Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 21, 2014

Anti-Zionists Must Not Be Allowed to Hijack the Jewish Community

This week the Jewish world is discussing two incidents in which large community institutions were forced to account for invitations to prominent writers who are virulent foes of Israel. In one case New York’s Jewish Museum was under fire for inviting academic Judith Butler. In another, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, also in New York, canceled an appearance by New Republic editor John Judis. What both these figures had in common was their bitter opposition to Israel. In Butler’s case, she is a prominent supporter of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Judis is the author of a book that questions the legitimacy of Israel’s creation in a revisionist history of President Harry Truman’s role in the creation of the Jewish state, as historian Ron Radosh pointed out in the Jerusalem Post.

Taken together, along with other incidents in the last year involving other BDS supporters being invited to Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, the decision by the two museums to let outraged members and donors derail the events is seen as a sign of a wave of repression in the American Jewish community. Sounding a theme that has become a constant refrain on the left, supporters of Israel are being accused of cracking down on dissent. But the issue here isn’t free speech or even whether Israel’s policies should be debated. It’s whether an extremist anti-Zionist minority will be able to hijack Jewish institutions.

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This week the Jewish world is discussing two incidents in which large community institutions were forced to account for invitations to prominent writers who are virulent foes of Israel. In one case New York’s Jewish Museum was under fire for inviting academic Judith Butler. In another, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, also in New York, canceled an appearance by New Republic editor John Judis. What both these figures had in common was their bitter opposition to Israel. In Butler’s case, she is a prominent supporter of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Judis is the author of a book that questions the legitimacy of Israel’s creation in a revisionist history of President Harry Truman’s role in the creation of the Jewish state, as historian Ron Radosh pointed out in the Jerusalem Post.

Taken together, along with other incidents in the last year involving other BDS supporters being invited to Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, the decision by the two museums to let outraged members and donors derail the events is seen as a sign of a wave of repression in the American Jewish community. Sounding a theme that has become a constant refrain on the left, supporters of Israel are being accused of cracking down on dissent. But the issue here isn’t free speech or even whether Israel’s policies should be debated. It’s whether an extremist anti-Zionist minority will be able to hijack Jewish institutions.

The accusation about free speech is a canard. Butler, Judis, and other BDS supporters, such as rocker Roger Waters and writer Alice Walker (who were both invited to the 92nd Street Y last year), do not lack forums to promote their anti-Israel views. Judis admitted as much in an article in the Forward about the controversy. He noted that far from being repressed, Israel’s critics were finding it easier than ever to find forums where they are heard. As is the case with Hillel branches at college campuses around the country that are declaring their willingness to host BDS backers or sponsor programs with anti-Israel groups, anti-Zionists aren’t being silenced. Moreover, the talk about suppression of dissent against Israel rarely takes into account the fact that the mainstream liberal media gives these anti-Zionists equal time on their op-ed pages as well as occasional puffy features where they are portrayed as valiant dissenters even as they are being lionized by newspapers like the New York Times.

The Times can publish what it likes, but institutions that are supported and funded by a broad consensus of the Jewish community are accountable to their donors and the Jewish public. The notion that they should give platforms to individuals who are part of a campaign to delegitimize Zionism and the State of Israel is one that strikes most of those donors as indefensible. They believe their funds should not be used to subsidize programs or promote individuals or produce plays whose purpose is to lend weight to the voices seeking Israel’s destruction.

Those who claim that BDS and anti-Zionism are just another legitimate point of view that deserves a public airing and debate are hypocrites. The BDS cause is one based in a prejudiced view that holds that the Jews are the one people on the planet that are neither entitled to their own homeland or to defend it. Such bias if applied to other groups would be seen as racist. In the case of Jews, the term for such behavior is called anti-Semitism. When combined, as it is by anti-Zionists, with conspiratorial theories about Jewish manipulation of the media or Congress (the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” canard), there is little doubt about the prejudicial nature of the effort.

Judith Butler, John Judis, Roger Waters, and Alice Walker can say whatever they want about Israel in a thousand other, often more prominent, forums than those in the Jewish community. But they are not entitled to have Jewish institutions honor or fund their anti-Israel hate. Upholding that principle isn’t repression. It’s just common sense.

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Can Iran and Israel Put Aside “Differences?”

