Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 13, 2013

About That Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

Though it has long been debunked as outrageous propaganda, much of the international community still tends to speak of the “humanitarian crisis” Gaza. Even when its southern communities were being battered on a daily basis by terrorist missiles, Israel never cut off the flow of food or medicine to the Hamas-ruled enclave. But it did seek to enforce the blockade of the terror statelet in order to prevent the import of construction materials that could be used for military purposes. Due to international pressure, Israel relaxed that blockade to allow concrete into the strip that we were told was necessary for the rebuilding of structures destroyed during the fighting with Hamas. Like many other Israeli stands on security issues, most media outlets treated their complaints about letting supplies into Gaza as merely mean-spirited rather than rooted in a genuine peril.

But those who assumed that the concrete was being used to help the people of Gaza got a wakeup call today when the Israelis revealed the discovery of a tunnel they had discovered that Hamas digging under the border with the Jewish state. The structure was 18 meters deep and 1,700 meters long (including 300 that were underneath Israeli territory. Built with 500 tons of cement that had been allowed into Gaza for civilian uses, the purpose of the tunnel was clear: provide easy access into Israeli territory for terrorists to kill and/or kidnap Israelis. So will everyone who opposed Israel’s blockade of Gaza now realize they were wrong? Don’t bet on it.

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Though it has long been debunked as outrageous propaganda, much of the international community still tends to speak of the “humanitarian crisis” Gaza. Even when its southern communities were being battered on a daily basis by terrorist missiles, Israel never cut off the flow of food or medicine to the Hamas-ruled enclave. But it did seek to enforce the blockade of the terror statelet in order to prevent the import of construction materials that could be used for military purposes. Due to international pressure, Israel relaxed that blockade to allow concrete into the strip that we were told was necessary for the rebuilding of structures destroyed during the fighting with Hamas. Like many other Israeli stands on security issues, most media outlets treated their complaints about letting supplies into Gaza as merely mean-spirited rather than rooted in a genuine peril.

But those who assumed that the concrete was being used to help the people of Gaza got a wakeup call today when the Israelis revealed the discovery of a tunnel they had discovered that Hamas digging under the border with the Jewish state. The structure was 18 meters deep and 1,700 meters long (including 300 that were underneath Israeli territory. Built with 500 tons of cement that had been allowed into Gaza for civilian uses, the purpose of the tunnel was clear: provide easy access into Israeli territory for terrorists to kill and/or kidnap Israelis. So will everyone who opposed Israel’s blockade of Gaza now realize they were wrong? Don’t bet on it.

Tunnel building is a big business in Gaza and most of the coverage of the topic centers on the way they are used to bring in consumer goods and other items in from Egypt, a practice that the military government in Cairo has made more difficult. But the main point that has been obscured by the often disingenuous attempt to hype concern for the people of Gaza is that the area is ruled by a terrorist group that seized power by violence and holds onto that control by the same means.

As the New York Times points out, the new terror tunnel is not far from the site of similar one that was used by Hamas in 2006 to infiltrate killers into Israel who proceeded to murder two Israeli soldiers and kidnap a third, Gilad Shalit. Shalit was helped prisoner in Gaza for five years before being ransomed in exchange for Israel’s release of over 1,000 jailed terrorists.

If Hamas is hoping to repeat that crime it is because it is under pressure from a number of sources. A split with its former Iranian patrons over the war in Syria resulted in a drop in aid to the terror government from Tehran that has not been fully replaced by its Turkish allies. The coup that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is also a problem for Hamas even though the Morsi regime was not as supportive as they hoped. Just as important, their need to observe a cease-fire with Israel rather than face another Israel Defense Forces counter-offensive has lowered their standing in the eyes of Palestinians who see terrorism as a source of prestige.

