Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 14, 2013

Vitter an Unwitting Ally of Obama on Iran

David Vitter may not have made as much of a splash in terms of publicity as Ted Cruz, but in his own way he has been as much of a thorn in the side of President Obama and Senate Democrats as any other conservative Republican. Vitter is best known to many in the country for his role in a prostitution scandal that he survived thanks to the loose morals that have always prevailed in Louisiana politics. But in recent months his crusade against allowing members of Congress to be exempt from ObamaCare has endeared him to the GOP core and driven Democrats straight up the wall. Vitter has so far been largely frustrated in his efforts, but he is undeterred and is still seeking a vote on an amendment seeking to expose whether members are putting their staffs on the ObamaCare exchanges. But Vitter’s insistence on getting that vote and his willingness to use his power to withhold consent on another unrelated bill may be doing a huge favor for the president.

As Politico reports, unless Vitter gives in on these two points, the delays caused by his holds will mean that the Defense Authorization bill won’t be voted on until sometime in December. That helps the administration since a delay on that vote would mean there will be no toughened sanctions on Iran passed until after the next meeting of the P5+1 group where Secretary of State John Kerry will try again to strike a deal with Tehran that will loosen the restrictions on doing business with the Islamist state. As such, the embattled Kerry is hoping Vitter will hang tough and give him the room he needs—and which many senators would rightly wish to deny him—to pursue engagement with the ayatollahs.

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David Vitter may not have made as much of a splash in terms of publicity as Ted Cruz, but in his own way he has been as much of a thorn in the side of President Obama and Senate Democrats as any other conservative Republican. Vitter is best known to many in the country for his role in a prostitution scandal that he survived thanks to the loose morals that have always prevailed in Louisiana politics. But in recent months his crusade against allowing members of Congress to be exempt from ObamaCare has endeared him to the GOP core and driven Democrats straight up the wall. Vitter has so far been largely frustrated in his efforts, but he is undeterred and is still seeking a vote on an amendment seeking to expose whether members are putting their staffs on the ObamaCare exchanges. But Vitter’s insistence on getting that vote and his willingness to use his power to withhold consent on another unrelated bill may be doing a huge favor for the president.

As Politico reports, unless Vitter gives in on these two points, the delays caused by his holds will mean that the Defense Authorization bill won’t be voted on until sometime in December. That helps the administration since a delay on that vote would mean there will be no toughened sanctions on Iran passed until after the next meeting of the P5+1 group where Secretary of State John Kerry will try again to strike a deal with Tehran that will loosen the restrictions on doing business with the Islamist state. As such, the embattled Kerry is hoping Vitter will hang tough and give him the room he needs—and which many senators would rightly wish to deny him—to pursue engagement with the ayatollahs.

Momentum is building for more sanctions as Democrats like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey are joining with Republicans on the Banking Committee to push for more sanctions. Yet Vitter’s holds, though he has stuck to them for a good cause, will ensure that Kerry gets the delay on more action against Iran that he has been calling for. Kerry alienated senators with remarks in which he vented his spleen against Israel and urged them to ignore Israeli concerns and intelligence about how his deal would do nothing to stop Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. With bipartisan disgust about the administration’s rush to engage again with Iran, it’s growing increasingly likely that any vote on sanctions would be positive. But if Vitter does not relent, the Iranians will be spared further inconvenience until after they get an all-too-eager Kerry back at the negotiating table.

Vitter, who is as stalwart a supporter of Israel as he is a foe of ObamaCare, should get his vote on congressional hypocrisy. But either way he should do whatever he can to make sure Congress puts Kerry on notice that he is not free to pursue his policy of appeasement with impunity.

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Does the U.S.-Israel Alliance Have a Future?

Perhaps a week when the U.S. secretary of state told a Senate committee to “stop listening to the Israelis” and to ignore their concerns about the existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the best timing to write about the importance and the permanence of the U.S.-Israel alliance. But bad timing or not, my post about the rumblings from some in Israel about an alternative to their ties to the only true superpower in the world has provoked some interesting comments and led me to think a bit more about the topic as well. In fact, weeks such as the one we’re currently experiencing may be the best time for those who care about the relationship to explore how to shore it up and the stakes involved for both countries. Even as Kerry seems to be doing everything to downgrade the relationship, it’s important to point out that not only is there no rational alternative to it from Israel’s point of view but that it is of vital importance to the United States as well.

