Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 7, 2014

Does Rand’s GOP Think NSA is the Enemy?

In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

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In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

It should be conceded that Paul’s absolutist view of the Fourth Amendment is popular with a lot of Americans who rightly worry about an intrusive big government. That cynicism about the all-powerful state is exacerbated by President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs on health care, selective enforcement of laws, an out-of-control IRS and spying on the press. His views also resonate with conservatives who like his rhetoric about the party being true to its principles rather than moderating itself in what seems like a vain quest for mainstream approval.

The defense of freedom must always be America’s priority. But what he seems to forget is that the primary element of that defense are not lawsuits against the National Security Agency or paranoia about drone attacks on law-abiding Americans sitting in Starbucks. It requires a strong national defense rather than one gutted by Obama’s cuts that Paul doesn’t seem very upset about. And it also must be based on a robust foreign policy rooted in an understanding that international threats can’t be ignored or wished away by isolationist rhetoric.

The problem with Rand’s vision of the GOP isn’t that Americans think foreign policy is their top concern. That isn’t true even in a week in which foreign news is leading the headlines thanking to Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine. But most Americans know that, for all of their cynicism about government, treating the NSA as the boogeyman is no substitute for an approach for dealing with the world. If Republicans head into the fall of 2016 with Paul as their champion against Hillary Clinton, it will be the author of the comical “reset” with Russia and the person who asked “does it really matter?” about Benghazi that will be seen as the one with the credentials on foreign policy, not the nominee of the party of Ronald Reagan.

Paul’s extreme libertarianism and anti-war approach does offer the GOP a chance to win some votes on the left that will see his foreign policy as indistinguishable from that of liberal Democrats. But it will also concede the vast center of American politics to the Democrats while doing little to bridge the gap with women and minority voters that doomed Mitt Romney in 2012. Conservatives are right to think the GOP must be true to its principles in order to win. Rand’s base has also expanded from the extremists he inherited from his father. But Paul’s foreign policy is not consistent with the traditional Republican attitude toward national defense and it will lose the party votes it can’t make up elsewhere.

A year after his drone filibuster that made him a star, Paul is still basking in the applause from a conservative following that has come to view all government programs — not just the welfare state but national defense too — as the enemy. As other potential front-runners have faltered there is no denying that he is ahead of most of his would-be 2016 competitors. But today’s speech is a reminder to Republicans that a commitment to his agenda could leave them looking foolish when events and the will of the voters obligate them to put forward a view of the world that takes into account America’s real enemies as well as the imperative to fund a viable national defense.

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Will Obama Blame Israel for Abbas’ ‘No?’

According to today’s New York Times, the conceit behind President Obama’s recent attacks on Israel was to redress what he felt was an imbalanced approach to American diplomacy. Apparently the president thinks Secretary of State John Kerry has been too nice to the Israelis during the course of his effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Thus, the president has decided to play “bad cop,” to Kerry’s “good cop” in dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president’s assumption of the role of the bully in his Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was entirely convincing, the Israelis may be forgiven for wondering when the good cop will start making nice with them. This is, after all, the same secretary that has threatened Israel with boycotts and even a third intifada if they were not sufficiently forthcoming in the negotiations, leaving the impression that the American tandem was conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure rather than a more nuanced effort to convince Jerusalem to make concessions.

Having paid for Palestinian participation in the talks with the release over 100 terrorist murderers and reportedly already conceded a withdrawal from at least 90 percent of the West Bank once the talks began, the Israelis had good reason to be surprised by Obama’s decision to pile. But while Washington has been obsessively focused on forcing the Israelis to accept a two-state solution and a framework for negotiations that they have already agreed to, the administration seems equally determined to ignore what the Palestinians are doing. Thus the statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who received fulsome praise from the president for his commitment to peace, that he will never agree to a key element of Kerry’s framework is being ignored by the White House.

