Commentary Magazine


Why Hamas and Fatah Carry on the Charade

Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

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Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

The headlines were all referring to a meeting expected to take place Tuesday between the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks and the Hamas leadership, with the participation of Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal. Will reconciliation come about this time between the factions, which have been at loggerheads since 2007? Will the reconciliation agreement they signed in 2011 be implemented?

That last sentence is quite the red flag. The two sides have signed agreements in the past: not only does signing a new one concede the fact that the last agreement hasn’t been honored, but the new agreement might not even require the last agreement’s implementation. The concern by Israelis has always been that even if Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with them, his successor might not honor it. But the history of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation suggests it won’t get that far: the Palestinian signatories themselves are unlikely to honor it.

Haaretz continues:

If the parties reach agreement, Israel might view this as intentional Palestinian abandonment of the negotiations with Israel, and use reconciliation as a pretext to halt the peace process. This, despite the fact that Hamas had agreed at the time to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue negotiations without Hamas committing to accept their outcome, and the fact that in 2010, Hamas made clear that it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state within in the 1967 boundaries.

At the same time, Abbas can present himself as the legitimate representative of all parts of the Palestinian state and thus bolster his demand for international recognition for the state.

It is unclear from the agreements attained so far what the status will be of the accords signed between the PLO and Israel, whether the PA will be able to continue implementing them and what will happen to security cooperation with Hamas still supporting armed struggle. For Hamas, which is in deep economic trouble and in a hostile relationship with Egypt, reconciliation could be an indispensable way out. The funding sources that reach the PA could then be used to cover civil activities of government ministries that would be under Hamas control. Abbas could then ask Egypt to change its position toward Hamas and also open lines of communication for Hamas with other Arab countries.

The tone of that section is typical of the Israeli left: the Israeli government would use the talks as “pretext” to skip out on their own negotiations with a government quite different from the one they were negotiating with. How unreasonable. Additionally, even Haaretz notes that this is “despite the fact” that Hamas is allowing Abbas to continue talks with Israel “without Hamas committing to accept their outcome.” So they are meaningless.

By this logic, Israeli skepticism toward the Hamas-Fatah deal is warranted: were Abbas’s faction to strike a deal with Israel, Hamas is reserving the right not to accept it. So the Hamas-Fatah deal and the theoretical Palestinian-Israeli deal are very likely mutually exclusive. The Palestinians are playing games. Again.

Why are they playing games? Abbas knows he does not have nearly enough control over the Palestinian polity to claim to be a legitimate head of state even if he were to sign a deal with Israel. Hamas’s inclusion can potentially make him president of a failed state instead of failed president of a non-state.

The benefits to Hamas are obvious, as the Haaretz report makes clear. Those benefits are chiefly financial, since Hamas’s inclusion in the government would make them eligible to share in the PA’s revenue and perhaps ease trade and migration restrictions imposed on Gaza by Egypt. Since history shows Hamas doesn’t actually have to abide by the agreement, they can take the money and run, leaving Abbas weaker than ever while eating into his popular approval by temporarily improving the economic condition of the Gaza Strip.

It’s a great deal for Hamas. And Kerry should be glad he had nothing to do with it.

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Steyer’s Payoff and Liberal Hypocrisy

If money is the root of all political evil, can liberal money still be pure? If your name is Tom Steyer, the billionaire liberal environmental extremist, the answer is obvious. Steyer and other liberal donors are cracking the whip on President Obama to ensure that he doesn’t stray off the left-wing reservation even if it means approving a project that would boost the economy and U.S. energy independence. Steyer’s pledge to pour $100 million into the 2014 midterm elections was enough to influence the administration’s decision to stall the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline even though a State Department report debunked the claims that it would damage the environment. But don’t you dare compare Steyer to the conservative donors that are trying to do the same thing on the right.

In a C-Span interview previewed at Politico, Steyer is at pains to try and draw a distinction between his efforts and those of the Koch brothers, the conservatives who have become the centerpiece of liberal talking points this year in an effort to distract voters from the failures of the Obama administration. As far as Steyer is concerned, people who give to conservative causes and candidates just aren’t on the same moral plane as people who share his politics. While the Kochs are playing the same game by the same rules and merely attempting to speak up for their principles, Steyer isn’t willing to extend them the courtesy he demands for his own efforts, even when they constitute nothing less than a bribe to force the president to spike a project that is clearly in the national interest. But in doing so, he is illustrating not only his hypocrisy but also the real cancer that is eating away at the core of the American political system.

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If money is the root of all political evil, can liberal money still be pure? If your name is Tom Steyer, the billionaire liberal environmental extremist, the answer is obvious. Steyer and other liberal donors are cracking the whip on President Obama to ensure that he doesn’t stray off the left-wing reservation even if it means approving a project that would boost the economy and U.S. energy independence. Steyer’s pledge to pour $100 million into the 2014 midterm elections was enough to influence the administration’s decision to stall the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline even though a State Department report debunked the claims that it would damage the environment. But don’t you dare compare Steyer to the conservative donors that are trying to do the same thing on the right.

In a C-Span interview previewed at Politico, Steyer is at pains to try and draw a distinction between his efforts and those of the Koch brothers, the conservatives who have become the centerpiece of liberal talking points this year in an effort to distract voters from the failures of the Obama administration. As far as Steyer is concerned, people who give to conservative causes and candidates just aren’t on the same moral plane as people who share his politics. While the Kochs are playing the same game by the same rules and merely attempting to speak up for their principles, Steyer isn’t willing to extend them the courtesy he demands for his own efforts, even when they constitute nothing less than a bribe to force the president to spike a project that is clearly in the national interest. But in doing so, he is illustrating not only his hypocrisy but also the real cancer that is eating away at the core of the American political system.

Steyer’s self-regard and contempt for the Kochs is blatantly hypocritical, especially since he and the members of the chattering class that share his liberal ideology like to pretend that politics can only be pure once it is purged of money. But while this quote can be merely filed away along with innumerable other instances of left-wing cynicism, it tells us far more about what is wrong with American politics in 2014 than the usual bromides we hear about the baleful influence of the Tea Party. Having invested heavily in the meme that income inequality is the top problem facing the nation, the Democrats have made the Kochs and other conservative donors such as Sheldon Adelson the centerpieces of their current demonization project. But in dismissing the apt comparison between his activities and those of his counterparts on the right, Steyer is not merely demonstrating the kind of chutzpah that perhaps only a billionaire can get away with. Steyer’s comments reflect the basic divide between left and right in that he thinks the difference between the two parties isn’t so much an argument about policy as it is one between good and evil.

From 2008 through President Obama’s successful reelection campaign, Democrats concentrated on demonizing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as the font of all American political evil. In Obama’s sixth year in office, that well has finally run dry and the president has sought to revive his scandal-plagued second term by substituting conservative big givers like the Kochs and Adelson for Bush And Cheney. Given that even these enormously wealthy men have little ability to influence policy in the age of Obama this is, at best, a stretch even for most liberals who know that their money wasn’t enough to alter the political balance in 2012.

But the defamation campaign aimed at the Kochs is especially tough to swallow once you realize that the Democrats appear to be far more dependent on Steyer and his cohorts than anyone in the GOP is on either the libertarian brothers or Adelson.

Steyer’s attempt to tar the Kochs as self-interested in the interview is easily dismissed. The billionaire brothers are hard-core libertarians and have always opposed all subsidies for business even when they might potentially help any of the enterprises they own. The same goes for Adelson, who has devoted himself to opposing the spread of legal gambling on the Internet even when most of his colleagues in the gaming industry are cheering that prospect. For better or worse, they are ideologues that prize principles even over the potential to reap extra profits via the kind of crony capitalist schemes that have been a hallmark of Obama administration programs.

But by trying to draw a distinction between conservative giving and the ways his money has been used to hammer the administration into opposing a vital project like Keystone, Steyer is demonstrating the contempt for democracy that is at the heart of modern liberalism. For such people, those who oppose their ideology can’t be opposed in a spirit of open and honest debate in which both sides are treated with respect. They must be damned as “un-American” (Reid’s epithet of choice for the Kochs) or lampooned as holding a Las Vegas auction for GOP presidential wannabes (as Adelson was in the last month even though Democratic notables flocked to Steyer’s San Francisco home just weeks earlier). Instead of looking to talk radio or the Tea Party to find the reason why politicians can’t find common ground anymore, pundits would do better to listen to Steyer and fellow liberals to discover the real reason why the partisan divide has become unbridgeable.

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The Grave Threat of Zivotofsky’s Passport to the Peace Process

Now that the Supreme Court has agreed in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to decide the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth, it bears reiterating that President Obama did not need to make this a federal case, and that he could still take the same approach President Clinton did in 1994, when Congress passed a law allowing Americans born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” on their passports rather than “China.”  

Clinton enforced the law, but declared that America’s “One China” policy (recognizing only the People’s Republic of China) remained unchanged. Obama could uphold the law regarding Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport, but declare that the policy that Jerusalem’s status is subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remains unchanged. Case closed! It is not clear why this should present a problem: the State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features a 2009 picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting in “Jerusalem, Israel,” a 2012 picture of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey with Israeli President Peres in “Jerusalem, Israel,” and Secretary Hagel’s 2013 statement at his meeting with Netanyahu in “Jerusalem, Israel.” 

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Now that the Supreme Court has agreed in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to decide the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth, it bears reiterating that President Obama did not need to make this a federal case, and that he could still take the same approach President Clinton did in 1994, when Congress passed a law allowing Americans born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” on their passports rather than “China.”  

Clinton enforced the law, but declared that America’s “One China” policy (recognizing only the People’s Republic of China) remained unchanged. Obama could uphold the law regarding Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport, but declare that the policy that Jerusalem’s status is subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remains unchanged. Case closed! It is not clear why this should present a problem: the State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features a 2009 picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting in “Jerusalem, Israel,” a 2012 picture of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey with Israeli President Peres in “Jerusalem, Israel,” and Secretary Hagel’s 2013 statement at his meeting with Netanyahu in “Jerusalem, Israel.” 