It is now time for Iran and Israel to bury their hostilities and differences. That at least is the contention put forward by Navid Hassibi in his piece published yesterday, Why Can’t Iran and Israel be Friends? Hassibi, who is currently a scholar at George Washington University’s Institute for Security and Conflict Studies, lauds the idea that, as in the past, Iran and Israel might find shared national interests and areas of cooperation. Well who could possibly be opposed to such sentiments?

The problem with the argument here, however, is the strange suggestion of equivalence that this piece adopts. Hassibi talks of the two countries needing to set aside their “mutual hostility” so as to “look beyond their political differences.” Yet, such a tone is more than a little disingenuous. After all, what exactly are the political differences that we’re talking about here? Mainly it is that Israel thinks it should exist, while Iran has made quite clear that it thinks Israel shouldn’t. That’s the kind of “political differences” that are being faced.

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It is now time for Iran and Israel to bury their hostilities and differences. That at least is the contention put forward by Navid Hassibi in his piece published yesterday, Why Can’t Iran and Israel be Friends? Hassibi, who is currently a scholar at George Washington University’s Institute for Security and Conflict Studies, lauds the idea that, as in the past, Iran and Israel might find shared national interests and areas of cooperation. Well who could possibly be opposed to such sentiments?

The problem with the argument here, however, is the strange suggestion of equivalence that this piece adopts. Hassibi talks of the two countries needing to set aside their “mutual hostility” so as to “look beyond their political differences.” Yet, such a tone is more than a little disingenuous. After all, what exactly are the political differences that we’re talking about here? Mainly it is that Israel thinks it should exist, while Iran has made quite clear that it thinks Israel shouldn’t. That’s the kind of “political differences” that are being faced.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise to learn that the piece in question was published via the Guardian, at the Tehran Bureau hosted on the newspaper’s website. The Tehran Bureau appears to be filled with news stories and opinion pieces devoted to showing the “other side” of life in Iran–arts and culture, feel-good pieces about growing moderation and openness in the country, the occasional murmur of concern about human rights or the economy. And if the Guardian is choosing to host the Tehran Bureau, then this alone surely raises some not unreasonable questions about what kind of agenda might be at play here.

Hassibi’s article is at pains to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that Iran and Israel, particularly prior to the Islamic revolution, engaged in a great deal of cooperation and maintained remarkably warm relations. But this is precisely the point. When the people governing Iran weren’t daily calling for the obliteration of the “Zionist entity” and arming Israel’s terrorist enemies to the teeth, Israel bore no ill will toward the Iranians whatsoever. But when Hassibi claims that there is “mutual hostility,” we are being dishonest with ourselves if we choose to forget that the regime in Iran is the same one that, as Douglas Murray once put it, “denies the last Holocaust while expressing an interest in committing the next one.”

Imagine the sense of surprise, then, at discovering Jewish acquaintances optimistically parading Hassibi’s opinion piece across the social media sphere, enthusiastically endorsing its claims and embracing its recommendations. Eager for any good news at all on this front, young liberal-minded Jews are ever ready to be convinced of these kinds of sentiments. The more lovely the story, the more ready they are to believe it. This idea about “mutual hostility” and both sides needing to set aside “political differences” chimes well with the kindergarten teachings they recall of how if one is only nice enough to others, then soon enough they will start to be nice back. It involves a sense of disbelief that anyone in the world is really bad, or could ever really mean it when they say they hate Jews. If Israel would only bury the hatchet, then all this unpleasantness with Iran could stop, and as the title of Hassibi’s piece suggests, everyone could just get on with being friends.   

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The Dictator’s Script

Is there a dictator school somewhere in the world that trains aspiring autocrats how to talk and act? You would think so given the remarkable resemblances between the pro-government rhetoric in Ukraine and Venezuela–two countries separated by an entire world but united in a shared desire to squelch anti-government protests.

Anne Applebaum (whose husband, foreign minister Radek Sikorski of Poland, is in Kiev) has a useful column laying out the rhetorical tropes being employed by the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow. This includes referring to repression as an “anti-terrorist operation,” calling demonstrators Nazis or fascists, accusing them of trying to stage a coup d’état, and referring to Russian aid in repression as “fraternal assistance.” She might also have added Vladimir Putin’s favorite gambit, of referring to all opposition forces as being agents of the United States.