All this has put Hamas in a corner but they hope to profit from the inevitable breakup of the current round of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. The new terror tunnel must be seen in the context of a recent upsurge in anti-Jewish violence in the West Bank. As much as Hamas has been weakened by events in Cairo and elsewhere, so long as the Palestinians honor those who attack Jews, it should be assumed that Hamas would seek to shed more blood.

Israel has sensibly re-imposed the ban on allowing concrete into the Strip after this incident but the discovery of the tunnel should be a moment for the international community and the media to reassess the way they think about Gaza. Rather than a place where wicked Israelis are oppressing trapped Palestinians, Gaza is a terrorist enclave whose only export is violence. That it is an independent Palestinian state in all but name is a reminder of what Israel can expect should it ever withdraw all of its forces from the West Bank as it did from Gaza in 2005. The rest of the world needs to draw similar conclusions.

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Don’t Ignore Iran’s Revolutionary Guard

Political scientists who write about terrorism often discuss “spoilers,” those more radical personalities and outliers who seek to undercut any rapprochement by means of new attacks against the backdrop of diplomacy.

This was certainly the case with the Irish Republic Army and its talks with Great Britain, and it has also been true with regard to periods of rapprochement between the United States and Iran. In 1998, for example, vigilantes affiliated with the Iranian security forces attacked a busload of American businessmen in Tehran to study new opportunities given then-President Mohammad Khatami’s flirtation with change.

Let’s put aside the possibility that the Iranian government is simply playing good-cop, bad-cop in order to maximize the incentives it desires. Who wouldn’t want a loosening of sanctions when the economy has shrank 5.4 percent over the past year? And, instead, give Rouhani benefit of the doubt for a second. Even if he is sincere—and I see no reason to believe that is the case—then he still must overcome the overriding influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in which, unlike his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he has not served.

In an interview today, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the IRGC, had made clear that the IRGC opposes any rapprochement with the United States. According to the Fars News Agency (with a translation provided by the Open Source Center):

Major General Mohammad Ali Ja’fari, the commander-in-chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), has criticized the efforts of President Hasan Ruhani’s government to improve ties with the United States, calling them a “big mistake.” “Creating such moods is contrary to the words of the late imam [Ruhollah Khomeyni, the founder of the Islamic Republic] and the supreme leader [Ali Khamene'i] and is a big mistake,” Fars quoted him as telling Guards troops in North Khorasan Province. “The imam never said such a thing and never had a compromising stance toward America,” he added. Ja’fari said that certain people had misinterpreted and “misused” the leader’s remark on the importance of “heroic flexibility” in dealing with adversaries. These people wrongly think that “restoring relations with America will eliminate problems and sanctions,” he said. The IRGC commander said that “the people, the Guards Corps, and the Basij are vigilant and follow the path of the Islamic system.”

Let us hope that the United States will remain at least as vigilant as the IRGC, because the IRGC has the means and the will to test the United States Navy and challenge U.S. facilities and interests in the region. And, unlike the Iranian challenge posed to the Clinton administration in 1996 at Khobar Towers, let us hope that the United States will not let Iran’s good cop, bad cop strategy absolve the regime of accountability for its actions. It may seem ironic given Rouhani’s charm offensive, but Jafari’s posture suggests that the situation in the region is now far more dangerous than it was before Rouhani’s inauguration.

Political scientists who write about terrorism often discuss “spoilers,” those more radical personalities and outliers who seek to undercut any rapprochement by means of new attacks against the backdrop of diplomacy.

This was certainly the case with the Irish Republic Army and its talks with Great Britain, and it has also been true with regard to periods of rapprochement between the United States and Iran. In 1998, for example, vigilantes affiliated with the Iranian security forces attacked a busload of American businessmen in Tehran to study new opportunities given then-President Mohammad Khatami’s flirtation with change.

Let’s put aside the possibility that the Iranian government is simply playing good-cop, bad-cop in order to maximize the incentives it desires. Who wouldn’t want a loosening of sanctions when the economy has shrank 5.4 percent over the past year? And, instead, give Rouhani benefit of the doubt for a second. Even if he is sincere—and I see no reason to believe that is the case—then he still must overcome the overriding influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in which, unlike his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he has not served.