So what’s the big deal about letting Zivotofsky reflect on his own passport–as is his right under a federal statute–what the State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department all include on their websites: the fact that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 60 years? The Obama administration’s brief filed in February, opposing Zivotofsky’s petition to have the Supreme Court hear the case, asserted that “grave foreign-relations and national-security consequences” would have resulted from a lower court decision in Zivotofsky’s favor, but the same brief acknowledges that the law affects only a “very small number of people” born in Jerusalem who might avail themselves of the option offered by the law. 

What were those grave consequences? The brief asserted that putting “Israel” on the passports of Zivotofsky and the “very small number” of other people would have “risked ‘caus[ing] irreversible damage’ to the United States’ ability to further the peace process in the Middle East.” 

Seriously? Irreversible damage? Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport is an obstacle to peace?  

Since the passage of the 2002 passport law, the damage to the peace process–most of it irreversible–has included: (1) the Palestinians’ failure in 2003 to dismantle their terrorist groups, as they promised; (2) the election of Hamas in 2006 to control the Palestinian parliament, which no longer functions; (3) the conversion of Gaza in 2007 to a terrorist mini-state that has conducted two rocket wars on Israel (so far); (4) the rejection in 2008 of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem; (5) the refusal in 2009-10 to negotiate with Israel even during an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze; (6) the repeated attempts by the so-called Palestinian “peace partners” to “reconcile” with the terrorist group that rules Gaza; (7) repeated Palestinian breaches of their obligation not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the legal status of the disputed territories; (8) incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel in media and schools, including grotesque, anti-Semitic portrayals and blatantly false assertions of “history”; (9) the complete failure to establish the rule of law, or even hold an election, and the abrupt dismissal of the non-corrupt Palestinian prime minister (Salam Fayyad); and (10) multiple declarations by the Palestinian “president,” now in the 10th year of his four-year term, that the Palestinians will “never” recognize a Jewish state.  

Meanwhile the Obama administration is fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting “Israel”–not “Jerusalem, Israel,” just “Israel”–on the passport of a 12-year-old American boy born in Jerusalem, lest the “peace process” suffer “irreversible damage.” Seriously.

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A Good Day for Justice

For some of us, one of the great intellectual delights is reading the opinions of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. That’s because he’s not only a brilliant legal mind; he’s also a fantastic writer. 

I was reminded of this in reading Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion (joined by Justice Thomas) in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, in which the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on using race as a factor in college admissions. 

The Court, in a 6-2 ruling (with Justice Kagan recusing herself), declared Michigan voters had the right to change their state constitution in 2006 to prohibit public colleges and universities from taking account of race in admissions decisions. (The justices said that a lower federal court was wrong to set aside the change as discriminatory.)

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. But it was Scalia who, as usual, put things best. Here’s how he begins his opinion:  

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For some of us, one of the great intellectual delights is reading the opinions of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. That’s because he’s not only a brilliant legal mind; he’s also a fantastic writer. 

I was reminded of this in reading Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion (joined by Justice Thomas) in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, in which the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on using race as a factor in college admissions. 

The Court, in a 6-2 ruling (with Justice Kagan recusing herself), declared Michigan voters had the right to change their state constitution in 2006 to prohibit public colleges and universities from taking account of race in admissions decisions. (The justices said that a lower federal court was wrong to set aside the change as discriminatory.)

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. But it was Scalia who, as usual, put things best. Here’s how he begins his opinion:  

It has come to this. Called upon to explore the jurisprudential twilight zone between two errant lines of precedent, we confront a frighteningly bizarre question: Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbid what its text plainly requires? Needless to say (except that this case obliges us to say it), the question answers itself. “The Constitution proscribes government discrimination on the basis of race, and state-provided education is no exception.” Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306, 349 (2003) (SCALIA, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). It is precisely this understanding—the correct understanding—of the federal Equal Protection Clause that the people of the State of Michigan have adopted for their own fundamental law. By adopting it, they did not simultaneously offend it. [italics in original]  

Justice Scalia ended his 18-page opinion this way: 

As Justice Harlan observed over a century ago, “[o]ur Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” The people of Michigan wish the same for their governing charter. It would be shameful for us to stand in their way.  

In citing Justice Harlan, I’m reminded of President Kennedy’s 1963 civil right speech in which he, too, quoted Harlan:    

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color… 

As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.

We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.

I cite the Kennedy speech both because of its moral force and because it reminds us what liberalism once stood for: justice and equality before the law, judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, and refusing to count by race.

Today liberalism is not just different than this; it’s the antithesis of it. You need only read Justice Sotomayor’s 58-page dissent, where she piles one bad and misleading argument on another, to understand that. Liberalism is now in a position of insisting that subverting equal protection of the law is actually upholding it. 

There are probably better examples of the corruption of language; of using words to “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” to quote a line from Orwell. But none come immediately to mind.

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The GOP’s Political Reconstruction Project

Like most political analysts, I’m of the view that the GOP will do well, and maybe very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections. (Demographics usually favor Republicans in such elections, when voters tend to be older and whiter.) I believe, too, that Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be an average political talent who carries a fair amount of baggage. Add to that the fact that the country will presumably be tired of Mr. Obama and his party and looking for a change in course. 

Yet despite all this, I agree with Bill Kristol. At this moment, he wrote, “Republicans seem likely to win in 2014 and to lose in 2016.”

Having laid out the basis for my views before, I decided to amass additional data to underscore them. In this instance, the data is based on a memorandum by Doug Sosnik, a Democratic political strategist who was a close adviser to Bill Clinton. The memo was recently posted at Politico Magazine. Mr. Sosnik is a partisan, but the data he relies on for his analysis strikes me as sound – and for Republicans, alarming. The information below is taken in large part, but not exclusively, from the Sosnik article. 

The Blue Wall

In each of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia—which currently total 242 electoral votes—as base states, leaving them only 28 votes short of the 270 necessary to win the White House. Ron Brownstein of National Journal notes, “The blue wall encompasses the 11 states from Maryland to Maine (except New Hampshire); the three West Coast states; and Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Hawaii (plus the District of Columbia).” Brownstein points out that Democrats have won another 15 electoral votes (in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) in five of the last six elections.

Three of these base states—California, New York, and Illinois—alone total 104 electoral votes. Even when Republicans have won, their ceiling of electoral votes has been relatively low, leaving them a very small margin for error. Since 1988, no Republican candidate has managed to secure 300 electoral votes in a single election. 

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Like most political analysts, I’m of the view that the GOP will do well, and maybe very well, in the 2014 mid-term elections. (Demographics usually favor Republicans in such elections, when voters tend to be older and whiter.) I believe, too, that Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be an average political talent who carries a fair amount of baggage. Add to that the fact that the country will presumably be tired of Mr. Obama and his party and looking for a change in course. 

Yet despite all this, I agree with Bill Kristol. At this moment, he wrote, “Republicans seem likely to win in 2014 and to lose in 2016.”

Having laid out the basis for my views before, I decided to amass additional data to underscore them. In this instance, the data is based on a memorandum by Doug Sosnik, a Democratic political strategist who was a close adviser to Bill Clinton. The memo was recently posted at Politico Magazine. Mr. Sosnik is a partisan, but the data he relies on for his analysis strikes me as sound – and for Republicans, alarming. The information below is taken in large part, but not exclusively, from the Sosnik article. 

The Blue Wall

In each of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have carried 18 states and the District of Columbia—which currently total 242 electoral votes—as base states, leaving them only 28 votes short of the 270 necessary to win the White House. Ron Brownstein of National Journal notes, “The blue wall encompasses the 11 states from Maryland to Maine (except New Hampshire); the three West Coast states; and Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Hawaii (plus the District of Columbia).” Brownstein points out that Democrats have won another 15 electoral votes (in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) in five of the last six elections.

Three of these base states—California, New York, and Illinois—alone total 104 electoral votes. Even when Republicans have won, their ceiling of electoral votes has been relatively low, leaving them a very small margin for error. Since 1988, no Republican candidate has managed to secure 300 electoral votes in a single election. 

Women and the GOP

Women now constitute 53 percent of all voters. In the last two presidential elections, women supported Barack Obama over the Republican nominee by double digits. While the president lost by 10 percentage points among independents in Ohio, for example, he won by 12 points among women in the state—and carried Ohio. 

The Youth Vote and the GOP

In 2012, Obama won the youth vote by 23 points—60 percent to 37 percent. In 1992, Democrats won the youth vote by 9 points; in 1996, by 19 points; in 2000, by two points; in 2004, by 13 points; and in 2008 by 34 points.

Right now, young voters constitute 25.5 percent of the eligible electorate, a figure that will rise to 36.5 percent by 2020. And a recent Pew report found that only 17 percent of millennials currently identify themselves as Republicans.

Minorities and the GOP

In 2012, 88 percent of Mitt Romney’s support came from white voters. Yet over the past quarter century, as the non-white share of the population has expanded, the white share of the vote for president has steadily declined, falling from 87 percent in 1992 to 72 percent in 2012.

Mitt Romney lost the non-white vote to Barack Obama by 63 points.

Asian-Americans voted for Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent after backing him against John McCain 62 to 35. President Obama also won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. The Pew Hispanic Center projects that by 2030, 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote—up from 27 million today. Since George W. Bush’s 2004 election, Hispanic voters have abandoned the Republican Party in droves (Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004). Indeed, since the 2004 election, Republicans have steadily lost ground among women voters, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and youth.

Public Perceptions of the GOP

A March ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 68 percent of respondents believe that the Republican Party is out of touch with the concerns of most people today. Only 28 percent say it’s in touch with the concerns of most Americans. 

I highlight these matters not because they are the only way to interpret the political landscape these days. Nor do I believe a GOP presidential victory in 2016 is anything like out of the question. I call attention to these data instead to point out to Republicans their substantial intellectual and outreach deficit, even while President Obama is down in the polls and even if they do well in November.  