First, let me address the question of whether it is wise to inextricably link Israel’s wellbeing to America’s standing in the world. Martin Kramer wrote here that he agreed with me that it is dangerous for anyone in Israel to even consider trying to play China or Russia off the United States in a vain attempt to outmaneuver Washington when it comes to questions like the nuclear peril from Iran. But he disagreed with this passage from my post:

Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Kramer believes that American power, like all power, “waxes and wanes.” He goes on to write the following:

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

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Perhaps a week when the U.S. secretary of state told a Senate committee to “stop listening to the Israelis” and to ignore their concerns about the existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the best timing to write about the importance and the permanence of the U.S.-Israel alliance. But bad timing or not, my post about the rumblings from some in Israel about an alternative to their ties to the only true superpower in the world has provoked some interesting comments and led me to think a bit more about the topic as well. In fact, weeks such as the one we’re currently experiencing may be the best time for those who care about the relationship to explore how to shore it up and the stakes involved for both countries. Even as Kerry seems to be doing everything to downgrade the relationship, it’s important to point out that not only is there no rational alternative to it from Israel’s point of view but that it is of vital importance to the United States as well.

First, let me address the question of whether it is wise to inextricably link Israel’s wellbeing to America’s standing in the world. Martin Kramer wrote here that he agreed with me that it is dangerous for anyone in Israel to even consider trying to play China or Russia off the United States in a vain attempt to outmaneuver Washington when it comes to questions like the nuclear peril from Iran. But he disagreed with this passage from my post:

Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Kramer believes that American power, like all power, “waxes and wanes.” He goes on to write the following:

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

That’s a sobering thought and the possibility can’t be entirely discounted, especially with figures such as Senator Rand Paul rising to prominence in a Republican Party that has become a bulwark of the alliance in the last generation. Moreover, he’s right when he says that the history of Zionism teaches us that in order to survive, the movement has had to be flexible in its alliances with world powers. A century ago, many Zionists were looking to tie their future to that of the Ottoman Empire. A few years later, after the sick man of Europe collapsed, they cast their lot with a British Empire. But after a few short years when London seemed ready to make good on the promise made in the Balfour Declaration, they were abandoned. Gradually America became the focus of Zionist diplomacy, but until that alliance became a reality after the Six-Day War, Israel relied on a brief yet crucial period of Soviet friendship during the War of Independence and after that a fruitful friendship with France that lasted until 1967.

Israel’s leaders must, as Kramer says, be prepared for all eventualities and they should not, as I wrote, be blamed for seeking to foster ties with other countries. But the problem with planning for a theoretical period of American withdrawal from the world is that the answer to his question about a “Plan B” is that there isn’t one.

Though he is right to assert that the point of Zionism is, to the greatest extent possible, to make sure that Israel can defend itself, no “agility” or ability to “read the changing map of the world” can substitute for an alliance with America. Without a strong United States that is engaged in the world, Israel will not disappear. But it will be weaker and far more vulnerable. For Israel there is not and never will be—at least in the foreseeable future—a viable alternative to the alliance with the United States.

But the key question here is not so much whether Israel appreciates how important the U.S. is to its future—and there’s every indication that Israel’s leaders understand that—but whether Americans understand how important the Jewish state is to it.

The flip side to this discussion is that for all the talk from anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists like those who promote the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” in which the Jewish state is supposed to be the tail that wags the American dog, we don’t talk enough about how Israel is a valued ally of the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, the value of having what many consider to be a regional superpower allied with the United States has been largely ignored. But the notion that the U.S. doesn’t need strong allies in an era in which it is challenged by Islamist terrorism as well as rogue states like Iran is farcical. Moreover, the traditional meme of critics of the alliance—that Arab states are hostile to the United States because of its friendship with Israel—has been exploded both by the Arab Spring and the regional concerns about Iran that have made it clear that they fear Tehran more than they do the Jewish state.

Israel’s intelligence capabilities have long been a boon to the U.S. But its technological resources—both in terms of military and commercial applications—are now just as if not more important. Israel, the “start-up nation,” is a vital partner for the U.S. economy.

But even if we ignore the utilitarian aspects of this friendship, it should be remembered that the core of American foreign policy has, contrary to the slanders of the left, always primarily been moral rather than a nation bent on conquest or empire. As such it needs nations that share its democratic values. That means Israel remains part of the select few countries that will always be natural allies. It is true that Israel cannot always count on the U.S. to do the right thing at the right time. Nor can the U.S. assume that Israel will disregard its interests in order to serve American convenience. But the relationship is both mutual and rooted in something stronger than Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum about permanent interests. Support for Israel is part of the political DNA of American culture. The same is true of Israel’s affinity with its fellow democracy.

