Commentary Magazine


Topic: critic

Just Hold Them

Benjamin Wittes of Brookings and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration (of which he was a sometimes critic), make a compelling case: forget civilian trials and military tribunals for enemy combatants. Their logic is sound:

Many critics of civilian trials claim that this problem would not have occurred in a military commission, but that is very probably wrong. The legal standard for excluding such evidence in military commissions would depend on the military judge’s sense of the “interests of justice.” The government would be foolish to rely on military judges’ willingness to admit evidence obtained – even in a derivative fashion — as a result of coercion. There is not much reason to think that the government would have had an easier time against Ghailani on this score if it had proceeded in a commission.

There is, however, reason to think that a commission trial would have presented problems not present in Ghailani’s civilian trial. One central problem is that the conspiracy charge on which Ghailani was nabbed might not be valid in military commissions; three sitting Supreme Court justices have said as much, and many scholars agree. On this and other issues from evidentiary and procedural rules to fundamental constitutional questions, military commissions raise legal uncertainties that have yet to be sorted out by appellate courts.

Instead, just hold the terrorists indefinitely. It’s tried and true and perfectly legal:

The government has a lesser burden in justifying military detention before a habeas corpus court than it has in convicting a terrorist of a crime at trial. The courts broadly accept that Congress has authorized military detention and that it is a perfectly legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. … Military detention was designed precisely to prevent such fighters from returning to the battlefield. It is a tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, court-blessed, resource-saving, security-preserving, easier-than-trial option for long-term terrorist incapacitation.

Oh the jaws that will drop in European salons! Oh the howls from the ACLU! But at this point, these are precisely the sorts of elites that the Obama administration should dismiss with a back of the hand. The American people and our enemies abroad look at the Obama detention operation with a mix of astonishment and contempt. The White House, however, created the fiction that only civilian trials are true to our “values” but now has figured out that they may be inimical to our national security. It has puffed and postured about closing Guantanamo but has now discovered its utility.

So what better time to wipe the slate clean, declare that Guantanamo will remain in operation for the “worst of the worst,” and relegate KSM and the rest to indefinite detention? That would redound to Obama’s political benefit and restore some oomph to a commander in chief badly in need of some; moreover, it would finally recognize the obvious: we’re at war, and combatants are not criminal defendants.

Benjamin Wittes of Brookings and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration (of which he was a sometimes critic), make a compelling case: forget civilian trials and military tribunals for enemy combatants. Their logic is sound:

Many critics of civilian trials claim that this problem would not have occurred in a military commission, but that is very probably wrong. The legal standard for excluding such evidence in military commissions would depend on the military judge’s sense of the “interests of justice.” The government would be foolish to rely on military judges’ willingness to admit evidence obtained – even in a derivative fashion — as a result of coercion. There is not much reason to think that the government would have had an easier time against Ghailani on this score if it had proceeded in a commission.

There is, however, reason to think that a commission trial would have presented problems not present in Ghailani’s civilian trial. One central problem is that the conspiracy charge on which Ghailani was nabbed might not be valid in military commissions; three sitting Supreme Court justices have said as much, and many scholars agree. On this and other issues from evidentiary and procedural rules to fundamental constitutional questions, military commissions raise legal uncertainties that have yet to be sorted out by appellate courts.

Instead, just hold the terrorists indefinitely. It’s tried and true and perfectly legal:

The government has a lesser burden in justifying military detention before a habeas corpus court than it has in convicting a terrorist of a crime at trial. The courts broadly accept that Congress has authorized military detention and that it is a perfectly legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. … Military detention was designed precisely to prevent such fighters from returning to the battlefield. It is a tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, court-blessed, resource-saving, security-preserving, easier-than-trial option for long-term terrorist incapacitation.

Oh the jaws that will drop in European salons! Oh the howls from the ACLU! But at this point, these are precisely the sorts of elites that the Obama administration should dismiss with a back of the hand. The American people and our enemies abroad look at the Obama detention operation with a mix of astonishment and contempt. The White House, however, created the fiction that only civilian trials are true to our “values” but now has figured out that they may be inimical to our national security. It has puffed and postured about closing Guantanamo but has now discovered its utility.

So what better time to wipe the slate clean, declare that Guantanamo will remain in operation for the “worst of the worst,” and relegate KSM and the rest to indefinite detention? That would redound to Obama’s political benefit and restore some oomph to a commander in chief badly in need of some; moreover, it would finally recognize the obvious: we’re at war, and combatants are not criminal defendants.

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Abuse of Power

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

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It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Set aside the hypocrisy of this whole episode. (My former White House colleague Ed Gillespie points out that no Democrats, least of all Obama, expressed concern about such outside spending in 2008, when more than $400 million was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors.) Set aside the fact that Mr. Axelrod concedes that the chamber is abiding by long-standing rules, that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors list, and that no other organizations are disclosing theirs. Set aside the fact that the chamber has 115 foreign-member affiliates who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues to a group whose total budget is more than $200 million. And set aside the fact that various news organizations have dismissed the charges, including the New York Times, which reports, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”

What we are witnessing is the abuse of power. We are now in a situation in which the president and his most senior advisers feel completely at liberty to throw out unsubstantiated charges and put the burden on people (and institutions) to prove their innocence. Liberals once referred to such tactics as McCarthyism. But Joseph McCarthy, for all his abuses, was “only” a United States senator, one member out of 100. The president and his advisers, on the other hand, have at their disposal far more power and the ability to inflict far more injury.

What Obama and his aides are demanding is that the Chamber of Commerce prove a negative — and in doing so, they are trying to intimidate the chamber into disclosing what is, by law, privileged information. “If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions,” Mr. Axelrod says, “and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?”

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Axelrod out by providing him with an explanation.

For one thing, he is employing the guilty-until-proven-innocent argument. For another, the White House’s standard is being selectively applied. And it encourages slanderous charges because it forces innocent people to disprove them. All this is troubling in any case; but it is triply pernicious when it is practiced by those with unmatched power, because they have an unparalleled capacity to intimidate American citizens.

In further answering Axelrod’s argument, consider this thought experiment. It’s the year 2021, and a partisan critic of a future president repeatedly asserts that the president is addicted to child pornography. It turns out that the critic has no proof of the charge — but when told he is asking the president to prove a negative, he responds: “I take the president at his word. But just to be sure, we’d like to examine his phone records and text messages, his computer accounts, and his credit card receipts. What we want, in other words, is full access to all the relevant information we need. After all, if he’s innocent, why not disclose this information? Why not let people see what you’re doing with your life and free time?”

It must be obvious to Messrs. Axelrod and Obama that what they are doing is irresponsible, dangerous, and deeply illiberal. It’s important to note, however, that this libel is taking place within a particular context. The attack on the Chamber of Commerce is only the most recent link in a long chain. The Obama White House has targeted Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and John Boehner; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; conservative talk radio; Fox News; the state of Arizona; the Supreme Court (for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); members of the Tea Party; critics of ObamaCare who attended town hall meetings; pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies; corporate executives, Wall Street, and the “rich.”

All this ugliness comes to us courtesy of a man who said during the 2008 campaign that “the times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook”; who told us that we should “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long”; and who assured us, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Back in October 2009, I wrote about this White House’s burning anger and resentment toward its critics and what it foreshadowed. That inferno is burning hotter than ever – and if it goes unchecked, it will eventually lead to a crisis.