It’s an undeniable empirical truth that the GOP coalition is shrinking, and it’s shrinking in the aftermath of two fairly decisive defeats, with the latter coming against a president whose policies were judged by many Americans to have been failures. Which means the Republican task isn’t simply to nominate a candidate who can fire up the base; it is to find principled conservative leaders who can win over voters who are not now voting for the GOP at the presidential level. This requires putting forward a governing vision and agenda that is reform-minded and modernizing, that speaks to the purposes of government and not just its size, that aligns itself with the challenges of the 21st century, and that persuades Americans who are not traditional Republicans.

The GOP, in other words, is engaged in a fairly serious political reconstruction project. Democrats did this with Bill Clinton and the British Labour Party did this with Tony Blair. The burning political question facing Republicans is whether they will make the changes necessary to appeal to an America very different than the one that existed a generation ago.

They’ll go some distance toward answering that question over the course of the next two years.

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The $10,000 College Degree

Whenever the cost of a good or service consistently rises above the rate of inflation one of two things is going on.  Either the supply is fixed while demand is increasing or there is a cartel in operation.

With the immense increase and spread of wealth in the last 30 years (in 1982 it took $82 million to make the Forbes 400 list, today it takes $1.3 billion, a 650 percent increase net of inflation), such things as fine art, rare books, and caviar have soared in price because the supply of each is static. There are only so many Guttenberg Bibles, 18th-century dining tables, and Winslow Homer paintings in existence, after all, while the sturgeon of the Caspian Sea can supply only so much caviar without going extinct (which would make the price of caviar infinite). 

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Whenever the cost of a good or service consistently rises above the rate of inflation one of two things is going on.  Either the supply is fixed while demand is increasing or there is a cartel in operation.

With the immense increase and spread of wealth in the last 30 years (in 1982 it took $82 million to make the Forbes 400 list, today it takes $1.3 billion, a 650 percent increase net of inflation), such things as fine art, rare books, and caviar have soared in price because the supply of each is static. There are only so many Guttenberg Bibles, 18th-century dining tables, and Winslow Homer paintings in existence, after all, while the sturgeon of the Caspian Sea can supply only so much caviar without going extinct (which would make the price of caviar infinite). 

But the supply of college degrees is not fixed. Regardless, tuition and other college costs over the last 25 years have increased 440 percent, about four times the rate of inflation. So there’s a cartel in operation. Colleges don’t compete with each other in terms of price, partly because most colleges are non-profit and therefore the bottom line is not of supreme concern. But that doesn’t mean that non-profits don’t make a profit. Many colleges, in fact, are quite profitable, but the money is invested in such things as research, larger faculty, more and more luxurious facilities, and, especially, an ever-expanding administration.  The number of administrators at Perdue University has grown 54 percent just in the last decade, six times as fast as the number of professors.  It’s a beautiful example of the well-known political science dictum that, absent outside pressure (such as the profit motive), institutions tend to evolve in ways that favor their elites. Vance Fried, of the Cato Institute, explains at some length.

But outside pressure is beginning, finally, to materialize. In 2011, Governor Rick Perry of Texas challenged his state’s public colleges to come up with four-year degree programs that cost no more than $10,000. He wanted this accomplished by using online courses and competency-based credits, (i.e., you can get credit for a course essentially just by passing the final.) The idea was, of course, pooh-poohed by the higher education establishment, and declared impossible. But it is beginning to catch on.  Governor Rick Scott of Florida is now calling for the same thing at Florida public colleges and universities.

With student debt now passing credit-card debt in this country and more and more people calling into question the value of a college degree, the outside pressure to cut costs is finally at hand. That’s bad news for the third assistant associate dean for diversity and feeling good about yourself, but it’s very good news for students, parents, and the country as a whole.

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Russia’s ‘Green Men’ Unmasked

The Russian subterfuge that the armed gunmen (known as green men) who appeared first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine were simply local protesters, rather than Russian soldiers and intelligence operatives, has never been particularly convincing to anyone who has not been brainwashed by the Kremlin. Now the Russian cover story has been definitively dispelled. As the New York Times reports:

Photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

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The Russian subterfuge that the armed gunmen (known as green men) who appeared first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine were simply local protesters, rather than Russian soldiers and intelligence operatives, has never been particularly convincing to anyone who has not been brainwashed by the Kremlin. Now the Russian cover story has been definitively dispelled. As the New York Times reports:

Photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

Next to fall will be the subterfuge that the green men do not really answer to Moscow—the ostensible explanation for why they are ignoring the Geneva accord reached last week between the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and the EU, which calls for the pro-Moscow militants to give up the public buildings they have occupied. This is no spontaneous, local protest. It is nothing less than a slow-motion Russian invasion of a neighboring state.

The cover story adopted by Putin’s men may not be convincing but it serves its purpose—to allow the EU and the United States a fig leaf of deniability to avoid the kind of response that such unwarranted and illegal aggression warrants. What kind of response? Everything from crippling sanctions on the Russian economy to sending U.S. army brigades—not the army companies currently being contemplated—to Poland and the Baltic States. But the fig leaf is blowing away as fast as the leaves of fall, and it is exposing the West’s response to aggression to be scandalously feckless.

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Abbas’s Latest Bluff Shouldn’t Scare Israel

With the deadline approaching for the end of the agreed upon negotiating period between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas continues to raise the stakes in the standoff. Abbas has demonstrated repeatedly that he has no interest in making the sort of symbolic concessions about ending the conflict and recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn even in return for Palestinian sovereignty and almost all of the territory he has been demanding. But the fact that he has no intention of ever signing a peace deal under almost any conceivable circumstances hasn’t stopped him from continuing to pressure both the U.S. and Israel to ante up more concessions in order to keep him at the negotiating table.

That would mean more releases of terrorist murderers by Israel and settlement freezes with little hope that Abbas will ever reciprocate by abandoning demands for a “right of return” that signify the Palestinians are ready to end their century-long war on Zionism. The latest instance of this effort is the report that Abbas is planning not only to return to the United Nations for a pyrrhic pursuit of international recognition but also is thinking about formally dissolving the PA and ending its security cooperation with Israel. In theory, this would present an enormous challenge to the Israelis. They have no appetite for directly administering the West Bank, which is, contrary to the constant talk about Israeli “occupation,” under the rule of the PA. At the same time, they also benefit from cooperation with Abbas’s large security forces to help keep the peace in the area and stop terrorism.

But in spite of these problems this is a bluff Israel should call. As much as there is good reason to worry about would happen if the PA did disappear, Abbas and his corrupt Fatah administration have far more to lose from such a decision than even the Israelis.

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With the deadline approaching for the end of the agreed upon negotiating period between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas continues to raise the stakes in the standoff. Abbas has demonstrated repeatedly that he has no interest in making the sort of symbolic concessions about ending the conflict and recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn even in return for Palestinian sovereignty and almost all of the territory he has been demanding. But the fact that he has no intention of ever signing a peace deal under almost any conceivable circumstances hasn’t stopped him from continuing to pressure both the U.S. and Israel to ante up more concessions in order to keep him at the negotiating table.

That would mean more releases of terrorist murderers by Israel and settlement freezes with little hope that Abbas will ever reciprocate by abandoning demands for a “right of return” that signify the Palestinians are ready to end their century-long war on Zionism. The latest instance of this effort is the report that Abbas is planning not only to return to the United Nations for a pyrrhic pursuit of international recognition but also is thinking about formally dissolving the PA and ending its security cooperation with Israel. In theory, this would present an enormous challenge to the Israelis. They have no appetite for directly administering the West Bank, which is, contrary to the constant talk about Israeli “occupation,” under the rule of the PA. At the same time, they also benefit from cooperation with Abbas’s large security forces to help keep the peace in the area and stop terrorism.

But in spite of these problems this is a bluff Israel should call. As much as there is good reason to worry about would happen if the PA did disappear, Abbas and his corrupt Fatah administration have far more to lose from such a decision than even the Israelis.

Israel benefits from not having to be involved in the lives of most West Bank Arabs in numerous ways, even though the autonomy granted the PA has not saved the Jewish state from being labeled an oppressive occupier of the region. Just as important is the way cooperation with PA forces has helped made the task of the Israel Defense Forces easier. Yet Abbas knows he is the net winner of this exchange.

First, as ruler of the West Bank, he has dictatorial powers over the economy and the media of the area that have profited his family and that of his Fatah Party in ways that both enrich and empower them. No PA means no revenue and the end of its viselike grip on the area. Anyone who expects the venal Fatah leadership would ever make such a choice has learned nothing from the history of the last 20 years during which their reign of terror and corruption has blighted Palestinian life.

Even more important, security cooperation with Israel is a two-way street. As much as Israel benefits from it, Abbas knows that without the security blanket his relationship with the IDF provides him, his personal safety cannot be assured. Without Israeli protection, can Abbas sleep at night without worrying about a coup from Hamas that would repeat the events of 2006 in which the Islamists seized Gaza from him? No. The dissolution of the PA doesn’t just mean countless headaches and a messy transition for Israel. It means the virtual end of Fatah as the ruler of the West Bank.

Even if Abbas didn’t wind up dead without Israeli protection, an underground Fatah would be forced into a competition with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in which it would effectively be transformed into an entity that not even the Obama administration could recognize. That means the end of the PA push for independence as well as Abbas’s status as the putative president of Palestine (albeit one serving in the 10th year of a four-year term of office).

Israel’s government can and should ignore this latest Palestinian threat. But Americans who are not as besotted with this fool’s errand of a process as Kerry should draw some conclusions from these threats. If Abbas wants peace, he can have it as Israel’s repeated willingness to negotiate a two-state solution has made clear. But if he wants to find new excuses not to talk, he should be ignored.