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The Bureaucracy on Autopilot

On October 22, Kathleen Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about the disastrous ObamaCare rollout, especially the “glitch”-plagued Healthcare.gov. What she told CNN was that President Obama was not aware of the problems with the site–“despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run,” CNN added–until after the website launched.

How involved the president was on his signature health-care legislation became a subject of interest, since Sebelius was obviously trying to absolve her boss of blame for the project’s massive failures. So it was Sebelius’s fault, then? Well, not exactly, according to those who wished to either clear Sebelius’s name or paint her as an a out-of-touch apparatchik, depending on your interpretation. The day of her CNN interview the New York Times ran a story on Sebelius’s involvement in the project:

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On October 22, Kathleen Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about the disastrous ObamaCare rollout, especially the “glitch”-plagued Healthcare.gov. What she told CNN was that President Obama was not aware of the problems with the site–“despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run,” CNN added–until after the website launched.

How involved the president was on his signature health-care legislation became a subject of interest, since Sebelius was obviously trying to absolve her boss of blame for the project’s massive failures. So it was Sebelius’s fault, then? Well, not exactly, according to those who wished to either clear Sebelius’s name or paint her as an a out-of-touch apparatchik, depending on your interpretation. The day of her CNN interview the New York Times ran a story on Sebelius’s involvement in the project:

Republicans insist the buck stops with the secretary. But although Ms. Sebelius runs the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency directly responsible for the health care law, there are questions about how deeply she was involved in the development of the troubled Web site.

“Kathleen has the title, but she doesn’t have the responsibility or in many respects the kind of wide authority and access to the president that she really needs to make a difference,” said one person close to Ms. Sebelius and the White House, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal decision-making. “Everybody thinks that she’s the driving force, but unfortunately she’s not.”

Just who is steering this ship? Your guess is as good as Obama’s. Part of this is strategic, as I wrote last month: the president’s pursuit of plausible deniability at all costs often crowds out responsible decision making. But another part has to do with what Glenn Thrush writes about for the debut cover story of Politico Magazine. The president has sidelined his Cabinet to a degree that is unprecedented, according to Thrush.

In his fairly successful quest to have the media portray his Cabinet of like-minded mediocrities as a “team of rivals,” Obama wanted these heavy hitters to be seen and not heard. They were there to show the press that they were there. See how bipartisan Obama is? He has Ray LaHood serving as his secretary of transportation. See how much of a unifier the president is? He has asked two of his opponents in the nominating contest to serve as his vice president and his secretary of state. See how willing he is to be challenged intellectually? He has Nobel laureate Steven Chu as his energy secretary.

But these secretaries didn’t realize the president wanted them solely as decorative tree ornaments. So when Chu made a politically clumsy remark while giving a talk in Trinidad and Tobago during a trip abroad with administration figures, Rahm Emanuel, then the president’s chief of staff, called political advisor Jim Messina with a message: “If you don’t kill [Chu], I’m going to.”

Thrush reports:

For any modern president, the advantages of hoarding power in the White House at the expense of the Cabinet are obvious—from more efficient internal communication and better control of external messaging to avoiding messy confirmation battles and protecting against pesky congressional subpoenas. But over the course of his five years in office, Obama has taken this White House tendency to an extreme, according to more than 50 interviews with current and former secretaries, White House staffers and executive branch officials, who described his Cabinet as a restless nest of ambition, fits-and-starts achievement and power-jockeying under a shadow of unfulfilled promise.

That’s a far cry from the vision Obama sketched out in the months leading up to his 2008 election. Back then, he waxed expansive about the Cabinet, promising to rejuvenate the institution as a venue for serious innovation and genuine decision making. “I don’t want to have people who just agree with me,” he told Time magazine, after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s classic account of President Abraham Lincoln and his advisers, Team of Rivals. “I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.”

Obama, many of his associates now concede, never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone. While he personally recruited stars such as Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, most other picks for his first Cabinet were made by his staff, with less involvement from the president. “[Bill] Clinton spent almost all of his time picking the Cabinet at the expense of the White House staff; Obama made the opposite mistake,” says a person close to both presidents.