In a statement released by the official PA press agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated what he has been saying for months. He will not sign on to any framework, let alone a peace treaty that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In Abbas’ words, “There is no way. We will not accept.” The question now is what are Obama and Kerry going to do about it? Their answer will speak volumes not only about the future of Kerry’s talks but their commitment to a genuine peace that will ensure rather than endanger Israel’s survival.

Abbas’ latest “no” leaves President Obama and Kerry with a crucial choice.

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According to today’s New York Times, the conceit behind President Obama’s recent attacks on Israel was to redress what he felt was an imbalanced approach to American diplomacy. Apparently the president thinks Secretary of State John Kerry has been too nice to the Israelis during the course of his effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Thus, the president has decided to play “bad cop,” to Kerry’s “good cop” in dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president’s assumption of the role of the bully in his Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was entirely convincing, the Israelis may be forgiven for wondering when the good cop will start making nice with them. This is, after all, the same secretary that has threatened Israel with boycotts and even a third intifada if they were not sufficiently forthcoming in the negotiations, leaving the impression that the American tandem was conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure rather than a more nuanced effort to convince Jerusalem to make concessions.

Having paid for Palestinian participation in the talks with the release over 100 terrorist murderers and reportedly already conceded a withdrawal from at least 90 percent of the West Bank once the talks began, the Israelis had good reason to be surprised by Obama’s decision to pile. But while Washington has been obsessively focused on forcing the Israelis to accept a two-state solution and a framework for negotiations that they have already agreed to, the administration seems equally determined to ignore what the Palestinians are doing. Thus the statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who received fulsome praise from the president for his commitment to peace, that he will never agree to a key element of Kerry’s framework is being ignored by the White House.

In a statement released by the official PA press agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated what he has been saying for months. He will not sign on to any framework, let alone a peace treaty that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In Abbas’ words, “There is no way. We will not accept.” The question now is what are Obama and Kerry going to do about it? Their answer will speak volumes not only about the future of Kerry’s talks but their commitment to a genuine peace that will ensure rather than endanger Israel’s survival.

Abbas’ latest “no” leaves President Obama and Kerry with a crucial choice.

They can insist that Abbas budge on the Jewish state issue because they know that without it the Palestinians are not conceding the end of the conflict. Unless Abbas says those two little words it will be obvious that despite Obama’s praise for him, he is just as committed to a vision of Palestinian nationalism that is inextricably tied to a war on Zionism as was his predecessor Yasir Arafat. By walking away from the talks over this point, Abbas will be delivering the fourth Palestinian no to an Israeli offer of statehood after previous rejections in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

If so, Obama will be placed in a position where he would be obligated to place the blame for Kerry’s failure just as President Bill Clinton had to blame Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David Summit as well as the subsequent Taba Conference. But given his antipathy for Netanyahu, the Israelis have to be wondering whether the president will find some reason to let Abbas off the hook.

Even worse is the possibility that they will cave in to Abbas’ demands rather than sticking to their commitment to Israel on the Jewish state issue.

While the Palestinians’ unwillingness to give up their hope of swamping Israel with refugees via a “right of return” and the pressure exerted on the PA from Hamas and Islamic Jihad has always made Kerry’s effort seem like a fool’s errand, he has conducted himself as if the chances for success were good. That’s why he readily accepted the notion that the Palestinians would acknowledge Israel as the Jewish state because in exchange for such a statement they would be rewarded with the territory and sovereignty they say they want.

In other words, while Kerry has always been prepared to give the Palestinians a peace deal that was more favorable to their ambitions than to Israel’s rights, he was still insisting that the end result must be genuine peace rather than a pause in the conflict. If his framework is altered to allow Abbas to avoid saying those two words, Kerry is aware that Israel can have no confidence that it will get peace no matter how much land they give up.

Obama and Kerry believed their bad cop/bad copy routine would be enough to bludgeon the Israelis into giving away the West Bank and perhaps even a share of Jerusalem and they appear to be right about that assumption. But, like all other would-be Middle East peacemakers they forgot or ignored the need to get the Palestinians to agree to peace.