What is striking is how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s designated successor, is using nearly identical language to justify his repression of anti-government protests in Caracas. As the Wall Street Journal notes

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Is there a dictator school somewhere in the world that trains aspiring autocrats how to talk and act? You would think so given the remarkable resemblances between the pro-government rhetoric in Ukraine and Venezuela–two countries separated by an entire world but united in a shared desire to squelch anti-government protests.

Anne Applebaum (whose husband, foreign minister Radek Sikorski of Poland, is in Kiev) has a useful column laying out the rhetorical tropes being employed by the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow. This includes referring to repression as an “anti-terrorist operation,” calling demonstrators Nazis or fascists, accusing them of trying to stage a coup d’état, and referring to Russian aid in repression as “fraternal assistance.” She might also have added Vladimir Putin’s favorite gambit, of referring to all opposition forces as being agents of the United States.

What is striking is how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s designated successor, is using nearly identical language to justify his repression of anti-government protests in Caracas. As the Wall Street Journal notes

Mr. Maduro accused what he called “fascist leaders” financed by the U.S. of using highly trained teams to topple his socialist government from power. …

He said his foes were hoping to generate chaos to justify a foreign military intervention. “In Venezuela, they’re applying the format of a coup d’état,” he said.

In a speech Thursday, Mr. Maduro also accused U.S. cable channel CNN of producing skewed coverage of the protests and said he had begun an administrative process to kick the channel off the air in Venezuela unless it moved to “rectify” its coverage.

“They want to show the world that in Venezuela there is a civil war,” Mr. Maduro said. “In Venezuela the people are working, studying, building the Fatherland.”

All one can say is that Maduro needs to get a more original script. Simply because this rhetoric has worked for Putin does not mean it will work anywhere else in the world. It does, however, show just how brain-dead so many autocratic leaders are, parroting the same shrill script in the hope that their people are too simple-minded to see through their incendiary accusations. The beauty of the Internet, at least when it’s not effectively censored, is that it makes it easier than ever to expose, refute, and parody such heavy-handed and bombastic rhetorical assaults.

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A Good Deal for the Ukrainian Opposition

The agreement reached between President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukrainian opposition leaders is about as good as the anti-government forces can possibly hope to get.

It calls, inter alia, for a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition to be followed by a new presidential election no later than December. It also commits the government not to impose a state of emergency–meaning martial law–and to allow outside monitors from Europe and the opposition to monitor all investigations “into recent acts of violence.”

A sign of just how favorable this agreement is to the opposition: while it was signed by the foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Germany, all of whom are in Kiev, the Russian delegate pointedly refused to sign it.

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The agreement reached between President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukrainian opposition leaders is about as good as the anti-government forces can possibly hope to get.

It calls, inter alia, for a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition to be followed by a new presidential election no later than December. It also commits the government not to impose a state of emergency–meaning martial law–and to allow outside monitors from Europe and the opposition to monitor all investigations “into recent acts of violence.”

A sign of just how favorable this agreement is to the opposition: while it was signed by the foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Germany, all of whom are in Kiev, the Russian delegate pointedly refused to sign it.

Yet, many protesters in the streets are not prepared to accept what is largely a victory. Many of them refuse to disperse from Independence Square until Yanukovych resigns. Their position is understandable but misguided. As Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski reportedly told demonstrators: “If you don’t support this [deal] you’ll have martial law, you’ll have the army. You will all be dead.”

Sikorski should know what he is talking about, having spent a good part of his life as a refugee from Poland, which saw the imposition of martial law in 1981.

It remains an open question, however, whether many of the people on the streets of Kiev will heed Sikorski’s wisdom and that of their own leaders. They should, because all too many revolutions have gone off the rails when the revolutionaries pushed for an absolutist agenda and refused to accept a compromise that would have given them 75 percent of what they wanted. The classic example is, of course, the French Revolution, which started off as a moderate, liberal movement in 1789 and soon thereafter was drenched in blood from one round of “terror” after another.

The most successful and revered revolutionaries are those, like Michael Collins and Nelson Mandela, who are willing to accept a negotiated outcome to avoid an all-out war. That is an example the people of Ukraine would be wise to heed.