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ObamaCare Horror Stories Aren’t Lies

Last Thursday, President Obama used the announcement that there were now eight million people signed up for ObamaCare as the excuse for yet another touchdown dance celebrating what he touted as the success of his signature health-care law. The president’s boasts were as unfounded as the numbers are bogus. As I wrote then, not only are the figures for enrollment untrustworthy because so many of those being counted have not paid for their insurance, but they also include many Americans who lost their insurance because of the law and are now saddled with higher costs and coverage that doesn’t suit their needs. These ObamaCare losers may well equal or outnumber the number of those who have actually benefitted from it. Even more to the point, the administration’s delays of many of the provisions of the law have put off the negative impact it will have on jobs and the economy until after the midterm elections.

Americans are bracing for massive health-care cost increases next year. Stories about the hardships faced by many individuals and companies as a result of ObamaCare have been cited by the law’s critics. But the president has denounced them, and other Democratic apologists such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have claimed they are falsehoods or outright inventions cooked up by the Koch brothers and other conservatives. The truth, however, is not hard to discover. After reading the piece I wrote last week about the president’s claims, one Connecticut businessman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whom I know wrote to me to tell the story of his company’s experience with the law and the way his representatives in Washington had responded to his complaints. Here is his story:

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Last Thursday, President Obama used the announcement that there were now eight million people signed up for ObamaCare as the excuse for yet another touchdown dance celebrating what he touted as the success of his signature health-care law. The president’s boasts were as unfounded as the numbers are bogus. As I wrote then, not only are the figures for enrollment untrustworthy because so many of those being counted have not paid for their insurance, but they also include many Americans who lost their insurance because of the law and are now saddled with higher costs and coverage that doesn’t suit their needs. These ObamaCare losers may well equal or outnumber the number of those who have actually benefitted from it. Even more to the point, the administration’s delays of many of the provisions of the law have put off the negative impact it will have on jobs and the economy until after the midterm elections.

Americans are bracing for massive health-care cost increases next year. Stories about the hardships faced by many individuals and companies as a result of ObamaCare have been cited by the law’s critics. But the president has denounced them, and other Democratic apologists such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have claimed they are falsehoods or outright inventions cooked up by the Koch brothers and other conservatives. The truth, however, is not hard to discover. After reading the piece I wrote last week about the president’s claims, one Connecticut businessman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whom I know wrote to me to tell the story of his company’s experience with the law and the way his representatives in Washington had responded to his complaints. Here is his story:

As usual, your column regarding President Obama and the Affordable Care Act was insightful and on target. Here’s a real world example of the future negative effects on businesses and individuals we aren’t likely to hear from the White House.

In November of last year, I met with our health insurance broker and learned that the renewal of our policy for our company’s employees would result in a 53 percent increase in premiums – largely due to increased mandates and other nuances of the Affordable Care Act. We developed a short-term solution by renewing our current policy (pre-ACA) for another year and moving its effective date from January 1, 2014 to December 1, 2013. This adjustment allowed us to avoid the effect of the new ACA requirements that took effect on January 1, 2014. Our premiums under this alternate plan increased, but only by 9%. I realize we’re a small company and this is but a single case. However, our broker indicated this scenario is likely to play out in many organizations next year.

In early January, we sent a letter describing this situation to our Governor, Congressman, and Senators. Finally, last week Senator Chris Murphy responded with what was essentially a staff-drafted form letter. No responses from our other elected officials have been received to date. Sen. Murphy’s letter completely ignored our message — specifically that our premiums were about to increase by 53 percent. Instead, the letter claimed, “research indicated the ACA should stabilize and possibly decrease health care premiums for small businesses and individuals.”

Silly me, I guess the emperor really does have clothes after all.

As I mentioned, the large increase resulted, in part, from certain mandates not previously covered. However, Connecticut already had a lot of mandated benefits in place (thanks primarily to our state’s kind-hearted special interest advocates). The large increase also resulted from a change in the way coverage for dependents will now be rated and priced. Previously, dependents were treated similarly across all age cohorts. Under the ACA, dependent coverage is and will be rated and priced separately for each age – with costs significantly increasing among the 18-26 year age cohorts. So, for people with kids of college age and a few years older, premiums are likely to increase significantly.

The “blame” for this spike can probably be placed more on the insurance industry than specifically the Congressional staffers who drafted the ACA. However, my understanding is the insurance industry was heavily involved with developing the legislation and, of course, the industry was an advocate for the enactment of the ACA. What a surprise that insurers will benefit from the new law.

By backdating its policy, this company saved itself from a devastating increase in 2014. But that won’t be possible in 2015 when it and innumerable other small, mid-sized, and large companies will be faced with the enforcement of more ObamaCare mandates. The impact of these increases on the ability of businesses to maintain their level of employment and benefits will be considerable. So, too, will the effect of this massive federal power grab on the economy. Thus, in addition to the millions of individual ObamaCare losers that lost their coverage, in 2015 we will have countless others who will suffer from the law.

All this means that, contrary to the president’s claims and demands that critics shut up and do as he says, the debate over ObamaCare is far from over. If anything, as this one businessman seems to be telling us, in 2015 it will just be getting started. 

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Dems May Regret Steyer’s Keystone Payoff

After a lengthy study of the plans for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department issued an 11-volume report back in January confirming what most experts had already concluded long before then: the vital project would not damage the environment or increase the rate of carbon pollution. But liberal activists weren’t happy and have used the 90-day automatic review process that followed that report to furiously lobby the administration to stop the construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries. The key player in that effort was Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental extremist who has pledged to give $100 million to Democratic candidates who do his bidding. Though President Obama has flirted at times with doing the right thing and letting the project proceed, the result of the push from Steyer and the rest of the global warming alarmist crowd was as predictable as it was politically motivated. In a Friday afternoon news dump to guarantee minimal news coverage, the State Department announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision on approval of Keystone.

Like the numerous delays of implementation of many of the provisions of ObamaCare, the delay in the final decision on Keystone is blatantly political. By putting it off until after this year’s midterm elections, the president is hoping to both assuage left-wing donors who are essential to his party’s waning hopes of holding on to the Senate and to allow vulnerable red-state Democrats to avoid blame for a decision that would hurt the economy and the cause of energy independence. But though this seems like an astute compromise that will allow the president to play both ends against the middle, it is a case of the administration being too clever by half. Far from helping the cause of Democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, the Keystone delay has handed Republicans an issue with which they can batter these incumbents. Though liberals like Obama have sought to demonize GOP donors like the Koch brothers for trying to buy votes to advance their libertarian agenda, the Keystone decision is nothing less than a $100 million payoff to Steyer.

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After a lengthy study of the plans for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department issued an 11-volume report back in January confirming what most experts had already concluded long before then: the vital project would not damage the environment or increase the rate of carbon pollution. But liberal activists weren’t happy and have used the 90-day automatic review process that followed that report to furiously lobby the administration to stop the construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries. The key player in that effort was Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental extremist who has pledged to give $100 million to Democratic candidates who do his bidding. Though President Obama has flirted at times with doing the right thing and letting the project proceed, the result of the push from Steyer and the rest of the global warming alarmist crowd was as predictable as it was politically motivated. In a Friday afternoon news dump to guarantee minimal news coverage, the State Department announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision on approval of Keystone.

Like the numerous delays of implementation of many of the provisions of ObamaCare, the delay in the final decision on Keystone is blatantly political. By putting it off until after this year’s midterm elections, the president is hoping to both assuage left-wing donors who are essential to his party’s waning hopes of holding on to the Senate and to allow vulnerable red-state Democrats to avoid blame for a decision that would hurt the economy and the cause of energy independence. But though this seems like an astute compromise that will allow the president to play both ends against the middle, it is a case of the administration being too clever by half. Far from helping the cause of Democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, the Keystone delay has handed Republicans an issue with which they can batter these incumbents. Though liberals like Obama have sought to demonize GOP donors like the Koch brothers for trying to buy votes to advance their libertarian agenda, the Keystone decision is nothing less than a $100 million payoff to Steyer.

In her usual role as administration apologist, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was trotted out today on NBC’s Meet the Press to deny that the decision was politically motivated. But like so much of what comes out of Wasserman Schultz’s mouth, that assurance has zero credibility. The bottom line here is that a shovel-ready jobs project that will be good for the American economy and energy independence has been shelved, perhaps forever, because of the Democratic party’s dependence on a small group of environmental extremists with disproportionate financial and political clout.

Keystone critics howl about what they claim will be the negative impact on the environment from Canada’s recovery of oil from the sands of Alberta. But their claims are largely unproved. And, as far as the U.S. is concerned, spiking the pipeline won’t stop Canada from getting the oil out of the ground and shipping it somewhere. The only question is whether the resources will be kept in North America or sent to China or some other place.

Obama’s delays of Keystone are a symptom of an administration that talks about wanting to promote jobs but is far more interested in sweetheart deals like the Solyndra boondoggle than in getting the government out of the way of the private sector on projects that could actually put a lot of people to work. While their focus on alternatives to fossil fuels seems admirable, it actually betrays hostility to economic development and industries like oil refinement and coal that remain essential to the country’s future.

The Keystone delay is also symbolic of the way Obama’s indifference to energy independence has hindered U.S. foreign policy. At a time when European dependence on Russia as well as the Middle East has hampered efforts to defend Ukraine’s independence or to rally the world behind the cause of stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, the administration’s politically-motivated foot-dragging on Keystone is more evidence of how an unwillingness to lead by example has hamstrung Obama.

But the bottom line of the Keystone delay is that for all their talk about the Kochs and the supposedly malevolent forces financing the right, there is no longer any doubt that this administration is far more dependent as well as more in the pocket of men like Steyer than the Republicans are on any single contributor or group. When faced with a choice between Steyer’s $100 million and doing the right thing for both the economy and energy independence, Obama’s decision was never really in doubt. Democrats who think voters are too stupid to make this connection may rue this corrupt and foolish move in November.

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Turkey to Take Press Crackdown to New Level?