The most revealing part of that is not that Obama “never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone.” That much was obvious to anyone not in the tank for the president. Rather, it’s that the fact that he “never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone” is now clear even to those close to the president. He didn’t want to be challenged after all, they realized only too late.

And it was a learning experience for Obama too. So he downgraded in his second term to people like John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, the yes-men Obama always wanted. And so, it is no surprise that his agenda is in tatters, especially the disaster that is ObamaCare thus far. And it’s also no surprise that no one knows precisely who to blame, though the buck should really stop with the president. The bureaucracy is running on autopilot, and it’s running aground.

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Rouhani’s Moderate Iran Not So Moderate

Secretary of State John Kerry is asking Americans not to “break faith” with Iran as he attempts to convince the Senate not to pass tougher sanctions on the Islamist regime. Given Kerry’s obvious lust for a deal, even if it means recognizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and setting in place factors that will allow Tehran to eventually go nuclear, his credibility is shot and both Democrats and Republicans are calling into question the policy to which he has committed the administration. But rather than just focus on what’s wrong with a U.S. stand that is so weak that even the French couldn’t stomach it, it’s appropriate for the nation to also take another hard look at who Kerry is asking us to keep faith with.

If you listen to Kerry or watch the mainstream media in recent weeks, Iran’s defining characteristic has become “change” in the person of its new President Hassan Rouhani. The administration has bought into the conception that Rouhani’s election last summer as part of Iran’s faux democracy has heralded a new openness and an opportunity for the nation to change. But so far signs of change have been few and far between. Not only, despite Washington’s commitment to reviving diplomacy with Iran, has there been no give in the regime’s positions on nuclear issues or its involvement in Syria, the nation that Kerry believes he must reach out to has continued to promote anti-Semitism via its official media.

As the Anti-Defamation League reports:

Press TV, Iran’s government-run English-language satellite news network, has taken its usual viciously anti-Semitic conspiracy theories a step further. It now claims not only that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust, but also that because Jews did not learn from their supposed wrongs in Nazi Germany that “American Zionists” are “incubating another Hitler.”

The November 9 article, “American Zionists incubating another Hitler,” was written by a Press TV colum­nist named M.I. Bhat, who also writes for the conspiratorial anti-Semitic website Veterans Today. The Press TV piece was additionally published two days earlier in Veterans Today under the title “Are American Jews incubating another Hitler?”

In both articles, Bhat claims that “American Zionists” control America’s “banks, Wall Street, media, Hollywood, markets, politicians, foreign policy, indeed the whole life of Americans.” The article also asserts that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a “false flag” attack committed by “American Zionist Jews and Israel” to further their control of American foreign policy.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is asking Americans not to “break faith” with Iran as he attempts to convince the Senate not to pass tougher sanctions on the Islamist regime. Given Kerry’s obvious lust for a deal, even if it means recognizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and setting in place factors that will allow Tehran to eventually go nuclear, his credibility is shot and both Democrats and Republicans are calling into question the policy to which he has committed the administration. But rather than just focus on what’s wrong with a U.S. stand that is so weak that even the French couldn’t stomach it, it’s appropriate for the nation to also take another hard look at who Kerry is asking us to keep faith with.

If you listen to Kerry or watch the mainstream media in recent weeks, Iran’s defining characteristic has become “change” in the person of its new President Hassan Rouhani. The administration has bought into the conception that Rouhani’s election last summer as part of Iran’s faux democracy has heralded a new openness and an opportunity for the nation to change. But so far signs of change have been few and far between. Not only, despite Washington’s commitment to reviving diplomacy with Iran, has there been no give in the regime’s positions on nuclear issues or its involvement in Syria, the nation that Kerry believes he must reach out to has continued to promote anti-Semitism via its official media.

As the Anti-Defamation League reports:

Press TV, Iran’s government-run English-language satellite news network, has taken its usual viciously anti-Semitic conspiracy theories a step further. It now claims not only that Jews are to blame for the Holocaust, but also that because Jews did not learn from their supposed wrongs in Nazi Germany that “American Zionists” are “incubating another Hitler.”

The November 9 article, “American Zionists incubating another Hitler,” was written by a Press TV colum­nist named M.I. Bhat, who also writes for the conspiratorial anti-Semitic website Veterans Today. The Press TV piece was additionally published two days earlier in Veterans Today under the title “Are American Jews incubating another Hitler?”