If the administration allows Abbas to escape accountability on this crucial point it will expose their peace efforts as worse than a sham.  As I wrote yesterday, the Jewish state is not a contrived controversy but a concept that lies at the heart of the conflict. Israelis have repeatedly shown their willingness to take risks for peace but the Palestinians are still stuck with a historical narrative that won’t allow them to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction.

Abbas has no intention of ever signing a peace treaty with Israel or granting it legitimacy as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or how much of Jerusalem they obtain. But if the United States can’t be honest about this even when Abbas gives them a flat no to one of the basic principles of peace, then it is clear that the purpose of the negotiations isn’t a resolution of the conflict but another excuse to bash Israel. If, after Kerry’s mission fails or even if it continues on terms that are incompatible with peace, Israelis should expect to be blamed no matter what they have conceded or how many times Abbas has said no. But so long as Abbas refuses to say two words, those charges will be lies.

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Left-Wing Hypocrites and Condoleezza Rice

The moves by academics and students at Rutgers University to have an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescinded might well be viewed as just another instance of a leftwing soft-totalitarianism that attempts to set beyond the pale anyone who does not share their worldview. To a degree this is clearly part of it. Yet, upon scratching the surface of this initiative one discovers a far more unpleasant impulse at work. The academics of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has voted to call on the school to disinvite Rice, made no shortage of outlandish claims in their statement, yet they had the good sense not to expose some of the more deeply rooted motives behind their campaign. The same cannot be said, however, for the students who have joined them in their calls.

From the statement released by the faculty council, one would assume that Rice was some kind of hardened war criminal who served in the government of a Third World despot, as opposed to someone who held one of the highest offices in the government of the United States. The statement parrots the usual conspiratorial leftist notions about the Bush administration, accusing Rice of having been complicit in taking America to war on a lie. Furthermore, the statement repeats the accusation that through the war in Iraq, America is responsible for the killing of over a 100,000 Iraqi “men, women and children” and the displacement of millions more. This is a commonly heard figure from the left, but no one knows where it comes from. The actual invasion of Iraq to remove the Saddam regime lasted for just over a month and had a proportionately low civilian casualty rate. Very many more Iraqis, however, were killed during the insurgency and suicide bombings of the factional fighting between Sunni and Shia that followed. But to try and level the blame for this on America rather than with the Islamists who carried out the killings, is itself an expression of the left’s inverted racism that sees non-western peoples as having no agency in their own actions.

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The moves by academics and students at Rutgers University to have an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescinded might well be viewed as just another instance of a leftwing soft-totalitarianism that attempts to set beyond the pale anyone who does not share their worldview. To a degree this is clearly part of it. Yet, upon scratching the surface of this initiative one discovers a far more unpleasant impulse at work. The academics of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has voted to call on the school to disinvite Rice, made no shortage of outlandish claims in their statement, yet they had the good sense not to expose some of the more deeply rooted motives behind their campaign. The same cannot be said, however, for the students who have joined them in their calls.

From the statement released by the faculty council, one would assume that Rice was some kind of hardened war criminal who served in the government of a Third World despot, as opposed to someone who held one of the highest offices in the government of the United States. The statement parrots the usual conspiratorial leftist notions about the Bush administration, accusing Rice of having been complicit in taking America to war on a lie. Furthermore, the statement repeats the accusation that through the war in Iraq, America is responsible for the killing of over a 100,000 Iraqi “men, women and children” and the displacement of millions more. This is a commonly heard figure from the left, but no one knows where it comes from. The actual invasion of Iraq to remove the Saddam regime lasted for just over a month and had a proportionately low civilian casualty rate. Very many more Iraqis, however, were killed during the insurgency and suicide bombings of the factional fighting between Sunni and Shia that followed. But to try and level the blame for this on America rather than with the Islamists who carried out the killings, is itself an expression of the left’s inverted racism that sees non-western peoples as having no agency in their own actions.

