. The Europe-Israel relationship has its bright spots, but the EU consolidates opinion so that it can speak with one voice. The relationship, then, will continue to deteriorate.

The other trend is what I referred to in May as “reverse integration.” The concept is James Mann’s, and its original application was to China’s role in the world. Mann argued that the West’s policy of integrating China into world affairs may be more likely to dilute the democratic character of the international system than empower democratic movements within China. I applied the concept to the debate over whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union. Supporters of the UK’s membership in the EU say it can serve as an advocate for the Atlantic alliance and the Anglosphere from within, and perhaps shift EU policy accordingly.

In reality, the more likely result will be that the UK will be absorbed, outvoted, and serve as a rubber stamp to the EU’s undemocratic behavior. This week’s news about the EU’s attempts to ostracize Jews living in their eternal capital via universal directives is a good example of how the EU will work against both common sense and Western objectives, even if it means undercutting American diplomacy and Israeli supporters of the two-state solution.

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Kirchner to Skip Bombing Memorial Again

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, points out to me that for the second year running, Argentine President Christina Kirchner is going to skip commemorations for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Her snub to Argentina’s Jewish community comes after her refusal to allow the prosecutor in the case to testify in the U.S. Congress in recent hearings about Iranian activity in Latin America.

The move caps Kirchner’s efforts to exculpate Iran. She has gone so far as to invite Iran to re-investigate the bombing, a move akin to having the arsonist investigate the fire, never mind that when Iran appealed the Argentine court’s ruling to INTERPOL, the international police force examined all the evidence and found it credible, upholding red notices on senior Iranian politicians (including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi).

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Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, points out to me that for the second year running, Argentine President Christina Kirchner is going to skip commemorations for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Her snub to Argentina’s Jewish community comes after her refusal to allow the prosecutor in the case to testify in the U.S. Congress in recent hearings about Iranian activity in Latin America.

The move caps Kirchner’s efforts to exculpate Iran. She has gone so far as to invite Iran to re-investigate the bombing, a move akin to having the arsonist investigate the fire, never mind that when Iran appealed the Argentine court’s ruling to INTERPOL, the international police force examined all the evidence and found it credible, upholding red notices on senior Iranian politicians (including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi).

Let’s put aside Iran’s clear culpability in a terrorist attack on Argentine Jewish civilians apparently only because the Iranian leadership found them guilty of being Jewish. Kirchner’s refusal to attend the memorial suggests deep-seated disdain and disrespect for Argentina’s own Jewish community as it commemorates the worst terrorist attack on Argentine (and perhaps South American) soil.

Argentina’s embrace of Iran not only insults its Jewish citizens, but poses a threat to United States national security as well. As Kirchner follows the path laid by other populist Argentine and Latin American leaders of whipping up populist fervor against contrived and imagined enemies, she threatens to set Argentina down a disastrous path. Let us hope that, in such a case, President Obama will recognize that neutrality is not a virtue.

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What’s Up with Russia?

Within the magical world of the White House and State Department, everything might be hunky-dory with regard to Russia and the Obama administration’s signature “reset” policy is an unquestioned success. Several months ago, I was on a National Public Radio show with another think tank analyst whom often serves as an Obama administration proxy. He sang the praises of the “reset,” arguing that Obama’s initiative resulted in Russian logistical cooperation, for example, allowing the United States to use the Manas airbase in Kyrgyztsan. To attribute Russian acquiescence to NATO supply through its territory to the “reset,” however, ignores Russian realism: Moscow fears Taliban resurgence and spread into Central Asia and, after initial suspicion, has been perfectly happy for American forces to hold the Islamists at bay.

In recent days, Russia has blocked UN condemnation of new Iranian missile tests, gloated over Edward Snowden, convicted a human rights lawyer whom it likely murdered of tax evasion in true Soviet fashion and, of course, keeps arming and supporting Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria. The unprecedented harassment U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul must endure is an intentional insult to the United States to which President Obama and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have paid some lip service but remain largely indifferent. Nor is the White House willing to allow Russian harassment of U.S.- and European-staffed or funded NGOs to undercut its lofty notion of positive relations.

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Within the magical world of the White House and State Department, everything might be hunky-dory with regard to Russia and the Obama administration’s signature “reset” policy is an unquestioned success. Several months ago, I was on a National Public Radio show with another think tank analyst whom often serves as an Obama administration proxy. He sang the praises of the “reset,” arguing that Obama’s initiative resulted in Russian logistical cooperation, for example, allowing the United States to use the Manas airbase in Kyrgyztsan. To attribute Russian acquiescence to NATO supply through its territory to the “reset,” however, ignores Russian realism: Moscow fears Taliban resurgence and spread into Central Asia and, after initial suspicion, has been perfectly happy for American forces to hold the Islamists at bay.

In recent days, Russia has blocked UN condemnation of new Iranian missile tests, gloated over Edward Snowden, convicted a human rights lawyer whom it likely murdered of tax evasion in true Soviet fashion and, of course, keeps arming and supporting Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria. The unprecedented harassment U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul must endure is an intentional insult to the United States to which President Obama and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have paid some lip service but remain largely indifferent. Nor is the White House willing to allow Russian harassment of U.S.- and European-staffed or funded NGOs to undercut its lofty notion of positive relations.

The list is long—to keep up with all the news from Russia, I usually follow Anna Borshchevskaya (@annaborsh) who, aside from her role as communications director for the American Islamic Congress, tweets out the latest from both English and Russian language sources about what the Russians are up to, and what they are saying about the United States. (Full disclosure, I have to follow Borshchevskaya in most things since we’re married). Still, what actually makes it to the Western press is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, what’s beneath the surface is often just as bad if not worse.

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