In both articles, Bhat claims that “American Zionists” control America’s “banks, Wall Street, media, Hollywood, markets, politicians, foreign policy, indeed the whole life of Americans.” The article also asserts that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a “false flag” attack committed by “American Zionist Jews and Israel” to further their control of American foreign policy.

For anyone who has been following the conduct of the Iranian regime, there’s not much new here. Such views are mainstream discourse in Tehran. Iran has been a fount of anti-Semitic incitement ever since the Islamic Revolution. Its print and broadcasting services are consistent purveyors of conspiracy theories about Jews and hatred directed at Israel. But this must be understood in the context of a regime that doesn’t merely talk about hate, but practices it in the form of oppressing religious minorities and exporting terrorism.

While Kerry is telling himself that this time the Iranians mean it when they say they want détente with the West, the same regime has, with the help of its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries, kept Bashar Assad in power in Syria and secured it as a base from which Iran can threaten moderate Arab nations and Israel.

In fact, nothing about Iran has changed in the last several months and given Rouhani’s policy statements, there’s no sign that will change. This is not, as Kerry and other administration apologists claim, because the moderates are worried about being ousted by hardliners. It’s because the entire political class in Iran—including a faithful servant of the revolution like Rouhani—are in agreement about their government’s use of terrorism, hate speech, and nuclear program.

Contrary to the statements coming out of the White House and State Department, these issues aren’t peripheral to the question of whether to tighten sanctions on Iran, but integral to them. If Iran is ever to change, it can only be as a result of the regime admitting defeat in its nuclear standoff with the West. Only when the ayatollahs are forced to back down will the stirrings of dissent that took to the streets of Tehran in the summer of 2009 (and were ignored by an Obama administration still besotted with the idea of “engagement” with the regime) reappear and begin the process of transforming a dangerous tyranny into a nation that America really can do business with.

Détente with such tyrants and anti-Semites will only lead to more deceptions and diplomatic disasters for the West. That’s something Congress should keep in mind when it listens to the entreaties of Obama and Kerry for them to lower the pressure on Iran.

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My Mom

I am, I think it’s fair to say, the only person among my friends and classmates who, as a child growing up, was awakened for school not by an alarm clock or a yell but by a gentle song often sung in German. 

Unusual, I know, but that was my Mom. Inge Wehner felt like her children deserved to start the day with tenderness, a smile, easing their way into the world. No loud, discordant alarm clock for her kids. For her each morning was a beautiful morning, each day a beautiful day. My siblings all have a similar story to tell.

My Mom, beloved not only by her family but by just about everyone she ever met, passed away earlier this week. She lived a long and full life; my sister said she lived the life of her dreams, as a wife and mother. And no one, and I mean no one, did it better. So even though her death wasn’t a surprise, it is still quite a jolt. It was Churchill who, in writing to the wife of a friend who passed away, said great happiness long enjoyed casts its own shadow. 

Mom cast a very long shadow.

The memories of her are too long and too personal to relay here. Suffice it to say that my mother inspired a devotion in those who loved her, and were loved by her, that is impossible to capture for those who were not fortunate enough to have known life in her orbit. It is, I think, worth pointing this out: She raised four children during the tumultuous cultural revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Generation Gap and all that. Yet never once did any of the four of her children rebel against her, turn on her, or turn from her. We revered her, then and now.

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I am, I think it’s fair to say, the only person among my friends and classmates who, as a child growing up, was awakened for school not by an alarm clock or a yell but by a gentle song often sung in German. 

Unusual, I know, but that was my Mom. Inge Wehner felt like her children deserved to start the day with tenderness, a smile, easing their way into the world. No loud, discordant alarm clock for her kids. For her each morning was a beautiful morning, each day a beautiful day. My siblings all have a similar story to tell.

My Mom, beloved not only by her family but by just about everyone she ever met, passed away earlier this week. She lived a long and full life; my sister said she lived the life of her dreams, as a wife and mother. And no one, and I mean no one, did it better. So even though her death wasn’t a surprise, it is still quite a jolt. It was Churchill who, in writing to the wife of a friend who passed away, said great happiness long enjoyed casts its own shadow. 

Mom cast a very long shadow.

The memories of her are too long and too personal to relay here. Suffice it to say that my mother inspired a devotion in those who loved her, and were loved by her, that is impossible to capture for those who were not fortunate enough to have known life in her orbit. It is, I think, worth pointing this out: She raised four children during the tumultuous cultural revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Generation Gap and all that. Yet never once did any of the four of her children rebel against her, turn on her, or turn from her. We revered her, then and now.