In an August 16, 1971, memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to Lawrence Higby, titled “Dealing with our Political Enemies,” Dean wrote:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

At comparable stages in their first terms, the Obama administration seems to be at least as eager as the Nixon administration to use the available federal machinery to “screw our political enemies.” We know how things turned out for the Nixon administration. President Obama cannot say he hasn’t been forewarned.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.’”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].’”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.’”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.’”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].’”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.’”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

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He’s Against the Special Interests

John Conway, Kentucky attorney general and the Democratic candidate for the Senate, running against Ron Paul, was asked on Fox News Sunday this morning why he wanted to be elected. He answered (paraphrasing, as the transcript is not yet available) that he wanted to go to Washington to fight against the special interests and for the state of Kentucky.

One question: isn’t the state of Kentucky a special interest? My dictionary defines the term to mean a “person or group seeking to influence legislation or government policy to further often narrowly defined interests.” As Kentucky is not coterminous with the entire country, it is, by this definition, a special interest. There’s nothing wrong with being one. A country, after all, is made up of practically nothing but. What good politicians mostly do is assemble temporary coalitions of special interests in order to further the national interest. What bad ones do is pander to particular special interests in order to ensure their own re-election.

So the constant political refrain about “fighting the special interests” is nonsense. President Obama never tires of railing against the special interests but has no problem doing big favors for labor unions, especially public-service ones. Republicans rail against the special interests but give all the help they can to advancing the agenda of the National Rifle Association.

It reminds me of one of this country’s more eccentric writers, Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?), a critic, journalist, poet, and short story writer, known as “bitter Bierce” for his sometimes savage dismembering of other people’s prose. He is largely forgotten today, except for two things. One is his death. He went to Mexico in 1913 at the age of 71 to report on the Mexican Revolution and disappeared while “embedded” (to use a very modern term) with rebel troops. He was never seen again and no trace of him was ever found. The other thing for which he is remembered is  The Devil’s Dictionary, published in 1911.

A sometimes hilarious and often deeply cynical book, it is, second only to Mark Twain, a bottomless well from which to draw snappy quotations about politics. He defines politics as astrife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” A conservative, to Bierce, is a “statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” A scribbler is a “professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one’s own.”

Ambrose Bierce did not define the term special interest, which was coined only a year before his dictionary was published. But one can imagine what he would have made of it. My suggestion would be: special interest, n. Any organization or identifiable group of individuals likely to fund or vote for one’s political opponents.

John Conway, Kentucky attorney general and the Democratic candidate for the Senate, running against Ron Paul, was asked on Fox News Sunday this morning why he wanted to be elected. He answered (paraphrasing, as the transcript is not yet available) that he wanted to go to Washington to fight against the special interests and for the state of Kentucky.

One question: isn’t the state of Kentucky a special interest? My dictionary defines the term to mean a “person or group seeking to influence legislation or government policy to further often narrowly defined interests.” As Kentucky is not coterminous with the entire country, it is, by this definition, a special interest. There’s nothing wrong with being one. A country, after all, is made up of practically nothing but. What good politicians mostly do is assemble temporary coalitions of special interests in order to further the national interest. What bad ones do is pander to particular special interests in order to ensure their own re-election.

So the constant political refrain about “fighting the special interests” is nonsense. President Obama never tires of railing against the special interests but has no problem doing big favors for labor unions, especially public-service ones. Republicans rail against the special interests but give all the help they can to advancing the agenda of the National Rifle Association.

It reminds me of one of this country’s more eccentric writers, Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?), a critic, journalist, poet, and short story writer, known as “bitter Bierce” for his sometimes savage dismembering of other people’s prose. He is largely forgotten today, except for two things. One is his death. He went to Mexico in 1913 at the age of 71 to report on the Mexican Revolution and disappeared while “embedded” (to use a very modern term) with rebel troops. He was never seen again and no trace of him was ever found. The other thing for which he is remembered is  The Devil’s Dictionary, published in 1911.

A sometimes hilarious and often deeply cynical book, it is, second only to Mark Twain, a bottomless well from which to draw snappy quotations about politics. He defines politics as astrife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” A conservative, to Bierce, is a “statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” A scribbler is a “professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one’s own.”

Ambrose Bierce did not define the term special interest, which was coined only a year before his dictionary was published. But one can imagine what he would have made of it. My suggestion would be: special interest, n. Any organization or identifiable group of individuals likely to fund or vote for one’s political opponents.

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Part 2: Immigration and the Golden State

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

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Madam Secretary, Do You Care About Human Rights?

The Obama administration fancies itself as a defender of human rights. Obama spoke quite a lot about his commitment to human rights and democracy at the UN last week. Well, here’s a test for the president and his secretary of state.

When last we left the story of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front had nabbed the former inspector general of police, Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had the temerity to leave the camps where Sahwaris are warehoused and speak out in favor of the autonomy plan put forth by Morocco. Human rights activists appealed to the UN (good luck with that). Yesterday, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, (R-Fla.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, urging her “to work to seek the immediate release of Mr. Sidi Mouloud.” They explain: “He, and everyone in the refugee camps, should be allowed the right to movement, freedom of speech, and liberty.”

Well here’s the Obami’s chance to prove their attention to human rights and multilateral diplomatic skills. Will Clinton do anything more that bear witness to the abduction and silencing of a critic of the Polisario Front?

The congressmen remind Clinton that Sidi Mouloud has been charged with “espionage” and “treason.” In other words, unless international pressure is applied swiftly, his prospects for survival and release are dim.

The Obama administration fancies itself as a defender of human rights. Obama spoke quite a lot about his commitment to human rights and democracy at the UN last week. Well, here’s a test for the president and his secretary of state.

When last we left the story of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front had nabbed the former inspector general of police, Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had the temerity to leave the camps where Sahwaris are warehoused and speak out in favor of the autonomy plan put forth by Morocco. Human rights activists appealed to the UN (good luck with that). Yesterday, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, (R-Fla.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, urging her “to work to seek the immediate release of Mr. Sidi Mouloud.” They explain: “He, and everyone in the refugee camps, should be allowed the right to movement, freedom of speech, and liberty.”

Well here’s the Obami’s chance to prove their attention to human rights and multilateral diplomatic skills. Will Clinton do anything more that bear witness to the abduction and silencing of a critic of the Polisario Front?

The congressmen remind Clinton that Sidi Mouloud has been charged with “espionage” and “treason.” In other words, unless international pressure is applied swiftly, his prospects for survival and release are dim.

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J Street Unmasked

The Washington Jewish Week reveals just how far off the path J Street has wandered from its ostensible purpose:

J Street — the self-professed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group — appears to have waded further into domestic waters in recent weeks with the launch of a website assailing “neoconservatives and far-right evangelical Christians” for purporting to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. …

J Street’s website, www.theydontspeakforus.com, purports to expose Bauer and Kristol as far-right extremists who are out of sync with the majority of American Jews by outlining the pair’s views on a range of foreign and domestic policy issues.

Among other topics — such as the Gaza Strip and Iraq war — the site highlights the pair’s stances on gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and the separation of church and state.