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Money in Politics: Dems Still Don’t Understand that Issues Matter

In the summer of 2012, heading into the last few months of the presidential election, a Bloomberg story offered a corrective to liberal propaganda about conservative money in politics. It was headlined “Unions Gain Under Citizens United Decision They Seek to Overturn,” and explained that “With many union members living in toss-up states such as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, labor’s increased efficiency might make a difference.”

Just how much unions gained from Citizens United has now become clear. But so has the fact that the concentration on Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court struck down unconstitutional limits on political participation, is misleading when trying to understand just how dishonest liberal attacks on campaign donations really are. While the left’s paranoid obsession with the libertarian-leaning Koch brothers has always tended toward the absurd, a recent study of campaign donations going back a quarter-century informed us that:

Six of the top 10 political spenders over the last 25 years are unions, including American Federation of State, County and Municipal Emloyees (sic) ($60 million) and the National Education Association ($53 million), the nation’s largest teachers’ union.

The Koch brothers, by comparison, ranked 59th on Open Secrets’ list. The brothers have spent $18 million since 1989, less than 20 percent of what Act Blue has spent since 2004.

That doesn’t mean the Koch brothers and the organizations they support don’t have influence or that unions control elections. Instead, the more important takeaway is about the limits of spending when it comes to trying to convince voters of something they don’t believe or don’t care about.

A case in point is this week’s media blitz about liberal billionaire Tom Steyer, the largest individual donor in 2013. Steyer has decided to throw much more of his money at congressional elections because of his passion for global warming activism. But even Democrats are skeptical of his new effort, and the reason for that skepticism is telling. Politico reports:

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In the summer of 2012, heading into the last few months of the presidential election, a Bloomberg story offered a corrective to liberal propaganda about conservative money in politics. It was headlined “Unions Gain Under Citizens United Decision They Seek to Overturn,” and explained that “With many union members living in toss-up states such as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, labor’s increased efficiency might make a difference.”

Just how much unions gained from Citizens United has now become clear. But so has the fact that the concentration on Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court struck down unconstitutional limits on political participation, is misleading when trying to understand just how dishonest liberal attacks on campaign donations really are. While the left’s paranoid obsession with the libertarian-leaning Koch brothers has always tended toward the absurd, a recent study of campaign donations going back a quarter-century informed us that:

Six of the top 10 political spenders over the last 25 years are unions, including American Federation of State, County and Municipal Emloyees (sic) ($60 million) and the National Education Association ($53 million), the nation’s largest teachers’ union.

The Koch brothers, by comparison, ranked 59th on Open Secrets’ list. The brothers have spent $18 million since 1989, less than 20 percent of what Act Blue has spent since 2004.

That doesn’t mean the Koch brothers and the organizations they support don’t have influence or that unions control elections. Instead, the more important takeaway is about the limits of spending when it comes to trying to convince voters of something they don’t believe or don’t care about.

A case in point is this week’s media blitz about liberal billionaire Tom Steyer, the largest individual donor in 2013. Steyer has decided to throw much more of his money at congressional elections because of his passion for global warming activism. But even Democrats are skeptical of his new effort, and the reason for that skepticism is telling. Politico reports:

Opponents and even some Democrats also question whether Steyer will find broad support for a platform that consists of issues like climate change — traditionally, not a huge vote-getter at the polls — and opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The economy continues to be the top concern for a majority of the American people, and they’re going to want to focus the agenda solely on climate change?” asked Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Manley said he supports taking steps on climate but isn’t sure how much impact Steyer will have. …

Greens are taking a more optimistic view, welcoming the chance that Steyer will help their side even the score after four years of liberal chafing at the big-spending politics that Citizens United has wrought.

“The bottom line is that we need much more environmentalist money in politics,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski, whose group has worked closely with Steyer. “Our side will never outspend the big polluters in the fossil fuel industry, but we need to make sure our message is heard, and Tom’s increased investments will help make sure that happens.”

It turns out that, money aside, issues actually matter. The country doesn’t care much about Steyer’s apocalyptic visions and probably won’t much appreciate hearing from a billionaire that they have to make financial sacrifices in order to soothe his conscience. The greens want their message to be heard, but Democrats seem to be aware of the danger in this: the greens’ message is one of hysterical prophecies of doom. Democratic politicians can either listen to Steyer or to their actual constituents.