To anyone who entered into her world–family, the friends of her children, neighbors, members of her bridge and book review group, teachers, bus drivers, hairdressers, people who worked at grocery stores, shoe stores, card stores, fruit markets, and pharmacies–she brought joy, laughter, an encouraging word. Even during hard days she didn’t travel in the valley; her life was all about the uplands. For she believed with all her heart that God was the author of each of our stories, that things would inevitably turn out well. With her, because of her, they almost always did.

A passion for life, selflessness and generosity, grace and dignity, and such kindness–those are among the rarest of human qualities. In my Mom they each found a home. And even in her last years, as dementia robbed her of her mind, it was never able to touch her spirit.

It was quite remarkable, really. Right until the end Mom was ready with a smile, at peace with the world, a light in our lives. That light continues to shine in the hearts of her family and the countless lives she touched all along the way. And we each take comfort in knowing she is in a place where the morning has begun, where all things are made new again, in the arms of our loving Lord.

But I still miss my Mom.  

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The Case Against Louisiana’s School Choice Program Crumbles

The school choice movement’s prospects can sometimes be measured by the quality of the arguments deployed against them. Egged on by organized labor, big-government Democrats have shunted aside their supposed concern for basic fairness in the service of preserving a flailing government education monopoly. Sometimes, the government couches its case against poor students in terms of “saving” public schools or reinforcing the separation of church and state.

But sometimes, the government is simply out of ammo and engages in the intellectual and legal equivalent of throwing a shoe. That’s what the Obama administration did when it dispatched Eric Holder’s Justice Department to make a sensationally offensive and clownishly ill-reasoned case against the Louisiana school choice program. It was desperation, pure and simple. And it should have been a humbling moment for the administration, a good time for the government to look itself in the mirror and wonder what it has become.

I wrote about this case back in August. Briefly, Louisiana put into place a program to give private-school vouchers to low-income students in failing public schools. Deprived of any meritorious argument against it, the Justice Department petitioned a district court to enjoin the state from offering scholarships to students from schools that are still under federal desegregation orders. The Holder Justice Department’s logic, such as it is, portrayed the voucher program as disrupting the racial balance of the schools by pulling minority students out of majority-white schools.

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The school choice movement’s prospects can sometimes be measured by the quality of the arguments deployed against them. Egged on by organized labor, big-government Democrats have shunted aside their supposed concern for basic fairness in the service of preserving a flailing government education monopoly. Sometimes, the government couches its case against poor students in terms of “saving” public schools or reinforcing the separation of church and state.

But sometimes, the government is simply out of ammo and engages in the intellectual and legal equivalent of throwing a shoe. That’s what the Obama administration did when it dispatched Eric Holder’s Justice Department to make a sensationally offensive and clownishly ill-reasoned case against the Louisiana school choice program. It was desperation, pure and simple. And it should have been a humbling moment for the administration, a good time for the government to look itself in the mirror and wonder what it has become.

I wrote about this case back in August. Briefly, Louisiana put into place a program to give private-school vouchers to low-income students in failing public schools. Deprived of any meritorious argument against it, the Justice Department petitioned a district court to enjoin the state from offering scholarships to students from schools that are still under federal desegregation orders. The Holder Justice Department’s logic, such as it is, portrayed the voucher program as disrupting the racial balance of the schools by pulling minority students out of majority-white schools.

As I wrote, this was a terrible and shameful argument. But thanks to two new studies, we also know that it is demonstrably false, and the government should drop its case against Louisiana’s minority students immediately:

The first study conducted out of the University of Arkansas found that these transfers overwhelmingly improved integration in the public schools that students leave as well as the private schools that participating students attend.

Of the 5,000 students who used LSP vouchers in the 2012-13 school year, all were from families with incomes less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line, and about 90 percent were black.

Specifically, the Arkansas study found, just 17 percent of LSP schools are racially homogenous, compared to over one-third of public schools that previously enrolled these students. In 83 percent of cases, an overwhelming majority, LSP transfers had a positive impact on the racial integration of the student’s original public school.

“Based on this evidence, we conclude that the LSP is unlikely to have harmed desegregation efforts in Louisiana,” the authors write. “To the contrary, the statewide school voucher program appears to have brought greater integration to Louisiana’s public schools.”