What does all that have to do with Israel? Not much — and it has confused even the Democrats:

“This [J Street] website confuses me,” said Ira Forman, an independent consultant who recently stepped down as the CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “To me, if you are trying to push a pro-Israel, pro-peace message, you want to be non-ideological and nonpartisan. … But when you use these terms [such as gay marriage and others], it’s making Israel a partisan wedge issue. I don’t understand how that helps the central mission of J Street.” (Forman made it clear that he was speaking on his own behalf, and not the NJDC’s.) Added another pro-Israel Democratic operative, who was not authorized by his employer to speak on the record: The website “takes away from some of J Street’s legitimacy as a foreign policy voice when they buttress their arguments with domestic issues.”

“What J Street is saying is people who don’t support gay marriage and who are pro-life are out of the mainstream Jewish community. That is a fact, but it has nothing to do with their support for Israel,” the source said. “Is J Street saying you can’t have an individual who’s pro-life, anti-gay” also be “supportive of the state of Israel?”

OK, so let’s all be clear here. J Street is a leftist group, not a pro-Israel one. And for leftist Jews the mantra is: global warming is killing the planet, abortion on demand must be protected, and Israel is wrong on [fill in the blank]. Once you have that straight, its website and ongoing Israel-bashing make perfect sense. Meanwhile, is it relevant? The reporter seems skeptical:

But if the group is to increase its political clout, it needs to demonstrate that it’s not simply an Obama administration tool, said an official with a pro-Israel organization who agreed to speak only on background. “There is a sense in the pro-Israel community — and there have been complaints — that J Street has not [made] a fair effort to show bipartisanship.”

So far in the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC, the group’s political action committee, has distributed nearly $1 million to 60 Democratic candidates and one Republican.

Yeah, not too bipartisan. (And that one Republican? Why, it’s the longtime Israel critic Charles Boustany.) Meanwhile, it’s not clear J Street is even a tool of the Obami. Since the later went on the charm offensive and dropped the settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, J Street hasn’t even been in sync with the administration. So I’m still stumped: whom does J Street speak for?

The Washington Jewish Week reveals just how far off the path J Street has wandered from its ostensible purpose:

J Street — the self-professed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group — appears to have waded further into domestic waters in recent weeks with the launch of a website assailing “neoconservatives and far-right evangelical Christians” for purporting to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. …

J Street’s website, www.theydontspeakforus.com, purports to expose Bauer and Kristol as far-right extremists who are out of sync with the majority of American Jews by outlining the pair’s views on a range of foreign and domestic policy issues.

Among other topics — such as the Gaza Strip and Iraq war — the site highlights the pair’s stances on gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and the separation of church and state.

What does all that have to do with Israel? Not much — and it has confused even the Democrats:

“This [J Street] website confuses me,” said Ira Forman, an independent consultant who recently stepped down as the CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “To me, if you are trying to push a pro-Israel, pro-peace message, you want to be non-ideological and nonpartisan. … But when you use these terms [such as gay marriage and others], it’s making Israel a partisan wedge issue. I don’t understand how that helps the central mission of J Street.” (Forman made it clear that he was speaking on his own behalf, and not the NJDC’s.) Added another pro-Israel Democratic operative, who was not authorized by his employer to speak on the record: The website “takes away from some of J Street’s legitimacy as a foreign policy voice when they buttress their arguments with domestic issues.”

“What J Street is saying is people who don’t support gay marriage and who are pro-life are out of the mainstream Jewish community. That is a fact, but it has nothing to do with their support for Israel,” the source said. “Is J Street saying you can’t have an individual who’s pro-life, anti-gay” also be “supportive of the state of Israel?”

OK, so let’s all be clear here. J Street is a leftist group, not a pro-Israel one. And for leftist Jews the mantra is: global warming is killing the planet, abortion on demand must be protected, and Israel is wrong on [fill in the blank]. Once you have that straight, its website and ongoing Israel-bashing make perfect sense. Meanwhile, is it relevant? The reporter seems skeptical:

But if the group is to increase its political clout, it needs to demonstrate that it’s not simply an Obama administration tool, said an official with a pro-Israel organization who agreed to speak only on background. “There is a sense in the pro-Israel community — and there have been complaints — that J Street has not [made] a fair effort to show bipartisanship.”

So far in the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC, the group’s political action committee, has distributed nearly $1 million to 60 Democratic candidates and one Republican.

Yeah, not too bipartisan. (And that one Republican? Why, it’s the longtime Israel critic Charles Boustany.) Meanwhile, it’s not clear J Street is even a tool of the Obami. Since the later went on the charm offensive and dropped the settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, J Street hasn’t even been in sync with the administration. So I’m still stumped: whom does J Street speak for?

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Enough with the Czars

These days, Obama is politically toxic and stymied at every turn. His stimulus plan has been rebuffed by a large segment of his party. He’s not going to get any further pieces of major legislation through, and the Senate has had it with his extreme, wacky nominees. So once again, he placates his base and does an end-around the Senate confirmation process:

President Obama plans to tap Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren to a special advisory role so she can help stand up a new consumer financial protection bureau while avoiding a potentially vicious Senate confirmation fight, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the decision.

The appointment would place Warren in charge of the new watchdog agency she personally proposed three years ago to protect Americans against lending abuses.

Yes, it is brazen and outrageous — another unaccountable czar. The “vicious fight,” by the way, is code for “She is such an extremist, she couldn’t be confirmed.” The reaction is likely to be fierce:

In selecting Ms. Warren, the White House picks an outspoken, populist hero of liberal groups who emerged from the financial crisis as a top critic of Wall Street and banking industry practices. She has blasted the government’s response to the financial crisis and has a penchant for provocative statements. …

Senate Republicans will likely blast the White House’s move, seeing it is a backdoor way of putting Ms. Warren in charge of the agency. The head of the new agency “is unprecedented in the nature of its unfettered and unchecked authorities, which makes the confirmation process even more important to the interests of the American people,” Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama Wednesday, before news broke of her likely appointment.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) earlier this week said it would be a mistake for the White House to put her in an interim role without having her nominated for Senate scrutiny.

There is a solution to this, of course: it’s time for the Congress to reassert its legitimate role. How to do it? First, stop funding any agency or entity (start with the consumer protection agency, which should be defunded anyway) for which the Obami appoint a czar in lieu of a nominee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The power of the purse is Congress’s biggest stick, and it should start wielding it. And second, there are some positions — including those Cabinet ones likely to be vacated after the midterm election — that must be subject to confirmation. Put a halt to those unless and until the White House cuts this out and offloads some of the existing czars.

Extreme? Not really. What is extreme is an administration that treats its co-equal branches with such contempt. Congress has an institutional interest and responsibility to put an end to it.

These days, Obama is politically toxic and stymied at every turn. His stimulus plan has been rebuffed by a large segment of his party. He’s not going to get any further pieces of major legislation through, and the Senate has had it with his extreme, wacky nominees. So once again, he placates his base and does an end-around the Senate confirmation process:

President Obama plans to tap Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren to a special advisory role so she can help stand up a new consumer financial protection bureau while avoiding a potentially vicious Senate confirmation fight, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the decision.

The appointment would place Warren in charge of the new watchdog agency she personally proposed three years ago to protect Americans against lending abuses.