Steyer, then, is setting out to find the answer to the following question: is there enough money in the world to make people care about his agenda? The Politico story frames Steyer’s activism as a challenge to the Kochs, and although it’s an extraordinarily silly and inapt comparison that reveals just how the media’s Koch addiction has disrupted their ability see clearly on these issues, there is still a valuable lesson. Here’s Politico’s framing of Steyer’s battle:

The former hedge fund executive may be pledging to spend $100 million or more to make climate change a prime election issue in 2014 and beyond, but he’s still a long way from matching the conservative empire of Charles and David Koch — a sprawling network of groups whose diverse causes range from attacking Obamacare to opposing incentives for rooftop solar panels.

So is it the money or the issues? They both matter, but let’s ask the question this way: have the Kochs been more successful than Steyer because they, like Steyer, spend lots of money, or because their high-profile causes align with the concerns and opinions of the public far more than those of Steyer?

Steyer’s effort then should really be understood as an attempt to distract the public from the issues they actually care about–which the Kochs address. This is understandable: ObamaCare is a Democratic Party creation that has unleashed personal suffering and economic devastation–and it’s only just getting started. But the lesson may be not that Steyer has to outspend the Kochs but that he should consider listening to the voters before throwing money at them.

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New ObamaCare Losers: Public Employees

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius mocked the idea that ObamaCare is costing people their jobs. Sebelius even went so far as to say that “every economist will you tell you” that there is no evidence of job loss. According to her, the whole idea of economic suffering related to the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a “myth.” While that kind of hyperbole is easily exposed (Every economist? Really?), ObamaCare critics don’t need to beat the bushes to find conservative economists to counter that assertion. All they need to do is to read today’s New York Times.

The number of those who have already been hurt by ObamaCare are legion, including millions of individual purchasers of insurance who have lost their coverage or been denied the ability to keep their doctors in spite of President Obama’s promise to the contrary. But it’s long been accepted that the employer mandate will eventually reduce the number of full-time workers because of new rules about coverage requirements. Yet it turns out that those affected are not just employees at small or mid-sized companies. The impact on one of President Obama’s key support group turns out to be just as bad. As the New York Times reports:

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

The cuts to public sector employment, which has failed to rebound since the recession, could serve as a powerful political weapon for Republican critics of the health care law, who claim that it is creating a drain on the economy.

President Obama has twice delayed enforcement of the health care law’s employer mandate, which would subject larger employers to tax penalties if they do not offer insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week, on average. But many public employers have already adopted policies, laws or regulations to make sure workers stay under that threshold.

Sebelius was as wrong about the question of ObamaCare’s impact on employment as she was about the rollout of the law’s website. But the problem for the administration isn’t just a credibility gap that was already as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are now growing and being filled by people that are the backbone of the Democratic Party. That means the real myth about ObamaCare is the assumption that once it goes into effect it will be transformed from an unpopular law to a beloved national institution like Social Security.

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Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius mocked the idea that ObamaCare is costing people their jobs. Sebelius even went so far as to say that “every economist will you tell you” that there is no evidence of job loss. According to her, the whole idea of economic suffering related to the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a “myth.” While that kind of hyperbole is easily exposed (Every economist? Really?), ObamaCare critics don’t need to beat the bushes to find conservative economists to counter that assertion. All they need to do is to read today’s New York Times.

The number of those who have already been hurt by ObamaCare are legion, including millions of individual purchasers of insurance who have lost their coverage or been denied the ability to keep their doctors in spite of President Obama’s promise to the contrary. But it’s long been accepted that the employer mandate will eventually reduce the number of full-time workers because of new rules about coverage requirements. Yet it turns out that those affected are not just employees at small or mid-sized companies. The impact on one of President Obama’s key support group turns out to be just as bad. As the New York Times reports:

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

The cuts to public sector employment, which has failed to rebound since the recession, could serve as a powerful political weapon for Republican critics of the health care law, who claim that it is creating a drain on the economy.

President Obama has twice delayed enforcement of the health care law’s employer mandate, which would subject larger employers to tax penalties if they do not offer insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week, on average. But many public employers have already adopted policies, laws or regulations to make sure workers stay under that threshold.

Sebelius was as wrong about the question of ObamaCare’s impact on employment as she was about the rollout of the law’s website. But the problem for the administration isn’t just a credibility gap that was already as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are now growing and being filled by people that are the backbone of the Democratic Party. That means the real myth about ObamaCare is the assumption that once it goes into effect it will be transformed from an unpopular law to a beloved national institution like Social Security.