In an interview today, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the IRGC, had made clear that the IRGC opposes any rapprochement with the United States. According to the Fars News Agency (with a translation provided by the Open Source Center):

Major General Mohammad Ali Ja’fari, the commander-in-chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), has criticized the efforts of President Hasan Ruhani’s government to improve ties with the United States, calling them a “big mistake.” “Creating such moods is contrary to the words of the late imam [Ruhollah Khomeyni, the founder of the Islamic Republic] and the supreme leader [Ali Khamene'i] and is a big mistake,” Fars quoted him as telling Guards troops in North Khorasan Province. “The imam never said such a thing and never had a compromising stance toward America,” he added. Ja’fari said that certain people had misinterpreted and “misused” the leader’s remark on the importance of “heroic flexibility” in dealing with adversaries. These people wrongly think that “restoring relations with America will eliminate problems and sanctions,” he said. The IRGC commander said that “the people, the Guards Corps, and the Basij are vigilant and follow the path of the Islamic system.”

Let us hope that the United States will remain at least as vigilant as the IRGC, because the IRGC has the means and the will to test the United States Navy and challenge U.S. facilities and interests in the region. And, unlike the Iranian challenge posed to the Clinton administration in 1996 at Khobar Towers, let us hope that the United States will not let Iran’s good cop, bad cop strategy absolve the regime of accountability for its actions. It may seem ironic given Rouhani’s charm offensive, but Jafari’s posture suggests that the situation in the region is now far more dangerous than it was before Rouhani’s inauguration.

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Who Created the Gerrymandered Media?

New York Times media columnist David Carr thinks its shocking that some smart people don’t want to read his paper or the Washington Post. He was amazed to learn in a New York magazine interview that Justice Antonin Scalia a man who is widely acknowledged, even in the saner precincts of the left, to be an intellectual giant, won’t read either of them and that his daily sources for news are limited to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and conservative talk radio. Carr presents this as evidence that denizens of the right wing echo chamber are not just “a bunch of narrow-minded, politically obsessed characters who send mass e-mails from their mother’s basement.”

To understand this problem more fully, he then asks our John Podhoretz about the problem. John is introduced to the Times readership as a conservative but one that should rate some respect because he recently criticized the architects of the government shutdown tactic. John rightly dissects the shrill nature of some of the most popular cable news programs and points out that the bifurcated ideological media don’t just disagree but make anyone who disagrees with their point of view unwelcome. That helps gin up the intensity level and manufactures a level of vituperation that has caused the two sides to largely insulate themselves from opposing points of view.

Carr deserves credit for acknowledging this problem rather than merely rehearsing the usual liberal complaints about conservatives but there is something important missing from the piece. What he fails to acknowledge is that his own newspaper is as good an example of the media echo chamber as anyone on cable television or talk radio. Indeed, if we have a gerrymandered media that has helped to exacerbate political differences it is to no small extent the responsibility of institutions like the Times whose liberal bias made the creation of conservative alternatives inevitable as well as necessary.

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New York Times media columnist David Carr thinks its shocking that some smart people don’t want to read his paper or the Washington Post. He was amazed to learn in a New York magazine interview that Justice Antonin Scalia a man who is widely acknowledged, even in the saner precincts of the left, to be an intellectual giant, won’t read either of them and that his daily sources for news are limited to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and conservative talk radio. Carr presents this as evidence that denizens of the right wing echo chamber are not just “a bunch of narrow-minded, politically obsessed characters who send mass e-mails from their mother’s basement.”