When diplomats once called Turkey a model, they meant as a majority Muslim state that embraced democracy. Here is Hillary Clinton, for example, finding the same sort of hope in Turkey’s Islamist regime she once saw in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Bush administration, for its part, wasn’t any better, with the likes of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and even the president himself diminishing democracy by placing the adjective Islamic in front of it. That has nothing to do with the term Islamic; putting any modifier in front of democracy—Christian, Jewish, socialist, revolutionary, or any other adjective—necessarily constrains the democracy itself.

Alas, all the blind rhetoric of Turkey’s democracy on the part of American politicians—and here a special spotlight should be on the members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus—simply gave Turkey cover to continue its crackdown.

Turkey has, accordingly, plummeted in press freedom. But simply confiscating opponents’ newspapers is no longer enough for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Putin. As protestors rallied against him, he condemned and even banned Twitter. YouTube remains censored despite a court order. Earlier this weekend, Lütfi Elvan, Turkey’s minister of communications, proposed removing Turkey from the world wide web, and replacing the “www” with a “ttt,” in effect, a Turkish intranet. Even though his statement was made before numerous journalists, the Turkish government is now walking back the proposal. Still, Elvan’s sin appears to be in the timing of his comments rather than in their content. Make no mistake: Even considering such a ludicrous plan puts Turkey firmly in a club dominated by the likes of Iran, China, and North Korea.

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When diplomats once called Turkey a model, they meant as a majority Muslim state that embraced democracy. Here is Hillary Clinton, for example, finding the same sort of hope in Turkey’s Islamist regime she once saw in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Bush administration, for its part, wasn’t any better, with the likes of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and even the president himself diminishing democracy by placing the adjective Islamic in front of it. That has nothing to do with the term Islamic; putting any modifier in front of democracy—Christian, Jewish, socialist, revolutionary, or any other adjective—necessarily constrains the democracy itself.

Alas, all the blind rhetoric of Turkey’s democracy on the part of American politicians—and here a special spotlight should be on the members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus—simply gave Turkey cover to continue its crackdown.

Turkey has, accordingly, plummeted in press freedom. But simply confiscating opponents’ newspapers is no longer enough for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Putin. As protestors rallied against him, he condemned and even banned Twitter. YouTube remains censored despite a court order. Earlier this weekend, Lütfi Elvan, Turkey’s minister of communications, proposed removing Turkey from the world wide web, and replacing the “www” with a “ttt,” in effect, a Turkish intranet. Even though his statement was made before numerous journalists, the Turkish government is now walking back the proposal. Still, Elvan’s sin appears to be in the timing of his comments rather than in their content. Make no mistake: Even considering such a ludicrous plan puts Turkey firmly in a club dominated by the likes of Iran, China, and North Korea.

Erdoğan’s record reinforces the fact that Turkey belongs nowhere near Europe. Liberal Turks will never again be in the majority in their country, and Erdoğan believes that so long as his Anatolian constituency blindly supports him, he can be the sultan in reality that he always was in spirit. Turks and Kurds deserve better, but until and unless they stand up more forcefully for their rights or until Turkey fractures–which, with current demographic trends and the Kurdish national resurgence Turkey eventually will–liberal Turks will never again know freedom in their own country.

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Putin to Ukraine: Pay Up

Having annexed the Crimea and destabilized much of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent not on de-escalating the conflict, but rather exacerbating it, with exposing European Union impotence as a bonus. After all, faced with a crisis to European identity, the European Union has fallen on the sword of short-term economic interests in order to justify turning their collective back (short of ineffective rhetoric and weak symbolic action) on Ukraine.

In a way it’s understandable: London’s real-estate bubble is a direct result of Russian investment. France has always put France first before any collective security responsibility. That is why it has only delayed rather than scrapped a multibillion dollar deal to sell Russia helicopter carriers. German officials have long prioritized receiving a share of Russia’s oil wealth over any action which might undercut their ability to do so. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder famously went to work for the Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office. While he reportedly infuriated his successor Angela Merkel by backing Putin, Merkel’s own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schröder’s chief-of-staff. Hire a Russia apologist as foreign minister and the crocodile tears about his former boss shilling for the Russians falls a bit flat.

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Having annexed the Crimea and destabilized much of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent not on de-escalating the conflict, but rather exacerbating it, with exposing European Union impotence as a bonus. After all, faced with a crisis to European identity, the European Union has fallen on the sword of short-term economic interests in order to justify turning their collective back (short of ineffective rhetoric and weak symbolic action) on Ukraine.

In a way it’s understandable: London’s real-estate bubble is a direct result of Russian investment. France has always put France first before any collective security responsibility. That is why it has only delayed rather than scrapped a multibillion dollar deal to sell Russia helicopter carriers. German officials have long prioritized receiving a share of Russia’s oil wealth over any action which might undercut their ability to do so. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder famously went to work for the Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office. While he reportedly infuriated his successor Angela Merkel by backing Putin, Merkel’s own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schröder’s chief-of-staff. Hire a Russia apologist as foreign minister and the crocodile tears about his former boss shilling for the Russians falls a bit flat.

Putin understands that for European Union leaders, economics trumps principle. Perhaps this is why, in an episode of the talk show “Vesti v Subbotu” (Vesti on Saturday) aired on Saturday, April 19, Putin ignored the fact that he had invaded the country and complained that the new Ukrainian government had fallen behind on their payments for Russian gas:

[Interviewer]: Today you threw in one very interesting calculation. In one month’s time, you will revisit the Ukrainian gas payment issue. In one month’s time, it will be 17 May, with eight days to go before the planned [presidential] election in Ukraine. Does it mean that you will recognize the May 25 election or are you…

[Putin]: This has nothing to do with the election. We are not linking the economy with the political process in Ukraine. We simply had to receive money, on 7 April this year, for the gas delivered in March. We did not receive it. I repeat, this is 525m dollars. Zero [was received].

So, there you go: Putin effectively has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainians that they must pay their gas bill eight days before Ukrainians go to the polls. Finance is finance and principle is principle, but finance trumps principle. Ukraine may be the sacrificial lamb, but how comforting it must be for Angela Merkel that Putin is finally acting European.

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Bill O’Reilly Versus Stephen Colbert

Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly is often the target of Stephen Colbert’s humor–and lately, Colbert’s jabs have begun to sting.

Mr. O’Reilly, clearly angry at Colbert, seems to have become somewhat consumed by him as well. For example, on a recent program O’Reilly referred to Colbert as a “deceiver,” an “ideological fanatic” who is “misguided in the extreme” and “clueless” but “the guy does damage.” He “gives cover to powerful people who are selling Americans a big lie.”

Subtle.

But it didn’t stop there. When it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year, O’Reilly weighed in against his nemesis again, saying, “Colbert has built an entire career on pleasing the left.” O’Reilly said Colbert will have difficulty going up against “high energy guys who want to have a good time on their shows” (NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel).

“It’d be hard to imagine that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert and that’s a lot of folks to lose from the jump,” O’Reilly said. “But Colbert will have good writers and surely he knows his challenge. Place your bets now.”

Appearing on ABC’s The View, O’Reilly said Colbert is a “mouthpiece for the far left,” a person who “snipes” and makes “these little snarky remarks.”

A few thoughts on all this, the first of which is that I’m not sure Mr. O’Reilly does himself any favors in going after Colbert. Virtually every time he does, Colbert takes O’Reilly’s attacks and milks them for all they’re worth. He is playing right into the trap set for him by Colbert.

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Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly is often the target of Stephen Colbert’s humor–and lately, Colbert’s jabs have begun to sting.

Mr. O’Reilly, clearly angry at Colbert, seems to have become somewhat consumed by him as well. For example, on a recent program O’Reilly referred to Colbert as a “deceiver,” an “ideological fanatic” who is “misguided in the extreme” and “clueless” but “the guy does damage.” He “gives cover to powerful people who are selling Americans a big lie.”

Subtle.

But it didn’t stop there. When it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year, O’Reilly weighed in against his nemesis again, saying, “Colbert has built an entire career on pleasing the left.” O’Reilly said Colbert will have difficulty going up against “high energy guys who want to have a good time on their shows” (NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel).

“It’d be hard to imagine that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert and that’s a lot of folks to lose from the jump,” O’Reilly said. “But Colbert will have good writers and surely he knows his challenge. Place your bets now.”

Appearing on ABC’s The View, O’Reilly said Colbert is a “mouthpiece for the far left,” a person who “snipes” and makes “these little snarky remarks.”

A few thoughts on all this, the first of which is that I’m not sure Mr. O’Reilly does himself any favors in going after Colbert. Virtually every time he does, Colbert takes O’Reilly’s attacks and milks them for all they’re worth. He is playing right into the trap set for him by Colbert.

Second, this fairly good-natured 2007 interview between Colbert and O’Reilly is useful to this extent: Colbert isn’t any more or less of an “ideological fanatic,” “deceiver” or “mouthpiece for the left” now than he was then. Colbert’s shtick hasn’t changed, but O’Reilly’s irritation with Colbert clearly has. One can’t help but think what’s driving this now is more personal rather than philosophical.

Third, Colbert is a comedian–one with a liberal slant for sure, but still a comedian. And so for O’Reilly to treat Colbert as if his comedy is secondary to his ideological agenda is, I think, a mistake. Remember, Colbert’s character is a satire of O’Reilly. The character was created in order to get laughs, which it does.

Which brings me to my fourth point. I’m more conservative than Mr. O’Reilly, but I’m also a fan of both Colbert and Jon Stewart. Not because I agree with their politics. Not because I think their caricature of conservatives is fair. (You’d never know from them that Fox News features far and away the best news show on the air in the form of Special Report w/Bret Baier.) And not because I don’t think from time to time they might act in ways that are bothersome and reveal their core (liberal) convictions.

No, I’m a fan because Stewart and Colbert are masters at comedy, with Stewart, I think, the best there is. (Stewart is also an excellent interviewer.) So they’re liberal comedians for sure–but the fact that they’re liberal doesn’t mean they aren’t funny or clever. Or that they don’t at times expose conservative weaknesses or hypocrisies. I tend toward the view that even conservatives should be able to appreciate their professional excellence.