Yes, it is brazen and outrageous — another unaccountable czar. The “vicious fight,” by the way, is code for “She is such an extremist, she couldn’t be confirmed.” The reaction is likely to be fierce:

In selecting Ms. Warren, the White House picks an outspoken, populist hero of liberal groups who emerged from the financial crisis as a top critic of Wall Street and banking industry practices. She has blasted the government’s response to the financial crisis and has a penchant for provocative statements. …

Senate Republicans will likely blast the White House’s move, seeing it is a backdoor way of putting Ms. Warren in charge of the agency. The head of the new agency “is unprecedented in the nature of its unfettered and unchecked authorities, which makes the confirmation process even more important to the interests of the American people,” Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama Wednesday, before news broke of her likely appointment.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) earlier this week said it would be a mistake for the White House to put her in an interim role without having her nominated for Senate scrutiny.

There is a solution to this, of course: it’s time for the Congress to reassert its legitimate role. How to do it? First, stop funding any agency or entity (start with the consumer protection agency, which should be defunded anyway) for which the Obami appoint a czar in lieu of a nominee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The power of the purse is Congress’s biggest stick, and it should start wielding it. And second, there are some positions — including those Cabinet ones likely to be vacated after the midterm election — that must be subject to confirmation. Put a halt to those unless and until the White House cuts this out and offloads some of the existing czars.

Extreme? Not really. What is extreme is an administration that treats its co-equal branches with such contempt. Congress has an institutional interest and responsibility to put an end to it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Now West Virginia is in play.

Now they tell us: “The scientists involved in producing the periodic United Nations reports on climate change need to be more open to alternative views and more transparent about their own possible conflicts of interest, an independent review panel said Monday.”

Now I think we’ve had quite enough of Obama attacking the economy: “President Obama called Monday for a ‘full-scale attack’ to revive the struggling economy as Congress returns from recess with lawmakers fixated on the November election.”

But now is not the time for anything really big to help the economy. Comedy gold once again as Jake Tapper tries to pry an intelligible answer from Robert Gibbs.

Now that’s the sort of tin-foil-hat idea Ron Paul is known for: “Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said he plans to introduce legislation next year to force an audit of U.S. holdings of gold. Paul, a longtime critic of the Federal Reserve and U.S. monetary policy, said he believes it’s ‘a possibility’ that there might not actually be any gold in the vaults of Fort Knox or the New York Federal Reserve bank.” I think I saw this movie … Humphrey Bogart on a ship. Oh, that was strawberries.

Now where is the civility police? “Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has found another way to insult his political opponents. The outspoken New York Democrat had this to say via Twitter this morning, stirring the 140-character pot on a slow recess Monday …”

Now mainstream-media pundits say it’s a 60-seat swing in the House. (Is that 75 in real life?)

Now Charlie Crist has flip-flopped on gay marriage.

Now West Virginia is in play.

Now they tell us: “The scientists involved in producing the periodic United Nations reports on climate change need to be more open to alternative views and more transparent about their own possible conflicts of interest, an independent review panel said Monday.”

Now I think we’ve had quite enough of Obama attacking the economy: “President Obama called Monday for a ‘full-scale attack’ to revive the struggling economy as Congress returns from recess with lawmakers fixated on the November election.”

But now is not the time for anything really big to help the economy. Comedy gold once again as Jake Tapper tries to pry an intelligible answer from Robert Gibbs.

Now that’s the sort of tin-foil-hat idea Ron Paul is known for: “Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said he plans to introduce legislation next year to force an audit of U.S. holdings of gold. Paul, a longtime critic of the Federal Reserve and U.S. monetary policy, said he believes it’s ‘a possibility’ that there might not actually be any gold in the vaults of Fort Knox or the New York Federal Reserve bank.” I think I saw this movie … Humphrey Bogart on a ship. Oh, that was strawberries.

Now where is the civility police? “Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has found another way to insult his political opponents. The outspoken New York Democrat had this to say via Twitter this morning, stirring the 140-character pot on a slow recess Monday …”

Now mainstream-media pundits say it’s a 60-seat swing in the House. (Is that 75 in real life?)

Now Charlie Crist has flip-flopped on gay marriage.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them “on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: “Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them “on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: “Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

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START Grinds to a Halt

The votes in the Senate aren’t there for the crowning glory of Obama’s “reset” strategy with Russia:

The treaty, called New Start, was supposed to be the relatively quick and easy first step leading to a series of much harder and more sweeping moves to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Instead, a Senate committee on Tuesday shelved the treaty until fall, when it faces an uncertain future in the midst of a hotly contested election season.

The White House remains confident that it will get the pact approved eventually, possibly in a postelection lame-duck session, and it accepted the delay as a way to win over Republican senators who asked for more time to address their concerns. But even if the treaty does pass in the end, the long process of negotiation and ratification has pushed back the rest of Mr. Obama’s program and has raised obstacles to the more controversial measures.

This is a major embarrassment for the president, and yet another sign that he is losing political capital at a frightful pace. Moreover, it’s one more indication that lawmakers will become increasingly resistant to the president’s agenda, as regards both domestic and foreign policy (the Senate already blocked the confirmation of his ambassador to Syria).

It also highlights how inept is his foreign policy team, and how inapt is the administration’s “jam it through” strategy when it comes to national security:

Some conservatives said that Mr. Obama’s agenda was never all that realistic and that he would be wise to seek a broader consensus. “Trying to do treaties and national security policy as if they’re health care is a bad call,” said one such critic, Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “You don’t do this by one vote. You do this by overwhelming majority. They need to learn to work with the other side.”

And at least for now, the Obama team concedes that its dream of a second arms treaty with Russia is kaput.

As a substantive matter, this is a positive development. In addition to the treaty’s other infirmities (most glaring, the impact on our ability to proceed with missile-defense development), there are real constitutional concerns about a treaty that embodies Obama’s fetish for multilateral institutions. Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin explain:

[New START creates] a Bilateral Consultative Commission with power to approve “additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.” The U.S. and Russian executive branches can implement these measures and thus amend U.S. treaty obligations — without returning to the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma.

Could the commission constrain missile defense? It is empowered to “resolve questions related to the applicability of provisions of the Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive arm.” The treaty’s preamble recognizes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” The commission might have jurisdiction over missile defense through this interrelationship. Russia has already warned that it might withdraw from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses. Limits on missile defense systems thus might be “necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”

In short, the Senate should not only be wary of what damage the treaty does to our national security; it should also be concerned about what it does to the Constitution and the Senate’s own powers (“as more authority for making international agreements is transferred to the executive branch and international organizations, the cumulative effect of these arrangements becomes increasingly hard to square with the Senate’s constitutional role in the treaty-making process and, more generally, with separation of powers”).

START is a microcosm of many of the shortcomings of the Obama administration — excessive deference to international rivals, disrespect shown the other branches of government, and political tone-deafness (the Obami really thought this would glide through the Senate?). With lawmakers increasingly willing to flex their own political muscle, the first two of these ailments may be minimized. Unfortunately for the Obami, there’s no magic cure for the third.

The votes in the Senate aren’t there for the crowning glory of Obama’s “reset” strategy with Russia:

The treaty, called New Start, was supposed to be the relatively quick and easy first step leading to a series of much harder and more sweeping moves to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Instead, a Senate committee on Tuesday shelved the treaty until fall, when it faces an uncertain future in the midst of a hotly contested election season.