To understand this problem more fully, he then asks our John Podhoretz about the problem. John is introduced to the Times readership as a conservative but one that should rate some respect because he recently criticized the architects of the government shutdown tactic. John rightly dissects the shrill nature of some of the most popular cable news programs and points out that the bifurcated ideological media don’t just disagree but make anyone who disagrees with their point of view unwelcome. That helps gin up the intensity level and manufactures a level of vituperation that has caused the two sides to largely insulate themselves from opposing points of view.

Carr deserves credit for acknowledging this problem rather than merely rehearsing the usual liberal complaints about conservatives but there is something important missing from the piece. What he fails to acknowledge is that his own newspaper is as good an example of the media echo chamber as anyone on cable television or talk radio. Indeed, if we have a gerrymandered media that has helped to exacerbate political differences it is to no small extent the responsibility of institutions like the Times whose liberal bias made the creation of conservative alternatives inevitable as well as necessary.

Carr writes that the Wall Street Journal is, “a really good newspaper that tilts right on its editorial page and sometimes in its news coverage.” But anyone who reads the Times regularly knows that its news pages, especially its front pages are often littered with “analysis” pieces that are thinly disguised op-eds. Whatever criticisms might be made about the Journal, by comparison it is model of Olympian objectivity. The Times editorial section isn’t merely almost uniformly liberal, even its letters column rarely includes criticism of the paper’s content from a conservative point of view.

But the problem is bigger than the shortcomings of the Times. The origins of the media divide must be traced to what it was like before the rise of Fox News and talk radio. If liberals lament the current split, it’s not just because they claim to despise the nasty, partisan nature of much of the contemporary media, but because they remember how much they liked it when there was no such diversity. The “golden age” of television news was one in which the three major broadcast networks were as uniformly liberal in their presentations as the Times and the Washington Post were in theirs with no competition from cable, the Internet or a talk radio market that was largely inhibited from political commentary by the so-called “fairness doctrine.” The enormous success of Fox News and talkers like Rush Limbaugh is the product of the fact that they filled a niche that was ignored by the mainstream media prior to their development. The bad news for liberals is that it was an underserved niche whose target audience was composed of approximately half of the American people who were begging for an alternative to the left-leaning monolith that had been forced down their throats for decades.

Even worse, was the conceit of these unaccountable liberal news institutions that they were not biased. The power of media icons like Walter Cronkite (who would later admit that he had slanted the news on his broadcasts to conform with his political opinions) was based as much on their pose of objectivity as it was on their lack of competition. As unfortunate as the divide between the hysterical liberals of MSNBC and their conservative antagonists, at least more journalists today are honest about their politics. Any discussion of this topic must note that among the most irresponsible and contemptible holdouts on this point have been Carr’s colleagues at the Times.

I agree with both John and Carr that it is too bad that nowadays we are a nation largely split between those who read the Times or the Washington Post, listen to NPR and watch the broadcast networks or MSNBC and those who read the Journal, listen to Rush and watch Fox. Both sides bear some responsibility for this state of affairs but it’s obvious that Carr is primarily interested in profiling why conservatives don’t read, listen or watch liberals rather than to examine why the liberal media does its best to drive conservatives away. That stance is consistent with the position of President Obama and his cheering section on the Times editorial board which sees liberalism as reasonable and its opponents as inherently irresponsible or extreme. But if he really wants to know why the country is split, he should look in his own mirror and examine what is wrong with a mainstream media that has never been able to be honest about its liberal bias.

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RE: Shutdown Won’t Stop Park Ranger Meeting

On Thursday, I wrote about the poor optics of the decision of the Association of National Park Rangers to go ahead and hold their convention despite the government shutdown. The point was that it was hypocritical for a group whose members that have been central to the administration’s shutdown theatrics to stage a gathering at which many of the speakers would be government employees who would be coming on government time, if not the government dime.

However, as several correspondents have written, ANPR is a private organization, and its members are traveling to it at their own expense. The event is not, strictly speaking, a government function or event. While my post did not state that it was, given that the distinction was not fully explained, readers may have been left with that impression.