One final point: When Colbert takes over for Letterman, he’s going to set aside his ultra-conservative Colbert Report character. I therefore doubt Colbert will be seen as all that politically partisan in his future role. We’ll see.

Bill O’Reilly is a talented person; there’s no way he could have dominated cable television for so many years unless he was. He can show an admirable independence and he’s often well informed. But he strikes me as a person with a tremendous ego, even by the standards of television personalities, and quite sensitive to criticism. The latter shows up now and again, but never more so than in his recent battles with Stephen Colbert. And in these battles–with O’Reilly attempting to bludgeon Colbert as if he were a combination of Paul Krugman and Howard Dean while Colbert responds with humor and mockery–Colbert almost always comes out on top.

Papa Bear needs to relax a bit.  

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Martinez and the War on GOP Women

One of the Obama administration’s favorite themes is the idea that Republicans have been waging a “war on women.” Though Democrats may overestimate the appeal of this canard, the notion that troglodyte conservatives seek to send American women back to the 19th century has become a form of conventional wisdom, especially in the liberal mainstream media. But though that war is a piece of fakery rooted in the confusion between political liberalism and gender equality, there is little doubt about the reality of another war on women: the one that is being waged by left-wing ideologues against any female Republican who dares to emerge on the national political stage. As Sarah Palin learned in 2008, the full-court press against GOP women is not for the faint of heart.

While I’m no fan of Palin’s, the former Alaska governor was subjected to the sort of attacks that would never have been tried against any man, liberal or conservative. That she did not weather this assault with the sort of grace or the wit that might have undermined the effort to brand her as unready for national office is to her discredit, and her subsequent career has been handicapped by her decision to resign her office as well as a bitter tone that has left her a strong fan base but no electoral future. But there’s no denying that the attacks on her were unfair. Unfortunately, Palin’s marginalization has encouraged the political left to think it can do the same to any other Republican woman, something that New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is just starting to learn.

Martinez, who emerged at the 2012 Republican National Convention as a new GOP star, is the subject of a profile in Mother Jones this week that deliberately encourages its leftist audience to believe that the governor is “the next Sarah Palin.” As such, it subjects her to the sort of dumpster dive for trivial faults or weaknesses that is recognizable to anyone who followed the assault on Palin. But while Martinez may not be quite ready to think about the White House, liberals who think she can be “Palinized” may be barking up the wrong tree. Though her position is, in some respects, similar to Palin’s in that she is a small-state governor who has yet to experience the rigors of a national press inquisition, the irony of the magazine piece is that it may show that she is exactly the kind of tough-minded pol who can’t be wrong-footed by this kind of smear. 

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One of the Obama administration’s favorite themes is the idea that Republicans have been waging a “war on women.” Though Democrats may overestimate the appeal of this canard, the notion that troglodyte conservatives seek to send American women back to the 19th century has become a form of conventional wisdom, especially in the liberal mainstream media. But though that war is a piece of fakery rooted in the confusion between political liberalism and gender equality, there is little doubt about the reality of another war on women: the one that is being waged by left-wing ideologues against any female Republican who dares to emerge on the national political stage. As Sarah Palin learned in 2008, the full-court press against GOP women is not for the faint of heart.

While I’m no fan of Palin’s, the former Alaska governor was subjected to the sort of attacks that would never have been tried against any man, liberal or conservative. That she did not weather this assault with the sort of grace or the wit that might have undermined the effort to brand her as unready for national office is to her discredit, and her subsequent career has been handicapped by her decision to resign her office as well as a bitter tone that has left her a strong fan base but no electoral future. But there’s no denying that the attacks on her were unfair. Unfortunately, Palin’s marginalization has encouraged the political left to think it can do the same to any other Republican woman, something that New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is just starting to learn.

Martinez, who emerged at the 2012 Republican National Convention as a new GOP star, is the subject of a profile in Mother Jones this week that deliberately encourages its leftist audience to believe that the governor is “the next Sarah Palin.” As such, it subjects her to the sort of dumpster dive for trivial faults or weaknesses that is recognizable to anyone who followed the assault on Palin. But while Martinez may not be quite ready to think about the White House, liberals who think she can be “Palinized” may be barking up the wrong tree. Though her position is, in some respects, similar to Palin’s in that she is a small-state governor who has yet to experience the rigors of a national press inquisition, the irony of the magazine piece is that it may show that she is exactly the kind of tough-minded pol who can’t be wrong-footed by this kind of smear. 

Martinez’s appeal to Republicans is obvious. Her identity as a Hispanic woman ideally positions her to appeal to two demographic groups the GOP has lost in recent reelections. Moreover, as a former Democrat who never tires of talking about the moment when she realized that her social conservative views and belief in the rule of law made her a national Republican, she embodies exactly the sort of non-ideological commonsense approach that can help the GOP win back the political center. She also has a strong resume as a longtime successful prosecutor turned popular governor that makes it difficult to depict her as a political fluke.

But that doesn’t stop Mother Jones from attempting to dig up every piece of dirt on her they can find. The results of that search were pitifully insignificant. Other than some backbiting from disgruntled Republicans who are outside her inner circle, the best they can do is to produce tapes of her using harsh language about opponents and rivals. In other words, there’s not much here to talk about. But what they do produce is the sort of mean-spirited sniping that would be labeled as sexist were it directed at a liberal Democrat.

Perhaps Martinez is as “petty” and “vindictive” when it comes to dealing with foes and rivals as the magazine claims. But in another context, those same quotes might be seen as a sign of a strong, decisive personality who takes no prisoners. In other words, were she a man, she might be thought of as a tough customer rather than being depicted as one of the mean girls in a high school drama. You don’t have to buy in to every gender studies trope about prejudice to understand that what Mother Jones is doing to Martinez is exactly the sort of treatment that would be labeled sexist if it were a case of conservatives trashing a liberal woman. But whereas liberals treated evidence that Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis wasn’t truthful about her biography as the right bullying a woman who stood up for abortion rights, the left has no problem with smears of Martinez. Indeed, the tone of the article seems to be more an example of why the effort to stop calling women “bossy” may not be a bad idea than anything else.

Martinez is not diving into national politics willy-nilly. As Mother Jones acknowledged, she has largely avoided the national press and stuck to doing her job as governor, leaving her positioned to win reelection this year in what will probably be a romp. Yet if she does wind up as the 2016 GOP vice presidential pick, this story will be merely a taste of the abuse she is likely to get. The good news for Republicans is that this hard-as-nails prosecutor doesn’t look like someone who will get rattled if cornered by Katie Couric and appears to be smart enough to avoid some of the traps that Palin fell into.

But whether or not Martinez succeeds where Palin fell short, the point about this episode is that the political left remains ready to do anything necessary to cut down any conservative woman. When it comes to waging wars on women, liberals need no lessons from Republicans.

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Turning a Blind Eye to Homegrown Terror

On Tuesday, Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing with solemn ceremonies and appropriate vows to not forget the victims. But in an ironic juxtaposition that few noted, the anniversary fell on the day when it became known that the New York City Police Department had abandoned an effort that was directly aimed at preventing more such instances of homegrown Islamist terrorism. As the New York Times noted in a news story and then celebrated in an editorial, the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio has disbanded the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that had the responsibility of monitoring extremists in the local Muslim community. For the Times and de Blasio, the decision by Police Commissioner William Bratton is a campaign promise vindicated and a victory for civil rights. They viewed the surveillance activities of the NYPD as a violation of the rights of Muslims and an unnecessary intrusion into that community’s affairs that amounted to illegal profiling.

But the notion that the NYPD’s efforts “undermined the fight against terrorism” is a noxious myth promulgated by radical Muslim groups who regard any scrutiny of Islamists as a threat to all Muslims rather than a prudent measure aimed at keeping tabs on preachers and groups that help incite hatred and violence. The decision of the NYPD to abandon the intelligence work that had helped keep the city safe in the last decade is not only yet another indication of the country’s return to a September 10th mentality. It is a case of willful blindness about the roots of homegrown terrorism that may, as the slip-ups in the investigation of the Boston bombers demonstrated, prove to be a costly mistake.

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On Tuesday, Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing with solemn ceremonies and appropriate vows to not forget the victims. But in an ironic juxtaposition that few noted, the anniversary fell on the day when it became known that the New York City Police Department had abandoned an effort that was directly aimed at preventing more such instances of homegrown Islamist terrorism. As the New York Times noted in a news story and then celebrated in an editorial, the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio has disbanded the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that had the responsibility of monitoring extremists in the local Muslim community. For the Times and de Blasio, the decision by Police Commissioner William Bratton is a campaign promise vindicated and a victory for civil rights. They viewed the surveillance activities of the NYPD as a violation of the rights of Muslims and an unnecessary intrusion into that community’s affairs that amounted to illegal profiling.

But the notion that the NYPD’s efforts “undermined the fight against terrorism” is a noxious myth promulgated by radical Muslim groups who regard any scrutiny of Islamists as a threat to all Muslims rather than a prudent measure aimed at keeping tabs on preachers and groups that help incite hatred and violence. The decision of the NYPD to abandon the intelligence work that had helped keep the city safe in the last decade is not only yet another indication of the country’s return to a September 10th mentality. It is a case of willful blindness about the roots of homegrown terrorism that may, as the slip-ups in the investigation of the Boston bombers demonstrated, prove to be a costly mistake.

As I wrote last year when former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly came under fire for these surveillance tactics as a result of a lawsuit and a book that claimed the department had wronged Muslims, the charges were unfounded. Not only was the work of the Demographics Unit all authorized by the courts and completely legal, much of the criticism of its efforts stemmed as much from a rivalry with the FBI, some of whose agents resented the fact that the NYPD was infringing on what they considered to be their turf. Such turf battles were part of the reason that the 9/11 plotters succeeded, but years later the same lamentable trends in American law enforcement have resurfaced. Yet rather than sit back and wait for the feds to do their jobs, after 9/11 New York cops rightly decided they had to do whatever was necessary to ensure that they were not surprised again.