The White House remains confident that it will get the pact approved eventually, possibly in a postelection lame-duck session, and it accepted the delay as a way to win over Republican senators who asked for more time to address their concerns. But even if the treaty does pass in the end, the long process of negotiation and ratification has pushed back the rest of Mr. Obama’s program and has raised obstacles to the more controversial measures.

This is a major embarrassment for the president, and yet another sign that he is losing political capital at a frightful pace. Moreover, it’s one more indication that lawmakers will become increasingly resistant to the president’s agenda, as regards both domestic and foreign policy (the Senate already blocked the confirmation of his ambassador to Syria).

It also highlights how inept is his foreign policy team, and how inapt is the administration’s “jam it through” strategy when it comes to national security:

Some conservatives said that Mr. Obama’s agenda was never all that realistic and that he would be wise to seek a broader consensus. “Trying to do treaties and national security policy as if they’re health care is a bad call,” said one such critic, Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “You don’t do this by one vote. You do this by overwhelming majority. They need to learn to work with the other side.”

And at least for now, the Obama team concedes that its dream of a second arms treaty with Russia is kaput.

As a substantive matter, this is a positive development. In addition to the treaty’s other infirmities (most glaring, the impact on our ability to proceed with missile-defense development), there are real constitutional concerns about a treaty that embodies Obama’s fetish for multilateral institutions. Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin explain:

[New START creates] a Bilateral Consultative Commission with power to approve “additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.” The U.S. and Russian executive branches can implement these measures and thus amend U.S. treaty obligations — without returning to the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma.

Could the commission constrain missile defense? It is empowered to “resolve questions related to the applicability of provisions of the Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive arm.” The treaty’s preamble recognizes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” The commission might have jurisdiction over missile defense through this interrelationship. Russia has already warned that it might withdraw from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses. Limits on missile defense systems thus might be “necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”

In short, the Senate should not only be wary of what damage the treaty does to our national security; it should also be concerned about what it does to the Constitution and the Senate’s own powers (“as more authority for making international agreements is transferred to the executive branch and international organizations, the cumulative effect of these arrangements becomes increasingly hard to square with the Senate’s constitutional role in the treaty-making process and, more generally, with separation of powers”).

START is a microcosm of many of the shortcomings of the Obama administration — excessive deference to international rivals, disrespect shown the other branches of government, and political tone-deafness (the Obami really thought this would glide through the Senate?). With lawmakers increasingly willing to flex their own political muscle, the first two of these ailments may be minimized. Unfortunately for the Obami, there’s no magic cure for the third.

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House Democratic Memo Is Another Blow to J Street

Last week,  Jennifer noted the Democrats’ panic, which led to the release of the Howard Berman e-mail extolling the Obama administration’s supposedly pro-Israel record. The memo seemed to be a reaction to the beating that Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak is taking in Pennsylvania in ads from the Emergency Coalition for Israel.

But there’s more to discuss here than just the fact that Sestak has been wrong-footed on the issue and forced to play defense. The Berman memo is yet more proof that J Street’s assertion that the Democrats have embraced its idea — that criticism of Israel is the highest form of love for the Jewish state — is bunk.

The memo is yet another aspect of the charm offensive that has been conducted by the administration since its disastrous decision to pick a fight over building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Ever since the supposed insult to Vice President Joe Biden was answered with unprecedented discourtesy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the administration has been backtracking furiously from its desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather than follow along with the J Street program of putting pressure on Jerusalem to acquiesce to Palestinian demands, the Obama team has been going out of its way to cozy up to Netanyahu since the spring. Given the instincts of those running things in both the White House and the State Department, this has been an awkward and at times inconsistent change of heart. But as much as Obama’s critics are still right to question both his sincerity and his long-term intentions, in the last few months the heretofore rapidly expanding amount of daylight between the positions of Washington and Jerusalem has been shrinking.

Ever since November 2008, leftists have been trying to assert that the Jewish vote for Obama was proof that J Street and not AIPAC or other mainstream pro-Israel groups truly represented Jewish opinion. But if that were so, why would Obama be trying so hard to convince everyone that his administration was as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of its predecessors? Perhaps the answer is that Obama and his advisers know that many, if not most, of the Jewish votes he received came from people who were convinced by his 2008 campaign statements that attempted to show that he was an AIPAC-style friend of Israel rather than a J Street critic. And with the Democrats heading for a midterm disaster this November and putting their Congressional majorities in jeopardy, it’s no wonder that their caucus is producing memos drawing attention to the common ground between the administration and Israel rather than harping on settlement policy and the need for more concessions to the Palestinians, as J Street preaches.

It is true that most Jews are not single-issue voters who care only about Israel. But as shown by the administration’s recent behavior as well as by the House Democrats’ memo, liberals know that a candidate, party, or president who is seen as a critic rather than a friend of Israel will lose Jewish votes and campaign contributions. It is deeply ironic that it turns out that the most cogent skewering of J Street’s basic premise about public opinion has come from their idol in the White House and the political party they support, not their Jewish critics.

Last week,  Jennifer noted the Democrats’ panic, which led to the release of the Howard Berman e-mail extolling the Obama administration’s supposedly pro-Israel record. The memo seemed to be a reaction to the beating that Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak is taking in Pennsylvania in ads from the Emergency Coalition for Israel.

But there’s more to discuss here than just the fact that Sestak has been wrong-footed on the issue and forced to play defense. The Berman memo is yet more proof that J Street’s assertion that the Democrats have embraced its idea — that criticism of Israel is the highest form of love for the Jewish state — is bunk.

The memo is yet another aspect of the charm offensive that has been conducted by the administration since its disastrous decision to pick a fight over building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Ever since the supposed insult to Vice President Joe Biden was answered with unprecedented discourtesy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the administration has been backtracking furiously from its desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather than follow along with the J Street program of putting pressure on Jerusalem to acquiesce to Palestinian demands, the Obama team has been going out of its way to cozy up to Netanyahu since the spring. Given the instincts of those running things in both the White House and the State Department, this has been an awkward and at times inconsistent change of heart. But as much as Obama’s critics are still right to question both his sincerity and his long-term intentions, in the last few months the heretofore rapidly expanding amount of daylight between the positions of Washington and Jerusalem has been shrinking.

Ever since November 2008, leftists have been trying to assert that the Jewish vote for Obama was proof that J Street and not AIPAC or other mainstream pro-Israel groups truly represented Jewish opinion. But if that were so, why would Obama be trying so hard to convince everyone that his administration was as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of its predecessors? Perhaps the answer is that Obama and his advisers know that many, if not most, of the Jewish votes he received came from people who were convinced by his 2008 campaign statements that attempted to show that he was an AIPAC-style friend of Israel rather than a J Street critic. And with the Democrats heading for a midterm disaster this November and putting their Congressional majorities in jeopardy, it’s no wonder that their caucus is producing memos drawing attention to the common ground between the administration and Israel rather than harping on settlement policy and the need for more concessions to the Palestinians, as J Street preaches.

It is true that most Jews are not single-issue voters who care only about Israel. But as shown by the administration’s recent behavior as well as by the House Democrats’ memo, liberals know that a candidate, party, or president who is seen as a critic rather than a friend of Israel will lose Jewish votes and campaign contributions. It is deeply ironic that it turns out that the most cogent skewering of J Street’s basic premise about public opinion has come from their idol in the White House and the political party they support, not their Jewish critics.