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On Thursday, I wrote about the poor optics of the decision of the Association of National Park Rangers to go ahead and hold their convention despite the government shutdown. The point was that it was hypocritical for a group whose members that have been central to the administration’s shutdown theatrics to stage a gathering at which many of the speakers would be government employees who would be coming on government time, if not the government dime.

However, as several correspondents have written, ANPR is a private organization, and its members are traveling to it at their own expense. The event is not, strictly speaking, a government function or event. While my post did not state that it was, given that the distinction was not fully explained, readers may have been left with that impression.

Nevertheless, the point about the inappropriate timing of the convention and the distressing use of the Park Rangers by the administration, still holds. While the ANPR website took pains to inform that the event would continue “despite the current federal government shutdown,” it is good to see that the ANPR website now includes a caveat that the “the program may require changes due to some speakers being unable to attend because of the government shutdown,” although program changes will not address the poor optics of the event.

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Obama and Iran’s Nuclear Red Line

Iran is feeling cocky right now and who can blame them? The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani as regime front man not only improved their imaged but also was enough to trick the West into restarting negotiations aimed at stopping their nuclear program. The assumption in Washington, London and Paris is that Rouhani’s new role means that a decade of diplomatic failure is about to end as Iran finally behaves reasonably and agrees to halt their drive to obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran’s long record of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic rather than a path to a solution ought to inspire caution on the part of the P5+1 group that will reassemble in Geneva this week in order to pick up where they left off after the last round of talks failed. But, as I wrote last week, the warnings issued by Britain and France to Israel that Jerusalem should be prepared for a deal that will leave Iran still in possession of a working nuclear infrastructure may be a sign that the West may be so committed to ending the standoff that any deal will do.

But that conclusion doesn’t seem to be limited to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu whose warnings about Iran’s real intentions have led to his isolation. The Iranians appear to be thinking along the same lines if the latest pronouncement from one of their spokesmen is any indication. Reuters reports that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi made it clear on Iranian TV that the regime has its own nuclear “red line:”

Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.

This is no minor detail. If Iran isn’t going to allow the removal of enriched uranium, then a nuclear accord will be one that will be easily evaded and make the entire process a mockery. That makes it imperative that President Obama and other Western leaders show some spine at the talks even if they are desperate to use Rouhani as an excuse to back away from confrontation.

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Iran is feeling cocky right now and who can blame them? The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani as regime front man not only improved their imaged but also was enough to trick the West into restarting negotiations aimed at stopping their nuclear program. The assumption in Washington, London and Paris is that Rouhani’s new role means that a decade of diplomatic failure is about to end as Iran finally behaves reasonably and agrees to halt their drive to obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran’s long record of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic rather than a path to a solution ought to inspire caution on the part of the P5+1 group that will reassemble in Geneva this week in order to pick up where they left off after the last round of talks failed. But, as I wrote last week, the warnings issued by Britain and France to Israel that Jerusalem should be prepared for a deal that will leave Iran still in possession of a working nuclear infrastructure may be a sign that the West may be so committed to ending the standoff that any deal will do.

But that conclusion doesn’t seem to be limited to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu whose warnings about Iran’s real intentions have led to his isolation. The Iranians appear to be thinking along the same lines if the latest pronouncement from one of their spokesmen is any indication. Reuters reports that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi made it clear on Iranian TV that the regime has its own nuclear “red line:”

Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.

This is no minor detail. If Iran isn’t going to allow the removal of enriched uranium, then a nuclear accord will be one that will be easily evaded and make the entire process a mockery. That makes it imperative that President Obama and other Western leaders show some spine at the talks even if they are desperate to use Rouhani as an excuse to back away from confrontation.