What the NYPD did was not an effort to besmirch all American Muslims, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. But it did seek to go after Islamists who do pose a threat to U.S. security where they congregate: at religious institutions led by individuals who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. Though the FBI has been heavily influenced by criticism from radical groups like CAIR—which masquerades as a civil-rights group despite its origins as a political front for Hamas terrorist fundraisers—and has treated homegrown Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD was more tough-minded. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week, this effort paid off to help make New York safer. But the department was lambasted by those who regard counter-terrorism intelligence work as intrinsically wrong because it is directed at the minority of Muslims who do pose a threat to public safety.

Much of this stems from the much-ballyhooed myth of a post-9/11 backlash that alleged American Muslims were subjected to discrimination and a wave of attacks. Though there is no proof that such a backlash ever existed, the notion that attention paid to the actual sources of Islamist hate is somehow intrinsically prejudicial has taken hold and helped to chip away at support for necessary police work. Even as Americans sadly remembered the horrors of the Boston bombing, the demonization of counter-terrorism continued on various fronts. Edward Snowden’s collaborators won a Pulitzer for their help in undermining U.S. intelligence work. But the celebration of the disarming of the NYPD demonstrates just how insidious the myth of the post-9/11 backlash has been in treating commonsense precautions as an affront to all those who wish to pretend that radical Islam is not a threat.

New Yorkers must now pray that their security has not been sacrificed on the altar of misguided political correctness based in fictions spread by radical apologists for terror. If homegrown terrorists like the Boston bombers slip through the fingers of the police in the future, de Blasio, Bratton, their supporters at the Times, and others who have waged war on counter-terrorism will bear a great deal of responsibility for what follows.

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Obama’s eBay Diplomacy in Action

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” President Obama said yesterday of the deal to ease the crisis in eastern Ukraine, “but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.” Such skepticism was warranted; as the Washington Post reports, the deal requiring pro-Russian forces to end their occupation of government buildings in Ukraine is being amended on the fly by those protesters. They’ll leave, they say–if the Ukrainian government does too:

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Obama seemed to anticipate this, which is a good sign. But it’s worth asking why such deals are signed in the first place, knowing that Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker and that there is really no enforcement mechanism for such agreements. As the president also said yesterday, he’s “been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.” Force isn’t needed, the president said, when Secretary of State John Kerry can simply wave a magic wand instead: “What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.”

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“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” President Obama said yesterday of the deal to ease the crisis in eastern Ukraine, “but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.” Such skepticism was warranted; as the Washington Post reports, the deal requiring pro-Russian forces to end their occupation of government buildings in Ukraine is being amended on the fly by those protesters. They’ll leave, they say–if the Ukrainian government does too:

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Obama seemed to anticipate this, which is a good sign. But it’s worth asking why such deals are signed in the first place, knowing that Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker and that there is really no enforcement mechanism for such agreements. As the president also said yesterday, he’s “been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.” Force isn’t needed, the president said, when Secretary of State John Kerry can simply wave a magic wand instead: “What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.”

This is classic diplospeak, in that it says absolutely nothing of substance but sounds nice. And that, in many ways, is the crux of the matter: the current American diplomatic team is being routed by their Russian counterparts. Why is that? Earlier this week James Bruno, a retired Foreign Service officer, argued that the politicization of American diplomacy has reached a point at which expertise becomes a luxury. Obama has essentially been auctioning off even high-level ambassadorships, which is no surprise considering the revelations that Obama has politicized the Foreign Service to an unprecedented degree.

Bruno expanded the argument:

Three-quarters of the top policy and management positions at the State Department currently are occupied by non-diplomats, mainly Democratic Party activists or liberal think tankers. “Most are competent, but must pass an ideological test to be appointed,” a former senior official who worked with Obama’s appointees at State told me. “These positions,” she added, “are handed out based on party connections and loyalty.” In the hands of these decision-makers, all major foreign policy issues are viewed through an “ideological prism as opposed to an eye toward the long-term interests of the United States,” she said. The White House’s National Security Council staff, furthermore, has ballooned from about four dozen three decades ago to more than twice that today, a shift that has had the effect of concentrating power in the White House, and infusing key decisions with political calculations.

The answer, according to this logic, is simple: Russia takes international affairs seriously, and the Obama administration doesn’t. But the U.S. and Russia are not the only actors in this drama, and this is where managing American alliances–another glaring weakness of the Obama administration–could make up some of the difference.

Those opposed to American defense alliances complain that the U.S. props up NATO, especially former Soviet or Russian satellite states. But those states’ relationships with Russia have their own advantages. One common myth of NATO enlargement to Russia’s near abroad has held that the process is adversarial enough to prevent negotiations instead of military confrontation. This is untrue, of course. As Vincent Pouliot writes in International Security in Practice: The Politics of NATO-Russia Diplomacy, according to Polish officials, Poland’s accession to NATO was driven in large part by fear of Russian military invasion. Once in NATO for purely defensive reasons, Polish officials became “less allergic to Russia.” NATO facilitates dialogue between otherwise mutually suspicious actors.

“Among NATO’s international military personnel,” Pouliot writes, “I met a Lithuanian colonel who was a Red Army conscript in 1987; his dispositions were obviously heavily influenced by that experience.” In one meeting Pouliot was told Lithuanians can read Russians’ minds; he was then told a similar thing about officials of the Baltic states. This may not be the norm, at least with regard to officials’ past service in Russian armed forces. But it does reveal how, when negotiating with Russia, the perspective of NATO allies can be of value.

The Obama administration is perhaps less likely to agree than both his predecessors in the post-Cold War era, which is why Obama is also far less inclined to make any progress toward upgrading the alliance. But his eBay diplomacy of auctioning off ambassadorships and other foreign-policy jobs means Obama would have far more to gain by listening to our allies who take European affairs and the maintenance of the international order a bit more seriously.

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America’s Royals and the 2016 Race

Like most of the rest of the world, a great many Americans spent much of the first half of 2013 obsessing about the birth of a great grandson to the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The spectacle of the American media going bonkers over Prince George of Cambridge’s arrival illustrated once again the way our celebrity-mad popular culture has embraced Britain’s monarchy as a somewhat classier version of homegrown reality television stars like the Kardashians. The disconnect between American republican traditions and the way we worship royals or other varieties of famous persons is a form of cognitive dissonance that may be mocked but can’t be denied. But while the inordinate attention given the Windsors is merely silly, the willingness of the same media to give American political celebrities the same kind of attention is slightly more troubling. It is in that context that we need to treat the hubbub over the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy.

The willingness of political commentators to opine on whether becoming a grandmother will help or hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016 is in one sense merely a testament to the obsessive nature of contemporary political journalism in which everything, no matter how trivial, becomes fodder for analysis. But it also illustrates the way the Clintons have transitioned from a political brand to the sort of celebrity status that not even the Bushes—their putative dynastic rivals—have attained. Chelsea and her husband Marc Mezvinsky may not be quite the U.S. version of William and Kate. But the willingness of the press to hype the pregnancy as an event that dwarfs any attention given any Bush babies, let alone those connected to any other presidential contender, shows that the Clintons are now on a par with the Kennedys as personalities rather than merely political figures.

The notion that the arrival of a grandchild should influence voter opinions about a woman who has been a first lady, a U.S. senator, and a secretary of state with a long record that may not be as defensible as some Democrats had thought is risible. But it is pointless to pretend that the media embrace of the Clintons—as opposed to the abuse it generally lobs at most of the Bushes—will not be a factor in 2016. America’s political traditions are rooted in myths about log cabins and self-made men who rose from humble circumstances to power. But dynasties have also been a part of our political narrative since the inception of the American republic. If the Kennedys and the Clintons are a far cry from the dour and duty-obsessed Adams clan, it cannot be denied that famous names have always been an asset at the polls.

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Like most of the rest of the world, a great many Americans spent much of the first half of 2013 obsessing about the birth of a great grandson to the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The spectacle of the American media going bonkers over Prince George of Cambridge’s arrival illustrated once again the way our celebrity-mad popular culture has embraced Britain’s monarchy as a somewhat classier version of homegrown reality television stars like the Kardashians. The disconnect between American republican traditions and the way we worship royals or other varieties of famous persons is a form of cognitive dissonance that may be mocked but can’t be denied. But while the inordinate attention given the Windsors is merely silly, the willingness of the same media to give American political celebrities the same kind of attention is slightly more troubling. It is in that context that we need to treat the hubbub over the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy.

The willingness of political commentators to opine on whether becoming a grandmother will help or hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016 is in one sense merely a testament to the obsessive nature of contemporary political journalism in which everything, no matter how trivial, becomes fodder for analysis. But it also illustrates the way the Clintons have transitioned from a political brand to the sort of celebrity status that not even the Bushes—their putative dynastic rivals—have attained. Chelsea and her husband Marc Mezvinsky may not be quite the U.S. version of William and Kate. But the willingness of the press to hype the pregnancy as an event that dwarfs any attention given any Bush babies, let alone those connected to any other presidential contender, shows that the Clintons are now on a par with the Kennedys as personalities rather than merely political figures.

The notion that the arrival of a grandchild should influence voter opinions about a woman who has been a first lady, a U.S. senator, and a secretary of state with a long record that may not be as defensible as some Democrats had thought is risible. But it is pointless to pretend that the media embrace of the Clintons—as opposed to the abuse it generally lobs at most of the Bushes—will not be a factor in 2016. America’s political traditions are rooted in myths about log cabins and self-made men who rose from humble circumstances to power. But dynasties have also been a part of our political narrative since the inception of the American republic. If the Kennedys and the Clintons are a far cry from the dour and duty-obsessed Adams clan, it cannot be denied that famous names have always been an asset at the polls.