The findings of the Times report validate the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office study released earlier this month on the impact of ObamaCare on employment. Though administration figures like Sebelius have been orchestrating a campaign seeking to deny these facts, the Times story illustrates the futility of this effort. Municipalities and public institutions around the country have been cutting the hours of their workers in order to avoid paying for their health care. Thus even though the point of the Affordable Care Act was to get more people covered, the unintended consequence of its passage was to cut the pay as well as deprive a significant population of public-sector workers of their chance to get insurance from their employer.

As the article notes, public workers are being especially hard hit because municipal employers can’t pass along the increased costs of the insurance mandates to consumers the way private companies can try to do. Instead, they must cut down on the number of those they employ. But rather than reduce the ranks of those public employees getting expensive benefits and pensions that often are far more generous than those received by the taxpayers who pay their salaries, the people losing out in the ObamaCare squeeze are those at the bottom end of the wage scale.

These findings once again point out the problem with the administration’s belief that their ObamaCare troubles are merely the result of a rough rollout and will soon disappear. It is true that millions of Americans who are either poor or have pre-existing medical conditions will be net winners as a result of ObamaCare. But unlike government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, ObamaCare has also created a vast number of net losers who are losing coverage, losing jobs, or getting their hours and possible benefits cut.

The fact that a large number of those losers are members of a demographic that is a key element of the Democratic base is a potential political disaster for the president’s party. Rather than going away as the midterms approach, if the Times is to be believed, it is getting worse. In this case, the Democratic focus on income inequality appears to be pertinent. But rather than being able to blame the plight of low-income workers on the wealthy or the Republicans, it is President Obama’s signature accomplishment that is to blame.

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A Turning Point in Ukraine?

The horrific bloodshed in Kiev on Thursday, which left at least 70 people dead, was followed on Friday by a tentative accord between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders which mandates “early presidential elections, a coalition government and reduction of presidential power through constitutional reforms.”

It would be good if the accord sticks, in order to prevent further fighting, but at this point it is far from clear that it will do so. It was only on Wednesday, after all, that a previous truce had been announced, and then just as promptly broken. It is clear, however, that at least for now Yanukovych has temporarily disappointed his backers in the Kremlin by refusing to declare “emergency powers” and call in the army to clear out demonstrators from central Kiev after his police force failed to get the job done. Indeed, the rebellion has spread beyond the capital, with demonstrators seizing control of government buildings, including police stations, across western Ukraine–i.e., the mostly Ukrainian-speaking and Western-leaning portion of the country.

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The horrific bloodshed in Kiev on Thursday, which left at least 70 people dead, was followed on Friday by a tentative accord between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders which mandates “early presidential elections, a coalition government and reduction of presidential power through constitutional reforms.”

It would be good if the accord sticks, in order to prevent further fighting, but at this point it is far from clear that it will do so. It was only on Wednesday, after all, that a previous truce had been announced, and then just as promptly broken. It is clear, however, that at least for now Yanukovych has temporarily disappointed his backers in the Kremlin by refusing to declare “emergency powers” and call in the army to clear out demonstrators from central Kiev after his police force failed to get the job done. Indeed, the rebellion has spread beyond the capital, with demonstrators seizing control of government buildings, including police stations, across western Ukraine–i.e., the mostly Ukrainian-speaking and Western-leaning portion of the country.

Not only has Yanukovych lost control of the streets, he has lost, at least for now, control of parliament too, where opposition leaders and defectors from the pro-government party got together on Thursday to pass a resolution calling on interior Ministry troops and police officers to return to their posts and telling Yanukovych he did not have the power to declare a state of emergency without lawmakers’ approval.

It is far from clear that this crisis will have a good outcome–the best outcome being a negotiated transfer of power to a more pro-Western, democratic government committed to rooting out corruption, instituting the rule of law, and moving Ukraine into closer association with the European Union. But already it is clear that Yanukovych and his No. 1 supporter, Vladimir Putin, have suffered an embarrassing rebuke, which clearly demonstrates that Ukraine is no Russia. It is, in other words, not a place where people will gladly trade all hope of freedom for the false allure of “stability” and temporary prosperity. It is, instead, a land of heroes where many are willing, like America’s own Founding Fathers or like freedom fighters in lands from Egypt to Burma, to risk their lives and their liberty in order to make their country free.