Indeed, the tendency of left-wing intellectuals to operate one impossible standard for western leaders and quite another for those running the kind of regimes that appeal to their own ideological prejudices is hardly a great secret. The Rutgers academics argue that Rice should not be invited because they claim she “participated in political efforts to circumvent the law” and because she does not “embody moral authority and exemplary citizenship.” Yet, the record of leftwing intellectuals who have lined up to cheer on the most brutal revolutionaries and dictatorships is itself long and anything but exemplary. One need not look back as far as Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s apologies for the Soviet Union, or even to Noam Chomsky’s efforts to deny the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Think simply of Judith Butler’s claims that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressives that should be considered part of the “global left.”

No doubt, the academics and students opposing Rice’s visit to their campus would be incensed by such an invitation to any senior figure from the Bush administration, yet Rice holds a particularly reviled status in the minds of the left. The faculty council members were guarded enough not to reference this, the students on the other hand were not and so have ended up unwittingly exposing the whole thing.

To speak candidly for a moment, Condoleezza Rice is black and she is a woman, yet she is also a Republican. For those on the left, this cannot happen. Rice is a member of a minority group, she is female, one of the oppressed, and such people are neither conservatives nor Republicans, and if they were to unaccountably somehow become Republicans then a party of such bigotry would never elevate her to any real position of influence, but if such a figure were ever to achieve any status, then they certainly wouldn’t have joined anything so odious as the Bush administration. According to left-wing thinking Condoleezza Rice cannot exist, and yet there she is nonetheless, pulling their worldview to pieces. In this respect she has unacceptably transgressed the left’s tribal lines.

The editorial of the Rutgers student newspaper the Daily Targum, which supports the campaign to disinvite Rice, makes the mistake of rather giving the game away by quite openly and repeatedly referencing her background. The editorial asks condescendingly, “Do the positive aspects of her personal accomplishments really outweigh the destruction of war she contributed to during her political career?” That line certainly would not have found its way in there if the school had invited Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. Yet, another opinion piece published in the same paper goes much further, with one student writing that some may wish to overlook Rice’s “behavior” by viewing her “as a powerful woman of color.” No one decent would think for a moment that Rice’s “color” should be used to judge her record, but then the writer dismisses this idea anyway, insisting “Though Rice may have made advancements for black women, they are shallow, even meaningless, when placed side by side with her actions.”

As a clumsy afterthought at the end of the main editorial piece by the students they make the implausible claim; “the point is, we just don’t feel comfortable having politicians as commencement speakers at all.” Does anyone for a moment believe that if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had instead been invited to give the same speech then these same individuals would be expressing such reservations? Quite clearly not.  

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Mumia, Adegbile and the Rule of Law

Two days after a shocking defeat, liberals are still grousing about the Senate spiking the nomination of former NAACP Legal Fund Director Debo Adegbile to be head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. What really burns them up is not just that Republicans successfully filibustered one of President Obama’s choices for a government post but that six Democrats joined with them. But rather than take responsibility for putting forward a controversial figure who was sure to provoke bitter opposition from both sides of the aisle, liberals are reverting to form by blaming their defeat on conservative demagoguery and racism.

This is more than disingenuous. Adegbile lost for one reason and one reason only and its name is Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical who gunned down Philadelphia Policeman Daniel Faulkner in a cold-blooded murder in 1981. Under the leadership of Adegbile, the NAACP Legal Fund worked on Abu-Jamal’s appeal. The White House and Adegbile’s defenders in the press say blaming the lawyer for his client’s crime is both unfair and an assault on our judicial system. But contrary to this spin, Adegbile and the NAACP were not a latter day version of patriot John Adams defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre. Far from merely writing briefs on Constitutional issues involving Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Adegbile’s lawyers were part of the propaganda campaign aimed at besmirching the victim and the Philadelphia Police Department and portraying a killer who was literally caught red-handed with the murder weapon as a heroic martyr. Under these circumstances, it’s little wonder that some Democrats wanted no part of the nomination, especially those like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Jr. and Delaware’s Chris Coons voted against cloture for the nomination, whose constituents know the facts of the case and despicable work of Abu-Jamal’s cheerleaders.