It should be understood that any nuclear deal that leaves Iran’s nuclear program in place is an invitation to a repeat of what happened when the West tried to use diplomacy to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. Anything short of a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure including its plutonium project as well as the well-documented enrichment of uranium will simply delay the Islamist regime’s push toward a weapon. But if Iran is allowed to not only keep its nuclear plants operating — ostensibly to give the oil-rich nation a new source of energy — but to keep the enriched uranium inside their borders, the diplomatic process will be revealed to be a scam whose only purpose is to allow the West to pretend to be doing something about the problem.

By stating its “red line” in this manner, the Iranians are challenging President Obama. The administration’s rhetoric on the Iranian threat has been consistently strong even though it has not been matched by actions that are aimed at achieving its goals. For five years, its attempts at engagement and diplomacy have failed miserably even as the president continued to insist that there was still time to try again. But now that the P5+1 talks are about to resume and with happy talk about Rouhani’s beneficent influence on Iranian policy the conventional wisdom of the day, the president will be put to a test that will allow us to finally assess the sincerity of his pronouncements on the issue. If Iran is allowed to get away with keeping its red lines on enriched uranium or is permitted to drag out the talks on such a false premise as the U.S. puts off toughening economic sanctions, it will no longer be possible to argue that he is serious about stopping Tehran.

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Teacher Unions and Sexual Misconduct

I highly recommend an op-ed by Campbell Brown, a former anchor for NBC and CNN who is now the founder of the Parents Transparency Project. She documents several cases in which arbitrators are effectively undermining what teacher unions claim is a “zero tolerance” when it comes to sexual misconduct cases. In instance after instance they find conduct that should be a firing offense to be permissible. Many arbitrators, in Brown’s words, “normalize sexual behavior or invent standards to arrive at decisions that flout zero tolerance.”

To Ms. Brown’s observations I’d add these three.

The first is that it’s not exactly a state secret that teacher unions have set up the system in a way that leads to arbitrators handing out light sentences. Which is just more evidence (though none was really needed) that teacher unions are not interested in the well being of children as much as they are in protecting teachers, including predatory teachers. When William Bennett was Secretary of Education, he said (and I’m paraphrasing now) that teacher unions were perhaps the most pernicious legal organizations in America. Nothing has changed. The damage teachers unions have done – by what they have done and by what they have kept from being done – is extraordinary.

Second, the attitude of arbitrators is a fairly common one, and it goes like this: There are certain things that qualify as genuine misconduct; predatory sexual behavior really isn’t one of them. In truth it is, and (to take just one example) referring to a teacher’s secret agreement to be sent nude photos of a student as “a lapse in judgment … [that] does not justify upholding her termination” is a sign of moral debasement. Read More

I highly recommend an op-ed by Campbell Brown, a former anchor for NBC and CNN who is now the founder of the Parents Transparency Project. She documents several cases in which arbitrators are effectively undermining what teacher unions claim is a “zero tolerance” when it comes to sexual misconduct cases. In instance after instance they find conduct that should be a firing offense to be permissible. Many arbitrators, in Brown’s words, “normalize sexual behavior or invent standards to arrive at decisions that flout zero tolerance.”

To Ms. Brown’s observations I’d add these three.

The first is that it’s not exactly a state secret that teacher unions have set up the system in a way that leads to arbitrators handing out light sentences. Which is just more evidence (though none was really needed) that teacher unions are not interested in the well being of children as much as they are in protecting teachers, including predatory teachers. When William Bennett was Secretary of Education, he said (and I’m paraphrasing now) that teacher unions were perhaps the most pernicious legal organizations in America. Nothing has changed. The damage teachers unions have done – by what they have done and by what they have kept from being done – is extraordinary.

Second, the attitude of arbitrators is a fairly common one, and it goes like this: There are certain things that qualify as genuine misconduct; predatory sexual behavior really isn’t one of them. In truth it is, and (to take just one example) referring to a teacher’s secret agreement to be sent nude photos of a student as “a lapse in judgment … [that] does not justify upholding her termination” is a sign of moral debasement.