Yet the merger of politics with popular entertainment celebrity represents something slightly different than the usual drill in which those with greater name recognition obtained an edge in the polls. Those who think Hillary’s image will soften once she becomes a grandmother are probably ignoring the fact that most Americans have already made up their minds about her. Yet as we will see in the coming year, Chelsea’s transition from White House daughter to the new Princess Kate will allow the already ubiquitous Clinton brand to become even more pervasive. The Clintons are no more intrinsically glamorous then the generally unintelligent and not particularly attractive Windsor family. But the mainstream media’s investment in the notion of both Bill and Hillary is more than enough to compensate for any of their rather obvious shortcomings in terms of character. Like it or not, they are in the process of becoming American royals, with more than enough sleaze in their political baggage to match the Kardashians though without the pizzazz of the Kennedys.

But the problem with this public-relations coup is that being elected president is not quite the same thing as becoming ubiquitous. Celebrity status can make a person famous for being famous and get your picture on the covers of the magazines at the checkout line at the supermarket. But being a royal doesn’t necessarily bring with it a majority of electoral votes. Indeed, the arrival of the next generation of the Clinton family—a prospect that has caused many to joke about the baby facing off against a Bush grandchild in a mid-century presidential election—will not win over those who dislike the idea of another Clinton presidency or who want the nation to move on from a dependence on dynasties. Hillary already has all the name recognition anyone could desire. American voters are not stupid. They may like to gape at celebrities for entertainment but to the extent that Hillary tries to cash in on the baby hype, those not already in her camp may only be further alienated.

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Axelrod, Having Helped Ruin America, Now Wants to Do the Same to the UK

Reuters reports that Britain’s Labour Party has hired David Axelrod, President Obama’s key political strategist, to help with its campaign for the 2015 election.

Mr. Axelrod told the Guardian that he made the decision “because I have had some long conversations with Ed Miliband [the Labour Party leader] over the course of the past year and it was less about politics, and more about this issue of how in the 21st century you create healthy economies in which opportunity is broadly available, and people can stay ahead of the cost of living.”

“In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few,” Miliband said. “He will be a huge asset to our campaign.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth pointing out that income inequality in America has gotten worse, not better, during the Obama years; that the president Axelrod helped elect has a miserable record at creating a healthy economy in which opportunity is broadly available and that works for all hardworking people; and that the 2012 Obama campaign was almost bereft of any vision.

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Reuters reports that Britain’s Labour Party has hired David Axelrod, President Obama’s key political strategist, to help with its campaign for the 2015 election.

Mr. Axelrod told the Guardian that he made the decision “because I have had some long conversations with Ed Miliband [the Labour Party leader] over the course of the past year and it was less about politics, and more about this issue of how in the 21st century you create healthy economies in which opportunity is broadly available, and people can stay ahead of the cost of living.”

“In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few,” Miliband said. “He will be a huge asset to our campaign.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth pointing out that income inequality in America has gotten worse, not better, during the Obama years; that the president Axelrod helped elect has a miserable record at creating a healthy economy in which opportunity is broadly available and that works for all hardworking people; and that the 2012 Obama campaign was almost bereft of any vision.

That doesn’t mean Axelrod is ineffective. Mr. Obama, for example, ran one way in 2008, as the avatar of hope and change, and he won; and quite a different way in 2012, using tactics that were ruthless and dishonest, and he won. The Obama campaigns (unlike the Obama administration) were well-run, modern, and highly competent. So yes, Axelrod knows how to win elections. What he and his former boss, the president, don’t know diddly-squat about is governing effectively. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

Helping to ruin one country apparently wasn’t enough; David Axelrod now wants to do his part to ruin another. At least he’ll be well paid for it. 

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Prisoner Releases Undermine Peace Process

Those seeking to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians might conclude that adding more terrorists into the equation is unlikely to help matters. That much stands to reason for most people. Unfortunately, this simple truth seems to be lost on Secretary of State John Kerry and his assistant in the negotiations, Martin Indyk. They are currently putting pressure on the Israelis to release the next installment of prisoners being demanded by the Palestinians. Supposedly this will help advance the two sides along the path to peace. Caught up in the ludicrous process of negotiating about negotiating, Kerry and Indyk might benefit from taking a step back and asking themselves what kind of partner for peace demands the release of terrorists. Terrorists belong in prison, and no one interested in a just and secure settlement between the two sides would for a moment think otherwise. Yet Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t simply demand the release of these murderers; once they are released these individuals and their families are rewarded with fanfare and sizable cash payments.

Astonishingly, the Israeli government has already surrendered to pressure from the Obama administration and reluctantly capitulated to these outrageous demands. As David Horovitz recently wrote, in jeopardizing its most basic obligation to uphold the safety of its citizenry, Prime Minister Netanyahu undermines the legitimacy of his government. Up until now that government had continued to support Netanyahu in his policy of American-imposed appeasement of the Palestinians. However, following the recent terrorist attack on an Israeli family visiting Hebron for the Passover holiday, many of Netanyahu’s Cabinet members have insisted they will not go along with this policy any further until Abbas issues a full public condemnation.

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Those seeking to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians might conclude that adding more terrorists into the equation is unlikely to help matters. That much stands to reason for most people. Unfortunately, this simple truth seems to be lost on Secretary of State John Kerry and his assistant in the negotiations, Martin Indyk. They are currently putting pressure on the Israelis to release the next installment of prisoners being demanded by the Palestinians. Supposedly this will help advance the two sides along the path to peace. Caught up in the ludicrous process of negotiating about negotiating, Kerry and Indyk might benefit from taking a step back and asking themselves what kind of partner for peace demands the release of terrorists. Terrorists belong in prison, and no one interested in a just and secure settlement between the two sides would for a moment think otherwise. Yet Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t simply demand the release of these murderers; once they are released these individuals and their families are rewarded with fanfare and sizable cash payments.

Astonishingly, the Israeli government has already surrendered to pressure from the Obama administration and reluctantly capitulated to these outrageous demands. As David Horovitz recently wrote, in jeopardizing its most basic obligation to uphold the safety of its citizenry, Prime Minister Netanyahu undermines the legitimacy of his government. Up until now that government had continued to support Netanyahu in his policy of American-imposed appeasement of the Palestinians. However, following the recent terrorist attack on an Israeli family visiting Hebron for the Passover holiday, many of Netanyahu’s Cabinet members have insisted they will not go along with this policy any further until Abbas issues a full public condemnation.

No one who is both honest and informed about the Palestinians will be at all surprised to learn that Abbas has failed to supply any kind of meaningful condemnation of this murderous attack. The best that the Palestinian president could muster were some words against the attack offered behind closed doors to a group of Israeli politicians visiting Ramallah earlier in the week. Yet Abbas steadfastly refused to come outside and publicly condemn the attacks to the waiting press. The Palestinians have presented Kerry with so many moments when he should have stepped away. This disgraceful refusal to fully condemn the cold-blooded murder of a father of five in front of his family should be the moment when Kerry’s underlying sense of decency kicks in and he washes his hands of Abbas. Yet he can’t and he won’t. He can’t bring himself to walk away from what many have long suspected of being a vanity project.

The Palestinian Authority’s incitement to terror through public pageants and its media network, as well as the financial backing it awards terrorists and Abbas’s shameless refusal to publicly condemn the murder of Israeli civilians, should all be enough to convince Kerry and his team that these are not people they should be mixed-up with. Instead, it seems that American officials are joining with the Palestinian Authority in pressuring for the release of more terrorists. If the last nine months of talks had shown any sign of progress at all, that would be one thing. But all the latest round of negotiations revealed was the full extent of Palestinian intransigence and unreasonableness. If Kerry and Indyk were to be honest with themselves, could they really still maintain that they are doing all this for the good of the two parties that they claim they want to help? And is there any way that it could be argued that weakening Israel and emboldening the Palestinians is at all in America’s interests?

Abbas’s latest affront has been too much for many of Netanyahu’s coalition partners as well as for some of his own ministers. It now seems, at least for the moment, that even if he wants to Netanyahu has no way of pursuing this prisoner release further without breaking up his government just for the sake of humoring Kerry’s “peace process” misadventure. 

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Bloomberg’s Plan Is Good News for NRA

Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

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Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

The first and perhaps greatest problem with Bloomberg’s plan is that most Americans don’t want the former mayor of New York telling them what to do or which of their constitutional rights need to be impinged upon. Though he talks about wanting to organize the “grass roots,” what he is discussing is a classic top-down operation in which a coastal elite seeks to manipulate voters in flyover country. Bloomberg’s cash was enough to co-opt various minority power brokers in New York as well as to overwhelm unimpressive ballot opponents. But it can’t convince people who support gun rights to shut up. Nor can it manufacture an equally passionate body of gun opponents where none exists.

It is true that polls often show support for some of the measures the NRA opposes. Bloomberg and other liberals believe this is proof that NRA victories in Congress are the result of a shell game in which a small minority manipulates politicians to thwart the will of the majority. But the reason why the NRA has clout on Capitol Hill is not so much the result of the intimidation that Bloomberg says he wishes to emulate as it is in the broad popularity of gun rights. As the aftermath of the December 2012 Newtown massacre showed, the national media’s efforts to demonize the NRA merely increased the number of its contributors and convinced members of the House and Senate that the NRA was actually closer to the national mood than those seeking to come up with new gun laws.

Moreover, Bloomberg’s signal that his efforts will be at the margins of the gun issue rather than on new restrictions such as revived attempt to ban assault weapons won’t fool anybody. One of the chief reasons the NRA has succeeded is because gun-rights supporters rightly believe that the ultimate goal of all gun control is to ban guns, not to merely increase the number of background checks. The fact that New York City’s laws make it onerous if not impossible for an individual to legally possess a gun only emphasizes this point.

The NRA isn’t politically bullet proof and, as it showed in its initial ham-handed responses to Newtown, it can sometimes do more damage to itself than its foes can. But as long as it is matched up against the likes of Bloomberg, it has nothing to fear.

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