These findings were validated by a separate study by Christine Rossell of Boston University who was retained to analyze data for the DOJ case. Rossell concludes, “The 2012-13 Louisiana scholarship program to date has no negative effect on school desegregation in the 34 school districts under a desegregation court order.”

This should be the end of what was truly an act of desperation from a government agency convinced its will could not be disobeyed. And at the heart of this was a distorted view of desegregation and its purposes. Most of the students benefiting from this program are black. Holder’s DOJ argued that this means that a disproportionate number of black students are being given the opportunity to flee failing schools for better ones, leaving fewer black students behind.

To Holder’s DOJ, the “racial balance” of failing government schools is more important than actually improving life for racial minorities, which is what Bobby Jindal and the state’s leaders were trying to do. But now we know that the “racial balance” argument is a fallacy anyway. The school choice program improves both racial balance in schools and the educational freedom of the state’s minority students.

The government’s argument for suppressing minorities’ educational opportunities has completely dissolved. They should drop this case, accept the principle of equal educational opportunity for minorities, and get out of the way.

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ObamaCare Fix Won’t Stop the Bleeding

President Obama is hoping today’s announcement that he will allow Americans who lost their coverage—despite his pledge—to keep it for another year will stop the bleeding on his signature health-care legislation. With his own party on the brink of a full-scale revolt as millions of Americans come forward to complain about cancelled plans and huge premium hikes, the White House knew he needed to say something to alter a national conversation in which his credibility is shot and his plan has been revealed to be mired in incompetence. But his faltering presentation before the White House press corps and the torturous explanations he offered won’t do much to bolster the country’s confidence in his ability to fix a problem that may be beyond even his considerable powers to solve.

His solution—an administrative fix of the law that would allow insurance companies to renew plans that had been canceled by ObamaCare—is intended to head off legislation authored by scared Democrats that would essentially undo a key provision of ObamaCare. But this fix effectively punts the ball to insurance companies and state regulators to implement it. That does give the president some new scapegoats to blame for the problem. But it’s far from clear that at this point he can put the genie back in the bottle. ObamaCare is a complicated scheme that even its authors don’t fully comprehend. By further diminishing the numbers of people who will be forced into the pool of ObamaCare customers, it’s entirely possible that this will begin to unravel the whole thing. Though the president kept returning to his gripes about “the darned website” not working—as if that were the only real obstacle to the law’s success—his main problem is the growing conviction that the plan is hurting as many if not more people than it is intended to help and that the government isn’t capable of running it. Today’s flat and rambling presidential remarks won’t alter that impression. Nor will it likely stop congressional Democrats and Republicans from passing legislation that will likely change the law in an even more far-reaching manner.

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President Obama is hoping today’s announcement that he will allow Americans who lost their coverage—despite his pledge—to keep it for another year will stop the bleeding on his signature health-care legislation. With his own party on the brink of a full-scale revolt as millions of Americans come forward to complain about cancelled plans and huge premium hikes, the White House knew he needed to say something to alter a national conversation in which his credibility is shot and his plan has been revealed to be mired in incompetence. But his faltering presentation before the White House press corps and the torturous explanations he offered won’t do much to bolster the country’s confidence in his ability to fix a problem that may be beyond even his considerable powers to solve.

His solution—an administrative fix of the law that would allow insurance companies to renew plans that had been canceled by ObamaCare—is intended to head off legislation authored by scared Democrats that would essentially undo a key provision of ObamaCare. But this fix effectively punts the ball to insurance companies and state regulators to implement it. That does give the president some new scapegoats to blame for the problem. But it’s far from clear that at this point he can put the genie back in the bottle. ObamaCare is a complicated scheme that even its authors don’t fully comprehend. By further diminishing the numbers of people who will be forced into the pool of ObamaCare customers, it’s entirely possible that this will begin to unravel the whole thing. Though the president kept returning to his gripes about “the darned website” not working—as if that were the only real obstacle to the law’s success—his main problem is the growing conviction that the plan is hurting as many if not more people than it is intended to help and that the government isn’t capable of running it. Today’s flat and rambling presidential remarks won’t alter that impression. Nor will it likely stop congressional Democrats and Republicans from passing legislation that will likely change the law in an even more far-reaching manner.

The main problem with the president’s fix is that the law it is intended to improve is so complicated and its effects so far-reaching that, as with the rollout, it’s not clear that the administration has thought it through. Having already upset the applecart of the insurance industry with this law, making the vast numbers of ObamaCare losers whole may not actually possible even if the president is pretending he can do so with one statement.