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Media Attack on Israel

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

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The Limits of Charm

Obama’s “charm offensive” to the American Jewish community is underway, but the reality of the administration’s approach to Israel can’t be thoroughly disguised. The AP reports:

The Obama administration is preparing to join an international advisory group that the United States generally has shunned due to fears it would adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Western positions, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The officials told The Associated Press the administration plans to announce as early as this week that it will begin a formal relationship with the Alliance of Civilizations. … The Bush administration boycotted the group when it was founded in 2005 over because it feared the group would become a forum for bashing Israel and the United States. Those concerns were magnified a year later when the alliance released a report that officials in Washington said unfairly blamed Israel and the United States for many of the world’s problems.

But the Obama administration assures us that this is all in the past. The Obama team, in its unending quest to accommodate and cozy up to the Muslim World, is convinced that the group has reformed:

The officials said earlier fears about the “imbalances” in the group, which was set up by Spain and Turkey, had been dealt with after the United States expressed “serious concerns” about the 2006 report.

That report focused on the Middle East and identified Israel’s “disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon” as a main cause of Muslim-Western tension.

The officials said the administration had been assured by its current leader, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, that it would take a “more positive” approach to its work.

Needless to say, Israel isn’t joining up. And if the group — like the Human Right Council, which the U.S. joined ostensibly to engage the Israel-bashers — continues its anti-Israel tirades, will the Obama team leave? No, I don’t think so either.

One wonders: when the administration reveals its “charm offensive” as mere window dressing on the same policy, why doesn’t American Jewish officialdom speak out? One savvy critic wrote earlier this year:

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, whose fidelity financial and electoral all Dem administrations can and do take fully for granted, American Jewry is in a quandary right now. It’s mostly private, as its quandaries usually are when it comes to the sins of Dem presidents against American Jews and the Jewish State. As if failing to do their duty to the Party were akin to rising up in rebellion against kaiser or czar and inviting the unleashing of Cossack fury against them, the Jews who ought to have something to say about the ill wind blowing toward Israel from Mr. Obama’s office are passing their whispered worries from one to another: “Oy! What should we do? Oy! What should we say? Is it enough that X is saying something? Can we hide behind that? Do we have to say something, too? Oy!”

But American Jewish “leaders” are busy now — cooing over the Jewish Supreme Court nominee. All is well with the administration, we are told – they like us, they really like us! Let’s see what happens when the next anti-Israel missive emanates from one of the groups the Obama team insisted on joining.

Obama’s “charm offensive” to the American Jewish community is underway, but the reality of the administration’s approach to Israel can’t be thoroughly disguised. The AP reports:

The Obama administration is preparing to join an international advisory group that the United States generally has shunned due to fears it would adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Western positions, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The officials told The Associated Press the administration plans to announce as early as this week that it will begin a formal relationship with the Alliance of Civilizations. … The Bush administration boycotted the group when it was founded in 2005 over because it feared the group would become a forum for bashing Israel and the United States. Those concerns were magnified a year later when the alliance released a report that officials in Washington said unfairly blamed Israel and the United States for many of the world’s problems.

But the Obama administration assures us that this is all in the past. The Obama team, in its unending quest to accommodate and cozy up to the Muslim World, is convinced that the group has reformed:

The officials said earlier fears about the “imbalances” in the group, which was set up by Spain and Turkey, had been dealt with after the United States expressed “serious concerns” about the 2006 report.

That report focused on the Middle East and identified Israel’s “disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon” as a main cause of Muslim-Western tension.

The officials said the administration had been assured by its current leader, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, that it would take a “more positive” approach to its work.

Needless to say, Israel isn’t joining up. And if the group — like the Human Right Council, which the U.S. joined ostensibly to engage the Israel-bashers — continues its anti-Israel tirades, will the Obama team leave? No, I don’t think so either.

One wonders: when the administration reveals its “charm offensive” as mere window dressing on the same policy, why doesn’t American Jewish officialdom speak out? One savvy critic wrote earlier this year:

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, whose fidelity financial and electoral all Dem administrations can and do take fully for granted, American Jewry is in a quandary right now. It’s mostly private, as its quandaries usually are when it comes to the sins of Dem presidents against American Jews and the Jewish State. As if failing to do their duty to the Party were akin to rising up in rebellion against kaiser or czar and inviting the unleashing of Cossack fury against them, the Jews who ought to have something to say about the ill wind blowing toward Israel from Mr. Obama’s office are passing their whispered worries from one to another: “Oy! What should we do? Oy! What should we say? Is it enough that X is saying something? Can we hide behind that? Do we have to say something, too? Oy!”

But American Jewish “leaders” are busy now — cooing over the Jewish Supreme Court nominee. All is well with the administration, we are told – they like us, they really like us! Let’s see what happens when the next anti-Israel missive emanates from one of the groups the Obama team insisted on joining.

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Tikkun’s Jewish ‘Ethics’ — Honor Goldstone for Libeling Israel

With the rise of groups like the left-wing lobby J Street and the presence of a critic of Israel in the White House, it’s hard for a magazine like Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to get much attention these days. But Lerner is doing his best (or is it his worst?) in an effort to recapture the focus of Jewish leftists.  To that end, as Jennifer has pointed out, the magazine has announced that it is giving its 25th annual “ethics” award to Richard Goldstone, the author of the biased and inaccurate United Nations report on last year’s war in Gaza that slandered Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Lerner says he decided to give his dubious prize to Goldstone before the brouhaha over whether the South African jurist would be prevented from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of the anger of his fellow Jews at his presence in synagogue. But, Lerner says, he decided to announce the award now as an answer to Goldstone’s “outrageous” treatment.

The controversy over the Goldstone bar mitzvah is regrettable for two reasons. First, because a child’s rite of passage ought to be allowed to proceed without political demonstrations against one of his relatives, no matter how odious that relative might be. Second, because the threat of a demonstration against Goldstone at the synagogue enabled him to pose as a victim of Jewish intolerance rather than owning up to the fact that he allowed the anti-Semites at the UN to use him as a front man for a vicious libel against the Jewish state. The report treated Hamas aggression against Israel as a minor affair while hyping every unproven atrocity charge against Israel’s counteroffensive against terror.  It serves to delegitimize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense while allowing those who wish to exterminate that state and its Jewish inhabitants to be treated kindly. Goldstone is no martyr. His connection with this document is a badge of shame that will be indelibly attached to his name in Jewish history, a fact that ought to make us all sympathize with his relatives.

As for Lerner, true to form, he is trying to grab a little publicity out of this mess. The self-declared rabbi of Jewish Renewal has now invited the Goldstones to have the boy’s bar mitzvah in his Berkeley synagogue. Goldstone, whose despicable betrayal has made him persona non grata to any Jewish community with a shred of honor or self-respect, might well be received with cheers in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. But surely even he must know that an “ethics award” from the likes of Lerner is nothing to brag about.