This debacle can be partly explained by the White House’s cluelessness in dealing with Congress. Reportedly, Majority Leader Harry Reid told the administration he didn’t have the votes to push Adegbile through but the president wouldn’t budge and the result was what the New York Times called “the highest-profile defeat of a nominee on the Senate floor in the Obama presidency.” But while those falsely alleging that this was the work of a conservative conspiracy against civil rights are blowing smoke, there is more to this story than just a case of Obama overreaching in an attempt to pack his administration with like-minded leftists. The reason why the president and Holder wanted Adegbile so badly is because a believer in the Mumia myth fits in perfectly with their vision for using the Civil Rights Division as a political weapon to push their left-wing agenda.

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Two days after a shocking defeat, liberals are still grousing about the Senate spiking the nomination of former NAACP Legal Fund Director Debo Adegbile to be head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. What really burns them up is not just that Republicans successfully filibustered one of President Obama’s choices for a government post but that six Democrats joined with them. But rather than take responsibility for putting forward a controversial figure who was sure to provoke bitter opposition from both sides of the aisle, liberals are reverting to form by blaming their defeat on conservative demagoguery and racism.

This is more than disingenuous. Adegbile lost for one reason and one reason only and its name is Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical who gunned down Philadelphia Policeman Daniel Faulkner in a cold-blooded murder in 1981. Under the leadership of Adegbile, the NAACP Legal Fund worked on Abu-Jamal’s appeal. The White House and Adegbile’s defenders in the press say blaming the lawyer for his client’s crime is both unfair and an assault on our judicial system. But contrary to this spin, Adegbile and the NAACP were not a latter day version of patriot John Adams defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre. Far from merely writing briefs on Constitutional issues involving Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Adegbile’s lawyers were part of the propaganda campaign aimed at besmirching the victim and the Philadelphia Police Department and portraying a killer who was literally caught red-handed with the murder weapon as a heroic martyr. Under these circumstances, it’s little wonder that some Democrats wanted no part of the nomination, especially those like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Jr. and Delaware’s Chris Coons voted against cloture for the nomination, whose constituents know the facts of the case and despicable work of Abu-Jamal’s cheerleaders.

This debacle can be partly explained by the White House’s cluelessness in dealing with Congress. Reportedly, Majority Leader Harry Reid told the administration he didn’t have the votes to push Adegbile through but the president wouldn’t budge and the result was what the New York Times called “the highest-profile defeat of a nominee on the Senate floor in the Obama presidency.” But while those falsely alleging that this was the work of a conservative conspiracy against civil rights are blowing smoke, there is more to this story than just a case of Obama overreaching in an attempt to pack his administration with like-minded leftists. The reason why the president and Holder wanted Adegbile so badly is because a believer in the Mumia myth fits in perfectly with their vision for using the Civil Rights Division as a political weapon to push their left-wing agenda.

While Adegbile’s involvement with the Mumia travesty made him a political liability, that sort of radical take on the justice system is what recommended him to the administration. It must be understood that in the last five years, the Civil Rights Division is not so much about enforcing the laws against discrimination but employing the power of the federal government to pursue cases that bolstered the Democrats attempt to portray the GOP as racist. The division’s lawyers have been Obama’s legal shock troops seeking to invalidate voter ID laws on bogus charges of racism as well as a raft of other initiatives all designed to promote the idea that America was boiling over with racist crime and conspiracy at a time when both the president and the attorney general were African-American. But while continually portraying the country as a hotbed of racist oppression, this same division refused to prosecute a case against the New Black Panther Party for intimidating voters in Philadelphia. Just as the president thinks he can pick and choose what laws to enforce, so, too, does the DOJ use the same unconstitutional principle to undermine the rule of law.

Far from a distraction, the Mumia Abu-Jamal connection was actually quite germane to what is the animating spirit of federal civil rights lawyers under Democratic administrations. Instead of judicious applications of the statutes, what Obama wants for his Civil Rights Division are radicals like Adegbile. His defeat is not, as Adam Serwer wrote yesterday on MSNBC.com, part of a Republican war on civil rights but a rare defeat for liberals in their efforts to use the power of the Justice Department to gain victories in court they could never win at the ballot box. As such, the end of the Adegbile nomination was a rare victory for the rule of law against a lawless Obama administration.