How state insurance commissioners and insurance companies are to reconstruct the plans that have already been canceled and which may also be again illegal in the not-so-distant future is a greater mystery than even the question of how or why the administration found itself unable to design a website that worked.

But even if we ignore the fact that this fix probably won’t fix much, the president’s uninspiring hour-long appearance did little to restore confidence that this plan can be changed in such a way that it will not hurt a great many middle-class people in order to help some of the poor. As I noted earlier this week, the conundrum facing the administration is that unlike past expansions of government that are frequently cited as precedents of ObamaCare, such as Social Security and Medicare, this law creates a vast class of losers along with some winners while potentially altering insurance, perhaps for the worse, for many others.

The difference between the one-year extension Obama offered and the proposed fixes offered by Democrats like Senator Mary Landrieu is that the latter are open-ended and offer permanent relief to ObamaCare losers. That won’t satisfy Americans who are no more likely to want higher premiums in 2015 than they will in 2014. That will, as with the employer mandate that the president has postponed, put off a lot of the pain until after the midterm elections in which ObamaCare is endangering the careers of many Democrats like Landrieu. But it’s unlikely that the senator or many of her colleagues want to go to the voters with that hanging over their heads. After surviving dozens of attempts by Republicans to repeal the law, it is this fact that is finally putting its future in doubt.

What the president doesn’t realize is that his oft-repeated pledge about letting people to keep their plans wasn’t a matter of bad communications but a scam that was necessary in order to pass a law that would otherwise have been defeated. Had more Americans, including Democrats, known that they would be the victims of the president’s law, they would have opposed it.

The bottom line here is that the president thinks minimal concessions such as the one he offered today will begin changing the momentum of the debate. But changing the rules after the fact in this manner may actually serve to help raise premiums even more and won’t change the fact that ObamaCare is at its core an effort to redistribute wealth, not insurance reform. Much of the public has only belatedly realized this fact. Try as he might, the president is not going to be able to lull them back to sleep.

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Kerry Wants Congress to Ignore Israel; It May Ignore Him Instead

Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

Kerry’s remarks were in keeping with the tone of Kerry’s temper tantrum during a press interview last week in Israel, during which he vented his frustration about Israel’s opposition to his proposed deal with Iran and placed all the blame for the failure of the peace talks he has pushed with Palestinians on the Jewish state and even seemed to rationalize Palestinian violence.

But the unwillingness to take Kerry at his word isn’t just a matter of being shocked at his animus toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. It’s also because senators who remember the U.S. missteps that led to North Korea getting a bomb have seen this movie before. As Kirk noted, Wendy Sherman, Kerry’s aide who is leading the U.S. participation in the P5+1 talks with Iran, has little credibility when it comes to nuclear negotiations:

Kirk also criticized Sherman, whose “record on North Korea is a total failure and embarrassment to her service.” Sherman was part of the U.S. negotiating team that focused on North Korea in the 1990s.

“Wendy wants you to forget her service on North Korea,” Kirk said. “You shouldn’t allow her.”

This is significant because Kerry wants the Senate to believe that he knows what he’s doing in advocating a deal that would have left in place Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and did nothing to halt construction on its plutonium reactor. Those terms were so transparently weak that even the French couldn’t stomach the effort to appease Iran, resulting in Kerry leaving Geneva last weekend without the accord that he’s so desperate to sign.

His claims that more restrictions on Iran’s ability to sell oil to fund terrorism and nukes would “break faith” with Iran are also puzzling and will only feed speculation that the U.S. has been conducting secret back-channel talks with Tehran that have been predicated on Obama administration promises to give the ayatollahs the sanctions relief they want while getting little or nothing in return.

But by throwing down the gauntlet on Israel in this fashion in a Congress where a wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition in support for the Jewish state exists may have been a stunning miscalculation. Kerry has dared the Senate to call him out for a campaign of feckless diplomacy that seems motivated more by a desire to achieve détente with the Islamist tyrants of Tehran and resentment of Israel than concern about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Whatever little credibility the secretary had left after the foreign-policy disasters concerning Egypt, Syria, and the Middle East peace process that he has presided over this year seems to have gone down the drain in another fit of temper. Kerry may want Congress to ignore Israel, but judging by the poor reviews he got yesterday, it’s a lot more likely that it will ignore him and ratify more Iran sanctions.

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