With the rise of groups like the left-wing lobby J Street and the presence of a critic of Israel in the White House, it’s hard for a magazine like Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to get much attention these days. But Lerner is doing his best (or is it his worst?) in an effort to recapture the focus of Jewish leftists.  To that end, as Jennifer has pointed out, the magazine has announced that it is giving its 25th annual “ethics” award to Richard Goldstone, the author of the biased and inaccurate United Nations report on last year’s war in Gaza that slandered Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Lerner says he decided to give his dubious prize to Goldstone before the brouhaha over whether the South African jurist would be prevented from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of the anger of his fellow Jews at his presence in synagogue. But, Lerner says, he decided to announce the award now as an answer to Goldstone’s “outrageous” treatment.

The controversy over the Goldstone bar mitzvah is regrettable for two reasons. First, because a child’s rite of passage ought to be allowed to proceed without political demonstrations against one of his relatives, no matter how odious that relative might be. Second, because the threat of a demonstration against Goldstone at the synagogue enabled him to pose as a victim of Jewish intolerance rather than owning up to the fact that he allowed the anti-Semites at the UN to use him as a front man for a vicious libel against the Jewish state. The report treated Hamas aggression against Israel as a minor affair while hyping every unproven atrocity charge against Israel’s counteroffensive against terror.  It serves to delegitimize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense while allowing those who wish to exterminate that state and its Jewish inhabitants to be treated kindly. Goldstone is no martyr. His connection with this document is a badge of shame that will be indelibly attached to his name in Jewish history, a fact that ought to make us all sympathize with his relatives.

As for Lerner, true to form, he is trying to grab a little publicity out of this mess. The self-declared rabbi of Jewish Renewal has now invited the Goldstones to have the boy’s bar mitzvah in his Berkeley synagogue. Goldstone, whose despicable betrayal has made him persona non grata to any Jewish community with a shred of honor or self-respect, might well be received with cheers in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. But surely even he must know that an “ethics award” from the likes of Lerner is nothing to brag about.

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Enron Accounting, Obama-Style

James Klein of the American Benefits Council writes in opposition to the attacks by the administration and Rep. Henry Waxman that corporations’ write-downs of losses due to ObamaCare are some sort of political scare tactics:

The new health-care law contains two sentences that change the tax treatment of a subsidy originally crafted in 2003 when Congress established the Medicare prescription drug program. As a result, companies must now impose on their financial statements the present value of their entire new future tax liability. The Obama administration’s position is a) that the original tax provision was actually a “loophole,” and b) that companies are acting irresponsibly by refusing to acknowledge the overall cost savings associated with the new law.

Notwithstanding the unusual tax treatment in the original provision, the bottom line is indisputable: The subsidy exists for the express purpose of saving the government money by keeping retirees on company prescription drug plans rather than having them enroll in the Medicare drug plan. Now that Congress has reversed the policy, corporations must report eye-popping charges on their financial statements.

As Klein notes, it is the frenzied ObamaCare defenders who are playing politics with the tax code, and worse — berating corporations to defraud shareholders. (“As for the government’s assertion that companies are failing to adequately account for all the savings they will enjoy from health-care reform, isn’t that exactly the kind of “creative” accounting that got Enron in trouble?”)

This is the administration that promised to take the politics out of science and the ideology out of foreign policy. But in fact everything — including the tax code — is merely part of the Chicago machine, which threatens to mow down any rule, any entity, and any critic standing in its way. Lacking internal restraint and humility, this administration and the country would surely benefit from some robust legislative scrutiny and oversight. The voters in November will have an opportunity to check the voracious power of an administration of bullies.

James Klein of the American Benefits Council writes in opposition to the attacks by the administration and Rep. Henry Waxman that corporations’ write-downs of losses due to ObamaCare are some sort of political scare tactics:

The new health-care law contains two sentences that change the tax treatment of a subsidy originally crafted in 2003 when Congress established the Medicare prescription drug program. As a result, companies must now impose on their financial statements the present value of their entire new future tax liability. The Obama administration’s position is a) that the original tax provision was actually a “loophole,” and b) that companies are acting irresponsibly by refusing to acknowledge the overall cost savings associated with the new law.

Notwithstanding the unusual tax treatment in the original provision, the bottom line is indisputable: The subsidy exists for the express purpose of saving the government money by keeping retirees on company prescription drug plans rather than having them enroll in the Medicare drug plan. Now that Congress has reversed the policy, corporations must report eye-popping charges on their financial statements.

As Klein notes, it is the frenzied ObamaCare defenders who are playing politics with the tax code, and worse — berating corporations to defraud shareholders. (“As for the government’s assertion that companies are failing to adequately account for all the savings they will enjoy from health-care reform, isn’t that exactly the kind of “creative” accounting that got Enron in trouble?”)

This is the administration that promised to take the politics out of science and the ideology out of foreign policy. But in fact everything — including the tax code — is merely part of the Chicago machine, which threatens to mow down any rule, any entity, and any critic standing in its way. Lacking internal restraint and humility, this administration and the country would surely benefit from some robust legislative scrutiny and oversight. The voters in November will have an opportunity to check the voracious power of an administration of bullies.

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The No-Good, Horrible Biden Visit

The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:

Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.

So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”

Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.

Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:

Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.

So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”

Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.

Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

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Something’s Rotten in the State of Israel’s Legal System

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

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Everything You Need to Know About Jewish-Arab Dialogue in America

It is a staple of well-meaning community-relations work as well as journalism: the tale of two people from clashing groups who are rising above their differences to forge a friendship on behalf of a common goal. The New York Times provides a classic example in today’s sports section, which tells the story of two members of Princeton University’s women’s basketball team: “Princeton Duo, Palestinian-American and Jewish, Puts Aside Politics.” It’s a feel-good feature about Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky, who are close friends and teammates on a good Tiger hoops squad.

But while the friendship seems genuine, the premise of the piece, that the two have “put aside politics,” isn’t even close to being true. While Rasheed is a fervent supporter of Palestinian nationalism and a critic of the “Israeli government,” Polansky has no such commitment to the other side of that argument. She is merely the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She was, we are told, “raised Jewish.” But whatever that means, it didn’t include any strong feelings about the State of Israel or Zionism. “None of that political stuff that is going on the other side of the world is that important to me,” Polansky says. That’s all well and good. Rasheed has the right to enthusiastically support her relatives’ political cause; and Lauren Polansky has the right not to give a hoot about the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their historic homeland or their right of self-defense against Palestinians who wish to destroy that state for the sake of their own conception of a just solution to the conflict.  Just don’t tell us this is a tale of two people who have risen above a conflict to make friends — because there is clearly no conflict between the two on this issue. Rasheed cares about her cause, and Polansky is indifferent to it.  The piece is clearly imbalanced — the Palestinian mother is allowed to pose as tolerant because she claims to “love” Polansky despite the fact that she is Jewish — but that is almost unimportant, as there is really no dialogue about the conflict going on here to rise above.

This is, of course, all too familiar to observers of more formal attempts at Jewish-Arab dialogue in this country. Inevitably, they consist of Arabs who are passionately opposed to Israel alongside Jews who either completely agree with the Arabs or, as is the case with Lauren Polansky, have no strong convictions about the issues. Such exchanges do nothing to enhance the cause of community relations or peace because they merely reinforce the Arabs’ conviction that they are in the right without causing them to question any of their own premises. That so many American Jews play this game to enhance their own sense of themselves as broad-minded and pro-peace is absurd and another testament to the truth of Edward Alexander’s dictum that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”

A better example of a story of Jews and Arabs rising above their differences was printed in the Times last week. In it, Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner wrote about two families whose children were wounded in the fighting around Gaza who have bonded while spending time alongside each other in the hospital. Its virtue lies not only in its recounting of two tragedies — a little Israeli boy critically wounded by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza and a Palestinian girl paralyzed by a missile fired at the Hamas terrorists — but also in that it mercifully eschews the sort of political cant and smarmy writing that was on display in the story about the Princeton students.