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The Jobs Report

The news is better this month, in that 175,000 jobs were created in February, up from January’s 129,000 and December’s dismal 84,000. Economists had been predicting 152,000 new jobs. But the unemployment rate ticked up a notch to 6.7 percent because while the labor force increased, so did the number of unemployed. Partly that is because more people have started looking for jobs, which is a good sign.

The number of long-term unemployed, out of work for more than half a year, has increased by 203,000 to 3.8 million. That’s 37 percent of total unemployment. Teenage unemployment went up for the second straight month, to 21.4 percent. Black unemployment went down a notch, to a still distressing 12 percent.

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The news is better this month, in that 175,000 jobs were created in February, up from January’s 129,000 and December’s dismal 84,000. Economists had been predicting 152,000 new jobs. But the unemployment rate ticked up a notch to 6.7 percent because while the labor force increased, so did the number of unemployed. Partly that is because more people have started looking for jobs, which is a good sign.

The number of long-term unemployed, out of work for more than half a year, has increased by 203,000 to 3.8 million. That’s 37 percent of total unemployment. Teenage unemployment went up for the second straight month, to 21.4 percent. Black unemployment went down a notch, to a still distressing 12 percent.

Economic growth has been slowing. GDP was growing at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in last year’s third quarter, but was only at 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter. Some forecasters expect GDP in this year’s first quarter (which ends March 31st) to be perhaps as little as 1.5 percent. If that turns out to be true and the trend continues, future jobs reports will not look good.

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Spain, Portugal and the Right of Return

Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

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Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

First, according to the legislator who drafted Portugal’s law of return, the circumstances of the Jewish and Muslim expulsions were completely different. “Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict,” Jose Ribeiro e Castro said. ”There’s no basis for comparison.”

That, of course, is equally true of Palestinian refugees: Far from being the victims of persecution, they fled and/or were expelled during a bloody conflict in which five Arab armies, aided by large contingents of local Palestinian irregulars, invaded the newborn state of Israel and tried to eradicate it. Thus Israel owes no moral debt to the refugees comparable to that of Spain and Portugal to their Jews.

Second, as noted by Egyptian-Belgian journalist Khaled Diab, there’s the demographic issue: While “only a few thousand” Jews are considered likely to apply for Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, “unknown millions of Arabs and Muslims” might be eligible. And that creates a real problem:

If only a fraction of these were to apply, it could significantly and rapidly alter Spain’s demographic make-up. And in a country that was devoid of Muslims for half a millennium but lies on the fault line separating the two “civilizations,” this could well spark civil strife or even conflict.

That, of course, is far more true of tiny Israel, with only 8 million people, compared to Spain’s 47 million. If you believe UNRWA’s figures, the original 700,000 Palestinian refugees now have 5 million descendants. If substantial numbers of them relocated to Israel – and given the choice, they probably would, since Israel offers a better economy and more civil rights than the Arab countries where most now live – that could convert Israel’s Jewish majority into an Arab one. In short, it wouldn’t just risk “civil strife”; it would completely eradicate the Jewish state.

To be clear, nobody thinks Spain and Portugal have a legal obligation to offer citizenship even to descendants of their Jewish refugees: There is no such obligation under international law. But to the extent that one might posit a moral obligation, the Spanish and Portuguese cases clearly show that this obligation applies only to victims of persecution, not to those of armed conflict – and only if the demographic consequences won’t endanger the recipient country.

So the next time you hear someone claim Palestinians have a “right of return,” just refer them to Spain and Portugal for a brief lesson in what that “right” really means: exactly nothing.

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GOP Task: From Oppositional to Governing Conservatism

“Of a sudden,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” 

Senator Moynihan’s statement suggested two things: liberalism was exhausted and conservatives took advantage of the opening by offering an agenda that matched the challenges of that moment: high inflation and interest rates, a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, “stagflation,” a hollowed out military and Soviet advances all over the world.