The example of Egypt shows how easily such aspirations can be perverted and undermined. But sometimes, just sometimes, the wishes of the people for freedom and opportunity do result in the kind of government which can make those aspirations into reality. Let us hope Ukraine will be one of those places where revolutionary ferment produces lasting and positive change, but if it is to happen, the people of Ukraine will need outside assistance, if only to counterbalance the assistance that the forces of repression receive from Russia.

In recent days the EU and the U.S. have taken a positive step by instituting travel bans and other limited sanctions on those responsible for the violence in Kiev. But more must be done. As I have argued before, the U.S. and the EU need to present a financial package to Ukraine to make up some of the losses if it winds up rejecting Russia’s $15 billion bribe, er, subsidy. Of course the West cannot blindly shower euros or dollars on Kiev, but it should make clear that if Ukraine does the right things–if it sticks to the current accord for peaceful political change and if it moves into closer alignment with the EU–there will be more than good wishes delivered in return.

The failure of the U.S., the EU, and associated institutions, such as the IMF, to make good on such a pledge–to offer a conditional financial aid package to help rescue Ukraine from its immediate economic woes–is puzzling and shameful especially when you recall how the EU was willing to pump so much money into Greece, a much smaller and less important nation. The battle for Ukraine remains at a tipping point and it is up to Western leaders to show resolve and vision in helping the people of this impoverished and embattled country to achieve their highest aspirations.

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Another RINO Attack on Ted Cruz

David Brooks is at it again. In his New York Times column today, Brooks once more went after Ted Cruz, writing:

Senator Ted Cruz has not yet reached the point where he can make policy, rather than just make political trouble. But there are already disquieting signs that he is looking out for Ted Cruz — even if that sets back the causes he claims to be serving.

This is just the kind of thing you’d expect from a card-carrying member of The Establishment, a neo-statist and a RINO, a person who regularly appears on Meet the Press and The News Hour.

Except that the paragraph I cited comes not from David Brooks, who in truth is one of the most thoughtful and interesting columnists in America, but from Thomas Sowell, one of the most influential intellectuals within conservatism, a man revered by the right, and a friend of the aims and animating principles of the Tea Party. Which makes it a bit harder to dismiss Sowell as easily as it is to dismiss some other (conservative) critics of Ted Cruz. 

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David Brooks is at it again. In his New York Times column today, Brooks once more went after Ted Cruz, writing:

Senator Ted Cruz has not yet reached the point where he can make policy, rather than just make political trouble. But there are already disquieting signs that he is looking out for Ted Cruz — even if that sets back the causes he claims to be serving.

This is just the kind of thing you’d expect from a card-carrying member of The Establishment, a neo-statist and a RINO, a person who regularly appears on Meet the Press and The News Hour.

Except that the paragraph I cited comes not from David Brooks, who in truth is one of the most thoughtful and interesting columnists in America, but from Thomas Sowell, one of the most influential intellectuals within conservatism, a man revered by the right, and a friend of the aims and animating principles of the Tea Party. Which makes it a bit harder to dismiss Sowell as easily as it is to dismiss some other (conservative) critics of Ted Cruz. 

There’s a deeper point to be made here, which is that so often these days substantive arguments aren’t really engaged. It’s so much easier (and intellectually less taxing) to try to dismiss those whom you disagree with rather than actually answering their critiques. 

That is a fairly common practice on the left, but it happens on the right as well. Think about some of the conservatives who often resort to this kind of thing. X person’s argument shouldn’t be listened to because he’s not one of us. He’s not part of The Movement. He doesn’t pass The Purity Test. (A few individuals on the right, including one with an evening talk radio program, have sought to discredit George Will’s conservative bone fides by pointing out that Will wrote favorable columns like this about Howard Baker 35 years ago. The work of Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith never ends.)

This is the kind of mindset that would eventually allow you to fit the number of people in a political movement in a phone booth. Fortunately this attitude is not dominant and, while it remains vocal, one senses it’s losing steam. For one thing, it’s not terribly conservative. For another, the excommunication fires eventually burn out. Because pretty soon there’s no one left to expel.

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