It is a staple of well-meaning community-relations work as well as journalism: the tale of two people from clashing groups who are rising above their differences to forge a friendship on behalf of a common goal. The New York Times provides a classic example in today’s sports section, which tells the story of two members of Princeton University’s women’s basketball team: “Princeton Duo, Palestinian-American and Jewish, Puts Aside Politics.” It’s a feel-good feature about Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky, who are close friends and teammates on a good Tiger hoops squad.

But while the friendship seems genuine, the premise of the piece, that the two have “put aside politics,” isn’t even close to being true. While Rasheed is a fervent supporter of Palestinian nationalism and a critic of the “Israeli government,” Polansky has no such commitment to the other side of that argument. She is merely the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She was, we are told, “raised Jewish.” But whatever that means, it didn’t include any strong feelings about the State of Israel or Zionism. “None of that political stuff that is going on the other side of the world is that important to me,” Polansky says. That’s all well and good. Rasheed has the right to enthusiastically support her relatives’ political cause; and Lauren Polansky has the right not to give a hoot about the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their historic homeland or their right of self-defense against Palestinians who wish to destroy that state for the sake of their own conception of a just solution to the conflict.  Just don’t tell us this is a tale of two people who have risen above a conflict to make friends — because there is clearly no conflict between the two on this issue. Rasheed cares about her cause, and Polansky is indifferent to it.  The piece is clearly imbalanced — the Palestinian mother is allowed to pose as tolerant because she claims to “love” Polansky despite the fact that she is Jewish — but that is almost unimportant, as there is really no dialogue about the conflict going on here to rise above.

This is, of course, all too familiar to observers of more formal attempts at Jewish-Arab dialogue in this country. Inevitably, they consist of Arabs who are passionately opposed to Israel alongside Jews who either completely agree with the Arabs or, as is the case with Lauren Polansky, have no strong convictions about the issues. Such exchanges do nothing to enhance the cause of community relations or peace because they merely reinforce the Arabs’ conviction that they are in the right without causing them to question any of their own premises. That so many American Jews play this game to enhance their own sense of themselves as broad-minded and pro-peace is absurd and another testament to the truth of Edward Alexander’s dictum that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”

A better example of a story of Jews and Arabs rising above their differences was printed in the Times last week. In it, Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner wrote about two families whose children were wounded in the fighting around Gaza who have bonded while spending time alongside each other in the hospital. Its virtue lies not only in its recounting of two tragedies — a little Israeli boy critically wounded by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza and a Palestinian girl paralyzed by a missile fired at the Hamas terrorists — but also in that it mercifully eschews the sort of political cant and smarmy writing that was on display in the story about the Princeton students.

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Don’t Get the Word Out

It’s commonly believed that, compared with other countries, the U.S. enjoys an exceptional measure of freedom of the press and, closely allied to it, exceptionally liberal libel laws. The comparison with Britain is particularly marked, and the Index on Censorship and English PEN have launched a libel-reform campaign that describes British libel law as “a global disgrace” and refers glowingly to American freedoms.

The Adam Smith Institute has also weighed in, observing that “English libel laws are used by the rich and influential to deflect attention, while discouraging serious journalism and the spread of ideas to the UK.” American Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, Funding Evil, was targeted by a Saudi critic, would likely agree, as would the American authors of the 2007 Alms for Jihad, published by the Cambridge University Press.

But perhaps we in the U.S. should stop patting ourselves on the back. Last month, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain produced a well-documented study of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Islamist ideology and strategy. The report details HuT’s activities outside and, especially, inside Britain and documents the disturbing extent to which it has been accepted as a legitimate partner for engagement by mainstream British political institutions. The study is available through CSC: notably, Britain’s strict libel laws did not prevent it from being published there.

It did not, though, get much press in the U.S. That may be because PR Newswire, the CSC’s press agency, refused to carry a news release announcing the report, stating — in e-mails I have read — that its U.S. office would “reject the release based on its inflammatory content” and that it owed a “a duty of care to the newswire providers we work with.” The U.S. office weighed in, too, with a statement that “due to the unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activities and inflammatory language,” they would not be able to run the release.

“Unsubstantiated” is a curious word to describe a report of more than 100 pages and 600 footnotes with extensive quotations from original sources. But more broadly, this is precisely the problem that bedevils Britain: the real damage done by its libel laws is not caused so much by the courtroom challenges to authors but by the fear the laws create among publishers that they may be next.

In the British context, it is at least encouraging that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now publicly committed to libel reform, though his observation that the danger derives mostly from lawsuits by “big corporations” ignores who has done most of the suing so far. But the remedy when press agencies in the U.S. refuse to run news releases that might anger jihadis is less clear: we already have the First Amendment; yet in this instance, we appear to be less able than Britain to bear the burden of publishing on terrorism.

It’s commonly believed that, compared with other countries, the U.S. enjoys an exceptional measure of freedom of the press and, closely allied to it, exceptionally liberal libel laws. The comparison with Britain is particularly marked, and the Index on Censorship and English PEN have launched a libel-reform campaign that describes British libel law as “a global disgrace” and refers glowingly to American freedoms.

The Adam Smith Institute has also weighed in, observing that “English libel laws are used by the rich and influential to deflect attention, while discouraging serious journalism and the spread of ideas to the UK.” American Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, Funding Evil, was targeted by a Saudi critic, would likely agree, as would the American authors of the 2007 Alms for Jihad, published by the Cambridge University Press.

But perhaps we in the U.S. should stop patting ourselves on the back. Last month, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain produced a well-documented study of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Islamist ideology and strategy. The report details HuT’s activities outside and, especially, inside Britain and documents the disturbing extent to which it has been accepted as a legitimate partner for engagement by mainstream British political institutions. The study is available through CSC: notably, Britain’s strict libel laws did not prevent it from being published there.

It did not, though, get much press in the U.S. That may be because PR Newswire, the CSC’s press agency, refused to carry a news release announcing the report, stating — in e-mails I have read — that its U.S. office would “reject the release based on its inflammatory content” and that it owed a “a duty of care to the newswire providers we work with.” The U.S. office weighed in, too, with a statement that “due to the unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activities and inflammatory language,” they would not be able to run the release.

“Unsubstantiated” is a curious word to describe a report of more than 100 pages and 600 footnotes with extensive quotations from original sources. But more broadly, this is precisely the problem that bedevils Britain: the real damage done by its libel laws is not caused so much by the courtroom challenges to authors but by the fear the laws create among publishers that they may be next.

In the British context, it is at least encouraging that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now publicly committed to libel reform, though his observation that the danger derives mostly from lawsuits by “big corporations” ignores who has done most of the suing so far. But the remedy when press agencies in the U.S. refuse to run news releases that might anger jihadis is less clear: we already have the First Amendment; yet in this instance, we appear to be less able than Britain to bear the burden of publishing on terrorism.

Read Less




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