Today, once again, liberalism is out of steam. As they watch their unwieldy health-care law sputter and disappoint, liberals don’t have much else to turn to. Their own top priorities tend to be unpopular, and both their ideology and their political coalition constrain them from speaking to the public’s main concerns—economic stagnation and the middle-class squeeze. The president ran for re-election on remarkably little policy substance, and now offers even less. Who could say what his governing vision consists of? 

Not surprisingly, he has witnessed a major collapse in his public support, especially among independents, which in most polls now disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a two-to-one margin. About two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Even more are angry about the way things are going in Washington. And public confidence in government is near historic lows. So the moment is ripe for the GOP, at the national level, to offer the public a real alternative.

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“Of a sudden,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” 

Senator Moynihan’s statement suggested two things: liberalism was exhausted and conservatives took advantage of the opening by offering an agenda that matched the challenges of that moment: high inflation and interest rates, a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, “stagflation,” a hollowed out military and Soviet advances all over the world.

Today, once again, liberalism is out of steam. As they watch their unwieldy health-care law sputter and disappoint, liberals don’t have much else to turn to. Their own top priorities tend to be unpopular, and both their ideology and their political coalition constrain them from speaking to the public’s main concerns—economic stagnation and the middle-class squeeze. The president ran for re-election on remarkably little policy substance, and now offers even less. Who could say what his governing vision consists of? 

Not surprisingly, he has witnessed a major collapse in his public support, especially among independents, which in most polls now disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a two-to-one margin. About two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Even more are angry about the way things are going in Washington. And public confidence in government is near historic lows. So the moment is ripe for the GOP, at the national level, to offer the public a real alternative.

Whether it will, of course, remains an open question. But recent months have offered some encouraging signs. Republicans already showed some real leadership in the president’s first term by offering a serious, market-oriented Medicare-reform proposal—produced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and backed by essentially every Republican in Congress.

Earlier this year, Senators Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, and Orrin Hatch followed up with a health-care proposal that would cover as many people as the Affordable Care Act without the taxes, mandates, and burdensome regulations and at a far lower cost by empowering consumers. Another ambitious health-reform bill is now co-sponsored by a majority of House Republicans.

Mr. Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio (among others) have proposed serious reforms to help sustain the safety net for the poor by re-orienting it toward work and opportunity. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Senator Mike Lee have each proposed a major tax reform plan—and a combination of the two could well make for a winning Republican tax agenda. Other prominent proposals have included reforms of higher-education policy to increase options and lower costs, and reforms of transportation policy, the criminal-justice system, unemployment assistance, and more.

It is still fashionable in some circles to call Republicans the “Party of No,” but when has there been such a flurry of concrete policy proposals from an opposition party in Congress?

Even these proposals, of course, are only a start. They have yet to gain broad support, or to be brought together into a coherent conservative agenda. But they are suitable for such an effort, and they offer plausible, targeted, market-friendly approaches in precisely the areas that most trouble voters, and where Democrats have been failing most decisively.

A party that controls one-half of one-third of the federal government can’t hope to see its agenda become law at this point, and high profile confrontations with the Obama administration – such as the government shutdown last October – have mostly ended disastrously. But what the Republican Party can do is gradually build a new internal consensus around a policy agenda of conservative reforms that appeal to a broad base of voters, and which Republican candidates and the party’s next presidential nominee can then run on.

To approach the success of Republicans of past eras, those of this generation must again show how their ideas will improve the lives of American families in concrete ways by applying timeless American principles to a new set of American challenges. Today’s GOP has not done nearly enough of that.

The Republican Party can be the party of the 21st century by showing itself able and willing to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century – many of which are now antiquated and out of touch not only with the needs of our time but the expectations of Americans in an age of constant innovation and endless choices.

It can own the future by showing the public how limited government can also be effective government. It can succeed, in other words, by embodying not just an oppositional conservatism but also a governing conservatism.

It’s not yet clear if the party is ready to follow this path. But it is worth noting even modest signs of hope.

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