The harm that can be done to young people who are sexually mistreated, physically and emotionally, can be grave and long lasting. We live in a society where many people consider virtually anything that’s related to sex and sexual misconduct places it in a value-free zone. It’s quite the opposite; and when this reality is denied by our culture our children – and not only our children – suffer.

A final word about schools. They once took seriously the motto in loco parentis (“in the place of a parent”). Parents could count on schools, and those who represented schools and teachers, to protect children from physical and moral harm and nurture their character. They had confidence that their children would be in the presence of morally mature and even exemplary adults.

Don’t get me wrong; most teachers in America are very fine people and many of them are outstanding: trustworthy, honorable, dedicated, people of integrity. My point is a different one: the organizations that say they represent teachers are in fact harming their profession by acting as a shield that protects the worst among them. There is a cost to such things.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Justice Louis Brandeis said. What Campbell Brown has done is to cast much needed sunlight on practices that need to be stopped and people who need to be held accountable. Because if they’re not, it’s our kids who will pay the price.

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Azerbaijan Convicts Iranian in Terror Case

On Friday, an Azerbaijani court convicted Fayzi Bahram on charges relating to a plot to attack the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. According to the Azerbaijani press:

According to the indictment, Fayzi Bahram, an employee of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, wanted to explode the Embassy of Israel in Azerbaijan. In his testimony during the pre-trial investigation, Fayzi Bahram said that he moved Baku in 2006. Fayzi Bahram said that he had been instructed to organize unauthorized protests outside the Embassy of Israel in Baku, inflict harm on embassy employees and explode the building….

The story should concern American policymakers for a variety of reasons. First, is the fact that Bahram came to Azerbaijan in 2006. This suggests he was part of a sleeper cell. The notion of Iranian sleeper cells has been the subject of much discussion in the Gulf Cooperation Council over the past several years. And, before that, the trial into the 1992 Mykonos Café assassinations in Berlin suggested the presence of Iranian sleeper cells in Germany. Should Tehran have infiltrated sleeper cells in Western-oriented countries, and if both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are truly dedicated to a new approach, then step one would be for Tehran to unilaterally withdraw its operatives.

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On Friday, an Azerbaijani court convicted Fayzi Bahram on charges relating to a plot to attack the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. According to the Azerbaijani press:

According to the indictment, Fayzi Bahram, an employee of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, wanted to explode the Embassy of Israel in Azerbaijan. In his testimony during the pre-trial investigation, Fayzi Bahram said that he moved Baku in 2006. Fayzi Bahram said that he had been instructed to organize unauthorized protests outside the Embassy of Israel in Baku, inflict harm on embassy employees and explode the building….

The story should concern American policymakers for a variety of reasons. First, is the fact that Bahram came to Azerbaijan in 2006. This suggests he was part of a sleeper cell. The notion of Iranian sleeper cells has been the subject of much discussion in the Gulf Cooperation Council over the past several years. And, before that, the trial into the 1992 Mykonos Café assassinations in Berlin suggested the presence of Iranian sleeper cells in Germany. Should Tehran have infiltrated sleeper cells in Western-oriented countries, and if both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are truly dedicated to a new approach, then step one would be for Tehran to unilaterally withdraw its operatives.

The second issue that is interesting is the fact that the suspect supposedly worked at the Ministry of Intelligence. While Western security officials tend to focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps when it comes to Iranian terrorism, Iran’s intelligence ministry has long run its own operations. In 2010, Kuwaiti security intercepted an Iranian intelligence ministry cell, allegedly planning assassinations of prominent Kuwaiti religious figures. The interesting thing about the intelligence ministry is that rather than contain them, Rouhani has actually empowered them.

Rouhani is a master diplomat. He has shifted Western perception of Iranian intentions. While the West is enthusiastic for diplomacy, it should take care about attributing sincerity to Rouhani, for there seems to be a dangerous dissonance between his words and the Islamic Republic’s actions.

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